20. L.A.Guns: The Devil You Know
With Tracii Guns and Phil Lewis reunited for the band’s aptly named comeback album The Missing Peace, after 14 years apart, it was once again evident how much these guys were made for each other. It was a streetwise rock’n’roll record as hard and dirty as the band’s classic self-titled debut, and The Devil You Know continues in the same vein.
Rage has high-speed thrills and a chant of ‘I am a sick motherfucker!’, the title track is Sabbath-inspired heavy grind, and the closest thing to a ballad is called Another Season In Hell. As Lewis says: “You want a love song? Fuck off and listen to Journey.”
19. The Fallen State - A Deadset Endeavour
Presenting the new wave of moody, arena-friendly ‘American’ hard rock… from the UK. The unwavering earnestness gets a little draining, but there’s potential in those metallic chops and the Fallen State’s XXL ambitions.
“We used to think ‘let’s write a pop song’, or ‘let’s write a fucking heavy head-banging song’," says lead singer Ben Stenning. "Whereas now we think, 'what do we want to say in this song and how are we going to do that?’”
18. Thunder: Please Remain Seated
The keening demo version of Low Life In High Places was a beautiful sketch of a song, filled with promise and life. So much so that the finished version never sounded quite as good when parent album Laughing On Judgement Day finally arrived.
That song reappears on Please Remain Seated, this time piano-led before it turns into a mournful elegy buoyed by a male voice choir; it is, remarkably, the unexpected left that feels right. This collection of reworked songs from the Thunder catalogue mostly eschews the straight acoustic cover for gentle swing, blues and the occasional jazz note, from a band live in the studio, reflecting on a remarkable musical life well lived.
17. Joanne Shaw Taylor: Reckless Heart
For Reckless Heart, Joanne Shaw Taylor's brief to producer Al Sutton was simple: all spit, no polish. and this album benefits enormously from the sense that it could all spin off the tracks.
Angry little standouts like In The mood, Creepin’ and Bad Love all keep their foot down hard, with the Brum guitarist’s soloing never more molten, but the hooky, breezy soul-rock of New 89 should keep Sony happy.
16. Gary Clarke Jr.: This Land
Led in by dirty guitars, hip-hop beats and Doctor Who sound effects, the Texan spits a seething attack at those who resent a black man making it big: ‘Nigger run, nigger run, go back where you come from/Fuck you, I’m America’s son/This land is mine.’ Also his, it seems, is every genre within it. Clark has stressed his desire to operate outside route-one blues, and this album has a restless curiosity.
15. Hands Off Gretel: I Want The World
If Gwen Stefani had a baby with Nirvana, it might’ve turned out like Hands Off Gretel. Which, if this is any indication, is basically a very good thing.
Kiss Me Girl is a distorted, pulsating cocktail of power pop, grunge and punky hints – laced with sugar and sapphic debauchery, S.A.S.S. is a distorted, hooky shot of ballsy, punk-spirited oomph, and I Want The World bites and snarls like a neon-clad skater punk mashup of No Doubt, Lady Gaga and [Well Hung Heart’s] Greta Valenti.
14. Tesla: Shock
The delightfully named Dave Rude, one of Tesla’s two guitarists, has described Shock as “a very produced record… that still sounds like Tesla, but definitely a little bit different”. This much is certainly true. These guys still rock out in that classically all-American way, as first defined on Mechanical Resonance.
The voice of Jeff Keith, still a great rock’n’roll singer, remains as distinctive as ever. But with Phil Collen guiding them, echoes of Def Leppard run right through Shock like ‘Clacton-on-Sea’ in a stick of rock. Much of this comes with the way the backing vocals are stacked high in the choruses, whether in a roughhouse rock song such as You Won’t Take Me Alive, or in the three lovingly crafted ballads.
13. Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band: The Traveller
We’ve learnt a lot about Kenny Wayne Shepherd recently. His 2014 back-to-the-roots album Goin’ Home confirmed his blues credibility, the two albums he’s made with Stephen Stills and Danny Goldberg in The Ride proved he can thrive in exalted company, and his latest band albums – 2017’s Lay It On Down and 2019’s The Traveler – have added a glint of steel to his hardrocking blues.
On the latter Shepherd delivers a relentless stream of strong, sinewy riffs and blistering solos backed by ex-Double Trouble drummer Chris Layton’s ferocious playing. The cover of Joe Walsh’s Turn To Stone is fearless, and welding the Rolling Stones’ Satisfaction riff to Buffalo Springfield’s Mr Soul is a master stroke. It’s just a shame he doesn’t trust his own voice more.
12. Within Temptation: Resist
Sharon den Adel’s vocals are flawless and distinctive, carrying huge, anthemic choruses on tracks like Endless War and Trophy Hunter. And while The Reckoning and Raise Your Banner eschew orchestral opulence for immediacy, both are reassuringly awash with dark energy.
Resist is more an evolution than a revolution in the Within Temptation’s sound, which tightens up and augments everything that was great about 2014’s Hydra. It’s also their most assured and heavy album to date.
11. Rammstein: Untitled
On Untitled, the band whose motto could be “Laibach and enjoy it” plough their usual furrow – repetitive, thrilling riffs, growling, horrible vocals, bursts of electronic rhythms, lyrics about alienation, emotion and (sometimes literal) consumption. The brief is followed with a surprising thoroughness, as if the band are reminding themselves who they are.
Opening tracks Deutschland and Radio are run through with a synthy pulse, while there are moments of balladry, considerations of sex (Sex), foreignness (Auslander) and, on the moderately epic closer Halloman, human creepiness, in a song where a young girl is offered some chips, and presumably not in a good way.