(For the second year in a row, we present a year-end list from our Iowa-based guest Ben Smasher. This list originally appeared on Ben’s own blog, here.)
2015 was by all accounts a great year for me personally. It has been a year starkly contrasting with years prior, all in good ways.
In the early spring I found myself growing tired of my typical metal fodder but was too preoccupied to seek out something new to satiate it. In the past I’ve successfully explored other genres and enjoyed decent results. I spent some time exploring what everynoise.com had to offer, which led me to a stint enjoying Zeuhl and prog bands of the ’70s and early ’80s. Then Beijing opera music of the early 1900s fell into my lap by way of my significant other, and it immediately scratched my itch in a new way.
I began plowing through time periods, genres, and vast geographies of music from all corners of the globe and it yielded highly entertaining and fascinating results. From the ritual Nat Pwe music of Myanmar, tribal music of the western Congo, ’80s khmer pop music from Cambodia, Thailand, rock of the ’60s — I could go on and on. This had so significantly changed my listening habits that I had to take a step back.
After some pondering, I decided that it might not be right to do a year end list since I was focusing so heavily on this new and exciting music. But alas, I was asked to do my list again and I thought, why the hell not. Overall I found that this year’s list came together with an expected amount of difficulty. I had very little problem deciding upon my top ten favorites, but found that there were so many more extraordinary releases that I couldn’t bear to ignore, so I settled upon doing a top 20 with some honorable mentions.
1. Dødheimsgard – A Umbra Omega
It’s hard to put into words the way this masterpiece incessantly confounds, inspires, and floors me, but I am working on a full review of it. Just let it be known that I had no hesitation or question that this was my absolute favorite metal album of the year. I wait with bated breath to hear what the future has in store for this band.
2. Obsequiae – Aria of Vernal Tombs
I don’t know if I’ve ever heard music that was so beautiful, stirring, and evocative. This album is masterfully crafted and brilliant. Way to set an example and set the bar high for what music can be when it is greatly inspired, perfected, and honed with absolute inspiration. If you aren’t blown away by this masterpiece, then you’re probably planning on voting for Donald Trump.
3. Amestigon – Thier
Slow and pensive, dirgey, and cosmically sinister, the massive breadth that this album conveys is staggering. This is a tremendous blend of all relevant genres, but I just can’t stress enough how massive and spacial it is. Thier is this year’s most underappreciated European metal album, in my humble opinion.
4. Nechochwen – The Heart of Akamon
2015’s biggest lesson is that European melodic metal influenced many of us in the States, and now, especially now, that influence is beginning to come to a real formidable fruition. So much so that I feel in the next few years it is the US’s style that will be an influence on the rest of the world. Nechochwen are showing here a firm grip on this style with both feet planted firmly as they tell compelling tales of bloody Native American history.
5. Old Graves – This Ruin Beneath Snowfall
It was a sure bet that this band would put out something amazing this year, based on prior efforts. This EP struck me as a gold standard of what a shit ton of US bands are trying to do right now.
6. Panopticon – Autumn Eternal
I don’t know why people aren’t saying it yet, but this is a dark metal album! A great one at that! It’s so great to hear Panopticon so capably wield a myriad of influences while maintaining one of the most unique sounds in metal. Masterful, genuine, and timeless. I have yet to hear Panopticon falter; I’m putting this at #6 just to give some other artists some room in my top spots haha.
7. Lluvia – Eternidad Solemne
A little atypical for me / a little more down the straight and narrow, maybe almost “orthodox” in style? I discovered this recently and I have been utterly consumed by it. Lluvia harnesses the sheer hypnoticism of Darkspace and wields it into a gripping and unflinching whirlwind of sinister and bleak black metal. I absolutely love this album.
8. Alda – Passage
Their third full-length shows a ton of growth and maturity beyond compare. This melancholic album, like few others, offers a poignant and effective vision of our stark and finite existence on earth. It’s teeming with beautiful melodic American black metal and amazing lyrics.
9. Horn – Feldpost
Feldpost is an engaging concept album. Each song is based on a letter written from a trooper in an armed service in a different world war. This is the first professionally recorded Horn, and both the material, the music, and the overall sound have taken a huge leap up in quality. Despite my undying love for Horn’s Naturkraft album, this is almost an entirely different band.
