Excretakano’s Top Fifteen Metal Albums of 2015
Here, let me say it before any of you do: This is a weird fucking list. Several albums of not-really-black metal lurk among indulgent doom records and industrialized noise; tech death gives way to slick punk (?) and pop-addled grunge (??) and one-man old-school death metal (not to be confused with one-school old-man death metal, when a few aged and deluded academicians gather to jam on something far worse than anything the County Medical Examiners have produced). Taken together, I’d say these albums sum up my 2015 experience – harried, unfocused, confused, triumphant and dismal, all dropped with a tab and a half of “How the fuck did that happen?”
I should also mention that this is a countdown in the same way that the Republican Presidential debates are reasoned discourses on how to improve the fortunes of the U.S. citizenry. I love all these records, and placing one above another is silly when the overall effect of each one is so radically different than the others. I listened to the albums at the top of the list somewhat more often than those at the bottom, but a vigorous shuffle of this list (and some not included here) would be just fine with me. Hail 2015!
Lacking a Blut Aus Nord record this year, this one by R. Loren and his expanding, shape-shifting gang of cronies will have to do. Including Vindsval in the mix can’t hurt. Pyramids’ full-length return – the first since Loren’s weird-out debut in 2008 – is a precipitous mix of warm melody and coldly mechanical percussion, alien chords and garish leads clanging against the inviting humanity of those pleading vocals. It’s a brazen mash-up that becomes its own style, a cohesive molecule that on paper should be unstable as hell. A Northern Meadow doesn’t feel like something that will appeal to a large audience, and maybe it’s out of place here. It made an impact on these ears, though.
14. Bell Witch – Four Phantoms (Profound Lore)
This year saw some damn good doom releases (real doom, mind, not that boogie/stoner bullshit some of you people peddle, as if depression were a dance party), and sifting through them as if they were auditioning for this list was an irritating chore… albeit one with a great soundtrack. I had a tough time getting totally behind the new Skepticism and Tyranny records, but Hooded Menace and Ahab showed up with powerful offerings that deserve lots of love. Bell Witch bewitched with their 2012 debut, Longing, but every element of their sound improved on Four Phantoms. Thick, creamy leads and vulnerable vocals are buttered over the scorched, buzzing low endr; everything swirls in majestic contemplation of the darkness that births and eats us all. And what more can you ask of really good doom?
13. Humanity Defiled – The Demise of the Sane (self-released)
Two years ago, this one-man Belgian death project hit my radar with impressive force. That album, Circling the Drain, reminded me to keep looking up, down and everywhere for unexpected unsigned awesomeness. With Humanity Defiled, Iwein Denayer holds all other players in the OSDM camp accountable for individualized creativity and more than casual quality control. The Demise of the Sane is a follow-up to that earlier record in the best sense: There wasn’t nearly enough HD music available on just one album, and now Demise grants our wish for more. The lead work on “Asystole” the moody shred on “Loss” stand out, but really everything about this project makes it worth the death fanatic’s time and devotion.
For a long time, Cattle Decap felt a little gimmicky – People Are Bad, Animals Should Eat Us Instead, yeah yeah yeah. It was a fertile shtick, but still shtick. With 2012’s Monolith of Inhumanity, though, Travis Ryan and his crew of humane slaughterers of sound made a serious impact. This year’s twelve-ton crusher pushes all the same buttons and a few new ones. Just as Pyramids might have been overshadowed had Blut Aus Nord made an appearance this year, Cattle Decap occupy a spot that could have otherwise gone to Cephalic Carnage – there’s a hint of those same triumphs scattered through these dozen tracks. No matter. The album slays.
Yeah, don’t ask me. I have no idea what’s going on with this record. Until recently, I had never gotten around to hearing Lychgate’s debut, which always nettled a bit because I’m a huge Esoteric fan and I should pay closer attention to whatever Greg Chandler puts his stamp on. This thing, though… Antidote hits me like Altar of Plagues’ Teethed Glory and Injury did two years ago: I know it’s heavy, I know I like it, but all the puzzle pieces fit together at non-planar angles and short circuit my ability to understand or properly describe the music’s motivations or intentions. But that discomfort is part of the allure, and this album will make you very uncomfortable…
10. Shape of Despair – Monotony Fields (Season of Mist)
Shape of Despair’s last record dropped ten years ago, so I’ll cut myself a little slack for not having set sights on this Helsinki band before. That said, they’re a Finnish band playing extreme doom, so that excuse starts to feel totally lame. While some doom relies on frequent deathly agitation to keep things interesting, Shape of Despair use their morose tendencies to assemble a nest of melancholy comfort. All personal darkness is welcome here, and nobody needs to feel like they have to lurch about or punch things. Sink, sink into that suffocating abyss. Don’t fight it. There’s nothing to fight.
I recently (finally) got a chance to see Tristan Shone take his mecha-doom public. There he was: in person, hooked up to his machines like Jax Teller entering the drift. The overall effect was… well, not as amazing as I had hoped. Very cool, no doubt, but I got very little from the experience that I hadn’t already absorbed from a couple YouTube videos. Whatever. Nothing can detract from the raw power and buzzing fury that pumps through Shone’s 2015 offering. It makes its predecessor Women & Children and breakout barrage Ursus Americanus feel like warm-up sets. The many vocal textures, the granite-shattering bass, the nerve-chewing noise all add up to a perfect performance.
