Top 30 Metal + Hard Rock Songs of 2020

The heavy soundtrack to a year that took a heavy toll on the world

Top Heavy Songs 2020
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Our Annual Report looks back upon the strange year that was 2020 and the music, film, and television that came with it. Here, we present our Top 30 Metal + Hard Rock Songs of 2020.

As previously explored in our list of the top metal and hard rock albums of 2020, heavy music was truly vital in 2020. Even as artists and the industry at large suffered unparalleled hardships during the pandemic, the fire of creativity burned bright.

Metal has often dealt with extreme topics that tend to tread on the dark side of life: loneliness, despair, anger, passion, romance, death — themes that seem particularly relevant this year. These motifs recur in the songs below, as highlighted by the key lyrical passages that were selected.

Heavy music has often drawn on human history as well as more abstract/occult subject matter, but in 2020, you only need to look out the window. Body Count addressed widespread police brutality on their single “Point the Finger”; Pallbearer pleaded for an answer on “Forgotten Days”; and Gojira literally pined for “Another World”.

In a more practical sense, artists had to stay busy without the ability to tour or play concerts. This led to a variety of supergroups and collaborations that might have not happened otherwise, such as Darling, a new side-project from Windhand’s Dorthia Cottrell and Baroness’ Gina Gleason. Other bands decided to play it low key, only sharing a song or two (i.e. Ministry, Gojira, and Mastodon) as they hunker down to complete new albums, hopefully emerging from the studio to a post-pandemic world.

When we revisit these 30 songs in the future, we might be reminded of tough times, but also the enduring joy they provided, as well. Many have suffered in 2020, and the heavy metal world is no different. Although it’s been one of the most brutal years in the genre’s history, it’s resulted in some of the most vital metal ever made.

–Jon Hadusek
Senior Staff Writer

Editor’s Note: If you enjoy this list and our other content, consider supporting Consequence of Sound by purchasing an item at our web store. Additionally, a portion of all proceeds are being donated to MusiCares’ COVID-19 Artist Relief Fund supporting independent musicians.


30. Cirith Ungol – “Frost Monstreme”

Sounds Like: The slow trudge of a golem as it moves steadily over an icy landscape

Key Lyric: “Nightmares lurk, in icy murk/ Cold bones in depths are lain”

Why It Matters: The first new album in nearly 30 years from these metal titans was welcome news in an otherwise shitty year. And this sludged-up track — inspired by fantasy author Fritz Leiber’s short story of the same name — was all the proof the world needed that Cirith Ungol hadn’t lost one iota of their bone-crushing power in all that time. –Robert Ham


29. Fake Names – “Brick”

Sounds Like: Classic punk with a sharp modern sound

Key Lyric: “Ever seen the face of revolution?/ It looks like me”

Why It Matters: Supergroup Fake Names tout a serious punk pedigree. The band features Refused singer Dennis Lyxzén and Bad Religion/Minor Threat guitarist Brian Baker, and as one might expect, there’s a definite political slant to the lyrical content. The singer has never shied away from expressing his views in song, or in interviews, for that matter. Fake Names’ debut single, “Brick”, picks up lyrically where Refused’s 2019 album, War Music, left off, as Lyxzén rails against the pervasive capitalist agenda. —Jon Hadusek


28. Darling – “Baptists”

Sounds Like: A cold sunrise on a gray day

Key Lyric: “You can be happy in the end/ To die surrounded by family and friends”

Why It Matters: Darling are Baroness guitarist Gina Gleason, Windhand singer Dorthia Cottrell, and guitarist Leanne Martz. The supergroup have only released one song, but it’s an immense recording, shimmering with dark synths, expressive guitarwork, and a masterful vocal performance from Cottrell. Darling offer yet another viable sonic palette for her words and voice, and we can’t wait to hear more. —Jon Hadusek


27. Sevendust – “Dying to Live”

Sounds Like: Aggressively melodic hard rock with the soulful vocals only Lajon Witherspoon can deliver