10. Nettlecarrier – Black Coffin Rites
The rarer it gets these days, the sweeter it is when a Norwegian band releases a new distinctly Norwegian-sounding black metal record. This is some naaaaaasty full-speed black metal with some incredibly original riffing. I never really got into Gorgoroth that much, but this reminds me of what they were going for, only better, somewhat similar to early Dødheimsgard as well.
11. Grift – Syner
This might be the only “post-black metal” album on my list. Its an amazing example of where the genre can be taken and is headed.
12. Zgard – Totem
Holy hell this is a rager! With the conviction and might of fellow countrymen Nokturnal Mortum, Zgard deliver the goods here. In the genre of Pagan black metal, this is exactly how well it can be done.
13. Shape of Despair – Monotony Fields
GUUUHHH, I don’t think there has ever been a point in my life where I have experienced such unfettered anguish and despair as I do whenever I listen to this album. Just when I thought the best doom metal albums ever were a thing of the past, THIS comes along and just makes EVERYTHING weep in agony. FUUUUCK!
14. Murg – Varg & Björn
I could have sworn this band was from Norway (they are Swedish). It sounds like ultra pissed-off Norwegian black metal. When they decide to be melodic they command the helm, but throughout the album this is a cold and blistering blast of straight-forward black metal.
15. Sviatibor – Dans la splendeur des dieux
Further proof that the one man / bedroom / drum machine black metal genre cannot be given up on. I’m thinking a comparison to a cross between Mare Cogitum and Xasthur might be accurate? The melodic harmonies are absolutely brilliant, and lend so effectively to the powerful atmosphere.
16 . Visigoth – The Revenant King
The only reason this album isn’t WAY higher in my list is because it’s just not my kind of thing really, but let me assure you, it’s a MONSTER of a debut album. The Revenant King is a masterful blend of heavy metal and all of its cohorts. Each song offers catchy riffing and some of the best metal vocals I have EVER heard thanks to the insanely talented Jake Rogers.
17. Infera Bruo – In Conjuration
I loved their debut, but this album is just a monster of an album. Technical, brutal, sublimely intricate, and slick as shit. I’d love to see these guys live.
18. Ethereal Shroud – They Became the Falling Ash
Definitely a band to watch. This works for me like Darkspace does, only with the plodding and dreary foggy atmosphere of Nortt.
19. Magic Circle – Journey Blind
This band is so great. I loved their debut and I’m really glad to see them getting some recognition. This is a killer album that will be in regular rotation for many years to come.
20. Dispirit – Separation
How in the hell is this band so underappreciated? If Dispirit would do a proper full-length on something other than a limited cassette, they would get the attention that they deserve. This band is amazing, and this new demo is no departure from their hypnotic and ensnaring mood.
Akhlys – The Dreaming I
Arcturus – Arcturian
Blodsband – Rungalder
Blood Storm – The Stellar Exorcism (Yeah, this band is usually no good, but this was WAY fun. )
Brulvahnatu – Frozen Obscene Deliverance ( Entirely too stark and deranged for one sitting. )
Captain Cleanoff – Rising Terror
Circle of Ouroboros – Alttarimyllyt ( A more mainstream album proving the capability of CoO. )
Cross Vault – The All-Consuming ( I juuuust got this and so far its incredible.)
Cruciamentum – Charnel Passages
Dolven – Navigating the Labyrinth (Unique! )
Drudkh – A Furrow Cut Short
False – Untitled
Forefather – Curse of the Cwelled
Galar – De Gjenlevende
Grift / Saiva – Split
Hellgoat – Infernal Zeal
House of Atreus – The Spear and the Ichor that Follows
Khors – Night Falls Onto the Front of Ours
Leviathan – Scar Sighted
Melechesh – Enki
Mgla – Exercises in Futility
Misþyrming – Söngvar elds og óreiðu
Necropole – Ostara
Panphage – Storm
Perdition Temple – The Tempter’s Victorious
Petrychor – Apocalyptic Witchcraft
Revenge – Behold.Total.Rejection
Satan – Atom by Atom
Skepticism – Ordeal
Thulcandra – Ascension Lost
Vanum – Realm of Sacrifice