(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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!