Key Lyric: “Why do we believe this time around/ We found our soul/ Better make your peace with death”

Why It Matters: Sevendust can be a brutally heavy metal band, but resting under that sonic assault is a melodic character that makes the group’s music appealing to a wide range of listeners. On “Dying to Live”, the Atlanta band serve up heavy riffs and chugging rhythms, with a soaring, melodic vocal from Lajon Witherspoon that makes this a very digestible rock single. It proves hat heavy and radio-friendly don’t have to be mutually exclusive. –Anne Erickson


26. Midnight – “F**king Speed and Darkness”

Sounds Like: The bastard sons of Venom and Motorhead partying at a truck stop

Key Lyric: “Give me some speed!” (cueing the guitar solo)

Why It Matters: Forever partying like it’s 1980, Athenar (sole musician behind Ohio black and rollers Midnight) riffs with garage-y bluster on the blistering opening to his newest and catchiest record. From the perfect two-step bridge to the under-10-second guitar solo, he proves he can have a rollicking and raunchy good time more concisely than almost anyone else. —Joseph Schafer


25. Evanescence – “Use My Voice”

Sounds Like: A triumphant anthem for anyone who has been afraid to speak up in the past

Key Lyric: “Whether you like it or not, you’re gonna take what I got/ If we can’t talk about it, we’ll just keep drowning in it”

Why It Matters: Evanescence launched back onto the scene in 2020, releasing a bevy of rock singles that will all appear on the band’s 2021 album, The Bitter Truth. Among the releases, “Use My Voice” stands out, with its empowering message to women to stand strong and tall. The song features frontwoman Amy Lee delivering inspirational lyrics as she’s backed by a gang-vocal chorus featuring powerful female singers such as Taylor Momsen, Lzzy Hale, Sharon den Adel, and more. — Anne Erickson


24. Gone Is Gone – “Everything Is Wonderfall”

Sounds Like: Rock music that’s heavy as it is melodic

Key Lyric: “Lose the will to wait any longer/ Urge to kill is growing stronger”

Why It Matters: The first of three appearances by Mastodon’s Troy Sanders on our list comes via Gone Is Gone’s “Everything Is Wonderfall”. While Sanders is involved in two supergroups with similar names (Killer Be Killed being the other), the bands shouldn’t be confused with one another. Gone Is Gone also features Queens of the Stone Age’s Troy Van Leeuwen and At the Drive-In’s Tony Hajjar, and the supergroup’s heavy alternative sound, as heard on the thunderous “Everything Is Wonderfall”, harkens more toward melodic grunge and stoner rock. Sanders’ vocals are really the only reminder of Mastodon here. With an extremely prolific output in 2020, he seems intent on exploring other styles and approaches as his main band incubates their highly anticipated next album. —Jon Hadusek


23. Rob Zombie- “King Freak”

Sounds Like: Hellbilly Deluxe-era headbanging hard rock with a tinge of industrial

Key Lyric: “King Freak calling from the mouth of hell/ We ain’t your execution/ We ain’t your head pollution/ We ain’t your flock of sheep”

Why It Matters: “King Freak” is the first single from the upcoming Rob Zombie album, The Lunar Injection Kool Aid Eclipse Conspiracy, due out March 12th, 2021. With a powerful rhythm section provided by bassist Piggy D and drummer Ginger Fish and some monster riffing from John 5, let’s hope this is an indication of what the rest of the album is like. It harkens back to the heaviness of Rob Zombie’s earlier material like “Superbeast” from 1998’s Hellbilly Deluxe. Just the bit of monster movie-style fun we need right now. –Colette Claire


22. Ozzy Osbourne feat. Elton John – “Ordinary Man”

Sounds Like: Two rock icons joining forces and sounding as great as they ever did

Key Lyric: “And the truth is I don’t wanna die an ordinary man”

