Like most people, 2020 was a bit of a challenge for me, mostly in the job department, but I spent most of the year basically playing the waiting game – not only dealing with the shutdown of NSW, but the Victoria lockdown also meant being unable to visit family in person until this month. On top of that was watching the music industry come screeching to a halt.
Some positives have come out of the pandemic – it’s been great to see the industry not only embrace the idea of live streaming but recognize the potential for the tech to be a regular platform for musicians. I hope going forward, even when live touring returns to normal, the industry continues to incorporate livestreaming events as part of the touring cycle – not just for music fans such as myself, but especially for people otherwise unable to go to a live show in person.
And, of course, we’ve had some great releases in the heavy music world throughout 2020 – here’s a selection of my favorites – mostly punk, which according to Spotify is my top genre for the year (sure, I’ll take it.)
TOP 10 RELEASES OF 2020
10 – Bad Cop/Bad Cop – The Ride (Review here)
The year has been rather good for Punk releases, particularly for the Fat Wreck label. I reviewed The Ride earlier in the year and enjoyed how Bad Cop/Bad Cop had that classic 90’s punk tinge, but still injected a modern feel into songs like ‘Simple Girl’. I have a feeling punk rock isn’t as dead as some hipster corners of the music world are making it out to be.
9 – Justice For The Dammed – Pain Is Power (Review here)
Justice have been a rising force in the Australian heavy music scene this year, thanks to the very smart move to head to the states and craft Pain Is Power under the guidance of Will Putney. The resulting collection of heavy-as-fuck tunes showcase a polished band that I have no doubt will continue to get even better.
8 – Polaris – The Death Of Me (Review here)
Another great Australian heavy act that didn’t let a dumpster fire of a year slow them down. Polaris put out a pearler of an album loaded with great riffs and a killer vocal performance from Jamie Hails. Rather than chill at home during a lockdown, the band instead put their effort into an awesome treatment of Eskimo Joe’s ‘Black Fingernails, Red Wine’ for Triple J’s Like A Version. The Polaris train is sure to continue in 2021 when touring gets back to normal.
7 – Anti-Flag – 20/20 Vision (Review here)
Anti-Flag kicked off the year with a strong politically charged album, making clear in no uncertain terms their thoughts on the current state of the world. 20/20 Vision screamed punk from start to finish, no doubt they’ll keep fighting in 2021 even with a different President at the helm of their country.
6 – Kobore – Fuukei Ni Natte(Roughly translates to ‘Become a Landscape’)
I’ll get into what is my best find in new music this year later, but this album has been a highlight of the J-Rock world this year. Mostly pop-punk in its delivery, Kobore have quickly become a must-see band for me should I ever make it over to Japan.
5 – Trivium – What The Dead Men Say (Review here)
Trivium’s offering for 2020 was what the band do best – delivering solid, dynamic metal in a way that only Trivium can. Matt Heafy has also had a great year on his Twitch channel, clearly having some fun in putting out a variety of content and keeping his music chops fit while the world waits for the pandemic to subside.
4 – Lamb Of God – Lamb Of God (Review here)
Like most LOG fans I was a bit worried with the departure of drummer and founding member Chris Adler. But with this album new guy Art Cruz has wasted no time in making his mark among fans and putting to rest any doubts. Lamb Of God’s self-titled album is heavy as hell and dark, thanks to the centerpiece performance of Randy Blythe, who exorcises some demons and then some with his trademark growl.
3 – Goldfinger – Never Look Back (Review here)
The biggest surprise in my 2020. Goldfinger, along with MxPx and Less Than Jake have been instrumental in making my year, with John Feldmann and his gang releasing a regular series of quarantine performances on YouTube, belting out the classics like Superman to keep fans occupied in this uncertain year. And then, when we least expected it – turns out they’ve been putting the finishing touches on Never Look Back, an album that boasts Travis Baker behind the kit and Matt Appleton of Reel Big Fish providing the horns. An upbeat, positive album that was sorely needed after such a year.
2 – Scandal – Kiss From The Darkness
No, it’s not metal or punk, in fact it’s not overly heavy (“Saishuheiki, Kimi” is the closest thing to a heavy riff) but this album came to me in February and is single-handedly responsible for keeping me sane for the year. These talented and beautiful women rock from start to finish, and after catching Scandal’s live stream a month or two back I am fully keen on getting to Japan to see this band live.
1 – Less Than Jake – Silver Linings (Review here)
Hard to believe it’s been 21 years since I first heard ‘Automatic’ blasting from a friend’s stereo on a Melbourne train. Since then, Less Than Jake have become my band, one that I have closely followed throughout their career, picking up Borders And Boundaries as my first punk album back in 2000, making multiple trips to Melbourne for their many tours to Australia, and rocking up to Soundwave in Sydney early to catch their midday set (still super regretful of not catching their 25th anniversary tour just a few years back.) I’ve been waiting all year for this one, and Silver Linings has not disappointed with 12 solid songs that are trademark Less Than Jake, and I’m looking forward to their next visit.
