Editor’s Note: Grant Skelton began his own NCS year-end list here by writing, “Since I’m likely the most verbose writer on this site….” Haha. Nope. Not even close. That distinction goes to DGR. His year-end list is not the longest we’ve posted in terms of the number of releases he honors. But in terms of words, it’s like The Great Wall of China, going on and on and on until it becomes one with the horizon… but every album gets its own corporate-sponsored award! Who said there was no money in metal?
Listmania has once again taken No Clean Singing into her grubby little paws, devouring anything else that the site may put out into its gaping maw and allowing no information outside of album title upon album title – with pretty picture and album streams included – to escape.
This is the time of year where opinions are validated, egos stroked, outrage fomented, and more often than not the usual album-reviewing duty shirked when the author realizes that he’s a fucking idiot who thought it would be funny to write a novel-length album review and then turn around and create a giant year-ender list where he once again pretty much reviews every album on it.
2015 was an interesting year. I’ve often been a fan of saying that the bands I consider my go-to’s tend to be on the even-year album cycle, which means more often than not my lists in even-numbered years tend to be echoes of each other, and the odd-numbered years allow me to discover a ton of new music, which presents the opportunity for a ton of new names to appear as well.
As I said, I thought 2015 was an interesting year overall, a year that for some reason felt like it moved in fits and starts – with huge blocks of music happening at one point, then a small trickle of EPs, the occasional split, and a week where it seemed like one or two discs would release, then the dam would burst again and we’d have a block of about two weeks where it felt like the torrent of music was never-ending.
Even groups that you would consider ultra-underground felt like they were running on this schedule – with bands whose names often looked like the members had a stroke halfway through writing them all hitting at once. The back half of the year leveled off a bit and became more consistent, but I think you’ll even notice throughout my own list that it seems like discs that hit in February and March made a huge impact, then a few discs here and there, then the usual fall assault makes it in.
It also felt like 2015 was the year where tech-death finally homogenized into one sound, making it incredibly difficult for bands of that genre to really stick out, a cursed blur of talent and death metal assault – one hurricane seeming like the next. I also basically told 2015 to find me a bunch of groups who sounded like Converge, like I needed a noisy form of chaotic hardcore injected into my veins to get me through the year.
Like most of my year-end shitshows, I’ve also included a handful of other ‘awards’ as well – usually the teensy collection of non-metal stuff that I enjoyed, as well as my red-faced hat-in-hand gesture to albums that I feel more people should listen to, when I myself never really got around to them even when I recognized their quality. I even went out of my way to create a list of honorable mentions, stuff that almost made the cut, which I have been assured has almost never been done before in the history of list-making.
Here at the DGR Pyrite Deity Awards Presented By Rockstar Energy Drink Sponsored By Tampax we believe in cutting-edge list-making, because honestly, if we weren’t making some sort of effort you’d probably just be reading Buzzfeed instead and finding out what happened ‘When you did THIS’. You can consider these the off-broadcast awards this year, the ones given out during the pre-party.
The Chevron Award For The Non-Metal/Lighter Fare That DGR Enjoyed This Year Sponsored By Texaco
Clutch – Psychic Warfare
I was always a latecomer to Clutch, with them really landing on my radar ‘long about the Robot Hive/Exodus release. But I didn’t really become a fan until the group really decided to lean hard into being a blues-rock sort of band. While ultimately there’s nothing new under the sun, and likewise while a lot of what Clutch does these days isn’t the most original, the band are one of the best at that style.
Having really found a sound with From Beale Street To Oblivion, Clutch have been on a hot streak in my opinion, and Psychic Warfare is proof of that. The disc isn’t perfect in my mind – it’s an incredibly front-loaded album and the songs I really enjoy on the back half are the slower takes, i.e., “Lady Of Electric Light” and “Son Of Virginia” – Psychic Warfare still has some incredibly strong hooks and to-the-point hard rock on it, which boils down to Clutch being a super-fun band to listen to. They were pretty much guaranteed a spot on the list after how much I loved Earth Rocker, but Psychic Warfare being as good as it is certainly made the nomination job a hell of a lot easier.
Antimatter – The Judas Table
Nothing exudes quite as much melancholy as Mick Moss and an acoustic guitar. Over the years the man has taken sadness and learned how to weaponize it and he has morphed Antimatter along with it, making each disc in the group’s discography an individually moody experience.
The Judas Table is something of a standout in this approach. While most of the Antimatter discography is very inward-looking and depression-based, The Judas Table deals heavily with themes of betrayal and at times actually comes across as an angry disc. There are certain things uttered on this album that I would never have expected to hear sung, but there’s a lot of venom and spite in those phrases (specifically in the song “Stillborn Empires”) – but there’s still a lot of comfort food for people like me for whom Antimatter is basically the soundtrack to a rainy day.
“Comrades” is arcane magick in just how well it can take the wind out of a person’s sails as one of the saddest songs on the album. ” Hefty in abandonment and just as seething is “Little Piggy”, which is accusatory in tone. I only get a few times a year to remind people that Antimatter is one of the best projects out there and this is my chance this year: Listen to The Judas Table.
Ghost – Meliora
This is the one where I expect to get the most shit, by daring to have the cajones to put Ghost on the non-metal/lighter fare list but we really need to have some perspective here. They are very light by metal standards, more hard rock, despite the growing amount of Mercyful Fate that seems to be edging in on their retro keyboards and art-deco (on Meliora) sensibilities.
I know that we all want to cling to the group’s success because the outside world thinks Ghost are a heavy metal band but at most its classic heavy metal, and with a lot of the death metal garbage I’m including this year they come off lighter. However, that doesn’t mean that Ghost aren’t expert songwriters, as Meliora is an insanely good album, easily hijacking a hefty amount of my listening time (assuming I skip “Spirit”), and Meliora is also their heaviest disc.
Almost every song on this album is memorable for either some sort of hook or hard-driving guitar riff, even though I enjoy both Opus Eponymous and Infestissumam. Basically, I’m a Ghost fan, and they’re my go-to for sing-along songs and powerful riffs. Meliora, once “Spirit” wraps up, is almost a non-stop procession of hits, moving from the bass heavy “From The Pinnacle To The Pit”, to one of my favorites of the year in “Cirice”, to the ballad of “He Is” after a quick interstitial.
I know it may seem like I’m coming down hard on the band in the opening few sentences, but I’m not. Ghost have an undeniable ability to write incredible songs, and I feel like they’re one of the best things going these days with the perfect amount of camp and gimmick to go alongside some amazing music.
Steven Wilson – Hand. Cannot. Erase.
I am an unabashed Steven Wilson fan, so once again I get to vouch for one his releases being really good.
Hand. Cannot. Erase is a different experience compared to 2012’s The Raven That Refused To Sing. Raven was a surprisingly jazz-heavy album, feeling like a throwback to ’70s prog more so than Wilson’s other work. Hand. Cannot. Erase takes a different approach, coming across more modern-day progressive and heavy on the piano.
Something of a return to the form of his first couple of solo releases, Hand. Cannot. Erase hit super early in the year but it’s definitely an album that sticks with you. Part of what sold me on Hand. Cannot. Erase. was the idea behind it, which actually reminded me a lot of the idea behind Porcupine Tree’s The Incident – the idea that we take tragic events and we neuter them, calling gruesome car crashes and events where people’s lives are ruined mere ‘incidents’. In the case of Hand. Cannot. Erase. the album is about a woman who passes away and nobody notices for three years.
