Phil Boozeman’s Top Fifteen Metal Albums of 2015
It’s the end of the year already? Man, here I was telling myself I’d go to the gym tomorrow every single day since January and all I’ve managed to do is drink beer and listen to metal. Shit, at least my beercep curl max tripled. But really, 2015 has been an interesting year, namely because it’s the year I started writing newletters and album reviews for all of you lovely and kindhearted MetalSucks readers to enjoy. For me, my taste in music has expanded more in this year than it has in the last few combined. I’d say I’m a changed man, but that would make me a liar. I’m still the same cynical Midwesterner that spouts colorful metaphors and sarcasm that I was before. I just listen to more metal now. So without further ado, here are my favorite albums of 2015.
In the world of black metal, the word American doesn’t seem to get used a whole lot, but Abigail Williams is some good ol’ American black metal. This is an album that sounds nice and raw just like a black metal album should. The Accuser is nice and evil, and the band were nice enough to stick a couple sound bites of people screaming in the opening track so you don’t have to imagine them in your head. It’s strange that I found myself liking this album as much as I did. I haven’t liked Abigail Williams much since high school because I wasn’t fond of their vocals, but that’s no longer the case. Hell, I eviscerated Kampfar’s Profan for the some of the same reasons — I didn’t like Ken Sorceron’s vocals. But this album is different because the vocals sound just as raw as the rest of the album. It blows my mind that this band is still in business after the absurd amount of lineup changes it’s dealt with over the years, but you have to give it to Sorceron for sticking through it and putting out this beast of an album.
I know. Just bear with me for a minute. For a guy who hates God/Jesus/religion as much as James Hetfield loves adding the “-ah” syllable at the end of words, and for someone who dislikes metalcore almost as much, I have no fucking idea why I like August Burns Red as much as I do. It makes no sense and I’ll admit that, but ABR always puts on a hell of a show when I see them live, and they’ve been good since their first album, even if their sound hasn’t really changed too much since Constellations. Found in Far Away Places might not be ABR’s greatest album or their most original because the first breakdown of the album is only 30 seconds in. But Found in Far Away Places has some incredible moments, such as “Ghosts,” which starts out with a smooth intro and transitions into a great combination of ambience and heaviness. The tapping breakdown at the end of “Martyr” is also seriously catchy. So whatever, hate me if you must, and hate ABR if you must, but I’ll continue rocking out to the MySpace music era’s greatest metalcore band while pretending the lyrics aren’t about praising an imaginary man in the sky that presumably watches us all masturbate.
I’ve never really been a fan of progressive music, and I’ve also never particularly been a fan of clean vocals in my metal, but there are a certain few bands that can pull it off and Intronaut are one of them. It’s a nice change of pace to hear metal still be metal but not rely on screaming all the time, but unfortunately that post-hardcore decided to do it first and set the trend for clean vocals as being whiny and more emo than a suburban kid with a hair straightener at their first Marilyn Manson show. Intronaut isn’t like that, and I love them for it. When I asked for some new music from my prog metal friends to expand my horizons, Intronaut are who they recommended and I was certainly not disappointed. The Direction Of Last Things has opened me up to the progressive genre a little bit more and that’s no small feat when you account for the fact that I have a general dislike for the genre. No one song on this album stays the same for too long and as a result, this album never gets boring.
Much like Behemoth did with The Satanist after Nergal’s recovery from leukemia, Lamb of God put out one hell of a fucking album after Randy Blythe’s murder trial in the Czech Republic came to an end. Albums that are released after something traumatic happens to a band are almost always killer because all that emotion gets released in the music. This is the case with Sturm Und Drang, and it’s especially evident on “512,” which is my favorite track on the album. The force that Blythe screams “My hands are painted red,” with is just flat out incredible and there’s no other way around it. The first time I heard this album I was having a grill out with some friends that one line stuck with me so much that after the alcohol kicked in, I made a point to scream “MY HANDS ARE PAINTED REDDDDDDDDD,” any time I got barbecue sauce, ketchup or raw hamburger on my hands proving not only that this album slays, but also that I’m incredibly mature.
6. Nevalra – The Black Flame (Hard Wood Records)
Five dollars says you’ve never heard of these guys (/hipsterglasses). Nevalra are a three-piece from mid-Missouri who remind me a lot of Behemoth with some high shrieks that would give even Trevor Strnad the chills. And although Behemoth is the best comparison I can think of, their sound isn’t limited to just heavy. I first saw Nevalra at a local show in Columbia, Missouri, and I was instantly hooked. Columbia is a college town that has so many people wearing pastel clothing that it looks like a rainbow swallowed a kindergarten class on arts and crafts day, drank every flavor of UV alcohol, threw up in the middle of the sate and called it a school. Needless to say, metal is somewhat of a rarity here. Vocalist/guitarist Scott Eames’ shrieks need to be heard in person to be believed because what you hear on recording is exactly how Eames, and the rest of the band sound live. Nevalra are the black cloud in the sky over mid-Missouri and hopefully they’ll keep it that way because there are far too many bright colors in Columbia.
