Dec 142015

NCS Best of 2015 graphic


(Here’s the first of Andy Synn’s annual five-part, year-end round-up of metal.)

Well, well, well… it’s already that time again, is it? Time to look back on the year in Metal and take stock of all the Great, Good, and Disappointing albums that the past twelve months have produced.

As you may have gathered, I’ve once again elected to split the year into the usual three categories:

The “Great” – the albums which I honestly consider the top tier of this year’s crop.

The “Good” – albums which vary from “solid” to “really good”, but perhaps don’t quite reach the bar of true greatness (though most of them still kick a major amount of ass).

The “Disappointing” – albums which I honestly think could/should have been better (though that doesn’t necessarily make them “Bad” albums).

Now I’ll go a little bit more into the rationale of each one in detail at the appropriate time, but let me just specify that these lists should NOT – I repeat, NOT – be considered comprehensive. There’s just so many albums that have been released this year that there’s almost no way for one person to get to them all.


Monolithe-Epsilon Aurigae

Anyway, my first list of the season (last week’s list of EPs doesn’t count) deals with what I consider to be the “Great” albums of 2015… and oh boy, were there a lot of them.

Though these aren’t necessarily my “favourite” albums of the year (ok, granted, a lot of them are up there for me), I think I can make a pretty good case for each and every one of my selections here as being one of the absolute best releases of the past twelve months.

Again, there’s definitely going to be some notable omissions. Off the top of my head I can immediately think of a number of albums – Monolithe, Horrendous, False, Lychgate, Tribulation, Hate Eternal, Thy Catafalque, and Napalm Death – which I either haven’t heard, or haven’t listened to enough to be able to give a proper opinion on them.

Still, please bear in mind that, although I’ve tried to be as “critically objective” as possible (as much as that is possible, I mean), these lists just represent one man’s opinion. They’re not the be-all-and-end-all, and you certainly don’t have to agree with them or take my word as gospel.

But I do hope you understand and appreciate that I don’t take the platform afforded to me here at NCS lightly, and I really do put a lot of thought and effort into these lists. Let’s face it, we’re all here to celebrate the past twelve months in the world of Metal aren’t we? And hopefully there’ll be a few gems here and there some of you will pick up on and fall in love with along the way!

Anyway… on to the main event!


Mgla-Exercises In Futility

As always this was a bumper year for Black Metal – though this time around I’d definitely say you had to delve a little deeper and look beyond the “big” names for the absolute best stuff.

Three of the year’s absolute finest releases came from Mgla, Outre, and Misþyrming, who each produced an album that simultaneously pushed the genre to new heights without betraying its cold and malevolent roots, while more overtly experimental works by Abyssal and Imperial Triumphant saw these bands expanding beyond what many would consider the true tenets of Black Metal, blurring the lines between genres as they twisted their sound into new shapes and forms.


Der Weg Einer Freiheit-Stellar

Surprisingly some of the best Black Metal of 2015 was produced by bands who largely ignored the traditional “spikes and Satan” aesthetic of the genre (though not, it should be added, its spirit), with Der Weg Einer Freiheit, Terzij de Horde, and Regarde Les Hommes Tomber each producing career-defining albums this year.

To these names you could also add the torrential ferocity of France’s Deluge and Belgium’s Wiegedood, and the UK’s own The Infernal Sea, who each put out a simply stunning debut album this year, alongside the utterly grief-stricken majesty of Settler by Vattnett Viskar and the bleak, seething venom of The Accuser by perennial NCS favourites Abigail Williams.


Leviathan-Scar Sighted

Talking of venom, Devouring Star released one of of the year’s most ferocious and harrowing (though largely underappreciated) pieces of Black/Death artistry with Through Lung and Heart, though even that didn’t quite reach the level of sheer grim intensity that Leviathan produced with Scar Sighted (quite possibly Wrest’s magnum opus).

This wasn’t the only truly killer album put out by a Black Metal solo artist this year though, as The Dreaming I by Akhlys and Watershed Between Earth and Firmament by The Clearing Path both absolutely (and understandably) blew me away as well.


Mephorash-1557 - Rites of Nullification

On the more ritualistic side of things, albums from Amestigon and Mephorash breathed new life into the more occult-leaning side of the genre (with the latter in particular acting as an effective rebirth for the band), while the proggier side of things saw Code, Secrets of the Moon, Amiensus, and Martriden all make significant (if different) creative strides in expanding their sound– with Code in fact going so far as to largely shed almost all their remaining ties to Black Metal in the process.

