Pete Woods (Editor)
It’s been a real struggle just whittling this down to a mere 20 choices. Anyone that tells you that there has been no good music this year obviously is suffering from stupidity, serious wax in the ears or simply not listening to the right stuff. I could probably have gone and chosen 50 discs without too much trouble such has been the wealth of creativity heard from all quarters during the year. Looking at everyone’s picks this year has proved a really versatile and rewarding experience. We may have shared some common ground among us but there were also some writers sharing not a single choice with another which really goes to illustrate just how fertile things have been. Many old, well loved and established bands are cropping up again along with some new contenders perhaps delivering an exciting debut that has made us sit up and listen! Will this continue into 2016? Well I predict it will and already the year is shaping up with new and exciting albums being prepared. Keep an eye on the site, we are going to continue telling you what we think of them. Until then enjoy these lists.
1: Amorphis – Under The Red Cloud’ (Nuclear Blast)
A rapturous, upbeat master-class in melodic death metal that’s as close to perfection as it gets. 25 years into their career and still making classic and timeless albums, Amorphis remain a vital and consistent force.
2: Tau Cross – Tau Cross (Relapse)
Arising from the ashes of Amebix Rob The Baron Miller joined forces with Voivod’s Away and guitarists from Misery and War/Plague. With fire in its belly and heartfelt stories full of emotion and passion this debut soared like a phoenix rising from the ashes.
3: Enslaved – In Times (Nuclear Blast)
Evolving at a rate of knots but never forgetting past origins Enslaved carry on sailing on an epic odyssey and prove that album no 13 is far from unlucky. Psychedelic and progressive blackness played with consummate skill, this proved an album for all times.
4: Sigh – Graveward (Candlelight)
A melting pot of ideas that surpasses genre convention and as lunatic etched as ever. Sigh yet again confound the senses with an utterly remarkable journey through lands of mystery, imagination and beyond.
5: Lychgate – An Antidote For The Glass Pill (Blood Music)
Comprising members of Esoteric, Macabre Omen, Ancient Ascendant & The One this came out of nowhere and frayed the nerves in malevolent fashion. Horror incarnate made musical flesh with lashings of spooky organ work and grim mesmerising undertones.
6: Secrets Of The Moon – Sun (Prophecy)
A late contender but one quickly quantifying its position. Rich in atmosphere and superb in song-writing the German group have gone way beyond the scopes of black metal on this glorious ode to the sun, scorching the firmament on each and every number.
7: Solefald – World Metal Kosmopolis Sud (Indie)
Barking mad and unhinged but delirious with it. World music with black edges was conceived and threw everything imaginable into a big pot, stirring continuously and seeing what fell out. Genius or lunacy, whatever you think drinking deep proved infectious.
8: Killing Joke – Pylon (Spinefarm)
Prophetic warnings of technological takeover and not so paranoid ranting put into destructive and harmonious musical form. It may have been 37 years since this original quartet first massed ranks but today they are just as destructively a relevant institution.
9: Kampfar -Profan (Indie)
Swaggering Norse metal with a hefty heathen cleave. Dolk and his merry men pulled an exceptional album out the bag, bristling with fury and fire. Mighty and glorious, Profan illustrates a band right at the peak of their career.
10: A Forest Of Stars – Beware The Sword You Cannot See (Prophecy)
The ladies and gentleman of this club do something otherworldly and unique and captivate both on and off the stage. Devilishly beguiling this latest set of gas-lit anthems sprawled out with progressive avant-garde lunacy at their heart. There was more than a mere spark of magic here.
11: Shining – IX – Everyone, Everything, Everywhere, Ends (Season Of Mist)
12: Ahab – The Boats of the Glen Carrig (Napalm)
13: Marduk – ‘Frontschwein – Century Media)
14: Arcturus -Arcturian (Prophecy)
15: Sabbath Assembly – Sabbath Assembly (Svart)
16: Porta Nigra – Kaiserschnitt – (Debemur Morti)
17: Temple Of Baal -Mysterium (Agonia)
18: Dodheimsgard – A Umbra Omega (Peaceville)
19: Nechochwen – Heart Of Akomen (Nordvis)
20: My Dying Bride – Feel The Misery (Peaceville)
1: Arcturus – Arcturian (Prophecy)
No-one else sounds like Arcturus – or probably has greater multi-genre appeal. From Prog Rock to Black Metal fans, Arcturus are spoken of favourably. Also maybe because Arcturus are virtually impossible to stick a label on. I guess they are truly progressive, totally unpredictable and free to do what they like. This album is no exception, it has loads of hidden depths and quirks performed with utter freedom and eccentricity. I loved Sham Mirrors, then the vocalist change meant Sideshow Symphonies had a slightly different approach, yet this one manages to combine the two perfectly.
2: Vintage Caravan – Arrival (Nuclear Blast)
The young band with the high maturity unleash another top-class retro journey. Crammed full of their trademark sound, pushing the limits and crafting an album that shows they are one of the best at what they do. So many familiar vibes mixed in yet totally Vintage Caravan, the perfect balance – a great album.
3: Borealis – Purgatory (AFM)
I’ve already said it all in my review. Evergrey-infused Metal with fabulous musicianship, where everything gels, the band finds its niche and totally comes of age.
4: Symphony X – Underworld (Nuclear Blast)
Surely the top Progressive METAL release of the year? As Opeth and Riverside refine their sound towards Rock and Dream Theater continue to then be the only Prog Metal band the mainstream know of, Symphony X (one of the best bands in a genre that needs a bit of invigorating) changed their approach, giving more emphasis to the vocals whilst retaining all of their previous power and heaviness – with fabulous results! Their best album in a long time and a wake up call to others of this style.
5: Nocturnalia – Above Below Within (Gaphals)
Well this was totally unexpected, tucked away on a smaller label with no expectations and in all honestly a vocalist and style that shouldn’t really work together – this is one of my most played albums of the year…I just keep going back to it! It’s retro in so many blended ways that it ends up being rather current and forward thinking.
6: Horisont – Odyssey (Rise Above)
I’ve bought every Horisont album the year it came out and watched a slightly awkward, experimental fledgling band steadily grasp their strengths and grow with each release. This album sees them at their most comfortable and accomplished, sounding so at ease with themselves that they can now start to push their sound outwards once more…into the cosmos!
7: Graveyard – Innocence and Decadence (Nuclear Blast)
It’s Graveyard. They are one of the leaders of their genre and do it so bloody well time after time. There’s not much more to be said…unless you have to write a review…which I did.
8: Orden Ogan – Ravenhead (AFM)
Nudging their way up the Power Metal ladder with each release, this German outfit are steadily eschewing their Running Wild obsession to encompass the very essence of Blind Guardian past and present. Luckily there is still plenty of themselves in their sound rounding out yet another top class release from them.
9: Riverside – Love, Fear and the Time Machine (Inside Out)
Is there another band that manages to combine everything from Rush, Porcupine Tree, Opeth and others as effortlessly as Riverside? A slightly more optimistic release than previous ones, the band just play upon their strengths and craft such fantastic songs with such apparent ease. There was a time recently when Riverside were unbelievably without a record deal, thank goodness someone saw sense and gave them the chance to impress us all once more.
10: Royal Hunt – Devil’s Dozen (Frontiers)
One of the leaders of the Melodic Symphonic Rock/Metal upsurge in the late Nineties have experimented with many line-ups surrounding main-man keyboardist Andre Andersen, but for me they never really captured that grace and elegance they had on “Moving Target” and “Paradox”…until now. Re-instating the vocalist from those releases (D.C. Cooper) in 2013 was long overdue and after a credible comeback, everything seems to gel on this release – it’s like he’s never been away.
11: Ensiferum – One Man Army (Metal Blade)
12: Nightwish – Endless Forms Most Beautiful (Nuclear Blast)
13: The Gentle Storm – The Diary (Inside Out)
14: Sirenia – The Seventh Life Path (Napalm)
15: Iron Maiden – The Book Of Souls (BMG)
16: Avatarium – The Girl With The Raven Mask (Nuclear Blast)
17: UFO – A Conspiracy of Stars (SPV)
18: Stratovarius – Eternal (EarMusic)
19: Blind Guardian – Beyond the Red Mirror (Nuclear Blast)
20: Soto – Inside the Vertigo (EarMusic)
Well, it’s been a mixed year of highs and lows, periods with no gigs between times when there were too many to get to, a classic “first world problem”, I believe. Amazingly, such acts as High on Fire, With The Dead, The Vintage Caravan, and Motorhead, despite being firm favourites of mine didn’t make my top 10, a sign of what I hope is the high quality of albums chosen. Anyway, enough of my yacking, here we go:
1: Wino and Conny Ochs – Freedom Conspiracy (Exile on Mainstream)
Pure unadulterated class from two singer song writers with their acoustic guitars. If you want darkness, heaviness, and atmosphere, these troubadours deliver it without the necessity of tricks like screaming effects, flames, faux devil worship and corpse paint.
