TOP 100 HARD ROCK SONGS OF 2020
To say that 2020 was a year like any other would be a vast understatement. The TOP 100 HARD ROCK SONGS OF 2020 is not only a musical recap of the year, but also a reflection of these unprecedented times.
As has always been the tradition, our goal is to give readers the greatest possible variety of music. To do so, we have always limited this list to one song per album (even if there were multiple deserving tracks).
This year, we have broken that rule for one particular artist by creating a tie. Both of the songs that tied were released at the same time, have a drastically different sound from each other, and were featured together on the HRD Radio Report during the year.
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 Top 30 Octane Big ‘Uns Countdown Songs of 2020 and/or the Top 50 Active Rock Songs of 2020, Hard Rock Daddy’s TOP 100 HARD ROCK SONGS OF 2020 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). Because this was such an unusual year, we have decided to include one legendary artist that you might not expect to see on this list. If 2020 proved anything, it’s that a number of artists with careers spanning several decades still have a lot left in the creativity tank.
CLICK HERE to listen to Top 100 Hard Rock Songs of 2020. The list is designed as much for flow as it is for rankings.
At the bottom of the page (beneath the reviews) is a listing of the songs in order.
TOP 100 HARD ROCK SONGS OF 2020
 OZZY OSBOURNE (f. ELTON JOHN) – “Ordinary Man”
“Ordinary Man” is the title track off of Ozzy Osbourne’s latest album. It was the third single released, but for my money, it is not only the best song on the album, but arguably the best that the Prince Of Darkness has released in modern times.
Early in 2020, Ozzy announced that he is suffering from Parkinson’s disease. Given all of his recent health issues, the announcement didn’t come as a total shock, but the official prognosis made it a sad day for the rock world.
Ozzy never has been (nor will he ever be) and “Ordinary Man.” Since his debut 50 years ago with Black Sabbath, he has always been a larger-than-life figure, a true rock star if ever there was one. And yet, listening to “Ordinary Man” (even before the Parkinson’s announcement), felt like he doesn’t fully acknowledge the indelible legacy that he has already left on the world. He didn’t need to release another album, or ever take the stage again for that matter, to be considered far beyond ordinary.
In light of the revelation about his health issues, “Ordinary Man” feels like a swan song of sorts. Hopefully, it isn’t because Ozzy sounds as good on this song as he did earlier on in his solo career. The lyrics are tinged with melancholy, but otherwise, “Ordinary Man” is in the same vein as songs like “Mama, I’m Coming Home,” “The Road To Nowhere,” and “You Can’t Kill Rock and Roll.”
Having Elton John’s voice contrasting with Ozzy just makes you appreciate the song even more. This combination may have seemed a bit odd back in Ozzy’s wilder days, but at this moment in time, it’s a reminder that true legends remain relevant by evolving.
It is a testament to his greatness that he is still releasing music that you would absolutely want to hear in concert.
 AC/DC – “Shot In The Dark”
Dropping your first album in six years on Friday the 13th of 2020 may have seemed like a risky proposition if you are the superstitious type, but when your return is an event in and of itself, superstition be damned. If Brian Johnson never left the band due to hearing issues, and if Malcolm Young was still alive, perhaps new AC/DC wouldn’t be so noteworthy. But those challenges made a legendary act into something of an underdog with a comeback story.
In a year where the world has been decimated and frozen in time by a pandemic, new AC/DC was just what the doctor ordered. If there is one band that you can count on to deliver the sound that is simultaneously current and nostalgic, it’s AC/DC. In some ways, they are like your favorite t-shirt that you just can’t bear to part with. Time may have frayed the edges a bit, but the joy that it still brings you is deep-rooted.
While many legacy acts have either given up on recording new music altogether, or tried too hard to change with the times, AC/DC has remained steadfast in their efforts. This is not to say that all of their albums sound the same, but rather to say that their floor is higher than the ceiling of many other bands.
That being said, “Shot In The Dark” is on another level. It may sound like sacrilege to say this because of the revered status of the band’s Back In Black album, but this song feels like it could have been a lost track from Johnson’s debut 40 years ago. That is no small feat. And these sentiments are not because of this being a great comeback story. It’s just an outstanding, timeless rock and roll song that would have been as relevant four decades ago as it is today.
[3T] COREY TAYLOR – “CMFT Must Be Stopped”
“CMFT” looks like an abbreviation for the word “comfort,” but fittingly, it is not. To say that this single is within Corey Taylor’s comfort zone would be untrue if you’re basing it on his past recordings with Stone Sour and Slipknot. But there is no telling how big the comfort zone actually is when it comes to Corey Motherfuckin’ Taylor. That’s what “CMFT” stands for. It may sound self-serving to outsiders, but if you’re a fan of Taylor’s, you know that the moniker has been earned several times over during his illustrious, prolific career.
Taylor is, without question, one of the greatest songwriters in rock and roll history. He is arguably one of the greatest singers of this generation, and can growl with the best of them. But who knew that he could rap in such a way that appeals to his existing fanbase? Until this solo release, I had never thought of him even attempting to rap. But “CMFT” is about more than Taylor rapping or lyrically showcasing what a badass he is. Just as Anthrax did in 1987 with “Bring The Noise” (a track that features guest appearances from rappers Chuck D and Flavor Flav), Taylor has brought in his own ringers to take this anthemic rock rap track to another level.
The guest appearances from Tech N9ne and Kid Bookie make an already great song even better. Their parts gave me a new appreciation for how much skill you need to feverishly string words together while holding down an intense groove. As the infomercials are famous for saying, “but wait, there’s more”…
“CMFT” is a nonstop joyride from the first in-your-face-note to the last. Highlighting the performances by Taylor and company are some of the coolest gang vocals that you’ll ever hear. And the video makes it even better, with guest appearances by Marilyn Manson, Lars Ulrich, and Rob Halford. This song is everything that rock and roll should be…fun, a little bit dangerous, and a brilliant escape from reality.
[3T] COREY TAYLOR – “Black Eyes Blue”
Throughout the history of the Top Hard Rock Songs of the year on Hard Rock Daddy, we have never included two songs from the same album, but Corey Taylor dropping two distinctly different singles from his first solo album on the same day warranted it. If the two songs were similar at all, the favored one would have been chosen to be featured. But how the hell do you pick between two songs that vary so greatly? While “CMFT Must Be Stopped” is a rabble-rousing jolt of energy, “Black Eyes Blue” is an inspired blend of melodic, beautiful, feel-good vocal harmonies in the chorus, and a more gritty verse with the mainstream punk sensibilities of radio hits by The Clash. The bridge starts out a with a frenetic guitar part that is reminiscent of “Flight Of The Bumble Bee” before transitioning to a classic rock vibe with Led Zeppelin nuances. Anyone who is disappointed that Stone Sour is currently on a hiatus will find solace in a song that very easily could have been featured on an upcoming release.
 ALTER BRIDGE – “Godspeed”
Though their sound is continuously evolving, there is a certain expectation that you have when it comes to Alter Bridge’s music. Aside from their more introspective, brooding songs, Alter Bridge tends to hit you with adrenalized rhythms, and in-your-face guitars.
“Godspeed” is different. The song opens with ominous keyboards that set a tone of darkness before taking a surprising turn into a retro synth sound that takes you back to the carefree early days of MTV. Unlike many AB songs where the guitar is front and center, the guitars on “Godspeed” blend with the underlying synth loop, creating a cinematic sound that you would expect to hear during a pivotal scene in a classic ’80s movie. That is not to say that “Godspeed” feels like a throwback to another era. The influences may be there, but the truth is that no band was making music like this back then. Quite frankly, no band is making music like this today either. It’s one of the things that makes Alter Bridge unique and beloved by fans around the world.
Mark Tremonti has an obvious moment in “Godspeed” that shows why he was named the guitarist of the decade by Guitar World magazine, but it’s the subtlety and nuance in this song that really shines. The fact that Tremonti has stated that this is his favorite song off of Walk The Sky speaks volumes about him as an individual and this tight-knit unit as a band. The music is more important than any individual recognition that they get, as is the desire to mix things up a bit, and pay homage to those who inspired them.
As always, Myles Kennedy’s emotive delivery makes you feel the bittersweet message of the song in a visceral way. It’s not quite the darkness of ABIII, but it’s probably closer to it than any of the music released in recent years. No matter what direction they take, Alter Bridge never seems to disappoint. “Godspeed” is no exception.
 SHINEDOWN – “Atlas Falls”
What do you do if you have a completed album with twelve tracks and still have gas left in the tank? If you’re Shinedown in 2012, you shelve a song that very easily could have been one of the many singles off of Amaryllis and save it for a rainy day. Somehow, “Atlas Falls” – a song that didn’t make the cut in 2012 – also got bypassed in 2015 (Threat To Survival) and 2018 (Attention Attention). To be fair, the latter album tells a continuing story, but this long lost single seems to be an ideal lyrical fit for the former.
“Years ago, during the writing and recording of the Amaryllis album, there was a song that meant a great deal to me and the band titled ‘Atlas Falls.’ Although the song did not make the album, I always felt that one day the world would hear it. It has never been more clear to me than right now that the time has come for ‘Atlas Falls’ to arrive.” – Brent Smith
Maybe it was luck, or maybe it was prophetic to save this song for a single to be released in 2020 as a way to raise money for aid during a worldwide pandemic. So far, the band has raised over $300,000 for Direct Relief (an organization that provides humanitarian medical resources around the globe).
“The response to ‘Atlas Falls’ has been overwhelming. Barry, Zach, Eric and I cannot say thank you enough to Shinedown Nation and everyone around the world that has supported Direct Relief during the Covid-19 response. The faith, the love, and the showing of humanity has just been incredible. ‘Atlas Falls’ is a reminder that we are at our best when we need each other. The only way through this is together. I have always said (and believe to be true) that music can heal us all. We need music (and each other) now more than ever as we are all witnessing a global pandemic unlike anything we have ever seen in many generations.” – Brent Smith
Listening to “Atlas Falls” (even during one of the most stressful times in any of our lifetimes) helps you to escape the madness of the moment and just bask in the glow of the uplifting melody. Shinedown’s music has a way of tapping into the pleasure center of your brain to ease whatever tensions you may be feeling. There is no doubt that “Atlas Falls” would have been a hit in 2012 and made an already stellar album even better. For all of the good that it has done for others, their decision to wait until this moment to release it was a good one.
 ANY GIVEN SIN – “Insidious”
You know that an up-and-coming band is onto something when you look forward to the release of each new single with anticipation. Given the fact that there is a plethora of new music being released constantly, it’s easy to get lost in the crowd. But Any Given Sin is a different type of band. Their penchant for writing songs with infectious melodies that linger in your head long after the music stops, combined with heavy, pulsating rhythms, gives them a sound that feels like it is meant to echo throughout arenas.
What drew me to Any Given Sin with the release of their first hit single (“Dynamite”) was the clear influence of Shinedown. With “Insidious,” the band emerges from the Shinedown shadows with something a bit more intense. It’s been said a number of times on Hard Rock Daddy, and will likely continue to be said going forward, producer Chris Dawson has an incredible knack for bringing out the best of each band that he works with.
What I love about “Insidious” is the unique presence of haunting keyboards filling in the spaces between the freight train-like riffs. At times, the keyboards are subtle, while taking center stage at key moments during the song. When Mike Conner isn’t pounding your ears with relentless riffs, he is showcasing a solo style that has a theatricality that you find more often in European metal than typical Active Rock songs. Nuances like this separate Any Given Sin from the pack. While Vic Richie can make you believe that he is the second coming of Brent Smith, on “Insidious,” he shows a different side of himself. Still passionate and bold, but more closely resembling Chris Daughtry than Smith.
 BLACKTOP MOJO – “It Won’t Last”
Robert Plant and Jimmy Page…Ian Gillan and Ritchie Blackmore…Matt James and Ryan Kiefer. What do all of these duos have in common? Soulful, bluesy, charismatic vocalists and incredible blues guitarists whose playing evokes genuine emotion within the context of a song. Only one of these duos doesn’t feature household names, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t worthy, especially in the day and age where bands with classic rock roots have garnered plenty of attention in recent times. What separates Blacktop Mojo from the rest is a versatility that is unrivaled in modern times, and quite possible, of all-time.
Active rock…southern rock…country rock…grunge…classic rock…blues rock. They’ve done it all brilliantly. Whereas some who attempt this this kind of diversity end up being the proverbial “jack of all trades, master of none,” Blacktop Mojo has proven to be masterful with every sub-genre of rock that they have tackled. This is true of their originals and covers alike. This SHOULD be the rising band that everyone is talking about. They aren’t yet, but those who have discovered their music and live performances are extremely dedicated. Rightfully so.
On “It Won’t Last,” Blacktop Mojo peels back yet another layer of the onion. The basic blues groove laid down by the rhythm section of Matt Curtis (bass), Chuck Wepfer (guitar), and Nathan Gillis (drums) is like a perfectly tightened canvas that yearns for the masterful brush strokes of James and Kiefer. The end result would make Renaissance men like Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo proud. This all may sound a bit hyperbolic to the uninitiated, but once you listen to “It Won’t Last,” you’ll understand the enthusiasm.
Rising above the din in the rock world today is no easy feat. Nor is having a current sound that pays homage to the legends of yesteryear. You certainly don’t hear the Hammond B3 organ on songs of this era, but you do on “It Won’t Last,” adding a subtle layer to a song that already has plenty of depth. Though guitar heroes are no longer a big part of mainstream rock today, if they were, this would most certainly be the song that puts Kiefer on the map.
 SIXX:A.M. (f. COREY TAYLOR, JOE ELLIOTT…) – “Maybe It’s Time”
In the mid-‘80s, artists banded together for charity with Band Aid, U.S.A. for Africa, and the hardest rocking of them all, Hear N’ Aid. Each one was done for a worthy cause, and each was memorable in their own way. Fast forward to 2020, a year that by all measure was far more difficult on a global scale than the ‘80s, and we have another group of rock stars banding together to help raise money for a worthy cause.