Sometime around 2001, I was pretty big into Radiohead and Sigur Rós. I’ve begun wondering if my complete immersion into metal over the past decade has led to a stagnated appreciation of other kinds of interesting music. Then my inner Belphegor roars, “What other kinds of music are there?!” and I laugh at my weaknesses and crush them under many fists of steel. Yeah. But anyway, while I accept that I’m missing a whole damn lot of cool stuff every year, I’m glad that I caught the new Failure record at the perfect time. It sounds weird as hell, which is a draw, and it’s one of those albums you can plug into anywhere along its runtime and get excited about what’s playing. Deep in the land of growers, Monster is a miracle sprout that won’t go away.
Secrets of the Sky’s 2013 debut ruled my speakers for months. Whenever I wanted to hear the perfect blend of thoughtful heaviness, I sailed black waters. I can’t say quite the same about Pathway, but the band’s Metal Blade breakout is still a masterful collection of music and moments that smears darkness with light and vice versa. I might be the only listener with an internet connection who thinks the inter-song sound collages add zero to the overall sum, but zero plus awesome still equals awesome (I totally checked my work on that and everything). Garett Gazay’s vocals continue to rule in all domains (rasped, growled, sung), and proggy blackened death-marked doom just doesn’t get better than this.
As stellar as Panopticon’s output has been during the project’s lifespan, it’s easy to forget how young it is and how all this music has cropped up in just the last seven years. Austin Lunn’s most recent run – beginning with Kentucky in 2012 – has spun the rough threads of rural American folk into gold over the course of three exceptional albums. Autumn Eternal doesn’t just leap boundaries, it ignores them altogether and weaves tapestries of extreme detail and (often) extreme volume. I promise to stop putting this band in my top ten when Lunn trips up… but how likely is that?
First impression “At Night” comes across as a crumbling black metal edifice being stomped to dust by Converge. Great start. Then the careful intro of “The Industry of Distance” belies the straining chaos at the heart of the song. “Washerwoman” simmers in tense chord progressions, sporadic percussive outbreaks and spoken word ruminations before exploding in its back half. This is one of those albums where you just keep waiting for something to break the spell. Nothing ever does.
4. Prurient – Frozen Niagara Falls (Profound Lore)
When I sat down for a cursory first listen to FNF, I knew I didn’t have time for all of it. There were half a dozen albums I wanted to check out that evening, and I only planned to give Prurient a couple songs so I could get my bearings and listen to the whole shebang later. But I never hit the stop button. I didn’t even pause the thing. It was mesmerizing. It is mesmerizing. Each song beckoned me toward the next, and I gave up a lot more time to Dominick Fernow that night than I had planned. His mash-up of abrasive noise pollution with rhythm and melody turns FNF into noise for Bjork/Album Leaf fans who have realized the world would be a better place if it all just burned down.
Very little metal this year has been as immediately satisfying as Melechesh’s early 2015 record. The once-Jerusalem-based band seem to get better with every outing – I was never bowled over by their early black-thrash excursions, but the past couple albums put me on my heels for sure. Enki scratches a very particular itch, one that is not dissimilar to the domain inhabited by (surprise, surprise) Rotting Christ, who contribute a Tolis brother to one of the songs here. Not only does every song rule way hard, the traditional mystique of late cut “Doorways to Irkalla” proves that Melechesh have more up their sleeves than bone-crushing metal.
I don’t love The Shape of Punk to Come. Turns out, that’s not a prereq for getting hyper-amped on Refused’s new album. “Elektra” stuns in the opening slot, and it just gets better from there. Singing/shouting along to “Old Friends/New War” and “Françafrique” and others is eminently satisfying; the mood shifts on “Thought is Blood” are invigorating; the witty conviction of “Dawkins Christ” will never ever get old. I read some troll hack’s post about improving the album by trimming “Useless Europeans,” but that song’s slow-burn is just as worthy as the rest of Refused’s comeback slab. And anyway, haters been warned: Here are more songs to fan the flames of your discontent.
1. Sarpanitum – Blessed Be My Brothers (Willowtip)
There’s an impressive amount of technical proficiency on Blessed Be My Brothers, but the excellence of Sarpanitum’s latest doesn’t lie in its tech-death insanity. There’s a density here, like beads of superheated space rock pummeling your flesh at cosmic speeds, but the power of BBMB doesn’t rest in brutality. When you give it some time, when you really listen, what becomes apparent is the massive dollops of harmony and melody in the guitar lines, the care taken to develop extreme ideas into jagged, angular art. And then it hits you: The underlying Crusades-era concepts are peeking through with an authenticity that surpasses attempts by even very accomplished metal practitioners. Everything fits. Everything works. At the end of it all, not only does it all stand up musically, but it has something interesting to say. As much as I love dozens of brazen blasphemers, anyone who really finds something interesting to say deserves special attention.