Many great rock albums include a beautifully-crafted ballad or few that stand out from the rest of the heavier songs. These songs usually place extra emphasis on melody and lyrical content. I've picked out some of my favorite ballads of 2020 that deserve some extra recognition. I hope their alluring sounds and inspirational messages encourage you.
1. Skillet, "Save Me (Reimagined)"
Skillet's 2019 album, Victorious, is a great example of a rock album with plenty of melodic elements. Jen Ledger's vocals, Korey Cooper's keys, and Ted Jensen's mastering were all major melodic pieces to the album. "Save Me," one of the album's lead singles, received special treatment in 2020. Korey Cooper turned the strong, arena-style rock song into a heart-pounding, yet haunting, ballad. The reimagined version is piano-driven and places more emphasis on the heartbreaking lyrics that John sings, "It feels like no one cares (So why)/Can't I come up for air?/Just save, just save me/What are you waiting for?/Someone save me."
2. Red - "The War We Made"
RED is one band that keeps their music hard and heavy. They often blur the lines between the metal and rock genres. Their 2020 album, Declaration, is different. The album, both musically and vocally, is the band's heaviest to date. "The War We Made," RED's latest single, is the album's softest song (Some listeners wouldn't even consider it a ballad). Notably, "The War We Made" is not as soft as the band's past ballads. Lead singer Michael Barnes hauntingly sings the gripping lyrics that tug at my heartstrings every time I listen. He sings, "But am I alone, am I alright/Am I insane, am I alive/What does it take to/Stop waging war with/All I thought I wanted"
3. Spoken - "Nightmare"
I'm often encouraged by Spoken's music. For 20 years, the hard rock band has created honest and heavy songs about their life and faith in Christ. They have released a few singles from their forthcoming untitled 10th album (three hard rockers, and one haunting ballad). "Nightmare," the album's fourth single, the haunting ballad, brings a different, serene sound paired with vulnerable lyrics. The captivating song speaks into the nightmares of our lives with a bold claim that we can hold on to: "My faith may become thin/But it will never disappear.'
4. American Arson - "The Water Will Rise"
American Arson--Evan Baker and Jesse Gentry--recently released their first full-length album, A Line In The Sand. One of my favorite songs from the album is the poetic ballad, "The Water Will Rise." Through allegorical imagery, the song sends a message of love during the hard seasons of life. Evan sings the hopeful chorus, "The current will come/The water will rise/We'll watch summer die/The current will come/The water will rise/Still love survives."
5. Breaking Benjamin (featuring Lacey Sturm) - "Dear Agony"
I'm a supporter of Lacey Sturm and her passionate heart for people and love for God. Whatever she adds her artistic touch to is going to be something beautiful and evidently passionate. She has written books, devotionals, and music. She sings songs of hope on her own and with other artists. She recently released "The Decree," her first single in four years. And, collaborated with mainstream rock band Breaking Benjamin on the heartfelt, "Dear Agony." This single is from Breaking Benjamin's Aurora album.
On "Dear Agony," she and Benjamin Jackson Burnley, the band's lead singer, harmonize well together and share vocals fairly throughout the song, which is nice. The song's message is one we can all relate to. We often find ourselves in agonizing times in life and wish they would go away. We can join in them in singing, "I will fight for one last breath/I will fight until the end/...Dear Agony, just let go of me/Suffer slowly/Is this the way it's gotta be?"
6. Fight The Fade - "Everything Is Fine?"
Fight The Fade recently released a unique-sounding album, called In Love. In Hope. In Peace. There is plenty of electronic influences and creative additions to the songs, resulting in an album, unlike anything we have heard from them previously. The album single "Everything Is Fine?" addresses an issue many people face around the world. In times of political or personal unrest, we sometimes try to pretend that issues are not as major as they are (even when these issues deserve attention). Zene Smith, the band's lead singer, addresses this issue with hope, singing "Everything is fine?/And the world keeps moving on/Everything is changing/No, I can't take it anymore"
7. Dens - "Quiet"
One of my favorite albums this year is Den's Taming Tongues. I hope you take the time to listen to it front to back soon. "Quiet," the album's closing track, isn't the only ballad, but it definitey stands out compared to others. The song begins with a captivating musical intro that leads right into the standalone lyrical chorus. The ballad refocuses my mind and heart back on God--no matter what I am feeling at the time. With a choir and guest vocalist Gary Spears adding to his vocals, the lead singer Shaun Hypes sings, "When You speak, the earth it quakes/When You speak, the fires rage/When all is quiet, there You are."
Ryan Adams's passion to support artists in the heavy music scene shows in the writing he is grateful to add to NRT. Currently living in Ohio and working locally. (Photo Credit: Gunnar Bjarki on Unsplash)
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