(Year-end lists… you just can’t kill em’. But Andy Synn has made a habit of crowning our annual LISTMANIA series with one final offering — his selection of the last year’s top songs — and this year is no different.)
Did you REALLY think I was done with lists? Are you really that naive? Oh, how foolish are those who are most willing to be.. umm… fooled. Or something.
Yes, it’s no secret I enjoy making lists, and as such have a particular fondness for the end-of-year period here at NCS, not just because it lets me indulge my numero-erotic list-making proclivities in full (and in public, no less) but also because I sincerely enjoy reading and debating all the other lists we publish and reference and, in the process, discovering bands I’d otherwise overlooked.
The hardest list to pull together though is the list of my favourite songs of the year. Not because of any hard-fought pretence of objectivity (there’s none of that here), but because there’s simply so many options to choose from, with my initial list coming in at well over 100 entries, each drawn from albums across the length and breadth of my Great/Good/Disappointing lists of last year.
But, finally… finally… I managed to whittle it down to the ten selections you’re about to encounter.
I’m not suggesting these are the definitive “Best” songs of the year by any means, they’re just ten tracks which have burrowed their way under my skin and into my brain the deepest.
So, without further ado…
The Crown – Godeater (from the album Death is Not Dead)
Now whilst I can say in hindsight that Death is not Dead is not the best album The Crown have ever produced (though it still kicks a solid amount of ass), this particular track was an instant lock for this list the very first time I heard it.
Heavier than a ten-tonne hammer, and with enough groove to level an entire city block with ease, it’s a near perfect melding of the band’s traditional crushing riffery and hammering drum work married to an utterly irresistible chorus courtesy of returning vocalist Johan Lindstrand.
Definitely one that needs to be cranked loudly and repeatedly.
Cattle Decapitation – “Clandestine Ways (Krokodil Rot)” (from the album The Anthropocene Extinction)
As you should be fully aware, we loved The Anthropocene Extinction here at NCS, and we’re obviously not alone in that regard, as the album (deservedly) showed up on a good 75% or so of last year’s lists (by my estimation, at least).
And whilst opener “Manufactured Extinct” and closer “Pacific Grim” might have been the obvious choices for this list (and were definitely in the running), it’s actually the mind-bending assault of “Clandestine Ways” that does it for me the most, with its almost unrelenting intensity and utterly apocalyptic drum work matched by a brace of flesh-ripping vocal hooks and killer riffs (particularly the unashamedly killer section that kicks in at 02:26) that simply add to the song’s calculated chaos and cataclysmic heaviness.
Abhorrent Decimation – “Odious” (from the album Miasmic Mutation)
Sticking with Death Metal for the time being, let me say that Miasmic Mutation was definitely one of my favourite albums of the year, despite the fact that it didn’t quite make either of my Top Ten lists. But the jewel in its sickeningly savage crown is most definitely monolithically heavy final track “Odious”.
Part unflinching Tech-Death assault, and part lurching, blackened groove machine, with the sort of devastatingly dynamic central chorus hook that Nergal and co. would be more than happy to call their own, there’s not an ounce of fat or a wasted moment on the track, while its moody, piano-led outro throws a nicely unexpected curveball into the proceedings at just the right moment.
Soilwork – “The Ride Majestic (Aspire Angelic)” (from the album The Ride Majestic)
Now I realise I put this album in my “Disappointing” list… and I still stand by that decision. But I also stand by what I said in the original column, that “Disappointing” doesn’t necessarily mean “Bad”… or, at least, not 100% bad.
Case in point, “Aspire Angelic” (no, I have no idea why they re-used the title-track’s name for this song as well either) is Soilwork at their absolute best – impressively technical (without being overbearing) and massively melodic, and capable of throwing in a remarkably heavy twist or subtly proggy turn along the way, all built around a frankly humongous chorus refrain (that never gets over-used) and driven by Dirk Verbeuren’s powerhouse performance behind the kit.
A Swarm of the Sun – “These Depths Were Always Meant for Both of Us” (from the album The Rifts)
One of the most emotionally heavy albums of last year, The Rifts by Swedish duo A Swarm of the Sun was one of the biggest, and best, surprises of 2015 for me, and the 10+ minute “These Depths Were Always Meant For Both of Us” is (by my estimation at least) its crowning achievement.
