BEST OF 2020 - Tom Cornell (Writer)

BEST OF 2020 – Tom Cornell

This year CGCM decided to include EP (previously they were excluded from Top Ten Albums). Live albums and re-records were still disqualified, new music only for Best of Year. We also instigated a (highly complex🤣 – 1 point for 10th place through to 10 points for 1st place) rating system throughout all individual lists to culminate a Collective Best of 2020.

You can find the Collective List as well as all our Best of 2020 content including contributors’ individual lists, podcasts and radio DJ shows here: CGCM’s Best of 2020 (Year in Review)

Best of 2020 – Tom Cornell (Writer) 🇬🇧

It is that time of the year where all of us at CGCM reflect on the year and pick our top 10 albums. Every year we all end up going mad trying to narrow it down. For this reviewer, the struggle to decide a top 10 is as difficult as it has ever been.

The Late Great Neil Peart RIP

The Late Great Neil Peart RIP

Yes, 2020 has been an absolute horror show in so many ways. With the death of so many heroes (Neil Peart‘s shook me to my core especially) along with one of our own writers here at CGCM in Adam Cox, mixed with the horrendous pandemic which has claimed many lives, affected others quite seriously (long covid being absolutely brutal from friends who are still dealing with it) and the resulting stopping of gigs and festivals which are the biggest part of many of our lives (along with missing all our friends that we catch up with via those occasions) it has been the worst year of our lives!

However, despite that musicians have risen to the challenge and put out some fantastic albums and put on gigs via online apps. I will give special mention to Devin Townsend who did quite a number which were superb and on many of them he raised money for health care and food banks. What a bloody gentleman! 2020 had some fabulous music going on, so let’s (as Mr. Peart once wrote) “celebrate the moment” as the new year arrives.

My top 10 are simply the albums that impressed me the most, challenged me, made me think and are the ones I kept going back to time and again. There are quite a number of albums that I really like which didn’t make the list, it doesn’t mean they are lesser musically, it is just I didn’t turn to them as often. The top 3 have been pretty solid in there and the other 7 could swap places at any point, there is nothing much between them. Every single one of them I recommend highly and feel they would enhance any rock/metal/prog head’s collection. Please take time to check out the videos and any of them that take your fancy then please support the artist if you are in a position to do so by buying an album or a t-shirt. They are all deserving of folk’s money!

Firstly honourable mentions. I have a few so please bear with me.

FishWeltschmerz. The closing chapter of a fabulous musical career. I admit I still prefer his previous album more (A Feast Of Consequences) as it just resonated with me so much, but man this is still a terrific album. Challenging and emotional and a huge statement. He bows out in style. Thank you sir for years of great music and gigs.

Havukruuna Uinuos syömein sota; Those Damn CrowsPoint Of No Return; EnslavedUtgard; Massive WagonsHouse Of Noise; The ReticentThe Oubliette and two albums which if they had come out earlier in the year (allowing me more time with them) would definitely have been contenders for the top 10 in Jump Breaking Point and Witchwood Before The Winter. All excellent albums.

#10 – MOON REVERIE – Moon Reverie 🇮🇪

Moon Reverie; Self Titled Album

This Italian band wowed me due to the fantastic neo-classical stylings of guitarist Luca Poma. An album full of terrific soloing but also having plenty of melody and well-written songs. With definite influences including both Blackmore and Malmsteen with the prog leanings of say Dream Theater and yet also being very AOR radio-friendly, these players made a debut album to be very proud of. Terrific stuff all around.

CGCM Album Review: Moon Reverie – Moon Reverie by Tom Cornell

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#9 – BLIND RIVER – Made Of Dirt 🇬🇧

Blind River: Made Of Dirt

A UK band featuring guys from a number of bands (Pig IronGodsized and Earls Of Mars) who are downright dirty sounding, with fuzzy grooves throughout. The album just stomps! Headbanging and booty shaking (as Mother’s Finest would say!) with shed loads of attitude along with a bit of a social conscience in the lyrics at times. It has a gospel vibe (think southern baptist) with singer Harry Armstrong preaching his gospel aloud. There are hints of loads of artists, Sabbath, Lizzy, Fleetwood Mac (Peter Green era), The Doors and even Lenny Kravitz, but all merged together into something very powerful.