2: Gentlemans Pistols – Hustler’s Row (Nuclear Blast)
Unashamedly catchy hard rock from the latest incarnation of the band, blues guitar coming care of axeman extraordinary Mr Bill Steer. A massive return from a period of silence.
3: Windhand – Grief’s Eternal Flower (Relapse)
A whole bunch of bands have had publicity claiming their album was “the most anticipated doom album of 2015”; that is an accolade that Windhand actually earned. Crushing doom interspersed with gentle acoustic pieces make this an album of massive scope, depth, and beauty.
4: Pentagram – Curious Volume (Peaceville)
Some folks may not have liked the rockier side to this latest release, but by mixing it up a bit in the fifth decade of the bands existence, Pentagram helped to cement their legend as not only survivors, but leaders on the scene.
5: Clouds Taste Satanic – Your Doom Has Come (Kinda Like Music)
There are a few instrumental acts around, but few in my opinion display the musicianship of Clouds Taste Satanic, and none have captured a sound that would serve as sound tracks to a plethora of horror movies so well. Pure cinematic metal.
6: Kadavar – Berlin (Nuclear Blast)
The audience for retro hard rock continues to grow, and Kadavar are at the forefront of acts feeding that demand. A skilled and stripped back sound that they are able to recreate live as a three piece helps keep this German trio at the head of the movement.
7: Uncle Acid and The Deadbeats – The Night Creeper (Rise Above)
With a sound as intense and mysterious as their whole image, Uncle Acid continue to deliver the goods with style and panache. Turn on, tune in, and drop out.
8: Pombagira – Flesh Throne Flesh (Svart)
On this album Pombagira have created a sonic psychedelic sea to help wash the soul clean. Hypnotic and immersive in the extreme, do not listen to whilst driving.
9: Clutch – Psychic Warfare (Weathermaker Music)
Of course a new Clutch album is going to be on my top 10; the fact it is so low on the list is not a sign of a drop in quality by the band, but rather a sign of how much other good music came my way this year. That said, I’ve no doubt Psychic Warfare will continue to be played year on year in the Spenny household.
10: Mammoth Storm – Fornjot (Napalm)
Doom the way it’s meant to be, thundering out of Sweden with all the weight of the Norse gods behind it. Prepare to be crushed.
Groan – Hyrospliffics – Superhot Records, and Wolfsbane – Rock – Self Released: whilst many years apart in inception, and near poles apart in style, both Groan and Wolfsbane have the simple mission to start a party and lead it to a hedonistic finish, and with these two contrasting EP’s, that mission was completed with aplomb; here’s to some new albums mayhaps?
1: Therapy? – Disquiet (Amazing Record Co.)
Catchy songs + infectious riffs = classic Therapy?
They didn’t need to record an album like this to earn my utmost respect…But, I’m glad they did!
2: The Antichrist Imperium – S/T (Apocalyptic Witchcraft)
David Gray and Matt Wilcock bring us the Akercocke album that never was! The Antichrist Imperium delivers all that you would hope for, and more! My favourite extreme release of 2015.
3: Undersmile – Anhedonia (Black Bow)
Sublime and savage. Undersmile inject their massive slabs of doom with heartbreaking subtlety and cello-induced melancholy.
4: Paradise Lost – The Plague Within (Century Media)
What can I say?…It’s Paradise Lost! Another great record in a long career of great records!
5: Karyn Crisis’ Gospel Of The Witches – Salem’s Wounds (Century Media)
This may have needed crowd-funding to get off the ground, but it flies high with a spellbinding mix of beauty and brutality.
6: Mor Dagor – Redeemer (Osmose)
Devastatingly effective war-obsessed black metal. This takes no prisoners, and shows no mercy!
7: NYX – Home (Agonia)
Raw and savage black metal, with an ethereal splendour that makes it stand out from the crowd.
8: Lychgate – An Antidote For The Glass Pill (Blood Music)
An organ-infused concept of sprawling cinematic vision. Black metal of the grandest order!
9: Funeral Throne – Threshold (Blut & Eisen)
Funeral Throne return six years later to piss all over their debut album, with focus, fire and power.
10: Infernus – Grinding Christian Flesh (Moribund)
Prime cuts of nun-bothering necro fury!
Refreshingly old-school, filthy black metal that does what it says on the tin!
1: Mgla – Exercises in Futility (Northern Heritage)
It’s the dignity of scavengers at the ever growing garbage dump of life” – Mgla never fail to write lyrics that incite the urge to pump your fist in the air. I didn’t think I’d love any black metal album as much as ‘With Hearts Towards None’ but then this came along. No gimmicks needed here, just organic song writing, powerful musicianship and a commanding stage presence. Absolutely flawless.
2: Dragged Into Sunlight & Gnaw Their Tongues – N.V. (Prosthetic Records)
Admittedly, hearing serial killer Michael Ross talking about raping and strangling women sent cold fingers up my spine, and I really could have done without listening to that. However, the sheer brutality of the music itself enables me to overlook the insensitive trampling of murder victims’ graves. This is the sort of music that makes you pull that silly, furrow browed face when listening because it’s just that heavy. What a pairing.
3: The Body & Krieg – S/T (At A Loss Recordings)
Of The Body’s many collaborative releases, the noise-doom duo’s work alongside Krieg’s Neill Jameson is among their heaviest and most strident. This album had a huge impact upon me mentally. Right up there with their collborations with Thou and Sandworm.
4: Cape of Bats – Violent Occultism (Broken Limbs Recordings)
Punk, d-beat and black metal – this album has it all. The galloping rhythms and romper stomper pace make for a rager of an album and the high energy solos are packing an infectious punch of rage. The most fun I’ve had listening to an album from start to finish in a long time.
5: Drudkh – A Furrow Cut Short (Season Of Mist)
Drudkh may not be a household name within black metal, but they’re arguably one of the greatest bands of the genre in the 21st century. The influence driven by the pride they feel for their Ukranian heritage lends a unique sound to the music. ‘A Furrow Cut Short’ is possibly their best release since ‘Blood in Our Wells’.
6: Leviathan – Scar Sighted (Profound Lore)
As a long-time fan of Leviathan, this album is an interesting one for me. It’s not as dark or murky as any of Jeff Whitehead’s previous releases – which may hint at his state of mind. He now has a healthy relationship, a child and both his career in tattoo artistry and music are flourishing. I’m definitely enjoying the new buzz of energy found within the music.
7: Ninkharsag – Blood of Celestial Kings (Candlelight)
I’d heard loads about Ninkharsag but never actually listened to anything of theirs until I got the promo for this. I was instantly impressed – Liverpool seems to have a pretty strong scene (Coltsblood, Crypt Lurker, etc.) and Ninkharsag are an excellent addition.
8: Panopticon – Autumn Eternal (Bindrune)
Black metal banjos! Bluegrass infused black metal shouldn’t work, but it does and I love it. Austin Lunn is a wonderful songwriter and it would unlikely he’d ever release anything that I wouldn’t end up including on my end of year list.
9: Lana Del Rey – Honeymoon (Interscope)
Who doesn’t love a bit of Lana? Her sultry voice and hedonistically themed tunes are a golden combination. Admittedly, it took me longer to get into this than ‘Born to Die’ and ‘Ultraviolence’ but it still tramples the vast majority of metal releases put out this year.
10: Caina – Setter of Unseen Snares (Broken Limbs Recordings)
If I had to make a list of my songs of the year then ‘I am the Flail of the Lord’ would be on there – it’s like a black metal version of ‘The Facts’ by Trap Them. Don’t believe me? Listen to both songs side by side. Anyway, that song alone means this record is more than deserving of a place on my list – the rest of the album is just an added bonus.