TOP 10 SONGS OF 2020
10 – Chris Miller – ‘Alcohol and Cigarettes’
9 – Foo Fighters – ‘Shame Shame’
8 – Redhook – ‘Cure4Psycho’
7 – BAND MAID – ‘Different’
6 – The Bombpops – ‘Notre Dame’
5 – Machine Head – ‘My Hands Are Empty’
4 – Mick Gordon – ‘The Only Thing They Fear Is You’
(from the DOOM Eternal soundtrack)
3 – Less Than Jake – ‘Just Like Andy’
2 – Dropkick Murphys – ‘Mick Jones Nicked My Pudding’
1 – MxPx – ‘Worries’
TOP 5 MUSIC VIDEOS OF 2020
5 – Four Year Strong – Brain Pain
Four Year Strong put out a video late this year that perfectly sums up our feelings about the absence of live shows.
4 – Leo Moracchioli (Frog Leap Studios) – I’m Still Standing
One of my favourite YouTubers may have had his awesome live show put on hold, but Leo has still managed to put out awesome covers each week, but each with his own signature twist of metal.
3 – Less Than Jake – Keep On Chasing
It only came out this month, but LTJ have made a cool little tribute to the 8-bit era.
2 – Goldfinger – Spokesman (Quarantine version)
As bands around the world sought to find ways of keeping both their fans engaged and their creative juices flowing, Goldfinger handled quarantine by jamming out some fan favourites, with each member filling their parts in separately in their corner of the world.
1 – Scandal – Tonight
Yes, it’s a simple video, and there’s probably a fairly obvious reason why I’ve had it on a loop a few times this year – but this cute and quirky video featuring Scandal’s frontwoman Haruna social distancing before it was officially a thing makes 2020 worth the effort.
LAST GIG YOU CAUGHT BEFORE COVID?
I was either lucky or insane enough to catch Lagwagon at The Metro the Friday before the country went into lockdown. Although a sweat-filled rowdy punk mosh pit was probably the best defence against any bacteria.
HOW DID COVID/LOCKDOWNS AFFECT YOU IN 2020?
I did struggle a bit this year – my day job made probably the smartest (long term) move and cut my hours back to three days a week for most of the pandemic, before going back to normal in October.
They say idle hands are dangerous – and this was particularly true in my case because I found myself drifting between different projects and not really getting anything done. I had a crack at learning how to make games, before trying to focus mostly on music and writing some songs, which resulted in a few demos that I may turn into something next year.
Also, kudos to 2019 me for picking up a Nintendo Switch. That’s certainly filled some time.
A trip to Victoria for my birthday in July got canned two days out because – well (shakes hands at the world) all of this, and coupled with Sydney also grinding to a halt, I ended up spending most of the year at home by myself. On top of that a back injury meant I spent the latter half of the year recovering – hopefully, I can get myself healthy enough to be able to stand at next year’s Good Things Festival.
I guess the biggest positive to come out of the year were the various livestreams – I caught MxPx and Less Than Jake more recently, but earlier in the year I had quite a few that wowed me – in particular BabyMetal, who streamed their entire ‘Red Night/Black’ night performance over two nights. Their trip down to Australia back in 2018 captured only a quarter of the BabyMetal experience – a trip to catch a show in their home turf is the best way to experience this monster of a show.
BIGGEST THING YOU LEARNED ABOUT YOURSELF THIS YEAR?
I’ve learned that I need to focus better – like I said it’s been a year of going back and forth between things, and the worst thing about doing that is nothing gets done. I said to myself at the start of the year I was going to focus on building something in music – be it as a mixer/engineer/producer or as a musician myself, and of course when the pandemic hit that all went up in the air.
Having the time to reflect however and evaluate just where I’m at in life has made me even more determined to keep going, and I think in 2021 a few things I’ve been trying to do for a while may just come to fruition. Fingers crossed.
FAV NEW BAND/MUSICIAN DISCOVERED IN 2020
Up and coming J-Rockers Kobore appeared quite randomly on my social feed one day, and ever since I’ve been hooked on them. Very pop-punk in style, this four-piece from Tokyo are catchy and worth keeping an eye on if you are a fan of the music emanating from Japan.
NEXT BIG AUSSIE ACT TO WATCH IN 2021?
It’s tough to pick, but I think 2021 is going to look great for Yours Truly.
WHAT ARE YOU MOST LOOKING FORWARD TO IN 2021?
We already have some albums to look forward to – including, of course, a new Foo Fighters offering, but I have a feeling there’s going to be quite a few surprise releases from a number of our favourite acts that have been stuck in one place for the year – among the list of rumours are Parkway Drive and The Offspring.
Hopefully, we will see the music world eventually get back to normal – although I’m thinking of investing in some home theatre tech to make those live streams sing a bit more in my lounge room.
Words by Simon Valentine. Insta: @simonvalentineau