TOP 100 HARD ROCK SONGS OF 2021
The TOP 100 HARD ROCK SONGS OF 2021 is a comprehensive list of songs that spans all hard rock genres around the world Active Rock, Classic Rock, Power Metal, Prog Rock, Punk, and beyond).
Our goal is to give readers the greatest possible variety of music. To do so, we limit this list to one song per artist (with only a few rare exceptions, but we don’t feature multiple songs from the same album otherwise). Closing with a well-known artist is by design, because the list is designed as much for flow as a continuous playlist as it is for rankings.
CLICK HERE to listen to Top 100 Hard Rock Songs of 2021.
***At the bottom of the page (beneath the reviews) is a listing of the songs in order***
TOP 100 HARD ROCK SONGS OF 2021
 COREY TAYLOR – “Samantha’s Gone”
It’s usually a disappointment when one of your favorite artists leaves one of your favorite bands, but in the case of Corey Taylor, his debut as a solo artist has been something to celebrate.
The brilliance of Taylor’s solo work continues with “Samantha’s Gone,” a song that was written 13 years ago, and offered to three other bands who declined to record it. That was a blessing in disguise. It’s hard to imagine any other artist delivering the infectious chorus like Taylor, or the unique phrasing of the verses for that matter.
In an interview with Maniac, Taylor talked about the long journey to getting “Samantha’s Gone” out to the masses…
“I’ve been sittin’ on that song for a long time thinking ‘fuck man, I really gotta put this damn thing out.’ It just kind of fit with everything else I was putting on this first album. I guess I’m really stoked by the fact that it came out so great. It’s a mashup of ‘70s glam and ‘80s punk, and it’s got a great vibe to it.”
It can be argued that every song that has Taylor’s imprint on it has a great vibe, but it’s easy to see why “Samantha’s Gone” is one of his favorites that he’s ever written.
 VOLBEAT – “Wait A Minute My Girl”
Jumping right into the song with Michael Poulsen’s one-of-a-kind vocals, “Wait A Minute My Girl” is unlike anything else in Active Rock, or any current rock for that matter. At just 2.5 minutes long, this upbeat, feel-good track is more in line with the classic era of punk rock. It’s also in line with the songs of the Doo Wop era of the ‘50s. There are elements of this song that take you back in time to that golden era. It doesn’t take a long time to make a big impact. Though short in length, “Wait A Minute My Girl” packs in a lot of nuance. If ever there was a modern rock song that maximized every note, it is this one!
 RISE AGAINST – “Nowhere Generation”
Back in the heyday of punk rock, there was a clear anti-establishment message that bonded fans together. Though we live in a divisive era with constant political turmoil, there aren’t too many bands that capture the “us-against-the-world” mentality that was once so pervasive. Rise Against is one of those bands. However, unlike the pure piss and vinegar of songs like “Anarchy in the UK,” Rise Against delivers their message with a thought-provoking observation of society today.
Frontman Tim McIlrath is a late Gen Xer (often referred to as a Xennial), but his insight on “Nowhere Generation” is not about his personal experience, but rather the collective experience of Millennials and members of Gen Z in America.
In an interview with Revolver, McIlrath shared the inspiration for this brilliant anthem…
“This song was sort of inspired by a lot of the younger generation telling me about their anxieties, their concerns and worries about the future of the world around them. At first I treated those accounts as ‘well, yeah, that’s every generation.’ We’re all swimming upstream against the tide, trying to overcome it. But the tide nowadays has been manipulated. It’s driven by a lot of external forces, which create things like the rise of the one percent, concentrated wealth, the decay of the middle class, and exploding college debt. I realized that a lot of the issues that these generations are facing are unique to them.”
Personally speaking, I don’t envy the younger generations. They are inheriting the mess that has been left behind by the generations that came before them. Though that includes Gen X to some degree, I feel like we are a part of the “nowhere generation” as well. Sandwiched between the larger Baby Boomer and Millennial generations, we are often treated as an afterthought. But we at least got to enjoy the carefree days of youth before face-to-face interaction was largely replaced by the virtual world. In many ways, we were blissfully ignorant about the ills of society. The younger generations have no such innocence.
 IRON MAIDEN – “The Writing On The Wall”
I read an article entitled “What Rock Fans Don’t Want To Admit.” It was fairly lengthy (like a Maiden song), but the premise was basically that rock artists, more than other genres, seem to write their best music in their 20s and maybe 30s. It’s hard to argue when you look over the empirical evidence and the career arc of most rock artists. I would argue that one factor not mentioned is that streaming has made it harder for songs and albums to have staying power because you can basically get any song today for free. No skin in the game (so to speak) makes it less likely that any new music will ever rival the classics of yesteryear.
Some legendary artists have decided that the squeeze isn’t worth the juice when it comes to releasing new music in the current climate. Who can blame them? After all, many of them can sell out arenas and stadiums by simply playing the songs that made them famous in the first place. It’s understandable why some would take that approach, but it doesn’t mean that all legendary artists subscribe to the same theory, especially bands like Iron Maiden who never relied on radio play in the first place.
The gap between releases from Maiden has grown over time, the longest being the six years between the release of 2015’s The Book Of Souls and the recently released Senjutsu. Perhaps it’s a sign of the times that Senjutsu became Maiden’s highest charting debut in their illustrious history. It’s not that it sold the most copies, just that they sold enough to make waves in a streaming society. Unlike most bands, people still want to own physical copies of Maiden releases. The band used smart marketing techniques to inspire sales.
Is this record selling well because it defied the premise of the aforementioned article that bands make their best music in their 20s and 30s? I don’t think so. An honest Iron Maiden fan will most likely not mention Senjutsu in the same breath as The Number Of The Beast, Piece Of Mind, Powerslave or the like, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have value in the present day. The album is filled with epic songs, but most are unlikely to reach the type of fan favorite status that makes them a must-play in concert for years to come. However, I believe that one song has the potential to be a modern day “Fear Of The Dark.” That song is the lead single, “The Writing On The Wall.”
It’s somewhat surprising to see the song getting played on Active Rock radio given that the format has consistently shunned any type of classic heavy metal. But maybe, the format is at least willing to give a nod to the all-time legends who are still releasing music worthy of recognition. “The Writing On The Wall” seems like it’s tailor-made for the stage. Out of all of the songs on Senjutsu, it is the one that I would actually be disappointed not to hear in concert. That’s not to say that the album doesn’t have other memorable moments, just not ones that I believe will stand the test of time against a juggernaut of a catalog that dates back nearly five decades.
 HALESTORM – “Back From The Dead”
“Back From The Dead” is a kick-ass, in-your-face, take-no-prisoners type of anthem that harkens back to the glory days of hard rock, while still managing to be a perfect fit for Active Rock radio.
Though there is a lot more competition these days, Lzzy Hale remains my favorite female vocalist on the scene today (and is right up there with my all-time favorites). Hale has proven herself time and again since Halestorm burst onto the scene that she is a force to be reckoned with (regardless of gender). “Back From The Dead” has a primal rawness to it that makes you want to turn up the dial to 11 and lose yourself in the moment. Whereas many hard rock bands today will resort to growling and screaming to show intensity and emotion, Hale does it with the same kind of swagger that Sebastian Bach exhibited during Skid Row’s prime.
 ANY GIVEN SIN – “The Way I Say Goodbye”
Every time Any Given Sin releases a new single, I think to myself…“THIS is going to be the song that launches them to the top of the Active Rock stratosphere!” I’m 100% confident that I will be right eventually.
Given that they have sounded like a seasoned band since they made their debut, it’s harder to show growth and maturity as they evolve, but Any Given Sin has done so with “The Way I Say Goodbye.”
Unlike other artists whose sound changes drastically, AGS has threaded the needle between evolution and delivering the sound that their fans have come to know and love. In fact, to the casual ear, the difference might not be that noticeable. But as someone who regularly deconstructs songs for reviews, I can tell you that there are impressive layers to this song.
The big hooks, and melodic chorus is still infectious, but what makes “The Way I Say Goodbye” so memorable is the poetic license used in the lyrics that allows the listener to paint their own unique mental picture. The other two standout storytellers of this generation are Brent Smith and Corey Taylor. Any Given Sin continues to climb towards these transcendent artists with their latest single.
“The Way I Say Goodbye” showcases everything that AGS has to offer just over three minutes. From the melodies to the soaring vocals to the moments of pure power in the bridge, this song gets better with each listen. If you pay close attention, you will realize the brilliance of the bridge that repeats a lyric in such a way that conveys an entirely different emotion.
 FOO FIGHTERS – “Making A Fire”
It’s sometimes hard to believe that Dave Grohl’s entrance onto the music scene was with a band that changed the course of rock and roll towards a darker, more melancholic direction. While they may not be known for altering an entire genre, for my money, Foo Fighters are a better band than Nirvana. That may sound like sacrilege to some, but surely others will agree. “Making A Fire” is the light to the darkness that was Nirvana. It has an upbeat groove, and backing vocals that are a throwback to happier, carefree times.
 BLACKTOP MOJO – “Wicked Woman”
There has been a resurgence of the Led Zeppelin influence permeating the modern hard rock scene in recent years. Some sound like lost Zeppelin tracks, while others just use the bluesy, riff-driven groove of Jimmy Page to give their song a timeless, ‘70s feel. Blacktop Mojo’s “Wicked Woman” falls squarely into the latter category. It’s just another layer to peel back in the seemingly endless onion that is the ever-evolving sound of (in my opinion) the most underrated band in rock and roll today.
While there is a Zeppelin vibe to the “Wicked Woman” opening riff, it also features the intensity of Judas Priest’s “Victim Of Changes,” and the stoner sensibilities of classic Black Sabbath riffs. With each passing release, Matt James continues to cement himself as one of the best vocalists in rock today. Impassioned, soulful, and a boundless range of styles and influences makes James one of the most versatile vocalists as well. But Blacktop Mojo is more than just a lead singer that makes you stand up and take notice.
Ryan Kiefer is a throwback to the days of the guitar gods, effortlessly blending ‘70s hard rock with ‘80s shredding into a modern sound that makes him one of the most impressive guitarists in rock today. James and Kiefer are only allowed to shine because the rest of the band provides an incredible foundation. It’s not just about being tight as a unit though. There is a chemistry with Blacktop Mojo that is virtually unrivaled by other developing artists. Having seen them live in an intimate setting, I can attest that this is not manufactured with studio tools. They are simply one of the best bands around.