1: Kingcrow – Eidos (Sensory)
The reason I’ve listened to this album more than any other is that it simply plugs into my brain. “Eidos” can be lived and breathed. It has such a natural charm that it is progressive without the need to be heavy or light. No exaggeration or theatricality is required. The emotional intensity and story-telling flow out of the music and the ambience. Each song progresses fluidly, rising and falling and matching anything that Opeth or Anathema can do. “Eidos” is like that book you can’t put down.
2: Vola – Inmazes (S/R)
I had an idea when I saw Vola at ProgPower Europe that their recorded work was going to be good. I listened to “Inmazes”. I had a light bulb experience. “Inmazes” gets better with every listen. It’s fresh, modern, progressive, djenty when it needs to be, and the structures are irresistibly hooky without being simplistic. This isn’t just a good album. It’s outrageously good.
3: Leprous -The Congregation (Century Media)
Leprous have always been brilliant at combining nervous energy with drama and insanity, and here they excel at conveying theatrical showmanship and creating a dynamic progressive style which takes us into their vividly bizarre world and blows our mind in an memorable and entertaining way.
4: Callisto – Secret Youth (Svart)
Sounding in parts like inspiration has been taken from Goth Metal bands like Poisonblack and Charon, Finland’s Callisto create a haunting spectacle with great songs, melodies, sound effects and enveloping darkness.
5: Thy Catafalque – Sgùrr (Season of Mist)
Intense black metal passages recalling the days of Burzum intermingle with Hungarian folk tales and avant garde atmospheres on this worthy follow-up to the uniquely imaginative “Rengeteg” (2011). Awesome and interesting from beginning to end.
6: Mantric – Sin (Loyal Blood Records)
The challenge here is not to go insane, It’s worth the effort. These Norwegians use substructures, distortions and a multitude of styles yet somehow manage to pull it all together and create something captivating and gripping.
7: Bauda – Sporelights (Temple of Tortuous)
The idea of the collaboration between a renowned Chilean progressive rock musician and the psychedelic input of a member of the Gathering was an inspired one. This floaty and moody work is the impressive result.
8: Kontinuum – Kurr (Candlelight)
Hypnotic and spiritual musical noise” is what’s offered. Dark and gothic, punchy and melodic – “Kyrr” is full of twists but of an atmospheric kind which appeals strongly to the imagination.
9: Momentum – The Freak is Alive (Dark Essence)
Devoted to freaks as the title suggests, Momentum spin dark webs and create hypnotically haunting and eerie atmospheres. The images of mists and dreams are enhanced by a delivery which recalls Tiamat in their “Deeper Kind of Slumber” days.
10: Exxasens – Back to Earth (Aloud Music)
A largely instrumental post rock type journey across the surface of the earth. Rich, imaginative, dreamy and majestic ”Back to Earth” captures the essence of life.
11: Consecration – Grob (Geenger)
12: Riverside – Love, Fear and the Time Machine (Inside Out)
13: Amorphis – Under the Red Cloud (Nuclear Blast)
14 Der Weg einer Freiheit – Stellar (Season of Mist)
15: Tribulation -The Children of the Night (Century Media)
16: Soilwork – The Ride Majestic (Nuclear Blast)
17: GOLD – No Image (Vàn)
18: 6:33 -Deadly Scenes (Kaotoxin)
19: Blaze of Perdition – Near Death Revelations (Agonia)
20: Khors – Night Falls onto the Front of Ours (Candlelight)
Ok, listen in. If you say your favourite album this year is some maudlin post black metal wankery, you’re wrong. If you think that some one man / woman wafty ambient doom project’s album was better than Iron Maiden then pop down the doctors and ask for some ‘head-pills’. Stop trying to impress with your knowledge of obscure Euro misery and just admit you’re a tosspot hipster following an imaginary elitist trend.
Metal! Metal my friends is where it’s at and 2015 saw an avalanche of proper metal.
So read on and take heed. There’ll be some familiar and obvious names that need no introduction. There’s also some albums by bands I’ve only just discovered. But they all have one thing in common. They’ve all produced a fucking good album that has put a grin on my face and had my head banging. And if you disagree, remember, it’s only my opinion (and therefore fact!)
1: Iron Maiden – The Book Of Souls (Parlophone)
An easy win by the best heavy metal band in the world. Their sixteenth studio album in thirty five glorious years is an 11 song double album showcasing some breath-taking song writing (Empire Of The Clouds is ridiculously good) and features every Maiden trademark. Pure awesome. Not trendy of course but who cares? Up the Irons!
2: Motorhead – Bad Magic (UDR)
Lemmy, Mikkey & Phil are a non stop rock & roll machine and my favourite band ever. ‘Bad Magic’ is every bit as relevant as ‘Ace Of Spades’ or ‘Orgasmatron’ and just as tight as ‘Aftershock’ was. It features a truly killer selection of banging tracks and Lemmy, despite all the health issues shines through as ever with an aggressive yet soulful vocal performance on this album & Phil Campbell is truly one of the most underrated guitarists in rock. Listen to the one two punch of ‘Victory Or Die’ & ‘Thunder & Lightning’ and tell me you can see this band ever retiring.
3: Gentlemans Pistols – Hustler’s Row (Nuclear Blast)
My most played album here and a total hip shaking, head bobbing corker of an album. Like last year’s album by ‘The Dagger’ this is an amazing pure ROCK album. Pure UFO / BOC / Cheap Trick. Bluesy and life affirming this album always lifts my spirits. James Atkinson’s voice plus his great duo guitar work with Bill Steer is the highlight here. I love this record and you should too. Plus ‘Devil’s Advocate On Call’ is the best song I’ve heard all year. Lovely stuff!
4: Raven – ExtermiNation (SPV)
Rounding out the podium is another band formed in the mid seventies. Geordie NWOBHM nutters Raven came out of nowhere with this their thirteenth album. Fourteen songs of pure, patched denim, head banging & fist pumping high energy classic heavy metal and probably my most played album of the year. I was lucky enough (cheers Tim) to catch them on their recent UK tour and they reminded me why I still live, breath and LOVE heavy metal.
5: Slayer – Repentless (Nuclear Blast)
Right let’s be clear. This is the BEST Slayer album since ‘Seasons In The Abyss’. A cohesive slab of violent thrash metal that sounds, despite the absence of Jeff Hanneman RIP, simply, well, like Slayer. Less filler than the last few records this features some of their best song-writing since ‘Seasons…’ and a great performance from Paul Bostaph on drums. Again, lots of bellends on social media made it trendy to hate on this album when it was released but no other thrash band can hold a candle to them. Essential
6: Down Among The Dead Men – Exterminate! Annihilate! Destroy! (Cyclone Empire)
Crusty D-Beat death metal with Swedish groove and swagger courtesy of riff master Rogga Johansson. Add to this former Bolt Thrower / Benediction vocalist, Dave Ingram growling about Dr Who all over it. A great record that I gave a perfect ten to earlier in the year.
7: Morgoth – Ungod (Century Media)
With a death metal RKO from out of nowhere came Morgoth with ‘Ungod’ their first album since the catastrophic ‘Cold Lake’ style balls up that was 1996’s ‘Feel Sorry For The Fanatic’. The German’s regrouped and produced a catchy, old school death metal album which was solid as fuck.
8: Soilwork – The Ride Majestic (Nuclear Blast)
A beautifully melodic yet savagely aggressive hook laden tour de force from the Swedes on their tenth album. You’d think they’d have had a few years off after releasing and touring the double album ‘The Living Infinite’ in 2013 but no. Finest melodic death metal album of the year, easy.
9: Marduk – Frontschwein (Century Media)
Morgan’s Swedish Panzer Division grinds forever onwards crushing every other poser black metal band under their iron tracks. Another killer record, their thirteenth, ‘Frontschwein’ sees Mortuus sounding incredible. Morbid and unsettling he howls and growls over some awesome songs that transcend both death and black metal. Every bit as good if not better than ‘Serpent Sermon’ and a truly unrelenting yet memorable blast fest.
10: Obscene Entity – Lamentia (Tridroid Records)
Debut full length from these Suffolk shredders. If you liked their debut ep then this will have you jizzing everywhere. Technical & complex early Morbid Angel style death metal that never disappears up its own arse. Matt Adnett’s roar can peel paint and Luke’s drumming is incredible. Up there with the best death metal releases of the year, no question. Buy it and see them live – devastating!
