(With this post Andy Synn concludes his annual retrospective on the year in metal with a list of personal favorites. Earlier in the week we presented his lists of the Great, the Good, and the Disappointing albums of the year, as well as The Critical Top 10.)
As opposed to yesterday’s list of my “Critical” selections, today I’m taking off my critic hat, and throwing all notions of impartiality to the wind, and gifting you with a straight-up selection of my ten favourite albums of the year.
These aren’t necessarily the best albums of the year, of course, just the ones that I happen to have listened to and loved the most!
The bands on this list hail from a variety of locations – the UK, the USA, France, Sweden, Germany, Australia – and cover a variety of different metallic sub-genres, but what’s most interesting (well, I think so anyway) is just how many of these bands are new, or relatively new, this year round.
Several of the groups on this list either only released their first album in 2015, or were only properly discovered by the site this year… and that number gets even larger if you take into account the “honourable mentions” as well!
So, without further ado, get ready to find out exactly what albums have been rocking my proverbial socks off this year…
As always though there’s a few “honourable mentions” to get through before we reach the main event, and I really do love all these albums very much — just not quite as much as I love the ones which make up my final Top 10 of the year (though, in one or two cases, the decision of what album/s to leave in or take out went back and forth a number of times in the last week!).
Advent Sorrow – As All Light Leaves Her
I can honestly say that I “liked” Advent Sorrow prior to this. But their debut album As All Light Leaves Her has really made me “love” the band. In truth, it’s almost a total rebirth for the Aussie sextet, remaking them as a much more raw, much more savage incarnation than they were on their first EP… and that’s a good thing in so many ways.
Endlesshade – Wolf Will Swallow The Sun
As much as I think Bell Witch delivered the “best” Doom album of the year, this one was most definitely my favourite (closely followed by the entry below). It’s just so unbearably, unflinchingly bleak and dark and ominous, and the vocals of Natalia Androsova are amongst the most gut-wrenching I’ve heard all year.
Red Moon Architect – Fall
Much more on the melodic end of the Doom spectrum, I stumbled across these Finnish gloomsters for the first time back in march when NCS premiered the video for “Betrayed”, the first single from the band’s second album Fall, but I only properly (re)discovered the band for real in the past 3/4 months, and just can’t get enough of their intricate blend of sorrowful melancholy and back-breaking heaviness.
Wiegedood – De Doden Hebben Het Goed
I’m still very much in love with this album, which sees the Belgian three-piece delivering an unfettered slab of pitch-black savagery and pure, cathartic anguish, mixing their scorched and blackened sound with an undercurrent of sludge-soaked grime, and a keen melodic edge, to absolutely riveting effect.
Mesarthim – Isolate
Another band from the land Down Under (seriously, they must have put something extra in the water this year), this is probably the weirdest selection on the list — six tracks of sweeping, cosmic Black Metal atmospherics and gleaming, red-shifted keyboards, each one designed to carry you beyond the threshold of time and space.
With that out of the way (and please do check out each of the albums I mentioned above, they’re all so good), it’s time to see what’s made my heart beat fastest over these last twelve months, and maybe give you all a bit of an insight into my general listening habits in the process.
So here we have it, my personal favourite albums of 2015…
- Black Tongue – The Unconquerable Dark
We’ll start the list with something really fucking heavy. Yes, that’s right, I’ve picked what’s ostensibly a Deathcore album (though the band themselves prefer “Doomcore”, and I have no problem agreeing with that) as one of my top 10 albums of the year.
Why? Because it’s just so damn infectiously groovesome and bilious, positively bubbling over with hatred and disgust, and absolutely jam-packed with bunker-busting riffs and jaw-breaking, rib-cracking drum work! That’s why!
The malevolent energy pumping through this album’s tortured veins is practically irresistible and utterly insatiable, and the level of sheer aggression is almost malignant… plus the songs legitimately kick-ass, rolling over you without mercy or remorse like a bulldozer made of anvils and rabid dogs.
Occasional touches of malicious melody add an extra weapon to the band’s bulging, overflowing arsenal of devastation, but ultimately this is just one of those albums designed to hit you hard, again and again, until you’re nothing but a broken shell of a man.
And then make you push play again.
- Riwen – The Cold
Keeping with the theme of “unflinchingly pissed-off”, we have Swedish Hardcore newcomers Riwen, the brainchild of Cult of Luna guitarist Johannes Persson and his hand-picked crew of punk-metal killers.
