In the world of metal 2015 has been an exceptionally busy year. On the old front this year saw Paradise Lost returning to a style more akin to their gritty origins, as well as Iron Maiden and Slayer finally coming out with new material. Bands like Cattle Decapitation and Ghost are at the peak of their careers. And Arcturus are out with a new album!?
As always there's some stuff to look forward to next year as well. Vektor is coming out with the long awaited follow up to their technical thrash masterpiece Outer Isolation, and a personal doom metal favourite of mine - Stone Magnum - are also releasing new material. Going further, Conan from Britain are supposed to release a new album as well.
Arbitrary to some, I find end-year lists to be a great way to sum up and process all the new impressions from the past year. Sometimes you've already forgotten some of the greatest releases from the earlier parts of the year, only to rediscover them at the end. Between listening to new records and worshipping old ones, some simply slip through the gaps.
On a side note I haven't listened to the new Hooded Menace, Uncle Acid or Dynatron albums yet, although I suspect they're all fantastic. Until then here's the preliminary (read: final) top 15 of the year 2015 for me. I've been listening to a lot of records, not only metal ones, which are all included in one definitive list, including a few honourable mentions. The albums featured this year seem in retrospect to be mainly from bands I knew beforehand - Perhaps I've been a little lazy in checking out new names? Or maybe those new acts don't quite live up to expectations... It could all just be coincidence. At any rate, please refer to the comments section below to deliver death threats, accolade and/or inquiries.
The Top 15 of 2015
15. Acid King - Middle of Nowhere, Center of Everywhere
A quiet but cautious "fucking finally" escaped my lips as Acid King's new album arrived in my inbox. Not since 2005 have we been graced with new material from the acid royalty. The Californian band haven't released two albums on the same label, and yet my surprise was great when I realised that Middle of Nowhere, Center of Everywhere was to be released on Finland's prime label Svart Records. I'm a fan, as the label's rate of quality releases is quite substantial, just like the albums of Acid King, however far between they may be. Let me just start out by saying that MoNCoE ain't no Busse Woods. Busse Woods is the standard that I hold other stoner-doom records to, and Middle of Nowhere doesn't have quite the same classic stature. With that out of the way, let me address the great musicianship Lori S. and Co. present on the new album. It's stacked to the brim with the usual quirky-natured and heavy-tempered stoner riffs they've become known for, and thank Satan for that. They've found room for more paranoia-inducing tracks which mixes up the usual 420 tunes, making it a more varied outing than previous efforts. It's definitely got it's memorable moments, and I'm sure it will see as many spins as their previous material.
Listen to "Coming Down from Outer Space" and "Center of Everywhere"
14. Ranger - Where Evil Dwells
Finnish speed metal heroes RANGER practically exploded with the release of their 5-track EP Knights of Darkness in 2013, which I reviewed back then. Their approach features elements from all the classic early speed and thrash acts of the 80s, but with an especially heavy nod towards Slayer's debut Show No Mercy. Their sound has remained completely uncompromising, hard, heavy and fast. Surprisingly the tracks found on Where Evil Dwells are pretty lengthy for speed metal, most of them clocking in at above 4 minutes in length, with the title track taking the cake with over 10 minutes of play time! A bold move indeed. Ranger is with good reason among the shooting stars of the current speed metal movement, even if they're getting plenty competition from other competent bands. But only few rival the impulse and lack of restraint that the Finns put forth!
Listen to "Defcon 1" and "Black Circle (S.Y.L.S.)"
Read my full review of Knights of Darkness
13. Various Artists - Kung Fury OST
Kung Fury was the kickstarter-funded short film that caused quite a commotion on the internet with its tongue-in-cheek, nostalgic rendition of 80s B-movies earlier in 2015. Though the film itself was only mildly entertaining at best, the whole mythos surrounding it is where the real fun begins. On paper the plot is fun, the artwork is so 80s that the Transformers, He-Man and Michael Jackson all seem modern by comparison, and the fact that Swedish musician Mitch Murder collaborated with none other than 80s super star David Hasselhoff to create the viral hit True Survivor. Combined with the hugely successful campaign to fund the movie it's a real American adventure (but in Sweden). The very fact that the OST is released on vinyl by Universal Music stands testament to the reach and popularity of the concept. The soundtrack in itself summons the best the current synthwave scene can muster with fantastic tracks from Mitch Murder, Lost Years, Highway Superstar, Betamaxx and others, carving a neon path through space and time straight back to late 80s, clad in white Reebok Pumps and tight jeans.