I’ve hated stoner music my entire life. That’s not an exaggeration. I hated the slow pace and the overt “WUN LUV 4/20 BLAZE IT HURR HURR” bullshit that goes with it and its fans. Maybe that’s because I don’t like happy or upbeat music and have hated everyone I’ve ever known who listens to it, but all that changed when I listened to Black Book Lodge. When I was reviewing this album, I did it while spending a week in Colorado. It should be known that this album is in no way metal, which makes it even more of an anomaly for me because that’s pretty much what my musical taste is limited to. Black Book Lodge make me think of a slow-paced Mastodon with Muse vocals slapped over them, and their brand of relaxed music is the perfect thing to watch the sun set over the Rocky Mountains with a funny-smelling cigarette and a cold beer.
Sanzu sort of just popped up on the radar one day without warning. The Australian five-piece boast one of the most polished EPs I’ve ever heard in my life, as well as one of the heaviest. Painless could easily have passed as its own album with a song or two more because the production value on the record is absolutely out of this world. Sanzu are a great balance between fast, crushing metal, tremolo picking, chugs and filthy vocals to make just about any metalhead out there want to get up and bang their head. These guys started off on an incredible note and are going to have a bright future if their debut album, Heavy Over The Home, is as good as Painless. For once, the list of things from Australia that will destroy you doesn’t just include the country’s bizarre and oversized wildlife. It also includes a band, and that band is Sanzu.
I owe the discovery of this band to an old friend named Ian who is very into progressive metal. Ian talked me into going to see After The Burial and The Contortionist in downtown Kansas City one day and although I wasn’t ever particularly huge on either of them, Reflections was on the bill. The second they came on I was instantly hooked on their combination of djenty breakdowns and guitar shredding. I don’t think I’ve ever thrown down so hard for a band I’ve never heard of before, and it wasn’t just me either. The mosh pit for this band spanned the entire dance floor area at a venue where Whitechapel couldn’t even get half of the crowd moving. Three albums later and I still feel the urge to get up and smash shit around me when I hear Reflections come on. These guys get better with every album and they don’t just stick to being absurdly heavy, which they are. It’s hard to describe Reflections’ sound other than djentcore, but I still feel like that does them a disservice. In an era of incredibly homogenous music, Reflections are a band that have an immediately recognizable and unique sound that I absolutely love.
The Black Dahlia Murder have been so consistently good for so long that it’s amazing they haven’t ran out of ideas for songs yet. I felt like Into The Everblack wasn’t quite up to par with the rest of TBDM’s work mostly because it lacked the signature chaotic and overbearing drumming style that Shannon Lucas made instrumental to their sound, but that’s like an NFL running back having a “bad” season by only rushing for 1,000 yards. It might be a down season, but it’s still pretty damn good. Abysmal is better from Into The Everblack in every way possible. Had I not known Shannon Lucas left the band, I likely wouldn’t have ever guessed because new drummer Alan Cassidy stepped his game up tenfold. One of the most interesting things about Abysmal is that the recording quality has been whitewashed on purpose. TBDM got tired of all the over-produced metal and wanted this record to sound more gritty. As a result, it sounds very similar to Miasma, it’s a little off-putting at first, but it once you get used to it, it enhances the album. There isn’t a dull moment on Abysmal and it’s nice to see TBDM sticking to the style that made them so good in the first place, but still knowing how to mix it up just enough to prevent stagnation.
1. Fit For An Autopsy – Absolute Hope Absolute Hell (eOne Music)
As if my review for this album didn’t show how absolutely fucking incredible this album is, let me spell it out or you. FFAA are one of those rare bands that improved after a switch at vocalist. That’s even more impressive considering the vocalist they replaced is Nate Johnson. Absolute Hope Absolute Hell has so many catchy and skull crushing parts that it’s hard for me to pick only one favorite song. The title track is your standard opener with a massive, ominous intro that sets the tone for the whole album, “Saltwound” has an incredible pick slide Gojira-like breakdown at the end, and “Ghosts In The River” proves that FFAA can be heavy, melodic and brutal while not relying entirely on chugs, double bass and screaming. I cannot recommend this album highly enough and I still have yet to go a more than a couple days without listening to it in its entirety since its release. If you’re bored with deathcore, check it out. If you don’t know who FFAA is, check it out. If you breathe oxygen, check it out. FFAA set the bar for their genre and this is an album I’ll be listening to for years.