Why It Matters: Ozzy Osbourne and Elton John, two groundbreaking Rock and Roll Hall of Famers, teaming up on anything is hugely appealing. And while they opt for the softer side of things with “Ordinary Man”, it’s not shmaltzy, but rather, it succeeds on genuinely tugging on the heartstrings. The song’s music video adds to the power of lyrics, as it consists of Ozzy watching “scenes” from his life (I dare you to try and keep a dry eye during the spot when he’s watching footage of the legendary Randy Rhoads). —Greg Prato


21. Ministry – “Alert Level”

Sounds Like: If Rob Zombie produced a Ministry track

Key Lyric: “Young people are starting to understand your betrayal/ We will not let you get away with this”

Why It Matters: This is evidently what happens when Al Jourgensen is put under quarantine. “Alert Level” served as a stand-alone single that may end up on the next Ministry album, likely to be released in 2021. The song goes for more of a metal/hard rock direction rather than an industrial direction similar to Ministry’s later releases like 2013’s From Beer to Eternity. The sampled voice of environmental activist Greta Thunberg and a woman who sounds like a news anchor asking, “How concerned are you?” reminds us that Ministry have always been as political as they are heavy. –Colette Claire


20. Bring Me the Horizon feat. BABYMETAL – “Kingslayer”

Sounds Like: A massive rave on the yet-to-be-discovered Planet Heavy Metal

Key Lyric: “Are you circling the drain pipe/ Getting off on pain like/ You’re corrupted?”

Why It Matters: Two of the biggest buzz bands of the 2010s joined forces on a single track, and it sounded exactly how we’d want a Bring Me the Horizon / BABYMETAL collaboration to sound. “Kingslayer” has got everything in it — a fist-pumping dance beat, a crushing breakdown, and dueling vocals between BMTH’s Oli Sykes and BABYMETAL’s Su-metal. This is the song that Stefon (Bill Hader) from SNL would listen to at “New York’s hottest club” while wearing a Fox God mask 10 years in the future. –Spencer Kaufman


19. Corey Taylor- “Culture Head”

Sounds Like: A straight-ahead hard rock and metal assault

Key Lyric: “I don’t trust anyone who uses God as an excuse/ The cult is in the culture head”

Why It Matters: Corey Taylor expresses his distaste over political extremism and religious radicalism on “Culture Head”. He opens the track declaring, “I don’t trust anyone who uses God as an excuse,” before taking listeners through a journey of wah-heavy riffing and angst-fueled lyrics, making this a potent and relevant song for 2020. It’s also the heaviest track off the Slipknot singer’s wide-ranging debut solo album, CMFT. –Anne Erickson


18. Mr. Bungle – “Eracist”

Sounds Like: An underground thrash band from the ’80s who finally achieved the sound they always wanted

Key Lyric: “Keep your shit-eating grin sly/ And ignore the ballistics”

Why It Matters: With their last album (the classic California) dropping in 1999, all had been quiet on the Mr. Bungle front for years. Which made the arrival of a new Bungle album in 2020 a ginormously pleasant surprise. Instead of taking on a variety of musical styles as their ’90s albums did, the Bungle boys (now including metal legends Scott Ian and Dave Lombardo) re-recorded their early 1986 demo, The Raging Wrath of the Easter Bunny, but also included the never-before-recorded “Eracist”, which was written during that era. While the rest of the album is pure thrash and hardcore, “Eracist” slows things down just a bit, as Mike Patton and company serve us up some much-needed heavy metal nourishment. — Greg Prato


17. Dark Tranquillity – “Phantom Days”

Sounds Like: Spiritual revelation in the midst of a bleak reality

Key Lyric: “It doesn’t make it any less real/ Once you feel it/ Rage with the fire of insight/ These are the phantom days”

