Contrary to the rumors of rock music’s demise, 2019 proved that the genre is alive and kicking. This may very well be the strongest year-end list of songs since Hard Rock Daddy’s launch in 2013. To give our readers the greatest possible variety of music, the TOP 100 HARD ROCK SONGS OF 2019 only features one song per album (although a number of artists released more than one single worthy of recognition).
The rock and roll world exists well beyond the realm of Active Rock radio or the confines of North America. Although a number of the songs featured on this list appeared on the Octane Big ‘Uns Countdown Songs of 2019 and/or the Top 50 Active Rock Songs of 2019, Hard Rock Daddy’s TOP 100 HARD ROCK SONGS OF 2019 is not based on radio airplay. In fact, many of the songs featured received no spins at all.
This list covers the broad spectrum of hard rock (Active Rock, Classic Rock, Power Metal, Prog Rock, Punk, and beyond). The goal of Hard Rock Daddy is to expose our readers not just to songs, but also to the artists who create the music, which is why each song on the list features a short blurb.
For the first time in Hard Rock Daddy’s history, the segmented YouTube playlists have been replaced with a single Spotify playlist. Click on the image above to listen to the songs. The list is designed as much for flow as it is for rankings (perhaps even more so).
At the bottom of the page (beneath the reviews) is a listing of the songs in order.
TOP 100 HARD ROCK SONGS OF 2019
 SHINEDOWN – “ATTENTION ATTENTION”
Shinedown was recently featured as the Top Live Performance of 2019 on Hard Rock Daddy, touring in support of their latest album, ATTENTION ATTENTION.
The title track off of Shinedown’s most recent album came to be in a serendipitous way. Well, the final decision at the very least. Briefly toying with the idea of making this the band’s first self-titled album, the suggestion was made to use “ATTENTION ATTENTION” as the title because it tied into the cover art. The final decision was made when the band was evacuated from a hotel that they were staying in when the fire alarm went off. As they were exiting, they heard the alarm stating “ATTENTION ATTENTION please evacuate.” The rest, as they say, is history.
This is the first time that Shinedown has done a concept album (by the common use of the word). However, Brent Smith doesn’t think of it that way. To him “it’s a story album that tells one story and features a beginning, middle, and end. This part of the story is a warning.”
According to Smith…
“It’s like your alter ego jumps into the room all of a sudden, and starts messing with you and pushing you around a little bit. And then you start going into the psychological part of the song. It’s the other dimension of the individual.”
In some ways, this song showcases the continued growth of (arguably) the greatest hard rock band of this generation. Never ones to rely on a sticking to a formula of what has worked in the past, Shinedown fearlessly spreads their wings to fly into uncharted territory, incorporating elements of rap/rock in their own captivating way. This is especially true with the title track to the album. What makes it stand out most is the infectious hook of the chorus that anchors the song.
One of the things that makes Shinedown worshiped by their fans is their relatability. Though they possess the gravitas of the rock stars of yesteryear, they are grounded and humbled, sharing stories of their individual struggles with songs that touch people deeply. Unlike the grunge era (where personal struggles were something of an albatross), Shinedown uplifts you with their ability to battle their demons and come out the other side. All the while, they inspire fans to the best versions of themselves that they can possibly be.
Even if fans never act on the inspirational messages contained within the lyrics of Shinedown songs, there is something cathartic and healing about their brand of rock and roll. To fully appreciate their impact, you need to see them perform live. They are every bit as good as the legends who filled arenas back in the day.
“ATTENTION ATTENTION!” is another in a long line of brilliant singles that promises to stand the test of time.
 GODSMACK – “Under Your Scars”
Remember the days when hard rock artists were able to release a ballad without having to justify their inclusion on an album? With the power of social media, everyone can be a critic, and fans are not shy about questioning their favorite bands for expanding their horizons. As I read Sully Erna’s interview stating that he can’t spend time worrying about the reaction from metal fans for including “Under Your Scars” on the band’s most recent release, it made me wish that there was greater barrier to entry for fans to share their opinions. It’s not only unfair, but totally unrealistic to expect artists to remain inside some preconceived box as their sound evolves with maturity. Any fans who can’t appreciate “Under Your Scars” because it isn’t heavy enough, are too closed-minded to fully appreciate an artist.
Like Aerosmith’s “Dream On” and Guns N’ Roses’ “November Rain,” “Under Your Scars” opens with a beautiful piano and touching vocals. The underlying strings provide a depth that helps bring out the emotion of the song. Godsmack and Erna may be known for their intensity, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t shine when they pull things back a bit. The band doesn’t usually dabble in the love song arena, but “Under Your Scars” shows that it wouldn’t be a bad idea to do so more often. The meaning behind the song is one that everyone with any kind of life experience can appreciate. As life progresses, we all accumulate our fair share of baggage. “Under Your Scars” acknowledges that baggage, while delivering the sage advice that the weight of the past should not diminish happiness in the future.
 THE NEAL MORSE BAND – “The Great Adventure”
Since Hard Rock Daddy launched in March of 2013, it has certainly has been a great adventure. Of all of the memorable moments, one of the highlights was going to see The Neal Morse Band perform their double concept album – The Great Adventure – in its entirety (CLICK HERE to read the review).
As a storyteller, musician, and theatrical personality, Neal Morse may very well be in a class by himself. Surrounded by drummer extraordinaire Mike Portnoy, and fellow virtuoso musicians Eric Gillette, Bill Hubauer, and Randy George, The Neal Morse Band is an incredible unit with a cult-like following. However, this is not a radio band in today’s climate.
If this was the 1970s, when bands like Kansas and Styx filled the airwaves, songs like “The Great Aventure” would assuredly be in the mix. The title track off of the band’s most recent album is progressive in a mainstream, feel-good kind of way. Think Kansas’ “Point Of Know Return” with a modern flair. Intelligent lyrics, incredible harmonies, and flawless musicianship.
Want to go on a great adventure of your own? Listen to this track and then go delve into the vast catalog of Neal Morse to hear what you may have been missing.
 SLASH f. MYLES KENNEDY & THE CONSPIRATORS – “Boulevard Of Broken Hearts”
The pacing at the beginning of “Boulevard Of Broken Hearts” sets the tone for a crescendo buildup that is reminiscent of Survivor’s “Eye Of The Tiger.” But rather than immediately bursting into an upbeat, melodic anthem, Myles Kennedy enters with silky smooth, sultry vocals. With each progression, the band builds another layer upon the existing foundation. Kennedy eventually soars with his customary brilliance and delivers a mood-lifting jolt of feel-good inspiration the way that he did with Alter Bridge’s “My Champion.” While Kennedy’s distinct vocals help to create a signature sound for his work with Slash and Alter Bridge equally, his versatility makes each project feel unique. Undoubtedly, that has a lot to do with his writing partners for each, but it takes a high level of skill to be the songwriter and lead singer for two different bands without making them sound alike.
Most of Slash’s recognition from the masses comes from his work with Guns N’ Roses, but his offerings with Myles Kennedy & The Conspirators are equally impressive. In some ways, this project gives Slash the chance to push the envelope and take his playing in new and interesting directions. On “Boulevard Of Broken Hearts,” Slash is less focused on aggressive, crunchy riffs, and more on the beauty of a melody that is created not only with his playing, but the sparse moments that allow the song to breathe. His bluesy leads in the song are less in your face than most of his work with GNR, which only makes you appreciate the nuanced layers of the song that much more.
 BLACKTOP MOJO – “Can’t Sleep”
Hard Rock Daddy jumped on the Blacktop Mojo bandwagon early on in the band’s career. Ever since their first feature in 2015, these Texas rockers have continued to deliver time and again with outstanding songs. Quality is the through line that connects all of their work. With a hard rock foundation, this band (more than most others in rock today) has a way of infusing their sound with a range of influences. Sometimes, it’s the dark edginess of ’90s grunge. Other times, the music takes you back in time to the heyday of southern rock. Sometimes, Blacktop Mojo is pure power. Other times, they take your breath away with beauty and soul. Their original music is worthy of being in heavy rotation on any Active Rock station in the country. Their covers, which tend not to stray too far from the original (while still adding their own distinct flavor), are as good as any other modern hard rock band. Blacktop Mojo has done everything that you could possibly want from a rising artist, but they are still under the radar for many. They shouldn’t be. It’s not being hyperbolic to say that Blacktop Mojo is one of the best bands in hard rock today, regardless of longevity.
“Can’t Sleep” continues the maturation and evolution of the band. Power ballads don’t really exist much in modern rock, but this song is as close as you’ll get. The verses, deep and soulful, set the stage for booming, melodic choruses with a gigantic hook that forcefully grabs you and never lets go. Ryan Kiefer’s lead guitar work blends the emotive qualities of Slash’s playing and the underappreciated, tasteful nuances of Chris DeGarmo’s work with Queensryche. Buoyed by a powerhouse rhythm section that has Shinedown sensibilities, Blacktop Mojo is a force to be reckoned with. Of course, what separates really good bands from great bands these days is a vocalist that takes the band into another stratosphere. Blacktop Mojo has that in rising star, Matt James.
 SUNFLOWER DEAD – “Turn Away”
Sometimes the unexpected turns out to be exactly what you need at a particular moment in time. Call it divine intervention, the universe answering a call, or just good fortune. Labels are open to interpretation. What is not open to interpretation is the sheer power and emotion behind Sunflower Dead’s “Turn Away” (a song that almost didn’t make it onto C O M A).
According to frontman Michael Del Pizzo…
” ‘Turn Away’ was coming to fruition no matter how many times we tried to toss it aside. It just seemed to have a life of its own, and is now what we consider to be the most important track of our career.”
Added to the album on the last possible day, the song that “stands for those suffering with feeling like they have given all they can, and have nothing left but to give up when all they really need to do is find solace in letting things be” is an anti-suicide message of hope. If any band knows about the temptation to give up when things look bleak, it’s Sunflower Dead.
It’s mind-boggling what it took for them to land a label deal, considering that they are a special band with a unique sound (due in large part to Del Pizzo’s distinct vocal style). The lyrics and vocals are intense, but this time around, there is no growling at all (not even to add accent to create a visceral response). I’ve always felt that SFD doesn’t need the growls because they have a truly unique vocalist who shines brightest when the emotions that he wears on his sleeve are delivered from the heart and not the gut.
On “Turn Away,” SFD masterfully transitions between intense driving rhythms and dynamic moody parts that are brought to life by Jaboo’s lead guitar which seems to cry out in pain. Just as Metallica did years ago with “Fade To Black,” SFD takes you on an emotional musical journey with a song that shows that feelings of darkness and isolation are more common than people realize when they are caught up in their own personal hell.
 ALTER BRIDGE – “Wouldn’t You Rather”
Over the course of the past 15 years, Alter Bridge has been remarkably consistent (releasing albums every three years like clockwork), while also evolving as time passes. This evolution can be heard in both the band’s sound and their lyrics.
Myles Kennedy has always had an uplifting quality to his voice, but his lyrics have often times been heart wrenching (in a good way). Life changes for each of us as we enter different stages. Ideally, wisdom goes hand-in-hand with aging. As the sands of time continue to fall, you start to appreciate things that you might not have earlier on.
“Wouldn’t You Rather” features the dark edginess of the Fortress album, and combines it with the uplifting lyrics of “My Champion.” It’s the perfect blend of dark and light.
It’s easy to get caught up in the rat race and focus primarily on the all-mighty dollar, but as the saying goes…“money isn’t everything.” This life lesson becomes clearer when you’re faced with more yesterdays than tomorrows. “Wouldn’t You Rather” tackles this subject head-on with a poignant message that living from the heart and following your passion is more meaningful than chasing dollars when all is said and done. Money can always be replaced…time cannot.
The Alter Bridge formula of working on separate projects in between three-year album cycles continues to pay enormous dividends. Each album has a fresh, energetic sound.
 SAUL – “Brother”
When you throw a pebble into a large body of water, the ripple effect is barely noticeable. But when you throw a boulder into that same body of water, the splash catches your attention and the ripple effect draws you in. Saul chose to make a big splash with their debut single, “Brother,” a song with the intense emotions of Nothing More, the fierce rhythm of Five Finger Death Punch, the soul of Sevendust, and the mainstream progression of Gemini Syndrome.
How does a new band have a sound that is so seasoned that they get compared to some of the biggest bands in Active Rock? It started back in high school for brothers Blake and Zach Bledsaul. The brothers went through different lineup incarnations to arrive at the undeniable chemistry that you hear on “Brother.” Songs with deep meaning tend to have a way of bringing the best out in the musical performance. “Brother” is about dealing with the loss of a loved one. According to Blake…“Lyrically, this song defines what I should have said to my brother in his last moments. This song cuts deep for me and it’s a constant reminder that life is fleeting.”
There is a moment in the song where the intensity comes to a grinding halt as haunting vocals whisper in the background…“brother”…followed by anguished screams “BROTHER…BROTHER!” It’s as if Blake was making sure that he got his undelivered message across this time around. The song is deeply personal and captivating.
 SONS OF APOLLO – “Goodbye Divinity”
You never know what will come of a supergroup beyond the first album. Far too often, they end up being a “one and done,” leaving fans with the same high and dry feeling that comes from a television show being cancelled after only one season. Thankfully, Sons Of Apollo was renewed by the band members, giving fans another taste of the genius that comes from master musicians at the top of their craft.
At nearly seven-and-a-half minutes long, “Goodbye Divinity” may seem to be a bit lengthy by mainstream rock standards, but relatively short by prog rock standards. The song straddles both categories, but does so in a way that makes it feel ideal.
Mike Portnoy’s drums are as big and bold as ever. As one of the premier drummers in rock, Portnoy is the engine that drives all of his projects, both in his playing and songwriting. This kind of engine mandates nothing but precision parts, and that’s exactly what you get with Derek Sherinian (Dream Theater), Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal (Guns N’ Roses), Billy Sheehan (Mr. Big, Winery Dogs), and Jeff Scott Soto (SOTO, W.E.T.).
“Goodbye Divinity” is a virtuoso clinic melded with an infectious hook and soaring melody. Thundering intensity seamlessly yields to beautiful vocal harmonies and the showcasing of each musician without ever feeling gratuitous. It’s the kind of song that makes you yearn to see these musical geniuses in a live setting.