Sixx:A.M. didn’t write a new song to raise money for the Global Recovery Initiatives Foundation. Instead, they re- imagined “Maybe It’s Time” (a song off of their 2016 release, Prayers For The Blessed). The song seems even more relevant and poignant in the midst of a pandemic that has made an indelible impact on mankind.
Back in the ‘80s, Nikki Sixx’s opioid addiction nearly led to his premature demise. He shared his experiences in 2007’s “The Heroin Diaries: A Year In The Life Of A Shattered Rock Star.” Even though Sixx was at the pinnacle of success, a rock star living the epitome of sex, drugs and rock n’ roll lifestyle, his addictions went beyond partying in the decade of decadence. It was about filling a void in his life.
If a rock star on top of the world can feel the pain of a seemingly unfillable void, imagine what it’s like for someone struggling with dependence issues during a time of hopelessness and despair. During this pandemic, there has been endless, politically charged talk about battling this invisible enemy, but very little discussion about how people are dealing with dependency exacerbated by uncertainty and isolation.
Sixx:A.M. is to be commended for helping to bring awareness and funding to a problem that seems to be falling through the cracks during these trying times. Teaming up with fellow rockers like Corey Taylor, Joe Elliott, Brantley Gilbert, and Slash, “Maybe It’s Time” is a beautiful, poignant song that features outstanding performances for an important cause.
“I am proud to bring together these artists to help raise funds for the Global Recovery Initiative Foundation. The opioid epidemic did not go away when the pandemic came along. Just the opposite…those in early recovery became even more at risk than before, so it’s more important now than ever to raise awareness and support them. I really believe that united we can make a difference and save lives,” stated Sixx (a GRI board member).
 SAUL – “King Of Misery”
Saul proved early on in the year that their success with “Brother” was no fluke when they released “Trial By Fire.” It was a tough decision, but “King Of Misery” got the nod because it has one of the catchiest choruses of the year, the kind that gets stuck in a loop in your head every time you hear it.
“King Of Misery” was produced by Chris Dawson, and co-written with Disturbed’s David Draiman over Zoom. It perfectly captures the feeling that so many of us have felt since the world changed in March due to the pandemic. Who among us hasn’t felt our life spiraling out of control a bit due to isolation? That misery has a way of dragging those around you down with you. With a big hook, Saul tackles a difficult topic in a way that leaves you feeling uplifted.
 RA – “Intercorrupted”
The seven-year wait for new music from Ra ended in 2020 with the release of “Intercorrupted,” the title track off of their 2021 release. They could have come back with a song that was specifically geared for radio airplay, but they clearly had much more in mind based on the video which feels like a short film. “Intercorrputed” makes a thought-provoking statement that is unique in its perspective.
“With everyone releasing songs about the state of the world in 2020, we felt that there was an opportunity to say something about the state of the mind. Divisiveness does not exist in a vacuum. Your cause most certainly results in an effect, making it impossible to truly cast blame for the things currently that we are all up in arms against. Your personal beliefs require an adversary or contrary opinion in order to germinate in the current world of social media and sensational news coverage. We are part of the global synapses in this hivemind world. I believe there is little hope to evolve as a species if we don’t redefine and accept our own role in creating the very things that we abhor. We are intertwined. We are intercorrupted” said frontman Sahaj Ticotin.
“Intercorrupted” has the sonic quality that you often hear on Active Rock Radio, albeit with more layers, impassioned vocals, and harmonies in a hook that lingers in your mind long after the song ends.
 VOLBEAT (f. NEIL FALLON) – “Die To Live”
In the ‘80s, hard rock bands embraced debauchery, and romanticized the lifestyle in songs that reflected the times. Songs like that are few and far between these days, especially on Active Rock radio. What makes “Die To Live” so refreshing is that it’s coming from a band that isn’t known for lighthearted lyrics. Of course, their spin on a night of debauchery is far more cerebral than the typical sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll themed songs of yesteryear.
Volbeat’s music is so unique that it has a timeless quality regardless of any influences. Though the subject matter brings up memories of the ‘80s, the rollicking piano, and boogie woogie vibe is much more reminiscent of Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard. The energy of “Die To Live” rips a page straight out of the punk rock playbook. It’s hard to think of another band who could turn this odd blending of influences into a memorable rocker. Clutch’s Neil Fallon adds just the right amount of edgy grit to make the song even more dynamic.
 GRETA VAN FLEET – “My Way, Soon”
Since their debut in 2017, Greta Van Fleet has had their fair share of success, but also criticism because of their obvious Led Zeppelin influence. Critics always target success, so it’s no surprise that Greta Van Fleet had to deal with detractors. Though I agree with the Led Zeppelin comparisons, I have always appreciated the fact that they have opened doors for a classic rock sound to get airplay on Active Rock radio.
Showing obvious signs of maturity with their latest single, “My Way, Soon,” Greta Van Fleet has proven that they have much more to offer than just a modern-day version of Led Zeppelin. The influence is still there to some degree on this song, but the divergence is noticeable in a few ways.
Josh Kiszka has taken the Robert Plant influence and infused his vocals with something different. Still in the upper register, there is an unmitigated joy in the vocal melody for “My Way, Soon.” Plant and Zeppelin are a lot of things, but joyous is not one of them. Mystical, bluesy, soulful, sure, but joyous? No.
On “My Way, Soon,” Kiszka and the rest of the band tap into a combination of ’70s uplifting melodies like Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason” and the carefree days of the ’80s hair bands. But that’s not to say that there isn’t substance to this song, because there is. In fact, the best comparison for “My Way, Soon” would be another Zeppelin-esque band with incredible falsetto vocals, uplifting melodies, and a blues rock foundation…Zebra. Greta Van Fleet is arguably more successful already than either of the aforementioned bands.
The song is about the joy that comes from being untethered and enjoying a romanticized version of life on the road. For that reason, “My Way, Soon,” is a bit bittersweet, lifting your spirits with joy, while reminding you of what we’ve all been missing out on since the pandemic began.
 ECHOBATS – “Save Me From Loving You”
A supergroup made up of stars whose bands mostly rose to fame in the ‘80s doing ‘70s glam with ‘60s British Invasion sensibilities in 2020? Yes please! By most people’s standards, 2020 was a brutally challenging year that felt joyless at times because of the need to go against human nature and isolate. However, no matter how dark the days got, there was joy to be found if you knew where to look. Echobats’ “Saving Me From Loving You” was exactly what the doctor ordered to lift your spirits and make you smile. It’s basically a 4-minute plus aural dopamine hit that is infectiously addictive.
On “Save Me From Loving You,” Tony Harnell (TNT), Joel Hoekstra (Whitesnake), James LoMenzo (White Lion), Eric Levy (Night Ranger), and Matt Starr (Mr. Big) take you on a nostalgic musical journey with an upbeat, melody-drenched song that delivers the joy of songs like Queen’s “Bicycle Race” and “Lazing On A Sunday Afternoon” with a hint of Herman’s Hermit’s “I’m Into Something Good.” This song is unlike anything else that came out in 2020 (in a good way).
 ATREYU (f. M SHADOWS, AARON GILLESPIE) – “Super Hero”
“Super Hero” was written about what it’s like to be a parent and the vast amount of time, effort, energy, and hard work it takes to be a real-life superhero for your children. But it’s meaning has broadened in recent times as the entire world battles the invisible enemy that is the coronavirus. According to the band…“there are many superheroes out there who appear in many forms, namely the first responders, medical personnel and healthcare workers who are putting others first as they work to fight COVID-19 and to save lives. We dedicate this song to them.”
Musically, “Super Hero” is an intriguing blend of bittersweet dark and light. The metallic guitar harmonies and aggressive pacing are subdued by an underlying softness of heavy keyboards that gives the song prog rock sensibilities. Continuing with a bit of the unexpected, Aaron Gillespie’s vocals take you back in time to the heyday of ‘80s hard rock. M Shadows vocals, on the other hand, provide a healthy dose of emotive soul tinged with sadness. Brandon Saller’s vocals offer a heartfelt feeling of hope. The darkness of the song comes in the form of angst-ridden growls by Alex Varkatzas. Intentional or not, to me, his growls represent the agony of the actual loss of life that so many have faced, and the frustration of the loss of the life that we all had before this insidious virus stopped the world in its tracks.
 KILLSWITCH ENGAGE – “I Can’t Be The Only One”
An anthem of rage that addresses the human condition, the message of “I Can’t Be The Only One” has taken on a new meaning since its release at the end of February. Written and recorded well before the coronavirus pandemic that has stopped the world in its tracks, this song now seems prophetic. Amazingly, despite a threat that doesn’t discriminate by political beliefs or pay heed to borders of any kind, we still find ourselves as divided as ever. The sage wisdom contained within “I Can’t Be The Only One” embraces the mindset that is needed to defeat this invisible enemy…“United, we overcome, undivided, we are the sum.” The relentless, pulsating rhythm of this track combined with uplifting guitars and angst-ridden vocals energizes you while slapping you in the face with a harsh dose of reality.
 DAUGHTRY – “World On Fire”
American Idol isn’t exactly a path to rock stardom. Those that have managed to enjoy a career as a performer are predominantly in other genres. Aside from Adam Lambert fronting Queen, rock artists have not had much success. Chris Daughtry is the exception to the rule. Though Daughtry and his band have spent most of their career signed to a major record label, they are currently an independent band. It may seem like a step backwards to no longer be on a label, but in actuality, it may be a step forward (at least musically).
No longer is there pressure to write songs geared specifically towards garnering radio airplay. In an interview with Atwood Magazine, Daughtry shared his thoughts about writing music as an independent artist…
“I have full creative control right now, and I’m making the record that I’ve wanted to make for years,” Daughtry beams. “I’m not really thinking about, “Is this gonna make it on the radio?” Or, “Is this gonna be a cross-over?” I don’t give a shit anymore.”
Not giving a shit about radio and writing from the heart, combined with experiencing life in apocalyptic feeling climate of 2020, has brought out an energetic sound in the band that feels bigger than their previous work. Still dripping with infectious melody, “World On Fire” tackles meaningful subject matter in a heavier way than the past. What still remains are Daughtry’s distinct, impassioned vocals.
 BLUE OYSTER CULT – “Tainted Blood”
It’s been nearly two decades since Blue Oyster Cult released their last studio album. Truth be told, I never expected to hear new music from them again. This has nothing to do with their ability, but rather the diminishing returns that well-established artists have on recording new music because most of the money is made on touring. The silver lining of 2020 may be that with touring basically eliminated, the creativity spilled out into making new music.
“Tainted Blood” is proof that Blue Oyster Cult still has plenty left to give in the way of new music. Their debut album was released almost 50 years ago, and there has been plenty of music in between to cement their legacy. It’s not being hyperbolic to say that “Tainted Blood” is one of their best songs ever. There is a progressive feel to it that separates it from some of their biggest hits, but it shines just as brightly. If you have an appreciation for epic songs with moving vocal harmonies, make sure to check this one out.
 STARSET – “Trials”
The prophecy of Starset may seem like a page ripped out of a science fiction novel. “Trials,” like their third album (Divisions), tackles the potential impact that science and technology continue to have on our lives. Ironically, the technology that is consuming us became a necessary evil as Covid-19 mandated physical separation. Technology was the way that we have all stayed somewhat connected. But that doesn’t mean that our lives haven’t been drastically changed. If ever there was a trial to test our collective resolve, it is this once-in-a-lifetime global event. Beyond the threat of the virus lies a serious problem that likely still hasn’t been fully realized because we’re all consumed with finding some semblance of normal again. But what about those who were struggling in life before this pandemic hit? What is their mental state like? How have they handled this life-altering trial?
One of the things that has helped make this period of isolation somewhat tolerable for me has been leaning on music to take me away to a better place in my mind. Starset used this as an opportunity to connect with fans and let them know that they are not alone in this trial. Fans were encouraged to share their particular trials on social media by using the hashtag #STARSETTRIALS. The collection of fans trials can be found here.
 MOTIONLESS IN WHITE – “Somebody Told Me”
The original version of “Somebody Told Me” by The Killers is a catchy song that is layered with pop synthesizers. Motionless In White’s cover stays fairly true to the original, but the synthesizers are more of the symphonic metal variety, and the underlying rhythm is heavier and more driving. Chris Motionless’ voice has a similar quality to Brandon Flowers, but with an angsty edge. With all due respect to The Killers, the Motionless In White cover of “Somebody Told Me” is a better song for those who appreciate a little bit of grit. The few moments of growling paint a distinct difference from the original, but it’s the overall sound that really sets it apart. It’s as if Motionless In White took the original, pumped it full of steroids, and infused it with a healthy dose of adrenaline and testosterone to make it relevant for Active Rock radio.
 CAVO – “Muscle Memory”
Once upon a time, it was the dream of every aspiring rock band to sign a record deal. For many, that dream remains the same. But record deals are not as glorious as they seem from the outside. Often times, the business side takes precedence over the creative side. That’s why some of the most interesting music comes from artists that are not beholden to label. It allows creativity to flow when songs are written unencumbered and from the heart. Such is the case with Cavo’s “Muscle Memory,” which is actually inspired by this freedom.
According to frontman Casey Walker…
“‘Muscle Memory’ comes from a place of the band being tired of being in a box. It’s our way of not playing by the rules that people outside of the band had set for us. We had to step back and look at ourselves for the answers and drown out all the noise pollution.”
By drowning out the “noise pollution,” Cavo has delivered arguably their most memorable song to date. It’s the kind of song that is difficult to pigeonhole because it’s so unique. From the heavy, hard rocking moments to the singable riff, to the reggae-esque guitars beneath the verses, “Muscle Memory” delivers something special.
 ASKING ALEXANDRIA – “House On Fire”
We’re living in a whole new world today due in large part to a pandemic that has spread around the globe. No one knows what the new normal will be when we get on the other side of this global crisis (particularly in the music business). But not all changes are due to Covid-19. Some significant changes had already been in full effect in the music industry before this crisis hit, mostly due to technology and the short attention span of a society overwhelmed with constant stimuli. One of those changes was in the approach that rock artists are taking to release singles.