Listen to "West Side Lane (by Lost Years)" and "Power Move (by Mitch Murder)"
12. Power Glove - EP II
With their soundtrack for the video game Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon and their first EP before that, Power Glove were among the first movers in the movement now widely known as synthwave. For many their first EP was a gateway into the world of modernized 80s synthscapes, and the tone they set has since been imitated by many. But as the Australians put it, their new EP leaves the 80s behind and moves into a seedy early 90s club. Tracks like Punker and Motorcycle Cop bring to mind a darker re-imagining of Justice's "†" album from 2007 and plays like the soundtrack for a William Gibson cyberpunk novel. It feels like a brave move for the duo, seemingly not wanting to conform to the colourful 80s style more than they have to. Though not too far removed from their previous material, their venture into new markets comes with the same quality that they've been known for in the past.
Listen to "Punker" and "Grip"
11. Armored Saint - Win Hands Down
(Metal Blade Records)
Some enjoy John Bush in Anthrax, but I've always felt as though his true home as a metal vocalist is with Armored Saint. Though they've come a long way since 1984's classic March of the Saint the style and approach has remained largely the same through the last 30 years, even in spite of the long hiatuses they've had through the years. Win Hands Down may not be a new Symbol of Salvation, but with their usual strong songwriting and the drive and commitment they've always presented their return comes much appreciated.
Listen to "Win Hands Down" and "Muscle Memory".
10. Black Rainbows - Hawkdope
(Heavy Psych Sounds)
Italian hard psych n' stoner rock may not sound all that innovative or interesting. Adding a garage element and saying it sounds "kinda like Queens of the Stone Age, Kyuss and Hawkwind" may sound like blandness in the making. Lots of bands are doing it, like King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard and Greenleaf just to name a few. But the new album from Black Rainbows stands out, even if the incredible cover image doesn't convince you. They may be inspired by the greats of hard psychedelia, stoner, space and desert rock with crisp, driven gutiars, catchy hooks, airey psychedelia, pounding drums and groovy bass, like so many others, but the songwriting is as catchy and memorable as any of the classics they mimic.
Listen to "Hawkdope" and "The Prophet"
9. Disasterpeace - It Follows OST
It Follows caused quite a stir within the horror film fandom in 2015. I haven't seen it yet, but most seem to praise it. That doesn't stop me from enjoying the soundtrack, which in my eyes means that it does its job well. The intro track kicks off with a paranoia-inducing theme of equal parts Silent Hill and the famous shower sequence of Psycho. The crisp, bitcrushed synths of the soundtrack conjure up and perfectly capture an intense atmosphere of urgency, of being stalked and pursued, and a fear of the unknown. Demented synths go hand in hand with a simplistic rhythm section, and especially with headphones does the soundtrack come into its own. Disasterpeace plays with extremely high and low pitches in a hysterical, almost psychotic, soundscape designed to freak you out. If the film is even half as good as the soundtrack, I won't be disappointed.
Listen to "Title" and "Company"
8. Encyrcle - Encyrcle
(Unspeakable Axe Records)
There are times when you see an unknown band live that you have a feeling are gonna get big. When I saw Encyrcle prior to the release of their album (even before they had a social media presence, which in all honesty is probably the first thing every band gets around to these days) they brought down the house and raised the roof, or whatever it is young people say nowadays. I'm sure Encyrcle wouldn't know anything about what goes on in the modern world, because with that dresscode and that style they might as well have been from the late 80s. Although the band's relationship with 80s speed metal and heavy metal is purely second hand nostalgia - they are young guys after all - they commit to the style and execute it extraordinarily well. Production-wise they're a lot "cleaner" sounding than similar bands, new or old, but their strength lies with the incredible songwriting and energy with which they deliver the goods. Tight leather pants, studs and sunglasses in the dark, this is the best 80s since the actual 80s.
Listen to "To the End" and "Bloodbasker"
7. Melody Gardot - Currency of Man
To my knowledge the American singer has been pretty consistent throughout her career, both in style and quality. Her style usually leans on smooth jazz with soft blues undertones, carried out in a pleasant down-played disposition. However, on her fourth solo album she appears to be leaning more towards a darker blues sound, her deliberate vocal style shining brightly on a sombre tapestry of atmospheric, almost ambient combination of jazzy strings and bluesy guitar and bass interplay. By now her style seems almost gothic in its ponderously eloquent nature, both musically and in regards to voice. Depending on what you're looking for, Currency of Man is in my opinion her most affectionate and deep felt album yet.
Listen to "Don't Talk" and "She Don't Know"
6. Ozric Tentacles - Technicians of the Sacred
This band has somehow remained in relative obscurity since the 80s. Their spaceous progressive psych rock may be a bit much for some people, but their vast vistas and expansive soundscapes are virtually unrivaled. As usual they're quite heavy on the synthesizers and sonic effects, but the almost improvisational songstructures on their newest album benefit greatly from the multitude of layers that builds their music. With the shortests song being just over 5 minutes in length, Technicians of the Sacred opens up for hours upon hours of listening and exploring. This is one album that you can keep listening to and finding new elements over and over and over.