 DISTURBED – “No More”
Listening to Disturbed’s “No More,” which sounds like an anthem of the disenchanted everyman, you can’t help but think that it is a targeted message based on the current state of the country. However, David Draiman has stated that the song is not aimed at a specific administration. Rather, it is a stance against fear mongers who gaslight the masses in order to create chaos and profit from the inevitable fallout.
Even if the message is not as pointed as it seems, this powerful anthem should serve as a wakeup call to all. Billionaires are ruling the world with propaganda and manipulation. The blood may be on their hands for the wars being fought, but it’s the pawns in their game who are paying the ultimate price. Social media has made it easier than ever to divide and conquer. While we’re battling each other, they are cashing in. Draiman delivers this message in a way that most simply couldn’t.
 SLIPKNOT – “Unsainted”
When it comes to Corey Taylor, I personally tend to favor Stone Sour over Slipknot because that’s where one of the best voices in rock is most on display. The beauty of his passionate vocals can get lost amidst the balls-to-the-wall adrenaline that Taylor customarily showcases on his aggressive work with Slipknot. But who says that both can’t coexist within the same song? With “Unsainted,” the devil and angel on Taylor’s shoulders (so to speak) are channeled through alternating the bellicose rancor of the verses with the soul-stirring beauty of the hook in the chorus. Haunting female choir vocals add depth to the song in a way that is reminiscent of “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” by the Rolling Stones. Lyrically, “Unsainted” feels like a deep-rooted crisis of faith, at least where organized religion is concerned. If you just want to let the dark rage of the song wash over you as you immerse yourself in the primal energy of the angst-ridden vocals, fierce double bass drumming, and choppy guitar riffs, there’s ample opportunity for headbanging induced whiplash. Those who choose to peel back the layers will find themselves on yet another journey into the mind of one of the most thought-provoking lyricists in rock history.
 BADFLOWER – “The Jester”
Badflower is one of the most compelling rising stars in rock today for a number of reasons, not the least of which is their ability to stir emotions with their songs. There’s something about the way that Josh Katz infuses his lyrics with bittersweet melancholy that conjures up a wide range of emotions with his impassioned delivery. Sometimes sad, sometimes angry, but still with an underlying air of hope and defiant resolve. If you dig deeper and follow the band on Twitter, songs like “The Jester” take on an even deeper meaning.
Despite their rapid ascension, there is no cockiness whatsoever with Badflower. If anything, the opposite is true. Humility and gratitude born out of genuine vulnerability gives these rising stars a relatable quality that makes them feel like underdogs that you want to see succeed. But that’s not all. They have an “it factor” that makes them feel larger than life in concert.
I was fortunate to be able to experience them in a live setting when they opened for Shinedown over the summer. The stage was big. The venue historic. But they rose to the occasion in a way that you don’t often see with openers. If you didn’t know better, you would have thought that you were seeing a seasoned headliner instead of a young band just starting to make a ripple in the vast ocean that is Active Rock.
My knee-jerk reaction was to compare Katz to Kurt Cobain based on his looks and presence, but unlike Cobain, Katz has a playful quality that makes him feel like something of a unicorn. He has the unique ability to tap into his inner darkness, while at the same time working the crowd with engaging swagger. As good as “The Jester” is on record, it’s even better in a live setting.
Badflower seems destined to become a staple on Active Rock radio, but if you want to experience what makes them truly special, do whatever it takes to see them in concert. You will not be disappointed.
 FREDDIE MERCURY – “Time Waits For No One”
A take on “Time,” the title track from Freddie Mercury’s musical, “Time Waits For No One” was a previously unreleased track that came out in 2019. The original version of the song features heavy percussion and backing vocals. Recorded in 1985, producer Dave Clark had Mercury record a stripped down version with only piano accompaniment. It remained unearthed until Clark discovered it in the spring of 2018. Not wanting the track to be overshadowed by the juggernaut that was Queen’s biopic, Bohemian Rhapsody, Clark held off releasing the track for a year. Other than recording a new piano track, the song is as it was when it was recorded decades ago.
To say that Bohemian Rhapsody has spurred on a Queen revival would be an understatement. Not that Mercury’s other worldly vocals needed the momentum from the movie to make this a song for the ages, but it certainly didn’t hurt.
Most legendary vocalists have inspired imitators. Though the imitators may fall short of the originators, the attempt was still made. Understandably, no one (including current Queen singer Adam Lambert) has ever captured the truly unique style of Mercury. His jaw-dropping, powerful vocals on “Time Waits For No One” took a would-be ballad and turned it into a rock and roll classic.
 ANY GIVEN SIN – “Another Life”
Building excitement about the release of a new single no easy feat for any rock band, much less one that is at the beginning of their career. Given the crowded space and shrinking attention spans of the masses, it seems that there has to be something extraordinary to rise above the din. For example, Tool finally releasing new music after a 13-year hiatus. And yet, I found myself waiting with eager anticipation for the release of Any Given Sin’s “Another Life” (the follow-up to their explosive hit, “Dynamite”). What made this single release so special?
It wasn’t just the music. Although I jumped on “Dynamite” earlier than radio (it was the #25 song on the Top 100 Hard Rock Songs of 2018), and I love the band’s sound, it was also the imagery that they used on social media to build intrigue. That, and the consistent countdown announcements that whet the appetite. What could have been just another single drop in a slew of releases became an event. Other bands should take note of this approach if they want to garner attention out of the gate.
Of course, if you’re going to build suspense, the juice has to be worth the squeeze (so to speak). I was confident that “Another Life” would be worth the wait. Call it intuition, or gut feeling.
The Shinedown influence is still present on “Another Life,” but this song is layered with influences of the best of what Active Rock has to offer today. When the song builds to a crescendo, the intense energy and seamless dynamic changes that helped Nothing More to break through comes to mind. As does the “thinking man’s metal” influences of Gemini Syndrome and classic Queensryche. Where many bands would build to a scream or growl, Any Given Sin dials it down a notch to an eerie calm before the storm. This unexpected twist only serves to make the heavy parts feel more intense, yet still melodic. As the song comes to an emotional end, memories of Soundgarden’s “Outshined” are conjured up.
With all of these comparisons, you might be thinking that Any Given Sin has a derivative sound. They do not. If anything, these Baltimore rockers have put all of the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle together to create their own sound, one that I predict will launch them into the upper stratosphere of modern rock acts sooner rather than later.
 FIVE FINGER DEATH PUNCH – “Inside Out”
Five Finger Death Punch doesn’t usually make you wait very long before they grab you by the throat with their brand of intense aggression. This time around they did with “Inside Out,” which doesn’t reach a fever pitch until a suspenseful intro builds to a climax. There’s something else different this time around. According to guitarist Zoltan Bathory, “it was a focused sober group recording, and our most important album to date. The album represents rebirth, progression, and transcendence both personally and musically.”
Ivan Moody has always had a Jekyll and Hyde-esque vocal style, intimidating you one minute with angst-ridden growls, and serenating you the next with sweet melodies. Regardless of the approach, the one consistency is his ability to tap into raw emotions in a uniquely “Moody” way. The band’s tumultuous times are well documented, but they’ve made it through to the other side with flying colors.
“This record to me is ‘absolution’ – everything that I’ve done in my life has led up to this moment” (Ivan Moody).
 FIRE FROM THE GODS – “Right Now”
The world is changing by the day. People are more divided than ever due in large part to the fact that our differences are aired to the masses with the simple click of a button. Technology, for all of the progress that it brings, has turned us in the wrong direction in many ways. Now more than ever, we tend to see the world through a very specific lens, one that is shaped by our respective upbringings and surroundings. Technology has made it easier for artists to get their music out to the world, but it has also helped to create a seismic shift in the way that it is discovered. The end result – particularly in the rock world – has been bands building a career regionally. It’s not until they start to venture out to other places that they get to see the world through an evolving lens. That’s not the case for Fire From The Gods frontman, AJ Channer.
Channer spent his childhood shuffling between London, New York, Los Angeles, Norfolk, and Ghana. You can hear the influences beyond the United States in his passionate, soulful vocals that have a certain exotic flair to them. It’s not just the delivery that makes his vocals unique, it’s the personal message that he is shares with songs like “Right Now.” What makes his lyrics relatable are the subjects that he touches upon…anxiety, depression, anger, rejection, and loss. Rather than taking sides like a number of musicians these days, Fire From The Gods is trying to bring people together by pointing out that we are not defined by our differences. It’s this unique approach that makes Fire From The Gods stand out amongst other artists in the genre. Sonically, “Right Now” is right in the pocket of Active Rock, but their twist on things makes them instantly recognizable.
 VOLBEAT – “Leviathan”
Ever since 2010, Volbeat has consistently released a new studio album every three years. Like other top acts in the genre, they can usually squeeze enough singles off of each album to have a radio impact for around two years. That leaves a year of “darkness” where there is a noticeable void on the airwaves, especially because there is no other band out there that even has a resemblance to Michael Poulsen and company. Poulsen’s distinct vocals stand out more than ever these days, but it is not just the vocals that separate Volbeat from the rest.
On “Leviathan,” one of the things that grabs your attention right away is the subtle use of guitar harmonies. Very few bands these days can deliver an edgy punk intensity in a feel-good song, but Volbeat does so vividly on “Leviathan.” Lyrically, Volbeat always marches to the beat of their own drum with references that are atypical in rock music. “Leviathan” is no exception. The song is a fantastical journey about a relationship with a sea creature of the same name referenced in the Hebrew Bible. This fun musical and lyrical escape is highlighted by the impressive shredding of guitarist Rob Caggiano.
 BOBAFLEX – “I Am A Nightmare”
Distinct vocal harmonies and unique phrasing have always made Bobaflex one of the more interesting bands around. Always marching to the beat of their own drum, it’s no surprise that “I Am A Nightmare” blazes a trail rather than following down the same path as others. Actually, there is a degree of familiarity to elements of the song, but not what you would expect, and certainly not like anything that I’ve ever heard before in totality.
Most modern rock bands don’t rely as heavily upon vocal harmonies as Bobaflex. In that regard, they are something of a throwback to the ’70s and ’80s. “I Am A Nightmare” opens with these harmonies, which is something that other bands have done in the past, but other than “Leave It” by Yes, it’s hard to think of another song that carried it from beginning to end so melodically. Of course, that song was meant to showcase the band’s a cappella sound. Other bands like Queen and Styx have used the technique to perfection within the context of mainstream rock songs, but even they haven’t delivered a song with such intense vocal harmonies throughout. To find something that is even in the same realm as “I Am A Nightmare,” you have to travel back in time nearly five decades to the Moody Blues hit, “I’m Just A Singer (In A Rock And Roll Band).” It’s a pretty safe bet that many Bobaflex fans have never even heard the Moody Blues song before. No matter. “I Am A Nightmare” is even better.
Infused with the modern edge of today’s active rock, the riffs and leads of the guitar hero days, and the vocal harmonies of yesteryear, “I Am A Nightmare” is a song that is unlike anything else that you will hear on radio today. Unfortunately, Bobaflex as we know it no longer exists. Founding member, and one half of the McCoy brothers, Shaun, decided this year to call it quits and focus on his life beyond the stage. While the remaining members will be staying together, it will be under an entirely different moniker.
 ROYAL BLISS – “Pain”
One of the most versatile modern rock bands in recent memory is also one of the most underrated. If generic Active Rock is a puddle of standing water, Royal Bliss is a free flowing river filled with unexpected twists and turns. In recent times, the band has vacillated between a southern rock sound with country flair to classic hard rock that harkens back to the ’80s to their current single which seems to be right in the Active Rock pocket. But there is nothing generic about “Pain.” Buoyed by an atypical, staccato riff, this song grabs your attention from the first note. At times, it has a melodic Papa Roach vibe.
Just like the band itself, Neal Middleton is one of the most underrated, versatile vocalists in rock today. Soulful and emotive are the words that best describe his style. On “Pain,” Middleton delivers his customary excellence, and even throws in some angsty little growls for emphasis. Without missing a beat, he then offers up a poignant moment when the song downshifts in a manner similar to Highly Suspect’s debut single (“Lydia”). To their credit, Royal Bliss never chases radio trends. The end result may be less attention at radio than they deserve, but solace in knowing that they write songs from the heart that resonate with fans.
 ALTITUDES & ATTITUDE – “Late”
Like fine wine, Altitudes & Attitude fermented for years before yielding a bottle that could be consumed by the masses. We got a taste of “Booze and Cigarettes” back in 2014, but it took until 2019 for that song (and eleven others) to be released on the band’s debut album. It’s not like the band has been lazy though, just busy with their day jobs in Megadeth and Anthrax. So you can forgive Dave Ellefson and Frankie Bello for making the fans wait for more material. As bassists in two of “The Big Four” thrash bands, this unusual side project had no choice but to take a back seat to the duo’s main gigs. Aside from Megadeth, Ellefson also has his own record company (EMP Label Group) and his own coffee company (Ellefson Coffee Co.) keeping him busy. Perhaps this album has arrived a bit “Late” for the fans’ taste, but like fine wine, it was worth the wait.
With two thrash bassists writing together, you might expect to hear a heavy dose of in-your-face intensity, but what you get with “Late” is an unexpected melodic groove with a bit of a danceable punk edge. It’s more Foo Fighters meets Motorhead than Megadeth meets Anthrax, but it works on every level. It’s unrealistic to think that this side project will ever take precedence over either of the duo’s main gigs, but that doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be fully embraced by fans. If “Late” was the debut song from a new band (rather than a side project featuring veterans from legendary bands), Altitudes & Attitude would instantly be looked at as rising stars ready to breakthrough. It’s that good!