Some of the big names still managed to more than hold their own against this onslaught of new challengers however, with Melechesh and Kampfar both solidifying their status as living legends, while Prog-Vikings Enslaved and twitchy psychonauts Dødheimsgard each put out another in a long line of utterly stellar, intriguing albums with In Times and A Umbra Omega.


Swallow the Sun-Songs From the North

Switching gears somewhat, the more melodic and doomy side of Metal had a damn good year as well (at least from my perspective), with the stupefyingly gigantenormous Songs From The North by Swallow The Sun in particular seeming to capturing everyone’s attention – not just for its ungodly size/length, but for its overall brilliance as well!

2015 also saw My Dying Bride and Paradise Lost deliver their best albums in years (not to downplay their predecessors of course), whilst both Draconian and Ahab made compelling cases for being considered amongst the top tier of the current crop of brooding gloom-addicts.


Bell WItch-Four Phantoms

The more outright Doom end of the spectrum, however, was dominated, in my opinion at least, by two particular releases this year — the grim and blackened glory of Wolf Will Swallow The Sun by Endlesshade, and the desolate grandeur of Four Phantoms by Bell Witch, with this unholy pairing serving to showcase the genre at its most crushing, and creative, best.

By contrast, both Under The Red Cloud by Amorphis and On Lonely Towers by Barren Earth represented the more melodic side of the Metal spectrum (at least, by NCS standards) at its very best in 2015, as did Shadow World, the second album by Tuomas Saukkonen’s Wolfheart (did you really expect anything less?).


Kauan-Sorni Nai

The still slightly nebulous field of “Post Metal”, however, didn’t seem to shine as brightly this year, although three albums in particular — Sorni Nai by Kauan, The Rifts by A Swarm of the Sun, and Dark by Protolith — each clearly stood out head and shoulders above the rest for their undeniable emotive weight and unimpeachable sense of keenly edged dynamics, and provided some of the most intimate and intense audio experiences of the year for this particular listener.


Alkaloid-The Malkuth Grimoire

What became more and more clear as I put this list together, however, was just how much of a great year it was for Death Metal, particularly the more Progressive and Technical side (though I’ll admit I didn’t get into much in the way of Old School Death Metal this year).

Though the absolute pinnacle of 2015’s Progressive Death onslaught came in the form of Alkaloid’s untouchable The Malkuth Grimoire, the devastating technical brutality unleashed by Abhorrent and Sarpanitum also deserve to receive some of the year’s highest accolades as well.

Cattle Decapitation somehow managed to follow up a career-defining album (Monolith of Inhumanity) with a sequel of at least equal (and possibly even higher) quality, whilst both Rivers of Nihil and Sulphur Aeon produced sophomore albums proving that each band is, in their own way, the future of Death Metal.

Even everyone’s favourite French fret-botherers Gorod got in on the action by bouncing back from what I felt was a slight creative slump on their previous album with the infinitely more intriguing and compelling A Maze of Recycled Creeds.


Antlion-The Prescient

This was also a particularly good year for debut albums, with the techtastic A Tunnel To Eden by Alustrium, the progstravaganza of The Prescient by Antlion, and the gargantuan grooves of Sanzu’s Heavy Over The Home bringing a welcome dose of new blood and new life to the scene.

In addition the UK kicked up an impressive racket this year as well, with its own mix of new and not-so-new blood, from the mind-mangling fretwork of Scotland’s Zillah, to the twisted, topsy-turvy lunacy of Agonyst, the indulgent progressive extremity of De Profundis, and the hi-def savagery of Abhorrent Decimation.


Desolate Shrine-The Heart of The Netherworld

Though this year felt, to my ears at least, like a very Tech/Prog/New School leaning year in Death Metal terms, two albums in particular stood out to me as prime examples of the more Old School, down and dirty style of Death Metal – The Heart of The Netherworld by Desolate Shrine, and Denouncing The Holy Throne by Heaving Earth.

The former is one of the most punishing and unforgiving displays of pure Finnish ferocity I’ve ever heard, matching ungodly grimness and darkness with touches of desolate (no pun intended) serenity, while the churning vortex of the latter manages to sidestep any accusations of simple Immolation/Morbid Angel worship by virtue of some virulently infectious, devastatingly seditious songwriting and utterly killer riffery.


Turbid North-Eyes Alive

Special mention must go to Eyes Alive by Turbid North, a very late entry to this list, but one which fully deserves to be here alongside the other names I’ve mentioned, both new and old. It’s a stunning, complex album, that manages to make both an instant impact and a lasting impression even on first listen.