The whole disc ranges from some absolutely beautiful moments to some genuine pop songs, but all with a pretty heavy weight of sadness on top of it — which permeates a gorgeous disc, mostly because we know the tale behind it. I’ve always held the belief that every person has a story, so the idea that someone could pass and nobody notice it, or that we treat death as a mere statistic, has never sat right with me. While that ground doesn’t get covered super-in-depth, that was the initial draw for Hand. Cannot. Erase. for me, and once again another reason why I still enjoy Wilson’s musical output.
Invocation Array – A Color For Fiction
Invocation Array are a new Bay Area-based ghoulash of a bunch of different electronic styles in action. Composed of two musicians, one being Kaia of The Luna Sequence fame (or recognizability, since I constantly post Luna Sequence releases here), Invocation Array is basically Blade Runner-esque cyberpunk music of the future.
The group’s release, A Color For Fiction, is covered in neon lights and moody atmosphere, with guitar work interwoven throughout various computer elements. At times, with airy vocal lines, Invocation Array become the perfect videogame soundtrack music. To be honest with you, it will likely be in constant rotation when I find myself missing jumps and flinging myself off of roofs if/when EA ever gets around to releasing Mirrors Edge 2.
While “The Genesis Construct” doesn’t start Color off strong, the following songs are a non-stop array of fantastic music, with “Little Dark Star”, “Perpetual Memory”, and “Protocol” all standing out as highlights.
Music like what Invocation Array are putting out doesn’t happen that often, and the two musicians behind Array are doing a fantastic job of it. Despite the amount of heavy-as-hell metal I lovingly bathed in this year, A Color For Fiction was an album that I consistently returned to time and time again when I needed something much lighter.
Blue Stahli – The Devil
The next two discs are kind of a two-fer, all things considered. You might recognize Blue Stahli as the musician from an interview I did ages ago for this site, an electronica artist currently housed on the Fixt label and an otherwise all-around crazy person.
He’s the sort of musician who is insanely hard to pin down to one style, and so far each album he has to his name has been a varied experience. He’s got an arsenal of instrumental albums released under the Antisleep banner, as well as his own personal musings – which is where The Devil lies.
The Devil is the follow-up to his self-titled debut from a couple years ago and shows that Mr. Stahli has been willing not only to drastically change his style, but also to completely annihilate any hint of what he might do next. It’s still a patented form of electronica-and-rock hybrid that seems to be a Fixt specialty, but otherwise every song on The Devil is different, with some having remarkably fast thrash guitar sections and others taking on bluesier stomps, dripping with the humidity of a nearby swamp.
Other tracks are your standard ‘unleashed on an array of synths, keyboards, and computer’ affairs, but there’s a surprisingly metal undercurrent to it, with multiple times where Stahli is once again yelling behind his singing vocals.
Celldweller – End Of An Empire (Complete)
Its probably crazy to nominate End Of An Empire as one of my favorite year-enders, since Klayton once again followed the format of how he approached his previous release Wish Upon A Blackstar, wherein he put out the disc in chapters leading up to a full release – essentially drip-feeding listeners an album. That means that a couple of the songs I have already ground to dust, since they’ve been coming out since 2014 – but the full End Of Empire experience has been completely worth it.
While the Celldweller debut was a bi-polar affair, bouncing between electronica and hard rock at the drop of a dime, followup Wish Upon A Blackstar veered further into the electronic music spectrum, virtually eschewing heavy guitar work for multiple songs. End Of An Empire comes across as a hybrid of the two, but not only that, a very mature version of them.
Multiple songs on this disc cross the five minute mark and even more of them have some heavy-as-hell moments on them. “Down To Earth” and “New Elysium” especially contain some hefty drum and guitar segments in between all the dancy drums and various computers working alongside them, on top of a song like “Good L_ck, Yo_re F_cked”, which is practically a punk song with some cringe-worthy puns that you can’t help but smile at; the ‘like a losing game of hangman, the only letter we need is U’ should make one rage, but it actually comes across as witty when glancing at the song’s title.
Even with all the songs that I had already heard, the two that were saved for this disc were both worth it – with “Breakout” coming across like a nü-wave track and “Jericho” being one of the best songs Celldweller has, a moody and pulsing affair.
The ‘Shame Award For Bringing Dishonor Upon His Family By Barely Listening To These Albums Despite Aknowledging That They Are Awesome And Is Now Making A Half-Hearted Attempt To Get The Discs Out In Front Of People’ Award Presented By Starbucks
Ogotay – Dead God’s Prophet
This album. Holy shit. I spotted this thing while browsing through Selfmadegod’s Bandcamp during the review process for Antigama’s The Insolent and made note of it, but completely forgot to come back to it until early December. I’ve only made a few cursory listens since then but I can completely understand why a human bag of garbage like KevinP might put it on his best albums of the month list because Dead God’s Prophet is crushing.
I almost instantaneously became a huge fan of the song “Huge Fucking Nothing” but the whole disc feels like an impact event striking the Earth. Holy shit.
The Infernal Sea – The Great Mortality
This is an album I had been waiting on for a long time, having initially heard of the band after drummer James Burke joined Man Must Die. Having found a compatriot in this matter in fellow writer Andy Synn, I was excited when the disc came out but for some reason got to it way too late. However, I absolutely recommend this album based on a couple of listens, because wow is this disc a terror to behold.
The stabbing guitar work and snarling vocals make this a standout black metal disc that needs to be heard. The Great Mortality is a monster, and like Otogay will likely be a huge regret about halfway through 2016 when I realize just how much I really like this album.
Also, can someone point me to where the hell everyone is getting these plague doctor masks like the band are using in their “Entombed In Darkness” video? I’ve been trying to use one for Halloween costumes for years but can never find one.
Sunless Rise – Unrevealed
This is another disc I waited a long time for, as Russian Wintersun may have become one of my secret favorite projects to come out in some time. However, the late-in-the-year release means that at best I’ve only been able to give it a couple of listens.
So far, Unrevealed has revealed (ba-dum-tiss) itself to be a heck of a disc and a nice hefty slab of keyboard-heavy folk-melo-death, but in between me swearing up and down to review Mist Of Nihil and this, I had to stop making excuses at some point and pound this list out. I do fully intend to explore this album in the near-future though, assuming it sticks with me as much as the handful of listens I’ve given it so far suggest.
The ‘Windex Put A Spitshine On It! Award For Just Bumping Against The Glass Ceiling Honorable Mentions’ Award Sponsored By Proctor And Gamble
Kataklysm – Of Ghosts And Gods
Kataklysm have had a long and fairly healthy career but they are also a group who tend to find a sound, stick with it for a few discs, and then move on to another one – injecting excitement back into what sometimes might feel like playing to the cheap seats. This usually translates to a couple of really fantastic albums and then over time it can become a little frustratingly consistent – which is why 2013’s Waiting For The End To Come felt so goddamned good.
Something happened during the three years between Heaven’s Venom and that album which saw the band come back almost turbocharged and rejuvenated – but it also became the album that defined its own followup, 2015’s Of Ghosts And Gods. The new one isn’t a huge jump, and in large part feels like a more refined twin brother of Waiting For The End To Come, which means the disc is geniunely enjoyable but I also very much knew what I was in for.
I saw the gears turning a little too much this time around, and it left me getting a tad restless, though I’ve still given Of Ghosts And Gods its fair share of listening time, usually as part of a two-hour jam with Waiting For The End To Come on high volume. It’s fantastic driving music as well, provided you’re okay with the speeding tickets you’re prone to get while blasting it. It’s just that I wasn’t quite ready for Waiting, again. I did love the band’s approach to music videos with Of Ghosts And Gods though; its a great way to listen to the disc.