 OZZY OSBOURNE – “Under The Graveyard”
Facing your own mortality is incredibly sobering. During his days of debauchery (and there were many), you have to think that Ozzy never imagined what life would be like in his seventies. The Prince of Darkness lived like rock stars did once upon a time. It’s one of the things that made him an icon. Beneath it all, there was always a childlike innocence though. I actually experienced it firsthand back in 1989 when I scored an all-access pass as a production assistant for his show at the Tower Theater near Philadelphia. Before the show, I somehow ended up in a room with Ozzy, Sharon and their three kids. We chatted as Ozzy rode on an exercise bike while a stylist did his hair. After the show, I continued to push my luck, and once again ended up in the room alone with Ozzy and Sharon. Towards the end of the concert – during “Crazy Train” – Ozzy invited the entire crowd up on the stage. I was almost trampled in the rush, working in the pit area to protect all of the wires being used to record the show for King Biscuit Television (the first and last concert that would be attempted). When I mentioned to him that it was crazy what happened, with genuine surprise, he stated “I didn’t think that they would come.”
In 2002, the rest of the world would get to know the childlike innocence of Ozzy when The Osbournes aired on MTV. The show made you forget that this was the same man who bit the head off of a live bat, and made you see him as a family man. Not long after the show debuted, my son was born. It made me appreciate Ozzy as a dad, and not just a rock and roll legend. My son turned eight around the time that Scream was released in 2010. I made sure to take him to see Ozzy (with Slash/Myles Kennedy opening) on that tour, because I didn’t know if he’d get the opportunity again.
Ozzy has dealt with his fair share of maladies in recent years, which undoubtedly brought his mortality to the forefront. That, and watching so many of his peers die before their time. I admit that I was a bit surprised to hear that he would be releasing an album after all these years, but appreciative just the same. The darkness that has always been a part of his lyrics now feels more realistic. “Under The Graveyard” is a painful dose of reality about the aging process, and what it feels like when you approach the age where many rock stars have died.
“Under The Graveyard” has made a big splash since its release, and not just because it’s the first new music from Ozzy in nearly a decade. Nor is it because of some sense of nostalgia, or fear that this could be the last album of his career. It’s because the song is classic Ozzy, and he is among a handful of artists whose appeal crosses generational divides. The lyrics may be sobering, but the song was well worth the wait.
 HIGHLY SUSPECT – “16”
Rising above the din has becoming increasingly more challenging for artists as attention spans shrink at the same time that there is more music being released than ever before. But that’s not the only factor at play. Too many artists, particularly in Active Rock, sound so similar that there is no way to tell one from the next when listening to radio. Within seconds of hearing “Lydia” in 2015, I knew that Highly Suspect was in a league of their own. Their music sets a mood unlike most other most modern rock artists, which makes the distinct, soulful, anguished vocals of Johnny Stevens that much more impactful. Music that makes you feel something, even if you don’t know exactly what that feeling is, leaves an indelible mark on the listener.
Highly Suspect’s latest single – “16” – is unlike anything else that you’ll hear on the radio, and not just because of Stevens’ unique vocals. The underlying R&B rhythm gives “16” a feel-good, danceable vibe, but the lyrics and tortured vocals tell an entirely different story. It feels like the dark and light should be battling each other, but Highly Suspect blends it all together perfectly.
Back in the ’90s, Lenny Kravitz was able to blend R&B and rock into a unique sound that made him stand out from the rest. In the mid-’90s, Primitive Radio Gods did the same on their hit song, “Standing Outside A Broken Phone Booth.” However, they did so by using a snippet from B.B. King’s “Downhearted” (aka “How Blue Can You Get”) to bring out the emotion of the song.
Highly Suspect continues to blaze their own trail, writing from the heart and soul with no fear of repercussion from fans, critics, or radio. To say that their approach is refreshing would be an enormous understatement. The fact that “16” was such a big hit is proof positive that great songwriting is more important than conformity.
 HALESTORM – “Black Vultures”
The foreboding darkness of “A Touch of Evil”…the tortured wail of “Dazed and Confused”…the heart-racing crunchy riff of “Afterimage.” Halestorm’s “Black Vultures” hits you like a ton of bricks from the opening startling note before yielding to the melodic defiance of “Fighter” when Lzzy Hale’s vocals kick in. Judas Priest, Led Zeppelin, Rush, and Christina Aguilera all in the same sentence? It sounds like a joke that begins with them all going into a bar, but it’s not. This bizarre cocktail of influences is what came to mind when I first listened to “Black Vultures.” It’s hard to imagine that anyone else would hear all of these influences simultaneously, but that’s what makes music interesting. Interpretation is in the ear of the beholder, both musically and lyrically. In the case of “Black Vultures,” you could also add visually, as the video for the song is not what you typically expect from hard rock outfits. Then again, Halestorm is far from typical. It’s one of the things that sets them apart. They can be brutally heavy – filled with piss and vinegar – one moment, and then soft and tender the next, in a compelling Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde kind of way. It’s no accident that one of their hits is entitled “Ms. Hyde.” That’s exactly what Lzzy Hale and company bring to the table. Hale is very much a woman, but also has a side to her that makes you think of debaucherous ’80s hard rock frontmen. It’s a unique blend that makes Halestorm rise above the din with regularity.
 UGLY MELON – “If You’re Wrong”
Religion is at the heart of so much of what ails the world today. Not religion itself, but the perversion and distortion of core beliefs morphing far too easily into hatred and intolerance of others. Wars have been fought over it for centuries, and it stands at the heart of the current political divide that has made a connected world feel more disconnected than ever before. Ugly Melon tackles the subject of this rigid mindset in their latest single, “If You’re Wrong”…
Frontman Tony LaSelva shared the inspiration behind the lyrics…
“The song is basically about questioning and challenging religious beliefs. It’s telling ‘believers’ that if you’re wrong about all this shit, then this is where you’ll end up. It can also be interpreted in such a way that will force us to challenge all the things we think we believe in. Be open minded. Look at things from many different angles, and be accepting of others and their beliefs. We all need to accept that we’re not always right at some point in our lives.”
With a full, energetic sound that looms as large as Metallica on “the black album,” “If You’re Wrong” takes you on an adrenaline-filled, impassioned journey courtesy of LaSelva’s haunting vocals and Dio-esque lyrics. Lu Cachie’s gritty riffs are buoyed by fierce, pulsating rhythm section that is Franklin Wyles (drums), John Liberator (bass), and Joe Talotta (rhythm guitar).
Beyond the typical classic rock revival sound that is taking place these days, these Canadian rockers are taking things to a different level with an arena sound that pays homage to the legends who came before them.
 THE LAZYS – “Half Mast Blues”
The use of double entendre to infuse rock and roll with a healthy dose of sexual innuendo is something of a lost art these days. From AC/DC to Def Leppard to Great White, this clever lyrical tool has made for some legendary arena rock anthems. Enter Aussie turned Canadian rockers The Lazys with “Half Mast Blues,” an anthem that stands toe-to-toe with the aforementioned legends of a bygone era.
It’s not easy to work “shiver me timbers” into a lyric without sounding like a cartoonish cliché, but The Lazys did so masterfully in “Half Mast Blues.” There are enough pirate references in this upbeat, rum-soaked rocker to make it feel authentic, but in actuality, the song is about a genuine issue that has effected most men at one time or another. Let’s just say that it isn’t a pirate flag that is being flown at half-mast in the song. You need to listen to the lyrics carefully to get the full gist of the meaning, but if you’d rather just hoist one up and party, you can ignore the lyrics and just feel the infectious groove uplift your spirits.
It’s songs like “Half Mast Blues” that makes you wonder how The Lazys have managed to fly under the radar thus far. To borrow from the theme of the song, they are a hidden treasure waiting to be discovered.
 THE WILD! – “Helluva Ride”
It’s taken me forty years to realize that Foreigner’s “Dirty White Boy” is actually a bit ironic. The song is as clean and melodic as the band itself. I heard shades of “Dirty White Boy” in the opening vocals of “Helluva Ride,” but in this case, it is not at all ironic. Frontman Dylan Villain is dirty in the way that you want your rock stars to be.
Anyone who thinks that Motley Crue’s biopic (The Dirt) is only successful because of nostalgia need not look any further than Villain and the rest of The Wild! “crue” to see that good, old fashioned, sleazy, balls-to-the-wall rock and roll is timeless when it is done right. With Guns N’ Roses arguably being the biggest band in hard rock at the moment, and bands like Buckcherry still going strong after all these years, it’s not unrealistic to think that The Wild! is a couple of breaks away from being a rock and roll juggernaut.
“Helluva Ride” is the perfect blend of yesterday and today, taking elements of ’70s and ’80s rock and infusing it with a defiant punk edge and a modern flair. At times, it feels like the ghost of Bon Scott is being channeled by Villain. Rock stars today don’t live the unabashed life of debauchery that caused Scott’s early demise, but The Wild! is doing their part to make sure that people remember that rock and roll is ultimately one big party with friends that you haven’t met yet.
According to Villain…“‘Helluva Ride’ is a song I wrote about looking back on my life and all the crazy shit I’ve done over the years. When I really think about it, it’s a miracle I’m still here, man.”
 CHARM CITY DEVILS – “Skipping Stone”
Seeing new music pop up from Charm City Devils earlier this year was the equivalent of finding a $20 bill in the pocket of a jacket that you haven’t worn in years. I had just assumed that the band, like so many other developing artists, had decided to call it a day. Thankfully, it was just an extended hiatus. Though there have been some lineup changes, and some new influences in their music, there are elements of “Skipping Stone” that remind you just what you’ve been missing during their break…big hooks and John Allen’s vocals.
“Skipping Stone” feels like a sequel that begins after fast forwarding into the future. In this chapter of the story, these Baltimore rockers have infused their sound with a swampy southern sensibility and an underlying distorted stoner groove. Because of the tempo and mood changes, it’s somewhat surprising that the song clocks in at just under four minutes long. That’s more than enough time to show that it was well worth the wait between new releases for a band that deserves to pick up where they left off with radio play.
 TESLA – “Taste Like”
If you notice a feel-good, lighthearted vibe on Tesla’s “Taste Like,” you need look no further than the producer/co-writer of the band’s latest album…Phil Collen of Def Leppard. These bands have been connected to each other throughout the years on the road.
Tesla doesn’t necessarily feel like a band that has been around for several decades, but they have. I was one of the fortunate ones to be in attendance when they played their first American arena show in October of 1987 as the opening act for Def Leppard. But I digress…
Despite their early success and longevity, it feels like Tesla has never received their just due. I’d put them in the same category as British bands like UFO and Uriah Heep as far as notoriety. Extremely talented, but for unknown reasons, somewhat underappreciated.
Many of the bands from Tesla’s era are still touring today, but don’t necessarily feel the need to release new music. To their credit, Tesla has continued to write and record new music. 2019’s Shock was the band’s fourth release of the millennium. Because of the signature raspy sound of Jeff Keith’s vocals, Tesla’s new music retains the feel of their classic material.
Both lyrically and mood-wise, “Taste Like” is in the same wheelhouse as Def Leppard’s megahit, “Pour Some Sugar On Me.” It’s a feel-good song that mixes sweets with sex.
 THE DEFIANTS – “Hollywood In Headlights”
The three members of The Defiants all have ties to the ‘80s hair band, Danger Danger. But that’s not what makes “Hollywood In Headlights” have such a nostalgic feel. Though the song is built around catchy melodies, saccharine vocal harmonies, and bright, uplifting guitars, it does not sound like a retread of ‘80s hair metal. So what makes it nostalgic? The story being told in the lyrics.
“Hollywood In Headlights” is not based on any particular time period. It’s a teenage love story that is as old as time, going back to the days of Romeo and Juliet. In fact, that famous duo is mentioned in the lyrics. Who among us cannot relate to the carefree days of our youth, and thinking about the one that got away?
“Hollywood In Headlights” is a throwback to the early days of Bon Jovi with the guitar shredding of ‘80s hair metal. For those who long for those halcyon days, this song is a delicious slice of nostalgia.
 EVE TO ADAM – “Day Drinkin”
The big, bombastic, arena anthem feel of Def Leppard’s “Pour Some Sugar On Me” and Loverboy’s “Lovin’ Every Minute Of it” meets the modern southern rock vibe of Black Stone Cherry on Eve To Adam’s “Day Drinkin’.” With an unabashed party vibe, Eve To Adam’s latest single makes you want to reach for a cold one no matter the time of day. Those who need an excuse can always fall back on the old saying… “it’s 5 o’clock somewhere.”
Since the beginning of rock and roll, the music has always mirrored the atmosphere of the times. From free love in the ’60s to psychedelics in the ’70s to feel-good anthems of the ’80s to the dark days of the ’90s (and beyond). The world at large (especially the United States) is currently mired in tension so thick that it almost feels like you can reach out and touch it. A lot of Active Rock songs reflect the mood of the moment. Eventually a powder keg will erupt if some of the pressure isn’t alleviated. Enter Eve To Adam with “Day Drinkin’”…
The song is more than just a celebration of the debaucherous side of life. It’s a throwback to the glory days of the ’80s when the only tension that mattered to an entire generation was between authority figures and the hard rock/metal community. We were united in a way that made defiance fun. Eve To Adam deserves a ton of credit for continuing to be driven by passion in their writing rather than catering to Active Rock radio’s (often times) narrow parameters.
 MOTLEY CRUE (f. MACHINE GUN KELLY) – “The Dirt (Est. 1981)”
Active Rock radio is an enigmatic beast. The format seems to shun all songs by artists that are rooted in classic rock. It’s never made sense, but less so when you see some of the alternative garbage that is deemed worthy of airplay. Although Sixx:A.M. has enjoyed radio success in recent times, you certainly wouldn’t expect to hear Motley Crue popping up on playlists. Coming off of their popular farewell tour, the long-awaited debut of the Netflix biopic The Dirt put the band front and center. This seems to have given them an all-access pass to into a club that generally disregards anything from the ‘80s.
It wasn’t shocking to see the movie glamorizing the debauchery of Crue in the ’80s…sex, drugs, rock n’ roll and a healthy dose of devil-may-care destruction. These days, the band would probably never get away with the damage that they left in their wake during the decade of decadence. If you grew up listening to Crue, you couldn’t help but smile throughout the movie and get pangs of nostalgia for the good old days.
The title track from the band’s Netflix biopic is classic Crue, albeit with a bit of a twist with Machine Gun Kelly’s rapping in the mix. This track sounds like a throwback to the Dr. Feelgood days. It captures the spirit of the movie perfectly. With an infectious, catchy melody, and feel-good intensity, “The Dirt” is as good as any song that Crue has released over the past few decades.