11: Grave – Out Of Respect For The Dead (Century Media)
12: Unleashed – Dawn Of The Nine (Nuclear Blast)
13: Saxon – Battering Ram (UDR)
14: Gruesome – Savage Land (Relapse Records)
15: Cattle Decapitation – The Anthropocene Extinction (Metal Blade)
16: Napalm Death – Apex Predator – Easy Meat (Century Media)
17: Extreme Noise Terror – Extreme Noise Terror (Willowtip)
18: Black Breath – Slaves Beyond Death (Southern Lord)
19: Whiskey Ritual – Blow With The Devil (Art Of Propaganda)
20: Undead – False Prophecies (Listenable Records)
1: Nile – What Should Not be Unearthed (Nuclear Blast)
2015 saw the world’s Tech-death kings hold their title with this absolute beast. With furiously brutal riffs and unparalleled levels of speed throughout, What Should Not be Unearthed was a powerful and invigorating boot to the face in the death metal world this year and was easily the genre’s strongest album of 2015 by a long shot.
2: Kraanium – Chronicles of Perversion (Comatose)
Packed with enough catchy riffs and infectious groove to satisfy the most hardcore of slam fans, Kraanium’s Chronicles of Perversion easily deserves a top spot in the list of 2015’s extreme metal releases. After a recent line-up change, Kraanium returned to the scene on top from, complete with their quintessential gorey lyrics and NSFW song titles.
3: Skeletal Remains – Condemned to Misery (F.D.A. Rekotz)
Skeletal Remains were determined to prove that there’s no school like the old school back in August. This album had such a fantastic late 80’s/early 90’s Obituary vibes to it that one could almost mistake it for a lost classic of Tardy and co’s. Speedy, growling brilliance from start to finish and a hit with both thrash and death fans.
4: Tsjuder – Antiliv (Season Of Mist)
Keeping things suitably sinister and frostbitten, Norwegian black metalers Tsjuder created quite the kvlt storm back in September with their fifth full length release Antiliv. This album packed plenty of quintessential black metal punches and was a brilliantly fast and raw listen from start to finish. With some catchy riffs thrown in for good measure, Antiliv was easily the strongest black metal album of 2015.
5: Party Canon – Bong Hit Hospitalisation (Gore House)
Causing quite the sensation with their unconventional death metal logo this year, let’s not forget the release that catapulted Party Cannon into the spotlight back in July, Bong Hit Hospitalisation. Keeping things suitably slamming throughout and with strong Bloodbath, Devourment and Gorerotted undertones, Bong Hit Hospitalisation seriously upped the game for death metal this year.
6: Dysentery –Fragments (Comatose Music)
Fragments was a guaranteed winner for anyone who likes things loud, heavy and uncompromisingly brutal. Combining both tenacious chugging grooves with fierce speed and technicality, Fragments maintains powerful, slamming dominance throughout with such crushing levels of groove and force that it borders on death doom at points. Dysentery’s third full length album was a powerful and almost motivating release back in July.
7: Firespawn – Shadow Realms (Century Media)
Bringing things forward to the autumn now to Firespawn’s debut album Shadow Realms. Consisting of former members of Entombed AD, Aeon and Defleshed, Shadow Realms offered the listener nothing less than straight up old school Swedish death metal in its purest form. This is an album that did not hold back on delivering wholehearted death metal aggression.
8: Cryptopsy – The Book of Suffering -Tome 1 (S/R)
The first offering of the Book of Suffering EP collection from Canadian heavy weights Cryptopsy did not disappoint. The EP was very well received by all who prefer their death metal to be of the speedy and technical variety. Cryptopsy created quite the intense speeding frenzy of ridiculously heavy proportions and have left fans eagerly awaiting the next EP in the series.
9: Gateway – S/T (Hellthrasher)
“Why is there not more of this glorious, Medieval Death Doom genre?” was the question on everyone’s lips after hearing Belgian Robin van Oyen’s one man monster, Gateway. Full to the brim with thunderous riffs and powerful, deep guttural vocals, this album possesses such an impressive, overbearing aura of menace that slots it in nicely between both death and doom.
10: Rivers of Nihil – Monarchy (Metal Blade)
US death five piece Rivers of Nihil crafted quite the innovative follow up to their first LP Conscious Seed of Light back in August with their latest offering Monarchy. On the album, the band succeeded in creating a very uniquely extreme sound by combining good old rackety death metal with a refreshingly modern twist. For fans of everyone from Dying Fetus to Devin Townsend!
Well, this has been a rather interesting year musically! I’ve probably reviewed around 100 albums since the start of the year and listened to a few more so I had a pretty big list to try and condense down. There were some expected musical deliveries, some surprise packages, some expected dreadful albums and a handful of one’s which should have been so much better than they actually were, it was rather disappointing (See Slayer, Geoff Tate). Anyway, there won’t be any honourable mentions this year because the big boss man is letting us do a top 20… And here’s mine:
1: Iron Maiden – The Book Of Souls (EMI)
It had to be this really, the moment I heard “Speed Of Light” before the album was released, I was impressed with the more hard rock vibe delivered in that classic Maiden style. Bruce has had some big health troubles recently, but you’d never have thought it listening to his work on this album. For me, it’s the best one they’ve put out since Bruce rejoined for ‘Brave New World’ as it pushes the boundaries a little more for Maiden – actually using drop-D tuning for one song, Harris only being the creative mind in half of the tracks and of course, that epic closing track, “Empire Of The Clouds” which showcases Dickinson’s creativity, ingenuity and fantastic vocal story telling… Also, can’t forget mentioning that sweet guitar solo on “Tears Of A Clown”!
2: Night Viper – Night Viper (Svart)
This was the surprise package and for the past week or so (at time of writing this up), it was the one thing which actually came close to topping Iron Maiden on my list. Delivered with that classic NWOBHM style sound, mixing the early Maiden, Priest and Saxon sounds with some really modern grit and fantastic vocals, the Swedish classic sounding metal outfit produced one of the best debut albums of the year and one of the most authentic sounding metal albums which borrows heavily from the 80’s. If I had this one for review, it was a solid 10 for me, that is how much of an impact this album had!
3: Armored Saint – Win Hands Down (Metal Blade)
Whilst this album didn’t score as high as the album in the #4 position, this is possibly one of my most listened to records of 2015. A solid album which showcases why John Bush is easily one of the finest metal vocalists of our time and how the often overlooked and underrated thrash and groove metallers always deliver when it’s time to offer up a new record. With scathing views on society combined with fantastic guitar work and some slick bass and drums, it’s an all round album which was so nearly my album of 2015 if it wasn’t for the two above it!
4: Jupiter Falls – Revolution (Broken Road)
I said enough about this release in my review and my opinion still hasn’t changed. To me, it is a modern day version of Appetite For Destruction – it’s got all the bases covered, it’s an explosive sounding album made by people who really know how to put together some solid sounding tracks and play a wide range of styles, from your modern metal to classic sleaze tainted rock to big heartfelt tracks. Having heard a demo of a new track for the follow up, I can safely say this is an album which will solidify Jupiter Falls in years to come! A fine debut and one hell of a sound!
5: My Sleeping Karma – Moksha (Napalm)
The album which literally blew my mind when I listened to it was again another heavy contender for album of the year. In fact all my top 5 were, that is how close they all are! Stunning song-writing, beautifully arranged melodies and a massive sounding sonic landscape for you to immerse yourself in, the German instrumental psychedelic doom and groove merchants have created easily the best instrumental album of 2015 and probably recent years too. If you do anything, just listen to the title track and prepare to be left an awestruck drooling mess after it!
6: Evil Invaders – Pulses of Pleasure (Napalm)
Much like Night Viper, Evil Invaders have brought out a convincing classic sounding album with some modern edge to it. Speed Metal at its finest, “Pulses of Pleasure” is a high tempo, high intensity, full on metal onslaught. Big riffs, big solo’s, air raid siren vocals and copious amounts of attitude behind it, it shits on a lot of the speed and thrash metal releases. Mr Araya and Mr King could learn a few things when it comes to recording a thrash album if they listened to this before hitting the studio!
7: Diemonds – Never Gonna Die (Napalm)
Infectious and melodic hard rock with sacks of attitude, Diemond’s were another surprise for me this year. The great melodic hooks laced across the tracks, combined with the solid vocals from Priya which go from 80’s sleaze friendly to seductive and powerful just get stuck in your mind and the rebellious attitude flowing through each track just grows on you more and more. Simple, straight to the point and memorable, it’s an album you should take the time to check out!
8: Napalm Death – Apex Predator-Easy Meat (Century Media)
It’s fucking Napalm Death, do I need to say any more?