Why It Matters: Well chosen as the lead single from the excellent new Dark Tranquillity album, Moment, “Phantom Days” is the pinnacle of the Swedish band’s new lineup. After adding touring guitarists Christopher Amott (ex-Arch Enemy) and Johan Reinholdz (Nonexist) to the core lineup, the band’s melodic death metal has reached a perfected form. As singer Mikael Stanne explained in our recent interview, the band was holed up in the studio for much of the pandemic, working on Moment. “Phantom Days” is the most immediate and tangible proof of their rigorous labor, a bright and inspiring track that’s nonetheless built on old-school brutality. —Jon Hadusek


16. My Dying Bride – “The Solace”

Sounds Like: Epic, ancient folk doom forest music with amazing guitar work

Key Lyric: “Solace in sorrow/ We can see in the dark”

Why It Matters: A standout on My Dying Bride’s 2020 release The Ghost of Orion, their 13th studio album after a five-year hiatus, “The Solace” is undeniably a beautiful piece of music. The amazing lead guitar work by Andrew Craighan is layered masterfully with guest vocals provided by Wardruna’s Lindy Fay Hella. The track comes in at just under six minutes, surprisingly short for a My Dying Bride song, which perfectly encapsulates the tune without it dragging on. Pairs excellently with a glass of red wine and a very dark room. –Colette Claire


15. System of a Down – “Protect the Land”

Sounds Like: Mezmerize/Hypnotize-era System of a Down, with big clean riffs and scream-along vocal harmonies

Key Lyric: “Some were forced to foreign lands/ Some would lay dead on the sand/ Would you stay and take command?”

Why It Matters: System of a Down, one of modern metal’s greatest treasures, came back with their first new songs in 15 years. As important a feat as that is, the lasting importance of “Protect the Land” will be in its lyrical content shedding light on recent Azerbaijani/Turkish war crimes against Artsakh and Armenia. The track is gushing with a political urgency and fervor that quickly reminds listeners what made System of a Down such an essential part of the mainstream rock canon in their heyday. Come for the riffs and the odd couple harmonies of Serj Tankian’s operatic howls and Daron Malakian’s naisaily twang. Stay for the revolution. –TJ Kliebhan


14. Refused – “Born on the Outs”

Sounds Like: Hardcore x Gang of Four

Key Lyric: “As yet another hate crime commences/ Can’t stop a Nazi with good intentions”

Why It Matters: Swedish hardcore heroes Refused don’t need to prove anything at this point in their career, but their output over the last couple years further proves that they’re one of the most important heavy acts of the past 30 years. Following 2019’s stellar album, War Music, Refused surprised us with a new EP this year, and the single “Born on the Outs”. As usual, Dennis Lyxzén fires off thought-provoking lyrics with a post-punk soundtrack providing the bedrock to his fiery, sociopolitical commentary. –Spencer Kaufman


13. Killer Be Killed – “Inner Calm from Outer Storms”

Sounds Like: Mastodon crossed with Cavalera Conspiracy

Key Lyric: “Defiant warlord/ Unleash your hate upon us/ Cryptic vortex/ Extinction rises and you’re next”

Why It Matters: “Inner Calm from Outer Storms” pairs personal lyricism with a musical backbone of propulsive heavy metal. The combined vocal talents of Mastodon’s Troy Sanders and The Dillinger Escape Plan’s Greg Puciato conjure a subtle, melodic sensibility as the guitar assault is powered by the legendary Max Cavalera (Soulfly, ex-Sepultura), who adds additional vocals to the track. Drummer Ben Koller (Converge) ties it all together with a rapid-fire beat. Killer Be Killed are the example of a democratic supergroup, with each member adding to the sonic formula in equal measure. —Jon Hadusek


12. Carcass – “The Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue”

Sounds Like: Going through a washing machine spin cycle with a pocketful of razor blades and jagged stones

Key Lyric: “Let the sleeping corpses lie”

Why It Matters: Inspired by the plot and Anglicized title of a 1974 Spanish zombie flick, the first track from Carcass’ 2020 EP, Despicable, sets the stage for the forthcoming full-length by the Liverpudlian thrashers with vertiginous riffs and an appropriately possessed-sounding vocal turn from bassist Jeff Walker. — Robert Ham


11. AC/DC – “Shot in the Dark”

Sounds Like: AC-F**KING-DC!!