 THE RAVEN AGE – “Fleur de lis”
Iron Maiden has spawned a new generation of hard rock/metal artists. Not so much in the influential sense (although that certainly exists), but more in the biological sense. The apples don’t fall far from the heavy metal tree (so to speak). Bruce Dickinson’s sons are both lead singers in modern rock bands (As Lions and SHVPES), and Steve Harris’ children are making their mark as well. Harris’ daughter is a hard rock singer, and his son (George) is the guitarist for The Raven Age.
Having famous musician parents can open doors, but in the end, it takes talent to thrive. To be honest, I had no idea that George Harris was in The Raven Age when I discovered “Fleur de lis.”
Intense and melodic, “Fleur de lis” straddles the line between symphonic, theatrical, and power metal. You don’t expect to use the word “beauty” when describing something this powerful, but it is a fitting description of a song blends thunderous double bass drumming with sweet melodies.
 SAINT ASONIA (f. SULLY ERNA) – “The Hunted”
Saint Asonia is a blended family that features cousins Adam and Cale Gontier with half of Staind (Mike Mushok and Sal Giancarelli). Four years after their self-titled debut album, and a few lineup changes, this supergroup is back with their latest album, Flawed Design. There was certainly no flaw in their design for “The Hunted.” Bringing Sully Erna in as a guest vocalist to play off of Adam Gontier was an inspired decision. The song itself is fairly straightforward Active Rock, but when it is played by seasoned professionals, it comes across as bigger, bolder, and more energetic. If you scanned the charts in 2019, it wouldn’t sound hyperbolic to say that 2019 was the year of Sully Erna. In addition to having “The Hunted” on the chart, Godsmack’s “Under My Scars” has been one of the hottest songs of the year, and he also lends guest vocals on “Lost” by Stitched Up Heart. It’s understandable why he would be in high demand. Aside from having an instantly recognizable, unique sound, Erna’s delivery brings out the emotions of a song in the same manner that salt brings out the flavor of food. The spice that he adds to “The Hunted” makes an already good song even better.
 BAD WOLVES – “Remember When”
Nostalgia has a way of making the highlights of yesteryear shine brightly, while at the same time withering away the harsh edges of difficult times. Plenty of songs have been written about the nostalgic moments of youth that make you wistful for your own childhood when you listen to them. If you listened to “Remember When” by Bad Wolves without paying attention to the lyrics, you may get that same kind of feeling. Though the song has an upbeat vibe, the story behind the lyrics does not inspire a joyful walk down memory lane.
Frontman Tommy Vext deserves a lot of credit for sharing this tragic tale of twin brothers taking divergent paths in life. Vext chose the path of music and sobriety. His twin brother chose the path of being a drug addict and dealer. Their two worlds collided in 2010 when Vext’s brother broke into his apartment, struck him in the head with a crowbar, fractured his skull, broke his arm, and beat him so badly that his spleen burst. It’s a miracle that he lived to tell the story in a song nearly a decade later. His brother ended up getting a 17-year prison sentence for attempted murder. Unable to save his brother, Vext was driven to become a sober companion to help other families…the silver lining of an otherwise ominous dark cloud.
Although the song might be looked at as sad or depressing, in a way, it’s actually an uplifting reminder that our choices shape our future. Once again, there seems to be a Yin and Yang at play here, where joy and pain coexist. “Zombie” is the song that put Bad Wolves on the map. The success of their inspired cover has to feel bittersweet given the fact that Dolores O’Riordan was supposed to contribute vocals on the day of her tragic passing.
 HELLYEAH – “Welcome Home”
On June 22, 2018, Vinnie Paul unexpectedly joined his brother Dimebag Darrell in rock and roll heaven. It took some time, but Paul had reemerged with another powerhouse metal band in Hellyeah, a band that has been on the rise since they made their debut.
In an unusual twist of fate, the legendary drummer is actually playing drums on the song (and album) that is meant to be a tribute to him.
According to frontman Chad Gray, “it’s kind of an homage to him with the song title, but it was a title first. It was actually the first song that we wrote for the album. After going through what we went through, we did feel that it was appropriate because we believe that Vinnie went home to his brother and mother.”
Gray has always tapped into a raw, emotional anguish more than most with his distinct delivery, but on “Welcome Home,” you can tell that he took things to another level of intensity. How could he not? Imagine being heavily influenced by a band like Pantera and then having the opportunity to team up with one of your musical heroes, only to see him suffer an early demise and cut their journey together short. As far as tributes to fallen comrades go, “Welcome Home” is as good as it gets.
 MOTIONLESS IN WHITE – “Brand New Numb”
Seeing Motionless In White as one of the opening acts for Alice Cooper this past summer gave me a greater appreciation of what they have to offer. Chris Motionless is an engaging, funny frontman with a self-deprecating sense of humor. That just makes the dichotomy of his in-your-face persona and tortured punk-infused vocal delivery that much more interesting.
“Brand New Numb” would be a standout track if it was pedal-to-the-medal throughout, but what makes it even more memorable is the balance between light and dark. The angry growls mixed with the softer, melodic backing vocals in the chorus gives the song an interesting dynamic that sets it apart from the crowd.
 FROM ASHES TO NEW – “My Name”
“I’ll never stop until the world knows my name!” This powerful refrain bellowed with tortured passion may seem like a narcissistic struggle for fame if taken at face value, but that’s not what From Ashes To New’s “My Name” is all about. If anything, it is a defiant call to arms, an us-against-the-world anthem for the disenchanted and underappreciated. It’s about reaching for the brass ring when the odds seem stacked against you, and your detractors outnumber your supporters.
“My Name” is not just about Matt Brandyberry’s quest to get the recognition that he deserves, and for that matter, From Ashes To New as well. This angst-ridden anthem delivers a valuable lesson about using life’s inevitable failures as stepping stones to future success. Waxing nostalgic about the way things used to be tends to be something that is done by older generations, but because the world is changing so quickly now (and not necessarily for the better), it’s understandable that is applies to people of all ages. Although FATN has name recognition, they still don’t get the automatic airplay that seems to come to some of their fellow artists of similar stature.
 SAVAGE AFTER MIDNIGHT – “10 Feet Tall”
A simple, raucous, in-your-face hook is the spark of energy fueling the engine that is Savage After Midnight’s “10 Feet Tall.” Intense moments make an obvious impact, but the intrigue lies within the more reserved, subtle vocal moments that are punctuated with seductive pop elements. The unexpected layers come to life when you listen with headphones to capture the atmospheric, tone-setting keyboards beneath the surface.
Savage After Midnight has had a decade to hone their craft amidst a landscape of turmoil that includes a studio fire, a crippling lawsuit beyond their control, and a last minute label change. The strife may have been a blessing in disguise, allowing the band to improve their chemistry and fine-tune their presentation on stage and in the studio. There’s an art to effortlessly blending simplicity with complexity. On “10 Feet Tall,” Savage After Midnight does an admirable job of doing just that.
 ICE NINE KILLS – “SAVAGES”
You don’t have to write songs about personal experiences to make an impact. All it takes is a healthy dose of passion about the subject matter. For Ice Nine Kills, that passion is the horror movie genre. All of the songs on their latest album were inspired by a different horror movie.
According to frontman Spencer Charnas…
“They say that everything is bigger in Texas, and this is exactly the mentality we had when penning our tribute to Tobe Hooper’s seminal and brutal cult classic, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The song never lets up the entire way through, just like the deranged cannibal family that the song is based on.”
Knowing the backstory makes this high octane track even more intriguing.
 TAKE THE DAY – “Song For The Broken”
Like a scene from a horror movie, “Song For The Broken” creates a palpable tension with haunting keyboards and distant vocals before jolting the listener as the band kicks in with unified force. Rather than dialing up the adrenaline throughout, Take The Day uses heavy accents to bring a dynamic presence and a sparseness that lets the song breathe. This approach was used with regularity in the early days of hard rock, but less so with current Active Rock bands. Though there are elements of decades past, at its core, “Song For The Broken” fits perfectly into the Active Rock format. With infectious hooks and passionate vocals featuring just the right amount of angst, this track takes you back in time to the Adam Gontier days of Three Days Grace.
“Song For The Broken” was co-written, produced, and engineered by Chris Dawson and Jimmy Beattie of Seasons After. Like Seasons After, Take The Day also hails from Kansas. Both bands have a sound that stands out from the crowd, so it’s no surprise that I was drawn to this song from the first listen.
 KILLSWITCH ENGAGE – “I Am Broken Too”
One of the greatest gifts that can be given to someone is letting them know that they are not alone in the world (even when they feel like they are). Sympathy is one thing. Empathy is something else altogether. Social media has made everyone more connected than ever. You might even argue that we’re too connected in some ways. And yet, this virtual world that we live in has made people feel more disconnected than ever. Alone in the world. Broken beyond repair. Many bottle these feelings up, especially males in an attempt to avoid being perceive as weak. That’s what makes Killswitch Engage’s “I Am Broken Too” so powerful.
It’s hard to think of something more stereotypically masculine than being the frontman of a modern day metalcore band. You wouldn’t know that Jesse Leach was “broken too” just by looking at him, but he is. And he talks about it unabashedly. In an interview with Revolver Magazine, he pondered the question “if you could never have another anxiety attack or be depressed again, would you do it?” Surprisingly, he said that he wouldn’t. It’s part of his identity as a person, a musician, and a songwriter. You may look at Leach and think that he should be happy because he’s living his rock and roll dream. But that’s the thing about depression. It’s an internal struggle that exists beyond the realm of outside forces.
“I Am Broken Too” is about as long as a typical punk song, but that is long enough to deliver a message of hope and inclusion to fans who may be suffering in silence. Realizing that Leach is fighting a similar battle has resonated with Killswitch fans. Leach’s openness about his battle is to be commended for many reasons, not the least of which is taking away the stigma that goes along with depression.
 BUCKCHERRY – “Bent”
It was around this time in 1999 that Buckcherry burst onto the scene with “Lit Up.” Their sound was raw and bluesy with just the right amount of rock and roll sleaze. Aerosmith in the ’70s. Guns N’ Roses in the ’80s. Buckcherry in the ’90s and beyond is what I expected after seeing the band perform in a small NYC club before their debut album dropped. They were just the jolt in the arm that a stagnant hard rock scene needed. By all rights, Buckcherry should have been the next band to take the world by storm. As the saying goes…”timing is everything.” A few months after their debut album was released, the industry was rocked by the creation of Napster. Suddenly, file sharing was all the rage. The industry was slow to react to the seismic shift in the way that people consumed music, and things would never be the same.
Fast forward 20 years. Buckcherry is still going strong with their eighth studio album, Warpaint. They headline shows, but not the arenas that I figured they would. They get radio play, but not as much as they should. Had they made their debut a decade earlier, history would probably tell a different story about Josh Todd and company. Still, the band continues to deliver a rock and roll swagger that is virtually unrivaled.
“Bent” is mixture of charisma, angst, and rage, but it’s not about binging on drugs or debaucherous sex; it’s about battling inner demons. This kind of self-actualization only comes after experiencing the highs and lows of life, and having the maturity to realize that power comes from within. At face value, “Bent” is a powerful song that doesn’t stray too far from the foundation that Buckcherry has laid over the past two decades. However, if you peel back the layers of the meaning behind the song, that power is magnified in an inspirational way.
 CRASH MIDNIGHT – “Chinatown”
Whenever I listen to Crash Midnight, I am taken back in time to the early days of Def Leppard and Guns N’ Roses. This band has an “it factor” that makes you wonder how big they would have been if they made their debut in the mid-‘80s.
“Chinatown” continues the evolution of a Boston based band who moved west to Las Vegas (aka “Sin City”). It’s the perfect location for them. They’ve carved out a cool niche in the market by tying in with a local club and recurring car show. If you’ve followed the band’s career on Hard Rock Daddy, and read first-hand accounts from frontman Shaun Soho, you already know that Crash Midnight is a band that likes to have a good time on and off stage.
Crash Midnight is the epitome of a rock and roll band that fully embraces the lifestyle that made bands like Aerosmith, Guns N’ Roses, and Motley Crue famous. With a timeless, blues rock sound, this is a band that will resonate with fans who long for the days of larger-than-life rock stars.
 BACKYARD BABIES – “44 Undead”
Backyard Babies have released seven studio albums and have won two Swedish Grammys since their debut in 1989. When you listen to “44 Undead,” you will probably think more about the Sunset Strip in L.A. than Scandinavia. Given their sound, that’s understandable. However, the band is considered to be sleaze rock pioneers in their corner of the world. Kids in America may know their music (even if they don’t know their name). The band’s single, “Minus Celcius” was featured as a playable bonus track in Guitar Hero III, and “Degenerated” is available as a download from Guitar Hero World Tour.
“44 Undead” is a little bit of dirty sleaze with a punk edge, yet also incredible catchy and melodic. It’s old school rock and roll with a modern production sound. Plain and simple, it just works.
 CORY MARKS (f. IVAN MOODY, MICK MARS) – “Outlaws & Outsiders”
With the heyday of Southern Rock in the rearview mirror, the worlds of country music and hard rock rarely collide these days. If “Outlaws & Outsiders” is any indication of what can be achieved when these two unlikely genres converge, then maybe the time has come for a Southern Rock revival.
Depending on your musical taste, this song features at least two “outsiders” to the genre. Rockers may feel a little uneasy about the twang of the guitar riffs, and country fans may feel the same way about the gritty intensity that Ivan Moody brings to the table, or the distortion of Mick Mars’ guitar solo. From the twangy guitars yielding way to rock riffs, and country vocals blended with one of the iconic voices in rock today, “Outlaws & Outsiders” works on every level.