9: Psycroptic – Psycroptic (Prosthetic Records)
Aussie technical death metal quartet Psycroptic blew me away when I saw them in a tiny venue, performing a real storming set which had the crowd in the palm of their hand. Technically precise, intense, heavy and pulling no punches, this is one release I am glad I picked up!
10: Iris Divine – Karma Sown (Sensory)
The top progressive metal album of the year for me. A massive sound from a three piece, channelling the spirit of Rush but with a heavier edge to it. With some fantastic arrangements, intricate solo’s and riffs and plenty of hidden nuances in each track which you discover each time, like hidden bass solo’s in a chorus or soaring synths which teasingly fade in and out of earshot between the heavy metallic riffery, it’s fantastic!
11: Anthropia – Non-Euclidean Spades (Adarca)
12: Abhorrent Deformity – Entity Of Malevolence (Comatose Music)
13: Jorn Lande and Trond Holter present DRACULA – The Swing Of Death (Frontiers)
14: Apophys – Prime Incursion (Metal Blade)
15: Queensrÿche – Condition Hüman (Century Media)
16: Cattle Decapitation – The Anthropocene Extinction (Metal Blade)
17: PIST – Rhythm and Booze (When Planets Collide)
18: Vision Of Disorder – Razed To The Ground (Candlelight)
19: Weedeater – Goliathan (Season Of Mist)
20: The Answer – Raise A Little Hell (Napalm)
I attempted to take my foot of the gas a little this year, reviewing wise, as I have other writing to do so I expected it to be a struggle to find 20 albums worthy of inclusion, but not a bit of it. Not a bit. And any year when Skepticism release an excellent, brave album that doesn’t makes my top spot is a remarkable year. And no, I really couldn’t separate my top two.
Live wise once again Temples stole the crown because of Portal’s crushing mindfuck of a UK debut, but Damnation was so much more enjoyable this year too thanks to the wise decision to dial down attendance a notch, Garage Dayze Revisited brought both nostalgia and freshness and North Yorkshire once again showed small is beautiful with the lovely, friendly and excellent Warhorns festival.
Next year, if I get there, I will be celebrating 40 unbroken years of being a metalhead. Four decades of heart and soul and riffs.
\m/ In It For Life \m/
= 1: A Forest Of Stars – Beware The Sword You Cannot See (Prophecy)
It is rare that you find a band so out there and so jaw-droppingly original that you really are at a loss as to who to compare them to but The Gentlemens’ Club Of A Forest Of Stars are that band. Intricate, beautiful, progressive, visionary, captivating and utterly barking mad their occult neo-classical, haunting black metal Victoriana has by this their fourth album dropped an absolute, stone classic. The sumptuous limited edition also included one of the best EPs of the year, too. Open your mind and let them tear your soul apart.
= 1: Of Spire & Throne – Sanctum In The Light (Aesthetic Death)
Of Spire & Throne understand space and texture like few others. They know when the unified bludgeon should pull apart and let the separate instruments bask in the crepuscular spotlights. They have that Earth instinct of when to just ride the riff and when to slide from it. With their debut they have created a sonic space, a sanctum, where light and shade, noise and delicacy, utter monolithic bludgeon and imaginative progression intertwine beautifully. Emotional, compelling, dizzying music beautifully executed. Hopes exceeded. Blown. Away.
3: Skepticism – Ordeal (Svart)
After twenty odd years at the forefront of a genre you helped create and develop, what do you do as a band to push yourselves? You record your studio album live, in front of an audience; one take. Bravery? Hubris? Madness? Maybe all of them. Yes you will, particularly early on, hear the odd shake in the voice or a misplucked string but the genius and the beauty here is the raw humanity this exposes . Never have the band sounded more open and vulnerable and the result is exceptional. A waltz while the world burns down; it is the definition of beauty.
4: Arcturus – Arcturian (Prophecy)
Just when you thought they had vanished forever behind some event horizon, a deep space wormhole opens and the maddest post-Norwegian-black-metal-weirdshit survivors (it’s a genre, honest!) are back with ion-engines burning holes in space and time. When the opening baroque trip-hop drum ‘n’ riff bursts out you are on a gorgeous, delirious journey. “I want out of this plane.. ” they call and you are just swept up in it as they leave. As sideways, grandiose, compelling and sinuous as ever this is every bit the equal of The Sham Mirrors for me. Any other year and…
5: Ahab – The Boats Of The Glen Carrig (Napalm Records)
What happens when our favourite funeral-at-sea band turn their gaze on one of the finest exponents of nautical weird fiction William Hope Hodgson? We get this epic, sublime, haunting album. Still with the dreamlike melodic oceanic feel and the stormy, crushing waves of riffs, Ahab here have combined the turbulence of earlier albums with the more subtle touch of The Giant and have produced their most complete and entrancing album yet. Great cover too.
6: Melechesh – Enki (Nuclear Blast)
By their lofty standards I found their last album a bit of a let down, but here… Oh no: The Mesopotamian blacktrash maelstrom is utterly unchained. This is a philosophical war, a progressive, whirling storm of glinting, flickering razor sharp blades and a keen intelligence. This is a tantrum of the gods, chaos and howling winds across a scorched desert leaving cities shattered in its wake. It is bright, majestic and magnificent. Once more they prove what a unique proposition Melechesh are.
7: Goatsnake – Black Age Blues (Southern Lord)
There’s not a single duff or filler track here; the album is a perfect length of nine to the point songs not the bloated hour too many put out. This doesn’t feel like a ‘comeback’ or a ‘reformation’ either; this feels like a band who have tapped into such a natural flow that they have always been here and always will be. This is just pure, primal blues and it is glorious to behold. Step into their tent, people, step on in and see the light, see the goddamn beautiful light!
8:Tau Cross – Tau Cross (Relapse)
When the Amebix reunion proved to be sadly short lived after the monumental Sonic Mass, this combination of gnarled metal punks from Amebix, Voivod, Misery and War/Plague offered so much potential and delivered in every single aspect. Drawing out the weird, the pagan and the natural flow within our rural landscape, Tau Cross are edgy and jarring Amebix and Voivod burning Killing Joke in some great wicker man. Tight, twisted leather and freshly reaped corn and the tang of a coming storm; it truly breathes and burns.
9: Cryo Chamber Collaboration – Azathoth (Cryo Chamber)
Following on from their successful ‘Cthulhu’ work, the label again persuaded a couple of dozen of the dark ambient movement’s finest exponents to produce not a various artists album, but a double CD genuine collaboration voyage to the heart of the deep space nuclear chaos of Lovecraft’s blind idiot god. Enveloping but of huge expanse, this is a deep, rumbling, disturbed journey that causes long forgotten, primal synapses in your brain to fire and visions to blossom like ink in water. Awe inspiring.
10: The Deep – Premonition (Self Released)
From a band steeped in NWOBHM royalty and from Paul Madison’s review on this very site I should have expected something special but it was only when I caught them live that I realised what I had been missing out on. Album purchased, I discovered a classic NWOBHM heart and soul, a little AOR in some hook lines and a freshness that belied the history of these guys. Superb guitar sound, wonderful rhythm section, top drawer song-writing topped off by a magnificent vocal performance. Heavy metal heaven.
11: Clutch – Psychic Warfare (Weatherman)
12: Ambush – Desecrator (High Roller)
13: Tengger Cavalry – Blood Sacrifice Shaman (Metal Hell)
14: Chelsea Wolf – Abyss (Sargent House)
15: Amber Asylum – Sin Eater
16: Winds Of Genocide – Usurping The Throne Of Disease (Pulverized)
17: The Antichrist Imperium – The Antichrist Imperium (Apocalyptic Witchcraft)
18: Amorphis – Under The Red Cloud (Nuclear Blast)
19: Misþyrming – Songvar Elds Og Oreiou (self released)
20: Grift – Syner (Nordvis Produktion)
Daemona: Il Demone Dentro (Self Release)
A Forest Of Stars: The Valley Of Desolation (Prophecy)
Orchid: Sign Of The Witch (Nuclear Blast)
Culling the 400 plus 2015 releases that I’ve listened to this year to just 20 is not an easy task and one I’ve milled over for a number of weeks. With all the genres producing some amazing albums and even some non-metal genres claiming my attention my top album has not changed since it was released earlier this year and undoubtedly my second choice has remained steadfast too. Outside of metal there have been some awesome releases that I have not added here but have been brilliant such as the retro electronic releases from Gost and Dan Terminus to the electro swing of Caravan Palace. I could have produced a top 200 releases for this year with ease. So for what it’s worth here’s my top releases of 2015 though I’ll probably change my mind once I’ve submitted it.