 MYLES KENNEDY – “In Stride”
There’s a saying that goes…“Worrying does not take away tomorrow’s troubles. It takes away today’s peace.” For the past year, it has been nearly impossible for many to avoid worrying about the future, unless of course, you’re Myles Kennedy. Then you just take it all “In Stride.”
As a fellow Gen Xer, like Kennedy, I used to take most things in stride, especially when they were beyond my control. I have to admit that the pandemic that rocked the world made it impossible for me to be as cool as Kennedy is, but then again, how many can claim to be as cool as the man with the ageless golden pipes even before the pandemic?
While I definitely fell prey to worrying about the future, the message that Kennedy delivers on “In Stride” is a poignant one. As much as I have embraced technology and social media, there are parts of me that still long for the simpler days of yesteryear. Back then, there were trusted news sources that everyone followed. The news, for lack of a better term, was incredibly boring. Opinion shows by slanted networks that treat ratings like oxygen, and sensationalistic online “news” sources (that care more about being first and getting clicks than about being thorough and factual) have heightened our collective fears. Social media has taken those fears and pitted us against each other.
I can’t help but think that the world would be a much happier place if we took things “in stride” as we once did. But that ship has clearly sailed, so the message of this song, while poignant, is not likely to become a reality in modern times.
Having one of the most identifiable voices in rock, and being a prolific songwriter, you would think that Kennedy’s songs on various projects would have a lot of overlap. Somehow, that is not the case, given that Alter Bridge and his work with Slash is distinctly different. So too is his solo work, not only from his other two bands, but from his first solo release.
“In Stride” showcases a raw, swampy, bluesy side of Kennedy with a heavy groove that sounds unlike any of his other music. What is familiar though is Kennedy’s signature soaring melodic choruses that leave you feeling uplifted.
 SLASH f. MYLES KENNEDY & THE CONSPIRATORS – “The River Is Rising”
When Guns N’ Roses reunited and starting playing to sold out stadiums, I feared that it would be the end of Slash’s work with Myles Kennedy. Thankfully, that is not the case. While this duo has diehard fans for the brilliant music that they make apart, there is something about this combination that just works every time. This time around, on “The River Is Rising,” it feels like they brought elements of Alter Bridge and Guns N’ Roses together, almost as an homage to their other projects. When this song hits it’s crescendo, the frenetic spirit of “Paradise City” is perfectly captured.
 ECLIPSE – “Saturday Night (Hallelujah)”
Swedish rockers, Eclipse, have a sound that is in the realm of a lot of European hard rock/metal, but there is something special about them that makes you stand up and take notice. “Saturday Night (Hallelujah)” conjures up memories of early Def Leppard before their sound became so polished. Though it has some of the grit of early Def Lep, this song also features the saccharine sweet vocal harmonies of Joe Elliott and company’s later work. This is not to say that Eclipse has a derivative sound, just one that sounds comfortably familiar. On the surface, it might seem that the lyrics are about partying on the weekend, but the message is actually far more profound and inspiring. It’s about living EVERY DAY like it’s Saturday night and following your dreams in the face of doubters and dissenters.
 CRASH MIDNIGHT – “Nothin’ To Lose”
Crash Midnight is an underrated band that I admire for their timeless sound, and just as importantly, their creativity to blaze their own trail, and the tenacity to turn their dreams into a reality. “Nothin’ To Lose” may be a catchy song title, but for the doers of the world, the ones who stick out their necks and relentlessly pursue their goals like Crash Midnight, the title is more like a motivational mantra.
Perhaps what I love most about this band is that they meld all of the swagger and danger that first drew me into rock and roll (and ultimately the launch of Hard Rock Daddy) with a plan of action to succeed with that old school sound in a dystopian new music industry world. They’re disruptors, troublemakers, and pioneers. They piss on the status quo, all the while taking the bull by the horns and getting shit done in ways that others wouldn’t even dream about. “Nothin’ To Lose” is not lip-service for Crash Midnight; it’s a description of how they live their lives.
If Crash Midnight could time travel back to 1989, these erstwhile New England rockers would almost certainly be among the rock and roll elite. They wouldn’t have had to reinvent themselves in Sin City because the world would have been their oyster. Why reference 1989 specifically? Well, that was the year that Robin Williams helped a generation of kids learn the meaning of the phrase “carpe diem” with his role in Dead Poets Society (which also took place in New England). The members of Crash Midnight were not among that generation, but they embody what the phrase carpe diem means.
A gritty account of the band cutting its teeth in the Boston club scene, “Nothin’ To Lose” covers their journey from those formative years all the way up through becoming the highest-drawing independent rock band in their adopted city of Las Vegas. It dives into the seedy bars, late-night encounters, and raucous drive that gave birth to Crash Midnight’s street-level spirit. The track delivers an attitude-laden rock anthem that’s become a rallying cry to the unbreakable ambition that fuels their “us against the world” mentality.
Crash Midnight is a band that doesn’t cater to their ever-shrinking whims of Active Rock radio. They are unapologetically what they are, a rock and roll band that refuses to be put into a neat little box. They are the rebels who embrace the culture of sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll, just as those who came before them once did. This is one of the bands that gives me reason to hope that there will always be a little danger in rock and roll, even if it lies in the deep underbelly of places like Sin City.
 JERRY CANTRELL – “Brighten”
Unlike many bands of the grunge era, Alice In Chains was not just a blip in time in rock and roll history. They have staying power because of the substance of their work. Music has a way of moving you emotionally, at times allowing you to lean into the darkness to find ironic solace. For the most part, Jerry Cantrell’s work with Alice In Chains allows you to wallow in that dark space. The one exception for me being “Would?” which always “brightened” my mood. Often times, solo projects fall short of the work with an established band, but in this case, “Brighten” is right up there with the greatest Alice In Chains songs. The emotive darkness of grunge is still there, but it is seamlessly blended with the more uplifting side of southern rock songs like Gregg Allman’s “I’m No Angel.”
 DROPKICK MURPHYS – “Queen Of Suffolk County”
Regardless of the subject matter, the state of the world, or the state of your mind, when you listen to Dropkick Murphys, you can’t help but smile as you feel your spirits soar. Dropkick Murphys have brought a sense of joy with “Queen of Suffolk County.” The story in the lyrics takes you back to simpler times when the hair was big and our problems were small (relatively speaking). With the banjo and accordion taking center stage, this song feels like one big dopamine hit, even though the lyrics are about a woman whose actions leave a lot to be desired. The sarcasm in referring to her as a “queen” just adds to the charm of this feel-good song.
 BADFLOWER – “Don’t Hate Me”
When I saw Badflower open for Shinedown (pre-Covid), my first thought was that Josh Katz had a Kurt Cobain quality to him, but not nearly as serious, possessing self-deprecating humor. The influence of grunge is woven into Badflower’s songs, but there is always a silver lining to the grey clouds in both the music and lyrics. Although he does it in a lighthearted way, the topic of depression is addressed in such a way that you feel like you’re getting a glimpse into Katz’s diary. “Don’t Hate Me” has the raw, simple quality of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” in the verses, but then takes an unexpected twist into a progressive sound in the bridge that is reminiscent of 1970s Yes.
 WAGE WAR – “Circle The Drain”
“‘Circle the Drain’ is a song about learning from past mistakes and accepting responsibility in a world that needs change. It starts with us deciding to be a part of the solution.” I discovered Wage War when they released this powerful, poignant song off of their fourth album, Manic. It has a distinct Active Rock sound, but there was something different about it that instantly drew me in before I even knew the lyrics. There is an authentic, emotive quality to the vocals that brings the message in the song to life. While others might have leaned heavily into growling vocals to show angst, Wage War kept things melodic, yet aggressive in its own right.
 THE PRETTY RECKLESS – “Only Love Can Save Me Now”
Taylor Momsen steals the spotlight when it comes to The Pretty Reckless, which is understandable. Her sultry, captivating vocals have made her one of the top female vocalists in rock today. That holds true on “Only Love Can Save Me Now,” but there is much more to the song than just standout vocals. The opening riff feels like Tony Iommi playing “A Passage To Bangkok,” which sets the tone for Momsen to shine. As the song progresses, the darkness of Black Sabbath influences is dynamically counterbalanced by the sweetness of the vocals. The shredding solo work of Ben Phillips takes you on a journey back to the guitar hero era of rock and roll. Some bands today have taken a modern approach to ‘70s hard rock, but none have done it quite the way that The Pretty Reckless does it on “Only Love Can Save Me Now.”
 THE DAMN TRUTH – “This Is Who We Are Now”
It’s virtually impossible to think of anyone besides Robert Plant fronting Led Zeppelin, but what if Jimmy Page discovered Janis Joplin before Plant? Could that combination have created magic together? We’ll never know the answer to that question, but we can make an educated guess based on the modern-day version of that combo that is Canada’s The Damn Truth.
This is not to say that The Damn Truth is nothing more than a blending of two legendary influences. Quite the contrary! This four-piece unit out of Montreal has a timeless, layered sound that is pure rock and roll the way that it was meant to be played. Though catchy with a great hook, “This Is Who We Are Now” has an underlying mystique that takes you back to a bygone era.
This powerful song, which features a collaboration by all four members, was born on the road. Guitarist Tom Shemer shares the backstory of the song…
“I’ll never forget the moment when I was driving to a gig in eastern Texas and PY (Letellier, bass) was sitting in the passenger seat next to me. I told him, ‘Dude, press record on the voice memo,’ and I hummed, ‘This is who we are now’ into his phone. Months later, as the band laid down the track in the studio, Lee-la (Baum, singer) walked into the control room, grabbed the microphone and without writing anything down on paper, she did the take. That was it. Done.”
The Damn Truth rocks as hard as any band out there today, but according to Baum, they are “rock ‘n’ roll hippies” at heart who believe in self-reliance, community, peace, and love. Based on their origin story, that is an apt description of who they are. When Baum and Shemer first met, they were both naked at a hippie festival near the Sea of Galilee. They’ve been together ever since. It sounds like a Hollywood story. If someone is smart, they will option this story and have this killer act do the soundtrack to give them deserved exposure to the masses.
 DAUGHTRY – “Heavy Is The Crown”
It’s hard to believe that 15 years have passed since the world was introduced to Chris Daughtry on American Idol, or that he’s now released six albums since that moment in time. With one of the most unique sounding voices in rock today, Daughtry continues to make his mark in the genre. Of course, that wouldn’t be possible without great songwriting, another Daughtry staple. He has a way of making you feel the emotion of every lyric. Sadly, 2021 was a painfully emotional year for Daugtry whose stepdaughter died of suicide (just revealed). I can only imagine what will come from this tragedy. It’s sure to be gut-wrenching. Daughtry isn’t the first rock star to write about the pressures of fame, but unlike others who have done in with disdain, Daughtry takes an introspective approach on “Heavy Is The Crown.”