Imagine, if you will, what might have happened if Mastodon, back in their earlier, heavier days, had recruited members of Crowbar, Decapitated, and Gojira to join them in forming a Death Metal band… if that idea appeals to you, then you need to get hold of a copy of Eyes Alive straight away. You won’t be disappointed.


Krallice-Ygg huur

I’ll close out this column now with a few bands who don’t quite fit into any of the genre groupings outlined above.

With its blast-furnace brand of dissonant, Hardcore fury, Swedish firebrands Riwen definitely produced one of the most searingly aggressive releases of the entire year with their debut album The Cold, though in terms of pure dissonance and sonic grit even they were outdone by the angular, toothgrinding assault unleashed by Krallice on the experimental, wilfully difficult (yet spellbinding) Ygg Huur.

And whilst Prog-Metal maestros Intronaut kicked things up a notch in terms of intensity and focus with The Direction of Last Things, creating one of their best albums yet in the process, we’ll leave the last word to Matt Pike and his erstwhile band of riffmongers in High On Fire, who proved that believing that lizard people secretly run the world is still no bar to creating a fantastic album.



For those of you who are curious (and still awake after all that) here’s the complete list of albums that I rated as “Great” in 2015:

Abhorrent – Intransigence

Abhorrent Decimation – Miasmic Mutation

Abigail Williams – The Accuser

Abyssal – Antikatastaseis

Ahab – The Boats of The Glen Carrig

Agonyst – The Bad Old Days

Akhlys – The Dreaming I

Alkaloid – The Malkuth Grimoire

Alustrium – A Tunnel to Eden

Amestigon – Thier

Amiensus – Ascension

Amorphis – Under The Red Cloud

Antlion – The Prescient

A Swarm of the Sun The Rifts

Barren Earth – On Lonely Towers

Bell Witch – Four Phantoms

Cattle Decapitation – The Anthropoce Extinction

The Clearing Path – Watershed Between Earth and Firmament

Code – mut

Deluge – Aether

De Profundis – Kingdom of the Blind

Der Weg Einer Freiheit – Stellar

Desolate Shrine – The Heart of the Netherworld

Devouring Star – Through Lung and Heart

Dodheimsgard – A Umbra Omega

Draconian – Sovran

Endlesshade – Wolf Will Swallow The Sun

Enslaved – In Times

Gorod – A Maze of Recycled Creeds

Heaving Earth – Denouncing The Holy Throne

High on Fire – Luminiferous

Imperial Triumphant Abyssal Gods

The Infernal Sea – The Great Mortality

Intronaut – The Direction of Last Things

Kampfar – Profan

Kauan – Sorni Nai

Krallice Ygg Huur

Leviathan – Scar Sighted

Martriden – Cold and The Silence

Melechesh – Enki

Mephorash – 1557-Rites of Nullification

Mgla – Exercises in Futility

Misþyrming – Söngvar elds og óreiðu

My Dying Bride – Feel the Misery

Outre – Ghost Chants

Paradise Lost – The Plague Within

Protolith – Dark

Regarde Les Hommes Tomber – Exile

Rivers of Nihil – Monarchy

Riwen – The Cold

Sanzu – Heavy Over The Home

Sarpanitum – Blessed Be My Brothers…

Secrets of the Moon – Sun

Sulphur Aeon – Gateway to the Antisphere

Swallow the Sun – Songs From The North

Terzij de Horde – Self

Turbid North – Eyes Alive

Vattnet Viskar – Settler

Wiegedood – De Doden Hebben Het Goed

Wolfheart – Shadow World

Zillah – Serpentine Halo


Tomorrow you’ll get to see my list of the “Good” albums of 2015, some of which only just missed out on the “Great” list by the smallest of margins, so if you don’t see a certain artist or album here try not to throw all your toys out of the pram just yet…

Save that for the “Disappointing” list!

Anyway, sound off in the comments below if there’s any albums on the list you particularly agree or disagree with, or any albums you’ve not heard but would maybe like to know a bit more about!

  29 Responses to “2015 A YEAR IN REVIEW(S): THE GREAT ALBUMS”

  1. Great read!
    Great list!

  2. Couldnt agree more. I almost forgot that Cattle Decap’s Anthropocene era was released this year! for me that album was fucking huge. Thanks for sharing your list!

  3. Wow… Wonderful read. Im leaving here with a few “I need to check that out” moments and a good number of “hell yeah!” moments.

  4. Good list of greats. Glad to see the shout out for Turbid North, who I feel would be ubiquitous in the year’s top ten lists if not for such a late release. Same with Sanzu, though they’re getting plenty of love through the Painless EP if nothing else.

