Vince Neilstein’s Top Fifteen Metal Albums of 2015
I never paid The Agonist much mind before Eye of Providence and it remains to be seen if I will again in the future, but this album way more than satisfactorily scratched an itch I didn’t even know I had: mid-’00s NWOAHM nostalgia. Maybe it’s been just long enough since bands like God Forbid, Shadows Fall and Killswitch Engage were pushing boundaries, maybe it’s the addition of new vocalist Vicky Psarakis, or perhaps The Agonist just worked really hard at writing good songs — or all three — but whatever the cause, Eye of Providence is an excellent record in that style that hits just the right spot.
Remember when Cattle Decapitation had the prefix “vegan death metal band” attached to their name in every single press piece? Those days are long gone, not just because it was a misnomer in the first place but because they’ve grown into a death metal beast all their own, getting better with each successive album. It didn’t seem possible that they’d top Monolith of Inhumanity (2012), and yet they did: The Anthropocene Extinction showcases their best songwriting and most impressive performance to date.
Complete Domination-era Morbid Angel worship? OK, perhaps. But given the dearth of bands these days doing exactly that — and how fucking good at it Sanzu are — we give these Aussies a pass. Besides, this is exactly the kind of band that, given a little investment and space to grow, will evolve into something completely their own. Painless hits the spot now, sure, but it’s the promise of what could come later that truly excites me (starting with the recently released Heavy Over the Home, streamable here).
Royal Thunder have come into their own with Crooked Doors, the follow-up to 2012’s promising but ultimately middling CVI. A key part of that is the band members you don’t often hear mentioned; anyone with half a brain could’ve recognized Mlny Parsonz’s insane vocal talent, but guitarist Will Fiore, drummer Evan Diprima and guitarist and band founder Josh Weaver really grew as both songwriters and musicians this time around. Is Crooked Doors even a metal album? Not really, but listen for yourself to hear why so many metalheads dig it. Unfortunately loses points for lackluster production and mixing.
I’m biased so you probably shouldn’t listen to me, but Rivers of Nihil really outdid themselves on Monarchy, their sophomore album, taking the foundation they laid on The Conscious Seed of Light and forging ahead with their own, unique take on atmospheric, progressive death metal with an old-school tilt.
Heaviest album of the year, no contest. Of course it’s not just “is vv heavy!” that makes this album year-end-list-worthy, though; it’s the tortured, twisted, gut-wrenchingly painful way in which Primitive Man do heavy that really makes this album hit so viscerally. One gets the impressions that home did indeed have a whole lot of hatred when Primitive Man were growing up.
If there’s any doubt left as to which of the very talented Amott brothers is still pushing the envelope, look no further than Armageddon’s Captivity & Devourment, Chris’s first post-Arch Enemy (the second time) release. Armageddon’s re-tooled lineup after a decade-plus hiatus offers a completely different musical stew; the songs on this record have a bizarre, twisted sense of melody and they’re insanely memorable, all the more impressive given how OOC the guitar work is throughout. Definitely go back and listen all the way through if you slept on this one.
I went into New Bermuda not wanting to believe the hype, thinking that much was ado about nothing with the alleged kings of “hipster metal” (whatever that is). I was soundly shoved right onto my ass and made to look a fool. Deafheaven proved with New Bermuda not only that they’re capable of hanging with the metal big boys, but that they’re still evolving and finding themselves; the album takes the black metal foundation they laid with their past work and introduces new influences from across the metal spectrum for a cohesive whole that’s varied and dynamic throughout.
One of the absolute best metal bands going today delivered an absolute monster of an album. Let’s credit the four men of Intronaut for continuing to push, continuing to develop and continuing to evolve and challenge themselves, and let’s credit them with knocking it out of the fucking park on yet another stellar record in their already storied catalogue. Let’s also credit Sir Devin Townsend with a supreme mixing job, FINALLY giving this band the power and clarity their music has always deserved.
The best bands are the ones that combine a crapload of different influences into one cohesive sound that’s distinctly their own, completely defying classification. Russian outfit Mare Infinitum are one such band, and their sophomore album Alien Monolith God is one hell of an impressive piece of work. Combining elements of death metal, doom, prog, sludge, trad metal, shred and goth, Mare Infinitum deliver a hellaciously catchy and outrageously tight performance here that sounds like nothing else on the scene today. Also, the vocals: my God!
Synthwave has been sweeping the metal world by storm, and The Wrath of Code is a perfect example of why: buzzsaw synths that rattle your bones like distorted guitars, hard as fuck beats that may as well be blasts and, most importantly, a supremely and hauntingly dark sense of melody paired with a distinctly metallic arrangement and composition. Fucking aces all around. In a similar vein, GosT delivered a helluva banger with Behemoth but I give Terminus the slight edge on composition. Label of both, Blood Music, had a killer year and played a huge part in helping this scene grow.
Slaves Beyond Death will go down in history as the album on which Black Breath transitioned from one in a crowded pack of promising Entombedcore bands to bonafide Metal with a capital-M heavyweight contenders. Black Breath haven’t completely left their hardcore roots behind, but they let their metal ones show a lot more prominently here — Metallica, Pantera, Death and Crowbar all rear their ugly heads in Eric Wallace and Mark Palm’s devastatingly nasty riffs — and the result is a much more balanced and engaging listen than any of the band’s prior work. Kurt Ballou’s raw but clear production and mixing bring it all home. Black Breath dudes, if you’re reading this: I wanna stick my dick in your guitar tone… Unnnnnnggggghhh so good!!
Yeah, I didn’t see this one coming either. But Strung Out always had a knack for melding shred, punk and catchy-as-fuck songs, and Transmission.Alpha.Delta may be their finest accomplishment in their long and storied career. It’s infectious all the way through, the riffs and leads are as scintillating as ever, and Jason Cruz’s soulful, melancholic voice just keeps getting better with age.
Our own Kelsey Chapstick said to me that “Tribulation make black metal sexy,” and that’s exactly it: never have riffs so frosty and grim had so much swagger and rock ‘n roll charisma. Many have attempted to reduce Tribulation’s sound to “Ghost, if Ghost were more metal,” which isn’t completely off — both are kinda metal but not really, and both borrow a lot from classic rock — but to do so would be to peg Tribulation as just another Vest Metal / occult-obsessed band, which they certainly are not. “Strange Gateways Beckon” and “The Motherhood of God” might be two of the best songs released by anyone all year.
1. Turnstile – Nonstop Feeling (Reaper)
How odd is it that young hardcore kids are suddenly jocking Helmet, Quicksand, Unsane and Jane’s Addiction? It’s not THAT strange, I suppose — even the most remote sub-genres (of which that isn’t one) can’t escape the 20-year revival cycle — but it just seems so… I don’t know… random, especially to those of us that lived through it the first time and watched it experience middling success. But in 2015 this is definitely A THING, and I’m certainly not complaining: all those bands ripped. It’s about time their riffs were mined and melded for modern times, and who better to do it than a bunch of hardcore brats from Baltimore? Everything here is right: the chunky, muted riffs, the gated snare that sounds like it was recorded in a banquet hall, the hi-tops, the album cover font and the snot-nosed attitude. Only the youth can turn the music world on its head, and Turnstile have done exactly that with Nonstop Feeling; it pays homage to the past but it’s fresh, it’s aggressive but controlled, raw but tight, heavy but accessible. Look for big things from this band in 2016, included a rumored six-figure mega-deal with one of metal’s heavy hitter labels.