Key Lyric: “My mission is to hit ignition”

Why It Matters: Any time AC/DC issue a new album, the world is a better place. The major story leading up to the new LP, Power Up, was the return of the band’s classic members (turns out it’s 4/5’s of the classic Back in Black lineup, with Stevie Young in place of the late/great Malcolm). But, as heard on “Shot in the Dark”, the music became the headline, with AC/DC delivering their strongest effort in years. It was no surprise that the band issued up more of their trademark infectious boogie-woogie rock ‘n’ roll. What’d else would you expect from the legendary act? —Greg Prato


10. Pallbearer – “Forgotten Days”

Sounds Like: The future of doom metal

Key Lyric: “Who can I trust with tomorrow?/ I can barely trust myself”

Why It Matters: Guided by a massive, multi-layered riff, the title track from Pallbearer’s fourth studio album is a rare slice of timeless doom. Freshly signed to Nuclear Blast, Pallbearer have shown up to the big leagues with a distinct artistic vision that embraces emotion and organic creativity. Bassist/songwriter Joseph D. Rowland described the album as less “maximal” compared to 2017’s Heartless, and the band’s direct approach with producer Randall Dunn is most effective on “Forgotten Days”. Crank it and behold. —Jon Hadusek


09. Gojira – “Another World”

Sounds Like: Hopefully the next Gojira album

Key Lyric: “Hope for the world but prepare for the worst/ I’d rather find a way on my own”

Why It Matters: Gojira played it so low-key in 2020 that we would have forgotten about the French metal masters’ one-off single, “Another World”, had it not been so good. Aside from promoting a stream of an archival concert, the excellent song was all we heard from the band as they work on the follow-up to Magma. Following that LP’s progressive leanings and pop sensibility, “Another World” is both catchy and complex. Also of note are the masterful acoustics of the recording itself. —Jon Hadusek


08. Marilyn Manson – “Don’t Chase the Dead”

Sounds Like: Marilyn Manson channeling David Bowie and Marc Bolan

Key Lyric: “If tonight lasts forever/ It won’t matter if there’s no tomorrow”

Why It Matters: The second single from Marilyn Manson’s critically acclaimed 11th studio album WE ARE CHAOS, “DON’T CHASE THE DEAD” reminds fans that the new material is both heavy and melodic. The ’80s-inspired keyboard-driven chorus of this song will inevitably get stuck in your head and force you to listen to the track on repeat. “DON’T CHASE THE DEAD” is a perfect blend of the glam and goth rock influences on the new album produced by Shooter Jennings. Pro tip: If you want to hear the early beginnings of this collaboration, check out Manson’s cover of Bowie’s “Cat People” from Jennings’ 2016 album, Countach. –Colette Claire


07. Code Orange – “You and You Alone”

Sounds Like: Metallic hardcore that the Terminator listens to while lifting weights.

Key Lyric: “I love the way/ You choose to forget our history.”

Why It Matters: Code Orange’s ambitions to assimilate the sounds of industrial and the precision of math rock into their metallic hardcore machine reaches its violent apex on “You and You Alone.” When vocalist Jami Morgan screams the chorus to this absolute pit-starter, it’s not clear if he means his haters or if he’s role-playing Project Manager at some tech behemoth, but both reads work. —Joseph Schafer


06. Mastodon – “Fallen Torches”

 

Sounds Like: Throwing metal, sludge, and prog into a blender and ending up with a splendidly heavy smoothie

Key Lyric: “Spirits warn that danger’s coming/ It’s coming closer now/ Bad ways lit by fallen torches”

Why It Matters: Mastodon have often brought elements of psychedelic and stoner rock into their heavy metal sound, while never losing their heavy metal roots. “Falling Torches” features a hint of that psychedelia while also incorporating ferocious growls and a towering, melodic chorus, making this an exciting listen the shows Mastodon are always evolving. The song provided a tasty treat for fans, as we wait for Mastodon’s next album, likely arriving in 2021. – Anne Erickson


