Chuck & Godless’ Top Fifteen Metal Albums of 2015
2015 feels like it was a slower year, but when I scoped out the albums I was considering for my list, there were really a bunch that I enjoyed, and that were damn close to the top fifteen for me. The tail end of this year has really taken me aback with so many full albums that kicked a lot of ass. Trying to sum it all up in one list never justifies it all, so make sure you listen to our last episode of the MS Podcast for 2015, and maybe I can put into spoken word what I can’t articulate here.
The decision to stick with a more rock based approach for Clutch worked on Earth Rocker, and Psychic Warfare presents more of that same powerful attitude and emphasis on their abilities to write strong hooks and lyrically profound jams. A balanced album that seamlessly continues the trajectory of the band, gives us some great new singable tunes… and, of course, mentions Texas (so I have to love it even more).
At some point Soilwork will write a terrible record — but The Ride Majestic is not that record. I am astounded by Soilwork’s ability to continually write albums that stretch what they do as a band, yet somehow fit perfectly into their catalog. This record has everything for the Euro-metalcore fan to celebrate.
Frenetic and volatile, intricate and subtle, Psycroptic’s self-titled pushes the limits of listenability — but the band keeps an eyes on what they need to do to make you bang your head. Unlike contemporaries who simply play difficult shit to make themselves appear to be awesome and can’t assemble a song to save their lives, Psycroptic write coherent tunes that you want to listen to, not just ogle their guitarist’s 25 strings to.
While watching Refused on their reunion tour at Fun Fun Fun Fest, not one of their diehard fans could have possibly guessed that they could even put together another album, let alone a release as striking as Freedom. Almost two decades have passed since their ‘final’ album, The Shape of Punk to Come, and all we wanted was perfection. In many ways, Dennis Lyxzen and company have not only succeeded, but essentially created an album that did exactly what it needed to do: began the next era of punk to come.
11. Horrendous – Anareta (Dark Descent)
I have been ranting all year about how extreme metal in 2015 bored the shit out of me. In the last month we have seen incredible releases, such as this beast from Horrendous. They’re relatively new band, with just three albums under their belt — yet Anareta possesses a sense of experience that many bands can never seem to grasp, a fluid dynamic to their strict death metal presentation. Technical and extreme, ferocious and biting, I expect more greatness from Horrendous going forward.
When I mention this band to anyone, they seem to get this look on their face like they think they know them, maybe they heard a song or two, but can’t seem to assemble any actual thoughts about them… which is a complete waste, because VOD are damn brilliant. They’ve been around since 1992, signed to the biggest label in metal, but wound up imploding after only a decade, only to mount a return in 2008. Razed to the Ground shoots down any thoughts about this comeback being a poor idea: it is simply one of their finest pieces of work to date.
High on Fire needed no explanation when they were top of my list in 2010 with Snakes for the Divine or De Vermis Mysteriis in 2012. So to try and explain why this HOF release is on my list would just be dumb. This is High on Fire: they will destroy you, hopefully before the aliens try and control your mind.
To call what Napalm Death do on every single album as growth unjustly minimalizes what they accomplish with each release. How can you take death/grind and make it into anything other than forty-five second long bursts of kinetic energy? ND have survived every kind of change in the industry, every genre we’ve thrown at them, and somehow retained their relevance and influence and ability to move the needle musically. Adding depth and layers to an already destructive formula give me hope for humanity, as do their ever-present, socially conscious themes.
Simply put, flawless.
I never was a huge fan of Paradise Lost, mainly due to the variance of quality over the course of their twenty-five year career. But within the fourteen records in the catalog, there were always gems — and The Plague Within is their crown jewel. Equal parts melodic and aggro, Paradise Lost give you slow, heavy riffs, the right vocal tone at the right time, and concise, well-written tunes you can headbang and sing along with.
The strange thing here is, whereas failing to pin down Paradise Lost made me move away from them, Intronaut’s similarly diverse catalog feels like a creative continuation, rather than a struggle to find a place amongst the ferns. The Direction of Last Things‘ breadth will surprise even the most hardened critic. If you aren’t BTBAM, prog metal is not an easy thing to make palatable– yet this record is undeniable.
I think when I first experienced the art of Cattle Decapitation, I never thought I would love them. I appreciated their passion for the socially upright stance about humans being the driving force behind the destruction of the world, but it felt stale and milquetoast after a couple albums. That all changed with Monolith of Humanity, a more thematically developed, more focused album. The Anthropocene Extinction takes them one step further towards rewriting what death metal can potentially be. Travis Ryan’s vocal manipulations in particular makes this whole album worth listening to. The strange clean thing, the whispers in the mix, the extreme layers — they all entrance you… while pummeling you to death.