Soilwork – The Ride Majestic
Much like Kataklysm above, doubly so for Soilwork, in that I don’t think I was ready for The Ride Majestic as much as I wanted to be. When I did the math in my head of The Living Infinite plus Beyond The Infinite, I realized that Soilwork had managed to jam out twenty-five songs in 2013, and a lot of them were really high quality, which meant that for a while Soilwork were my pop music fix. When you glance at the album release schedule, a two-year gap between discs doesn’t seem that bad, but there was a lot of music during those two years, and consequently it felt like both Soilwork and myself were both in the same grind.
The Ride Majestic is actually a bit more experimental than The Living Infinite was, the band having found their formula and now pushing boundaries here and there. But for every awesome track there were a couple where it felt like Soilwork were doing their stock act. Good songs for shuffle, but not something I would necessarily seek out on my own.
It doesn’t help that my favorite song on the disc is also the title track, which happens to be the first song, and also the one that is the most straightforward, fast, and kind of like “Spectrum Of Eternity”. Still, a better disc than the Sworn To A Great Divide/Panic Broadcast period, but man, I just could not will myself to really get into this one as much as I thought I would.
Nightrage – The Puritan
This was an especially tough cut because I am a Nightrage fan, having followed the band through their literal handful of frontmen at this point. The group felt revitalized with new vocalist Ronnie Nyman taking up the lead position, but there were also other lineup changes leading to a much slimmer Nightrage and also an album that felt the same way.
It was very knife-sharp melodeath, pared down to its bones and built upon pure fundamentals. If you want a quick fix, then The Puritan is a fantastic album, but it didn’t have as much as staying power for me, especially in the face of another underground melodeath release that actually clawed its way into my top list this year.
That said, there’s a handful of great songs – including “Desperate Vows”, which is a buddy ballad featuring Darkane’s vocalist in the chorus, and “Son of Sorrow”, which is something of a hidden gem, not really used as one of the singles but the whole blast section into lead melody is just great.
My issue with The Puritan being so slim is that there isn’t as much huge guitar as I would’ve liked; it was very guitar-riff-based with not as much lead work as has been present in Nightrage’s past. Still, I was happy to see the band back and felt the album slotted in well alongside Insidious and Wearing A Martyr’s Crown.
Hate – Crvsade: Zero
One of the overarching themes you’re probably noticing amongst my honorable mentions list are awards for bands who played it relatively safe this go around. Sad to say it, Hate was one of those bands. I actually reviewed Crvsade: Zero this year and genuinely enjoyed it. I still do, but I also recognize that much of the disc this time around was Hate writing some monolithically slow songs. Whereas the previous four discs were all pretty quick tempo-wise, Crvsade: Zero was a slower-moving album and it had a few songs that sounded kind of samey.
There’s a handful of tracks I love. “Valley Of Darkness” and “Rise, Omega The Consequence!” remain highlights for me, but I also found it just as difficult to forgive the fact that this is a disc with three different ambient bits on its track list, including not one but two different intros pasted to the front. As such, it’s overshadowed by 2013’s Solarflesh and wound up being one of the ones to remain on the periphery of this list as I was ordering things out.
A Loathing Requiem – Acolytes Eternal
I am convinced that by the end of recording Acolytes Eternal, main proprietor Malcolm Pugh’s guitar was nothing more than a smoldering wreck. There were a handful of albums in 2015 that wound up competing in the tech-death arms race and Acolytes Eternal was one of the standouts.
There is a lot, and I mean A LOT in the largest-font capital letters I can manage without breaking the site, of guitar present on this disc. Not only that, but Acolytes almost instantly caused me to draw comparisons to Necrophagist as it was the closest I have heard any of the modern crop of tech-death bands get to what those guys were doing before they called it quits. It’s a battering and crushing affair, one of constant whirling death metal, and one that could easily overwhelm.
I found that since its release, Acolytes was an album that I really needed to be willing to make a full run at, because the songs blur into one another – so when they would appear outside of their own running order, it felt like more tech-death meat to add to the pile – but as one massive half-hour-long experience, Acolytes was a brutal affair. The drums were like a carpet-bombing campaign, and the whole disc was just war on the rest of its instruments. It was a standout for a quickly homogenizing tech-death genre for sure, and only lost out to a handful of others that made it into my ‘main’ list.
Carach Angren – This Is No Fairytale
Carach Angren are probably my favorite sort of campy metal band. They play a pretty basic form of symphonic black metal; all the trademarks are there and all the checkpoints hit, so in some ways you know there’s nothing overtly ground-breaking. Yet the band have carved their own path – instead of going the rituals and necromancy route, they use the platform to tell ghost stories.
They’ve long referred to their recordings as hauntings, and This Is No Fairytale, a demented Grimm Bros take on Hansel and Gretel, is another one of those. In comparison to the rest of their discography, This Is No Fairytale is probably the most traditionally black metal of the bunch, each song a flurry of blast-beats and tightly picked guitar sections with all the symphonics buried in the background – which means that if you are looking for a tightly recorded, sharp-toothed, and almost one-tempo recording, then This Is No Fairytale is fantastic.
The whole thing is sharp and heavy, but where it lost out to me is that its predecessor Where The Corpses Sink Forever was just a tad bit more varied, and made the listening experience more dynamic and exciting. This Is No Fairytale basically holds barbed wire to your throat from the first song and doesn’t let it rest until the end. The body count still remains high, even in a story in which there are two protagonists, and nothing ends well for anybody. It’s campfire ghost-story sharing done in Black Metal form.
The Deafheaveny Deafheaven Award For Obligatory Deafheaven Mention Deafheaven Deafheaven Deafheaven Deafheaven
Deafheaven – New Bermuda
It’s Deafheaveny Fresh!
I still have not listened to this album.
I should’ve given this to Ghost Bath. Now THAT would’ve been hilarious.
The ‘2015’s 2010 Album Of The Year’ Award Presented By Seadoo Watercraft
Gojira – Sea Shepherd EP
Keeping The Dream Alive!
The ‘Taste Of Depression’ Award For 30th Best Album Of The Year Presented By Applebees
Solution .45 – Nightmares In The Waking State
To be completely up-front: As we continue through much of this list you’ll notice a couple of reoccurring themes – one of which is that albums which came out during the back half of the year are camped out in a lot of the higher reaches of the list this time around. Not to be a wuss with a wallet-full of excuses, but this year found me with less listening time than I would’ve liked, so discs that came out during the latter half of 2015 didn’t get as much time to grow on me as I would’ve liked.
The few that did either made an immediate first impression or were ones that really hooked me in the beginning and kept me coming back. Solution .45 is one of those, and also admittedly, one of the albums that has become my poppier listening music.
Solution .45’s formula should be a familiar one by now, playing with the growled verses and power-choruses that cover expanses miles wide, yet Nightmares In The Waking State is a fine example of just how good the crew that mans the Solution .45 sub can do it. There’s actually a couple of surprises across this album as well, including one song that has an almost ’90s era gangster rap synth line to it in “Alter (The Unbearable Weight Of Nothing)”.
Musically, Solution .45 feels like the convergence of all its members’ other projects, polished to a shine that could be seen from space. It’s one of the more mainstream and approachable acts on this list for sure, but the occasional pleasant surprise and matching quality to their previous release For Aeons Past was enough to just edge by a handful of other excellent albums that hit this year.
The ‘Flailing In The Wind’ Award For 29th Best Album Of The Year Presented By Roadrunner Records
Orpheus Omega – Partum Vita Mortem
Australia’s Orpheus Omega proved themselves to be the peddlers of some fine cheesy keyboard-heavy melodeath in the latter half of 2015. The band, who were recovering from a personal tragedy, managed to build themselves one of their finest albums to date – a lengthy hook-laden album that appealed to the more mainstream side of my heavy metal consciousness.
