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Vandenberg – 2020 Award winner

by kenn staub at 09 August 2020, 12:16 AM

VANDENBERG is back, releasing their first studio album, “2020,” in 35 years this past May. Make no mistake that though the music and songs may have a familiarity, this isn’t the same VANDENBERG line-up of the early-to-mid 1980s. With the exception of band namesake, guitarist Adrian Vandenberg, this is a new version of VANDENBERG, featuring singer Ronnie Romero (RICHIE BLACKMORE’s RAINBOW), drummer Koen Herfst (BOBBY KIMBALL) (TOTO), EPICA, DORO), and bassist Randy Van Der Elsen (TANK). They are joined on “2020” by guests Rudy Sarzo on bass (WHITESNAKE, OZZY, QUIET RIOT, DIO, QUEENSRYCHE) and Brian Tichy on drums (WHITESNAKE, OZZY, FOREIGNER, BILLY IDOL). What this retooled version of VANDENBERG is, is a collection of experienced musicians, working with experienced producer Bob Marlette (SABBATH, ALICE COOPER, MARILYN MANSON, ROB ZOMBIE), who know their roles within the band and execute them to near perfection. And though, as one would expect, “2020” is an opportunity for Vandenberg to show off his guitar chops, it also proves to be an equal platform for Romero’s vocal stylings and a tight rhythm section that serves as a solid anchor for each song.

Shadows Of The Night” opens the album and lets the listener know exactly what they can expect over the next nine songs, strong vocals, riff-heavy refrains, cohesively driven rhythms, and, of course, stand out guitar soloing. In other words, melodic, throwback metal that evokes comparisons to not just the original VANDENBERG, but, considering the pedigrees of various musicians on “2020,” WHITESNAKE and mid-1980s era DEEP PURPLE among others. By the second track, “Freight Train,” the band has settled into the groove for a driving track worthy of its name.

Hell And High Water” slows things down after the two openers. Though the tempo is slower, this bluesy track does not lack for power and for that the rhythm section deserves much of the credit. The atmospheric “Let It Rain” follows. A moody song, its tempo is even a bit slower than the preceding and it benefits from Romero’s full-throated singing.

Ride Like The Wind” returns to the relentlessly driving pace “2020” opened with and leads into, what for me, was one of the highlights of the album, “Shout.” A funky groove, changing tempo, heavy bass and drums, a catchy chorus, a stylistically sensible solo; “Shout” is pure 1980s metal pleasure and begs to be performed live. Truth be told, this song would have fit nicely on almost any metal album from back in the day, with WHITESNAKE’sSlide It In” in particular coming to mind. “2020” continues with another highlight, the aptly entitled for the year, “Shitstorm.” A bare intro gives way to a dense, kicking rhythm that features a stand out solo in just the right place. The lyrics, especially the chorus, are catchy and sort of reflects what one might want to do considering the times in which we find ourselves: “Running from a shitstorm, Leaving the blues behind, Cause I’m Running from a shitstorm, Leaving it all behind, Running from a shitstorm, Leaving the blues, Running from a shitstorm, Leaving it all behind.” The mid-album, uptempo run ends with the driving, churning “Light Up The Sky.”

VANDENBERG revisits the 1982 hit “Burning Heart” in the penultimate track, rebranded as “Burning Love – 2020.” Though this song evokes strong memories of the original, it is not the same. This version is sparer, seemingly lacking the refinement and luster of its predecessor. That is not a bad thing, as the song now has a roughness around the edges, both musically and vocally, that show lament which is grown perhaps more regrettable, if not painful, over time. That is to say it is a mature rendering of the more youthful version.

Skyfall” closes the album. Another song with a spare opening, it segues into a funky groove propelled by the rhythm section, before once again reverting to a spare closing. The group work in the chorus was particularly notable, with the voices blending nicely as they did throughout many of the tracks.

VANDENDBERG does not break new ground on “2020.” No deeper meanings lay hidden, no reliance on fancy musical tricks or complex arrangements. But then again, I don’t think that was ever the intention. It is, rather, a slice of energetic, musically polished 1980s metal that evokes pleasant memories of an era that came to a halt when grunge started to take over. I lost myself for a little over 40 minutes in the metal I grew up with and, in the end, is that such a bad thing?

Musicianship: 9
Songwriting: 8
Memorability: 7
Production: 10

4 Star Rating

1. Shadows Of The Night (3:39)
2. Freight Train (3:45)
3. Hell And High Water (4:50)
4. Let It Rain (3:35)
5. Ride Like The Wind (4:03)
6. Shout (3:38)
7. Shitstorm (4:37)
8. Light Up The Sky (3:45)
9. Burning Heart – 2020 (4:33)
10. Skyfall (5:36)
Adrian Vandenberg – Guitar
Ronnie Romero – Vocals
Koen Herfst – Drums
Randy van der Elsen – Bass
Record Label: Mascot Records


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Edited 23 March 2023

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