 WHISKEY MYERS – “Gasoline”
Once upon a time, rock and roll wasn’t so subdivided into subgenres. Sure, there was a variety of sounds ranging from blues rock to heavy metal to southern rock (and everything in between), but they were all unified on rock radio and MTV in the ’80s. The advent of the internet, satellite radio, and streaming services at the turn of the century began a splintering process that has continued to this day. Because of the vast amount of choices available now to suit one’s personal taste, it is fairly simple to live inside a cocoon that shelters you from other genres of music. An artist can be a household name in one genre and be totally unknown by fans of other genres. Because of this narrowcasting trend, most artists tend to write music that caters specifically to a target audience. The downside of this approach is that it can limit artistic expression.
Whiskey Myers has been around for over a decade, but many modern rock fans probably think of them as a new band, discovering these Texas rockers only after hearing “Gasoline” on Active Rock radio. In a parallel universe, the band has been building a loyal fanbase, doing particularly well with country music fans. If this was the ’70s or ’80s, the band would probably be labeled as Southern Rock. Not ones to bend to the will of the current climate, Whiskey Myers plays by their own rules and lets the chips fall where they may.
 DIRTY HONEY – “When I’m Gone”
The sweet, soulful presence of Led Zeppelin meets the sleazy, gritty, ’80s Sunset Strip sound of Guns N’ Roses and Motley Crue on Dirty Honey’s “When I’m Gone.” Dirty Honey is not only the moniker of these L.A. rockers, it is also an accurate description of their sound. It wasn’t that long ago when bands like this, talented though they may be, didn’t have a home on Active Rock radio. There is undoubtedly a classic rock revival going on, due in no small part to the impact that has been made by Greta Van Fleet. They have their fair share of critics, but they deserve credit for blazing a trail for bands like Dirty Honey to garner radio attention. “When I’m Gone” has a distinct Zeppelin vibe, but because of the infusion of the Sunset Strip sound of yesteryear (from the band’s hometown), Dirty Honey is unlikely to feel the wrath of critics and fans for being too derivative. Ironically, the evolution of Active Rock radio may very well be defined by going back in time and embracing timeless rock and roll from bands like Dirty Honey.
 RIVAL SONS – “Too Bad”
Rival Sons don’t get the recognition that they deserve for the resurgence of the blues rock sound of the ‘70s back into the mainstream. That’s probably because they have too many layers to draw direct comparisons to just one band. While it may help for marketing purposes to be known as “the next” (insert classic band here), it also tends to pigeonhole you into being a poor man’s version of that same band.
“Too Bad” takes the best of ‘70s blues rock of bands like Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple and infuses it with the haunting darkness of Black Sabbath. With a healthy dose of mysticism, a tinge of psychedelic influence, soaring passionate vocals, and a heavy groove, “Too Bad” takes you back in time to a golden era.
 GOODBYE JUNE – “Secrets In The Sunset”
Goodbye June has taken the current classic rock revival to a new level with “Secrets In The Sunset.” Landon Milbourn’s soulful, bluesy, falsetto is likely to inspire comparisons to Robert Plant. While those comparisons would be justified, for me, Milbourn’s vocals conjure up comparisons to two vocalists less obvious to the masses – Glenn Hughes (Deep Purple, Black Country Communion, Dead Daisies) and Randy Jackson (Zebra). There’s certainly no shame in being compared to Plant, but that may lead people to believe that Goodbye June is yet another Led Zeppelin-esque band, when they are so much more than that.
A power trio of cousins – Milbourn, Tyler Baker, and Brandon Qualkenbush – these Nashville rockers continue to rise above the din with their southern blues, gospel-infused brand of timeless rock and roll. “Secrets In The Sunset” sounds fresh and new today, but could just as easily be an undiscovered gem from a ’70s time capsule that has just been opened for the first time in decades. With psychedelic mysticism, power, and depth, this song will instantly stand out on any Active Rock playlist. Whereas typical Active Rock songs tend to have a similar vibe, Goodbye June is making music that feels like it should be played to the arena rock crowds of yesteryear. The mission of this band is to honor the memory of Baker’s brother in name (he passed away in the month of June) and in spirit. It’s a lot to live up to, but if any band is up to the task, it’s Goodbye June.
 TOM KEIFER – “Rise”
Back in the ‘80s, Tom Keifer and the rest of Cinderella sported the prototypical hair band look. It made sense from a marketing perspective because that’s what it took to get noticed back then. It was a look tailor-made for MTV. The downside of being lumped in with hair bands was the fallout when the genre took a nosedive. Bands like Cinderella suffered from being the proverbial baby being thrown out with the bath water. But here’s the thing. Cinderella was always a blues rock band, and Keifer was a blues rock vocalist. Their songs always had depth and soul, and were not at all superficial.
Fast forward to today. No longer saddled with the expectation of sounding like Cinderella, Keifer has found his groove as a bluesy solo artist. After dealing with some major vocal cord issues that threatened his career, Keifer is as good as he ever was back in the day, albeit with a different style.
With majestic female backing vocals, “Rise” is much more Rolling Stones of the ‘70s than Cinderella of the ‘80s. When Keifer takes it into the upper register, it adds a dynamic to the song that is reminiscent of the Deep Purple classic, “Child In Time.” His solo work is unlikely to get the radio attention that Cinderella did once upon a time, but it is every bit as worthy.
 ROXANNE – “Girls Alright”
It’s not uncommon to see bands from the ‘80s enjoying a revival in recent times. Though many no longer record new music, they still fill venues with loyal fans who want to escape reality to take a journey back to the days of their carefree youth. Then there is Roxanne. An L.A., Sunset Strip band who released their debut in 1988, but found it hard to rise above the din in an overcrowded market.
Though highly improbable, the band returned after a 30-year hiatus to release their sophomore album. But this wasn’t just some nostalgic novelty reunion of a band wondering what might have been if things had broken differently. Roxanne’s new music is as fresh and relevant as if it had come out decades ago. If not for frontman Jamie Brown’s relationship with George Lynch’s Rat Pak records, it’s quite possible that Roxanne would have been a one-and-done band.
“Girls Alright” is a bluesy rock ballad with an uplifting feel. Mostly acoustic, the song has some tasteful harder moments to add an interesting layer. Highlighted by impressive vocal harmonies, this song is a nice introduction to those who have not yet discovered Roxanne.
 JORN – “Lonely Nights”
One of the most underrated singers of the modern era (at least in America), Norway’s Jorn Lande is a prolific talent who has released more material than most in recent years. His originals are inspired, and he breathes new life into covers in a way that gives each song a fresh feel.
“Lonely Nights” is an energetic, feel-good cover of the 1981 classic by Bryan Adams off of JORN’s upcoming 2020 release, Heavy Rock Radio II: Executing The Classics. Imagine the power of Ronnie James Dio, the rasp of Steven Tyler, and the aggression of Ivan Moody all rolled into one. That’s Jorn in a nutshell.
 PRETTY MAIDS – “Will You Still Kiss Me (If I See You In Heaven)”
On October 5, 2019, Ronnie Atkins (the Danish singer of Pretty Maids) broke the news on Facebook that he was diagnosed with lung cancer. It was discovered during a routine checkup about a month prior when he complained about back pain. Since there were no typical symptoms, the news came as a total shock to Atkins and his family. According to his medical staff, his prospects are good (all things considered), but the treatment caused him to step away from music for a while.
About a month after revealing the diagnosis, Pretty Maids released the song “Will You Still Kiss Me (If I See You In Heaven).” Musically, the song has an upbeat melodic vibe, but lyrically, it tells an entirely different story. One of loss, and watching someone that you love slip away. It’s a cruel twist of fate that the song was released shortly after Atkins’ surprising diagnosis. Though a bit eerie, it was not written from the perspective of a man facing his own mortality.
 MICHAEL MONROE – “Last Train To Tokyo”
Michael Monroe’s band Hanoi Rocks had a very special relationship with Japan in the ‘80s. According to Monroe…“It will always be one of my favorite countries. They still make it crazy, exhausting, and really exciting every time you go there.” Monroe shows his gratitude to his Japanese fans with “Last Train To Tokyo.” This upbeat rocker is a fun toe-tapper that is equal parts glam and sleaze with an underlying punk edge.
For some, the ‘80s was a moment in time. Outside of bands like Steel Panther, the style of the decade of decadence doesn’t really exist much anymore. But for Monroe, it never went away…
“I do what I do and I’ll never change. I don’t dress any different on or off stage because this is who I am…this is the real me.”
You have to respect someone who embraces individuality in a genuine way and doesn’t worry about the opinion of others.
 STEVE CONTE – “Gimme Gimme Rockaway”
I can’t tell you the exact day that I discovered most artists, but I can tell you the day that I discovered Steve Conte. It was 9/11/19. A mutual friend of ours shared Conte’s post about his first cousin, who by a seemingly miraculous twist of fate, ended up being the lone survivor of the Engine 33 firefighters who responded to the call to the Twin Towers. The firehouse is located in the neighborhood where both of my parents grew up, and where my grandmother lived until she passed away in her mid-90s. The story, and the kinship that I felt with Conte before ever listening to his music was established by a bond that ties New Yorkers together, especially those of us who have close ties to the events of 9/11.
The first song that I heard was “Gimme Gimme Rockaway.” I was instantly hooked. With the exception of those familiar with “Rockaway Beach” by the Ramones, it’s likely that those outside the NYC area are probably not too familiar with this tightknit community. A community that has a number of people who work for the NYPD or FDNY. A community that suffered tremendous loss on 9/11, and then again when Hurricane Sandy devastated the area.
“Gimme Gimme Rockaway” is not about the tragic moments that have hit the area in recent times. Quite the opposite! It’s an homage to life in and around the area. While not quite in the pure punk realm of The Ramones, there is a punk quality to the song that is definitively New York. There’s also a little bit of the glam of the Sunset Strip infused into the song. You don’t have to be able to relate personally or feel the nostalgia of the lyrics to appreciate this killer tune.
 THE END MACHINE – “Alive Today”
George Lynch, Jeff Pilson, Mick Brown, Robert Mason. If you only saw these band members’ names, you might think that the members of Dokken had replaced Don Dokken as their frontman. Even though Dokken’s original lineup has played together recently, this does seem like Dokken (sans Dokken), but it’s a new project called The END Machine (with Mason on vocals).
This isn’t the first time that Lynch and Mason have worked together. Dating as far back as 1991, Mason has been the lead singer of Lynch Mob for a few brief time periods. These days, he is known mostly for his work as the frontman of Warrant.
This new project is not Dokken, Warrant, or Lynch Mob, but the influences are there. Musically, “Alive Today” has a bit of a Dokken vibe, but Mason’s vocals take the band in a different direction. Yes, he currently fronts one of the biggest hair bands of all time, and is playing with musicians that made their bones in the ‘80s, but his vocals have a bit of the angst that you’d expect from ‘90s grunge. The contrast of upbeat ‘80s metal and ‘90s grunge is refreshingly interesting.
 IRON SAVIOR – “Eternal Quest”
Formed in the mid-‘90s, Iron Savior is a German power metal band with roots that trace back to Helloween and Blind Guardian. The band uses power metal to share high-concept science fiction. Guitarist/vocalist/producer Piet Sielck, the brainchild behind the band, has been the only constant throughout, but that’s more than enough. If you’re a fan of Iron Maiden, classic Queensryche, and Judas Priest, Iron Savior will undoubtedly grab your attention.
“Eternal Quest” is a high-tempo power metal track that is fueled by adrenaline and outstanding musicianship. This brand of metal is mostly found overseas, but it certainly will appeal to a segment of American metal fans.
 GRANNY 4 BARREL – “Nitro Sexy”
Imagine if you will the quirky edginess of the B-52s, the intensity of Judas Priest, the sleaze of the early days of Motley Crue, and the mysterious darkness of Alice Cooper. Put it all in a blender and you get the unexpected cocktail that is Granny 4 Barrel’s “Nitro Sexy.” And that’s just the audio. Watch the video and you’ll get to experience a modern day version of the classic Saturday morning cartoon of the ‘70s – Wacky Races. Granny 4 Barrel is much more Dastardly and Muttley in their Flying Machines than it is The Perils Of Penelope Pitstop. Not since the days of Twisted Sister has a band infused their collective personalities so effectively into a cinematic music video.
Rising above the din in today’s rock scene is more challenging than ever because of the sheer volume of music out there, much of which feels remarkably similar. Granny 4 Barrel not only makes you stand up and take notice of their distinct image, but also their music which is refreshingly defiant in its approach. “Nitro Sexy” is a reminder that rock music can be a fun, adrenaline-fueled escape from reality.
 QUEENSRYCHE – “Dark Reverie”
The year was 1984. I had seen the video for “Take Hold Of The Flame” on MTV, but other than that, I knew very little about Queensryche. A group of us were heading to the Nassau Coliseum to see Kiss on the “Animalize” tour. It was the first time that any of us had seen Kiss, so we were all pretty excited. Well, except for the one acquaintance that went with us because he was there to see Queensryche. We thought that he was crazy at the time. Little did I know that Queensryche would become my favorite band not long after that show.
The music was so powerful, and Geoff Tate’s vocals were mindblowing. I was hooked. This band has always been different than all others. There is no formula. With each subsequent album, you felt like you had to get reacquainted and adjust to a “new normal.” That’s what made it exciting. As the saying goes…“all good things must come to an end.”
When the original members started getting replaced, things changed. In some ways, the change started before the departures happened. At some point, the band’s music had evolved beyond the taste of many original fans. I’ll admit to being skeptical about replacing Tate with Todd La Torre, and took a while to come around.
I eventually realized that Tate and the rest of the band were headed in different directions both musically and personally. The time came to embrace the change. Which brings us to today…
The first listen of “Dark Reverie” brought me back in time to the days of The Warning and Rage For Order, but as I listened to it more, and allowed the nuanced layers to wash over me, I started thinking about the Promised Land days. There was a moodiness to that album that I’ve always felt was underappreciated. It’s been recaptured here with a different lineup, but the same magic as yesteryear.
 SIXX:A.M. – “Talk To Me”
Overlooked in the hype of the Motley Crue’s long-awaited biopic, The Dirt, and subsequent fervor over the band’s “un-retirement” from touring, was the release of a powerful and important Sixx:A.M. song called “Talk To Me.” The title is also the title of a movement by the National Opioid Action Coalition to use the power of conversation to overcome the stigma plaguing opioid use disorder. In fact, this song was written specifically in support of the #TalkToMe campaign.