 A KILLER’S CONFESSION – “Trapped Inside”
Like butterflies emerging from a chrysalis, society is beginning the transition from the cocoon that we’ve all been living in because of a worldwide pandemic. You might think that A Killer’s Confession “Trapped Inside” was born out of the forced isolation caused by a deadly virus, but it’s not. In some ways, the message of the song is more daunting because the isolation is self-imposed. That helpless feeling of not being enough (at best), or totally insignificant (at worst), is profoundly captured in the lyrics of “Trapped Inside.” Whether you suffer from depression currently or have in the past, this song will resonate with those who know what it’s like to feel alone in the world.
Waylon Reavis takes you on an emotional journey that vacillates between lonely melancholy and frustrated rage with a song that hits home more if you pay attention to the lyrics instead of just getting lost in the vibe. With a song this powerful, it wouldn’t be surprising if Reavis leaned heavily on angst-ridden growls, but he only does so sparingly, which makes “Trapped Inside” uniquely dynamic instead of just being a relentless gut punch.
Musically, “Trapped Inside” blends the mystique of Tool with the melodic aggression of Gemini Syndrome. The end result is a nuanced song with impressive subtle layers that sneakily falls into the “thinking man’s metal” category.
 CAVO f.SHANNON ROC – “Come Undone”
For over a decade, Cavo has been doing a cover of Duran Duran’s “Come Undone” in concert. The band did release a version of the cover on a demo EP that was only distributed around St. Louis, but it was such a small run, that fans could never purchase the recording of it after hearing it live. With the help of guest vocalist Shannon Roc, Cavo has released a new version of “Come Undone” that is both true to the original and distinctly their own. Though Duran Duran’s original is a deviation from the norm with a haunting quality, the underlying beat is still a danceable pop song. Cavo has taken the mystique of the original and infused it with an alternative rock edge that harkens back to the rock music of the ’90s. The beat is more of a groove, and the guitar and bass dance on the dark edge of grunge. While Simon Le Bon’s vocals on the original were a blending of sweetness and melancholy, Casey Walker’s vocals are melodically angst-ridden. Roc’s vocals also give the song a shot of adrenaline that invokes a different kind of emotion than Duran Duran did back in the day.
 EDGE OF FOREVER – “Get Up On Your Feet Again”
If you are a fan of European hard rock and heavy metal, you are certainly familiar with the name Alessandro Del Vecchio. As a writer, his fingerprint is all over numerous Frontiers Records releases. For those of us who were reared on ‘80s hard rock and heavy metal, Del Vecchio and Frontiers is a godsend. When people refer to timeless rock and roll, they’re usually talking about the music from the legends of the ‘70s. I don’t disagree with that sentiment, but to me, outstanding ‘80s rock and roll is also timeless. There is something about the sound of soaring vocals and melodic harmonies that never gets old. “Get Up On Your Feet Again” is a joyful, nostalgic journey back to the carefree days of youth.
 THE DEAD DAISIES – “Holy Ground (Shake The Memory)”
There are certain things that you can count on with The Dead Daisies. The first is that their bluesy classic rock sound has a timeless quality, regardless of which artists are featured on any given studio release. The second is that the one mainstay in the band is its founder/rhythm guitarist, David Lowy. And last, but certainly not least, is the fact that this music collective is a magnet for some of the most talented, accomplished artists in rock and roll today.
The title track off of the band’s fifth studio release since their inception in 2013 is another in a long line of memorable blues rock tracks. Because of the revolving door policy of The Dead Daisies, the band has a fluid sound that is built around their rock solid foundation. The current incarnation features the legendary Glenn Hughes on vocals. No matter what band Hughes is a part of, you can’t help but feel that his presence and golden voice is so distinct, that he automatically becomes the focus of your attention. That is not meant to dismiss the work that Lowy has done, or the lead guitar work of Doug Alrich, but Hughes is a category unto himself.
Though Hughes will turn 70 later this year, his voice is still as good (or better) than any other rock and roll singer. Of course it helps to have great songs to sing, but the mystique of his vocals is what really makes you stand up and take notice. Lowy deserves a ton of credit for constantly attracting outstanding talent, and for his humility in living beyond the limelight in his own project.
 GUNS N’ ROSES – “Hard Skool”
As much as I love Guns N’ Roses, I have to admit that I didn’t have high hopes for new music coming out. It’s not that Slash can’t still deliver incredible riffs. He does so with regularity with Myles Kennedy & The Conspirators. I just wasn’t sure that he and Axl Rose would be able to capture the magic again after so many years apart. Truth be told, the band never needed to think about writing another song again. All they had to do was announce a tour and watch stadiums sell out. Many artists in their position no longer release new music. To be fair, the song was culled from the leftover tracks of Chinese Democracy, but without Slash and Duff McKagan, it certainly would not have had the classic GNR sound that we all know and love. It took a while to grow on me, but the more I listened to it, the more it resonated with me to the point that I would be disappointed if I didn’t see them perform in concert alongside the songs that defined my youth.
 VEER – “Science”
Maryland rockers, Veer, are relatively new to the rock scene, but their sound has already evolved quite a bit since their debut. Their earlier work showed a distinct grunge influence, but with “Science,” Veer takes their music to another level. Opening with a hard-hitting, tight groove that smacks you in the face, the vocals delve into the realm of ‘90s hard rock conjuring up memories of Warrior Soul (one of the most underrated bands of the decade). Giving the song even more depth is the use of atmospheric undertones and vocal harmonies that have a prog rock feel. “Science” is not only Veer’s best work to date (in my opinion), it feels like it is in a subgenre unto itself in the context of modern hard rock.
 ASKING ALEXANDRIA – “Alone Again”
If there is one thing that Asking Alexandria does as well as any Active Rock artist today, it’s blending a variety of elements into a song and making it all feel seamlessly cohesive. “Alone Again” begins with a theatrical opening with gang vocals that take you back in time to “Another Brick In The Wall.” Moments later, the thrashing riffs conjure up images of early Metallica. In an instant, the song shifts to a cool groove when Danny Worsnop’s passionate melodic vocals kick in. From the heavy riffs to the softer moments to the tight stops, everything works on “Alone Again” in a way that most bands couldn’t pull off. Most probably wouldn’t even think to try.
 SMITH / KOTZEN – “Better Days”
When it comes to Iron Maiden, much of the glory goes to Bruce Dickinson. By design, frontmen are the ones who draw the most attention. You would think that the legendary dual guitars of Adrian Smith and Dave Murray would draw similar attention, but the focus tends to go towards the iconic bass playing of Steve Harris, who is really the captain of the ship.
Like Smith, Richie Kotzen doesn’t draw the lion’s share of attention in his work with bands, most notably, The Winery Dogs. A brilliant singer, guitar player, and songwriter, Kotzen tends to yield the spotlight during live performances to his virtuoso rhythm section of Mike Portnoy and Billy Sheehan. Kotzen shines with emotive vocals that conjure up memories of Chris Cornell, but your eye tends to be drawn towards his gregarious bandmates.
When I first saw that Smith and Kotzen had teamed up for a side project, it seemed like an unusual pairing, but this duo has commonalities that don’t jump right out at you, which results in an undeniable chemistry between them.
Although I’ve been an Iron Maiden fan since I was a kid, I never thought of Smith as a singer, but his gritty voice helps make the silky smoothness of Kotzen’s voice shine even brighter. “Better Days” features a lot of the bluesy guitar that Kotzen is known for, but there are moments where you can hear the Maiden influence of Smith breaking through. You wouldn’t expect an unusual pairing like this one to work so well, but it absolutely does!
 CHRIS DAUGHTRY / LAJON WITHERSPOON – “Hunger Strike”
Chris Cornell doing cover songs was a big part of his identity during his solo years. Covering Cornell is not something that is done often, and for good reason. His voice and larger-than-life presence makes the thought of covering his music a daunting proposition. If anyone were to attempt it, I would have thought that it would be Richie Kotzen because of the similarities in their vocal style. The other option is to make it your own, which is what Chris Daughtry did when taking on the Cornell part of the most notable duet in grunge history. Like Cornell, Daughtry has an instantly identifiable voice, so it works. Where the song gets most interesting is Lajon Witherspoon taking on the Eddie Vedder part. Vedder’s vocals on the original are kind of gruff and melancholic. Witherspoon’s buttery smooth vocals provide an interesting twist. Musically, the song sounds almost identical to the original, so all of the heavy lifting was done purely with vocals.
 BLACK LABEL SOCIETY – “Set You Free”
Black Label Society’s “Set You Free” feels like the opposite way that the weather in March is described in cold weather climates…”in like a lion, out like a lamb.” The soft, moody guitar picking intro quickly transitions to an in-your-face Black Sabbath-esque riff. No surprise given Zakk Wylde’s outspoken passion for all things Sabbath. It’s how he ended up playing with the Prince Of Darkness in the first place. Although there is a distinct difference in their vocals, stylistically, Wylde sounds like a younger, more gravelly version of Ozzy when he sings, especially on this song. His riffs keep the song driving throughout, providing the foundation for frenetic solos that leave you in awe, while making you feel angst in a way that usually only happens when lyrics hit home in a visceral way.
 JOEL HOEKSTRA’S 13 – “Finish Line”
Two guitarists have played with Whitesnake and Dio, but neither of them is named Joel Hoekstra. You wouldn’t know it listening to “Finish LIne,” another killer Hoekstra solo song that sounds like the lovechild of Whitesnake and Dio. With energetic riffs that capture the same intensity as “Stand Up And Shout,” and the bluesy groove of classic Whitesnake, “Finish Line” takes the best of both worlds and brings them together in a powerful way. Russell Allen’s vocals vacillate between the mysticism of Ronnie James Dio and the upbeat groove of David Coverdale, all the while putting his own stamp on the song. As always, Hoesktra’s guitar playing is masterful, not just the solos, but also the musicality of the nuanced riffs.
 PARALANDRA – “Despicable”
There is no shortage of rock artists with familial ties, but those tend to be more of the sibling variety. It’s hard to think of other bands that were formed by a parent and child, but that is one of the things that makes Paralandra notable. The band was formed by the father/daughter duo of Cassandra and Paul Carson. Cassandra was raised on rock and roll. In an interview that I read, the duo discussed how it all began…
“She would start dancing in circles … and just loving it, and every once in a while she’d come up and start re-tuning my guitar,” he said.