05. “Body Count feat. Riley Gale – “Point the Finger”

Sounds Like: The anger and rebellion of 2020

Key Lyric: “Anywhere, any time/ They shoot first and ask questions last/ Could be yours, could be mine/ And then they point the finger at you”

Why It Matters: “Point the Finger” is one of the final recordings of late Power Trip frontman Riley Gale, who tragically passed away in August. Seeing Gale and Ice-T together in the song’s video rings poignant in retrospect, not to mention “Point the Finger” is an absolute ripper — perhaps the best thrash song of 2020 (at least on our list). Guitarist Ernie C riffs with the best, and Ice-T and Riley Gale have no shortage of lyrical inspo given the status quo in modern America and the ongoing prevalence of police brutality. Body Count have been censored before; they’re certainly not holding back now. Decades after their formation, the band remain staunchly relevant. —Jon Hadusek


04. Napalm Death – “Amoral”

Sounds Like: Groovy and furious post-punk updated for 2020

Key Lyric: “Assassins within our closest kin/ Conceived control hid in the wings”

Why It Matters: UK grind godfathers Napalm Death expanded their sound this year on one of their most surprising and affecting albums. They show it best on “Amoral”, a streamlined slice of Killing Joke worship with a surfeit of melody (for them), a driving motoric beat, and one of singer Barney Greenway’s most pointed laments at the collapse of ethical thought in our increasingly polarized population. –Joseph Schafer


03. Deftones – “The Spell of Mathematics”

Sounds Like: Sweet nothings whispered in your ear at a goth club that’s caught on fire

Key Lyric: “A feeling of warmth inside of you/ Holy and strict, six times a day/ We will exchange our violent ways/ But the beauty is when you touch me”

Why It Matters: Not only did Deftones release their best album in years, but on Ohms, the alt metallers proved they could still bring hefty riffs without sacrificing the tender romance that’s become key to their identity. No song strikes the balance better than “The Spell of Mathematics”, singer Chino Moreno’s ode to the power of love itself propelled by a massive Stephen Carpenter riff. Imaginatively, it ends with a gorgeous bass break and… finger snaps? Somehow, it’s an inspired choice. –Joseph Schafer


02. Lamb of God – “Memento Mori”

Sounds Like: A veteran band hitting new artistic heights

Key Lyric: “I’m waking up from this wretched lie/ I fight it the same, don’t waste this day”

Why It Matters: The highlight track on Lamb of God’s impeccable self-titled 2020 album, “Memento Mori” opens with a striking goth-rock Sisters of Mercy vibe before breaking to the typically crushing territories the metal vets are known for. Calling this “thrash” or “groove” metal feels limiting. Lamb of God continue to push themselves from an arrangement, lyrical, and production standpoint, with “Memento Mori” being the most obvious example on an album teeming with worthy tracks. Even the band seemed to acknowledge the song’s importance when it named the new Lamb of God small-batch coffee after the song — a heavy brew for an even heavier track. —Jon Hadusek


01. Touché Amoré – “Reminders”

Sounds Like: The anthem we all needed to get through 2020

Key Lyric: “Is there a way to feel free/ Without being someone else?”

Why It Matters: Considering how apocalyptic and hellish 2020 has been, we could have easily chosen the top song of the year from a number of extreme metal songs. But this year’s best heavy track offers us hope, with the key message being that no matter how hard life gets, there are always people (and animals) in the world who love you. Touché Amoré, who’ve often turned to heartbreak and angst as inspiration, provided light amid the darkness in the form of “Reminders”, the catchiest and most heartening heavy track of 2020. Next time this pandemic — or any of life’s obstacles — gets you down, put this song on full blast. And if that doesn’t lift your spirits, watch the song’s video, featuring a who’s who of musicians and their adorable pets. –Spencer Kaufman

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