If anyone is qualified to talk about the perils of opioid addiction, it is Nikki Sixx, who is one of the lucky ones to miraculously survive his addictions. It’s appropriate that Sixx:A.M. recorded this powerful song, given that the band was originally formed solely for the purpose of creating a soundtrack to Sixx’s book The Heroin Diaries. Make sure to pay attention to the lyrics when listening to this one!
 MARCO MENDOZA – “Leah”
As the bass player for bands like The Dead Daisies, Thin Lizzy, Black Star Riders, Blue Murder, and Whitesnake, Marco Mendoza brought a heavy groove to blues rock songs. In an interesting change of pace, Mendoza taps into his more introspective side with “Leah,” a song written for his wife. The subject matter is similar to the Journey classic “Faithfully”…a bittersweet tale of love and longing due to separation caused by touring.
In his other projects, it’s easy for Mendoza’s work to be taken for granted. For the most part, it’s the nature of the beast for rock and roll bass players. This time around, Mendoza shines with a heartfelt vocal style that resembles the early days of Lenny Kravitz. Actually, “Leah” feels like it could be a track from the vault of the recording session of Kravitz’s 1991 album, Mama Said. It’s a beautiful tribute to Mendoza’s wife.
 SONNY JIM – “Don’t Know What You Got Til It’s Gone”
When I first discovered Sonny Jim’s “Don’t Know What You Got Til It’s Gone,” I thought that it may have been a solo artist covering the Cinderella classic of the same name from the ‘80s. It turned out that the song is an original, and Sonny Jim is a band, not a solo artist.
The band doesn’t share much about themselves online. Wanting to know more about the band, I did some digging, and found out that the band originally formed as a four-piece unit in 1991 under the moniker Bold As Love. Another name change a few years later, followed by a personnel change, and eventual disbanding in 2000. They reformed as Bold As Love in 2010 and released an independent album in 2012. Shortly thereafter, they became a three-piece unit, and changed their name to Sonny Jim (a name that might be familiar to people in the UK, but not likely in other places). The band’s name comes from a famous line in a Welsh sports comedy film of the ‘70s…“What’s up with you, Sonny Jim?”
“Don’t Know What You Got Til It’s Gone” has nothing to do with Cinderella, but there is a connection in both bands influences and sounds. Most notably, AC/DC. This song has a memorable riff that carries throughout. It’s as much of a melody line as the vocals. Much like AC/DC, Sonny Jim is fairly straightforward rock and roll. The beauty of this song lies in its relative simplicity. In a more subtle, smooth way, “Don’t Know What You Got Til It’s Gone” feels like a modern version of another song with a lengthy title…AC/DC’s “It’s A Long Way To The Top (If You Want To Rock ‘N’ Roll).”
 CROWN THE EMPIRE – “BLURRY (out of place)”
It’s easy to envy the life of a touring musician. There’s a romanticism to living your dreams while traveling and getting to explore more places than most will ever have the chance to see. However, there is a reality to this lifestyle that isn’t quite as glamorous as people believe. According to Crown The Empire…
“This song is about how time from our perspective on tour moves faster than everyone back at home and the anxiety that we deal with trying to fit back into society. Every time we come back home we have to hit the restart button and discover who we are all over again.”
It’s not the story of the lyrics that drew me in, but rather the infectious hook of the chorus that I sing in my head all day long after hearing it on the radio. Having delved deeper into the lyrics, I can appreciate the sentiment as much as the melody. Although it’s been quite a while since I spent prolonged periods of time away from home, the message behind “BLURRY (out of place)” takes me back to the summers of my youth, where life went on as I was away for eight weeks. And then in later years, to the summer breaks during college. Life doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It moves on even when you’re away. Picking up where you left off can take some time to adjust. This song nails that awkward feeling perfectly.
 STARSET – “MANIFEST”
Starset is unlike any other band on the scene today. Though their music gets played on radio as isolated singles, this is one of the few bands (outside of prog) that features a continuing storyline. Their music goes beyond conveying and/or invoking emotion in the listener. Often times, this relies upon atmospheric moods to set the tone.
“MANIFEST” is a bit divergent in that it is heavier and more aggressive than their other radio hits. Highlighted by dissonant notes that create a feeling of turbulence and unease, the song keeps the listener captured with a hook that carries throughout the song.
 THE HU (f. FATN) – “Yuve Yuve Yu”
In 2018, the video for “Yuve Yuve Yu” went viral. At the time, it seemed like a bit of a novelty seeing Mongolian metal performed with unusual instruments on a mountain top. The song had a cool groove, and even though I had no idea what the lyrics meant, there was something about it that get stuck in my head. Never in my wildest dreams did I expect this viral sensation to emerge on Active Rock radio, a format that doesn’t tend to reward outside-the-box, unique songs. If not for the updated version of “Yuve, Yuve, Yu” – which blends nu metal, English vocals by Danny Case (From Ashes To New) – it’s hard to imagine that this breakthrough would have happened. An unlikely collaboration has resulted in a song that blends so well that it feels like Case has always been a member of this Mongolian metal outfit. His vocals perfectly complement the song without taking away from the catchy chant that gets stuck in your head. Usually, an earworm like this would be maddening, but in this case, it makes you feel like a warrior marching into battle. Not since Rammstein’s “Du Hast” has a song created mass appeal solely because of the primal feeling that it inspires in the listener.
 ELECTRIC RADIO KINGS – “Back To Black”
Amy Winehouse was a unique talent, who unfortunately, joined the ranks of the “27 Club” (which also includes Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Kurt Cobain, and Jim Morrison) in 2011. She only made two albums before her untimely passing. The final one being 2006’s Back to Black. To be honest, I didn’t know much of her music, and only went back and listened to the title track off of her last album after hearing it covered by Electric Radio Kings. With all due respect to Winehouse, I like the cover version better because it suits my musical taste.
There’s something about Paul Christiana’s voice that takes “Back To Black” in an entirely different direction. His vocals, atop a sultry groove from the band, ooze charisma and charm. Listening to this song conjures up memories of the instantly recognizable theme song to The Sopranos. Though this is one of the cooler covers that I discovered during the year, it felt like an original to me because I had never heard the Winehouse version before.
 HOLLYWOOD VAMPIRES – “Heroes”
David Bowie released “Heroes” as a single in September of 1977, but I didn’t discover it until years later when it appeared as a haunting black and white video on MTV. The song has always been one of my favorites from Bowie, stirring something unexplainable in me whenever I hear it. I imagine that it’s due to a combination of the ambiance of the song and the imagery of the video. Still, it is one of those sacred songs that felt like it should be off limits to others.
About five years after discovering “Heroes” on MTV, I began watching a television show called 21 Jump Street (about youthful looking undercover cops in a high school). It starred (then) newcomer, Johnny Depp. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think that these two worlds would collide, but this year, it did when Hollywood Vampires released their cover of “Heroes.”
Taking on a song like this is risky. Change it too much, and it changes the entire complexity of the original. Stay true to the original, and face the daunting prospect of being compared to Bowie. Perhaps it’s Depp’s theatricality that allowed this cover to stay true to the original and still not fall short of Bowie’s in any meaningful way. While there are some slight differences, overall, this cover really hits the mark.
 ANOTHER LOST YEAR – “H.O.M.E.”
Another Lost Year burst onto the scene in 2012 with their hit song “War On The Inside.” It’s not only the song that introduced me to these North Carolina rockers, but also the one that set the wheels in motion for the eventual launch of Hard Rock Daddy. The band may not have become the household name on a national basis that I would have expected, but they are certainly one of the more well-known rock acts from North Carolina.
Many artists like Another Lost Year are known in their own region most because of how often they play live. Those who still work day jobs to finance their rock and roll dreams are more the rule these days than the exception. There’s always been an authentic quality for ALY’s music. If you listen to the story of “H.O.M.E.,” you’ll understand why.
“H.O.M.E.” is a song that celebrates life in North Carolina. A song that oozes pride from a band that clearly bleeds Carolina Blue. A song that gives you a glimpse into the lives of people from the area in a similar manner to Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama.” The band’s customary melodic sound is infused with a rap rock element that adds a fun twist to the song.
 SHALLOW SIDE – “Sound The Alarm”
The charisma of Buckcherry meets the melodic intensity of Shinedown on Shallow Side’s “Sound The Alarm.” Many young artists in Active Rock today seem to get stuck in a fairly narrow range from album to album, but Shallow Side is not one of them. As the band’s sound continues to evolve, they are proving that they are a force to be reckoned with (even if radio hasn’t quite caught on to how good they are yet).
Facing the challenge of breaking out at radio is nothing compared to the challenge that the band faced in 2016 when frontman Eric Boatright was in a serious car accident that left him in critical condition with bleeding in his brain. With seemingly unbreakable fortitude, Boatright was cracking jokes and asking to go home by the next day.
They were already an easy band to root for before the accident, even more so afterwards. This is not to say that they only deserve attention for overcoming adversity. Shallow Side is one of the more intriguing up-and-coming bands on the scene today. Aside from their natural appeal to Active Rock radio listeners, they also have an appreciation for classic rock. Take a listen to their outstanding cover of “Renegade” by Styx, and listen for riffs in “Sound The Alarm” that are reminiscent of Bad Company’s “Feel Like Making Love.”
 DISMANTLE – “Better When You’re Gone”
The artwork for Dismantle’s “Better When You’re Gone” shows a girl giving the finger to the band off in the distance. An image that goes hand-in-hand with the lyrics of the song…“stay the fuck away, leave me to myself, cause it’s better when you’re gone.” You may be thinking that this is an angst-ridden, piss-and-vinegar song filled with growls based on the lyrics, but it’s actually not at all. At least the growls.
How to describe the current incarnation of Dismantle, a Detroit rock unit whose origins date back to 2006? Remember the edge that Three Days Grace had when Adam Gontier was the frontman? Picture that on steroids with Zakk Wylde sitting in on guitar.
“Better When You’re Gone” is high octane, balls-to-the-wall, in-your-face rock and roll with some unexpected twists. While Justin Herbert’s vocals have a similar tone throughout, Shane Karpinski transitions from Wylde-esque shrieks to Clapton-esque blues. Think Ozzy’s “Crazy Babies” meets Cream’s “White Room.”
 DEMON HUNTER – “On My Side”
Simplicity and complexity collide on Demon Hunter’s “On My Side.” With a crunchy thrash intensity that would make “The Big Four” proud, a galloping rhythm that brings to mind Iron Maiden’s signature style, and the modern feel of Five Finger Death Punch, “On My Side” is fairly straightforward in its approach. The complexity lies within the more mystical moments of the chorus, infusing the prog sensibilities of ’70s era Moody Blues. Though you wouldn’t necessarily expect all of these pieces to fit together so well, “On My Side” has a cohesive sound that simultaneously hits you with sledge hammer force and nuanced undertones. It’s an interesting return for this Christian metal act that is taking the opposite approach of many modern rock bands. Often times today, artists choose to release EPs or more frequent singles, but Demon Hunter chose to release two albums on the same day (War and Peace). In recent years, Five Finger Death Punch and Stone Sour have released two-part albums, but both spread out the releases of each part by several months. In a singles-driven rock world, it’s commendable to see a band that believes so strongly in the power of the album.
 TRIVIUM – “Drowning In The Sound”
“Drowning In The Sound” is a single that is rumored to be a holdover from Trivium’s 2017 album, The Sin And The Sentence. If this is true, and it was done intentionally, it was a shrewd decision on Trivium’s part. It seems like the next logical step in artist promotion to release singles on a regular basis. Gone are the days where most artists can come off the road for any length of time to record. As a result, the album cycles have continued to grow with artists putting out albums every 2-3 years. The challenge with an album is that once it’s released, the limited shelf life immediately starts to kick in. Usually with a few days of an album release, all of the songs can be streamed by the masses. By holding songs over to release purely as singles, artists get to keep fresh material on hand.
Trivium is one of the more bold bands in rock today, constantly tinkering with their sound and not getting bogged down by the past and fan expectations. “Drowning In The Sound” takes the band in a direction similar to Alter Bridge (though Matt Heafy and Myles Kennedy both possess distinct vocal styles). Though a bit dissonant and angry, there is an underlying upbeat melody to the song. The intense drumming sets the pace for this high adrenaline rocker that features old school shredding riffs. Lyrically, the message taps into what many of us feel in these hyperactive times where we rarely gives ourselves the opportunity to disconnect from all of the noise.
 LULLWATER – “Dark Divided”
Lullwater was introduced to me by Brian Bowman (one of their biggest fans, and an incredible Hard Rock Daddy supporter who became a good friend). Brian was always pushing me to get this annual list out as fast as possible. As soon as I published the 2018 list, I sent it right to him. He was thrilled. Three days later, I read a post by artist/producer Sahaj Ticotin that Brian passed away. I was floored. If you click on his name above, you can read the tribute that was done for him.
This year, I took a trip about three hours away to see Blacktop Mojo. The opening band…Lullwater. It didn’t take long for me to see why Brian was such a big fan. They brought the house down. Quite literally I thought. In the middle of their last song, all of the power went out. I thought that they blew a fuse. It turned out that it was a blackout in the area. After they left the stage, I talked to them about Brian and how much I enjoyed the show. I know that he would have been absolutely stoked to see Lullwater on this year’s list.
“Dark Divided” is a punchy, driving tune with crunchy riffs, a drumbeat that has an almost tribal feel, rip-roaring shreds, and soulful vocals with shades of Eddie Vedder. During their set, the band did a really cool Pearl Jam cover as well. Lullwater has an interesting hint of ‘90s grunge, yet still fits well within the Active Rock format.
 CROSS THE DIVIDE – “Lose Myself In You”
Every once in a while, a band that has already gained traction on radio and toured with established artists slips under my radar. Such is the case with the New Hampshire power trio, Cross The Divide. Established in 2010, the band’s career started to take off in 2014. I discovered them this year when I saw multiple ads on Facebook featuring their videos. All of them resonated with me, but there is something about “Lose Myself In You” that made it stand out as my favorite. Maybe it was the intro that reminded me of Gemini Syndrome. Maybe it was the dynamics of the song, with heavy rhythms mixed with sweet melodies. Maybe it was the way that the vocals highlighted the thought-provoking lyrics. One line in particular stood out…
“Tonight, we’re just counting down the seconds til we die.” There’s something about that line that conjured up the same kind of feelings that I get whenever I hear “Dust In The Wind” by Kansas. Cross The Divide was one of my favorite discoveries of 2019.