“Thank you, sweetheart, thank you,” dad said to daughter. “Then she’d come back and re-tune it again. I knew from then …”
Finishing her father’s sentence, Casandra interrupted: “… that it was going to turn into something.”
They were right! This band has turned into something…something special. Like another familial band, Paralandra is in the same wheelhouse as Halestorm. Like Lzzy Hale, Cassandra has a ballsy, bold style that transcends genre. You can tell that she was raised on the hard rock that was the defining sound of the ‘80s. The chemistry between Cassandra and her dad is undeniable. I can only imagine the pride that he has in his daughter. Speaking as a dad, this kind of relationship is a dream come true.
 PLUSH – “Hate”
There is no shortage of female-fronted hard rock bands these days, but the amount of all-female groups is still not common. That’s not the only thing that makes Plush stand out from the crowd. According to their website, they are all under 21 years old. Even if that is no longer the case, the fact of the matter is that they are a band that is extremely young, but has a seasoned sound that goes well beyond their years. They are pure, melodic power. “Hate” chugs along with timeless riffs that have roots in the classic rock era. But their sound is as modern as any other artists that you hear on Active Rock radio. What may be the most awe-inspiring is the power that comes from singer Moriah Formica, diminutive in stature, but with a larger-than-life voice. Although many may know her from appearing on The Voice, I didn’t discover her until I heard this song. The future is bright for this band of female rockers!
 NASSON – “We Are The Army”
In addition to being known for old school sounding hard rock, Frontiers Records is also responsible for some of the most inspiring collaborations in rock today. On Nasson’s debut solo album, the Chilean guitarist/producer/songwriter teamed up with Caterina Nix, Gui Oliver, Mizuho Lin, and James Robledo for a bombastic, symphonic gem on “We Are The Army.” Fast and furious, the song is unrelenting like an army marching into battle. In between the high octane rhythm are some beautiful vocal harmonies intertwined with ominous riffs.
 JEFF SCOTT SOTO f. ALIRIO – “I’ll Be Waiting”
Artists doing updated versions of their previous work can be a hit or miss proposition. Sometimes it makes the song better, as is the case with Whitensake’s classic “Here I Go Again.” Sometimes, the new version pales by comparison, as is the case with Def Leppard’s keyboard heavy remake of “Bringin’ On The Heartbreak.” With “I’ll Be Waiting,” Jeff Scott Soto takes a great song from over three decades ago and adds a nice twist with the complementary vocals of Brazilian singer, Alirio. The cover stays true to the original in most respects, but the dual vocals provide an even bigger arena rock sound. In my opinion, Soto is one of the most underrated rock vocalists of all-time. I honestly have no idea why that is. Over 30 years have passed, and he still sounds as good as he did when the original came out. I have no doubt that if this song was released by Bon Jovi in their heyday, it would be a signature song right up there with the likes of “Livin’ On A Prayer.”
 DANGEROUS CURVES – “Good And The Bad”
For the most part, when I’m looking to get my fix of uplifting, melodic hard rock with roots in the ‘80s, I set my sights on the European music scene. American bands tend to gravitate towards Active Rock, which is understandable given the radio climate in this country. There simply is no outlet for bands like Maryland’s Dangerous Curves. But that doesn’t mean that there is no audience for them. There is an entire generation of people who grew up on ‘80s hard rock and would welcome new music with open arms if they could find it. “Good And The Bad” is everything that made the ‘80s the glory days of hard rock in my eyes. It was the decade of decadence. The world was a happier place, and music like this made us all feel good. It’s below zero as I’m writing this review, but listening to Dangerous Curves makes me feel like I’m in a convertible with the top down on the way to the beach.
 CHEZ KANE – “Too Late For Love”
When I saw the title of this song, I expected to hear a cover of the Def Leppard classic. While it’s not a cover song, it does take you back in time to the ‘80s…by design. Chez Kane was handpicked by Crazy Lixx frontman Danny Rexon to “work with him on an album that nods to the great female hard rockers of the ‘80s.” Mission accomplished! With the fire and passion of Pat Benetar, the vibe of Lita Ford and Vixen, “Too Late For Love” checks all of the boxes. While the song has nothing to do with Def Leppard, the thick, sweet vocal harmonies offer an unintentional nod to the band that made the sound their signature in the ‘80s.
 STYX – “Save Us From Ourselves”
Styx is one of the first bands that turned me on to rock and roll. I can still remember sitting with my friend in elementary school listening to The Grand Illusion on vinyl in his older sister’s room. That was over 40 years ago, but I can picture the moment as if it happened yesterday. Time passes much quicker than any of us care to admit, but one thing remains the same. Styx is still one of those bands that brings joy with their music. Beneath the brilliant vocal harmonies, “Save Us From Ourselves” delivers an important message. Actually, unlike “Grand Illusion,” which offers a commentary on the human condition, this song asks a question that may as well be rhetorical. “Who’s gonna save us from ourselves?” Sadly, the answer is most likely no one. We no longer live in the simpler times of the ‘70s when I discovered Styx. The world, especially the United States, is increasingly divided, and that chasm grows by the day. When facts are open to interpretation and science is openly mocked by many, there is no one to save us from ourselves. At least, we have the music of Styx to comfort us on the entropy bullet train. I give the band a ton of credit for releasing inspired new music when many other legacy artists are just touring on the hits.
 ORDEN OGAN – “Heart Of The Android”
German power, progressive metal with elements of folk metal, Orden Ogan doesn’t seem to fit into a category that Active Rock radio would embrace. Yet, “Heart Of The Android” has the same intense vibe and melody structure as some of the heavier songs by Black Veil Brides. That doesn’t mean that the band will be embraced by radio in America, but it is worthy. Regardless, “Heart Of The Android” takes you into the realm of dark science fiction in an interesting way, one that inspires theater of the mind. You could easily see this song, and the rest of the album, being the basis of a modern day rock opera. Maybe it’s an escape from reality. Who knows? In these truth-is-stranger-than-fiction times, maybe it is describing our current reality where the lines between machine and man are being blurred more and more with each passing day.
 BLACK VEIL BRIDES – “Crimson Skies”
Though they have a diehard fanbase, Black Veil Brides is one of those bands that has its fair share of detractors for reasons that completely escape me. All they ever do is release powerful, thought-provoking songs that straddle the fence between ‘80s heavy metal and modern day Active Rock. Maybe that mixture doesn’t work for everyone, but it certainly does for me. “Crimson Skies” hits you like a ton of bricks from the outset with riffs that fall squarely in the thrash realm. The intensity of the music is matched by the lyrics. Though they are open to interpretation, it doesn’t take too much to read between the lines if you’ve kept up on things that Andy Biersack has said about the state of the country. I’ll leave it at that. Regardless of the meaning, the song kicks ass!
 TRIVIUM – “Feast Of Fire”
One of the things that has struck me most since the world has been stuck inside of a seemingly never-ending pandemic is that so many people have turned a public health issue into a political statement, oftentimes to their own detriment. Self-destruction has always existed in personal ways, but it’s hard to think of another time where self-destruction is being done en masse. I don’t know if “Feast Of Fire” is addressing this topic head-on, but if you read between the lines of the lyrics, and read about Matt Heafy’s personal experience with Covid, it certainly feels like it is addressing this topic. You will only find words like “entropy” in thinking man’s metal songs. “Feast Of Fire” certainly fits the bill. If there is one word that has been top of mind over the past few years, it is “entropy.” This is a song that I play at full volume when I’m feeling the frustration of a society that seems to be moving backwards.
 NITA STRAUSS f. DAVID DRAIMAN – “Dead Inside”
David Draiman is not a neutral party when it comes to the political divide, but he also does believe that tribalism is destructive to society. It feels like we have all been at war with each other for years now, and there is no clear path to unity. Although he recently returned to social media, he did take an extended hiatus. I can understand why. It is the main reason that misinformation and lies can spread through society like a cancer with the mere click of a button. “Dead Inside” seems to address these issues. Because Draiman’s vocals are so distinct, and the song has a familiar intensity, it feels like “Dead Inside” could be a Disturbed song. This is not to take away anything from Nita Strauss’ playing. She is among the best guitarists on the scene today. It’s just hard to put your own stamp on something when you’re partnered with Draiman.
 GEMINI SYNDROME – “IDK”
Even by today’s standards, where album cycles tend to be longer than the past, a five-year gap between albums is a long time. This is especially true for a newer band that has gained traction with their earlier work. If you are going to take this long between albums, there needs to be a good reason. In the case of Gemini Syndrome, there is.
Their latest album is the final installment of a three-part trilogy. They spent a good portion of the past few years writing the album. According to frontman Aaron Nordstrom, “our actual blood, sweat, and tears went into its creation.” You can certainly feel the energy and passion that was poured into creating “IDK.” The title itself seems a bit counterintuitive to the lyrics of the song, and Gemini Syndrome’s lyrics in general, which are always incredibly thought provoking. It’s almost ironic that the title is the shortcut used by many to say “I don’t know,” because the lyrics indicate that Nordstrom and company seem to know things that the rest of us are not privy to.
Beyond the deep meaning of the lyrics, the song itself feels what I imagine the mind of someone with bi-polar disorder to feel when they experience extreme highs and lows. It’s not uncommon to have a song that mixes angst-ridden screams with melodic clean vocals, but “IDK” pushes the spectrum to new limits, vacillating seamlessly between tortured screams of agony, and beautiful, emotive melodies.
 SAUL – “Looking To Fight”
Saul’s “Looking To Fight” follows the sonic formula that they’ve used since they began working with producer extraordinaire Chris Dawson. Kudos to them for consistently executing and making music that moves the listener. There are a few lines in the song that tackle one of the least discussed crises that has been lost in the middle of the pandemic…depression. “It’s hard to breathe when nothing is okay” and “you can’t stop the suffering” capture the mindset of those suffering from depression. When we (hopefully) get on the other side of this pandemic, the ripple effect of deep waves of depression in society is going to wash ashore like a tsunami. For those dealing with those sinking feelings right now, “Looking To Fight” makes you feel like you’re not in this alone. At least, that’s my take on it.
 DED – “Kill Beautiful Things”
“‘Kill Beautiful Things’ is about the survival of compassion and love in the modern world,” says singer Joe Cotela. “And how you navigate the path of life to not succumb to the evils of humanity. Adopting a ‘fight fire with fire’ mentality. The song shines a light on our struggle to exist with a conscious mind and good intentions against an overwhelming current of negativity and strife.” There’s a saying that goes, “when words fail, music speaks.” In the case of “Kill Beautiful Things,” the lyrics speak, but it’s the vibe of the music and the raw emotion of the vocals that encapsulates the frustration that so many of us feel in these tense, uncertain times.