CGCM Album Review: Blind River – Made Of Dirt by Tom Cornell

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#8 – HEATHEN – Empire Of The Blind 🇺🇸

Heathen; Empire Of The Blind

After a 10 year break, Heathen are back with a bang. Easily my thrash album of the year, absolutely filled with great anthemic songs and riffs which stick in the head and heart. Being the pros they are, they of course merge some speed/power metal along with a touch of prog to keep things interesting and the listeners on their toes. Another album with lyrics that touch on society and the problems within, taking time to attack politicians and religions in equal measure for the mess they are making of earth.  I found it grabbed me and became like an old friend very quickly. Choruses are spat out and easy to join in with and stick in the mind. I loved it.

CGCM Album Review: Heathen – Empire of the Blind by Tom Cornell

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#7 – ARABS IN ASPIC – Madness And Magic 🇳🇴

Arabs In Aspic: Madness And Magic

Norway seems to have an ample supply of fantastic prog bands (as well as death metal!) and Arabs In Aspic is one of the best out there. They are certainly old school with plenty of early Genesis and Pink Floyd moments, but they also take some chances heading into Uriah Heep and Deep Purple as well as say creepy Alice Cooper at one point. The band knows how to use melody as well as how to have some fun whether it going all intergalactic or playful in sounds or lyrics. Well, they do manage to have a lyric that says “you’re in bed with a nun” which is slightly bizarre. There is plenty going on, so much so that I still after many plays find myself noticing something I hadn’t spotted before. Creative yet harking back to that 70s era that many of us grew up in. Wonderful stuff.

CGCM Album Review: Arabs in Aspic – Madness and Magic by Tom Cornell

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#6 – REVOLTONS – Underwater Bells Part 2: October 9th 1963, Act 1 🇮🇪

Revoltons: Underwater Bells Pt2 October 9th 1963 Act 1

Another Italian band who impressed this year were these guys. A concept album about a tragedy that happened in their home country back in 1963 where a dam broke causing the deaths of at least 2000 poor souls who lived underneath the walls. The story is told in such a powerful and heartfelt way it is impossible not to be moved and also angered due to the cover-ups before and after the disaster.

There are hints of artists such as Queensryche and Rush in this metal-based album and it also features Blaze Bayley, ex of Maiden playing the part of the corrupt politicians. It is a mix of power, thrash and prog metal and is another album that improves or at least pulls you in harder on each listen. I would even say it is a mix of a labour of love and remembrance by the band and it is truly captivating. One of the finest concept albums I have heard in the last few years. Yes, I rate it very highly indeed.

CGCM Album Review: Revoltons – Underwater Bells Part 2: October 9th 1963, Act 1 by Tom Cornell

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#5 – CULT OF LILITH – Mara 🇮🇸

Cult Of Lilith: Mara

Cult Of Lilith are an Icelandic extreme metal band and on this album manage to confuse and delight in equal measure. I described them in a review as a “band of maniacs“, and I meant it in the most positive way. Now I have been able to get to know the words and some of the background stories to songs I can see they are actually thoughtful and intelligent folks as well. They manage to throw in all sorts of strange musical styles and interludes whether it be Renaissance/Baroque or flamenco, it all thrills and entertains. To quote from my actual review “Nearly 40 minutes of mind-boggling fuckery played by obviously incredibly talented musicians who aren’t afraid to let themselves take chances” before ending it with a simple “Bloody magnificent!” I stand by every damn word. Amazing stuff.

CGCM Album Review: Cult of Lilith – Mara by Tom Cornell

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#4 – BLUE OYSTER CULT – The Symbol Remains 🇺🇸

Blue Oyster Cult: The Symbol Remains

In one of the comebacks of the decade never mind year came Blue Oyster Cult. It was very much a grower for me. I liked it as such when I first heard it, however, it was on repeated plays I began to find love for it. In fact, I ended up enjoying it so much it became an album of the year. There are so many styles on it, metal, rock, pop and even rockabilly but all with their trademark sound. Even in the chirpier/pop tracks, there are hints of foreboding and danger. On the heaviest song here (“The Alchemist“) they even manage to throw in a cheeky nod to Journey‘s”Separate Ways” for amusement!  On “Tainted Blood” they have a song with a chorus with a hook that could catch and pull in a blue whale from the sea! They even go a bit country rock n roll on “Train True (Lennie’s song)” possibly just because they can.

