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The Best Hard Rock Album - Metal Storm Awards 2020


Total votes:
568



After Rock Or Bust, AC/DC found themselves a lot closer to going bust than to rocking; with the arrest of drummer Phil Rudd, the alarming and controversial departure of vocalist Brian Johnson, and the death of rhythm guitarist Malcolm Young, it was beginning to look like another great titan of loud and heavy music was finally going to hang its school uniform back on the rack. But as sure as the slash in their name is a big-ass lightning bolt, AC/DC always find a way to rock harder than anybody else in the building. Reunited with Johnson and Rudd, with guitarist Stevie Young keeping things in the family, the biggest hard rock band ever powers up the high voltage for another bout of raucous revelry and trend-defying rock and roll. They've always gotten some flak for it along the way, but all these years later, hearing AC/DC make "the same album" one more time feels pretty damn great.

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Wailing leads, pillowy synths, and amped-up AOR choruses: it's space-age anthem rock for a cool night in the city, the Europe-meets-Bon Jovi-meets-Journey retro cadets that this category really needs every year. Arctic Rain launches its career with a tendency for slightly more metal guitar lines and a singer who can soar amongst the clouds with power metal's best, so while the style is one you've heard many times before, The One is determined to live up to its name and pave its own way. Time will tell whether that dream comes true, but doing something well is just as important as doing something first, if not more so, and Arctic Rain have figured out early into the game how to fill up an album with memorable singles and how to work their production to flatter their sound. To paraphrase The Simpsons, it may not be 1985 now, but you never know what tomorrow will bring. It's best to be prepared.

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There are bands that can effectively recreate older styles of music, and then there are bands that were just recently defrosted after a 50-year slumber. Blues Pills can hang with any student protest, cheesy exploitation film, or Vietnam War doc with their blazing blues licks, soulful screaming, funky grooves, delicate ballads, and road-trippin' drum work, because just like their first two albums Holy Moly! is an energizing revival of a late-'60s sound. And it's a true revival, not merely a revisiting or a rehashing, full of creative hooks and vigorous intensity. Holy Moly! is an apt title, because when you drop the needle and hear this rambunctious tangle of pre-punk rawness, pre-metal heaviness, and perfectly prepared rock'n'roll spirit, that's exactly what you'll say (well, maybe not exactly, but you should watch your mouth).

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With a sound somewhere between the hard rock of bands such as Black Stone Cherry and Alter Bridge and the driving desert rock of Kyuss, Cobra Thief possesses the swagger of the former and the energy of the latter in its sound whilst also fitting in a few unexpected detours, such as the grunge crawl at the end of the opening track. Two albums in, Cobra Thief utilize enough varied influences from grunge, stoner rock, and more classic hard rock/heavy metal territory to deliver a sound that isn't too indebted to any one of them, allowing them to stand out amidst the sea of bands ripping off one style in particular. The band can traverse slow, trudging territory and transition into exhilarating psychedelic frenzies within the course of a single track ("Space Voyager '77"), but can also stick to one lane similarly effectively.

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We introduced Gaupa both in the Clandestine Cuts and in our subsequent staff pick thusly: "What would it sound like if Björk fronted a psychedelic rock band?" The resemblance is quite uncanny indeed, but the bombastic vocal performance adds a lot of swagger, and thankfully the music can support it with its psychedelic riffs and jammy songwriting, so the whole package comes together as more than just the gimmick we kinda made it out to be.

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The problem with many bands that go for the retro road is how they tend to stick to just one tried-and-true sound. The Swedish Hällas, on the other hand, decided to combine two eras of music to achieve the ultimate nostalgia trip towards the outmost parts of the universe and beyond. Their epic style of progressive rock, taken straight from the '70s, has been invaded by alien synths from the future. The '80s vision of the future, that is. Get ready for an impeccably written soundtrack for a space adventure with thundering guitars leads, psychedelic keys, and campy vocal melodies with a lot of character.

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Slinging big, bad, bass-heavy stoner riffs is a noble endeavor, and one that doesn't necessarily have to come at the price of quirky writing; as Hex A.D. are a perfect example of, you can dive into the biggest grooves imaginable without resorting to the same two-and-a-half-chord chugs that suffice for a lot of weed-eating bands. Astro Tongue In The Electric Garden never half-asses the construction of its hazy-but-crazy aesthetic - whatever the guitars are doing at any given moment, it's wonderfully off-kilter, and it's often doubled or contradicted by organ for extra psychic energy. There's even an honest-to-goodness Mellotron in this thing. Turn on, tune in, and figure out what the hell the title means.

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There were probably a lot of other bands called "Lucifer", and with such an evil, occult-obsessed genre, you'd reckon at least one of them would've gotten famous by now. It took the disintegration of The Oath and for someone to re-channel some Coven in the 21st century for it to come true. Now on a third offering of Luciferian psychedelic rock, the ominous haze is cloaked, as lightweight as it is, but the occult sure makes these hippies feel like they're onto something more than peace and love and protesting 'Nam.

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Probably not the most original album out there, but High Tides - Distant Skies is great fun to listen to with your dad on a Sunday morning and you are both going to feel happy. Hard-rocking vibes under the very heavy influence of Blue Öyster Cult and Thin Lizzy, and even Yes as you can clearly hear "Owner Of A Lonely Heart"'s main riff in "Lost In A Dream". A lot of bands seem to be taking their cues from '70s and '80s hard rock/proto-metal these days; Night just do it better than others.

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One of the gloomiest years in modern times has passed, leaving people in desperate need of a beacon of light and hope. Enter Wytch Hazel with their third full-length, ready to fight the good fight. Pentecost presents a mix of hard rock and heavy metal with some touches of folk in a retro yet polished manner. The songs shine bright and true through charismatic performances that elevate the spiritual aspects of the album. With beautifully crafted twin guitar melodies, instant hooks, and charming choruses at their disposal, the British group unleashed one of the most honest and uplifting albums of the last year.

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