 KINGDOM COLLAPSE – “Unbreakable”
As the saying goes…“what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” When adversity comes into your life you can choose to let it break you, or you can use it to motivate you to become “unbreakable.” The latter is the path that Kingdom Collapse has chosen in a song that finds a way to motivate you through the weight of angst and dismay. Singer Jonathan Norris leaves it all on the table with his impassioned delivery of a message that should inspire listeners to use disappointment and failure as a stepping stone to a better future.
 10 YEARS – “The Unknown”
Some songs just move you for reasons that cannot be easily explained. It’s easier to understand when there is clear messaging to a song, but when the lyrics are somewhat cryptic, you are left to your own devices to figure out why you feel moved. This isn’t the first time that I’ve had this experience with 10 Years’ music. As a parent, the further you get away from the days of your children’s youth, the more it blurs into one jumbled memory. But some moments are so indelible, you feel like you can relive them just by picturing them in your mind. I think that my daughter was around 4 years old when “Fix Me” came on the radio in the car. Whenever the chorus came around, she would start wildly clapping as she burst with joy. I don’t know why that song moved her so much, just like I don’t know why “The Unknown” moves me. Maybe it’s the theme of wanderlust and faded memories. Maybe it’s the poetry of the lyrics, or the emotional vocal delivery of Jesse Hasek. I suspect that it’s a combination of all of the aforementioned that makes “The Unknown” draw me in every time that I hear it.
 ISLANDER – “What Do You Gotta Lose?”
“‘What Do You Gotta Lose?’ is a song about hoping for a better tomorrow. I’ve personally dealt with suicidal thoughts in my life and I’ve met a lot of fans that have as well. If suicide could save our lives, we’d all have done that by now. It doesn’t. It only ends the possibility of it getting better. This song is a plea to anyone that hears it to hold on. Joy comes in the morning,” says singer Mikey Carvajal in a statement. Not only is this song incredibly powerful, it is also an important message to those who are contemplating suicide. You are not alone! Listening to this song several times, it finally dawned on me that “What Do You Gotta Lose?” took me to the same emotional place as “Lydia” did when Highly Suspect emerged on the scene. There is an authenticity to the song that creates a deep visceral response.
 DIRTY HONEY – “California Dreamin’ “
With the cover song trend going strong these days with rock artists, I assumed that Dirty Honey’s “California Dreamin’” was going to be a cover of the hit song by The Mamas & The Papas of the same name, but I was wrong. Not only is it an original song, but the lyrics are not nearly as happy and breezy as the song that people associate with the title. That is by design. Frontman Mark LaBelle shared the inspiration for the song with Rolling Stone…
“I knew there already was a song called ‘California Dreaming’, but I wanted to do a different take on it. The dream isn’t always realized when you come out here, a lot of people end up moving back to where they came from because they didn’t achieve the fame and fortune that they were dreaming of. It can be a pretty dark place, and that’s where I wanted to take the lyrics. It’s kind of a dark song and it came from a place that’s autobiographical, but fortunately, at least now, things feel like they’re looking up.”
“California Dreamin’” is a soulful, bluesy rocker that is firmly rooted in the classic rock sound that instantly launched these newcomers onto the radar of hard rock fans and radio programmers. The foundation of the song is built upon the ’70s blues rock sound of Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith, and Deep Purple, but there is an upbeat quality to the melody that has subtle reminders of 1980s Whitesnake. Though the influences are obvious, Dirty Honey puts things together in an interesting and fresh way that makes it feel current and relevant.
 GRETA VAN FLEET – “Broken Bells”
The only thing that Greta Van Fleet is guilty of is enjoying a meteoric rise that most up and coming bands would envy. Yet somehow, they are still unfairly judged by critics and music fans alike for their obvious Led Zeppelin influence on their early work. As the saying goes…”you never get a second chance to make a first impression.” Greta Van Fleet’s early music was very much in the realm of Zeppelin, but that doesn’t mean that they are simply a modern version of a legendary band. Those with an open mind will avoid the temptation to pigeonhole a band that has the talent to evolve and remain relevant for years to come.
Just like they did with “My Way, Soon,” GVF is showing that they have much more range than they are given credit for with “Broken Bells.” While the former was an uplifting song with a happy vibe to it, this song is the polar opposite in a way, and a musical diversion down a progressive path. Though “Broken Bells” still features the blues rock sound that is a big part of the band’s sound, it is much more in the realm of early Rush than Led Zeppelin. Those who ignore preconceived notions of what Greta Van Fleet has to offer will appreciate the growth that this young band is exhibiting with “Broken Bells.”
 BLACK DIAMONDS – “Lonesome Road”
Whenever we look back on our youth through a nostalgic lens, we tend to do so from our personal vantagepoint. Not just generationally, but also geographically, which is why I found it surprising that I identified so strongly with Black Diamonds’ “Lonesome Road.” The song is dripping with nostalgia, but not the American variety that I think about when daydreaming takes me back to my youth. The “Lonesome Road” in this song is in Switzerland where the band is from. Like most Americans, I think of Switzerland as a snow covered wonderland with cool architecture, great chocolate, private bank accounts, and political neutrality. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine a “Lonesome Road” that takes you back in time to your childhood. It just goes to show that music connects us all in unexpected ways. If you’re a fan of Def Leppard’s first album, you’ll find some nostalgic memories in parts of this song.
 DEAF RAT – “Like A Prayer”
Unexpected cover songs have become something of a staple in rock because it helps bands get instant recognition. But that is not always the motivation. For Swedish rockers, Deaf Rat, covering Madonna’s “Like A Prayer” was meant to help bring the band together during some trying times.
According to singer Frankie Rich…
“Three years ago, we had somewhat of a dead period with a lot of setbacks during 10 months. The spirit inside the band was not the best. I saw that we needed to focus on something together so I did some demos of cover songs on my own and brought it forward to the rest of the band. Luckily, the rest of the guys grasped on to it and we were able to turn our built up frustration into fuel for creativity in the studio instead. If we had not entered the studio and worked on this song together, chances are big the band would not be around today.”
Whatever the reason, I’m glad that they made the decision to cover the song and stay together. If not, I may never have discovered the band. Staying somewhat true to the original, this inspired cover of “Like A Prayer” infuses the song with the same type of adrenaline that Alien Ant Farm did with “Smooth Criminal.” You don’t have to be a fan of the original to love this version of the song.
 KICKIN VALENTINA – “Somebody New”
What if you took the guitar vibes of Judas Priest’s Point Of Entry album, the uplifting feeling of Eddie Money’s verses, the anthemic choruses of Bon Jovi, and the gritty vocals of Lemmy Kilmister? You would have Kickin Valentina’s kickass rocker, “Somebody New.” This is a combination that you would never expect to work together, but this song just clicks on all cylinders. Of course, this is the only band (that I know of) whose name is derived from a fetish porn star who kicks men in their nether region, so it shouldn’t come as a shock that they are a bit unique when it comes to their songwriting. It’s always a joy to listen to modern rock bands who capture the spirit of the carefree days of yesteryear with their music.
 CRAZY LIXX – “Rise Above”
With the energy of Loudness’ “Crazy Nights,” the groove of Sammy Hagar’s “There’s Only One Way To Rock,” and the gang vocal harmonies of early Def Leppard, Crazy Lixx gets your heart racing with “Rise Above” from the first note. You can help but wonder what would have happened with ‘80s hard rock if it evolved into what Crazy Lixx has to offer rather than delving into the watered down, superficial sound of the hair bands that got signed more for their looks than their talent. No one can tell if the genre would have staved off the grunge takeover, but there would have been a far greater chance if bands like Crazy Lixx represented the next wave of ‘80s hard rock.
 DYNAZTY – “Power Of Will”
The theatricality of Dynazty’s “Power Of Will” is something that you don’t hear to often in America, but once upon a time, one of the greatest American songwriters of all-time masterfully incorporated this element and sold millions of records. That songwriter was Jim Steinman, the creative force behind Meat Loaf’s most popular work. While his passing was not met with nearly the fanfare of the man who brought his songs to life, his impact is greater than most people realize. One of the most underrated Steinman songs was featured in the 1984 movie, Streets Of Fire. That song, “Nowhere Fast,” was recorded by an unknown artist called Fire Inc. It is a bombastic, melodic joyride that most people have never heard. I would put Dynazty’s “Power Of Will” in the same category. Though it obviously wasn’t written by Steinman, it incorporates many of the elements that made his work brilliant, albeit with a bit more symphonic flair that is more customary in European metal.
 LAURENNE / LOUHIMO – “The Reckoning”
Brought together by Frontiers Records, a label that creates collaborations as if they are playing a fantasy sport, Laurenne/Louhimo is yet another brilliant pairing by the Italian record label. Featuring Smackdown frontwoman Netta Laurenne and Battle Beast frontwoman Noora Louhimo, “The Reckoning” feels more like a duet between longtime bandmates than an arranged marriage between two of the most powerful female vocalists in metal. It is a beautiful blend of edginess and sweetness.
 ALL GOOD THINGS f. HOLLYWOOD UNDEAD – “For The Glory”
From the first note, you can hear “For The Glory” being played at sporting events or during televised sporting events (both live and televised). You don’t even need to hear any of the lyrics to catch that vibe. Once the lyrics kick in, there is no doubt that the song was written for just such an occasion…
“Better back down, you’re in my domain…got the whole crowd screaming out our name.”
It may be a bit of a reach to say that “For The Glory” could be the next “We Are The Champions,” but if there was ever a song that was tailor-made to become a staple of sporting events, it is this one for sure. Of course, you never really hear the whole song at sports events. Those who listen on their own are treated to the compelling dynamic created by the rap parts contributed by Hollywood Undead.
 PAPA ROACH – “Kill The Noise”
Papa Roach is one of the few bands that can make you want to dance and bang your head within the confines of the same song. “Kill The Noise” has a danceable groove in the same vein as the signature sound of Red Hot Chili Peppers, while at the same time having an angst-ridden heaviness found in Active Rock. Like the proverbial calm before the storm, Papa Roach uses subtle nuance to transition between groove and power. It makes the impact of the heaviness felt in a manner similar to the way a roller coaster feels on a steep drop after a slow climb.