1: Amorphis – Under The Red Cloud (Nuclear Blast)
Possessing a majesty few bands can even dream about this latest opus is a pinnacle of grandiose musicality that harnesses everything about the band during their 20 plus year history.
2: Keep Of Kalessin – Epistemology (Indie)
Breathtaking instrumentation and dazzling musicianship Keep Of Kalessin continue to set new standards in symphonic black artistry.
3: Khors – Night Falls Onto The Front Of Ours (Candlelight)
Pagan black metal with spine tingling and wondrous dynamics that delivers emotional panache and unparalleled magnificence.
4: Powerwolf – Blessed & Possessed (Napalm)
Continuing to surpass landmarks in power metal the lupine Germans spectacularly take chunks of sonic flesh through symphonic grandiosity.
5: Marduk – Frontschwein (Century Media)
Marching forever onwards Marduk continues to set new heights in vitriolic black metal with one of their finest releases to date.
6: Chapel Of Disease – The Mysterious Ways Of Repetitive Art (FDA Rekotz)
Challenging preconceived notions in death metal this German band has recorded an album of unrivalled epic death metal that captivating as it is violent.
7: Battle Beast – Unholy Savior (Nuclear Blast)
Rising exponentially into the hearts of power metal fans the bands meteoric rise comes on the back of staggering releases that this third release showcases with astounding tunes set against towering vocals.
8: Leaves’ Eyes – King Of Kings (Napalm)
Conceptually based the latest release by this highly motivated band is ambitious and contains some of the finest vocals you’ll ever hear in female fronted metal coupled to stupendous song writing.
9: Drudkh – A Furrow Cut Short (Season Of Mist)
Serene and regal the mysterious Ukrainians release yet another astounding black metal release that paints a sonic landscape of textural dexterity and stunning musicianship.
10: Slayer – Repentless (Nuclear Blast)
Revitalized and raging, Slayers latest album sees them returning to the throne of kings of thrash with a dozen songs of potent homicidal wrath.
11: Avatarium – The Girl With The Raven Mask (Nuclear Blast)
12: Annihilator – Suicide Society (UDR Music)
13: George Kollias – Invictus (Season Of Mist)
14: Tsjuder – Antiliv (Season Of Mist)
15: Feral – Where Dead Dreams Dwell (Cyclone Empire)
16: Sulphur Aeon – Gateway To The Antisphere (Imperium Productions)
17: Islay – The Angel’s Share (Final Gate Records)
18: The Vintage Caravan – Arrival (Nuclear Blast)
19: Cage – Ancient Evil (Self Released)
20: Grave – Out Of Respect For The Dead (Century Media)
1: Malevolent Creation – Dead Man’s Path (Century Media)
Rounding off a bumper year for Century Media’s extreme metal roster, it’s Malevolent Creation at number one. With ‘Dead Man’s Path’, the Floridian underdogs have pulled together the most crushing aspects of all their classic work and formed what I’d contend is their best album yet. From Brett Hoffmann’s grizzled roars to the fearsome riff-work and drumming, through to the monstrous songwriting and immaculate production, it’s a death/thrash masterclass which epitomises all that I worship in metal brutality. As the saying goes: no one can destroy this malevolent creation.
2: Marduk – Frontschwein (Century Media)
Marduk have gone back to what they do best: recounting the hardware, horrors and detestable bastards behind WW2. While the band’s portrayals admittedly border on the politically vague from time to time, there’s no escaping the fact that compositions such as ‘The Blond Beast’ conjure a musical image of scum such as Heydrich like no other. Similarly, despair, carnage and the overall reality of war are conveyed just as remorselessly through each explosive riff and drumbeat. And it goes without saying that, as ever, Mortuus’ vocal genius is the pièce de résistance.
3: Tribulation – The Children of the Night (Century Media)
Obviously there was a massive stylistic shift between Tribulation’s blistering Swedeath debut and the psychoanalytic progression of ‘Formulas of Death’. At times that sophomore got lost in itself yet it’s now evident what the band was attempting to find: a timeless sound of its own. And that, truly, is the best way to describe ‘The Children of the Night’. Sure, the brutality is gone but these Swedes have created something equal parts haunting, beautiful and just plain superb.
4: Hate Eternal – Infernus (Season of Mist)
Hate Eternal have had a hard time matching their first couple of albums for consistency yet with ‘Infernus’ I think they’ve eclipsed them both. Matching brutality with beauty, not to mention absorbing song writing, Erik Rutan has produced a raging technical death metal master class here. It’s just such a shame that drumming tour de force Chason Westmoreland quit beyond its creation.
5: Wombbath – Downfall Rising (Dark Descent)
The sonic tones here, on Wombbath’s second album, are utterly suffocating. Twenty-two years after their debut, the Swedish cult returns with something more impenetrable, brutal and ungodly than we ever could have imagined. In fact it seems as if nothing occurred in the world between 1994 and 2015 for Wombbath other than dreams of making crushing old school death metal.
6: Cradle Of Filth – Hammer of the Witches (Nuclear Blast)
While I had hoped that COF would put out a more extreme album than they’ve been capable of in years, I didn’t expect one of this quality. Not only is ‘Hammer of the Witches’ the most savage of their albums since ‘Cruelty and the Beast’, it’s also by far the best since 1998. Who would have thought Dani Filth still had it in him after so long? A return to form and then some…
7: The Antichrist Imperium – The Antichrist Imperium (Apocalyptic Witchcraft)
It seemed as if this Akercocke side-project would never materialise given how long ago it was first mentioned. How surprising it was then as ‘The Antichrist Imperium’ appeared from nowhere. As well as the expected Akercocke hallmarks – blasts for Satan, devastating riffs and perverse ditties – the sound these guys have formulated stands equally on its own feet and is just as diabolically cool.
8: Sulphur Aeon – Gateway to the Antisphere (Imperium Productions)
These German fellows have created an epic death metal leviathan which sprawls from the depths like some bastard hybrid of early Morbid Angel, Nile and Behemoth. Batten down the hatches and full speed ahead! If you even have time to contemplate escaping its paralysing grip, that is…
9: Macabre Omen – Gods of War – At War (Vàn)
Another (occasionally) nautically themed record only this time it’s the Greek/English entity Macabre Omen celebrating epic journeys across the sea, heroic battle and proud Hellenic ancestry. Fans of epic Bathory and latter Rotting Christ would do well to check this out.
10: Gorgoroth – Instinctus Bestialis (Soulseller)
Rounding out this year’s top ten list are Infernus’ divisive horde. For all they’ve been written off on the internet, this is an album which has consistently drawn me in through 2015 with its melodic hooks and atypically guttural exhortations to fire and brimstone. Hail Bøddel!
1: Night Demon – Curse of the Damned (SPV/Century Media)
Never has there been an easier, no brainer number one album for me. I have followed this US trio for a few years now, ‘Curse of the Damned’ is their debut album and if you like classic heavy metal with a heavy NWOBHM twist, this is a perfect album to buy. Relentlessly hard working and have been on the road for well over a year at least supporting the likes of Raven and future dates supporting Satan, more shows are to follow next year in Europe, this is simply everything I want from an album.
2: Enforcer – From Beyond (Nuclear Blast)
Like a pair of comfy shoes, Enforcer are reliable, heavy, and full on metal…especially the last couple of releases. These Swedes are becoming season pro’s for releasing magnificent albums filled with speed, power and great levels of melody. You are a winner every time you play this one.
3: The Deep – Premonition (Self Released)
The demos were promising, the album was enlightening and their live shows amazing. Tony Coldham’s vocals are majestic, a perfect complement of power and a key accolade of melody. The songs themselves are just the ticket for a fantastic British hard rock/NWOBHM release featuring former members of Deep Machine and with such stunning artwork (which would look really special on vinyl…hint hint!), this is a proper album to sink your teeth into.
4: Ambush – Desecrator (High Roller)
Another revivalist band that I have followed from the demo days. Album number two sets in motion clear development and continues to herald a love for Judas Priest. The vocals are strong, again, my favourite vocal thing, melody, although not quite as bright as their debut, this album still packs one hell of a punch.
