(I am actually posting two year-end lists from two long-time Swedish supporters of the site, both of whom are named Johan. Having seen both lists, I can tell you that both are very interesting — and dramatically un-alike. This Johan uses the name “Johan” in his comments, and his list is not metal, but the descriptions are so interesting that even I was seduced into listening… and came away very pleasantly surprised.)
As I’m sure many metalheads do, I too have tastes and urges that I have to roam outside of the realms of metal to satisfy. I have found that with increasing age my attention span (or maybe just the amount of time I can spend listening to music per day) has shrunk, meaning that I often tend to latch on to songs rather than albums, and since metal is my first and foremost love, other genres tend to end up more on the periphery.
That said, the non-metal songs that I do latch on to, I usually hug to death like some demented Swedish octopus. In other words, the songs I am about to recommend below all come with the very highest of praise from me.
This is of course just one man’s list, and I’m fully aware that my tastes tend to lean toward Swedish artists (since that is what I’m frequently exposed to). I hope that you have indulgence with me, and I certainly hope that you might find something here that appeals to you. And as always, please sound off on your own favorite non-metal songs/albums of 2015 in the comments below.
The Prodigy – The Day Is My Enemy
“Triumphant return” might be tooting the horn a bit too hard; the album as a whole can’t really stand up to proper scrutiny. Nonetheless, if you liked The Prodigy’s signature mix of punk-attitude and ’90s dance music before. you’d have very little to complain about on “The Day Is My Enemy”.
Goblin Rebirth – Requiem for X
As you might surmise, Goblin Rebirth is the re-formed, slightly reconstructed version of the classic Italian band behind such iconic horror movie scores as Profondo Rosso and Suspira. On “Requiem for “X they prove that, much like John Carpenter did on the Lost themes, the feel for creating driving, chilling, and most of all interesting instrumental music is intact within the old bones.
The White Buffalo – Come Join the Murder
Anyone who followed FX’s increasingly out-of-control biker series Sons of Anarchy toward the end of its run in late 2014 quickly realized that the end of protagonist Jax Teller was just as inevitable as it was bloody. To bring solace to the darkness we were treated to a truly magnificent ending number performed by The White Buffalo, the singer who not only received his breakthrough thanks to recurring songs during the series, but also personified the conflicting emotions that ran through the entire arc of SoA.
The song is not only a fitting epitaph but also a great showcase of Jake Smith’s beautiful mix of country, blues, and rock, his voice thrumming with emotion and warmth as counterpoint to the dark lyrics penned by SoA creator Kurt Sutter.
Ed Sheeran – Make It Rain
Another song from the final season of Sons of Anarchy, this time a cover of an original by Foy Vance but refined by Sheeran. This song made me aware of Ed Sheeran’s talent both as a guitarist and a singer. I remember thinking, “That guy is gonna be big”, and did a google search only to realize that Mr. Sheeran already had sold out both Madison Square Garden and Wembley Arena three times each! Guess I don’t listen to radio very often…
Millencolin – Sense & Sensibility
Switching gears, this song takes me back to the ’90s when skatepunk was all the rage and bands like Millencolin, No Fun At All, and NOFX ruled my high school. I’m not sure how well known Millencolin is outside of Sweden, but if you have any love for skatepunk I highly recommend them, even if their current style is slightly more rock-infused than it used to be.
Trivia: Millencolin started Soundlab Studios together with Mieszko Talarczyk (Nasum) and are still running it.
Siri Karlsson – Långt där ute
Despite the name, this is a duo consisting of Maria Arnqvist on alt saxophone and Cecilia Österholm on nyckelharpa (keyed fiddle). The third album they created together, The Lost Colony, was one of my greatest discoveries this year — an enigmatic blend of Swedish folk music, psychedelic jazz, and something darker, more ominous, best described in the gloriously moody “Långt där ut” (far away out there).
The track starts with what can only be described as banshees howling and calling in unison, soon accompanied by a frantic drum beat, only to be interrupted by the lonesome melody of the keyed fiddle. The song speaks of ancient Nordic spirit incantations, abruptly pulled into the 21st century and forced to adapt. It’s fantastic.
Lana del Rey – High By the Beach
I fell absolutely in love with Lana del Rey’s sophomore album Ultraviolence, and while Honeymoon isn’t as collectively strong as an album, it has some of the best songs she’s written. Chief among them is the deliciously acid “High By the Beach”, with dismissive lines like, “You could be a bad motherfucker but that don’t make you a man. Now you’re just another one of my problems because you got out of hand”, over throbbing, minimalistic electronics.