As much as I loved the band’s debut EP (released at the tail-end of 2014) The Cold just turns everything about their sound up to maximum and lets it run rampant for 33 shitkicking, kerbstomping minutes – the riffs are louder, heavier, and more vicious, the drums more frantic and frenzied, the bass-lines thicker and harsher, and the vocals… oh, the vocals… spitting venom and rage with reckless abandon, they ask no quarter and offer none in return.
This is definitely an album that doesn’t pull its punches, every track a tooth-rattling uppercut of primal fury and focussed nihilism. In fact I think the band put it best themselves:
“It’s time to make it simple, raw, and fast. This is Hardcore.”
- The Infernal Sea – The Great Mortality
Though this isn’t the band’s first album, it’s most likely going to be the first album a lot of listeners encounter – partially because of the increased attention and exposure it’s been getting compared to their previous releases, and partially because it is, by leaps and bounds, the best thing the band have ever done.
The drum-work is absolutely fucking explosive, strafing and blasting and blazing in a berserker fury as the riffs grind and writhe with grim intensity beneath a screeching litany of hate-filled blasphemy… in case you hadn’t gathered, it’s definitely not a “nice” album.
But it IS an album packed full of killer Black Metal songwriting and bristling with jagged metallic hooks, as well as some insidious flashes of cold-hearted melody, all without compromising the seething rage that roils and boils at its heart.
I’ve been waiting for this one for a long time, and it most definitely did not disappoint.
- Martriden – Cold and The Silence
A late addition to the list, this one hit me like a bolt out of the blue (and purple) and, as you may have noticed, it sees the band going full-Prog-ahead with their sound, diving into the same waters that Enslaved once sailed back in the Below The Lights era.
And I love it.
Oh sure, the clean vocals threw me for a loop when they first came in, as did the enhanced prominence of the keyboards this time around. But, underneath all those superficial (though hardly insignificant) changes, this is still the same Martriden I fell for back when they released their self-titled EP.
The line-up may have shifted a little since then, and the band’s sound may have expanded almost exponentially since their debut, but these seven tracks still showcase the same knack for incisive, scalpel-sharp riffage and eerie, blackened atmospherics that made the group one of my favourites in the first place.
Only now it comes with an added dose of arcane, progressive majesty and melody… for no extra charge!
- Abigail Williams – The Accuser
Just because you’re one of my favourite bands doesn’t mean you’re automatically going to get a place on this list. You have to work for it. And oh boy, did Abigail Williams work for it this year.
Nastier, gnarlier, and grimmer than ever before, but still brimming with vitality and character, The Accuser is the sound of a band sticking to their guns in the face of whatever life throws at them… and then throwing it right back, with gusto!
Eveything’s just so goddamn… savage and unbearably bleak on this album. Even when it goes for a touch more melody (such as on “The Cold Lines”, “Will, Wish, and Desire”, or brooding and atypical closer “Nuumite”), it still sounds as if it’s trapped in the grip of some sort of crippling, existential torment.
It helps as well that it’s packed full of sawing, rusted hooks – particularly in the riff department – with opener “Path of Broken Glass” and doom-laden monstrosity “Forever Kingdom of Dirt” in particular scratching their way under your skin until you can’t get them out.
I suppose what I’m saying is… Black Metal is their business. And business is good!
- Secrets of the Moon – Sun
Surprisingly the most accessible and melodic album on this list, Sun is (or could be) a real game-changer for the German quartet, as it’s a real step in a new direction for the band in a lot of ways.
Granted there’s still a number of elements linking it to the group’s traditional blackened, gloom-laden sound of yesteryear, but there’s also so many fresh new touches integrated (seamlessly, I might add) into the band’s uniquely malevolent witches’ brew as to give the whole poisonous concoction an entirely new flavour.
It’s also a shamelessly, potently addictive listen, revealing a band unafraid to just cut loose and let their brash, bold, black-as-pitch riffs and darker-than-dark melodies do the talking for them.
The direction they’ve taken on Sun is certainly a risky one (albeit one I had an inkling they might go for… a small inkling anyway), but the old adage remains true: “nothing ventured, nothing gained”.
And whatever they might have lost in terms of “kvlt” credibility, they’ve gained far more simply by following their own path once again.