Not long ago, singles had little to no overlap with each other. In fact, sometimes singles had such a long shelf life on radio that it made you start to grow weary of hearing a particular song at all. That approach seems to be on its way out. Case in point…Asking Alexandria released “House On Fire” four days before the album dropped. On its own, that wouldn’t be newsworthy, but when you take into account that it was the fifth single released before the street date, it makes you take notice. This may be an extreme case, but the trend of overlapping singles has become increasingly more commonplace, and looks like it’s here to stay.
This is frontman Danny Worsnop’s second album since returning after a brief departure in 2015. According to guitarist Ben Bruce…“Our last record was a lot of reconnecting, re-bonding, and relearning from each other. On this new record, we were 100% comfortable again. We were totally on the same page. This is the first album that we’ve done sober. We pride ourselves on the fact that we grow and change and explore new roads while staying true to ourselves with every record.”
You can feel the comfort that the band has together on “House On Fire.” It starts off with a bit of raw, high energy edge before transitioning to a cool, moody vibe. Drenched with infectious melody throughout, this is Asking Alexandria at their best. Worsnop has always had one of the best melodic voices around, and doesn’t need screaming to shine, as he does on this outstanding track.
 I PREVAIL (f. DELANEY JANE) – “Every Time You Leave”
There is a poetic beauty to the lyric “every time you leave, I lose a little piece of me.” It has a romantic feeling that is similar to the sentiment shared on Led Zeppelin’s “Thank You.” At face value, this moving duet (featuring Canadian EDM artist, Delaney Jane) seems like a love song that is in the same vein as the great male/female duets of the past. But when you watch the video, you realize that the leaving is not just a romantic notion of a couple completing each other, but rather the type of leaving that creates long-term separation filled with uncertainty when one partner is leaving for a military obligation. Perhaps that is why the song conjures up such bittersweet emotions. Clearly, this side of I Prevail has made an impact given that it is nominated for a Grammy.
 THE PRETTY RECKLESS – “Death By Rock And Roll”
Death is something that most people fear and dread thinking about because of the finality of it all. It certainly isn’t something that people think of as sexy, but Taylor Momsen manages to make it so with her sultry delivery of some pretty grim lyrics. In what can best be described as the lovechild conceived during an orgy between Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, and Janis Joplin, “Death by Rock and Roll” is a modern song that takes you back to a time when rock and roll was more dangerous and unpredictable. In the song, Momsen describes a number of different tragic ways to die, but cleverly puts each one under the larger subheading of “Death by Rock and Roll.” The lyrics conjure up memories of the famous Hunter S. Thompson quote…
“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming ‘Wow! What a Ride!’”
This is not to say that Momsen is cavalier about death or tragedies, because she’s not. “Death by Rock and Roll” was inspired by two painful losses in her life…Chris Cornell (her musical hero), and Kato Khandwala (producer of The Pretty Reckless’ first three albums). Both men died within a year of each other. Cornell by suicide, and Khandwala in a motorcycle crash. Both causes of death are mentioned in the song.
In an interview with Kerrang!, Momsen shared…
“It took me into what I can only describe as an extraordinarily dark downward spiral. I was in a hole that I didn’t know how to get out of, or if I was going to get out of it. It sounds clichéd, but it was the music that was the thing that brought me back to life. The only thing that I could turn to was music and that eventually led me to just writing how I was feeling. ‘Death by Rock and Roll’ represents that salvation that my favorite music brings me. Rock is freedom, and this song is about living life the way that you want.”
 RIVAL SONS – “Shooting Stars”
Cinematic tension meets a stirring spiritual awakening at the outset of “Shooting Stars,” thanks in large part to the blending of Jay Buchanan’s soulful vocals and angelic harmonies of The Nashville Urban Choir. Active Rock is not the genre that you think of when you envision songs that are so emotional that they can bring you to tears. But that’s exactly what “Shooting Stars” is capable of. It’s more than a song; it’s a cathartic experience that never loses its luster no many how many times you listen to it. The beauty of the song lies in its relative simplicity, its positive message, and the way that it seems to reach through your chest and grab your heart in an uplifting way.
 DEE SNIDER & LZZY HALE – “The Magic Of Christmas”
More often than not, rock and roll Christmas songs are just adrenaline filled versions of the same old classics that have lost their appeal to many over the course of time. Some may look at this as a cover because it originally debuted in 1998 on Celine Dion’s smash holiday album, These Are Special Times. But I’m calling this one an original because it was written by Snider for his wife, Suzette. It just took him over two decades to record it on his own for release.
If you’re going to do a rock and roll duet these days, Lzzy Hale stands above all others as the female vocalist of choice. Not only does she have the sweet beauty to complement her male counterpart’s vocals, but she is also an absolute badass in comparison to all singers regardless of gender.
For my money, the best Christmas songs are the ones that make you feel the magic of the season that only lasts for a short time, but can also be listened to throughout the year and enjoyed on its own merits. Unicorn songs like “The Magic Of Christmas” are few and far between. This duet has been added to my relatively short playlist of songs to get me into the spirit of the season.
 ECLIPSE – “Viva La Victoria”
Though they’ve been in existence for over two decades, Eclipse is a band that is likely unfamiliar to many rock fans on this side of the pond. It’s a shame because these Swedish rockers are nothing short of brilliant. If you’re just being introduced to the band, “Viva La Victoria” is an excellent entry point. With bombastic theatricality, this song makes you want to march into battle with Eclipse. The soaring vocals and stunning harmonies against the backdrop of a haunting gang chant and marching vibe makes this powerful song feel like the lovechild of Iron Maiden and ‘80s hard rock with a modern flair.
 BLACK SWAN – “Long Road To Nowhere”
Whenever I see a new release coming from a Frontiers Records supergroup, two thoughts come to mind. The first is excitement because of the outstanding collaborations that I’ve heard from the label over the years. The next is to embrace the moment because you never know if the first release will also be the last. Still, with a lineup that includes Robin McAuley, Jeff Pilson, Reb Beach, and Matt Starr, I looked forward to hearing their music with eager anticipation, and I was not disappointed. If you read the lyrics without listening to a “Long Road To Nowhere,” and didn’t know about the band, you would probably expect a darkness highlighted by angst-ridden growls. What you get is the exact opposite of that though. Brilliant, uplifting melodies with a driving rhythm and powerfully emotive vocals prove that these legendary rockers still have a lot of magic left inside of them.
 PISTON – “Let Us Rise”
Times of distress can either bring people together or tear them apart. In some ways, the Covid pandemic has brought people together, but in other ways, it has made the divide even greater. We would all be stronger if we were in this together, but that is clearly not the case. “Let Us Rise” encourages us all to come together and overcome this pandemic.
In an interview with The Rockpit, Piston frontman Rob Angelico said…
“As humans we all have to progress, and we can do anything together. We need to show love more now than ever. The only race that matters is humanity. Let’s rise, come together, and become one.”
In a divided society, this is easier said than done, but this British rockers are delivering a sage message just the same with “Let Us Rise.”
Had I not read the interview, I would have thought that the song was a call to arms to grab the bull by the horns and live the life that you want to live rather than conforming to the expectations of others. Regardless of the meaning, this raw rocker is reminiscent of the early unpolished days of Def Leppard and the glory days of ‘70s Kiss. It’s the kind of fist-pumping song that reminds you of joyful days gone by.
 HOOKERS & BLOW – “Rocks Off”
The Rolling Stones have been covered numerous times over their nearly 60 year career, so the bar is set pretty high for anyone attempting to do so. Hookers & Blow – the supergroup featuring Dizzy Reed (Guns N’ Roses), Alex Grossi (Quiet Riot), Johnny Kelly (Type O Negative), and Robbie Crane (Black Star Riders) – more than cleared the bar. In fact, their cover of “Rocks Off” instantly launched to the top of the list of Rolling Stone covers for me. Capturing the swagger and persona of Mick Jagger to a tee, Hookers & Blow infuse this classic with a bit of hard rock testosterone to give the song new life while staying fairly true to the original.
 BADFLOWER – “30”
If there is one thing that stands out most about Badflower, it’s the fact that they march to the beat of their own drum. Though they get plenty of spins on Active Rock radio, it’s not because they tailor their sound to the format. Quite the contrary! If anything, Badflower has blazed their own trail through virgin territory to carve out a niche that they solely occupy.
The view from the age of 30 is vastly different depending on your vantage point. In your early years, 30 feels like a lifetime away. As you span the decades, and 30 gets farther away in the rear view mirror, the realization of that particular milestone seems somewhat inconsequential. But in the moment, turning 30 is a pivotal point in time where you become almost instinctually reflective about your life.
Badflower frontman, Josh Katz, captures the angst that comes with being at an age that can feel like an uncomfortable crossroads of youth and adulthood. One verse in particular poignantly represents this confusing feeling…
“I’m older, I’ve got wrinkles…I still complain, I get pimples…I miss when everything was simple.”
There’s a refreshing grungy, punk edge to “30” at times that would make you think that the band was British if you didn’t know any better.
Speaking as someone who vividly remembers this milestone, I can say unequivocally that there is some hyperbolic poetic license taken to drive home the libido issue addressed. If this part of the song was not vastly exaggerated for emphasis, there will literally be no time (or energy left) for Katz to write and record songs like this.
 SMITH & MYERS – “Not Mad Enough”
One of the reasons that Shinedown has had as many hits as they have is because the messages in their songs connect with people on a deep level. During a particularly trying year, with the pandemic and everything else going on in the world, Shinedown fans turned to the band’s songs to cling to the hope in their inspirational lyrics. But sometimes, they also deliver a message of rage with songs like “Bully” and “Devour.”
As bad as the fallout from the pandemic has been, things got much worse after the brutal killing of George Floyd. If anyone had any doubts that racial inequality was a major problem in the United States, the video of Floyd’s death made it abundantly clear. Still, many were quick to blame the victim, which speaks to a much deeper problem going on in this country.
If you watched any of the video of Floyd gasping for air as a policeman knelt on his neck, and didn’t get angry, then Smith & Myer’s latest single “Not Mad Enough” is for you. This isn’t about the left or the right, blue or red; this is about humanity and respect for life.
“Brent and I had never discussed some of this subject matter before, and we dug so deep while also touching on a world that’s rapidly changing around us the last eight months. We felt it would be disingenuous not to touch on social issues we face as humans,” stated Zach Myers.
“Not Mad Enough” may be on the softer side musically because it’s an acoustic piece, but the lyrics are every bit as intense as the aforementioned songs of rage. Though this song was specifically inspired by Floyd’s killing, I submit that it holds true for a lot of the ills that are plaguing society today. In many ways, the world is crumbling around us, and far too many people are “not mad enough.”
 PAPERCUT MASSACRE (f. ZACH MYERS) – “Alive & Well”
This review was going to be vastly different when “Alive & Well” was included in the final list of top hard rock songs of the year. In this moment, the title of the song feels like an almost surreal type of cruelty. On January 2nd, the following message was written on Papercut Massacre’s Facebook page…
“It’s with deep sadness and disbelief I write to you with the news of the passing of our very own and my dear friend, Joey Culver. He’s touched the hearts and souls of many and he’ll always be remembered for doing such. Please pray for his family and friends during this difficult time. Thank you. Shawn (Morgan)”
I was floored when I read this. I knew that Papercut Massacre flew beneath the radar, but never realized just how far. Culver’s passing didn’t even seem to make news in rock circles. But that doesn’t diminish the mark that he left behind for his fans.
Culver was the voice and driving force behind Papercut Massacre. I thought that this song may be the one that helped elevate their status given the guest guitar appearance by Shinedown’s Zach Myers. I guess we’ll never know now that another talent has been taken way before his time.
“Alive & Well” is a powerful song that hits you with a punch right from the opening note. Part of what makes the song to appealing is the space between the notes, the part of songs that are often overlooked for their greatness. It’s bittersweet, but listening to this song still brings me a sense of joy.
 BLACK VEIL BRIDES – “Scarlet Cross”
Listening to “Scarlet Cross” for the first time without realizing that it is part of a concept album, the nuances of the song reminded me of Queensryche infused with the bright, melodic riffs that defined Dokken in their heyday.
Like Queensryche’s Operation: Mindcrime album, Black Veil Brides’ concept album tells a story inspired by real life society through the lens of fictional characters. The other similarity to Mindcrime is the political undertone that is woven throughout the story.
In an interview with Alternative Press, Andy Biersack shared the following thoughts about the concept of the album…
“There are so many instances historically—and just on an emotional level for everybody—where the truth being malleable becomes a tool for good. But then inversely, we live in a world where the truth being malleable has become the ultimate tool for derision and the degradation of our democracy.”
Even out of the context of the story told on the concept album, “Scarlet Cross” stands out as an uplifting rocker with a modern twist that harkens back to the glory days of hard rock.
 JOEL HOEKSTRA’S 13 – “Hard To Say Goodbye”
Joel Hoeskstra is one of the hardest working musicians on the scene today, but his work is still underrated in my opinion. With Whitesnake, he is one of two guitarists that help bring classic songs to life. The songs and David Coverdale take center stage for the most part with Whitesnake. He’s toured with Cher, where she clearly draws most of the attention. He’s appeared with Rock Of Ages and toured with Trans-Siberian Orchestra, places where the event is larger than any of its members.
The last time that Hoekstra was front and center was on 2015’s debut album by Joel Hoekstra’s 13 (Dying To Live). It’s hard to believe how quickly time has passed since the band’s song “Scream” was featured on Hard Rock Daddy.
“Hard To Say Goodbye” is the lead single off of the band’s sophomore release, Running Games. The song sounds like it was ripped from a late-‘80s vault of melodic hard rock, making it a joyous walk down memory lane to the glory days of an entire generation. Featuring an all-star lineup of Russell Allen (vocals), Tony Franklin (bass), Vinny Appice (drums), Derek Sherinian (keyboards), and Jeff Scott Soto (backing vocals), this song makes you wish that this was a permanent lineup rather than a side project. Definitely no sophomore jinx from this stellar band.