Chris Cornell – “Nearly Forgot My Broken Heart”
After the dissolution of Soundgarden I, and I think many with me, were surprised that singer Chris Cornell went all acoustic and mellow on his debut album Euphoria Morning. The result was great, though, so I never complained. Sadly, Cornell never really reached those highs again with his other solo albums, until now.
While Higher Truth isn’t a fantastic album by any means, it does have an organic touch to it that has long been missing. The first single, “Nearly Forgot My Broken Heart”, is a perfect example of this.
Elle King – Ex’s & Oh’s
This is just a fun song that’s been stuck in my head for the better part of the year, thanks to it being featured in an episode of Grey’s Anatomy. It’s the definition of an earworm.
Ison – RedShift
When Draconian emerged this year with a new vocalist accompanying Anders Jacobson’s cavernous growls I was instantly smitten. Heike Langhans’ shimmering, crystal-clear voice was reminiscent of Sharon den Adel, but with added flair. I dug deeper and found a darkwave project she has together with Daniel Änghede (Crippled Black Phoenix) called Ison, which I realized, despite my very rudimentary knowledge of the genre, that I wholeheartedly loved.
Their debut EP Cosmic Drone is a mesmerizing trip from beginning to end, but stand-out tracks are definitely “Icosahedron” and “RedShift”.
Petter & Linnea Olsson – Svarta rävar
Now I realize that Swedish rap with Swedish lyrics might not have that big an appeal to non-native speakers, but give it a chance and you might hear what I hear. Petter is one of Sweden’s very first rappers to break big and he’s been putting out records since 1998. Here he does a wonderful collaboration with Linnea Olsson, who is a very accomplished singer and cello player. She’s been performing both solo and with Peter Gabriel.
Ghost – He Is
Ok, some might argue that Ghost does belong in the metal-section of NCS, I can’t argue with that, but I will argue that “He Is” is one of the best ballads of 2015, regardless of genre. It’s emotional and uplifting, but first and foremost incredibly infectious.
Nordic Giants – Evolve or Perish
Nordic Giants is the kind of band you stumble upon if you dig into record label Kscope’s roster and randomly click on band names you like. Their sound is some sort of post-rock as filtered through a cinematic thought process. There’s the sweeping, big sounds that I associate with Sigur Rós but coupled with a dramatic flair reminiscent of movie scores. Overall, I’d say there’s something intangibly Icelandic about Nordic Giants, although they’re Brits.
Sofia Jannok – Snölejoninna
This is an interesting artist from the north of Sweden. Sofia has taken the traditional joik-singing of the indigenous Sami people and incorporated modern musical elements to create something that is both beautiful and fresh. This particular track indicates an step in an even more modern direction; on Jannok’s latest album Áhpi (wide as oceans) the sound was more rooted in a traditional pop-structure and is also very much recommended.
Anna von Hausswolff – Come Wander With Me/Deliverance
The second, and perhaps very greatest discovery of 2015, was Anna von Hausswolff, and while she feeds on the same dark, melancholic energy as so many other Swedish artists do, her take on it is unique in all ways.
Recorded on Acusticum, the 5th (or 6th) largest pipe organ in the world, and accompanied by more traditional instruments such as electric guitar and drums, von Hausswolff conjures up a sound best described as Kate Bush filtered through SunnO))). While not metal in genre, the music on The Miraculous proudly bears the stained soot marks of drone, doom, and death on it’s sleeves.
The very best non-metal album of 2015. Fighting words? Certainly, but after spending an unhealthy amount of time with Birds With Broken Wings, I’m still freshly in love with the album. Ben Caplan captivated me already with his debut In the Time of the Great Remembering, and it’s a pleasure to hear that his songwriting chops and elegant wordplays have progressed greatly.
Just like The White Buffalo, Caplan’s voice morphs according to need, fluttering from deepest Tom Waits rumblings to delicate whispers of intimacy. Ben Caplan and his band The Casual Smokers weave a compelling tapestry of acoustic pop, jazz, and folk music from around the world (with a certain flair for Balkan-inspired frenzy) with the help of violin, double bass, and a smattering of Moldavian instruments.
Recommended tracks: “Under Control”, “Dusk”, “Deliver Me”