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The Best Heavy / Melodic Metal Album - Metal Storm Awards 2020





Perennial bridesmaids Armored Saint ended a 5-year wait between albums with Punching The Sky, only the eighth record of their near-40-year history, and whilst the band are sporadic in their activity, they make it matter when they do set music to record, as Punching The Sky is another solid entry into their discography. John Bush again demonstrates why he is one of the leading vocalists as far as traditional heavy metal bands go, bringing that signature force and attitude in his performance whilst providing enjoyable vocal hooks. Beyond Bush, Punching The Sky features the memorable riffs, head-bopping grooves, and clear production that one would expect from a such an accomplished veteran act in this style, and should amply satisfy Armored Saint fans and trad-heavy fans alike.

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Cirith Ungol's previous album had come out in 1991 but in 2020 the band returned with their renowned style of ballsy heavy metal shrouded in ominous doom. Forever Black succeeds in what is the most difficult thing to achieve when releasing a comeback album; it features at least three or four tracks that fans will be glad to listen to at gigs (when these finally return), instead of persistently asking only for the 'classics'. This is a great accomplishment on its own and shows why Forever Black is stronger than what most people might have expected.

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They may not be invested in the Oxford comma, but Dark Forest embrace everything else English in Oak, Ash & Thorn, a warm and whimsical celebration of Albion's greatest contributions to music from either end of the last millennium. There are lots of recognizable elements of classic heavy metal, especially NWOBHM, in the blaring guitar leads and strong, slightly nasal vocals, but where Dark Forest diverges from many of their revivalist contemporaries is that they have cast Iron Maiden as another stage in the evolution of England's indigenous musical traditions rather than as the genesis of all music. As much Satan and Cloven Hoof as you'll hear mixing with more modern power metal influences, Oak, Ash & Thorn throws back to a time a lot earlier than 1980, and the illuminating banks of nostalgic melody and soft, inviting production provide a welcome serenade as you journey back with Dark Forest. Think Elvenking, but more Arthurian.

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It doesn't take a dedicated metal historian to determine what sounds are lurking beneath Ken Kelly's work on the front cover. The chest-pounding riffs stomp like Manowar, but a Manowar that believes in halfway-decent production - and perhaps one that embraces doom and thrash at times, combining the disparate developments surrounding mainline heavy metal at that time into something simultaneously catchier, darker, and mightier. Eternal Champion have no qualms about branching out from the basic bombast blueprint, occasionally getting more technical as the songs build, and the spectral vocals already shunt Ravening Iron in a slightly stonier class of heavy/doom, but this album is still 100% about fighting the world and bristles with energy therefor.

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The NWOBHM may be long gone, but its residue is still heavily felt on heavy metal, a genre with a penchant for keeping things traditional. So Iron Maiden influences, fantasy lyrics, and arena choruses galore are what you'll find on The Vulture's Amulet, but Lady Beast do it with much conviction and just enough speed metal dips to keep their pool of influences deep. Deborah Levine's vocals may not be the most powerful, but one can't help but be won over along the journey.

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The sophomore album by Austrians Molten Chains ambitiously develops their brand of blackened heavy metal. This is half an hour of creeping and blistering metal that leaves no place for dull moments. The listener will be overwhelmed by busy riffing that recalls the likes of old Mercyful Fate. Torment Enshrined shows high technical abilities without sacrificing the fun, thrilling factor. Instead of extreme vocals reminiscent of King Diamond, we are treated to dark, dramatic cleans and a potent few harsh screams that conjure a phantasmagoric, gothic blanket over the compositions.

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Surprisingly the only band of the bunch with an umlaut in its name, Sölicitör are clearly at the start of their career in terms of how raw their speed metal sound is, but the gruffness only adds to the appeal. They clearly don't suffer as far as writing convincing traditional metal goes, and the riffing is cool and all, but it is the vocal performance that is almighty. Sölicitör know how to go from soaring to pummeling to epic while keeping the speed metal core quite intact.

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By Fire & Brimstone is an album that any fan of "true" metal will enjoy. Its music is a concoction of traditional heavy metal and U.S. power metal, filled with epic themes as far as both the music and the lyrics are concerned. The album is full of sword and sorcery and goes by effortlessly, while it also comes across as a fortune teller's narrative by being enigmatic and ensorcelling. Obviously, the element of novelty is fairly restricted, but Solitary Sabred tackle this problem with captivating songwriting, wizardly atmosphere, and praiseworthy individual performances.

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When there is so much drama behind a release, it is usually because the material is not worthwhile. Messengers Of Deception is a staggering exception to this rule. Having been dumped by his label and bandmates, Rob 'The Baron' Miller ditched everything that was written by the departed band members, re-recorded his songs with new musicians and came up with the best crusty heavy metal record of 2020. This album is the product of an imaginary jam between Motörhead, Killing Joke, Amebix, and Primordial. And it is absolutely great.

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The legacy of Manilla Road lingers with us, incarnate in the form of The Wizar'd. The ashen fumes emitted by these brick-thick riffs betray an allegiance to some of the more doom-inclined denizens of early-'80s Britain, Witchfinder General and Pagan Altar among them, but the Skeletor vocals, trembling guitar leads, and doom-heavy-power fusion evoke the "epic metal" purveyed by those literati of loudness. Of course, The Wizar'd is no mere copycat, and Subterranean Exile's lumbering take on old sounds turns NWOBHM on its side with the right mix of authenticity and freedom.

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