 RISE AGAINST – “Broken Dreams, Inc.”
The divide between the haves and have-nots has never been starker than it is right now. Throughout the course of this pandemic, millions of people are struggling just to keep food on their table or a roof over their heads. The added wealth that the top 1% has amassed during the same time period has been nothing short of astounding. Perhaps more than any song that has emerged out of this crisis, Rise Against’s “Broken Dreams, Inc.” perfectly captures the hopeless feeling that so many are experiencing as the American dream slips further away from their grasp.
Making matters worse is not only the financial hardship and loneliness of isolation, but the sad reality that the actions of the wealthy have pitted neighbor against neighbor. The delicate balance between political differences has evolved into an ugly civil war of sorts that may very well have changed life in America forever.
Corporate bottom lines have become infinitely more important than the general welfare of the masses. There is a thriving economy for investors that seems to exist in a parallel universe from the actual economy that has left many devastated.
Once upon a time, punk rock songs captured the plight of the everyman fighting the good fight against the powers that be. Rise Against has brought that feeling back with their brilliantly edgy and poignant song, “Broken Dreams, Inc.”
 DROPKICK MURPHYS – “Mick Jones Nicked My Pudding”
Most fans of any artist would jump at the opportunity to meet their heroes, but sometimes, it can be disappointing when they fail to live up to the lofty vision that you have of them in your mind. I won’t name names, but it has happened to me on a few occasions. It can change the way that you feel about their music afterwards. The would-be hero in this song is Mick Jones of The Clash. What’s interesting is that this song was written based on a real-life story of a friend of Dropkick Murphys.
In what seems like a story from an elementary school, Tedd Hutt (Flogging Molly) actually had his pudding stolen by Jones. Hutt wasn’t likely as traumatized as a grade school child by the event, but this hero’s fall from grace story did inspire a fun punk song with a healthy dose of mockery towards Jones. This high energy, fun anthem is exactly what defines Dropkick Murphys.
 TRIVIUM – “Catastrophist”
Complexities abound on Trivium’s “Catastrophist.” It’s not surprising given the title of the song or Trivium’s massive range that spans the hard rock realm all within one song. “Catastrophist” is progressive, active rock, thrash, and metalcore, with thought-provoking lyrics and a hint of ’80s heavy metal dual guitars. That is a lot to pack into one song, but nothing ever seems out of place or gratuitous.
While there have been some positives to come out of this pandemic, in large part, it has brought out the worst in our “leaders” and the most selfish among us. Our materialistic ways may end up making this pandemic one of the most catastrophic events of our times. Beyond the lyrics, “Catastrophist” offers a unique sound with numerous familiar blended elements.
 10 YEARS – “The Shift”
Should a song about the growing divide between people be looked at as nostalgic? Probably not at face value, but if you dig a bit deeper into “The Shift,” you’ll realize that the song is an observation of what the human condition has evolved into today. For those who remember life before social media and the growing divide between people, there is a fond remembrance of simpler times. There is no sugar coating what’s going on in “The Shift.” The lyrics…“we go from silence to sirens without a space in between” speaks volumes about where we are headed as a society.
The embers of division were set ablaze with gasoline from self-serving politicians, the 24/7 news cycle, and the evolution of social media where everyone has a voice that can be shared with the click of a button. It affects us all in one way or another. Because of the powder keg that society has become, we find ourselves forced to choose sides, which only makes the chasm between us grow.
“The Shift” perfectly captures what has been going on for years now, but rarely gets spoken about because it is beneath the surface. We have, for all intents and purposes, eroded the metaphorical middle ground upon which the majority of people once stood.
“While in the studio last fall, we were looking at the state of the world as we wrote ‘The Shift’,” revealed singer Jesse Hasek. “As a society, we’re so distracted that we’re not united. You can pick a side, but we’re sitting in the same realm.”
Guitarist Brian Vodinh added, “Lyrically, it’s about the polarization of society and the human impact on the earth itself. We were thinking about how humans can be a virus to the Earth. Simultaneously, it reflects the state of divisiveness in the world. Everything is so political. Everyone is angry at each other. We’re better when we come together.”
Songs with a powerful message transcend the realm of rhythm and melody to provoke thought. “The Shift” does just that.
 FROM ASHES TO NEW (f. ANDERS FRIDEN) – “Scars That I’m Hiding”
We tend to think that musicians are solely focused on their music career, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t have other passions. For From Ashes To New’s Matt Brandyberry, that dream includes acting. In an interview, the FATN frontman shared…
“As kids, we grew up with dreams to be musicians and actors, and we are beyond grateful to be able to bring both dreams to fruition through this project.”
The project that he is referring to is the movie The Retaliators (Better Noise Films). “Scars That I’m Hiding” is one of the songs featured on the soundtrack. In Flames frontman Anders Fridén provides guest vocals on the track that continues the evolution of one of the best rap/rock bands around today. With its big hook, theatrical vibe, and majestic backing vocals, “Scars That I’m Hiding” is arguably FATN’s best song to date.
 BAD OMENS – “Limits”
The big hook and chorus on Bad Omen’s “Limits” is one of the catchiest of the year on Active Rock radio. While the chorus is likely what landed Bad Omens their biggest hit since their inception in 2015, what sets the song apart from others in the genre is the unique delivery of the verses which have influences of rap and R&B. The verses act as a fuse that burns into the explosion of the chorus. Noah Sebastian’s vocals are a mixture of charisma, edge and beauty.
 SAINT ASONIA – “Blind”
Adam Gontier has had his personal struggles with addiction. It’s unclear whether those struggles have anything to do with his departure from Three Days Grace, but that’s of no consequence at this point. However, those struggles did come to the forefront between Saint Asonia’s debut album and their sophomore release, Flawed Design. Gontier was in rehab on the day that his son was born. As a father, I can only imagine how difficult it must have been to have missed such an important moment like that. Personal challenges aside, Gontier remains one of the most distinct vocalists of the modern era. His gritty vocals make any song that he is featured on instantly recognizable. “Blind” is another in a long line of hit songs that has been embraced by Active Rock radio. Though it’s open to interpretation, the message of the song seems to be about the internal battle that we all endure in one way or another.
 KINGDOM COLLAPSE – “Uprise”
In 1991, the inspirational anthem was Rage Against The Machine’s “Killing In The Name Of.” In 2009, it was Muse’s “Uprising.” Fast forward to 2020 and a world gone mad, and we have Kingdom Collapse’s “Uprise.” The only difference this time around is that Kingdom Collapse’s powerful new single was written before we had ever heard the term “Covid-19,” or witnessed the cataclysmic event that spurred protests around the world. Are they the Nostradamus of rock or merely observers of the human condition? My guess is that the latter is true, but it doesn’t make “Uprise” any less impactful.
Channeling the palpable angst of Adam Gontier’s edgier work with Three Days Grace and current work with Saint Asonia, Kingdom Collapse frontman Jonathan Norris delivers this anthem of hope and inspiration with passion and sincerity. “Uprise” challenges listeners to rise above all of the negativity and hate that is festering in the world by standing up for what you believe in, and to be the change that you want to see in the world. Songs like this have a way of galvanizing people by showing them that there is strength in numbers, and that none of us is in this alone (even if it feels like it at times). “Uprise” is exactly the battle cry that we need during these times of strife and uncertainty.
 MARILYN MANSON – “We Are Chaos”
The timing of the release of Marilyn Manson’s “We Are Chaos” gives the impression that the song was written about the human condition in a post-pandemic world, but it was actually written in the pre-pandemic world. Still, it is about the human condition, but not the outward facing chaos of a society that seems to deteriorate by the day, but rather the chaos of self, where the mirror is often times your worst enemy. If you didn’t pay attention to the lyrics, you may feel a bit uplifted by a melody that brings an odd sense of comfort. But if you delve deeper into the lyrics, you’ll find that “We Are Chaos” is as dark as any other Manson tune. The pessimistic message somehow doesn’t feel as dark as it could if the song was written in the same style as some of Manson’s more outwardly aggressive and angry music. There is a cinematic quality to the chorus that is repeated like a mantra throughout…
“We are sick, fucked up and complicated…we are chaos, we can’t be cured.”
Had this been released earlier in the year, it may have just felt like Manson being Manson. But in the current state of society, “We Are Chaos” hits home in a much more visceral way. In a strange way, listening to this song is cathartic more than depressing. It feels like it gives the listener permission to just embrace the chaos of society and of self that will always exist in one way or another.
 SEVENDUST – “The Day I Tried To Live”
Covering Soundgarden, or any song sung by Chris Cornell for that matter, is not for the faint of heart. Not only is Cornell a legendary vocalist as far as range is concerned, but he had a way of bringing the message of the lyrics to life with his heartfelt delivery. This is true of his own songs and the covers that he did of songs like “Nothing Compares 2 U,” “Billie Jean,” and “Thank You.” In most cases, it probably makes sense to cover a different artist, but Sevendust is the exception to the rule because of Lajon Witherspoon’s soulful, silky smooth voice.
Though this version of “The Day I Tried To Live” stayed fairly true to the original, the one place where Sevendust made this incredible song their own is by not trying to do too much. That may sound counterintuitive, but if Witherspoon reached for the stars and tried to hit the ungodly notes that Cornell hit in the original, it likely would have paled by comparison. Rather than go up, Witherspoon smartly leaned into the soulful part of his voice, giving this classic a fresh new feel.
 THE AMITY AFFLICTION – “Soak Me In Bleach”
“Soak Me In Bleach” may seem like a song that was written after being ripped from the headlines of the day, but the cleansing that The Amity Affliction is referring to has nothing to do with the new normal caused by the coronavirus pandemic. It’s something much more personal than that. It’s about living under the weight of mental illness in the public eye and having to deal with commentary from keyboard warriors sharing their thoughts about someone’s personal struggle. On its own, the concept would be sad, but what makes this tortured (albeit melodic) anthem even more poignant is the capitulation of a creative mind giving in to the whims of the anonymous public (most of whom do not represent the majority).
“When the dreamer dies, so dies the dream…”
Not in the literal sense, but in the metaphorical sense. Dreamers are idealists by nature. In this case, the dream was simply to touch people with music, but the cynicism of others takes its toll, thereby killing both the dreamer and the dream simultaneously. “Soak Me In Bleach” gives power to the critics and invites them to cleanse the creator to fit their standards. It is also about being cleansed of the emotions of overwhelm and despair that feel like an actual weight needing to be lifted to breathe when waves of depression come crashing down.
 THE STRUTS (f. JOE ELLIOTT, PHIL COLLEN) – “I Hate How Much I Want You”
“I Hate How Much I Want You” was written during the pandemic lockdown of 2020, but it was born 50 years earlier. Not actually, but most definitely by the influence of ‘70s glam rock, most notably, Mott The Hoople. The members of The Struts didn’t grow up during the heyday of Ian Hunter and company, but their collaborators on this song did.
If you’re going to write a feel-good rock song, who better to have join you than Joe Elliot and Phil Collen of Def Leppard? For years, their music has stood atop that category.
I don’t know if the phone call that starts the song was pre-planned or not, but it comes across as genuine. There is clearly a mutual admiration between the two bands and it comes across in the chemistry of this glam rock throwback to simpler times.
 BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN – “Ghosts”
In any other year, Bruce Springsteen likely would not appear on this list. Not because of his talent, songs, or legendary status, all of which are undeniable, but because he is pure rock and roll. But “Ghosts” made the cut because it’s a great song that shows that legendary artists are still making outstanding new music. If you look at this list, you’ll find that there are a number of artists with several decades of experience that released outstanding new music this year.
That is notable because of the shift in the industry that has taken place with the transition to streaming. Most of the money made by artists comes from touring, which is why numerous legacy artists have shifted to that model exclusively. When you have enough hits to tour, you don’t need new music. In fact, it’s probably most cost effective not to release new music for many.
“Ghosts” is included because it takes me back in time to simpler, carefree days. Springsteen’s music is timeless, so it’s hard to pinpoint a specific decade, but this song feels like the early ‘80s to me. Because he is so influential, it may seem strange to compare him to a band that is far less know, but “Ghosts” reminds me a bit of “When The Walls Came Down” by The Call.
 DISTURBED – “If I Ever Lose My Faith In You”
Whether it is dialing up the intensity like they did with their cover of “Land Of Confusion” by Genesis, or adding an edginess to Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Sound Of Silence,” Disturbed has a way of bringing out a new meaning of popular songs by well-known artists. This time around, they have done the same with “If I Ever Lose My Faith In You” by The Police. Truth be told, I have heard the original countless times, but never paid attention to the lyrics until hearing Disturbed’s haunting cover. It’s not just David Draiman’s chilling vocals that evoke an emotional response. It’s also the composition of the song by the rest of the band that makes it feel like it was written for a dark scene in a movie or television show. With an air of mystery created by the music, Draiman delivers the lyrics in such a way that the story feels deeply personal. What’s especially impressive is how Disturbed seamlessly transitions back and forth between subdued moments to moments of powerful intensity.
 EVANESCENCE – “Use My Voice”
In a perfect world, Amy Lee would focus on making music that exists as a unifying force beyond the political realm. With the current state of the country being far from perfect, Lee reached a breaking point that made her feel compelled to use her platform to help bring change. Because the pandemic has threw a sizable monkey wrench into the 2020 election, the voting process was unclear in many places.
In an interview with Rolling Stone, Lee shared…
“Every state has different rules for registering and voting, and things will be different because of the pandemic. It doesn’t have to be overwhelming. UseMyVoice.org is a neatly organized place where you can easily find out how to vote safely in your state, when to get your absentee ballot sent in by, even who the candidates are and a little about them. Our hope is to empower people with this information.”
The song itself has brought together some of the biggest female rockers on the scene today (Lzzy Hale, Taylor Momsen, Sharon den Adel are among the numerous guest stars). Like the organization (Use My Voice), the song with the same name is designed to empower people. Even if you totally disregard the message and the coordinating organization, you can still appreciate this hauntingly beautiful song for what it is.