5: Cloven Altar – Demon of the Night (Stormspell Records)
This US project hit the ground running with a nice little EP, sounding good, but room for more punch. Bloody hell, ‘Demon of the Night’ blows you off your chair! The force is strong with this one! The music, lyrics, production is heavy and powerful without sacrificing the authenticity. Coming at you with a 3D cover, the album artwork also drives home the memories of buying albums in the 80’s, if you get this, you’ll love it, trust me I’m a doctor (hic!).
6: Ruthless – They Rise (Pure Steel Records)
US power metal as it is termed, was simply metal when I was cutting my teeth in the 80’s and subsequently finding this to be my favourite sub-genre. Ruthless were one of those bands that had some great music, but never got the attention they deserved. With this new album, the re-birth is complete. Fresh songs, a fresh sound and inclusion of the said EP (‘Metal Without Mercy’) included in the CD package, this US power metal powerhouse is alive and kicking out the crap out of all who mess.
7: Stereo Nasty – Nasty By Nature (Sarlacc Productions)
With the snarl and dangerous nature of early W.A.S.P., the delivery and song writing prowess of Ratt (not necessarily the style of music I might add!), the resulting combination is Ireland’s Stereo Nasty. Taking traditional metal by the horns and throwing in some grit and determination old school style, this is a classy album taking the underground by storm at the moment…so what are you waiting for? It’s time to get nasty!
8: RAM – Svbversvm (Metal Blade)
A darker, more sinister effort from these Swedes. Yes, once again, traditional metal, but its bloody good. With all the retro love going on at the moment, this band are right in the thick of it, and they have been around for a while now. This is a defining point in their career showing characteristics of seasoned pros with the songs on this release.
9: Iron Slaught – Crusading Metal Mercenaries (Armée de la Mort Records)
Heavy/speed metal purveyors Iron Slaught are taking the bull by the horns by discarding the common current trait of blackened speed metal, and produce something with a touch more class. This French trio have the right idea to hot foot it into your ears with influences like Living Death, Running Wild, Savage Grace and fellow countrymen ADX, Blasphemie, and then there is even some NWOBHM riffage to bolster the delight. Check out the tracks ‘Demonic Possession’ and ‘Night of the Witch’.
10: Sacral Rage – Illusions of Infinite Void (Cruz Del Sur)
Musically and technical masters of their arts, these Greeks really know how to deliver thoughtful arrangements crossing the boundaries of traditional and US power metal. In my review earlier this year I mentioned Hexx and Powerlord similarities, there’s so many to be fair. However, the way this plays out, well, it’s a touch of genius.
11: Forefather – Curse of the Cwelled (Seven Kingdoms)
12: Stormzone – Seven Sins (Metal Nation)
13: Dead Existence – Endless Misery (Black Bow)
14: Trial – Vessel (High Roller)
15: Evil Invaders – Pleasure of Pain (Napalm)
16: Bodyfarm – Battle Breed (Cyclone Empire)
17: Morbid Slaughter – A Filthy Orgy of Horror and Death (Boris Records)
18: Witch Blade – Oskuldernas Eld (Dying Victims Productions)
19: Kiske/Somerville – City of Heroes (Frontiers Records)
20: Talismana – Sweet Lodge (Ripple Music)
What a great year 2015 has been. I am surprised at some of the albums I have left out including those by Apnea, Kadavar and of course Iron Maiden. Such an eclectic mix befell my ears this year. Long may it continue No numbers or order just 10 ‘kin great collections of aural sustenance.
Publicist UK – Forgive Yourself (Relapse)
Relapse release an album featuring members of Revocation, Municipal Waste and Burnt By the Sun (OK Dave Witte is in a hundred bands). It was bound to be a thrashy, grindy affair eh? Nope. What we got was a pounding mix of Joy Division and the Cure with a slice of Nick Cave. Love Love Love it.
Tau Cross – S/T (Relapse)
OK Relapse this is getting silly now. Stop thinking outside the box already. Rob the Baron of Amebix infamy brought his transatlantic troupe to the world with this magnificent blend of Killing Joke and his former band. Chock full of stormers this one.
Prayers – Young Gods (Lil Death Records)
CholoGoth – possibly the smallest subgenre in the world. But when tales of life in Mexican street gang are put to beatific synthpop a winning formula is found. Add in Travis Barker producing/scratching and Skinhead Rob of Transplants guesting on vocals a glorious hip hop/synthpop/hardcore/goth hybrid is created. Just listen!
King Parrot – Dead Set (Agonia)
King Parrot are as fucked off and full of spunk as ever before. Add in the fact that Phil Anselmo twiddled the knobs on this one (Down took KP on a jaunt across the states last year) and the step up from Bite Your Head off is easily recognised. This album just sounds meatier than its predecessor. Whilst “ Bite Your Head off” had a lo-fi punk/grind feel which reminded me in parts of their Aussie counterparts BloodDuster , King Parrot and Anselmo have created an album which sounds rich and full whilst remaining raw and ragged. Like a 4 by 2 filled with rare steak and gravy at the MCG (one for the footie fans- Go Hawthorn).
Cradle of Filth – Hammer of the Witches (Nuclear Blast)
A new line up for COF has seen a musical reawakening. Sounding more metal than they have in years and reaping the rewards of fresh ideas from the newcomers. Hammer of the Witches presents one of those music journo clichés write true. A return to form!
Atomic Bitchwax – Gravitron (Tee Pee)
Gravitron is the trio’s 6th long player and it displays all the traits that make TAB stand out above the legions of stoner and desert rock clan. Equal parts Kyuss, Parliament, Sabbath and MC5, this is a Garage funk band that play the blues racing for pink slips in a souped up muscle car.
Grimes – ArtAngels (4AD)
Canadian Synthpop from an eccentric genius. This one hit me right in the feels. Claire Bouchers voice is angelic and her use of hooks and catchy choruses is just splendid. There is a dark subtext to her breezy and breathy compositions just like the 80’s greats she has modernised.
Ufomammut – Ecate (Neurot)
It means UFO Mammoth. If you have not heard this Italian trio before then their name kinda says it all. The primordial sludge and power of the woolly ancient creature juxtaposed with the intergalactic exploration of a higher intelligence. Psychedelic space sludge packed with riffs as large as that wave in Interstellar and as catchy as space herpes.
Stahlsarg – Comrades in Death (Mighty Music)
Man this seemed to take an age to get here. Like an elephants pregnancy. Changes of personnel and changes of lyrics did nothing to dampen the powder of this black thrash explosion. Packed with riffs and rock and roll bravado wrapped up in a frosty bow. Buy it for a loved one to make it a Black Christmas.
Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats – The Night Creeper (Rise Above)
In my opinion, these guys are the kings of new Occult rock. Forget those BOC pretenders with the papal schtick. The Night Creeper is full of psychedelic, psychopathic tales to groove to.
Bloody hell, what a year. So much so that several bands I would’ve thought might get an automatic place for actual or lingering historic fabulousness, didn’t. Enslaved and Kampfar, for example, and Marduk only just scrape onto the list at number 20. After years of seeing the same old bands grace the top lists and front pages it feels like metal is alive again and on the move. There is some serious creativity, individuality and innovation going on in the metal underground and I hope the list below reflects even though it’s very heavily black.
1: A Forest of Stars – Beware The Sword You Cannot See (Lupus Lounge)
It’s an inappropriate comparison, I know, but A Forest of Stars is like crap Dutch lager – it refreshes parts other black metal bands cannot reach. This is why I listen to extreme music. Beware The Sword is beyond imagination and a place for lost souls to find themselves. I think you either ‘get’ these guys or don’t and finally for me it all fell into place. All topped off with an intense gig under a pub in Birmingham where Mr Curse and co. recreated their own weird Victorian-esque world while I drank er.. crap Dutch lager. Probably.
2: VI – De Praestigiis Angelorum (Agonia)
High octane black metal from members of those powerhouses of deeply disturbing extreme French music Aosoth and Antaeus. This is a convulsive explosion of sickening euphoria that feels like a poorly advised concoction of narcotics firing off your synapses at random.
3: Temple of Baal – Mysterium (Agonia)
Temple of Baal have pulled out all the stops and let those inner demons free. Occult black metal with a ragged production that’s drenched in atmosphere. ‘Receive my hymns, my madness, all in your name…’.
4: Thy Catafalque – Sgùrr (Season of Mist)
Another creative explosion from a band that has been around for a while – but never even promised to reach these heights. Exhilarating, exhausting and essential for anyone who likes to hear extreme music’s boundaries pushed to the limit without having to do any hard work yourself.
