Nobody will ever forget 2020 but a year of crushing lows has been soundtracked by a series of fret-fuelled highs and the broad church that is Rushonrock worshipped them all. Welcome to our definitive list of this year’s essential sounds.

20. Black Stone Cherry – The Human Condition (Mascot)

Kentucky’s finest returned with more finger pickin’ goodness in the shape of The Human Condition — a reflective record that found Chris Robertson in thought-provoking mood. Perhaps Black Stone Cherry’s latest stab at arena-ready rock lacked a true party starter but this was still a loud and proud set from a band much missed on the live scene in 2020. Keep On Keepin’ On was a standout track and captured the mood of a difficult year. Simon Rushworth

Read the full review of The Human Condition here

19. Metallica – S&M2 (Blackened)

They say never go back. But Metallica did and this time they did an even better job. Bolstered by technology’s race for perfection, this pin-sharp representation of a band that built its reputation on pushing boundaries was quite breathtaking. On reflection, the original S&M simply didn’t do justice to metal’s true masters and their technical prowess. Fast forward to 2020 and the follow-up captured the giants of the genre in all of their glory. SR

Read the full review of S&M2 here

18. Hellripper – The Affair Of The Poisons (Peaceville)

Hellripper – aka James McBain – killed ‘em all with this venomous eruption of blackened proto-thrash and toxic motörpunk. The prolific Scotsman has been building momentum ever since the release of 2017’s debut album Coagulating Darkness. And thanks to this riff-laden beastie, Hellripper is now getting the attention it has long deserved. Lemmy, Cliff and Quorthon would all have been raising a glass to The Affair Of The Poisons, that’s for sure. Rich Holmes

Want to know what inspires James McBain? Check out Hellripper’s Top Ten Lockdown Albums here.

17. Hjelvik – Welcome To Hel (Nuclear Blast)

Erlend Hjelvik’s shock decision to quite Kvelertak appeared to be brave bordering on the foolhardy. But those who expressed surprise at a bold move had no idea the feisty frontman had Welcome To Hel up his sleeve. Leaning on the metal-meets-classic-rock sound honed to perfection by his former band, Hjelvik got his solo career off to a flier with a fabulously conceived collection of killer fantasy metal. SR

Check out our interview with Erlend Hjelvik here.

16. When Rivers Meet – We Fly Free (One Road Records)

Husband and wife duo Grace and Aaron Bond sculpted smooth yet biting blues rock to drop one of the albums of the year from out of nowhere. Dreamy vocals and intuitive melodies lifted We Fly Free to an exciting new level and this was the record that announced music’s new power couple to the masses. I’d Have Fallen and Bury My Body were the jewels in the crown but 2020’s answer to Fleetwood Mac shimmered from start to finish. SR

Read the full review of We Fly Free here

15. Marilyn Manson – We Are Chaos (Loma Vista Recordings)

You’ve got to hand it to Marilyn. Just when we thought his star had fallen, We Are Chaos reintroduced the prince of darkness as a remodelled and reinvigorated rabble rouser refusing to bow to his enfeebled critics. Few records made Rushonrock sit up and take notice quite like this one: Manson fused hard rock with pop metal to prove there’s life in the old dog yet. Innovative. Irrepressible. Irreverent. SR

Read the full review of We Are Chaos here 

14. Enslaved – Utgard (Nuclear Blast)

Another bold step into the progosphere for Enslaved, Utgard was an ingenious, beautifully executed album from the Norwegians, a record that showed the band’s ambition has no limits. Krautrock, dark psychedelia and winter-born, blackened ferocity were all weaved into the quintet’s 15th opus to create inventive, entrancing soundscapes. And while Enslaved may have journeyed far from their black metal birthing pool, there were still songs like Flight Of Thought And Memory to remind us of their fiery Nordic spirit. Rich Holmes

Read the full review of Utgard here.  

13. Tyler Bryant & The Shakedown – Pressure (Snakefarm)

Like The Old Me — one of Pressure’s many highlights — suggested this was more of the same from the pleasingly prolific Tyler Bryant. In fact, that misleading statement couldn’t be further from the truth. Sure, there was the singalong reverie and outlaw country that made Bryant such a big name from an early age but this was a record underpinned by greater maturity and a startlingly assured songcraft. Best enjoyed with a Bourbon on the rocks and the lights down low — at least until livewire performer TB returns to a stage near you in 2021. SR

12. Stryper – Even The Devil Believes (Frontiers Records)

With God on their side, Christian rockers Stryper continued to cross religion with rock on their best record to date. Michael Sweet’s Indian Summer showed no sign of ending anytime soon as the singer songwriter unleashed another salvo of anthems bulging with brazen self-belief. This was the first Stryper album to feature Firehouse’s Perry Richardson on bass and backing vocals… and what a signing he proved to be. But it was Sweet’s assured axe work that stole the show on Even The Devil Believes. SR

11. Polaris – The Death Of Me (Sharptone Records)

Released in February this album built on the solid foundations forged by their first. The Death Of Me had everything you demand from a metalcore masterpiece: shouty bits, some insane shreds and the type of breakdown that would give most EDM producers wet dreams. An incredibly impressive piece of work from the Sydney natives. Russell Hughes

10. Paradise Lost – Obsidian (Nuclear Blast)

Fifteen albums into an imperious career, Paradise Lost had nothing to prove by the time they made Obsidian. Their status as one of the UK’s most important – and influential – metal bands of all time was assured. Yet Yorkshire’s finest miserablists still managed to craft one of the finest records of their career with Obsidian, an opus that echoed the majesty of Shades Of God, Icon and Draconian Times, and saw Paradise Lost sculpt nine dark hymns from the legacy of their past. Stunning. Rich Holmes

Read the full review of Obsidian here.