- Protolith – Dark
I have to give full credit to Islander for this one, as it was his review which brought this band to my attention, at which point I immediately went and bought their first album Light (digitally), their EP Sunsetter (on CD), AND a physical copy of Dark (with awesome accompanying t-shirt).
You might say it was love at first sight. Or, listen.
Though the whole “Post-Metal” tag has been bandied around a fair bit with reference to the band – and, to be truthful, latter-day Isis are definitely a key reference point – there’s also several moments that remind me of the bleakly melodic Death/Doom sound of Swallow The Sun, with solemn ripples of acoustic guitar and splashes of fragile clean-sung harmony (particularly on grandiose closer “Swansong”) adding even greater depth to the swelling, oceanic riffage and gloriously melancholy atmosphere which permeates every track.
It’s also worth mentioning how organic the drum work sounds… you can practically feel Brian Nadeau playing his heart out on this album, switching from a stubborn, tidal pounding, to a catastrophic, blast-laden assault, to a stripped back and evocative display of subtle timing and nuance as the ebb and flow of the songs dictate.
Atmospheric and belligerent, in the best possible way.
- Sanzu – Heavy Over The Home
Do I really have to go into why this album is in my top 3 releases of the year? Didn’t my review make it clear that these guys (and gal) possess a mastery of groaning, tidal grooves and stunning Death Metal force well beyond their years?
Do I have to explain how jaw-droppingly heavy this album — this hi-tech, high-powered mass-driver of a record – can be?
Do I have to explain how the oblique poetry of Zac Andrews’ gravel-throated vocals hit you right in the chest every time? Or how the relentless rolling riffs are as hooky as they are hammering, each one a gut-punch of pure metallic pleasure? Or how Ben Stanley’s drum work is truly a thing of technical, perfectly-proportioned power and beauty?
Do I have to keep asking these ridiculous questions? Do I?
No, seriously, I’m asking… because you should know how much I love this album by now!
- Deluge – Aether
Just edging out the Aussie groove-monsters for the second place slot are French Black Metal misanthropes Deluge, whose debut album Aether is undeniably a truly ferocious affair, though this ferocity is tempered in places by moments of solemn, contemplative calm and serenity.
This dynamic, between raging passion and echo-drenched ambience, is what makes the album a fascinating, and thrilling, listen from start to finish, as do the sheer array of blazing riffs, gleaming tremolo melodies, and torrential drumming which drive every single track.
It’s far from a one-dimensional affair, too, as the cathartic vocals of Maxime Febvet lend the album an unexpectedly serrated edge of bruised and bloodied Hardcore venom, every syllable spit forth with pure antagonistic force, while each and every song weaves in subtle moments of intricate bass/guitar interplay and reverent, chiming harmony as counterpoint to the blinding force unleashed at a moment’s notice.
This is definitely an album that gives you the storm, the calm, and everything in between, unfolding deeper layers with every listen.
- Rivers of Nihil – Monarchy
SO… MANY… AWESOME… RIFFS…
That’s why this album is my favourite of the year.
Now I’m not contending that it’s the best Death Metal album of the year (after all, there’s many different “flavours” of Death Metal, and they’re not all to everyone’s taste)… but it’s definitely up there.
Now I’ve been a HUGE fan of these guys since their debut, and so I was relatively certain that this would be good… but even I didn’t expect to fall as hard for it as I did. The ever-distinctive, turbulent snarl of Jake Dieffenbach certainly helps matters of course, as I absolutely love his delivery and intonation on this album, punching through the Tech/Prog maelstrom with absolute power and authority. And the drum work is just stunning, too, creatively extreme and extremely creative at the same time.
But the ladles of proggy melody, sinuous, twisting song-structures, and fluid, agile bass-work (finally given the prominence it deserves), all contribute just as much to the overall package here, with every song (and yes, these are real, proper, well-defined songs that stand on their own merits) densely packed with memorable hooks, scintillating riffs, and an overall sense of atmosphere and unstoppable momentum.
Out of all the albums I’ve been lucky enough to hear this year, this one is probably the one I’ve listened to the most, and the one I’m going to keep listening to the most for a long time to come!
So there we have it. Not a list of the biggest albums of the year. Or even the best albums of the year. But the ones which most closely reflect my personal tastes and listening habits over the last twelve months. I hope you enjoy what you’ve heard, and I really hope that some of you will be prompted to discover and pick-up some new albums as a result.