Listen to "Epiphlioy" and "Butterfly Garden".
5. Death Hawks - Sun Future Moon
How could Death Hawks possibly follow up the great hypnotic tunes of the self-titled album from 2013? And what direction would the band be heading in? Death Hawks was vastly different from the debut from 2011, but had they found their final stylistic resting place with their sophomore album? All kinds of thoughts and worries passed through my head between the release of Death Hawks and Sun Future Moon, but I was pleased to find that the answer with the band's third effort wasn't entirely unambiguous. It hints with nostalgia to the debut with gutsy sunshine rock while maintaining the feel of spacey hypnosis found on the follow up. Sun Future Moon stays grounded and substantial while also leaping into psychedelic aeons beyond time and space. I mentioned in my previous review of the album that it feels like a result of their musical journey up til now, and I stand by that notion.
Listen to "Hey Ya Sun Ra" and "Friend of Joy"
Read my full review of Sun Future Moon
4. The Avener - The Wanderings of the Avener
I have been putting this album on regularly ever since it came out. Emerging from the French scene with a few hit singles, The Avener's album of remixed tracks, collaborations and re-imagined older songs explores both house and lounge in a wonderfully produced mish-mash of old and new, traditional and modern. I'm usually not into lounge at all. The simple faux-laid back rhythms get old really quickly. But through his talented musical sorcery this new French artist has created not only a great loungey album, but a phenomenal record in itself with lots of feeling and memorability.
Listen to "Panama" and "Castle in the Sky".
3. Carpenter Brut - Trilogy
Trilogy isn't an album per se, but rather a compilation of the artist's three EPs, the last of which came out in early 2015. I won't go into detail about the EPs individually - That would make up a whole article in itself. But with the 80s electro revival synthwave fever running rampant with tons of mediocre acts and only a few good ones, the frenchman known only as Carpenter Brut stands out with the arguably most hardhitting and well-produced variant. His rolling synths and powerful rhythm sections are real suckerpunches and completely blew me away in an almost literal sense with absolutely incredible tracks like ROLLER MOBSTER and TURBO KILLER. As a side note, the crisp triple 45rpm vinyl configuration from Neuropa Records is the absolute prime way to be listening to this monolithic and, dare I say, potential timeless classic collection. If you can afford it.
Listen to "Roller Mobster" and "Disco Zombi Italia".
2. Symphony X - Underworld
(Nuclear Blast Records)
Last time Symphony X released an album, 2011's Iconoclast, they made it to the top of my list. It's an album I still listen to frequently. As usual for Symphony X the new album is almost universaly well-received and with good reason. Underworld shows a band still at their prime full of envigorating progressive power metal tunes. Underworld has tougher competition than Iconoclast did, but seems like a return to form for Symphony X with less groove and more power. As I mentioned in my review of the album from earlier this year it feels both like a natural progression from the sound of Iconoclast, but also like a mix of their three previous albums, mixing in elements from both The Odyssey, Paradise Lost and lastly Iconoclast.
Listen to "Charon" and "To Hell and Back"
Read my full review of Underworld
1. Undergang - Døden Læger Alle Sår
(Dark Descent Records/Me Saco Un Ojo Records)
Undergang have, among fans of the death metal underground, become synonymous with the vilest, most rotten and decayed death metal available. Since 2009 they've been tearing it up, fuelled by the decomposed sound of obscure death metal demos from the 80s and 90s, with each album delving further into putridity. Indhentet af Døden brought corpse-dripping metal in the vein of Slugathor and Disma, while Til Døden os Skiller from 2012 vomited forth another 8 great tracks in the same style. Sound-wise Døden Læger Alle Sår has changed a bit, mixing and mastering being handled by Greg Wilkinson and Dan Lowndes respectively, though I would like to note the hardhitting style suits the rotten guitars and drums perfectly by accentuating each fetid chord after the next. Døden Læger Alle Sår establishes the fact that musical merrit isn't inherent in advanced music. Undergang's brand of death metal is knuckledraggingly troglodytic, but when coupled with gut-pounding drumwork and the scene's greatest flair for composition it's a truely devastating concoction. Death heals all wounds indeed.