This is up there with some of their finest 1970s albums. Honestly! It is brilliant to have them back with fresh material. Lyrically as obtuse as ever in keeping with their description as “the thinking man’s heavy metal band“.    Good to have them back and at the top of their game.

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#3 – WOBBLER – Dwellers Of The Deep 🇳🇴

Wobbler: Dwellers Of The Deep

Another Norwegian progressive rock band are Wobbler who like their previously named Arabs In Aspic are steeped in the 1970s. If I didn’t know any better I would think the album came from that era as it is so authentic sounding. The great thing is that they never get to the stage of how many notes or time sigs they can do, but rather they place importance in the melody and flow of a song. Pastorial and classical meets rock and prog here. As 2 of the songs are over 10 minutes long they allow plenty of time for tracks to reach a destination. The “point of the journey is not to arrive” as a wise drummer and lyricist once wrote. When the journey is so sumptuous and comfortable it seems sensible to make it last. With nods (of course) to YesGentle GiantKing CrimsonGenesis but also more recent outfits like Spock’s Beard they have made (yet another) fine album. Get the headphones on, close your eyes and put yourself into the careful hands of these expert storytellers. Absolutely top quality stuff.

CGCM Album Review: Wobbler – Dwellers of the Deep by Tom Cornell

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#2 – MAGNOLIA BAYOU – Strange Place 🇺🇸

Magnolia Bayou: Strange Place

Coming directly from (and I quote) the “heart of a Mississippi swamp” this young band plays a mix of blues, gospel, country and hard rock. They groove, truly groove! Anyone who loves artists such as Free or The Black Crowes will love what these guys have going on.  It is as southern sounding as it gets, but this is 100% authentic. Half of the album would have filled a hard rock disco in the 80s and 90s (probably 70s too, however, I was too young to do clubbing at that point so can only guess) with its funky rocking good time vibes.

The other side of the band is shown on both “Tupelo” and “Sweet Magnolia” which have that early gentle Skynyrd country vibe. Really lovely stuff going on there. However, it is the foot-stomping bluesy rock that grabs you and doesn’t let go. This is old-style music but done with style, panache and youthful enthusiasm from a band that from the live clips I have seen of them on YouTube deliver with aplomb. The future of rock is bright with a band like Magnolia around. Rock is alive and kicking as this band (and my number one) totally proves. Fabulous album!

CGCM Album Review: Magnolia Bayou – Strange Place by Tom Cornell

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#1 – WARD XVI – Metamorphosis 🇬🇧

Ward XVI: Metamorphosis

This album hit me like a bolt out of the blue. I heard one track and asked if I could review it. The album didn’t disappoint. A concept album about how a “sweet little girl” becomes a monster. It is a mix of progressive rock, hinting at opuses by Dream Theater and even Genesis but with “Nightmare” era Alice Cooper vibes. They capture the freaky and bizarre elements whilst having plenty of melody and emotion. I can honestly say I haven’t heard anything like this in a very long time. It is unique to itself at this point.

The story flows beautifully and the lead character Psychoberrie is well rounded and performed. From childlike innocence, gentle and soothing to maniacal and confused the vocals hit all the right moods. The music does too. At times complete vaudeville in sound and style portraying the craziness and multiple personalities to opera and even full out heavy metal when required. Inventive, mad and truly brilliant, this is a complete work that you can’t turn off once it starts. I find that I need to hear it all the way through every time, like a book I just cannot put down.  I cannot recommend this album highly enough. You too can become an inmate at this asylum. I think I might well be now.

CGCM Album Review: Ward XVI – Metamorphosis by Tom Cornell

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What with the pandemic and the fact that bands couldn’t tour it seemed loads of artists decided to record some music in the shape of EPs to help finance themselves a little. I am going to mention a few I thought particularly excellent.

  1. The Nuclear Power Trio A clear And Present Rager
  2. Carcass Despicable
  3. Ihsahn Telemark
  4. Ihsahn Pharos
  5. She Burns Red Take Back Tomorrow
  6. Frogg A Reptillian Dystopia
  7. Candlemass The Pendulum

Also, find more of my CGCM reviews here: Tom Cornell

Tom Cornell

Email Me at: Tom Cornell

Don’t forget to take a look at all our Best of 2020 content including the COLLECTIVE BEST ALBUMS LIST (culminated via the ratings in the individual lists), all our contributors’ individual best lists, podcast episodes and Radio DJ shows CGCM’s Best of 2020 (Year in Review)