 POP EVIL – “Survivor”
Pop Evil’s sound continues to evolve with each album, but they continue to be an almost lead-pipe lock to end up climbing the Active Rock charts. While others may find a formula that works and continue in a narrow path, Pop Evil doesn’t let the fickleness of radio chart their course for writing new music. “Survivor” is an inspirational song about never letting defeat or failure deter you from pursuing your dreams. Every success story is littered with failure along the way. It’s those who use failures as a lesson who find success. In the words of Winston Churchill, “if you’re going through hell, keep going.” That is the message that Pop Evil eloquently delivers with “Survivor.”
 LINES OF LOYALTY – “I’m Not The One”
“I’m Not The One” opens with a Tool-like riff, but instead of following the dark, haunting path that Tool usually takes, Lines Of Loyalty kicks into an upbeat, anthemic sound that is more in the Sixx:A.M. wheelhouse. Though the vibe of the song is uplifting, the message is one of disdain and regret for wasting time with the wrong person in a relationship. Like Sixx:A.M., these Wisconsin rockers are a power trio with an incredible flair to blend melody and rage seamlessly. They definitely made a smart move hooking up with producer Chris Dawson to help define their sound. With some exceptions, most people aren’t fans of producers, just of their work. I am an unabashed Dawson fan because he has a way of making all of those who work with him better.
 ICE NINE KILLS f. JACOBY SHADDIX – “Hip To Be Scared”
“Hip To Be Scared” is the most unique song on this entire list. It features the multitude of elements that you expect to hear with progressive rock bands like Dream Theater. However, whereas prog rock bands tend to take themselves very seriously (musician’s musicians), Ice Nine Kills maneuvers through this song with virtuosity while having their tongues planted firmly in their cheeks. The self-deprecating humor in the middle of the song makes the band even more likable. I’m not sure how many of Ice Nine Kills’ fans will catch the Huey Lewis homage, given that “Hip To Be Square” came out in 1986, but I truly appreciated the ingenuity that it took to throw that into mix.
 STARSET – “Infected”
A song called “Infected” in these times could easily have a literal meaning, but that’s not what Starset was going for. However, the infection that they are speaking of may ultimately be more insidious than Covid as we try to navigate increasingly choppy waters. There are songs with messages that offer a ray of hope for the future, but the opposing viewpoint is much less prevalent. These lyrics offer (what I believe to be) a realistic observation of humanity…
“And we hate the way
This world has become
But there ain’t no cure for it
We’ve been infected, infected”
Some may call it pessimism, but I prefer realism. What would it take to cure the world at this point? A common enemy? We have that in Covid, yet we are still battling everyday about how we fight against an invisible enemy that only sees hosts and opportunities, not political leanings. The world will never be the same, at least not for generations to come.
 SEETHER – “Wasteland”
A generation of kids grew up celebrating a “teenage wasteland” with The Who’s “Baba O’Riley.” We would gleefully blare out…“they’re all wasted!” with Roger Daltrey. It was a different time and place. Seether’s version of “teenage wasteland” is a much darker place, one of isolation and sadness rather than unity and joy. A number of modern bands were inspired by grunge, but few embrace the genre the way that Seether does. “Wasteland,” like much of their other music, feels like it could have been released during the heyday of flannel. Maybe that’s why they are so good at tapping into the darkness of that era.
 DESORDER – “Worth It”
In the course of discovering new music to share, I sometimes lose track of where I came across something that is still under the radar. There is very little that I can share about Desorder, other than the fact that they are an American hard rock band who released a 4-song EP in 2021 called This Is Not Your Dying Day. When I came across the song “Worth It,” I immediately thought of Seether’s “Fake It.” But as I listened more closely, the underlying blues notes reminded me of ‘70s hard rock. The guitar parts are not in your face so you need to peel back the layers to fully appreciate what Desorder has to offer.
 THE WARNING – “Choke”
You would think that a power trio of Mexican sisters would be enough of a story in and of itself to get noticed in the rock world. It just goes to show how much competition there is for the small slice of the pie that is leftover after the long-established bands take their collective slices. Formed in 2013, the Villareal sisters now have four releases under their belt. All it takes is one great song to get noticed and start picking up momentum. The Warning has definitely done that with “Choke,” a song with a melancholic message wrapped in a melodic tune.
 LILITH CZAR – “Anarchy”
“When you find yourself beaten down by the world, in those times you can either let it destroy you or let it create you. I know who I am now, completely. I’ve found my purpose, creating art to inspire others to stand up for what they believe, to fight for their dreams, and to never give up.” – Lilith Czar (formerly Juliet Simms)
In recent years, a handful of rock bands have reinvented themselves with a name change. You see it less often with individual artists because it’s harder to escape your own identity. To do so, you must be bold and make the difference drastic enough to confidently slip into your new skin in a genuine way. What better way to start than by giving the middle finger to the establishment and embracing anarchy in a way that hasn’t been done since the heyday of punk rock. Of course, it helps when you can do so by occupying the same rarified air as Lzzy Hale and Halestorm. Czar has the same type of edge that Hale has, and the song structure on “Anarchy” is right in the Halestorm wheelhouse, albeit with a bit more defiant piss and vinegar.
 LIGHT THE TORCH – “Wilting In The Light”
With the exception of Volbeat’s Michael Poulsen, it’s hard to think of another artist on Active Rock radio that has the instantly recognizable voice that Howard Jones has. No matter what the melody of the music is, you always know that it’s Jones singing. His voice is so distinct that you sometimes have to pay extra attention to appreciate what is going on with the rest of the song. “Wilting In The Light” is straight forward, emotive Active Rock, but what sets it apart from other songs is the underlying music that feels like it could be the music bed to a cinematic chase scene. There is a palpable energy that gets your heart racing as you listen to it. You feel the vibe more when you play it loud!
 MAMMOTH WVH – “Don’t Back Down”
When Wolfgang Van Halen replaced Michael Anthony on bass, there were (understandable) cries of nepotism from longtime VH fans. Being the bass player in Van Halen is arguably the least noticed part of the band. There is only so much that you can do when you are in the shadow of one of the greatest guitar players of all-time, a thunderous drummer, and lead singers that suck up the rest of the air in the room. What most of us didn’t realize is that Wolfgang is a virtuoso in his own right. When you’re writing the songs, and performing as the singer, guitarist, bass player, keyboardist, and drummer, there is no place to hide in the background. Nor is there a place to be overshadowed. Last year’s song, “Distance” may have gotten recognition because of its raw, heartfelt tribute to a legend that we all loved, but this time around with “Don’t Back Down,” Wolfgang is being recognized for an immense talent that most people probably didn’t realize that he possessed.
 KENT HILLI – “Don’t Say It’s Forever”
If you’re a fan of uplifting, melodic AOR songs, you will instantly fall in love with Kent Hilli’s “Don’t Say It’s Forever.” The current Giant lead singer has a delivery that will remind you of ‘80s hard rock, but there is a soulfulness that is reminiscent of Foreigner’s Lou Gramm. In fact, the keyboard parts feel like an homage to some of Foreigner’s greatest hits. “Don’t Say It’s Forever” is a throwback to simpler times when songs were largely about the end of a romantic relationship.
 THE END MACHINE – “Dark Divide”
Dokken meets Warrant in this supergroup that has accomplished a feat that many others do not these days…a second album! Following up 2019’s eponymous debut, The End Machine returned with the aptly titled Phase2 in 2021. It’s not surprising that the opening riff feels like you’ve taken a journey back in time to Dokken’s heyday, but “Dark Divide” doesn’t languish on memory lane for long. Though it is clearly rooted in the ‘80s, there is a refreshing modern sound that makes you forget that you’re listening to a supergroup built on an ‘80s foundation. If anything, this song falls more in the category of blues rock than the hair metal label that so many shun.
 SPEKTRA – “Runnin’ Out Of Time”
Produced by Alessandro Del Vecchio and Jeff Scott Soto, Spektra’s
“Runnin’ Out Of Time” is a predictably feel-good song. That is a good thing! In a time that feels like we’re living in a never-ending powderkeg, songs like this bring even more joy than ever. Even the shredding guitars are bright, bold, and uplifting. You can definitely hear the Soto influence in the song. Though many like to mock Nelson, I’ve always found them to be one of the most enjoyable bands to listen to because of their brilliant vocal harmonies. “Runnin’ Out Of Time” gives me the same pleasure that I still get when listening to Nelson.
 JIM PETERIK & WORLD STAGE – “Prom Night In Pontiac”
I’ve been a fan of Jim Peterik since I was a kid listening to Survivor. Although I’ve only had one experience with Chloe Lowery, it was a powerful one! Out of all of the talent featured in the Broadway show, Rocktopia, Lowery’s is the one performance that sticks with me to this day (over 3 years later). Her range and versatility is awe-inspiring. Needless to say, I was thrilled to see that these two talents teamed up on a song that takes you back in time, not just to the ‘80s, but just in general to prom night. Though a bit more subdued than the raunchier “Paradise By The Dashboard Light,” “Prom Night In Pontiac” takes down the same road of teenage lust. Personally speaking, I thought the prom was lame, but I loved the experience afterwards. I would have been just as happy to skip it altogether and get right to the fun stuff afterwards (where there may have been some debauchery). In this tale of teenage lust, the couple featured in the song skips the prom and heads out on a road trip without telling anyone. The prom night magic happens on the side of the road.
 CRUZH – “Turn Back Time”
You would think that a nostalgic look at the heyday of the Sunset Strip would come from a California band, or at least a band that relocated there to chase the dream. But Cruzh is a Swedish band founded in 2013, many years after Sunset Strip was the hotspot for hard rock music, and the days of debauchery long since passed. But there is one theme that everyone can relate to, no matter the time or the place…thinking about the one that got away. In this case, the one that got away was a ship that passed in the night. If I could “turn back time,” I’d love to take a journey back to that heyday, when life was simpler, more fun, and our biggest worries were about the one that got away. These Swedish rockers captured the joy of that time with AOR glory on “Turn Back Time.”
 CROWNE – “Perceval”
Crowne is a Swedish supergroup, comprised of members who are far from household names in America, but are well-known in Europe. The band’s sound is a mixture of symphonic and power metal, with vocals that are distinctly European. However, the intensity of the music is reminiscent of Queensryche’s early days (more specifically, the self-titled EP and The Warning). Heavy riffs, thunderous, relentless double-bass drumming, and tasteful shredding make “Perceval” a song that will appeal to those who are fans of European metal and early Queensryche alike.
