Adrian Vandenberg has one of the most interesting careers in the Hard Rock genre. Starting in the Netherlands, the country where he was born and raised, he formed his own band, Vandenberg, in the early 80s, where he was the guitarist. The group started to gain momentum with each album, which has a result Adrian even getting offers in the early 80s to join the likes of Whitesnake and Thin Lizzy.
Even though the band had a nice hit in the North American market with the song Burning Heart from their self-titled debut in 1982, Adrian would eventually join David Coverdale at Whitesnake in 1987 and become much more known in the Hard Rock scene. And while Vandenberg is much more famous for his work in Whitesnake’s 1989 album, (the somewhat underrated Slip of the Tongue) he actually was part of the band for more than a decade, which is quite an achievement, considering Coverdale’s track record.
Besides supergroup Manic Eden in the mid-90s, Vandenberg left the music business for a long time and dedicated his time to his other passion, which is painting (he actually painted the covers of the first Vandenberg albums), but he eventually returned with the band Vandenberg’s MoonKings, which had solid releases and struggled to tour because of the vocalist’s personal commitments.
But now Adrian has reformed his classic Vandenberg band with an all-new lineup. This new album, 2020, consists of bassist Randy van der Elsen (of NWOBHM band Tank fame), drummer Koen Herfst, (Toto’s Bobby Kimball, Epica and Doro), vocalist Ronnie Romero (of Rainbow and Lords of Black fame) and of course Adrian on guitar, counting with the guest appearances of legendary bassist Rudy Sarzo (Dio, Whitesnake, Ozzy, Quiet Riot and many others) and drummer Brian Tichy (Whitesnake, Ozzy Osbourne, Foreigner, Billy Idol).
Quite a lineup and quite an expectation to fulfill: longtime fans wanted Vandenberg to get back together and now it’s time to see if 2020 is that majestic return they were waiting for.
Once I read the opening riff to the first track, Shadows of the Night, I started thinking about the tone that Adrian’s guitar has in this album. One thing that I feel has been forgotten in the modern music scene is the importance of a good tone in the guitar; they often sound very similar, regardless of the type of songs they are playing. If you go back to the 80s, someone like Eddie Van Halen didn’t have the same guitar tone as John Sykes and neither had the same as Iron Maiden’s Dave Murray, and I’m glad added a somewhat classic vibe to his guitar tone.
The song itself is solid, with a very 70s Deep Purple vibe, specifically the songs Burn and Highway Star. The riffs had a strong classic vibe and Herfst does a solid job on drums, maintaining the fast and upbeat tempo. And Romero delivers a convincing vocal performance; he is often compared to Ronnie James Dio, but you can hear the Coverdale influence here as well and you can almost picture David singing this song.
I think this song shows very well what Vandenberg’s intentions are with this album: a collection of the different styles he has played and influences he has enjoyed throughout the years, mesh together in a couple of songs. I know many fans of his classic albums that were not exactly thrilled about this change in sound, but considering that Adrian is no longer working with the band’s classic lineup, it’s understandable to have a different-sounding record. Take it for what it’s worth, I guess.
Freight Train is pure 80s Hard Rock and a mid-tempo track where Adrian thrives with his riff work, which I think has been a somewhat underrated trait of his throughout his career. I also like Romero’s vocal performance here, adding a bit of swagger and charisma to his singing. He often gets criticism (something warranted, sometimes unfair) of lacking a bit of warm and substance to his voice, but I think Vandenberg really got a lot of strong performances out of him in this album–I hope that if they do a follow-up, Romero gets a second crack at it.
The ending is the best part, with the band raising the intensity and Adrian shreds a bit with the guitar. You can also hear the Whitesnake influence, with the Dutch guitarist paying tribute to the band that made him famous. Some people like this decision, some people don’t; I personally enjoy it and I like hearing Adrian doing classic Hard Rock again.
On the other hand, Hell or High Water is the best of the whole album, in my view. Here we can hear Romero in his comfort zone, Adrian throwing some very strong riffs that have a notorious Rainbow influence and the rhythm base adding a very interesting groove to the whole thing. It has a very epic feel to it and I think the atmosphere fits very well–it gives the track a very dramatic vibe to it.
Adrian’s solo here is pure class. Perhaps not too much shredding, but focusing on melody and I think that has been a lost art in recent years when it comes to guitar playing. It’s a very good song because I think it plays to the strengths of all the band members and it’s just so well-written.