  5. Great list but why no “thrash” albums?

    Two albums really stood out in my mind in that genre this year”

    Inculter – Persisting Devolution (possibly my favorite album of the year)
    Division Speed – S/T

    • Diabolic Night’s Infernal Power (Single) was also fantastic speed metal of the highest order.

    • Wow, Inculter sounds amazing!!! I should have given them a listen earlier, I saw their Metal Archives page in June/July when I was browsing similar artists to Nekromantheon, which is basically what I do every time I find a band I like: I browse through all the similar artists but don’t actually give a listen to most, why? I don’t know, but I know that this was a great find and I would have probably never listened to them if you didn’t recommend it. Now they’re definitely going to be at a high spot on my list! I’ll make sure to check out the other bands you recommended too.
      I don’t listen to a lot of modern thrash, only Vektor (whom I saw live last night and absolutely blew me away!) and Nekromantheon. I’ve heard Black Fast are good too but I didn’t find them great on first listen, so I’m happy that now there’s some thrash for my 2015 list now \m/

      • Awesome! Glad you checked them out and liked it.

        Fun fact: I was reading the comments on an Inculter video on YouTube when one of the band members commented that people should check out the band “Nekromantheon” because they are amazing so I did and now I’m a huge fan. This was back in May or so. Glad you already know them. They are fucking FANTASTIC! My favorite style of thrash, fast as hell with great guitar work and lyrics/vocals.

        I’m seeing Vektor in February! Stoked! Cheers!

        • Oh yes! So many thrash bands sound boring these days, even though are sound fast, but their music seems too unoriginal and repetitive to be entertaining. But I love finding thrash metal like what you recommended, so intense and raw, it just kicks ass 😉

    • Unfortunately, for whatever reason, very little Thrash crossed my path this year, that’s all.

      Thanks for the recommendations though, they’ll definitely help me rectify that!

  6. Huge props for Zillah. Serpentine Halo is a monster album and a clear outlier among the other technical death metal offerings this year. The standard techdeath this year was all solid and good, but I’m glad we have Zillah and Antlion willing to push some boundaries.

    • Yeah, both those albums are pretty special. Neither one of them is exactly a personal favourite of mine… but in terms of sheer quality they’re right up there with the best of them.

  7. Good pick on that Protolith in particular…fantastic album.

    I have to say though, I thought Cattle Decap was a little stale this year. It didn’t impress me the way Monolith did.

    I’ve heard so many of these band names, and know all of the album covers, but I need to listen through so many of them still! An excellent list, thanks for putting this together.

    Where’s the Nechochwen love though? 😛

    • yeah! ‘Chwen 4 Ever!

    • Absolutely! They were my no. 1 of the year until I heard ‘Unrevealed’ by ‘Sunless Rise’ 2 weeks ago. I found that album surprising as it’s melodic death metal, a genre I’m not even a fan of, except for maybe two bands, and I found their album just glorious! I should listen to it more times to make sure it stands the test of time though 🙂

    • Didn’t get round to Nechowen unfortunately. Too many albums, too little time!

      Protolith were brought to my attention by the great headless overlord himself, and I absolutely love that album.

  8. I almost regret submitting by top 10 before reading this…

  9. Theres a lot on here I would definitely consider for a good list, but only a few I would agree are great.

    …among them….Devouring Star was absolutely brutal, and Desolate Shrine was a crushing slab of death/doom. Mgla for all the hype it got this year put out a more than worthy follow up to “With Hearts Toward None”

    …theres also a few here Im unfamiliar with, so Im going to have to go back and check out

    • Glad we finally found a bit of common ground. And here’s hoping you find some other stuff to love as well.

      • I think you and I have more in common musically than it probably first appears (especially on the black metal side of things)…I think this year, its more a matter of where we’d rank certain albums

  10. Solid list – hit a lot of the good ones, though I will say that all the ones you mention as having not spent enough time with (save for Monilithe, which I’ve also not spent enough time with to really lay down a strong verdict) are absolutely essential. Horrendous and Tribulation in particular are both at least in my top 5, though my list can’t be considered final until I hear the new Baroness.

    Also, A Perfect Absolution was a fantastic record, and I won’t let anyone tell me otherwise.

  11. Also:

    “Gorguts put out the best METAL album this year – don’t deny it. Stop trying to be different – you’re only appealing to hipsters. Have fun with that. I thought i’d found a credible metal music site to frequent. Apparently not – laters!”

  12. Glad to see De Profundis get a shout out; they seem to be overlooked. I would think any fans of Opeth’s metal side would enjoy them.

  13. Great picks, Andy! 🙂

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