 APOCALYPTICA (f. LZZY HALE) – “Talk To Me”
Lzzy Hale is beauty, grace, and power all rolled into one. Her versatility is what makes her work with Halestorm so special. It’s also what makes her arguably the most sought after female vocalist to be a guest star on other artists’ songs. Though they have had a permanent touring vocalist in recent years, Apocalyptica is known for their cello covers and originals featuring guest vocalists. Like Hale, this band is also about mixture of beauty, grace, and power, but it’s a different kind of power. Their power comes from the intensity of three cellos playing together. “Talk To Me” allows both Hale and Apocalyptica to shine by complementing each other in a song that is as unique as any other that came out in 2020.
 THE DEAD DAISIES – “Unspoken”
If there is one band out there that is authentically classic rock in a way that makes it feel like they were released from a time capsule several decades later, it is The Dead Daisies. Given the revolving door policy of most members, this is more a music collective than a band. And yet, somehow their sound is as cohesive as if they have actually been together since the ‘70s. The one constant in The Dead Daisies is founder/rhythm guitarist, David Lowy. Perhaps it is the Australian businessman’s extensive experience beyond the music realm that allows this collective to run like a well-oiled machine. His success, and his family business, extend way beyond the stage. Because of that, The Dead Daisies didn’t have to suffer through the same struggles that most up-and-coming artists do, but that financial stability doesn’t diminish what they have accomplished musically in the slightest.
The latest incarnation of The Dead Daisies features lead guitarist Doug Aldrich (Whitesnake, Dio), drummer Deen Castronovo (Journey), and legendary vocalist Glenn Hughes (Deep Purple, Black Sabbath). Lowy takes full advantage of being able to surround himself with accomplished rock artists, and it pays off.
“Unspoken” is the first single featuring Hughes, who was preceded by John Corabi. Even in his late sixties, Hughes is unrivaled by most rock singers. Recording technology can help yesterday’s legends recapture the sound of their prime to some degree, but Hughes is different. I saw him a few years ago on his solo tour where he played all of his work with Deep Purple. Jaw-dropping would be an understatement to describe how amazing his voice still sounds. Because of his distinct vocals, and the blues rock sound that defines The Dead Daisies, “Unspoken” sounds like it could have been from any of Hughes’ numerous projects through the years. As usual, he delivers timeless blues rock that sounds as fresh today as if it were created in the ’70s. Aldrich’s leads serve as a reminder that the guitar god era still exists, even if it isn’t as prominent as it once was.
 DEVIL CITY ANGELS – “Testify”
Bands that start out as side projects are not necessarily built to last, but even by those standards, Devil City Angels has had a fairly tumultuous run in their brief history. In 2015, the band was formed with Rikki Rockett (Poison), Tracii Guns (L.A. Guns), Eric Brittingham (Cinderella), and vocalist Brandon Gibbs. Shortly after the band released their first album in 2015, Brittingham left and was replaced by Rudy Sarzo. The personnel changes are not the only challenge that the band faced. Rockett’s cancer diagnosis left the future of the band in question, but they’re back now.
“Testify” is an upbeat, soulful rocker with a heavy groove in the vein of early Black Crowes, featuring crisp danceable beats and soaring vocal harmonies. Much like this band’s rocky journey, 2020 was a rough year, but this song offered a little slice of fun paradise amidst the storm.
 THUNDERMOTHER – “Dog From Hell”
If you didn’t know better, you might think that you were listening to a new Halestorm song when you listen to Thundermother’s “Dog From Hell,” largely because of the raw, powerful vocals of Guernica Mancini. While Lzzy Hale is the sole female member of Halestorm, Mancini is one quarter of this all-female Swedish quartet. Since their inception in 2014, the band has gone through personnel changes, including a major one in 2017 that saw founder/guitarist Filippa Nässil revamp the entire band. They have definitely found the right formula with this incarnation. “Dog From Hell” is a straight ahead, in-your-face tune that shines in its simple AC/DC like approach. You don’t need complexity when you write great, catchy songs and bring them to life with quality musicians.
 PHIL CAMPBELL & THE BASTARD SONS – “Son Of A Gun”
Phil Campbell may be the star of the show, but his “bastard son” Tyler is the one who shines brightest with a bass riff that would make Lemmy proud. The is not to say that Campbell’s other “bastard sons” Todd (guitar), and Dane (drums) don’t kick their fair share of ass on the high octane “Son Of A Gun” that sounds like the lovechild of Motorhead and Guns N’ Roses. The message of the song is political, but not necessarily clear about the stance that the band is taking (which is a good thing). In these divisive times, it seems a bit odd to me that certain artists would take such a hardline stance that it potentially alienates a large portion of their fanbase. “Son Of A Gun” has a punk, anti-establishment vibe without choosing obvious sides.
 THE USED – “Paradise Lost, A Poem By John Milton”
Inspiration for lyrics can come from many places, but it isn’t often that you find a song based on an epic poem written in the 1600s. The original 10,000 verse poem, written by English poet John Milton, is about the biblical story of the fall of man, the temptation of Adam and Eve by the fallen angel Satan, and their expulsion from the Garden of Eden. It was written to justify the ways of God to men.
Frontman Bert McCracken discussed his love for John Milton in an interview…
“I’ve always been a bit obsessed with Paradise Lost. I really dug deep into the poem and its author, John Milton. As I was reading a lot of his political essays I realized that a lot of what Satan says in Paradise Lost are quotes directly from Milton’s own mouth.”
The song itself is a high energy, angsty, pop punk anthem with an attention-grabbing blend of dark and light where rage and melodies collide.
 CRASH MIDNIGHT – “Don’t Need Your Advice”
Many independent bands are focused on landing a record deal, but some have chosen to take the road less traveled and go it alone. Crash Midnight is a band that has been featured on Hard Rock Daddy for years, and not just for their music which is in the vein of Guns N’ Roses and classic Def Leppard. Their approach to marketing themselves is just as impressive as their music. Needless to say, innovative marketers don’t fit neatly into the box that labels try to put them in. “Don’t Need Your Advice” is born out of their frustration with the traditional label model.
In an interview with Bravewords, frontman Shaun Soho shared…
“This is an anthem for all the people who’ve ever tried to tell you what to do or how to live your life. The ones that try to control and manipulate people into being what they want you to be. This one’s for them. We don’t need you hanging around and we ‘Don’t Need Your Advice!’”
The song is just what I’ve come to expect from these Boston blues rockers who have taken their show on the road to reinvent themselves in Las Vegas. Gritty and raw, the foundation of the song is an homage to the Appetite For Destruction days of GNR, while Soho’s vocal style harkens back to Joe Elliott on Def Leppard’s debut album, On Through The Night.
 BLACK STONE CHERRY – “Again”
A swampy, boot-stomping intro yields way to a powerful groove and Chris Robertson’s smooth, soulful vocals. Drenched in southern rock goodness, Black Stone Cherry’s “Again” takes some interesting twists into slower, more emotive moments with guitar picking. Like a coiled spring, this song leaves you on the edge just waiting for it to explode out of the slower, melodic parts into a heavy groove. Though there are plenty of guitar and bass rhythms, John Fred Young’s drumming really sets the tone throughout with some, well-timed, crafty fills that a casual listener may not notice immediately. However, the more you listen to “Again,” the more your appreciate Young being the locomotive that gets this train rolling.
 THE CHERRY TRUCK BAND – “Love Become Law”
It’s hard to find a lot of positives that came out of 2020’s pandemic lockdown, but if you’re looking for one major bright spot, it’s The Cherry Truck Band’s “Love Become Law.” Unlike supergroups that take members from different established bands into a side project, The Cherry Truck Band is the blending of two full bands – Black Stone Cherry and Monster Truck. What makes this combination even more unusual is that this song was written over a series of live Zoom calls. The inspiration came when Monster Truck’s Jon “Marv” Harvey was a guest on Black Stone Cherry’s podcast (Cherry Chats).
“The idea of The Cherry Truck Band can honestly be credited to the pandemic that our world is in,” comments Black Stone Cherry. “We saw tour after tour being cancelled and so many bands were turning to live streaming performances online. We put our heads together with our great friends in Monster Truck and decided to do something we hadn’t seen any other bands do to help pass the time while still entertaining fans. That idea was to write a song, LIVE to the world and divide it up into segments to show our fans the process of writing and creating. We had never done this with another full band before, let alone do it while we’re live streaming. It was incredibly exciting and fun and we are so proud of the song and more importantly, its meaning! This song is about uniting, being and living as one, and most importantly, loving each and every person that walks this planet. We hope you enjoy it as much as we did creating it for you!”
All proceeds from the single will be split between two charities, chosen by the bands themselves: Black Stone Cherry will be donating to The Boys and Girls Club of America and Monster Truck will be donating to Black Lives Matter.
This unique song brings together the best of what both bands have to offer and blends it seamlessly. You would never know that the process was so much more challenging by listening to this southern rock song with a heavy groove.
 BLACK OXYGEN – “Life Is Beautiful”
Artists tend to focus a good portion of their budget on radio promotion, but there is something to be said for Facebook sponsored ads. Unlike radio, where you have to rely on the same listener hearing a song often enough for it to make an impact, Facebook ads are a way to stay top of mind with users. That’s how I discovered Black Oxygen. Of course, it helped that their ads were appealing enough to intrigue me to listen to “Life Is Beautiful” and learn more about the band.
Black Oxygen was formed in Kansas City by David Lyle (vocals, guitar) and his brother Nick (drums, keyboards). Early on in their career, they gained traction by winning a Battle of the Bands contest. Not long afterwards, these Kansas City natives were invited for perform the national anthem for the opening day of the Chiefs season. Their music has been used on ESPN and the NFL Network.
Though this song is about as far away from rap as you can get, the band has also drawn the attention of well-known rappers throughout their career.
“Life Is Beautiful” is an uplifting song about taking life in stride rather than stressing out over everything. There is a bit of a comedic edge to the song that treats gold digging women as something that comes with the territory of being a rock star. Beneath the comedy and catchy melody is a poignant message that you can find the beauty in life by just going with the flow and accept the outcome. Or as the song says…
“Life is beautiful in many ways…you just have to throw your hands up…I believe it’s true, everyday…you just have to not give a fuck!”
 ARANDA – “Invisible”
With underlying Active Rock sensibilities, Aranda’s “Invisible” is certainly worthy of radio airplay in today’s climate, but to me, this song is a journey back in time to the AOR power ballad days of the ‘80s. The lyrics tell a tale of lost love, and yet, you still feel uplifted by the melody and Dameon Aranda’s upper register vocals. Aranda never fully soars into the falsetto sound of yesteryear, but you have to imagine that he could if he so chose. That restraint is the difference between having a current sound and one that feels like a throwback to the days when hair and image was as important as the music itself. But that’s not Aranda’s forte. This brother duo from Oklahoma City has a soulful depth to them that lets you feel the emotion of their songs in a way that many ‘80s bands didn’t. Of course, those were simpler times, and the world at large seemed happier and carefree. “Invisible” is a modern-day power ballad that reflects the sign of the times.
 REID HENRY – “The Blind”
A journey that began with the mainstream rock sound of My Darkest Days, and continued with the melodic active rock sound of Deadset Society, now veers towards a more edgy sound as Reid Henry emerges from his past as a solo artist with a bright future.
Based on Henry’s history, the influences that “The Blind” conjures up are somewhat unexpected, but he should be praised for having the balls to blaze his own trail rather than relying upon the familiar path towards radio airplay.
At the outset, “The Blind” captures the tortured angst of Cinderella’s “Night Songs” and Twisted Sister’s “Captain Howdy.” Though both were labeled as “hair bands” back in the day, these songs both showcase a chilling, dissonant darkness, much like “The Blind” does.
Beneath the intensity of the music, Henry lays down subdued, haunting verses that set the tone for the buildup to the chorus, much like Metallica did with “Unforgiven,” albeit with a modern, active rock flair.
In an HRD Radio Report exclusive, Henry shared his thought process about the message behind “The Blind”…
“I’ve always believed that great art reflects culture like a mirror held up to society, exposing its beauty and flaws. We don’t always like what we see, but often times, we aren’t meant to. To me, the ugliest truth is more compelling than the most beautiful lie could ever hope to be.”
Compelling is an excellent description of what “The Blind” has to offer. This debut single is a nice start to what looks to be a promising solo career for Henry.
 JORN – “Song For Ronnie James”
If you were going to compare vocalist Jorn Lande to any vocalist, Ronnie James Dio would definitely be the first one that comes to mind. So it’s no surprise that this Norwegian rocker openly pays homage to the legend who most influenced his sound. Though the song is somewhat bittersweet in nature, there is something inspiring and nostalgic about hearing snippets of Dio lyrics interspersed into a tribute to his legacy. Big and bold, in true Dio fashion, “Song For Ronnie James” is an anthemic rocker that takes you back in time to the heyday of Dio’s career. For many years, Jorn has been one of the most underrated singers in the metal world, at least as far as America is concerned. You have to think that if he could go back in time to the ‘80s, his name may very well be as legendary as the man who inspired him.
 JEFF SCOTT SOTO – “Someone To Love”
There are certain prolific musicians who never seem to take a break from recording, but that doesn’t mean that they get the accolades that they so richly deserve. Jeff Scott Soto falls squarely into that category. A short-lived stint fronting Journey, a couple of releases with Yngwie Malmsteen’s Rising Force, and being one of the singers in Trans-Siberian Orchestra highlight the most notable moments of Soto’s career as far as recognition, but he has consistently released albums beyond the limelight that showcase his stellar vocals.
Working with writer/producer Alessandro Del Vecchio, Soto once again delivers pure melodic rock joy with “Someone To Love,” a mainstream sounding song with lyrics that read like colorful poetry. In a world that has become increasingly serious, it’s nice to be able to escape with songs like this that take you back in time to simpler, more peaceful days.
 COHEED & CAMBRIA (f. RICK SPRINGFIELD) – “Jesse’s Girl 2”
In 1981, Rick Springfield fantasized about what it would be like if he could be with his good friend Jesse’s girl. But that’s where it ended, a heartbreak story of envy and unrequited love, albeit with an upbeat mood that defined the ‘80s.