The band’s style pulls from a variety of sources, but the group’s knack for speed means that the listening experience is rarely dragged down by a mid-tempo track or two. The group pull out every trick in the book from the 2000’s Gothenburg style as keyboard and synth-playing rippled throughout that scene, and the usage by Orpheus Omega is almost masterful.
It’s not the most creatively mindblowing release out there, but as a disc whose boundaries are clearly set from the start and also one that is basically some of the best red-meat genre fanatics could find, Partum Vita Mortem was one of the highlights of 2015.
The ‘Keep Yourself Warm In The Winter’ Award For 28th Best Album of The Year Presented By Atticat Insulation
Aetherian – Tales Of Our Times
There was a lot, and I mean a lot, of melo-doom – or ethereal doom if you’ll have it – that came out in 2015. It seemed like quite a few bands chose 2015 as their year to make a break for it, and a lot of those releases turned out to be fantastic. Aetherian’s Tales Of Our Times is one such release, though they lean a little more toward the melo-death side of that genre’s spectrum.
Aetherian hail from Greece and feature musicians Panos (also of Mist Of Nihil, whose recent release A Faint Aurora is another highlight, but at some point I had to stop making excuses and actually get this list done) and Aggelos. Tales Of Our Times is the group’s debut EP after two singles in 2014 and proves that the band have a lot of potential.
It is a release that at times can feel insanely frigid and then just as quickly drop into a patented melo-death two-step riff that has you headbanging. It’s a hard genre to pin down, like trying to catch a moth and place it in the flame of a candle, but Aetherian light that insect ablaze with Tales Of Our Times. If Aetherian are ever able to record a full-length release with some slightly better production, then these guys will be a force to watch out for.
The ‘Permanently Stationed Next To The Can’ Award For 27th Best Album Of The Year Presented By Time Magazine
Hope Drone – Cloak Of Ash
It seems everybody had their favorite neck-scarf-wearing, glasses-adjusting, post-black metal band this year to be all up in arms over, and Australia’s Hope Drone were mine. The band don’t traditionally follow that blueprint, but it’s pretty clear why they got picked up along about five minutes into Cloak Of Ash’s twenty-minute opener “Unending Grey”.
I’d been following the band for a bit and could tell, based on the strength of the song “Finite”, that they were going places. Cloak Of Ash took that song, found its strengths, and basically made a searing hardcore take on a somewhat newly proven formula.
Hope Drone are a little bit more post-hardcore than their ilk, and I think that is why I like them so much. There is an incredible sense of desperation to the band’s overall sound, and the cover of Cloak Of Ash being a smoke-filled cavern has to be one of the best examples of album art personifying the music within that I have seem in some time.
The song titles get a little silly, reading more like thesaurus abuse or the opening line to an essay on one’s imprending existential crisis, but its difficult not to recommend songs like “Every End Is Fated In Its Beginning”, “The Chords That Thrum Beneath The Earth”, and “Carried Apart By The Ceaseless Tides”.
The ‘Totally Legit, Totally Real Corporate Sponsorship’ Award For 26th Best Album of The Year Presented By 7-Up
Swallow The Sun – Songs From The North I, II & III
You may have all been the victims of an unfortunate joke written large when you clicked through our review of Songs From The North and saw a mammoth track-by-track, 10,000-word-plus review sitting before you. While the story behind that review is basically a series of antagonistic bets thrown back and forth while drinking, the album that inspired it is legitimately one of my favorites of the year.
While I have my own issues with disc two of the three-album set, I thoroughly enjoyed discs one and three as some of the best material Swallow The Sun have in their arsenal. The glacially slow melodrama of disc three proved to be an easy highlight, and each song on that disc is its own story of tragedy, a tortured walk by a harried protagonist. Disc one is what could be more reconizably characterized as Swallow The Sun, and while it has some light pacing issues, most of that disc feels like the band executing well with the guidelines that they’ve been setting for themselves since Hope.
“Heartstrings Shattering” is a song that feels designed to create utmost misery, and the grooves of “10 Silver Bullets” and “Rooms And Shadows” are some of the sharpest the band have put to use since New Moon.
The whole collection of Songs From The North feels like the parts that make up Swallow The Sun being split out and given room to breathe, and while the whole thing is an intense affair easily worth recommending, it’s just as easy to randomly pick a song from discs one and three (and I will give you, about half of two) and you’ll find something to enjoy.
The ‘Just As Good As Cardboard’ Award For 25th Best Album Of The Year Presented By Domino’s Pizza
Exgenesis – Aphotic Veil
Not to rock you guys’ world, but this is one of two appearances that Jari Lindholm is going to be making on this list. Whilst I hinted above that 2015 seemed to be the year of the melodic doom/death metal band, I still happen to be a huge fan of what Jari is putting down.
Exgenesis is a brand new project, with its only release so far being their debut EP Aphotic Veil. Exgenesis sees Jari teaming up with musician Alejandro Lotero, whose roars seem almost perfectly built for this style of music. Aphotic Veil is an atmospheric experience that moves relentlessly slowly. It’s the more traditionally doom of the two releases featuring Jari on this list, as songs easily reach past the five-minute mark on this EP. The only ‘short’ song so to speak, is “Aphotic” – which itself features an opening right out of the November’s Doom playbook.
Aphotic Veil made Exgenesis one of the projects that I am going to be eagerly looking forward to in the near-future, as it features just the right amount of each of its genres – doom, death, and the ethereal melody that seems to be a distinctly European style — and mixes them together into an almost made-for-fans-of-the-genre style of EP.
The ‘Ruin All Your Vacation Shots By Putting Your Giant Ass Head In The Way’ Award For 24th Best Album Of The Year Presented By Kodak
Irreversible Mechanism – Infinite Fields
Last year, this would’ve been the spot a group like Inferi would’ve inhabited on my year end list. The type of death metal that Irreversible Mechanism deal in is a very specific type – in that it usually goes at light speed tempo, and holy shit, is there a LOT of it present.
Infinite Fields is an impressive release at face value for two reasons: one is that it is the debut release for this project, comprising two musicians from Belarus, and the other being that it is absolutely packed to the brim with stuff happening. This isn’t the sort of album where you can really pick out one specific song too well; instead it is just this gigantic and technically impressive blur.
While those can also be knocks against Infinite Fields, where Irreversible Mechanism knock it out of the park is an expert use of backing symphonics, just to add to the already impressive pyrotechnic firebombing that the band are getting up to on the album. This is a dense forty minutes of music – the type of release that comes with a warning that you absolutely have to be ready for the trip, because it is second to none from the word go. The foot gets mashed into the accelerator pedal and you get to spend the next chunk of time hoping that there is no brick wall in your path.
The ‘Like Fuck You’re Going To See The Last Guardian Release Next Year’ Award For 23rd Best Album of The Year Presented By Sony Computer Entertainment Systems
Kronos – Arisen New Era
If there were an album that I could award the DGR default album of the year, then Arisen New Era – the 2015 release by French death metal band Kronos – would likely be it. This was the disc that I went back to time and time again when I could think of nothing else to listen to.
Arisen New Era is a meaty block of guitar work that takes maybe one breath throughout its run time and just never stops. It quickly became the album that I would jam time and time again. In fact, that was part of the reason why I reviewed the album this year. Initially I had not planned to do so, but I gave it a cursory listen at work and next thing I knew, a whole eight-hour shift had passed and I had never once thought to change it to anything else. It got its hooks in me real hard and has kept me headbanging since its July 24th release via Unique Leader.