5: Murg – Varg & Björn (Nordvis)
Black metal and its unhealthy relationship with paganism and folk music may for some be a path too well trodden. But that’s because they haven’t encountered Murg yet. Dark, cold and, more importantly, Murg is proof, if any were needed, that pagan black metal in its purest form is still alive and spitting venom by the gallon.
6: Remmirath – Shambhala Vril Saucers (Todestrieb)
Bewildering? Abject self-indulgence? Or plain old tripped-out genius? Luckily in amongst all the degenerate samples and Eastern vibes there’s also black metal so I get to squeeze it in here. If you’ve ever wondered what an angry Buddhist might sound like if they fell off the wagon and went on a rampage through the temple to straighten a few things out, then look no further.
7: Spectral Lore – Gnosis (I, Voidhanger)
Strictly speaking an EP but I think it’s a fairly arbitrary definition in this case and at almost 50 minutes, I’m going for it. Gnosis is the latest massive release from this magnificent one-man project – the perfect mix of shoe-gazing black metal and ambient sounds that provides a spine-tingling and immersive experience like few others.
8: Magic Circle – Journey Blind (20 Buck Spin)
Something was missing from my life – then I found Magic Circle. Journey Blind continues where the debut left off only this time bigger and better. Doom-ish but heavily mixed with all the excitement of the 70s and 80s peaks when a band like this would have been the talk of the metal scene. Did I mention the vocals?
9: Scythian – Hubris In Excelsis (Hells Headbangers)
The UK’s Scythian have unleashed a beast – a rollicking ride of thrash, death and black metal that is almost joyous in its celebration of doing what the bloody hell you like. Extreme metal rarely gets this entertaining without letting go of the intensity.
10: Amestigon – Thier (World Terror Committee)
Time to get lost. Thier is a slow burn of an album that combines drone-like stealth and stripped down, amplified atmosphere to carry you along. Full of surprises – some of which you hardly realise have happened until they’ve passed you by. Craftsmen of dark designs at work.
11: Lucifer’s Child – The Wiccan (Dark Essence)
12: Zgard – Totem (Svarga)
13: Anagnorisis – Beyond All Light (Independent)
14: Lychgate – An Antidote for the Glass Pill (Blood Music)
15: Outre – Ghost Chants (Third Eye Temple)
16: Helheim – raunijaR (Dark Essence)
17: Crom Dubh – Heimweh (Ván)
18: Mgla – Exercises in Futility (Northern Heritage)
19: Abyssion – Luonnon harmonia ja vihreä liekki (Svart)
20: Marduk – Frontschwein (Century Media)
1: My Sleeping Karma – Moksha (Napalm)
Moksha is total instrumental immersion from the first warm blushes of the mesmerising opener “Prithvi” to the closing twinkle of “Agni”. There’s a cotton-wool effect going on that dampens each and every note, cosseting you in down, absorbing you into its arms. Long, languid, gentle-warping notes intensify the mix of psychedelic trance, stoner and post-rock by bringing to bear a rich variety of Rajastani string, percussion and wind instrumentation. Engaging at every turn, the tracks consistently bear fruit, stretching the experience with a mind-boggling degree of layers. In a word, faultless.
2: Between The Buried And Me – Coma Eliptic (Metal Blade)
Since the birth of his solo career, Thomas Giles Rogers, has strengthened his vocal performance no end and BTBAM are reaping the rewards. With “Coma Eliptic” they continue to yank the wildest of genres together, everything from polka and bossa nova to death metal. However, what is different this time around is the simplified vision and consequently the interconnectness of each part. The music gently segues together with a single tone in mind. What that does is create continuity within each individual track and across all tracks. The joy of “The Coma Machine” is both explosively progressive and consistently engrossing but its relationship with “Famine Wolf” and to an extent the powerful “Option Oblivion” is undeniable. Even the beguiling dark two-minuter “Dim Ignition” breaks boundaries. In my mind, this is none other than BTBAM at their peak.
3: Periphery – Juggernaut (Century Media)
On release, Juggernaut hit me like, well, a juggernaut. Right smack between the eyes. Rabbit in the headlights. It is a concept double-album which could incite you to violence. It will make you both wince and weep. Even after playing, it will lodge itself permanently in your psyche. The story, told in heart-rendering first-person, will break even the hardest of you. Containing the groove, psychedelia, hardcore and jazz all ripped through with rhythmic conflict and dark lyricism, it truly is an essential piece of psychological musical warfare. You have been warned.
4: Heights – Phantasia On The High Processions Of Sun, Moon & Countless Stars Above (Basick)
Ignore their somewhat erratic output – this is no ordinary side-project. Sharing a drummer with cult post-rockers Tesseract doesn’t count for shit. Yes, getting my hands on this was a case of luck rather than judgement, but that doesn’t alter the impact it has had upon me. It’s an instrumental work of sheer beauty that will see you speeding through the cosmos like a meteorite, pausing merely to marvel over the joy, colour and sparkle that Heights inject into their compositions without ever resorting to repetition; without ever sinking into use of force to get their concept across. Phantasia… is an utter delight from Big Bang to Big Freeze.
5: Enslaved – In Times (Nuclear Blast)
With their usual unrestricted vision, Enslaved have created a wonderful, drive-dominant, hook-laden album filled with chugging gallops, dark roars and menacing anguish. It is a work that will suck you in then cast you adrift. Replete with invention throughout, the highlight arrives at the album close. “Daylight” is the band at the peak of their powers throwing out choral builds that warm the heart. And it comes all washed through with strong echoes of Devin Townsend’s epic structuring, tones and textures – well, I’m sold.
6: Man The Machetes – Av Nag (Indie Recordings)
Whipping along at a dizzying pace, this sophomore effort from punk n’ rollers Man The Machetes draws its power from revelling in visceral heft. Standout moments come with the stepdown in pace to the crawling lead and sweet rock-a-bye riff on “Tung Luft” and with the crafty, constructive forethought that has gone into the humdinger “Orkenmarsj”. Their time is now; come join in the dance.
7: Acid King – Middle Of Nowhere, Center Of Everywhere (Svart)
Lapping up the echoing majesty of such bands as Monster Magnet and Orange Goblin while sourcing the wild electric fuzz of St. Vitus, Acid King offer up an absolute peach of an album. Live, the tracks are mind-blowingly intense, yet here wrapped up in the smooth dynamics of the studio the music actually becomes even greater than the sound system upon which it plays. Then, just when you thought they couldn’t get more monstrous or distortion-hungry, vocalist Lori goes and twists her tonsils around “Laser Highlights” and take this beast to an even higher plane.
8: Caligula’s Horse – Bloom (Inside Out)
Jim Grey’s vocal is utterly beguiling and here, progressive technicians Caligula’s Horse, have created the perfect vehicle to show it off to its full potential. From elegaic, melodic numbers to big grooves with addictive choruses to malevolent pieces filled with hate-fuelled lyricism. Bloom is riddled with passion – it lets in a little light and a little darkness and is well worth your attention.
9: Wildlights – Wildlights (Season Of Mist)
Riddled with the uplifting braggadocio and enslaving hooks of Audrey Horne’s moxy and Torche’s power-driven post-rock, this startlingly adept debut is emphatically boisterous, consistently driving and engagingly addictive. It is effortlessly light, airy and voraciously catchy. It glows with an inner fluoresence, blazing a trail for others – I urge you to follow.
10: Secrets Of The Sky – Pathway (Metal Blade)
Oozing mournful, subtle introspection, yet bursting with gloriously-consuming black-edged terror and shrewd metal crunch comes something akin to the storytelling of Agalloch, Anathema or Alcest whilst drunk on Sabbathian doom and Opethian melancholy. This Californian quintet strictly adhere to their concept and unveil an opus that feels like a worn pathway to something truly sinister.
11: Intervals – The Shape Of Colour (S/R)
12: The Atomic Bitchwax – Gravitron (Tee Pee)
13: Kontinuum – Kyrr (Candlelight)
14: Steak Number Eight – Kosmokoma (Indie)
15: Arcturus – Arcturian (Prophecy)
16: Bauda – Sporelights (Prophecy)
17: Death Alley – Black Magick Boogieland (Tee Pee)
18: Vattnet Viskar – Settler (Century Media)
19: Ecstatic Vision – Sonic Praise (Relapse)
20: Intronaut – The Direction Of Last Things (Century Media)
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