It took almost four decades, but we finally get to find out what happened with Jesse’s girl in a sequel by Coheed & Cambria that features Springfield as a guest vocalist.
As the saying goes, “the grass is always greener on the other side.” It turns out that the fantasy of Jesse’s Girl was far superior to the reality of actually getting her. Jesse gave his blessing to go after his girl, and we find out why in this fun, clever song by Coheed & Cambria, one of the most unique bands of the modern era. If you loved the original, you will not want to miss the sequel that is “Jesse’s Girl 2.”
 MAMMOTH WVH – “Distance”
Generally speaking, 2020 will be forever remembered as a year of loss. More specifically, 2020 will be remembered as the year that we lost one of the greatest guitarists in music history when Eddie Van Halen succumbed to cancer. In a year that was already a sea of despair for many, this loss felt like the equivalent of a crushing tsunami for so many.
As much as the loss was painful for the fans, it pales in comparison to the loss felt by his son, Wolfgang. Having been through the tragic loss of my father at around the same age as Wolfgang, I can empathize with the tremendous void that is left behind. The passage of time helps dull the pain, but the emptiness never really goes away, especially when the bond is strong. As great as Eddie Van Halen was as a guitarist, he may have been an even better father. I don’t think that most people realized just how devoted and loving he was until watching the heartbreaking video for Wolfgang’s tribute song, “Distance.”
The inner strength that it took to write, record, and release this song so soon after his father’s passing is something to behold. As good as the song is, it’s the home video that shows how loving Eddie Van Halen was from the moment that Wolfgang was born up until his dying day.
It’s never easy to let a loved one go, much less one who was such an influential part of your life. The distance can seem infinite at times, but the part of the loved one that remains inside your heart, and acts as a guiding force as time marches on, is something that can never be extinguished. Wolfgang did an amazing job of conveying that message in a song that shows that he is far more talented that he is given credit for.
 THE GEORGIA THUNDERBOLTS – “Looking For A Friend”
Thanks to bands like Black Stone Cherry and Blackberry Smoke, and crossover artists like Chris Stapleton and Cody Marks, southern rock is enjoying a revival in the mainstream in recent times. From the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains comes The Georgia Thunderbolts, a band that blends southern rock with blues in a unique way. It was somewhat striking to see the band list both Lynyrd Skynyrd and Neil Young as influences. The only other time that these two legends were inextricably linked was with “Southern Man,” and the response song “Sweet Home Alabama.”
“Looking For An Old Friend” opens with picking guitars to set the tone before the swampy blues guitar kicks in. From the classic southern rock sound to the band’s image, you might think that The Georgia Thunderbolts were unearthed from a hidden vault that was sealed in the 1970s. If you’re a fan of southern rock, you know that the ‘70s were the heyday of the genre, so this is meant as a compliment. From the jam band moments to the sweet southern vocal harmonies, “Looking For An Old Friend” feels like reconnecting with a friend from your past.
 THE ROLLING STONES – “Living In A Ghost Town”
The Rolling Stones will be celebrating their 60th anniversary next year. To say that they have seen things that most will never dream of would be a massive understatement. Throughout their illustrious career, they have traveled the world several times over, and have managed to stay relevant the entire time. That is a feat that is likely to never be broken.
In 2020, the Stones experienced something for the first time…isolation. Of course, the rest of the world experienced it right along with them. But none of us captured the feeling of what was happening like these legends. They have earned the right to live a life of luxury in whatever corner of the world that they choose, but in 2020, they became our virtual neighbors “Living In A Ghost Town.”
This timeless sounding song doesn’t just bemoan the loss of the finer things in life, but also the darker aspects of life in a pre-pandemic society. These legends realize that they have far more yesterdays than tomorrows remaining in this thing called life, and they just want to get back to some sort of normalcy like the rest of the world.
 MARK MORTON & LZZY HALE – “She Talks To Angels”
Is there any song or subgenre of rock that Lzzy Hale can’t cover and make her own? This is, of course, a rhetorical question. When it comes to guest vocals, Hale seems to be the choice for many, and it’s not just because she is arguably the premiere female vocalist of this generation. It’s because she pours out every ounce of her soul into any song that she performs whether they are Halestorm originals, covers, or guest vocals.
You might expect something a bit heavier given the collaboration with Mark Morton (Lamb Of God), but this cover is actually the opposite. With just an acoustic guitar and a microphone, this duo turned this cover into something special. While retaining the soulfulness of the original, Hale infuses “She Talks To Angels” with a bit of an edge while also coming across with beautiful vulnerability.
 ZERO 9:36 – “Adrenaline”
Hearing Zero 9:36’s “Adrenaline” on active rock radio for the first time, I never would have imagined that this was the evolution of a machine-gun style rapper who was something of a cult figure in the Philadelphia hip-hop community in 2016 (then under the moniker, Zero).
In 2019, Zero 9:36 (born Matthew Cullen), changed his moniker and altered his style to combine rapping, singing, guitars, and electronics. His recording experience began at the early age of 10, and by the age of 12, he was heavily influenced by rappers, and drew frequent comparisons to Eminem. The loss of his father in 2013 added to the edge of his music and intensity of his lyrics.
Knowing this background, you might expect a song entitled “Adrenaline” to be intense and in your face, but the title borders on irony, as the song has more of the introspective, moody vibe. Still, it showcases both his rapping skills, albeit in a more subdued manner. The theatricality of the song makes it feel like it would be a perfect fit in a film.
 THE NIXONS – “Crutch”
Although the mid-‘90s was a less than memorable period for rock for many, there were a handful of incredible albums that stood the test of time. For my money, the most underrated album was The Nixons 1995 release, Foma. It was one of my favorite albums of the decade…all killer, no filler. But then I lost track of the band shortly afterwards. They did put out a few more albums, but disappeared from the scene until reemerging in 2020 with a five-song EP.
Though The Nixons haven’t been releasing new music, singer/guitarist Zac Maloy has been active as a songwriter, including coming up with the inspiration for Shinedown’s smash hit, “Atlas Falls.”
Because of Maloy’s distinctive vocals, “Crutch” is instantly recognizable as The Nixons, but the overall sound of the band has evolved. Though there is still the foundation of what made Foma one of my favorite albums, “Crutch” has a bit more of a driving, punk edge to it, making it feel less introspective and more in your face. This poignant track is about being there for someone if they fall, but inspiring them to believe in themselves without relying upon someone else as a “Crutch.” The reunion of The Nixons didn’t make headlines like many others, but for fans like me, it was just as welcomed.
 ELECTRIC MOB – “The Devil You Know”
Theatricality is the first thing that comes to mind at the beginning of Electric Mob’s “Devil You Know.” The swampy guitar intro makes it feel like you’re in the deep south. Technically speaking, Electric Mob makes the deep south look like the north, since these rockers hail from Brazil. Perhaps that’s what gives them a unique quality that you can’t quite put your finger on. Or maybe it’s the fact that they pride themselves on being the product of decades of rock all blended into one…
“Try a mixture of the 70’s powerful vocals, 80’s mean guitar riffs and the heavy groove from the 90’s and 2000’s. Now put it all together with a contemporary look. After all, rock n roll has never been dead, so why not mix everything?”
Renan Zonta does not look like the soaring classic rock vocalists of yesteryear. He is not a classic rocker clinging to the glory of his past. He’s far too young and modern looking for that to be true, even if he and Electric Mob share the same label (Frontiers) as many of the great classic rock singers of a generation gone by.
“Devil You Know” is an interesting blend of the history of rock. Though there is a foundation of ’70s mystique, and soaring vocals, there is also an angsty grittiness laid atop a grungy groove that gives the band a hint of familiarity, while also feeling like it is modern and fresh. The more I listened to the song, the more that I thought that this song would have been a perfect fit to be featured during a dramatic scene in Sons Of Anarchy. Though that show is no longer on the air, it would be surprising if “Devil You Know” doesn’t end up in film or on television at some point.
 VOXX – “Being Human (Human Being)”
Released on 9/11 of 2020, the video for “Being Human (Human Being)” took me back in time to one of the darkest periods of my life. After a personal loss just weeks before, I witnessed the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center from the terrace of my apartment building across the water. It left an indelible mark on me that will never go away. But as bad as it was, what followed in the days and weeks after the attack was, quite possibly, the best of humanity that I have ever seen.
Fast forward to 2020, and the situation has been reversed. Although there are always stories of the kindness of humanity, divisive politics and a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic brought out the worst in far too many people from my vantage point.
“Being Human (Human Being)” explores the degradation of the human condition in a way that makes you pause and reflect upon what we’ve become. The impassioned vocals of Regis Lima help deliver the message of the song in a powerful way. Voxx was one of my favorite discoveries of 2020. Expect to hear a lot more from them on Hard Rock Daddy in the future.
 POP EVIL – “Breathe Again”
Music is one of the things that kept me somewhat sane during the life-altering year that was 2020. One of the hardest parts of the year was the uncertainty of what would happen with the pandemic and political unrest. For a good portion of the year, it was hard to imagine a light at the end of the tunnel. But dark days happen, and the light tends to shine through eventually.
Pop Evil’s “Breathe Again” feels like a representation of the darkness of 2020 with the hope of a light at the end of the tunnel coming in 2021. The aggression of the song with the dissonant notes personify the pain that so many felt throughout the year, while the melodic vocal harmonies personify the feeling of hope that washes over you when you come out the other side of dark times.
 14 NORTH – “Break”
A dark, grungy feel to 14 North’s “Break” at the outset leads you to believe that the band’s Alice In Chains influence will be felt throughout, but an unexpected twist comes in the form of a big, melodic hook in the chorus. Being from Jacksonville, FL, and citing Shinedown as an influence, one might expect a bit of their hometown heroes’ sound to “shine through,” but it’s actually a lesser known Florida band that comes to mind…Stereoside. More specifically, the title track of the Ocala, FL band’s 2007 release, “So Long.” 14 North has captured the same kind of memorable hook with “Break.” The blending of the dark grunge influence of Alice In Chains and the bright melodic sound of Stereoside makes for an intriguing mix.
 A KILLER’S CONFESSION – “Last Chance”
Formed by ex-Mushroomhead frontman, Waylon Reavis, A Killer’s Confession is a four-piece unit from Cleveland with a sound that you may find surprising given Reavis’ background.
The intensity of “Last Chance” at the outset feels like it could build into an in-your-face assault, but it takes a surprising twist as the tempo drops down and the verses begin over sparse music accompaniment and finger snaps. This allows the song to breathe and set the stage for a dynamic shift into the big chorus.
Lyrically, Reavis has stated that the song “is about an individual who has burned all bridges in their life and are on their last chance to make it right. ‘Last Chance’ is a scream for forgiveness of past decisions we have made and how ashamed we can be from things we do.”
What makes this song stand out, aside from the catchiness, is the keyboards that add a layer of depth and intrigue.
 THROUGH FIRE – “Listen To Your Heart”
The similarities between Through Fire’s “Listen To Your Heart” and “Zombie” by Bad Wolves goes beyond both being cover songs of well-known songs with female vocalists. Unfortunately, the other similarity is kind of eerie. Dolores O’Riordan of The Cranberries died on the day that she was scheduled to record on the Bad Wolves cover of “Zombie.” Roxette’s Marie Fredriksson died on the same day that Through Fire released their cover of “Listen To Your Heart.”
In 1988, MTV was still going strong. As much as “Listen To Your Heart” was played on radio, the memories of most of a generation of fans goes directly to the video of Fredriksson standing barefoot on the stage. Her perfectly messy, striking blond hair as much a defining characteristic as her sweet vocals with just a hint of a Swedish accent.
On Through Fire’s cover of “Listen To Your Heart,” the 1980s saccharine keyboards have been replaced by ominous, moody keyboards, pulsating beats, and the wail of the electric guitar accenting chugging riffs. The lower-register vocals in the opening verse are a bit more somber, with a hint of darkness. As the song progresses, the higher-register vocal harmonies capture some of the sweetness of the original, albeit with significantly more intensity.
 FAREWELL TO FEAR – “I Won’t Be Your Tragedy”
An eerie keyboard intro that sounds like a cross between ‘80s New Wave and the backdrop of a horror movie from the same decade sets the tone for “I Won’t Be Your Tragedy.” Like the sudden jolt that you get from a horror movie when a psycho killer suddenly bursts onto the scene, Farewell To Fear’s latest single does the same thing when the haunting keyboards are interrupted by a sudden, menacing explosion of sound that briefly makes you tense up as your fight or flight reflex kicks in. The haunting keyboard riff remains, albeit in a more subtle way as it is buried beneath thunderous drums and a crushing rhythm.
Like the calm after a storm, “I Won’t Be Your Tragedy” allows you to catch your breath in a verse that delivers a message that captures the uncertainty of the pandemic world that we’ve all been feeling to varying degrees. This is undoubtedly a fearful time for many because the situation is new and changing by the day. Fear of the virus is natural, as is fear of the unknown. However, Farewell To Fear proves that their name is also their mindset on “I Won’t Be Your Tragedy,” as they poignantly point out that fear itself is the enemy of us all. This has always been true for many aspects of life. What’s new now is that the same fear is being shared simultaneously by people from all walks of life around the world.
 MICHAEL GRANT & THE ASSASSINS – “Always The Villain”
Michael Grant is not just the featured artist on this project, he makes up the majority of the assassins (at least in the studio). With the exception of Shane Fitzgibbons drumming on five tracks on the debut album, Grant played every instrument himself.
“Always The Villain” – the album’s title track – was inspired by Grant’s falling out with L.A. Guns. Although he recorded one album with the band, his main role was as a touring guitarist. Unfortunately, as a hired gun, the parting of the ways was mainly announced from the viewpoint of L.A. Guns, villainizing Grant on social media and in the press. In an interview with Sleaze Roxx, Grant talked about the inaccuracies in the attacks against him, and stated “Okay, you want a villain? I’ll give you the baddest villain that you’ve ever seen!” And that he did.