 CIRCUS OF ROCK f. JOHNNY GIOELI – “Desperate Cry”
When a song opens with a Hammond organ intro, your mind reflexively goes to Deep Purple, but Circus Of Rock’s “Desperate Cry” takes an unexpected turn based after the musical intro. Johnny Gioeli’s lead vocals are reminiscent of early work of Jon Bon Jovi. The overall sound of “Desperate Cry” is a bit heavier than that though. It reminds me of an under-the-radar release from a band called Messano (featuring Bobby Messano on guitar). The blues rock guitarist played with the likes of Joe Lynn Turner and Lou Gramm. People tend to look at ‘80s hard rock in a bubble, but if you look back through the decade, there were distinct sounds as the years progressed. There was some great blues rock coming out in the late ‘80s and first few years of the ‘90s, even while grunge was taking over the world. It was just too little, too late, and everything became lumped under the “hair band” category. Circus Of Rock has that same soulful, bluesy rock vibe as the bands that were more a victim of bad timing than lack of talent.
 NIGHT RANGER – “Bring It All Home To Me”
Night Ranger has been releasing albums throughout the 2000s in a somewhat under-the-radar fashion, mostly because there is no natural radio outlet for bands like them in America. That says more about radio in this country than it does about Night Ranger. The band’s sound has evolved over the years, but at their core, they are still a great melodic hard rock band. Songs like “Bring It All Home To Me” not only showcase their musicality, but also their polished vocal harmonies. I give credit to any legacy band that can tour based solely on their hits, but continues to write music that is just as worthy today as it would have been years ago.
 LIONVILLE – “Cross My Heart”
Heavy keyboards, beautiful vocal harmonies, and an old school AOR vibe defines Lionville’s “Cross My Heart.” Though this song leans a bit to the pop side, there is still enough impressive guitar playing to appeal to hard rock snobs who tend to shun music that they don’t find to be heavy enough. “Cross My Heart” feels like it was ripped right out of an inspirational montage from a classic ‘80s movie, much like Robert Tepper’s “No Easy Way Out” or Survivor’s “Burning Heart.” If you like this kind of rock, you’re going to love “Cross My Heart.”
 WIG WAM – “Kilimanjaro”
Norwegian rockers Wig Wam have one of the more interesting sounds to come along in recent times. Though they’re billed as “glam metal,” there is a depth to their music that isn’t that common with glam metal, which by design, is about embracing the superficial aspects of life. There is something to be said for that kind of pure, hedonistic approach, but that’s not what Wig Wam is (at least to my ears). Unlike Toto’s “Africa,” which is about the actual destination, Wig Wam’s “Kilimanjaro” is used as a benchmark for how high someone is. While the lyrics delve into the same subjects as typical glam metal, it is done so in a clever way. The song itself has a hint of swampy, southern rock, which is not something that you typically find in glam metal.
 THE TREATMENT – “Rat Race”
It’s fair to say that these British rockers were heavily influenced by fellow brits Def Leppard. On face value, “Rat Race” sounds like it could have been a lost track from the recording sessions of any of Def Leppard’s first three albums. But as you dig deeper, you hear shades of Ratt (not just because of the song title), and in the bridge, the vocals are in the same realm as late ‘80s blues rock, a bit edgy, but emotive and soulful. The subject matter of the song is about the life of the working stiffs, much like that of Rush’s “Working Man” and Loverboy’s “Working For The Weekend.” “Rat Race” is a fun, energetic song that would be ideal to crank up during happy hour at the end of the work week.
 GIANT – “Let Our Love Win”
If I’m being honest, the only song that I instantly knew by Giant was their epic power ballad, “I’ll See You In My Dreams.” That song is arguably one of the top power ballads of all-time. Though they have had a handful of releases since that smash hit, I wasn’t aware of any. “Let Our Love Win” instantly drew me in, but not for the same reason as “I’ll See You In My Dreams.” It’s heavier, blues rock that is in the same realm as Whitesnake and Deep Purple. That has a lot to do with Kent Hilli being the new vocalist. This straightforward rocker features some nice breaks, tasteful guitar leads, and sweet vocal harmonies.
 RONNIE ATKINS – “Picture Yourself”
Ronnie Atkins has a different perspective than most when writing songs these days. The Pretty Maids vocalist was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer in 2019. Since then, he has undergone over 30 rounds of chemotherapy. That alone would take the wind out of most peoples’ sails, but then when you throw a worldwide pandemic on top it, it’s hard to imagine having the motivation to write songs with such a positive message. But that’s exactly what “Picture Yourself” is…a song of hope. It acknowledges that the world is in peril now, but offers up a way of looking towards a brighter future. We can only hope that Atkins continues to win this battle, and that there is more great music from him to come.
 W.E.T. – “Big Boys Don’t Cry”
Jeff Scott Soto makes yet another appearance on the year-end song list. This time with an AOR gem in “Big Boys Don’t Cry.” This supergroup, formed by members of Work of Art, Eclipse, and Talisman (W.E.T.), is a melody machine. The vocal harmonies are nothing short of brilliant on this feel-good rocker. The trading off of vocals between Soto and Erik Mårtensson works perfectly, much like it did with Journey when Steve Perry and Gregg Rolie shared vocal duties on “Feeling That Way/Anytime.” I don’t know exactly what happened with Soto and Journey, but the one positive to come out of it is that he has continued to make inspiring music with numerous different projects, ones that allow him to put his unique stamp on things.
 BRAINSTORM – “Solitude”
Germany’s Brainstorm has an ominous, intimidating presence. There is a darkness to “Solitude” that feels like an angry version of Alice Cooper, but they do so in a powerful way that makes you want to go into battle with them. You would not expect a bombastic, larger-than-life song to be about love lost, but that’s what you get with “Solitude.” Torsten Ihlenfeld’s vocals reach into your chest and grab you by the heart. Though subtly done, Milan Loncaric’s guitar shredding adds a bright Yngwie Malmsteen flair to a song that is comfortably dark.
 BLOODBOUND – “Creatures Of The Dark Realm”
Bloodbound’s “Creatures Of The Dark Realm” gets your blood pumping from the outset. It comes in heavy with a driving rhythm. The underlying keyboards give the song an eerie vibe. Though the song is fairly straightforward, there are some subtle nuances to appreciate when you listen more closely. From the dual guitars, to the soaring vocals, to the tight rhythm, as you listen, you start to get an Iron Maiden vibe from these Swedish power metalers, and a hint of very early Queensryche as well.
 VICTORY – “Love & Hate”
Victory’s “Love & Hate” starts out a bit mysterious, but quickly transitions into familiar bluesy rock territory. Jioti Parcharidis’ vocals immediately conjure up images of Jesse James Dupree wielding a chainsaw with Jackyl. As you listen to the song a few more times, you start to hear hints of Sammy Hagar as well. It goes to show that the world may be a big place, but it is easily connected by music. Jackyl hails from the south in America. Hagar from the midwest (though he has now planted roots in Mexico). Victory hails from Germany. “Love & Hate” is song that has a sense of familiarity and uniqueness all at once.
 RUST N’ RAGE – “Heartbreaker”
Rust n’ Rage was formed in Finland in 2010, but I didn’t discover them until I heard “Heartbreaker” this year. The song follows the pattern that was once all the rage in the era of the power ballad. Unlike the typical power ballads, “Heartbreaker” starts off with an emotive introduction, but then transitions to an upbeat, adrenaline filled rocker that incorporates dynamic tempo changes that you see more often in prog rock. It feels like multiple songs all in one experience. Unlike prog rock, Rust n’ Rage takes you on this musical roller coaster ride that lasts for just over four minutes.
 INGLORIOUS – “Barracuda”
It takes balls to cover a song that features Ann Wilson’s ungodly high vocals. Most wouldn’t try, especially male vocalists who don’t find a lot of comfort in that high register. But when you have a weapon like Inglorious has in Nathan James, it’s worth taking a shot. While staying somewhat true to the original, you can tell by the opening guitar riff that this is going to be a heavier take on Heart’s signature song. It mixes the galloping of Iron Maiden with the heart-racing vibe of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song.” It works very well, but what makes you stand up and take notice is James tackling every high note with authority, never stepping it down at all to make things more comfortable. How James isn’t a household name by now is beyond me.
 ISSA – “Angels Calling”
Issa is a 26-year old Norwegian with an enormous, melodic voice. In this keyboard-laden song, Issa shines with angelic vocals (no pun intended based on the song title). Though “Angels Calling” has an upbeat feel, Issa has a touch of melancholy in her voice that gives it an interesting depth. Europe has quite a few female hard rock vocalists these days, so it’s not easy to rise above the din. But there is something special about Issa.
 HARDLINE – “Surrender”
It’s hard to believe that it’s now been three decades since Hardline made their debut. To this day, “Hot Cherie” (off of the band’s debut album, Double Eclipse) remains an all-time favorite. Back then, I was surprised to see Journey’s Neal Schon team up with two relative unknowns in the Gioeli brothers. Guitarist Joey left the band in the early 2000s, but singer Johnny has been the frontman though all of the incarnations of the band through the years. Also featuring Alessandro Del Vecchio, “Surrender” is another in a long line of great melodic rock songs from the producer who seems to have his hand in all songs in this style.
 NESTOR – “1989”
“Created by friends in 1989 and reinvented in 2021 with the mission to restore the glory of rock!” is the full description of Nestor on the band’s Facebook page. Though they did some recording after their debut, the band has largely been dormant for years. Their return feels like opening a time capsule back to 1989, the tailend of the golden years of hard rock. The song “1989” has a vibe that is a cross between Kiss’ “Thrills In The Night” and Robert Tepper’s “No Easy Way Out.” The song is less about the nostalgia of days gone by and more a commentary on how fast time flies, and how the memory of young love leaves an indelible mark on you. The dual guitar work is a glorious throwback to yesteryear.
 FARCRY – “Broken Dreams”
Most of the AOR/melodic hard rock bands these days all reside in Europe, but every once in a while, you stumble across an American artist that unabashedly defines themselves as late ‘80s/early ‘90s rock. It’s refreshing to see that there are bands out there who just play what they love without being hyper-focused on radio airplay that is elusive to many anyway. “Broken Dreams” is a song about resilience and having a never-say-never attitude when chasing your dreams regardless of what anyone else thinks. The song has the same uplifting, positive vibe as Triumph’s “Fight The Good Fight.”
 MEMORIA AVENUE – “Stuck”
“Memoria Avenue has a sound and style that will particularly appeal to fans of stylish, ’80s oriented melodic rock bands (think Journey and newer bands like Perfect Plan and Work of Art) with a hint of that breezy, feel good sound of yesteryear. Listening to these songs will transport you to the feeling of driving by the sea with the windows rolled down without a care in the world. Certainly not a bad feeling in this day and age.” I couldn’t agree more with the description that Memoria Avenue has on their website. “Stuck” is a top-down, wind-in-your-hair, heading for the beach song that takes you on a journey back in time (no pun intended). Particularly impressive is the use of layered vocal harmonies to give the song an even bigger sound than it already has. Great guitar work on this fun, energetic tune.