I am not sure how much I read into this record being about Randy Blythe’s time in a Prague prison cell and how much is really there. Maybe the expectation heightened my response. No matter, though: with Wrath and Resolution, my interest in the band had started to wane a bit — they were good records, but nothing compared to LoG’s early catalog. Although the title leaves much to be desired, Sturm und Drang feels like it captures the thoughts and feelings of a band held in limbo by a tragedy that was beyond their control. I enjoy this record as much as, if not more than, Sacrament. The reason why I enjoy this record so much is, at this point, moot.
If you are a listener of the podcast, my struggles with Deafheaven are nothing new; I disliked the popular, list-topping Sunbather. Even as a fan of shoegaze black metal, it just felt like getting kicked in the balls every time I turned it on. But minds can change. Many of the reasons that caused me to disagree with Deafheaven’s focus on twisting a genre in ways that were unnatural are still present in their style, but their sophomore album seems to possess more self-awareness than they had before.
1. Baroness – Purple (Abraxan Hymns)
Unlike the rest of the modern metal world, I did not hold Baroness’ last album in the highest regard. There were some great moments, but it was a double album that could have been boiled down to one spectacular album. So much has transpired for the band since then — setting aside the bus crash and the fallout of having to relearn how to do even menial tasks, rebuilding a band after two core members cannot continue must be daunting.
After getting on the road and touring for a year with a new rhythm section, the iron seemed hot enough to get the recording going. As we hear the pieces of Purple, all that has transpired falls into the rear view. But when consumed in full? Enlightened, transcendental, and mature beyond their years, Baroness’ Purple grows in stature with every listen. Heavier than the last two records, but with more subtle strides in structure, this is as close as we may get to a perfect album. Baroness tapped into something I hope they can channel for many years to come.
The moment of the year comes from Mayhem Festival co-founder Kevin Lyman, who called out the scene for being “gray, bald, and fat” and provided tremendous leadership in doing so. Metal IS gray, bald, and fat. I took his words to heart and devoted much of my listening to bands who are defying this accusation. I also wrote this list while doing burpees. My listening was rewarded, sprinkled with a band here or there who released tremendous, late-career-defining records.
*Extra kudos to Protest the Hero, who are trying out whole new business models with their excellent-so-far Pacific Myth project.
15. A Skylit Drive – ASD (Tragic Hero)
Some albums are ALBUMS — one thread that ties a series of songs together. Other albums are just a collection of songs, each one standing on its own, seemingly oblivious to the songs around it. ASD is the latter type of album, and it’s perfectly fine. The band crafts perfect pop in its screamo and, in 2015, when we’re all downloading a song at a time anyway, A Skylit Drive is delivering an album’s worth of great tunes at just the right time.
The second best album artwork of the year (Vattnet Vaskar unanimously takes that title) adorns one of my favorites in 2015. Pyramids are masters of mood. They shift in unpredictable, angular riffs like storms chop seasides. Nothing seems to repeat twice, and every nuance in movement exposes something new or crashes against something unexpected. It’s a wash of awesome with every new listen. Epic.
13. Dance Gavin Dance – Instant Gratification (Rise)
Whether the result of lineup changes or maturity, DGD have now perfectly melded their Minus the Bear-prog in to Sunny Day Real Estate-emo and Thursday-screamo and crafted songs celebrating their challenging structures while retaining their hooks. There’s a little bit of something for everyone, unless you don’t like a little bit of everything.
Sometimes “transition albums” are necessary — but much frequently are they successes in their own right. Matriarch is one of the few. There isn’t another hook as good as the one on “Mikasa” here, but I’m not sure there is on any other album, either. VoM’s singer change from that one guy with the dreamy blue eyes to some new guy willing to sing a bit has been incredibly successful, and I look forward to their further explorations into melody on future albums.
The wife only listens to music recorded between 1981 – 1984, so Simple Minds, Roxy Music, and The English Beat are where she’s at. Metal recorded from 1981 – 1984 HATED these bands, and the awesome noise from Venom, Metallica, and Mercyful Fate was in direct rebellion to the radio rulers of the day. Moonspell’s music often feels as if the rebellion didn’t occur, with amazingly awesome results. Bryan Ferry melodies decorate Iron Maiden walls. Mix in some awesome riffs and a string section and I’m into it, neon sweater and all.