“Always The Villain” is an angsty, punky tune with a swagger that portrays a man of conviction and a rebellious spirit. Despite the edge, it is also dripping with catchy hard rock melodies and hooks. From my vantage point, his departure from L.A. Guns looks like a good move based on the freedom of expression that he showcases on this song, and of course, impressive guitar shredding.
 JOYOUS WOLF – “Odyssey”
Inspiration for rock songs come from a wide variety of places, but it’s safe to say that most artists aren’t finding their muse from stories that originated over 2000 years ago. “I was inspired by Homer’s ‘The Odyssey’ since that story has always been profoundly impactful in my life,” stated frontman Nick Reese in an interview with American Songwriter. Reese wanted to write a modernized version that focuses on the emotional and deep familial aspects of the story. That theme is poignantly captured in one of the most innovative music videos that I’ve ever seen. It actually feels more like the animated shorts that play before Disney and Dreamworks family movies than the typical modern rock videos that are usually shot in an abandoned warehouse or alleyway.
Joyous Wolf is a modern hard rock act, with bluesy roots, planted firmly in the ‘70s and a hint of ‘80s bravado. This particular journey is as joyous as the band’s moniker. The bold, melodic, arena rock arrangement perfectly complements Reese’s rangy vocals. “Odyssey” is one of the few songs that you can dance to while banging your head. Even though there has been a classic rock revival in recent years, Active Rock radio is still heavily skewed toward a specific sound. When Joyous Wolf is included in a typical playlist, you will immediately take notice as you reach (almost involuntarily) to crank up the volume as you bask in the uplifting vibe of this timeless rocker.
 THE LONELY ONES – “Flash”
Rising from the ashes of Bobaflex is The Lonely Ones, a “four piece vocal-oriented hard rock band with an ear for melody and a taste for success.” By and large, the success that Bobaflex so richly deserved never really came to fruition. The band had nine studio releases between the years 1999 and 2017, but always flew somewhat under the radar. I honestly have no idea why. Maybe they were too original sounding for their own good. But their eventual demise was a big disappointment.
What made Bobaflex shine brightest, aside from their originality, was their outstanding vocal harmonies. Three of the four members of The Lonely Ones had experience together in Bobaflex, so the harmonies were already tight to begin with. If you want to prove how good your harmonies are, there is no better rock band to cover than Queen. But The Lonely Ones didn’t just nail the vocal harmonies on “Flash,” they showed a level of music mastery with their rendition that took the song in new and interesting progressive directions. If you are a Bobaflex and/or Queen fan, you will be blown away with this cover.
 NEW MESSIAH – “Dream On”
New Messiah is a fascinating project featuring C. Will Harden on guitars, bass, and synthesizers and studio engineer Craig Cefola on drums. The duo’s debut album, Voice Of Choice, includes 20 cover songs that showcase several singers. Venezuela’s Deibys Artigas is the featured vocalist on a number of tracks, including this inspiring rendition of the Aerosmith classic, “Dream On.”
A song this challenging would seem to be one to shy away from, but it’s been tackled before by talented musicians (Ronnie James Dio/Yngwie Malmsteen and Blacktop Mojo to name a few). Each version stays true to the original, but adds their own unique stamp. New Messiah’s cover is a bit more heavy metal than Aerosmith’s.
Artigas not only soars to hit the signature high notes in the song, but also adds a bit of edgy angst to the verses that doesn’t exist in the more emotive original. Artigas’ Venezuelan accent can be heard in the vocals, which adds a unique bit of interesting flavor that makes it stand apart from the original and aforementioned previous covers. You would never know that this fierce band with a cohesive sound is really just two talented musicians breathing life into the music that inspired them.
 MAGNUS KARLSSON’S FREE FALL (f. NOORA LOUHIMO) – “Queen Of Fire”
It’s hard to think of a musical artist who has been as prolific as Sweden’s Magnuss Karlsson has been since the 21st century began. This multi-instrumentalist/producer has had his hand in a virtual cornucopia of European metal albums. Despite his vast resume, Karlsson remains unknown to the masses in America.
Featuring power metal vocalist Noora Louhimo, “Queen Of Fire” is bombastic, theatrical symphonic metal at its best. Louhimo’s soaring vocals drip with passion and emotion, much like songs in a musical, especially at the outset, but it doesn’t take long for the song to reach a crescendo and for the power to kick in. “Queen Of Fire” has a layered sound that, at times, feels like a cross between prog metal and the unique sound that made Jim Steinman famous with Meat Loaf. Karlsson’s guitar playing is a throwback to the golden days of guitar gods.
 DIRTY SHIRLEY – “Here Comes The King”
Frontiers Records is technically a label, but they could just as well call themselves a heavy metal matchmaking company. Through the years, they have been known for creating interesting supergroups and musical pairings. Without Frontiers, it’s hard to imagine how the collaboration between George Lynch and Dino Jelusick would have come to pass. The Croatian power vocalist is most widely known for his covers album with Animal Drive.
Though you can hear hints of classic Dokken in the riffs, at its core, “Here Comes The King” feels like the reincarnation of Ronnie James Dio during his Black Sabbath days. Lynch and company lay down a rock solid foundation with crisp breaks that hit you like a punch in the gut, allowing Jelusick to shine with vocals that put him right up there with the best in hard rock today. What makes this song even more intriguing is the dynamics of shifting between softer moments and pure power, conjuring up memories of classic Queensryche and Judas Priest’s “Victim Of Changes.”
 SIN SHAKE SIN – “The Mess We’ve Made”
Sin Shake Sin is the brainchild of producer/mixer/songwriter Stacy Hogan. In fact, he wrote, performed, and produced everything in this passion project himself. Sin Shake Sin is billed as a “political resistance alternative rock musical project,” so there is no mystery as to what you’re getting here. This is unlike other modern rock acts that have jumped into the political discussion in recent times, causing a rift with a number of fans. With Sin Shake Sin, all of the cards are on the table.
“The Mess We’ve Made” takes a scathing look at the ills of society and government failings that once seemed unimaginable, but are now reality. What’s interesting is that the song (and album) were written before the current state of chaos that has washed over the country. Musically, there is a soulful, groove to the song that makes it stand out as fresh and unique.
 THEM EVILS – “Where Ya Gonna Crash Tonight?”
The romanticized glamor of life on the road for a touring musician is what music fans see, but the reality of the rock and roll lifestyle usually doesn’t live up to the fantasy. Sure, touring musicians don’t have to wait until the weekend to party like most people, but when every night is a potential party, the days all blend together. Up until 2020, few of us could relate to that feeling. Although not nearly as fun, the lockdown showed us what life can be like when one day runs into the next.
At a certain level of success, the freewheeling lifestyle of seeing where the night takes you and deciding where to crash when the party is over is replaced with more predictability. But for rising artists like Them Evils, there is a certain degree of freedom about sleeping arrangements, though they are usually far from glamorous.
Drummer David Delaney II discussed the song in an interview…
“‘Where Ya Gonna Crash Tonight?’ is a song that reflects on our experiences while on tour. There is always a level of uncertainty when waking up in a bus and heading to the next city to play a show. You never know where the night is going to take you when you are having a good time and living in the moment. But there is an inevitable question that comes up sooner or later – ‘Where Ya Gonna Crash Tonight?’ The lyrics in the song give details on what we go through on a daily basis living the rock n’ roll lifestyle that people daydream about.”
The song itself is an upbeat, boot stomping, groove that feels like a party in and of itself.
 GOLDFINGER – “Infinite”
It’s funny how radio play can shape your image of reality. For many of us, the mid-‘90s was not a great time for hard rock fans. That’s not to say that there wasn’t good music coming out, just not a lot that stood the test of time for me personally. One of the exceptions was Goldfinger’s debut album. It is among a handful of releases that still brings up fond memories of a decade defined by largely by grunge and depression. Goldfinger was the polar opposite, with their brand of upbeat skate punk. Pure joy is how I would describe their debut album.
I was thrilled to see them return in 2017 with The Knife. Little did I know that they released five albums between 1997 and 2008. It feels surreal that this band started 25 years ago. Time really does fly by.
Like their previous work, “Infinite” is another upbeat, feel-good, pop punk song that came around at just the right time to lift your spirits during a year that none of us will ever forget due to the pandemic and political turmoil.
 HELL IN THE CLUB – “Nostalgia”
As nostalgic as I am by nature, finding myself daydreaming at times about how much I long for the simpler, more decadent days of the ‘80s, 2020 has only served to intensify those feelings. It’s a long way from being out all day on bicycles with friends, out of reach from the rest of the world (including your parents). As long as we were home by dark, the day was our own. We didn’t worry about much, most notably germs or viruses. Hand sanitizer wasn’t a thing, and masks were plastic things that we wore one day a year as we went door to door filling pillowcases with candy. It feels like another lifetime that I shared a dirty garden hose with friends for a drink on a hot summer day.
It’s not just the lyrics of “Nostalgia” that takes you back in time to the glory days of many, touching upon cultural references that will forever stand the test of time. It’s also the music itself. These Italian rockers describe themselves this way…
“Think of a playlist comprised of your favorite ‘80s hard rock bands like Motley Crue, Def Leppard, and the like mixed with the cream of the crop of ‘80s heavy metal like Ronnie James Dio, Helloween, and other giants of the era.”
With a modern twist of their own, Hell In The Club’s “Nostalgia” is an exuberant walk down memory lane.
 DGM – “Surrender”
The hard rock and metal world is vast because of subgenres, but also when defined by geography. In some ways, there is an entire music scene going on outside the United States that might as well be a parallel universe.
When I discovered DGM this year, I thought that they were a newer artist, or another group put together by Frontiers Records in Italy. This Italian progressive metal band is on Frontiers Records, but they are far from new. Having been through a number of lineup changes since their inception, DGM made their debut in 1994. They released their tenth studio album in 2020.
“Surrender” builds a feel-good excitement from the outset that harkens back to the carefree days of the ‘80s. However, unlike the feel-good hard rock of the decade of decadence, “Surrender” is much more than surface deep. Though always feeling upbeat, you can feel an underlying palpable energy that comes from the speed of thrash or adrenaline of power metal.
 PERFECT PLAN – “Better Walk Alone”
Perfect Plan is a five-piece AOR/Melodic Rock unit from Sweden. Though they were formed in 2014, and released their debut album in 2017, this band is an unapologetic throwback to the ‘80s. If you are a fan of this kind of music, it doesn’t matter if it feels like it was born out of another era. For many, like me, the ‘80s is a decade that never gets old, and always has a place in our hearts.
The opening lyrics of the song open in an eerily similar way to the Foreigner classic “Waiting For A Girl Like You,” but then ventures off into another direction to tell its own story. The heavy use of bright, uplifting keyboards, and high register vocals conjured up memories of one of the more underrated AOR bands (at least in America), Valentine. “You Better Walk Alone” is pure nostalgic bliss.
 ARMORED DAWN – “Zombie Viking”
Nearly every time that the “skip ad” button pops up on YouTube, I hit it as quickly as possible. It’s almost a Pavlovian response at this point. However, once in a while, I let it play when something captures my attention. That’s how I discovered Brazilian metallers, Armored Dawn. “Zombie Viking” kept popping up at the end of songs by some of the bigger names in hard rock today. Each time, I let the song play until the end, but didn’t Shazam it right away.
It’s a smart idea for bands like this to advertise on YouTube with full music videos, but there is one downside. More often than not, the name of the band and song aren’t listed, so it’s up to the listener to figure things out. Although I’m as nostalgic as the next person, I find this particular throwback element to be a major flaw in the technological era. There’s no reason to have to try and figure out what a song is like we did back in the day as we waited for the DJ to back announce what was just played. But I digress…
The reason that I sought out the band name and song title is because of a unique, mesmerizing sound. “Zombie Viking” blends traditional power metal with a theatrical symphonic sound and vocals in the verse that have a sort of throwback new wave vibe. The song builds up in the chorus with beautiful vocal harmonies before taking it down a notch. Throughout the song, the band builds tension with crunchy staccato riffs. The dynamics of “Zombie Viking” add in a hint of progressive metal, and the speaking parts are reminiscent of Vincent Price in Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.”
They label themselves “Brazilian Viking Metal.” The label really doesn’t matter though. Armored Dawn is uniquely captivating, and stands out as something different and special.
 LORDS OF BLACK – “Into The Black”
The band’s name is dark. The song title is dark. The message behind Lords Of Black’s “Into The Black” is dark as well, but the song itself does not have a gloomy vibe. This Spanish heavy metal band was formed in 2014 by guitarist Tony Hernando and vocalist Ronnie Romero. A year later, Romero was surprisingly chosen at the frontman for Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow. Given his vocal range, it’s not surprising that Romero was chosen to be a part of Rainbow. The surprise was that he, along with every other member of the band aside from Blackmore, were new members billed as a “reunion tour.” Still, being a part of Rainbow helped Romero to become more well-known.
Fairly recently, Romero openly complained on Facebook about the “dirty music world” and how artists are treated by the industry. What’s interesting is that Joe Lynn Turner (who Romero took over for in Rainbow) also put out a statement recently about his frustrations. Once again, Romero is taking over for JLT in another band, Sunstorm.
Clearly, the music industry is not nearly as glamorous as it seems from the outside. Perhaps that has what gives Romero a bit of a dark edge that shines through brilliantly on “Into The Black.” It seems to be more a statement of the world at large than the industry, but you could surmise that the downfall of the human condition is inclusive of the industry. Regardless of its meaning, this is a powerful, thought-provoking song.
 NICKELBACK (f. DAVE MARTONE) – “The Devil Went Down To Georgia”
It’s not uncommon for artists to take well known songs and cover them in such a way that they are familiar, but take on a life of their own. Sometimes is done purely with tempo and intensity, while other times it’s done by making subtle changes to the lyrics.
