Every year there are a ton of live albums and DVDs released. In 2020 they meant a little more, since going to live shows was off the table for much of the year. Here are our picks for the best live metal/hard rock releases of 2020.
12. Visions Of Atlantis – A Symphonic Journey To Remember (Napalm)
At the 2019 Bang Your Head festival in Germany, Visions Of Atlantis played with the Bohemian Symphony Orchestra Prague. That show was recorded for A Symphonic Journey To Remember and is available on Blu-ray/CD, vinyl and digital versions.
The set includes 16 songs plus an intro, with mostly newer material. There are five songs from last year’s Wanderers and six tracks from 2018’s The Deep And The Dark. Their early days are represented with “Lost” from 2004’s Cast Away. Visions Of Atlantis’ symphonic style and the dramatic vocals of Clementine Delauney are perfect for orchestral accompaniment. From ballads like “The Last Home” to bombastic tracks such as “The Last War,” the orchestra accentuates without overwhelming. It was a unique show, and a good one to capture for posterity.
11. Dee Snider – For The Love Of Metal Live (Napalm)
In 2018, Twisted Sister frontman Dee Snider released For The Love Of Metal, his fourth solo album. For The Love Of Metal Live is a DVD/CD that captures performances from several festivals around the world.
Snider performs both solo material and Twisted Sister classics like “We’re Not Gonna Take It” and “I Wanna Rock” along with AC/DC’s “Highway To Hell.” There’s also a brand new song, “Prove Me Wrong.” It’s uptempo and heavy that incorporates both modern and classic styles. In addition to the live material, the DVD/Blu-ray has interviews, behind-the-scenes footage and other material. Snider is one of hard rock/metal’s most iconic frontmen, especially in a live setting. He commands the stage, and the live versions of these songs are potent and energetic.
10. Def Leppard – London To Vegas (Eagle Rock)
Fans of Rock And Roll Hall Of Famers Def Leppard may not be able to see them play live this summer, and if that’s the case, there are a couple of shows in the London To Vegas collection to tide them over. The 2 DVD/4 CD set includes two concert films: Hysteria At The O2 and Hits Vegas: Live At Planet Hollywood.
The band’s debut at London’s O2 arena in December of 2018 saw them play their smash hit 1987 Hysteria in full plus some other hits such as “Rock Of Ages” and “Photograph.” In 2019 they played a residency in Las Vegas, with Hits Vegas including the songs you’d expect along with some deeper cuts like “Mirror Mirror (Look Into My Eyes)”, “Paper Sun” and “Promises” and acoustic renditions of tracks such as “Let Me Be The One” and “Two Steps Behind.” There’s bonus material as well, including the “Hysteria: Then And Now” documentary. With nearly 50 songs from throughout their career, London To Vegas is a pricey but worthy purchase for Def Leppard fans.
9. Periphery – Live In London (Self)
After six studio albums and a couple EPs, the djentlemen of Periphery are issuing their first live album. Live In London was recorded in November of 2019, as they toured in support of Periphery IV: Hail Stan.
There are only 10 songs in the set, but with the length of Periphery songs (including the 18 minute opener “Reptile”), the show lasts for more than 70 minutes. Half of the songs are from Hail Stan and three are from 2016’s Periphery III: Select Difficulty. They pull off the complex arrangements smoothly with a display of first-rate musicianship. There are so many shifts and changes in a Periphery song that length is secondary. They are able to hold the audience’s interest throughout on their albums and in concert.
8. Autopsy – Live In Chicago (Peaceville)
There have been prior live Autopsy albums, but apparently they weren’t official, as Live In Chicago is described as the first official live album from the death metal legends. It was recorded in March of this year, just before the country went into lockdown.
They haven’t released a new studio album since 2014, but the 66 minute, 18 song set did include the new song “Maggots In The Mirror,” a preview of what’s to come. Their 1989 album Severed Survival was heavily featured, as they played 9 of the 11 tracks from that record. The musicianship is excellent, especially on tracks like “Ridden With Disease,” but the mix is what you want from a live death metal album, keeping the rawness and grit. Autopsy are one of the genre’s best bands, which is evident on Live In Chicago.
7. Kamelot – I Am The Empire – Live From The 013 (Napalm)
It has been awhile (14 years) since American symphonic metal veterans Kamelot released a live album. As they toured in support of 2018’s The Shadow Theory, they had a special show at the 013 in Tilburg, Netherlands that included several special guests.
Available in CD, Blu-ray/DVD, vinyl and digital, I Am The Empire – Live From The 013 features 19 proper songs and is around 100 minutes long. Lauren Hart (Once Human) reprises her appearance on “Phantom Divine (Shadow Empire)” from The Shadow Theory, and for the first time live Delain’s Charlotte Wessels sings “Under Grey Skies” from 2015’s Haven. Arch Enemy’s Alissa White-Gluz appears on three songs including “Sacrimony (Angel Of Afterlife)” with Amaranthe’s Elize Ryd. The band sounds great, the crowd is really into it, and the setlist is varied. That combination makes this one highly appealing to Kamelot fans.