The early reviews of the latest album by the most intense live band in the world focused on their welcome evolution from unique noisecore to angular post-punk, à la Alternative Tentacles. What they failed to mention was Ken Mode’s perfect depiction of the 99% — the frustrations of the middle and lower classes. Wage stagnation, personal debt, and the fairytale of “getting ahead” are topics addressed tonally, if not always lyrically, making this possibly the most important album of the year, in any genre. It isn’t the document of the revolution, but it is the document of the anger that will precede it. I’m an uber-fan of the band, and I’m enjoying ther journey, wherever they go.
If Sunbather were Loveless, New Bermuda might be their Ask Me Tomorrow — washed out guitars are more vibrant and experimentations with sound have been replaced with purpose with tone. What may be one of the three most important bands in 21st century metal have successfully navigated the dreaded sophomore slump, and done so with a greater palette and more confident delivery. The “band to watch” is here to see, and it’s beautiful.
Vocalist/guitarist Emma Ruth Rundle is the focal-point of this band, her solo guitar traveling from tone to tone like her pedals are built into her heels. If you’re a sucker for guitar tone, I don’t know if there is a better album for you this year. There is one mood for this album — a plaintive and angsty longing for something impossible — but each song is a different journey. Nothing climaxes, but everything swells and recedes. You come from heaven, indeed.
There were a ton of expectations leading to Lamb of God’s first album since vocalist Randy Blythe escaped prison and drummer Chris Adler became metal’s drummer-du-jour , and they delivered their best output since Sacrament in response. “512” is the best song of their career, the postcard from Pankrac Prison we eagerly wanted to receive. LoG have become inspirational in more ways than one. Delivering this much quality on a single release should be an inspiration to us all. In addition, Randy’s Dark Days memoir is a crucial accompanying document to Sturm Und Drang.
Taking the prize for most unexpected greatness in an album goes to “from-out-of-nowhere” Amiensus. Ascension is a confident album. Rather than using black metal as the foundation for a metal-elitist twitchfest as Myrkur and Anaal Nathrakh do so amazingly well, Amiensus uses its black metal as a tool, a force of strength when the song demands it. And speaking of songs, Amiensus craft some amazing ones. Each track seems to twist and turn in new and interesting directions, utilizing any and every genre as the song demands. Male and female vocal duets add to the uniqueness. Gratitude goes to whoever introduced me to the album on Twitter (@GodlessSpeaks).
5. Good Tiger – A Head Full of Moonlight (self-released)
While other proggy bands seem to lean toward Peter Gabriel-era Genesis, Good Tiger aren’t afraid to use prog to write songs that are actually great, à la Phil Collins-era Genesis. There was always a chance great musicians would eschew metal for other genres, to our detriment. Thankfully, bands like Good Tiger are utilizing amazing talent to craft incredibly listenable songs with hooks for miles. If you put money into their Kickstarter to make sure this album happened: thank you.
Periphery’s obvious attempt to get Best Metal Performance Grammy couldn’t come at a better time. Last year’s embarrassment of handing the award to a joke band for a joke cover song will need to be rectified in 2016, and Periphery have handed the voters the perfect antidote: a great album from a band poised to place itself among the metal elite. If the Academy Award goes to the actress playing a person with an “affliction” in an “extreme situation” requiring strong displays of emotion, Periphery similarly tick all the Grammy boxes — double album, with jazz fusion at times (for voter Chick Corea), and passionate performances.
I might have spun Force Rise the Sun more than any other album this year. Infinitely listenable, InAeona mix metal and science fiction to create an impenetrably awesome suite of recordings. The three-piece layers everything multiple times, making them sound like a thirty-piece. Vocals are stacked over other vocals, guitars are piled on top of guitars, and drums pound through machines to make this one of the heaviest, catchiest, most forward-thinking metal albums in recent memory.
I told Refused singer Dennis Lyxzen I would listen to Freedom for the rest of my life, and that is true. As a late-comer to the Refused party, I’m glad to be ahead of a whole OTHER generation that will be discovering Refused a decade from now. This is a triumphant return for one of the most amazing stories in the history of music. Elektra is a fantastic sequel to New Noise. It’s a joy to be alive as long as Refused are cranked.
1. Baroness – Purple (Abraxan Hymns)
What an absolute triumph. There have always been songs on Baroness’s albums that I liked, but until now, never before have I enjoyed one of their albums from beginning to end. Much like frontman John Baizley’s visual art, there are subtle sounds, like the keyboard riff in the final chorus of “Try to Disappear,” that are only discoverable after truly living with each piece… but there are also broad strokes that instantly grab and hold you at the very first listen. “Chlorine & Wine,” “Shock Me,” and “Disappear” are the metal equivalent of “Can’t Buy Me Love,” “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” and “She Loves You.”
Purple is more than a great album — it is an instant metal classic, unequivocally important and among the best our genre has produced.