Because “The Devil Went Down To Georgia” tells the tale of the devil having a fiddle battle with a hotshot fiddler, the original features the most memorable violin playing in a popular song. In the Nickelback version, they offer a modern twist by turning the fiddle battle into a guitar showdown. I have to admit that the theatrical, power metal guitar part threw me for a loop at first. Not that Nickelback doesn’t have songs that are much edgier than they get credit for, but this is an entirely different level than their customary sound. For this contest with the devil, the band brought in a ringer, fellow Canadian guitarist/producer, Dave Martone. Just like the original, the satanic challenger leaves defeated.
This is as heavy as Nickelback has ever been. But it’s not just the in-your-face intensity that makes you stand up and take notice. Chad Kroeger is known for his catchy melodies, but not usually for oozing charisma. This feels like the alter ego of Kroeger singing (a man possessed if you will). Overall, the song just works on every level. It’s fun, nostalgic, fresh, and a little bit dangerous.
 MACHINE HEAD – “Circle The Drain”
Having a profound appreciation for the meaning behind lyrics, “Circle The Drain” really speaks to me. If there was a song that perfectly encapsulates what life has been like for so many since March, when the pandemic brought America to a screeching halt, it is Machine Head’s “Circle The Drain.” This could easily be the theme song of 2020. But here’s the interesting thing…
“Circle The Drain” was released on Valentine’s Day, almost exactly a month to the day of the mass shutdown. So it ends up just feeling like it was written by clairvoyants, even though the inspiration came from something entirely unrelated.
“It’s a sad song about relationships gone bad, but accepting that it’s over, and making yourself move on. It’s written in a more metaphorical tone, as I didn’t want it to be about my life, but to be about anybody’s life who may be going through a rough time. If the day ever comes when your life goes awry, this song will be a lifeline for you, something to help pull you out of that dark place.” (Rob Flynn)
The beauty of lyrics is that they are open to interpretation even when you know the inspiration. Such is the case with “Circle The Drain.” I can’t tell you how many times over the past year or so, this phrase (and song) have come to mind for a life experience that none of us ever anticipated.
In a year that will forever be remembered for the term “social distancing,” the lyrics “GET THE FUCK AWAY FROM ME!” in this song feel eerily reflective rather than coincidentally predictive. This may very well be my favorite Machine Head song to date.
 GIRISH AND THE CHRONICLES – “Rock N’ Roll Is Here To Stay”
No matter how much you follow music, even a particular genre, there is always something out there that has yet to appear on your radar. This is true when it comes to both local, national, and international bands. It took me over a decade to stumble upon Girish And The Chronicles (GATC), but it was a welcome discovery when it happened.
While I appreciate great songs, I’m equally interested in finding compelling stories to share with people. GATC is one of those stories.
They are the first heavy metal band that I have ever heard of coming out of India. Their history is far too elaborate to share in this forum, but I recommend checking out their Wikipedia page to learn more about the circuitous path that led them to Hong Kong and back.
“Rock N’ Roll Is Here To Stay,” at its core, is just timeless, straightforward blues rock that takes the foundation of AC/DC and infuses it with complexities of ‘80s blues rock bands like Badlands. There is a subtle reminder of Loudness that has nothing to do with both bands being from Asia, and a funky bass line that conjures up images of Flea and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. This was one of the more intriguing discoveries of 2020 for me.
 WIG WAM – “Never Say Die”
If you rely mostly upon radio to discover music, you are missing out on a good portion of what is out there, especially across the pond if you live in America. Though there is no connection, it’s interesting that I discovered Wig Wam in the same year that Will Ferrell released a movie called Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga because the band actually came in third in the real-life contest in 2004. In all honesty, I hadn’t even heard of the contest until the movie came out, but apparently, it is a big deal in Europe.
These Norwegian rockers had a hit song in Europe called “In My Dreams.” Though the title is familiar, it is not a cover of the Dokken classic from 1986. However, if you listen to that song, and 2020’s “Never Say Die,” you can hear a distinct Dokken influence to their sound. In fact, “Never Say Die” feels like what would have been the natural evolution of Dokken had they continued down the same path that they were on up to and including 1987’s Back For The Attack.
 SOUTH OF EDEN – “The Talk”
In a sea of uniformity, it’s always refreshing to hear a band that rides their own wave. This is not to say that South Of Eden is some sort of experimental band trying to reinvent the wheel, just that they are taking their influences from different places and blending them in an interesting way. At their core, these Columbus, OH rockers are firmly rooted in classic rock, but they have an element of surprise that catches you right away.
“The Talk” begins with a big, Zeppelin-esque groove, but where others may soar into a high-energy vibe like “Immigrant Song,” South Of Eden dials it back to a softer, picking guitar that takes you back in time to “Goldilox” from King’s X’s debut album, Out Of The Silent Planet.
South Of Eden is a young band with classic rock soul coursing through their veins. Their music pays homage to the legends that came before them, but they do so in a modern way that makes it feel fresh and new.
 TETRARCH – “I’m Not Right”
There is no dipping your toes into the pool to adjust to the cold water (musically or lyrically) on Tetrarch’s “I’m Not Alright.” It is a sudden plunge into icy waters that hits you like a ton of bricks. Sonically big, bold, and aggressive, you can feel the adrenaline coursing through your veins as you feel the palpable tension. The underlying nuances cry out in tortured pain. All of this is before the deep dive into reflective lyrics about self-loathing, feeling stuck, and wanting to escape. Therein lies the rub. We can all retreat to our little corner of the world to escape the madness of others, but when that madness is staring back at you in the mirror, there is no escape. You wouldn’t necessarily expect a song this intense to so vulnerable lyrically, but it is. You also wouldn’t expect there to be such catchy melodies amidst all the chaos, but they are in there, sandwiched between fierce rhythms and primal growls.
 OXYMORRONS – “Justice”
Heavy melodic riffs that remind you of British heavy metal of the ‘80s. A groove that would make Rage Against The Machine proud. A sonic wall of layered sound yields way to passionately delivered rapping before the infectious chorus in the vein of Sixx: A.M. hooks you in. Oxymorrons don’t sound like anything else on Active Rock radio today, though they would probably have an instant appeal to fans of Linkin Park and From Ashes To New. What stands out about “Justice” is the collision of intensity and melody. And that’s before you even dig deep into the lyrics to find out what the song represents.
“‘Justice’ is more than a song, but an act of solidarity with the people,” the group said in a joint statement about the single. “All revenue from streaming, merchandise, and downloads both now and in the future from this song will be given back to the community through various charities, non-profits, and movements. We want this to be a never-ending cycle to our people to continue to develop the youth, enhance our culture, and fight the inequalities that we have suffered for too long. We will continue to fight, continue to speak out against oppression, and stand for change.
We are angry. We are traumatized. We are scared. But mostly, we are tired. Tired of our people dying in front of us in broad daylight from a senseless act of racism. Tired of harassment from the very people whose job it is to protect us. Tired of screaming at the deaf ears of a government who never had our best interest in mind.
We are enraged. We are frustrated. We are beyond fed up. But again mostly, we are tired. Tired of the system put in place since the beginning to keep us down. Tired of the constant worry of getting a call that our loved one was next. Tired of not being able to determine our destiny.
We will stand tall. We will stand united. We will speak loud and proud against our oppressors.
But how much longer can we be this exhausted.
We are tired, but we’re not giving up!!!!”
 DEFY THE TYRANT – “Upside Down”
“Upside Down” begins with an ominous vibe that sounds like the lovechild of “Black Sabbath” and “Burn In Hell” (Twisted Sister), but then takes an unexpected turn into a more moody, subdued verse. Dripping with melancholic vocals, the intensity is turned up with nuanced screams of tortured anguish that is used to accent the story, rather than being an endless aural assault. There is a theatricality to this song that makes it feel like it was written for a thriller or horror movie. In some ways, the song feels like inside of a living nightmare, but there is also a poetic dark beauty to it that mesmerizes you and draws you in with no chance of resistance.
 GODSMACK – “Unforgettable”
In recent years, we have made a conscious decision to finish this list strong with a well-known artist. This is to show that inclusion in the list is more important than rankings. On any given day, the order would likely change, so this list is designed to flow as playlist as if it were a radio station.
When choosing the closing song for 2020, the choice was fairly obvious. After all, what describes the year more than the title of Godsmack’s “Unforgettable”…
Having 400 school kids contributing backing vocals on a song of one of the upper echelon bands in rock today is something to behold. The notion of having those same kids appear in the video for that same song a few years later seems implausible at this point in time, especially because it was released in April of 2020 when the entire country was on lockdown. It’s easy to see why the video would be inspiring (regardless of the timing) because it shows the humility of a band at the top of the food chain. You can tell how heartfelt Sully Erna’s words are as he talks about the power of music. And those were delivered pre-pandemic. Now more than ever, music has become a saving grace for so many of us who are struggling to deal with the great unknown.
Listening to “Unforgettable” in a pre-pandemic world would feel like a rock and roll TED Talk, but given the current state of the world, it feels eerily prophetic. A message of self-reliance and empowerment amidst a sea of changes has never felt so on-target before. Godsmack has always had a way of stirring a mixture of emotions with their music, but the chorus of children’s voices makes the song even more impactful than usual. Aside from Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick In The Wall,” it’s hard to think of another song that has captured the boundless spirit of singing children.
Thank you for taking the time to check out this year’s list. A lot of work went into creating the Top 100 Hard Rock Songs of 2020 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.
|OZZY OSBOURNE (f. ELTON JOHN)||Ordinary Man|
|AC/DC||Shot In The Dark|
|COREY TAYLOR||CMFT Must Be Stopped|
|COREY TAYLOR||Black Eyes Blue|
|ANY GIVEN SIN||Insidious|
|BLACKTOP MOJO||It Won’t Last|
|SIXX:A.M. (f. COREY TAYLOR, JOE ELLIOTT…)||Maybe It’s Time|
|SAUL||King Of Misery|
|VOLBEAT (f. NEIL FALLON)||Die To Live|
|GRETA VAN FLEET||My Way, Soon|
|ECHOBATS||Save Me From Loving You|
|ATREYU (f. M SHADOWS, AARON GILLESPIE)||Super Hero|
|KILLSWITCH ENGAGE||I Can’t Be The Only One|
|DAUGHTRY||World On Fire|
|BLUE OYSTER CULT||Tainted Blood|
|MOTIONLESS IN WHITE||Somebody Told Me|
|ASKING ALEXANDRIA||House On Fire|
|I PREVAIL (f. DELANEY JANE)||Every Time You Leave|
|THE PRETTY RECKLESS||Death By Rock And Roll|
|RIVAL SONS||Shooting Stars|
|DEE SNIDER & LZZY HALE||The Magic Of Christmas|
|ECLIPSE||Viva La Victoria|
|BLACK SWAN||Long Road To Nowhere|
|PISTON||Let Us Rise|
|HOOKERS & BLOW||Rocks Off|
|SMITH & MYERS||Not Mad Enough|
|PAPERCUT MASSACRE (f. ZACH MYERS)||Alive & Well|
|BLACK VEIL BRIDES||Scarlett Cross|
|JOEL HOEKSTRA’S 13||Hard To Say Goodbye|
|RISE AGAINST||Broken Dreams, Inc.|
|DROPKICK MURPHYS||Mick Jones Nicked My Pudding|
|10 YEARS||The Shift|
|FROM ASHES TO NEW||Scars That I’m Hiding|
|MARILYN MANSON||We Are Chaos|
|SEVENDUST||The Day I Tried To Live|
|THE AMITY AFFLICTION||Soak Me In Bleach|
|THE STRUTS (f. JOE ELLIOTT, PHIL COLLEN)||I Hate How Much I Want You|
|DISTURBED||If I Ever Lose My Faith In You|
|EVANESCENCE||Use My Voice|
|APOCALYPTICA (f. LZZY HALE)||Talk To Me|
|THE DEAD DAISIES||Unspoken|
|DEVIL CITY ANGELS||Testify|
|THUNDERMOTHER||Dog From Hell|
|PHIL CAMPBELL & THE BASTARD SONS||Son Of A Gun|
|THE USED||Paradise Lost, A Poem…|
|CRASH MIDNIGHT||Don’t Need Your Advice|
|BLACK STONE CHERRY||Again|
|THE CHERRY TRUCK BAND||Love Become Law|
|BLACK OXYGEN||Life Is Beautiful|
|REID HENRY||The Blind|
|JORN||Song For Ronnie James|
|JEFF SCOTT SOTO||Someone To Love|
|COHEED & CAMBRIA (f. RICK SPRINGFIELD)||Jesse’s Girl 2|
|THE GEORGIA THUNDERBOLTS||Looking For An Old Friend|
|THE ROLLING STONES||Living In A Ghost Town|
|MARK MORTON & LZZY HALE||She Talks To Angels|
|ELECTRIC MOB||Devil You Know|
|VOXX||Being Human (Human Being)|
|POP EVIL||Breathe Again|
|A KILLER’S CONFESSION||Last Chance|
|THROUGH FIRE||Listen To Your Heart|
|FAREWELL TO FEAR||I Won’t Be Your Tragedy|
|MICHAEL GRANT & THE ASSASSINS||Always The Villain|
|THE LONELY ONES||Flash|
|NEW MESSIAH||Dream On|
|MAGNUS KARLSSON’S FREE FALL (f. NOORA LOUHIMO)||Queen Of Fire|
|DIRTY SHIRLEY||Here Comes The King|
|SIN SHAKE SIN||The Mess We’ve Made|
|THEM EVILS||Where Ya Gonna Crash Tonight?|
|HELL IN THE CLUB||Nostalgia|
|PERFECT PLAN||Better Walk Alone|
|ARMORED DAWN||Zombie Viking|
|LORDS OF BLACK||Into The black|
|NICKELBACK (f. DAVE MARTONE)||The Devil Went Down To Georgia|
|MACHINE HEAD||Circle The Drain|
|GIRISH AND THE CHRONICLES||Rock N’ Roll Is Here To Stay|
|WIG WAM||Never Say Die|
|SOUTH OF EDEN||The Talk|
|TETRARCH||I’m Not Right|
|DEFY THE TYRANT||Upside Down|
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