6. Voivod – Lost Machine Live (Century Media)
We all miss concerts these days, so it’s a breath of fresh air to listen to the latest from legendary Canadians Voivod. Lost Machine Live is a career-spanning live set recorded in Quebec City in 2019. The band is in top form here, not missing a beat or dropping a note as they weave their way through their unique take on prog and thrash.
Voivod have a ton of material they can draw on, and while the 13 songs and 75 minutes presented here seems like a lot, it only allows the band to touch on a number of albums, ranging from the thrash of “Voivod” to the most recent “The End of Dormancy” and a couple other tracks from 2016’s excellent The Wake. This is a rare case where more songs would have been welcomed, but we will take what we can when it’s this good.
5. Katatonia – Dead Air (Peaceville)
City Burials, Katatonia‘s first album in four years, was released in April, as concerts were being shut down across the world. The band streamed a live show in May from Studio Grondahl in Stockholm, which is being released as Dead Air.
The 20 song set includes three tracks from City Burials along with songs voted on by their fans. The majority of the songs are from the past 15 years or so. 2006’s The Great Cold Distance is well represented with six songs. Seeing a live show with no fans might have seemed odd a year ago, but in 2020 it has become the norm. Katatonia’s performance on Dead Air is excellent, with their emotional brand of music translating well to this format. Hopefully we’ll be able to see bands live again soon, but in the meantime albums like this one provide that live connection.
4. Devin Townsend – Order Of Magnitude – Empath Live Volume 1 (InsideOut)
In March of last year Devin Townsend released Empath. The penultimate concert of the tour in support of that record was in December at London’s Roundhouse. It was captured for Order Of Magnitude – Empath Live Volume 1, available in various CD, DVD, Blu-ray, vinyl and digital configurations.
Townsend put together a killer lineup with several backing vocalists to deliver a memorable show. Most of the epic songs from Empath are included, plus a couple of older tracks such as “War” from 1998’s Infinity and “Kingdom” from 2000’s Physicist. They also throw in a rousing cover of the ’70s hit “Disco Inferno.” The musicianship is top-notch, Townsend commands the stage and it’s an entertaining and interesting concert.
3. Ayreon – Electric Castle Live And Other Tales (Music Theories)
In 1998 Arjen Anthony Lucassen’s star-studded collective Ayreon released Into The Electric Castle. Twenty years later much of the original lineup gathered for several shows in Tilburg, The Netherlands to perform the album live as a rock opera. Lucassen, Anneke van Giersbergen, Damian Wilson, Edward Reekers, Edwin Balogh, Fish and George Oosthoek reprise their roles, with new additions Simone Simons, Marcela Bovio, Mark Jansen and more.
It’s a massive undertaking with dozens of musicians, with interesting staging and great performances from all involved. The songs are tied together by narrator John de Lancie (Star Trek: The Next Generation, The Practice). In addition to the 18 songs from the album, the cast performs several songs from some of Lucassen’s other projects. There’s a The Gentle Storm song with van Giersbergen, a Stream Of Passion track with Bovio a Star One song with Wilson and a cover of the Marillion track “Kayleigh” with Fish. Ayreon shows are few and far between, and it’s great that this and other past concerts have been captured for posterity. It’s available in CD/DVD and Blu-ray.
2. Dream Theater – Distant Memories – Live In London (InsideOut)
The trend with metal concerts over the past several years has gone to more bands on a bill with shorter set lists. That’s definitely not the case with Dream Theater, who like to do “an evening with” shows with lengthy sets. Their ninth live album Distant Memories – Live In London was recorded at the Apollo Theater during their tour to support 2019’s Distance Over Time.
In addition to that album, DT were celebrating the 20th anniversary of Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes From A Memory. That album is played in its entirety, along with six tracks from Distance Over Time. The other two songs in the 2 1/2 hour show are “A Nightmare To Remember” from 2009’s Black Clouds and Silver Linings and “In The Presence Of Enemies – Part 1” from 2007’s Systematic Chaos. It’s an interesting juxtaposition to hear a classic album in its entirety along with newer material. Dream Theater’s musicianship as always is flawless without being clinical, and for fans the 20 plus songs will fly by in all their progtastic glory.
1. Iron Maiden – Nights Of The Dead, Legacy Of The Beast: Live In Mexico City (Sanctuary)
Iron Maiden have released a ton of live albums over the years (at least 10), and there’s a good reason for that. They are one of the best live bands in the world, and there’s obviously a market for their live material among Maiden’s rabid fan base. Their latest live effort Nights Of The Dead, Legacy Of The Beast: Live In Mexico City was recorded in September of 2019.
The 100 minute show is a great mix of the classic hits you’d expect such as “2 Minutes To Midnight,” “The Trooper” and of course “Run To The Hills” along with some deeper cuts. The set includes several songs the band hadn’t played live in years or decades, such as “Flight Of Icarus” and the Blaze Bayley-era tracks “Sign Of The Cross” and “The Clansman.” When it comes to more recent material, “For The Greater Good Of God” from 2006’s A Matter Of Life And Death is included, but there are no songs from their most recent release, 2015’s The Book Of Souls. Bruce Dickinson and company sound fantastic, still giving the audience their money’s worth, and fans will enjoy this varied and entertaining show.