Listen to "Ad Ligbitum" and "Det Gør Kun Ondt Til Du Dør"
Enforcer - From Beyond
(Nuclear Blast Records)
There's a reason Enforcer are at the top of the game in regards to revivalist speed metal. Ever since the release of Into the Night in 2008 they've not only been expanding their fanbase, but also at the same time progressing as songwriters and musicians. The sound they found on Death by Fire has now been triple-distilled and perfected to the point of deadly precision with an immensely well-crafted album. The Swedes've found room for a bit of innovation with much longer tracks and more intricate compositions, and the very fact that they could almost out-do Death by Fire is in itself a huge feat, even if From Beyond doesn't have quite as many memorable tracks.
Listen to "Undying Evil" & "Mask of Red Death"
Gruesome - Savage Land
Evil Chuck's Death no doubt had a huge influence on metal, both then and now. There's always been the presence of a few bands that sound almost unmistakingly like Scream Bloody Gore and/or Leprosy, but Gruesome really took the world by storm with their completely unashamed influence from Death when they released Savage Land this year. Together with Trenchrot they're the prime of Death rip-offs, and I mean that in the best way possible. They don't actually cover any songs by Death, but everything from the riff composures over the drumming to the vocal style and vocal patterns is unmistakingly heavily influenced by especially the Leprosy album. If that's the style of death metal you're into, you cannot afford to miss Gruesome's Savage Land (or Trenchrot's Necronomic Warfare from last year, for that matter).
Listen to "Trapped in Hell" and "Gangrene"
Sammal - Myrskyvaroitus
Sammal has a history of few but great releases behind them, and building upon that saga is their third outing, Myrskyvaroitus. It's definitely one of 2015's strongest proggin' hard rock records, and an absolute must if you're into classic rock with a modern twist of heavy organs and the most innovativ riffing available.
Listen to "Aika on alkamassa" and "Järjen ohimarssi"
Read my full review of Myrskyvaroitus
Acid Witch - Midnight Movies EP
The guys from Detroit definitely aren't what they used to be. 2008's Witchtanic Hellucinations was mostly in the vain of psychedelic, tripped out and occult death-doom metal, before going for a more death n' roll like sound on the following records. They definitely can't be lobbed into one specific category, 'cause last year their split with Nunslaughter featured something much more like "regular" death-doom, before returning this year with a tribute to 80s heavy metal-themed horror films. This EP has the horrific quartet covering absolute classic tracks by Sorcery, Fastway, Black Roses and 45 Grave. They might not do the originals justice, but they definitely give it their own spin in a way only Acid Witch can do with reverance aplenty.
Listen to "Soldiers of the Night (originally by Black Roses)" and "Partytime (originally by 45 Grave)"
Lord Huron - Strange Trails
Indie folk is definitely alive and kicking. Though I consider most of the groups in the genre to be the authors of abysmally boring, offendingly run of the mill and drivelous tripe, Lord Huron's semi melancholic vocals and flowy guitar play really struck a chord with me. Pun intended. From start to finish 14 tracks make up the almost hour-long play time, so it's a lengthy affair for a mostly mainstream album. However, right from the album opener it's quite a journey with emotional ups and downs. It's a deep felt album with lots of feelings poured into it. It's beautiful is what it is, and thankfully it sounds nothing like Mumford & Sons.
Listen to "Love Like Ghosts" and "The World Ender"
Madeon - Adventure
Now here's what is essentially a product of modern music culture. This young French newcomer debuted in 2009 with his first single, at the ripe old age of 15. As such his album debut has been a long time coming. His popularity started out with a viral youtube video, and since then he's only been getting more popular. And with good reason. His powerful brand of electronic music, inspired by pop, electro and house, has a unique and invigorating sound that maxes out every positive feeling in the emotional register. It's fresh and it's raw talent distilled into a fine spirit of summerly rhythms.
I'm not usually that much into special editions or deluxe editions as the bonus tracks are often a waste of time and merely filler material to justify a higher price, but with Madeon's debut album the deluxe edition really is essential, with his singles from 2012 making it as bonus tracks.
Listen to "You're On" and "Finale"
Bikstok - Uranium
Danish reggae-hip hop trio Bikstok Røgsystem finally return after having released nothing but a single in the last ten years. In Denmark the group's only album, 2005's "Over stok og sten", stands out as a modern classic that set a certain standard and trend for years to come in the Danish scene. A standard that very few have even come close to imitating successfully. It seems doubtful that the new mini LP "Uranium" will do the same, but even after many years of silence the trio - Now known as just "Bikstok" - perfectly recaptures the silly and laid back style of the preceding album. The album opener, 80'eren, is a tribute to their youth and really sets the tone for the A-side. Unfortunately the B-side sort of meanders with few highlights shining as bright as the spliffs Eagger, Pharphar and Blæs B are undoubtedly smoking.
Listen to "80'eren" and "Uranium"