“Aeons Titan Crown” quickly became one of my favorite tracks on this disc. It displays a real knack for groove and is one of the few times on the album where the tempo slows down ever so slightly, letting up from its unrelenting brutality… before going into one of the heftiest grooves that Arisen New Era has in its back half.
It seems like the past few years have seen one or two death metal releases that come out sounding like Arisen New Era, so its even more of an accomplishment for Kronos that this disc managed to stick out as well as it did with me this year.
That said, orange and blue contrast. C’mon y’all.
The Mt. Dew ‘Slam A Dew Up Your Ass’ Award For 22nd Best Album of The Year Presented By Mountain Dew
Shining – International Blackjazz Society
Shining going on a Nine Inch Nails binge and recording an album may be one of the biggest highlights of the year for me. International Blackjazz Society is easily the band’s most accessible record to date – meaning that they’ve finally dumbed themselves down enough for rubes like me – and in doing so they have traded in the chaos and brainy jazz-fusion for some of the strongest hooks outside of the mass-marketing pop music machine that dominates modern music today.
Almost every song on International Blackjazz Society has its own thing going on, and the occasional saxophone jazz freakout in between manages to keep things on edge. This is Shining as a hook-machine, writing rock music that just goes for it and has you tapping your feet along with each track.
I’m sure this is a disc that will further annoy people who didn’t really enjoy One One One, but I adore that album, and I adore Blackjazz Society much the same. Some of the material on Blackjazz is still heady, but this time around it’s more snapping your fingers than nodding your head and acting like you have even the slightest inkling of what the fuck just happened.
The ‘Not Sure Where To Put This’ Award For 21st Best Album Of The Year Presented By Band-Aid
This year’s list probably features the most rule-breaking that I’ve committed so far when it comes to writing these things. Most of the time I try to seperate out the EPs, Splits, and various other ways we consume our music this age into their own little shindigs, but this year was an incrediibly strong one in all these formats, and I found that 2015 provided quite a few times where I had EPs that were just as good as whole full-lengths.
Which brings me to Of Ash And Dying Light, the split featuring contributions from Canada’s Nachtterror and Altars Of Grief. Both bands, limited to a couple of songs each, break out some of their absolute best for this collection, with Nachtterror creating an absolutely oppressive atmosphere for their section – suffocating and symphonic, with the dramatics usually reserved for stage play – and Altars Of Grief refining across a distinct style of melodic doom and creating songs that are equal parts catchy and absolutely miserable.
They even went out of their way to include bonus tracks by each band for the digital version of the release, and Altars Of Grief covering “Room Of Angel” from the Silent Hill 4: The Room soundtrack is a fast-track way right to my heart.
Highlights for this one (among the few songs each, so difficult to pick) include Nachterror’s eight-minute monster “Upon Ashen Shores” and Altars Of Grief’s second song as well, the also-eight-minute “Your Heaven”. This split became almost instinctive for me to listen to on drives to work, or just when I needed something different.
The ‘Animal Tested, ASPCA Approved’ Award For 20th Best Album Of The Year Presented By First Street Animal Shelter
Lamb of God: VII – Sturm Und Drang
Let the pearl clutching begin because how dare he nominate Lamb of God as one of the best discs of 2015. They’re successful, not underground at all, they’re even on a big label. But you know what? Lamb Of God knocked it out of the fucking park this year with VII – Sturm Und Drang.
I had long feared that the group had fallen into a consistent sound since the release of Sacrament, and while follower Wrath had a couple of standout tracks, the best I could say about it was that I really liked the bonus song “Condemning The Hive”. I thought Resolution was a huge improvement, but it still had a few times where it felt like Lamb Of God just being Lamb of God. VII – Sturm Und Drang, on the other hand, has the band just killing it from front-to-back, giving us one of their best since 2004’s Ashes Of The Wake.
Part of their sound has been modernized to embrace things like blasts, but overall, VII just has the band kicking out some of their most composed and best written guitar parts to date. They’re not just hefty finger exercises this time around, there’s just as much groove and soul to it than there has ever been before. Even the clean-sung moments are interesting this time around, with a song that starts out sounding like an Alice In Chains track and all of a sudden Lamb Of God just kick the studio door down halfway through and bulldoze everything.
There’s obviously quite a few highlight tracks this time around, but I’d be lying to you if I didn’t own up to my love of the pairing of “512” and “Embers”, though “Still Echoes” sees to it that the whole release is kicked off with an M-80-in-a-soda-bottle sized bang.
The ‘Asshole Factory Meets Wind-Tunnel Theory’ Award For 19th Best Album Of The Year Presented by Twitter
Organ Dealer – Visceral Infection
Organ Dealer make music that is probably somewhat closer to shaving down sheet metal than it is anything that could be defined as ‘composed’. If there were a group in 2015 that set out really prove that you can make music consisting entirely of chaos, I would guess Organ Dealer are probably it.
This isn’t grind. Visceral Infection feels like hyper-grind. Everything on this album is incredibly fast, even the vocals range into the high and screechy. It is the musical definition of “blink and you’ll miss it”, although if you actually listen to it, it becomes more of “song one starts and now I’m missing twenty minutes… also why is everything on fire?”.
I knew this New Jersey-based band were on to something from the moment I heard their demo, so hearing Visceral Infection fulfilling that promise was an exciting moment in 2015. While the band give off an air of being a goofy bunch of idiots, the music they play is anything but. It is intense and maddening, a volume-all-the-way-up experience and one that is a wind-tunnel of noise that knocks you on your ass in thirty seconds flat and leaves a crater in the form of your body when it wraps up.
The ‘Drink It ‘Til Your Heart Stops’ Award For 18th Best Album Of The Year Presented By NoS Energy Drink
Gorod – A Maze Of Recycled Creeds
It feels like every time I see A Maze Of Recycled Creeds popping up on year-end lists, everyone has a smattering of different reasons as to why they enjoyed Gorod’s late 2015 offering. Mine are relatively simple compared to most, in that I really, really like Gorod’s drumming.
I have for a while now, because when I listen to Gorod, their combination of angular riffs, odd time signatures, and varying grooves means that their off-brand of tech-death boils down to more than the drummer just blasting his way through every song like a demented demolitions expert. Gorod has always loaned themselves to something more, and that something to me has always been the ability for their percussionist to get creative behind the kit.
They allow for their fair share of blast work (“Celestial Nature” has a ton of it), but in between all of that you get some dynamic-as-hell drumming – differing fills, cymbal work to die for, and even the occasional jazz swing beat. It has made Gorod hard for people to define genre-wise, which I feel is why they get lumped in with the tech-death crowd/ But goddamn, do I find myself listening to the group’s discography and, more often than not, getting locked in to what the drummer is doing.
A Maze Of Recycled Creeds is probably their most matured exercise in this matter yet, a disc that is more traditionally death metal than they have been in the past, reigning it in a tiny bit from A Perfect Absolution, but still an insane demonstration of what a handful of incredibly skilled Frenchmen can get up to.
The ‘2015’s Version Of Knock-Knock Jokes Told To You By The Same Robots That Regurgitate Unfunny Humor Over And Over Again’ Award For 17th Best Album Presented By Memegenerator
The Black Dahlia Murder – Abysmal
I can’t quite remember what is colloquially referred to as the Star Trek rule when it comes to films, whether it’s the even or the odd movies that are actually good. But the rule is one that seems to be in play when it comes to my relationship with The Black Dahlia Murder.