9. Corey Taylor – CMFT (Roadrunner)

Is there no end to Taylor’s talents? CMFT packed an almighty punch as the Slipknot frontman kicked the critics in the balls with a genre-fluid celebration of no-holds-barred hard rock. Nods to country, punk, hair metal and more meant CMFT was the record that kept fans guessing most in 2020… and few albums boasted such visceral variety. The brooding metal at the heart of Culture Head might just have kept the Maggots on side but this was all about Taylor’s exciting future rather than his storied past. SR

Read the full review of CMFT here

8. Brother Firetribe – Feel The Burn (Odyssey Music)

Rushonrock’s AOR album of the year deserves its place in our overall top 20 as a shining example of the sumptuous songwriting and sublime showmanship characterising these flying Finns. Pekka Heino and the boys blazed a trail for throwback melodic rock without ever losing their grip on the present. Feel The Burn was red hot from start to Finnish and set the standard in a year when perennially unfashionable AOR continued to tackle its critics head on. SR

7. Butcher Brown – #KingButch (Concord Records)

Rushonrock’s resident bluesmen and jazz junkies lauded Butcher Brown’s latest from the moment #KingButch took 2020 by storm. And it’s not hard to see why. This was an album 12 years in the making and every note was a representation of the graft and guile that went into crafting a superlative set of funked up magic. Butcher’s meaty entry in this year’s Top 20 was one of the tastiest records we heard all year. John Burrows

6. Tenille Townes – The Lemonade Stand (Columbia Nashville)

She topped our country list in 2020 and the supremely talented Tenille Townes could top the lot next time out. Given the fact that The Lemonade Stand was the Canadian singer songwriter’s major label debut, it’s impossible to imagine where she might end up in five or 10 years’ time. Brimming with potential and packed with rich authenticity there’s a steely side to this smiling assassin. Don’t be fooled by appearances – this is modern country music that stays true to the genre’s tradition for affecting social commentary. SR

Read the full review of The Lemonade Stand here

5. Bury Tomorrow – Cannibal (Music For Nations)

The album that came out during lockdown gave life to so many people. It built on Bury Tomorrow’s legacy as one of the finest metalcore bands to exist. Ever. Dani Winter-Bates growled like he just had to endure 12 months of self-isolation while Jason Cameron was as clean as a whistle on his side of the vocals. Above all, this was an album that spoke to people and this is a band that will continue to speak to people. Russell Hughes

4. AC/DC – Power Up (Sony)

Who knew Acca Dacca would be back in the year we needed them most with Johnno at the helm and a slew of dirty rock anthems up their sleeves? Power Up was more than a pleasant surprise during the darkest of days – it was hands down AC/DC’s best album for almost 40 years. Johnson was reborn, Angus Young was on fire and at least half of the songs here could hold their own in a full-on live set. Fingers crossed belters like Kick You When You’re Down and Demon Fire make it onto a stage near you next year. SR

Read the full review of Power Up here

3. Oranssi Pazuzu – Mestarin kynsi (Nuclear Blast)

On Mestarin kynsi, Oranssi Pazuzu rode the solar hawkwinds and shape shifted across temporal rifts, opening up new dimensions for extreme music at every turn. More cosmic event than album, the Finns’ sixth opus saw a firmer embrace of electronica than we’d witnessed previously – and it made the band’s aural hallucinations all the more vivid. There’s no one quite like Oranssi Pazuzu. Nor will there ever be. Rich Holmes

2. Kvelertak – Splid (Rise Records)

Valentine’s Day 2020. The countdown to Covid was on. But metal fans everywhere were clinging to the coat tails of normality and Splid was a reassuring reminder of what’s important in life. Kvelertak might have misplaced former frontman Erlend Hjelvik but replacement Ivar Nikolaisen did his level best to expunge all memories of his celebrated predecessor. A devastating show of vocal force on the spellbinding Splid proved the future is bright. The future is Kvelertak. SR

Read the full review of Splid here

1. Massive Wagons – House Of Noise (Earache Records)

House Of Noise shook the very foundations of our rock world in 2020 as a band built on old school graft and a unique songwriting craft delivered on a decade of dizzying potential. Opener In It Together was a unifying anthem for the Covid generation and just one of the absolute bangers crammed into a record bursting at the seams with joyous optimism. In a year when everything we hold dear was suddenly snatched away there was a cruel irony to House Of Noise’s unabashed positivity. This was the party album of 2020…only there was no party. SR

Read the full review of House Of Noise here

Check out our interview with Massive Wagons here.

This year’s Top 20 was compiled by Simon Rushworth, Rich Holmes, John Burrows and Russell Hughes.

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