Too much Dio-era Rainbow influence? Most likely, but a good song is a good song.
We slow the tempo with Let It Rain. Here we can hear Romero at his most soulful and melodic, with some very interesting vocal melodies and Adrian adding some nice guitar work here and there. It’s a song that relies more on feeling than skill, but I think it’s done in a nice manner.
Definitely, Romero is the star of the show here and we can enjoy him in a different vocal performance to what we’re used to of him.
Another very strong song is Ride Like The Wind, where the band once again takes a page from Dio-era Rainbow, with some guitar melodies that are reminiscent to Gates of Babylon. But regardless of that, it’s a mini-epic where Adrian gets to show off some of his strongest guitar work in the entire album.
I really like this Romero-Vandenberg tandem. Adrian plays to Ronnie’s strengths and manages to give his voice a bit more of variety. You also have to give credit to the rhythm base; they may not do anything spectacular, but they are very consistent and that is a trait that any top quality band needs.
Definitely one of the highlights of the entire album.
I have to say that I’m not a big fan of Shout. It has a strong Van Halen vibe, but the song doesn’t do it for me. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this track, but I think it needs a stronger chorus and I feel that Adrian’s solo is a bit lower in the mix, which is a technical issue that I find very weird considering the level of professionalism that this album has.
Perhaps you will have a different perception of this song when you listen to it, but it personally didn’t do it for me.
Shitstorm is pure modern Whitesnake and no one can deny that Romero channels his inner Coverdale in the smooth part in the beginning of the song. The main riff takes us back to Adrian’s time making Slip of the Tongue, which goes to show that he still has that sound as part of his musical repertoire.
It’s a very solid 80s-based Hard Rock song, but I think it feels too much like a Whitesnake song. Add Coverdale’s voice and there you go–no one will say is another project. There’s nothing inherently wrong with doing that (after all, Adrian contributed a lot to Whitesnake), but I can understand how it can rub classic Vandenberg fans the wrong way.
We have a lot more of that Whitesnake influence in Light Up the Sky, which reminds to the song Bad Boys of the 1987 album, at least when it comes to the riffs. The chorus is very good and shows there is potential with this Romero-Vandenberg partnership.
I wouldn’t say it’s my favorite track of the whole album, but I think it’s serviceable and it’s a nice rocker to enjoy without thinking too much.
Look, I understand why Adrian decided to rerecord Burning Heart for this 2020 album. I get that it’s the band’s most famous song and a way to introduce their music to a new generation, but I’m one of those people that don’t believe that classic songs should be rerecord–there’s a reason why they are called classics, after all.
Is it a bad version? Not really. The guitar parts have feeling, the rhythm base (this time with Tichy and Sarzo) is solid and Romero does a honorable rendition to the band’s classic hit. But I just don’t think it’s necessary, especially considering that they are planning to tour in the coming months and we’re going to see them play the song live, but perhaps it’s me just nitpicking.
It’s a nice rerecording, but I just don’t think it’s necessary.
Skyfall ends the album with a bit more of atmosphere and with the band in full force. There’s a nice degree of elegance in this song and it shows Adrian’s more melodic and detailed sensibilities as a songwriter, which was his strong suit with MoonKings a few years ago.
The riffs here are top notch and the vocal melodies are a very strong, which makes the song very compelling from the very first moment that you listen to it. As you could have probably guessed by now, this is a very guitar-driven album and Adrian shows exactly why in this song: he bosses it and throws some of his best guitar work here, especially with that cutting main riff.
The solo is perhaps my favorite of the entire album and definitely a high point, showcasing what the band is all about in 2020. A wonderful song and a great way to end this album.
Overall, I find 2020 to be a solid Hard Rock album. I wouldn’t say it’s a very original body of work, but I don’t think Adrian was aiming for that; I think he wanted to make a very rocking album in 2020 and in that regard he has succeeded. 2020 is a very melodic and accessible album, which showcases most of their leader’s influences and sounds throughout his career, especially what he did with Whitesnake, so that is a good thing.
I do understand the criticism by longtime Vandenberg fans about how the band doesn’t sound reminiscent to what they did in the 80s in terms of their established sound, but I honestly don’t think Adrian was aiming for that. I think he wanted to go for a different direction and also seize the musicians that he had at his disposal, instead of forcing them to be something they are not.
A solid Hard Rock album that old school fans are going to enjoy.