I’ll be honest, the band really didn’t win me over until the release of Nocturnal, and I have enjoyed every release since then, but the ones that really have stood out the most for me have been the odd-numbered releases, Nocturnal, Ritual, and now Abysmal. It has often felt like the even-numbered releases are Dahlia iterating upon the huge shifts in sound that the odd-numbered ones bring — with Deflorate feeling like a refined Nocturnal, and Everblack feeling more ritualistic than Ritual did.
Abysmal is odd in that sense, because it sounds like two things came into play here: One, the band really focused on working the bass guitar into their sound this time around, and two, they decided to go really, really fast. Fast Dahlia is where I make my nest, though, so a disc packed full of that is like comfort food in CD form.
There are some fantastic songs on Abysmal, and like a lot of Dahlia albums, they’re frontloaded within the first six or so songs. The vocal-plus-guitar attack of “Threat Level No. 3” pretty much insured its nomination on my end for the Most Infectious List, but the combo of “Receipt” and “Vlad, Son of The Dragon” means that you get a heavy-as-hell opening seven minutes on Abysmal.
While I can’t say the album title without hearing Peter Dolving yelling it in the back of my head, Black Dahlia managed to still kick out a highlight of the year – made all the more amazing by the fact that the group is practically a machine at this point, with a release pretty much right on time every other year.
The ‘International Bands Category That Features Two American Bands And Three Groups From Britain’ Award For 16th Best Album Of The Year Presented By Metal Hammer
Paradise Lost – The Plague Within
For all of the noise that was made about Paradise Lost’s The Plague Within being a massive return to death metal form, it didn’t quite seem to play out that way. The Plague Within does see the band bringing some serious doom back into the fold, and hearing Nick Holmes break out some massively grim death growls does make the heart a-flutter just a bit.
Outside of the nostalgia play though, The Plague Within comes across as a heavier take on the group’s previous two releases, Faith Divides Us and Tragic Idol. There are certain moments throughout the disc where you can almost see the through-line between albums, and barring the addition of growls, Paradise Lost are very much doing what they do best.
That said, I’d be lying to you if I wouldn’t have been able to fall forward and catch myself at a forty degree angle without my hands after hearing “Beneath Broken Earth” for the first time. In fact, it is still one of my go-to songs from The Plague Within, often before I eventually give in and just do a full run-through anyway.
It’s easily some of the best Paradise Lost material that has been put out in years, and the excitement around the album is infectious. It’s awesome to see a band like this revitalized, even if what it took was two of its members giving themselves over to full-blown death metal projects in the interim.
The ‘Sometimes Life Is Just Broth!’ Award For 15th Best Album Of The Year Presented By Campbell’s Soup
Napalm Death – Apex Predator (Easy Meat)
Hey guys, Napalm Death made a good album.
Okay, in all seriousness, this is the disc that had me write a joking existential crisis in this opening paragraph because this should be a sort of “sun rises in the east, sets in the west” sort of moment: We know that Napalm Death are going to write a good disc. They’re one of the few bands out there that could claim to be ‘established’ yet haven’t lost a single ounce of their ferocity over their career.
The songs on Apex Predator hit just as hard and with just as much righteous fury as any up-and-coming grind band could. Songs like “Smash A Single Digit” and “How The Years Condemn” both give Barney Greenway leverage to just roar over some massive blasts and death grind work, and outside of the spoken-word of its intro, Apex Predator is just a non-stop roiling bloodbath.
“Cesspits” and “One Eyed” are the two highlights of the back end of Apex Predator, but every song on this album is a pretty tried-and-true grindfest. The album is really an exercise in showing just how good these guys are at the ‘sanding your face off’ method of songwriting.
The ‘Look At How Rebellious You Are, You Rebel You’ Award For 14th Best Album Of The Year Presented By Blue Moon
Disarmonia Mundi – Cold Inferno
Just because I included Soilwork in the honorable mentions of this year’s list does not mean that you guys were free of dodging Bjorn ‘Speed’ Strid just quite yet.
I am on record multiple times as saying that I think Disarmonia Mundi’s 2009 release The Isolation Game is one of the best discs melodeath has as a genre. It was on which this Italian duo managed to really nail down their sound, a combination of awesome guitar work and pop-oriented song-writing that could be just as heavy as it could catchy. The six-year wait between The Isolation Game and Cold Inferno has been a long one, but one that proved to be completely worth it.
While not as much of a stunner as The Isolation Game was, Cold Inferno is just as good – with the group stretching into some prog-length song territory a couple of times on it. The usual mainstays are present, with Soilwork’s Bjorn making a couple of guest vocal appearances but most of the work still handled by both Claudio and Ettore, unleashing a massive helping of high yells, mid-range lows, and fantastic singing in between.
Disarmonia Mundi write some dense melodeath songs, and more often than not engage in their fair share of cheesiness, but it is all part of a formula that has long since won me over. It frustrates me that Disarmonia Mundi have been strictly a studio project because they write the type of music that could absolutely win crowds over, and Cold Inferno is just more of that. When you have songs like “Oddities From The Ravishing Chasm” and “Blessing From Below” in your arsenal, how could you not?
The ‘Obligatory Name-Drop Award Because Somehow He Is At Every One Of These Things, No Matter What’ Award For 13th Best Album Of The Year Presented By Corey Taylor
Sadist – Hyaena
If there is one theme I have noticed throughout a lot of the year-end roundups on various sites this year, it has been the absence of Sadist’s Hyaena. There’s a part of me that questions why, but more often than not taste is subjective, and a combination of internet hive-mind and the quest to be more underground than thou can often cost groups spots. Sometimes all you can do is shrug.
So as you can see, there’s a part of me that absolutely understands – some folks just don’t get into this disc like I did, but also holy shit, this disc is fucking weird.
I mean that in the best way possible, though, because Hyaena covers some territory that you would never expect a death metal band to cover. This a collection of odd and angular songs, with guitar parts barely holding on to some intense drumming, like someone barely holding on to the edge of a cliff, and a vocalist who seems convinced that had to turn absolutely feral before the closing minutes of Hyaena hit.
“The Devil Riding The Evil Steed”, for instance, actually has something of a sing-along closer, with a synth line backed by a choir and a powerful guitar section running right alongside it. When people think up albums to go into the progressive death metal subgenre, I would argue that Hyaena needs to be right there with it. They display a hefty sense of technicality, and alongside it a devil-may-care attitude as to just what they can do in their songs.
Above all else, Hyaena was an incredibly interesting listening experience this year. Plus: How often do you get to nominate an album that has a song called “Genital Mask” on it – which by the way, is actually pretty good?
The ‘We’ll Make ‘Em Look Like Moonboots, They’ll Buy Them Anyway!’ Award For 12th Best Album Of The Year Presented By Nike
Alkaloid – The Malkuth Grimoire
Every year has a couple of albums pop up that I can’t quite claim to understand but I keep listening to because I find them absolutely fascinating. The Malkuth Grimoire was one such album, released by tech-death supergroup Alkaloid.
Some people are treating this album like it is the second coming of Christ, but to be honest, I’m not quite with that group. I will, however, say that this disc has entranced me every time I’ve listened to it. There are so many choices made on the album that could best be characterized as weird, and in between every super-heavy death metal moment there seems to be song-writing tailored toward surprising the listener.
The title track of this release is probably the most traditional song on the album, but you also have strangeness like the whole Dyson Sphere suite of songs – one that everybody needs to listen to at least once just to hear that, ‘Yes, you can do this sort of thing with death metal’.
The Malkuth Grimoire is one of those albums that seems to simultaneously fly under a bunch of people’s radars and then just as much make such a heavy splash that it’s almost impossible to dodge. The music is well-written, but not the sort you go to when you just want heavy, headbanging death metal. It is a dynamic mixture of prog, tech, and a handful of other genres that all go into making the album incredibly distinct.