 MADAME MAYHEM – “I Am More”
Born Natalie Ann Cohen, this New York singer/songwriter has evolved into Madam Mayhem. When you think of NY singer/songwriters, you don’t expect to hear powerful, soaring vocals and a rock edge. Nor do you expect to hear growls with a touch of evil that feel like they were added by someone with a Jekyll and Hyde personality. Aside from the moments where the demon within emerges, “I Am More” is powerfully melodic, while also being unapologetically heavy and in your face.
 SECRET SPHERE – “Lifeblood”
Fast and furious, Secret Sphere’s “Lifeblood” begins with frenetic shredding and fierce thrashing drums. There is only one band in the “big four” of thrash that you would think of when the high register vocals kick in…Anthrax. Though the thrash comparisons are warranted, there are also elements of symphonic metal, power metal, and prog rock during the softer moments that add a compelling dynamic. If you tried to bang your head to the drumming on “Lifeblood,” you would be a virtual lock to give yourself whiplash. There is so much to unpack in this song, that you need to listen to it multiple times to peel back all of the layers. Though this will appeal to musicians the way that bands like Dream Theater does, “Lifeblood” is accessible to fans of quality hard rock and metal.
 ICON OF SIN – “Night Breed”
According to their Facebook page, “Icon Of Sin is a Brazilian band playing heavy metal influenced by the legends of the ‘80s.” That may be true of the rest of the band, however, frontman Raphael Mendes is influenced by one band…make that one man…Bruce Dickinson. In fact, if Iron Maiden were so inclined, and had discovered Mendes the way that Journey discovered Arnel Pineda, the Blaze Bayley era may not have ever existed. Although “Night Breed” on its own does not sound like a pure Maiden song, you can’t help but think of them when you listen to Mendes. Hopefully, Icon Of Sin will find success with their original music. But if not, Mendes could probably make a killing in a Maiden tribute band.
 BROTHERS OF METAL – “Kaunaz Dagaz”
If you judge “Kaunaz Dagaz” by the operatic opening female vocals, you would think that I lost my mind adding this song to this year-end list. However, once you get past the intro, the song kicks into high gear with relentless intensity. If you just listen to the music, you would think that this is a band that takes itself very seriously, but if you watch the video, you will see that quite the opposite is true. Regardless, the theatricality of this over-the-top song reminds me of some of Jim Steinman’s greatest work, both well-known and under-the-radar.
 THE GRANDMASTER – “The Tempest”
You have to wonder if Alessandro Del Vecchio ever sleeps, or if he has somehow managed to clone himself, because he seemingly has a hand in almost every melodic hard rock song that comes out of Europe. With The Grandmaster, he is teamed up with Edguy guitarist Jens Ludwig, and metal vocalist Nando Fernandes (Sinistra, Brother Against Brother). “The Tempest” opens with a classic Queensryche vibe and then transitions into a heavy metal cocktail comprised of equal parts Ronnie James Dio, Russell Allen, and Jorn. The lead vocals and harmonies bring the mystical lyrics to life. This is pure heavy metal at its finest.
 BIG CITY – “Testify”
According to Big City guitarist Daniel Olaisen, “ ‘Testify’ is about confessing to things to get weight off your conscience in order to have a better life…or keep them a secret and live a lie.” This Norwegian band pulls from a wide variety of musical influences from jazz to extreme metal, but the foundation of their music comes from their passion for melodic and nostalgic ‘80s metal/hard rock. You can tell where Big City’s passion lies with “Testify,” but if you listen closely, the subtle influences go back to the ‘70s, most notably the progressive sound of Kansas and a hint of Styx.
 FICTION SYXX – “Innocence”
Oftentimes with prog rock, I find myself getting lost in the musicianship and the lyrics kind of blend into the background. But Fiction Syxx flipped the script for me with “Innocence.” The song opens with a melancholic vibe that ebbs and flows throughout, but there is a ray of light that shines through in the thought-provoking chorus…
“So look into the eyes of children and lose yourself within their innocence. Remember that you were once just like them. Now blinded by a self society, where it’s all about me.”
Even though the world is in tumultuous times, worsened by a life-altering pandemic, the innocence of youth still remains the same. We are all born the same, and then life eventually chips away at our innocence. The world would be a better place if we could all just recapture some of the innocence of youth.
 ELECTRIC MOB – “Your Ghost”
Last year, Brazilian rockers Electric Mob were featured on this list with an edgy song called “Devil You Know.” This year, they are back with a more subdued song that features acoustic guitars supporting emotive vocals. There is only one band that I can think of who has blended this moodiness with blues rock in such an impactful way…Great White. More specifically, “The Angel Song,” which is one of my favorite Great White songs of all-time. But there is something more to “Your Ghost” that is even more haunting (no pun intended). It feels like it was written to be featured in a dramatic scene of a movie to underscore the gravity of the moment.
 FOO FIGHTERS – “Waiting On A War”
Dave Grohl can dial up the intensity whenever he wants, and do so in a powerful way, but my favorite moments are the more vulnerable ones where he wears his heart on his sleeve. That was the first thing that struck me about “Waiting On a War” before I even delved into the lyrics or the meaning behind them. Once I did, it was easy to see where the bittersweet authenticity came from, especially from the perspective of a dad.
Here is Grohl’s tweet explaining the inspiration behind “Waiting On a War”…
“As a child growing up in the suburbs of Washington DC, I was always afraid of war. I had nightmares of missiles in the sky and soldiers in my backyard, most likely brought upon by political tension of the early 1980s and my proximity to the nation’s capitol. My youth was spent under the dark cloud of a hopeless future.
Last fall, as I was driving my 11 year old daughter to school, she turned to me and asked, ‘Daddy, is there going to be a war?’ My heart sank in my chest as I looked into her innocent eyes, because I realized that she was now living under the same dark cloud of a hopeless future that I felt 40 years ago.
I wrote ‘Waiting On a War’ that day.
Every day waiting for the sky to fall. Is there more to this than that? Is there more to this than just waiting on a war? Because I need more. We all do.
This song was written for my daughter, Harper, who deserves a future, just as every child does.”
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 2021 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.
|COREY TAYLOR||Samantha’s Gone|
|VOLBEAT||Wait A Minute My Girl|
|RISE AGAINST||Nowhere Generation|
|IRON MAIDEN||The Writing On The Wall|
|HALESTORM||Back From The Dead|
|ANY GIVEN SIN||The Way I Say Goodbye|
|FOO FIGHTERS||Making A Fire|
|BLACKTOP MOJO||Wicked Woman|
|MYLES KENNEDY||In Stride|
|SLASH f. MYLES KENNEDY & THE CONSPIRATORS||The River Is Rising|
|ECLIPSE||Saturday Night (Hallelujah)|
|CRASH MIDNIGHT||Nothin’ To Lose|
|DROPKICK MURPHYS||Queen Of Suffolk County|
|BADFLOWER||Don’t Hate Me|
|WAGE WAR||Circle The Drain|
|THE PRETTY RECKLESS||Only Love Can Save Me Now|
|THE DAMN TRUTH||This Is Who We Are Now|
|DAUGHTRY||Heavy Is The Crown|
|A KILLER’S CONFESSION||Trapped Inside|
|CAVO f. SHANNON ROC||Come Undone|
|EDGE OF FOREVER||Get Up On Your Feet Again|
|THE DEAD DAISIES||Holy Ground (Shake The Memory)|
|GUNS N’ ROSES||Hard Skool|
|ASKING ALEXANDRIA||Alone Again|
|CHRIS DAUGHTRY/LAJON WITHERSPOON||Hunger Strike|
|BLACK LABEL SOCIETY||Set You Free|
|JOEL HOEKSTRA’S 13||Finish Line|
|NASSON||We Are The Army|
|JEFF SCOTT SOTO f. ALIRIO||I’ll Be Waiting|
|DANGEROUS CURVES||Good And The Bad|
|CHEZ KANE||Too Late For Love|
|STYX||Save Us From Ourselves|
|ODEN OGAN||Heart Of The Android|
|BLACK VEIL BRIDES||Crimson Skies|
|TRIVIUM||Feast Of Fire|
|NITA STRAUSS f. DAVID DRAIMAN||Dead Inside|
|SAUL||Looking To Fight|
|DED||Kill Beautiful Things|
|10 YEARS||The Unknown|
|ISLANDER||What Do You Gotta Lose?|
|DIRTY HONEY||California Dreamin’|
|GRETA VAN FLEET||Broken Bells|
|BLACK DIAMONDS||Lonesome Road|
|DEAF RAT||Like A Prayer|
|KICKIN VALENTINA||Somebody New|
|CRAZY LIXX||Rise Above|
|DYNAZTY||Power Of Will|
|LAURENNE / LOUHIMO||The Reckoning|
|ALL GOOD THINGS f. THE HOLLYWOOD UNDEAD||For The Glory|
|PAPA ROACH||Kill The Noise|
|LINES OF LOYALTY||I’m Not The One|
|ICE NINE KILLS f. JACOBY SHADDIX||Hip To Be Scared|
|LIGHT THE TORCH||Wilting In The Light|
|MAMMOTH WVH||Don’t Back Down|
|KENT HILLI||Don’t Say It’s Forever|
|THE END MACHINE||Dark Divide|
|SPEKTRA||Runnin’ Out Of Time|
|JIM PETERIK & WORLD STAGE||Prom Night In Pontiac|
|CRUZH||Turn Back Time|
|CIRCUS OF ROCK f. JOHNNY GIOELI||Desperate Cry|
|NIGHT RANGER||Bring It All Home To Me|
|LIONVILLE||Cross My Heart|
|THE TREATMENT||Rat Race|
|GIANT||Let Our Love Win|
|RONNIE ATKINS||Picture Yourself|
|W.E.T.||Big Boys Don’t Cry|
|BLOODBOUND||Creatures Of The Dark Realm|
|VICTORY||Love & Hate|
|RUST N’ RAGE||Heartbreaker|
|MADAME MAYHEM||I Am More|
|ICON OF SIN||Night Breed|
|BROTHERS OF METAL||Kaunaz Dagaz|
|THE GRANDMASTER||The Tempest|
|ELECTRIC MOB||Your Ghost|
|FOO FIGHTERS||Waiting On A War|