A slow-burning, self-indulgent, progressive monolith of a track, it is, by turns, solemn and fragile yet groaning with barely suppressed power. For the first five minutes or so it’s also wholly instrumental, woven together from layers of crystalline guitars and pulse-pounding drum work, but this just sets the stage for the steady descent into despair of the song’s second half, where Jakob Berglund’s tender, aching vocals and sombre, poetic lyrics come to the fore in truly heart-breaking fashion.
Vattnet Viskar – “Glory” (from the album Settler)
Speaking of emotive heaviness, Vattnet Viskar’s sophomore album Settler definitely managed to capture the sense of loss and desolation… the loss of hope and the desolation of so many dreams… embodied in the Challenger shuttle disaster of 30 years ago.
In particular the song “Glory” seems to me to capture the mood of things perfectly, almost triumphant in tone at times, yet tempered by an ever-present atmosphere of desperate melancholy, It burns brightly and boldly with fiery conviction, rising to touch the face of god, before descending back to earth in one raging, cathartic convulsion.
Martriden – “Cold and the Silence” (from the album Cold and the Silence)
One of my favourite bands returned this year, almost out of the blue (and purple) with a new album that pushed them ever further into the lambent, cosmic waters of Prog, and absolutely blew me away (again) in the process.
Embracing their inner-Enslaved even more (with more than a dash of Cynic, and some impressively nuanced and technical bass work), the band continue to demonstrate why they’re one of the best kept secrets of the US underground, and although a number of songs from the album were vying for my attention (both “The Grey” and “Consequence” made very good cases for their inclusion here), it was the title track that ultimately won out, by virtue of its vast, cosmic atmosphere, complex, yet restrained performances (subtle touches of lead and acoustic guitar in particular shining through), and utterly captivating vocals (both clean and harsh).
It’s a song I keep on going back to, again and again, and will most definitely be doing so for the foreseeable future, mark my words.
Secrets of the Moon – “Here Lies The Sun” (from the album Sun)
The ever-divisive Secrets of the Moon also returned this year, with another album that saw them straying further than ever from their Black Metal roots, without once compromising the integrity of their sound.
“Here Lies The Sun” is a particularly brilliant track on an album full of them (the entire mid-section of the album could easily have been included here), that seems to channel, whether consciously or not, the ghost of the much-missed and long-lamented Sentenced, and then weld it onto a backbone of chunky, crunchy riffs, topped off with a singularly raw and emotional vocal performance from frontman sG, all building to a truly irresistible finale.
Sanzu – 18 Days of Rain (from the EP Painless)
Don’t get me wrong, I definitely think that Sanzu’s debut album Heavy Over the Home is a major step-up from their EP, but with this being the first track by the band I ever heard (and still, in many ways, one of their best), there was almost no way it wasn’t going to find itself on this list come year’s end.
Coiled like a mechanical viper, veins lined with lead and fangs dripping venom, the only word for this song is… humongous. It slithers and pounds and crushes with pneumatic metallic force right from its down-tuned opening notes, all the way to its sudden and unexpected conclusion, without skimping on weapons-grade riffage or neck-wrecking hooks in the process.
Turbid North – “The Burning Sky” (from the album Eyes Alive)
The final slot on my list almost ended up as a three-way tie, with both the harrowing Black Metal assault of Wiegedood and the morbidly melodic doomery of Red Moon Architect putting themselves forwards as serious contenders. However, in the end, it had to be this track, as I’ve absolutely fallen in love with this album as a whole, and this particular song just embodies precisely why in microcosm.
Its lurching, groovesome heaviness – part brooding Death March, part tar-thick Sludge – just grabs you by the balls right from the start with its massive, groaning riffs and colossal vocals, while the occasional injections of borderline Mastodonic proggery along the way just add to the track’s intriguing, imaginative vibe.
It’s not even necessarily the “best” song on the album (it’s certainly the shortest), but there’s just something about it that ticks all the boxes for me.
And there you go. Just a smattering of the awesome songs that 2015 had to offer. If you like what you hear, and if you discover something you hadn’t heard before, why not sling a few bucks towards the band in question? We need to support the music we love to help keep it alive and kicking. God knows what we might get stuck with if we don’t!