The Malkuth Grimoire was a gem for 2015, even if I found that I really needed to be in a special mood to want to listen to it.
The ‘Fueled By Shoestring, Bubblegum, and Bootstraps’ Award For 11th Best Album Of The Year Presented By NASA
Antigama – The Insolent
Sometimes the most obvious trick in the book is still the one that will win me over in the end, and in the case of Antigama and their May 2015 release The Insolent, it was starting the album off with a scream.
The first few tracks of The Insolent match the mood set by that scream, and the whole album is just this manic destruction of instruments over the course of eleven songs, with the only breather being an oddball and out-of-nowhere space-synth keyboard bit in the form of “Out Beyond” that is actually one of the longest songs on the album.
The Insolent is a heavy and pyrotechnic affair, with guitar parts that feel more like any actual note contribution was an afterthought – they’re entirely constructed out of sheer chaos that just barely seems to hold itself together.
“Reward Or Punishment”, the album’s opener, seems to spill over into the following three tracks, with the percussive start/stop nature of “Used To” being the only sign that the chaos might abet slightly. The song right before it, “Data Overload” is two minutes of seemingly every band member screaming at you.
The only time The Insolent really slows down is during its closer, “The Land Of Monotony” – which contains the heaviest groove the band have in their arsenal and ends The Insolent in an interesting way. What started as sheer, unfettered chaos finishes rhythmically and slowly, as if it has gradually formed into something. That something just happens to be screaming, ‘Welcome, in the circle, in the land of monotony’ over and over.
The ‘Consume And Destroy Until The End Of Time’ Award For 10th Best Album Of The Year Presented By Target
The Ritual Aura – Laniakea
In late 2015, The Ritual Aura put out what I believe to be my tech-death album of the year in Laniakea. Now, part of this, I imagine, may be my love for the bass playing present on this disc, but over the thirty-minute run time of Laniakea The Ritula Aura cover an insane amount of ground and create quite a few moments that just leave your jaw hanging slack.
The fretwork on this album is probably second to none and the drumming the same. If you’ve ever had the chance to watch one of this group’s playthroughs of one of their songs, it seems more like the band are treating their guitars as if they were typewriters, and the wall of notes rendered is one that is almost a mile high.
The Ritual Aura have created a dense album with a lot going on, but they still compose themselves enough to put groove in what they are doing and allow you to actually differentiate the songs. “Time Lost Utopia”, one of the first the band put out from this album, remains one of its best for me, even after listening to it a million plus times, but there are also other excellent songs like the two “Nebulous Opus” tracks – one being instrumental the other being a full-blown four-minute jam – and “Era Of The Xenotaph”.
The accomplishment is made all the more impressive by the fact that this is the group’s debut release. The Ritual Aura are already working on a followup album that will see them shifting from the sci-fi aesthetic to something more Asian and supernaturally inspired, and I’ll be honest with you, based on Laniakea, am I goddamned ready to hear that album.
The ‘Believe It Or Not, Yes, The Same Company That Makes Lawnmower Gas Caps Also Makes Toilets’ Award For 9th Best Album of The Year Presented By Kohler
Wolfheart – Shadow World
Wolfheart’s Shadow World is without a doubt a faster album than its predecessor Winterborn. It starts with a hefty blastbeat section and immediately signals that of the two parts that compose the group’s melo-doom descriptor, the band are going to be leaning heavily on the melodeath side this time around. What started as a solo project quickly evolved into a full band now on this second album, and it is one that was easily a highlight.
The group nail the sense of atmosphere they’retrying to create flawlessly. They create one that is at times heavy and crushing and at other moments allows you to drift. Shadow World gets its hooks in you, though, and hearing the group switch from heavy sections where they’re all just shredding guitar into ones that are more moody and melancholic at the drop of a hat never quite loses its lustre. The piano gets a huge amount of play on Shadow World as well, opening the album and becoming a big part of closing song “Vela”.
Songs likes “Zero Gravity”, “Nemesis”, and “Abyss” are the ones that really hit home just how good Shadow World is. This was a disc that hung strong all the way to the end of 2015 for me and was an easy shoe-in for the final list.
The ‘We really don’t have to say anything here because if you listen to any podcasts whatsoever you’ll start hearing our ad the moment you read our name’ award for 8th Best Album of The Year Presented By SquareSpace
Author & Punisher – Melk En Honing
Whilst most of this list consists of albums that move at incredibly fast speed, Author And Punisher is the opposite of that. In fact, Author and Punisher also contains nothing resembling traditional instruments, instead being composed of one man and his army of drone machines.
Melk En Honing is probably proprietor Tristan Shone’s most ‘metal’ album to date, as there are quite a few tracks that take on a bluesy air, or are actual songs as opposed to his patented ‘man drowning in sea of machines’ writing style. Knowing what goes into playing each of these songs makes it all the more impressive, especially during the sections where he actually decides to crank up the tempo, like the hammering opening section of “Callous And Hoof”.
Melk En Honing is a moody disc that, beyond its ‘milk and honey’ title, suggests a much darker world; when the last words screamed on the disc are, ‘Void, Null, Alive’, you can easily imagine that.
Author And Punisher is the sort of project that is metal by analogue, probably not considered part of the overall scene but making music you could easily imagine being the next fuzzed-out bass and drum doom band to take the world by storm – it just so happens to be written by an engineer with a penchant for percussion and screaming into different microphone filters.
The ‘Our Business People Told Us We Need To Start Getting In With The Youth Audience’ Award For 7th Best Album of The Year Presented by Werner’s Chocolates
Enshine – Singularity
If you’re still reading this and can remember what I wrote in the earlier days of this list, then congratulations. You’ve made it to the second disc that features Jari Lindholm on my 2015 album of the year awards.
Enshine features him teaming up with French melo-doom musician Sebastien Pierre (of Cold Insight, Fractal Gates, and Inborn Suffering fame), and the two make a fantastic pairing. This time around, Enshine stretch themselves further than they have before – taking us into the vast reaches of space for an ethereal and beautiful experience. There is still a fair share of misery here, but the album is just as space sci-fi as a couple others on this list, and quite a few songs on Singularity are fairly up-tempo.
“Resurgence”, for instance, is a fast-mover that sees Enshine slowly morphing into In Mourning during its run-time, and “Echoes” is another song that picks up quite a bit, making it one of the show-stoppers of the album.
Singularity is absolutely packed with great songs, and the predominantly blue color of the cover matches the music it accompanies. The two musicians of Enshine have managed to weaponize this sound and deploy it masterfully on Singularity. This is one of those projects that came out of nowhere with its debut album Origin a few years back, and it’s awesome to see Singularity continuing the trend of great music.
The ‘Rock Those Stains Right Out!’ Award For 6th Best Album Of The Year Presented By Tide
Mechina – Acheron/The World We Lost
I’m hoping to keep a tradition alive in 2016, i.e., my yearly bitch-fest about how at the top of each year I basically have to make a note for myself to reserve a spot for Mechina on my year-end list lest I forget about the Chicago based future-symphonic-metal-whosawhatsit sci-fi epic band’s release – because the group have been keeping to a steady promise for some years now of having an album out on January 1st. In fact, with this list going up up after the New Year has begun, there is already a new Mechina album out (entitled Progenitor).
So, with this addition I will be pulling you all back all the way to January 1st, 2015, and the release of Acheron. Acheron is the most ambitious Mechina disc so far. It is the most like a soundtrack – and also one that secretly has some of their heaviest songs to date on it, and in between them there are some massive ambient works as well. There’s even a softly sung ballad or two, and also an absolutely infectious track in “On The Wings Of Nefeli”.