 THE DEAD DAISIES – “Dead And Gone”
The Dead Daisies were already on the scene long before the classic rock revival started to take hold for modern hard rock bands. Of course, this rock music collective has always featured musicians that made their bones when classic rock was current, so their sound is expected. Still, most don’t deliver like The Dead Daisies. Their sound is particularly impressive when you factor in the transient nature of its members. The cohesive chemistry continues with “Dead And Gone,” a song that is equal parts southern flavor and timeless blues rock. (Former) frontman John Corabi is mostly known for being a hard rock vocalist. While there is definitely a hint of Deep Purple and Ian Gillan on this track, the southern rock influences shine through most on “Dead And Gone.” As usual, the band has a big arena sound complemented by shredding guitar that take you back in time. The Dead Daisies may just be the perfect bridge between the past and the present.
 ELECTRIC REVOLUTION – “Runnin Away”
Wisconsin’s Electric Revolution is one of the more interesting bands that have come out of the classic rock revival that has taken place over the past few years. While many of their brethren are gravitating towards ‘70s blues rock, Electric Revolution is rooted in the ‘70s, but has a refreshing uplifting ‘80s vibe blended into their sound. The end result is groove oriented music with a fun, edgy rock and roll swagger.
From Billie Pulera’s percussive cowbell to the upper register rasp of frontman Dave Lawson, and everything in between, “Runnin’ Away” is an entertaining walk down memory lane that takes you back to the glory days of rock and roll. It’s probably a comparison that you won’t find often, but if you’re a fan of Bruce Dickinson’s “Tattoo Millionaire,” you will dig this tune.
 WHITESNAKE – “Shut Up & Kiss Me”
Whitesnake has always delivered their brand of sex-infused rock in a unique way. Never in the band’s history would you ever think about David Coverdale as being a “tease.” It felt like new Whitesnake was being promised to us all for months on end, but the date kept getting pushed back. Was the album really not ready, or was Coverdale playing hard to get? This was the man who gave us the seductive Tawny Kitaen sprawled across the hood of a Jaguar in the “Here I Go Again” video. For a band with album titles like Slide It In, and Lovehunter (with its famous cover of a naked woman riding a giant snake), the teasing felt unnatural.
Then, on Valentine’s Day, like the pinnacle moment of a John Hughes film, Coverdale hit us over the head with “Shut Up & Kiss Me.” It’s a slice of nostalgia that will take you back to the ‘80s, a time when the world was far less serious and rock and roll was a lot more decadent and fun.
In the current climate in America, it seems that a lot of the sexiness has been drained from rock and roll. As you listen to Coverdale’s smooth delivery, and the dual guitars of Joel Hoekstra and Reb Beach, you might just forget what time period you’re living in. And that’s a good thing!
 STEEL PANTHER (f. ROBIN ZANDER) – “She’s Tight”
Steel Panther is known for embracing every aspect of the hair bands of the ‘80s and writing songs that would make even the most debaucherous rockers of that era blush. By way of comparison, “She’s Tight” borders on childlike innocence for the band, but they do this Cheap Trick cover justice. It certainly helps to have Robin Zander providing guest vocals on the track. Though Steel Panther has their fair share of Generation X fans, they also appeal to a younger audience, one that may not even be familiar with the 1982 original version of the song. The 2019 version stays pretty true to the original. All these years later, it’s still a song that brings a smile to your face and makes you groove to the beat.
 WAYLAND – “I’m Not Alright”
The 2019 list was basically complete by the time that Wayland dropped their latest single, “I’m Not Alright.” It took some maneuvering, but I decided that it was worth it to get the song featured this year, figuring that there will be more singles in 2020 that will certainly qualify for next year’s list.
I always look forward to new Wayland songs because they seem to reinvent themselves more than most other modern rock bands. “I’m Not Alright” was purposely placed in this position because the catchy chorus screamed classic Cheap Trick to me. This song doesn’t feature Robin Zander on guest vocals, but it wouldn’t be surprising if it did. With an opening that has a cool, swampy vibe, this song stands out because of the unlikely elements blending together so perfectly.
 JOHNNY GIOELI – “One Voice”
I discovered Johnny Gioeli back in 1992 when he was the frontman for Hardline (f. Neal Schon on guitar). “Hot Cherie” is easily one of my favorite songs from that year. Unfortunately for Gioeli, the early ‘90s were not kind to AOR bands…it was all about grunge back then. Though he has kept himself busy for decades, you have to think that if the timing was a little bit better, he would have become a household name along with other singers in the genre.
“One Voice” is the title track off of Gioeli’s first ever solo album. The song opens with a slow, moody intro that (ironically) was commonplace in some of the most popular grunge songs. As it builds, Gioeli’s melodic vocals kick in. If you just turned radio on during the chorus, you might think that you were listening to a new Bon Jovi song.
 CORELEONI – “Angel”
CoreLeoni is an interesting original/cover hybrid band. At least it is for guitarist Leo Leoni, one of the co-founders of the Swiss hard rock band, Gotthard. This popular European band was somewhat derailed by the tragic death of co-founder, vocalist Steve Lee in 2010. Lee was replaced by Nic Maeder.
Rather than re-record early Gotthard songs with the latest incarnation of the band, Leoni decided to form CoreLeoni to give the songs a fresh sound while using modern day recording techniques. The band features the soaring vocals of Ronnie Romero (Rainbow, Lords of Black).
Opening with bombastic guitars, “Angel” marches on with a sultry vibe until Romero kicks in with vocals that are reminiscent of David Coverdale’s heyday with Whitesnake. When he powers into his upper register, shades of Ronnie James Dio emerge. It’s not just the vocals that make this reimagined version of “Angel” feel like a mixture of Whitesnake and Dio’s solo albums. It’s the rest of the band as well. You don’t have to be familiar with the original to appreciate this rocker.
 THE WILKOF PROJECT – “Magic”
There’s a familiarity to The Wilkof Project, but it took several listens to put my finger on what it is because “Magic” has more layers than you realize once you peel back the onion. The darkness of Black Sabbath, the groove of Led Zeppelin, and the subtle undertones of Queensryche set the stage for vocals that conjure up thoughts of Mark Tremonti on the lower register and Glenn Hughes when Matt Wilkof soars into the upper register. Aside from the fact that Wilkof is the former vocalist/guitarist of Another Black Day (who hails from West Palm Beach in Florida), there isn’t much information to be gleaned about this project on social media.
 SONIC X – “Fly Around The World”
Toronto’s Sonic X grabbed my attention within 30 seconds of listening to the band’s debut single “Pray” on Octane a while back. Though there was something unique about the song, it fit squarely into the Active Rock format. “Fly Around The World” is not as natural a fit, but that is not meant to slight the song. If anything, it’s an observation of the narrow-mindedness of a format that tends to keep progressive sounding bands at arm’s length. Even progressive icons like Dream Theater find it challenging to get airplay. Though “Fly Around The World” has a more progressive sound than Sonic X’s previous work, it is still catchy and accessible, especially given that it’s only around five minutes long. The musicianship, as much as the song itself, is what makes this song stand out in a meaningful way.
 THE FERRYMEN – “No Matter How Hard We Fall”
The Ferrymen is a European supergroup of talented artists that are not nearly as well-known in the United States. Featuring Magnus Karlsson (Primal Fear), Ronnie Romero (Rainbow, Lords Of Black), and Mike Terrana (Axel Rudi Pell), The Ferrymen is another inspired pairing on Italy’s Frontiers Music.
“No Matter How Hard We Fall” has the pacing of classic European power metal. Everything is big and intense, yet incredibly melodic. Though his sound is his own, Romero’s style feels like a blending of classic Ronnie James Dio and Robin McAuley. Karlsson’s guitar hero playing perfectly complements Romero’s passionate vocals.
 SHADOWS REMAIN – “Memories”
Two things drew me in when I first listened to “Memories” by Shadows Remain. The first was the clear, bright, powerful production quality. The second was Jason Hill’s vocals, which reminded me of Zac Maloy of The Nixons (one of my favorite ‘90s bands). As it turns out, both Shadows Remain and The Nixons are from Northern Oklahoma. Perhaps it’s a regional sound that appeals to me. In most cases, I wouldn’t necessarily highlight the production quality, but in this case, it’s warranted.
Chris Dawson, known by many as the guitarist of the Seasons After, has become a producer on the rise since his band broke up. In addition to Shadows Remain, Dawson also produced hit songs from Saul and Any Given Sin, and music by Take The Day.
The groove of “Memories” gets you banging your head to the crunchy riffs from the first note. It’s something that many people don’t consciously appreciate, but for me, songs with this kind of spacing have their own kind of musicality. Letting the song breathe helps create a dynamic that allows the heavy hitting moments to be felt that much more. Shadows Remain is definitely a band to keep on your radar as we move into the next decade.
 SAVAGE MESSIAH – “The Bitter Truth”
In 2019, Savage Messiah released their fifth album since their formation over a decade ago. This UK metal band (now on their third record label) has made a splash across the pond, but has yet to breakthrough in America because their brand of metal has trouble finding footing on radio. With the heaviness and speed of The Big Four thrash icons, Savage Messiah blends the melodic qualities of European power metal. “The Bitter Truth” features thunderous speed metal drumming, classic dual guitar thrash riffs, soulful raspy vocals, and a surprising twist of melodic vocal harmonies. This is pedal-to-the-medal intensity from beginning to end.
 PISTON – “Blow It Away”
“A British five piece rock n’ roll engine” is how Piston describes themselves in their bio. “Blow It Away” has a funky groove and a touch of punky soul that reminds you of Lenny Kravitz’s heavier songs with a hint of Buckcherry. Halfway through “Blow It Away,” the groove breaks down with a bass line that is reminiscent of Extreme’s “Get The Funk Out.” If you are a fan of Lajon Witherspoon (Sevendust) and Doug Pinnick’s (King’s X) vocals, you will definitely be a fan of Rob Angelico’s after listening to “Blow It Away.”
 PHIL CAMPBELL (f. Dee Snider, Mick Mars, & Chris Fehn) – “These Old Boots”
In April of 2000, Saturday Night Live first aired the classic “more cowbell” skit. It left an indelible mark on the fabric of pop culture. You know what Active Rock playlists can use to freshen things up? MORE COWBELL! Former Slipknot drummer Chris Fehn delivers just that on “These Old Boots” (off of Phil Campbell’s first solo album – Old Lions Still Roar). The song – which also features guest vocals by Dee Snider and Mick Mars on guitar – is a straight-forward, no-nonsense, in-your-face, timeless blues rocker with just the right amount of grit. Keeping with the theme of the album, “These Old Boots” sends a message to the world that these legendary rockers still have plenty of gas left in the tank.
 SUM 41 – “Out For Blood”
It doesn’t matter whether you think of Sum 41 as punk, pop punk, skater punk, or something else. The bottom line is that “Out For Blood” is a song that transcends any sub-genre in a way that is both edgy and fun. This is exactly the kind of music that is needed to escape the news and the palpable tension that seems to be pervading society today. Ironically, the song seems to be tackling that very issue. However, it is done in a way that conjures up the joyful defiance and “us against the world” mentality that is the foundation upon which punk rock is built. Is it a case of misery loves company? Perhaps, but at its core, “Out For Blood” feels more like a unifying anthem than anything else.
 A DAY TO REMEMBER – “Degenerates”
Studies have shown that we form our impression of someone within the first seven seconds of meeting them. Some research even has shown that it takes only a tenth of a second to start determining traits like trustworthiness. Even if we don’t consciously “judge a book by its cover,” we do so subconsciously. Standards may change, but the scientific process remains.
“Degenerates” – A Day To Remember’s upbeat punk anthem – shares the point of view of accepting your friends for who they are, and not trying to change them. It’s an enlightened approach that delivers the message that people don’t want to be “saved” by others who think that they should live their lives differently. The song and the message are both straight forward and simple, but effective and memorable.
 N’ TRIBE – “Staring Down The Barrel”
The origin story of N’ Tribe (short for Nordic Tribe) dates back three decades to 1989 in Denmark when the band Royal Hunt was formed. The band is made up of two of the founding members of Royal Hunt (Andre Andersen and Henrik Brockmann), and current lead guitarist, Jonas Larsen. Unlike Royal Hunt, N’ Tribe does not fit into any metal or progressive genres; they are straight-up, melodic, bluesy hard rock.
Discovering N’Tribe presented a bit of a challenge, at least when it came to matching the band with the song. On more than one occasion, I heard “Staring Down The Barrel” as a commercial after another song played on YouTube. It’s a bit odd that YouTube doesn’t let you know what you’re listening to, because it kind of defeats the purpose of the ad. It took writing down a decent amount of the lyrics in Google to match the song to the band. It was worth the extra effort though.
“Staring Down The Barrel” has a distinct Whitesnake vibe, with a bit of a classic Twisted Sister edge. If you listen to the song with headphones, the subtle keyboards (which range from ‘80s hard rock to ‘70s blues rock) shine through. If this song dropped during the heyday of MTV, there is no doubt that it would have been a mainstream hit.
 EDGE OF FOREVER – “Native Soul”
It’s quite possible, if you’re familiar with the European hard rock scene, that you’ve heard the name Alessandro Del Vecchio before. The multi-instrumentalist/singer/songwriter/producer has worked with the likes of Jorn Lande, Sunstorm, Hardline, The END Machine, Revolution Saints, and many more. But his rock and roll journey began back in 2002 as a member of Edge Of Forever. The band released their fourth album in 2019, leaving a gap of a decade between albums.
“Native Soul,” the title track off of Edge Of Forever’s latest album, takes a turn away from the band’s neoclassical sound and towards the more bluesy hard rock of bands like Tangier. The big, anthemic vocal harmonies use the same formula that Styx has used for decades. “Native Soul” is the definition of arena rock.