But not only do I want to acknlowedge Acheron this time, I also have to bring up The World We Lost – which deals with everything that has kicked off their massive concept work to date. The World We Lost is a twenty-minute song in its own right and slots in right alongside Acheron. It’s another massive work.
It’s been exciting to see Mechina gain as much traction as they have, because for me as a sci-fi geek, they are truly one of the most interesting things that metal has going right now.
The ‘We Tried To Sponsor Every Other Award Just To Get Our Name Out There’ Award For 5th Best Album of The Presented by DraftKings
Rivers Of Nihil – Monarchy
Rivers Of Nihil had a hell of a job ahead of them, following up 2013’s The Conscious Seed Of Light. What I did not expect was that not only would they take that job head on but that they would also then crush it; Monarchy quickly shot from being just a fantastic album to one of the best of 2015 within the blink of an eye.
I did not expect to be locked into the album the way I was, but from the opening instrumental to the last note I couldn’t even fathom shutting the disc off; my first few days with Monarchy were one intense listening session after another.
There’s so much going on within these songs, but what made me really excited about Monarchy is that despite all the overflowing tech-death playing that the band employ, they still haven’t lost their sense of atmosphere, and at times they will let off just to create a more dynamic song in the end. It feels insane to say this, but I even feel like the instrumental “Terrestria II” may be my favorite song on the disc and that is despite a massive vocal performance from Jake Dieffenbach.
Rivers Of Nihil murder it on every song of Monarchy and it is such a stellar improvement over an already great album in The Conscious Seed Of Light that I almost can’t imagine where they go from here. But wherever they do go, you better believe I’m going to be watching every move, because if they can match Monarchy in any sense of the word then Rivers Of Nihil will cement their place as one of the best new bands going right now.
The ‘We’re Actually Only Here Because We Heard That This List Might Be Novel-Length And We’re Thinking About Optioning It’ Award For 4th Best Album Of The Year Presented By Random House Publishing
Moro Moro Land – Through
Russia’s Moro Moro Land had a hell of a release in early 2015. Through came out of nowhere for me, but this small five-track EP has a lot going for it. The band are part of a wave of groups that are seemingly able to mix metal and punk at the drop of a hat, while at the same time giving play to their artsier post-suffix-leaning sides. Through is one such release, with most of its tracks jumping between multiple dynamics before it hangs up its hat.
“New Skin”, Through’s opening salvo, features one of the catchier guitar and blast combos I’ve heard in some time, and the d-beat inspired punk of “If You Stand And Fight” has more feeling to it than most modern bands seem to give off these days. Even the cover of Nirvana’s “Something In The Way” – a track that most view as a nice bonus – is executed well enough that it became a constant listen, even after I had become long sick of the original song itself.
Through proved itself to be a quick and jarring listen, but one that lent itself to constant repeats, and so, like many albums in my top 10, quickly became one that I would listen to constantly at work. The fact that I did so even when the album was uploaded to Bandcamp in March, yet I am still not sick of it, shows just how well Moro Moro Land nailed it this time around.
The ‘Spinning Forever Until You Give Up And Hit Down To Play Snake’ Award For 3rd Best Album Of The Year Presented By YouTube
Svffer – Empathist
I don’t think I’ve had a disc bowl me over quite the way Svffer’s Empathist did in some time. I discovered Svffer seemingly on a whim whilst browsing between a bunch of different internet sites and saw that they had a new release coming up in November. Further investigation would show that the band had already uploaded it to Bandcamp, and from there was the beginning of a gorgeous love affair that just hasn’t seemed to let up.
Empathist is a relentless disc, some of the angriest and most passionate music that I’ve heard in some time. The group come armed with a multi-pronged vocal attack that has differing band members just screaming themselves hoarse over Empathist’s eight-song blast-fest. It is part grind, part hardcore, part punk rock, but mostly a clinic on utter violence the whole way through. In fact, the whole grouping of albums 4, 3, and 2 on this year end list might as well just be titled ‘the section you listen to when you want your skin flayed off’.
Empathist is a blistering release with some absolutely standout tracks on it. It is incredibly hard to pick out a favorite couple when it comes to the eight on Empathist, as the whole release is just dynamite from front to back. I absolutely love “Illusion”, even with its ‘see it coming from a mile off’ mosh-call at the end, and both “Fever” and “Error” are absolutely maddening songs. There’s a hefty amount of passion packed into Empathist and it comes through time and time again.
This album quickly became one of my soundtracks-for-work disc. It loaned itself so much to constant plays that I couldn’t help but have multiple spins on it.
The ‘Planned Obsolescence’ Award For #2 Best Album Of The Year Presented By Apple
Theories – Regression
I’m just going to get this out of the way right up-front in case it doesn’t work out across the rest of the site. “Shame” is the goddamned best song of the year. Not just the full song – I would even argue that the last few minutes of “Shame” are the song of the year. Based on the drum performance alone, “Shame” is one of the best songs out there.
Regression broadsided us in early 2015, but it is an album of expertly crafted deathgrind that just never seems to let up. It’s packed to the brim with anger, and every moment of screaming is backed by a band that has zero concept of the world “subtlety”. Regression is a hammering performance from front-to-back, and although I mentioned above that a lot of metal albums boil down to utter blast fests, Regression is one of the few times where it feels excusable because the music behind it is written to feel like gunfire.
Theories are a ferocious band with a lot to say and the weaponized musicians to back it up. Even songs that might be familiar to people who’ve been following the group for a bit (like “Cycle Of Decay”) manage to hit just as hard on the full release. Every song on this album could basically be summarized as someone screaming at the top of their lungs, but Theories have so much fury behind them that they feel righteous in doing so.
Regression is packed from front-to-back with songs that move through a variety of grind riffs and death metal sections with an alarming recklessness, leaving nothing but destruction in its wake. If Regression were to be portrayed as a wall of fire working its way through a CD, the comparison would be absolutely justified.
The ‘Yesterday’s News, Next Week…Depending On How The Day Job Treats Us’ Award For #1 Best Album Of The Year Presented By No Clean Singing Dot Com
Cattle Decapitation – The Anthropocene Extinction
Take every genre of heavy metal and throw it into a tumble-dryer and the most recent two Cattle Decapitation discs might be something resembling what comes out. Somewhere along the line, Cattle Decap decided that writing insanity would be a good way to approach death metal and in that time have given us two albums that are utter devastation in sonic form, Monolith of Inhumanity and 2015’s The Anthropocene Extinction.
Anthropocene takes a lot of the ideas brought forth on Monolith and expounds on them, with some infectious-as-hell sung choruses on top of some of the most brutal and technically frightening guitar and drum performances heard in some time. Travis Ryan remains a terror as a vocalist, and the band behind him are like a battering ram. The songs on Anthropocene are a little bit more approachable than Monolith but not by much. They’re still frightening displays of death and grind, on top of a helping of black metal vocals sung by a pirate.
Songs like “Circo Inhumanitas”, “Not Suitable For Life”, “Prophets Of Loss”, and “Manufactured Extinct” help to cement The Anthropocene Extinction as my top album this year, and prove that Cattle Decapitation are the sort of band that heavy metal needs. They even gave Author And Punisher a quick guest appearance on the opening of “Plagueborne”, a nice shoutout to the San Diego metal scene.
Anthropocene stands shoulder to shoulder with its sibling Monolith and gives Cattle Decapitation something of a career renaissance by giving us two albums that I don’t think any band in metal is going to bother trying to match, because you can’t. They’re almost undeniable and the sort of thing that most people assume can’t happen twice, yet Cattle Decapitation made it work and we’re all the better for it.