 SEVEN PAST SUNSET – “Need”
Seven Past Sunset is a four-piece rock unit from Detroit with an interesting sound. While “Need” is upbeat and melodic at first blush, when you listen to the song a few times, you start to hear a hint of ‘90s grunge. Not the dark, angst-ridden grunge of bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam, but more of the alternative grunge of bands like Live, Candlebox, and Brother Cane. The lyrical content also more closely relates to the aforementioned bands. “Need” is not about digging into the dark depths of the soul, rather, it is about a relationship that devolves from love to hate and the desire for permanent separation.
 ZFG – “Special”
Too often these days, bands take a formulaic approach to songwriting in an effort to garner whatever radio support they can. The problem with this approach is that the music ends up sounding too similar to other artists, and takes away anything that makes them “special.” In my opinion, the best music comes from artists who don’t place restrictions on themselves, and don’t define themselves by the narrow, fickle lens of radio program directors. What would the end result be if artists entered the studio with “Zero Fucks Given” about conforming to the norm? That’s what ZFG stands for (in more ways than one).
If you read the band’s bio, you might think that the thing that makes them “special” is their rock and roll heritage. Trev Lukather on guitar, and Sam Porcaro on bass is only part of the story. Yes, Lukather’s dad (Steve) is the original lead guitarist of Toto, and Porcaro’s dad (Mike) was the bass player in the band for over two decades, but this band is not Toto 2.0.
ZFG is a four-piece California rock unit that is rounded out by Jules Galli (vocals) and Josh Devine (drums). The beauty of this band is that they are all close friends making music with no rules. The end result on “Special” is a nice fusion of rock, pop, and funk that is hard to categorize. But then again, that’s kind of the credo of the band. Just listen and enjoy it for what it is.
 BOOTYARD BANDITS – “Hoedown Showdown”
Saddle up for a wild ride and a LEGO video that can best be classified as NSFW (not safe for work) with Bootyard Bandits. They’re wild and western with their collective tongues planted firmly in cheek. Some might say that they’re cheeky. Wait a minute! Why would anyone describe the southern rock version of Steel Panther with a British term? Because these cowboys are from Worcester, England! To be more specific, their bio says that they’re from the Wild West of Worcester, England.
If you’re thinking that Bootyard Bandits is some kind of joke, you’d be sorely mistaken. Their debut single, “Hoedown Showdown” is fun and funny, but it is also really good. There is a definitive southern/country rock sound, but at its core, it’s pure rock and roll. At times, the song conjures up memories of the Joe Lynn Turner days of Rainbow, albeit with the southern feel of ZZ Top. Intrigued? You should be! Check it out and see for yourself.
 MATT MITCHELL & THE COLDHEARTS – “Black Diamonds”
There isn’t a lot of information to be gleaned from Matt Mitchell’s Facebook page. The British singer got his start in the mid-2000s with an AOR band called Pride. He went a little heavier with his next project, Furyon. That band enjoyed some success in Europe, but was eventually “put on ice.” Mitchell continued to have success overseas with the lighter, bluesy sounding Colour Of Noise. With “Black Diamonds,” Mitchell appears to have incorporated all of his previous experience. The song is heavy blues rock infused with melody and soul. Mitchell’s debut is an intriguing introduction that makes you want to hear more.
 DEADLAND RITUAL – “Broken & Bruised”
Deadland Ritual is an unlikely cast of characters whose members make up a rock and roll timeline that spans several decades. Geezer Butler rose to fame in the ’70s with Black Sabbath; Steve Stevens in the ’80s as the guitarist for Billy Idol; Matt Sorum shone brightest as the drummer for Guns N’ Roses in the ’90s, and Franky Perez became known (in recent years) for being the first steady vocalist with Apocalyptica.
The brainchild of Sorum, his first calls were to Stevens and Perez to create a band with a heavier rock sound. Butler – who was working on a solo album – joined the group last. He has stated that it feels natural to be back in a group once again. Stevens has raved about how good his guitar sounds against the bass sound of Butler (who has “idolized forever”).
Though it’s hard to imagine this particular supergroup coming to fruition, the end result is something special. Butler has always been considered one of the premier bassists in rock, but his contributions were largely overshadowed by Tony Iommi, Ozzy Osbourne, and Ronnie James Dio. Deadland Ritual’s overall sound is not heavily Sabbath influenced, particularly the vocals and melodies, but there is a Sabbath undercurrent because of Butler’s playing. It adds a hint of foreboding darkness to counterbalance Perez’s vocals and overall vocal harmonies. Stevens keeps the song moving with heavy riffs, and when he shreds, you realize just how good he is. Like Butler, he was overshadowed by Idol. Same for Sorum, who had to contend with the larger-than-life personalities of Axl Rose and Slash. To a lesser degree, Perez is also a bit of an underrated talent, as Apocalyptica is known mostly for their incredible cello playing.
 EMPTY TRAIL – “Lost”
The eerie, atmospheric melancholy of Highly Suspect meets the angst of Nirvana on Empty Trail’s “Lost.” You don’t need to watch the video to experience theater of the mind on this tension-filled tune that keeps you on the edge of your seat. Somehow, amidst the darkness, Rick Lambert taps into Sebastian Bach-like melodic aggression as “Lost” builds to a crescendo. Just when you think there is no escape from the psychedelic chaos of Lambert’s mind-bending dissonant riff, the madness comes to an abrupt halt to reveal a softer, more soulful side of his voice. It’s like a beam of sunlight piercing through an ominous cloud. It’s hard to think of another band that melds ’80s hard rock sensibilities with ’90s grunge to form a sound that feels fresh and current. “Lost” is the type of song that you need to let wash over you multiple times to appreciate its complexities.
 VEER – “Breathe”
Veer’s “Breathe” is unlike any other song that appears on this list. It’s got more of an atmospheric, moody vibe, very much in line with the post-grunge, alternative bands of the mid-‘90s to early 2000s. According to frontman Ronald Malfi…“Lyrically, the songs are about nothing and everything all at once. The meaning behind the lyrics is much darker than the casual listener might realize.” It’s not just the musical style that makes Veer unique; it’s also the band’s unique marketing vision that sets them apart from most others.
Veer is a hard-working band, both on and off the stage, in particular the Malfi brothers. Ronald is a published novelist, and (drummer) Jon crafts custom guitars, does graphic design, is an integral part of promoting the Annapolis, Maryland music scene, and more!
Full disclosure…Jon and I have become friends since I first featured the band on Hard Rock Daddy, and are working together on some projects for the future. The irony of featuring a song called “Breathe” on this list is not lost on me.
When Jon and I met for the first time earlier in the year, we went out to grab drinks and a bite to eat. An overall fun and enlightening evening that we jokingly refer to as “The Broccoli Incident.” Let’s just say that neither one of us expected our first meeting to result in my needing the Heimlich maneuver to “breathe.” Thankfully, things turned out okay, and I was able to continue putting out these year-end lists.
You might be thinking that the #99 position doesn’t show much gratitude to a friend like this, but “Breathe” was placed here for a specific reason…the flow of the playlist. The song is so unique, that it fit best as the opening act (so to speak) for the final song of the year (and decade)…
 TOOL – “Fear Inoculum”
The kneejerk reaction to seeing Tool is the #100 position is probably one of confusion, if not downright outrage. But there are a few reasons that Tool is anchoring this annual list this year…
With the change from multiple YouTube playlists to one Spotify playlist, the songs were designed to flow into one another. Absolutely nothing on this list sounds like Tool, so it wouldn’t flow naturally within the playlist. “Fear Inoculum” is also over ten minutes long, so it felt that it needed to be strategically placed. I could say that Tool made fans wait for so long for new material that making them wait to appear on this list was somehow poetic justice, but that isn’t really the case.
“Fear Inoculum” closes this list because I believe that the list should end on a high note, with a band whose status far exceeds placement on any year-end list. It also is the final song to be featured in the 2010s, so I believe that it gives it some gravitas. Lastly, by having a major artist appear at the end of this list, it takes away the temptation to treat rankings as purely linear. That being said…
For the past several years, new music from Tool was as much folklore as a Bigfoot or Loch Ness Monster sighting…lots of talk, but no substantiation. After a 13-year hiatus, new music from Tool actually arrived. Perhaps it was by design that the opening line contains the lyrics “long overdue”…perhaps not. No matter. What matters most is that the seemingly endless wait for new Tool music came to a merciful end in 2019.
Listening to this track several times on the day that it dropped, I couldn’t help but wonder if the reason for the delay in the release of new music from Tool was because they got waylaid on “A Passage to Bangkok” or an expedition through “Kashmir.” Perhaps they were searching the world to find the “Heart of the Sunrise.” Like Rush, Led Zeppelin, and Yes, Tool has delivered an epic song for the ages with “Fear Inoculum.”
The introduction to the song sounds like a science fiction movie set in the Middle East. The tribal beats simultaneously mystical and haunting. Maynard James Keenan’s unique vocal style tinged with a hint of Jon Anderson. Justin Chancellor’s distinct bass playing groove makes this progressive song feel like home for Tool fans, as does Adam Jones’ eerie dissonance and layered nuance. Danny Carey’s drumming sets the tone for the entire musical journey that twists and turns in unpredictable ways.
“Fear Inoculum” mesmerizes you at one moment, and rouses the beast within you the next. Even after ten minutes plus, you still want more. It feels like the journey is just beginning when the song ends. After a 13-year hiatus, you would think that an overture such as this would quench the thirst of fans who feel like they have been wandering the desert for years waiting for the dry spell to end. But it doesn’t; it just whets your appetite, and makes you want to listen to the entire album.
Thank you for taking the time to check out this year’s list. A lot of work went into making this into a curated playlist, one where inclusion is more important than rankings. Ranking of art is subjective, and changes from day-to-day based on moods. That’s the power of music. I encourage you to listen to the Spotify playlist by clicking at the image on top of the page. If you want to help promote these artists and help your rock and roll friends discover new music, please share this list on social media.
COMING SOON – Top Hard Rock Artists of the 2010s…stay tuned!
|GODSMACK||Under Your Scars|
|THE NEAL MORSE BAND||The Great Adventure|
|SLASH f. MYLES KENNEDY & THE CONSPIRATORS||Boulevard Of Broken Hearts|
|BLACKTOP MOJO||Can’t Sleep|
|SUNFLOWER DEAD||Turn Away|
|ALTER BRIDGE||Wouldn’t You Rather|
|SONS OF APOLLO||Goodbye Divinity|
|FREDDIE MERCURY||Time Waits For No One|
|ANY GIVEN SIN||Another Life|
|FIVE FINGER DEATH PUNCH||Inside Out|
|FIRE FROM THE GODS||Right Now|
|BOBAFLEX||I Am A Nightmare|
|ALTITUDES & ATTITUDE||Late|
|OZZY OSBOURNE||Under The Graveyard|
|UGLY MELON||If You’re Wrong|
|THE LAZYS||Half Mast Blues|
|THE WILD!||Helluva Ride|
|CHARM CITY DEVILS||Skipping Stone|
|THE DEFIANTS||Hollywood In Headlights|
|EVE TO ADAM||Day Drinkin|
|MOTLEY CRUE (f. MACHINE GUN KELLY)||The Dirt (Est. 1981)|
|THE RAVEN AGE||Fleur de lis|
|SAINT ASONIA (f. SULLY ERNA)||The Hunted|
|BAD WOLVES||Remember When|
|MOTIONLESS IN WHITE||Brand New Numb|
|FROM ASHES TO NEW||My Name|
|SAVAGE AFTER MIDNIGHT||10 Feet Tall|
|ICE NINE KILLS||SAVAGES|
|TAKE THE DAY||Song For The Broken|
|KILLSWITCH ENGAGE||I Am Broken Too|
|BACKYARD BABIES||44 Undead|
|CORY MARKS (f. IVAN MOODY/MICK MARS)||Outlaws & Outsiders|
|DIRTY HONEY||When I’m Gone|
|RIVAL SONS||Too Bad|
|GOODBYE JUNE||Secrets In The Sunset|
|PRETTY MAIDS||Will You Still Kiss Me (if I See You In Heaven)|
|MICHAEL MONROE||Last Train To Tokyo|
|STEVE CONTE||Gimme Gimme Rockaway|
|THE END MACHINE||Alive Today|
|IRON SAVIOR||Eternal Quest|
|GRANNY 4 BARREL||Nitro Sexy|
|SIXX:A.M.||Talk To Me|
|SONNY JIM||Don’t Know What You Got Til It’s Gone|
|CROWN THE EMPIRE||Blurry (out of place)|
|THE HU (f. FATN)||Yuve Yuve Yu|
|ELECTRIC RADIO KINGS||Back To Black|
|ANOTHER LOST YEAR||H.O.M.E.|
|SHALLOW SIDE||Sound The Alarm|
|DISMANTLE||Better When You’re Gone|
|DEMON HUNTER||On My Side|
|TRIVIUM||Drowning In The Sound|
|CROSS THE DIVIDE||Lose Myself In You|
|THE DEAD DAISIES||Dead And Gone|
|ELECTRIC REVOLUTION||Runnin Away|
|WHITESNAKE||Shut Up & Kiss Me|
|STEEL PANTHER (f. ROBIN ZANDER)||She’s Tight|
|WAYLAND||I’m Not Alright|
|JOHNNY GIOELI||One Voice|
|THE WILKOF PROJECT||Magic|
|SONIC X||Fly Around The World|
|THE FERRYMEN||No Matter How Hard We Fall|
|SAVAGE MESSIAH||The Bitter Truth|
|PISTON||Blow It Away|
|PHIL CAMPBELL (f. DEE SNIDER/MICK MARS/CHRIS FEHN)||These Old Boots|
|SUM 41||Out For Blood|
|A DAY TO REMEMBER||Degenerates|
|N’ TRIBE||Staring Down The Barrel|
|EDGE OF FOREVER||Native Soul|
|SEVEN PAST SUNSET||Need|
|BOOTYARD BANDITS||Hoedown Showdown|
|MATT MITCHELL & THE COLDHEARTS||Black Diamonds|
|DEADLAND RITUAL||Broken And Bruised|