All December long, Metal Injection writers are counting down their favorite albums and moments of the year. We kick things off with our reviews editor, Jeremy Ulrey. Make sure to vote for your favorite album of the year in our Reader's Poll here…
I like to get stingy with these fucking things. I've been on this earth long enough that I've developed a pretty good gauge on how music is likely to age, and I simply have little use in pimping a bloated top 30 or whatever, where anywhere from half to three-quarters of the entries sound great today but frankly won't remain in many people's regular rotation a year or two from now. I don't expect anyone to take this list as any sort of gospel, obviously, but I do aim for some sort of perceived longevity even if I later end up with egg on my face (it opens up the pores, y'all).
So on that basis I self-limit to a top 10, but full disclaimer: I'm the guy at Metal Injection tasked with soliciting and editing these year end lists, and I put no such restrictions on any of our other writers, so if you're wondering why some of us go with a top 15 while others run a top 10 or 20, it's because that decision is left entirely in the lap of the individual writer. Each of us have our own ideas of where the cutoff line should be and that's fine, this shit is mostly subjective talking points anyway.
You will find that this and other lists are deliberately restricted to heavy metal, or at least compatible bands and genres that might have warranted coverage on this site throughout the calendar year. So hardcore is fine, as is most of the heavier metalcore and even some of the less heavy prog, but if you've been itching for an appraisal of whether that new Grimes is capable of going head-to-head with Intronaut I'll have to refer you elsewhere.
Many of us MI scribes have diverse tastes in music, but my feeling on the inclusion of stuff like indie pop and Americana on these lists is that our fairly genre-specific site has little established expertise in those fields; you can reasonably expect as a reader that we've all heard at least 70-80% of the heavy metal albums released this year, but I can't vouch for any of us covering a similar proportion of hip hop before concluding that Kendrick Lamar did indeed release the best rap album of 2015, so no point really even going there. There are plenty of broad interest music sites out there offering genre-agnostic lists, this just isn't one of them.
That said, in the interests of personal expression and not feeding any myopic biases that metal is the only thing worth listening to, you'll find sidebar lists of non-metal picks for any writer that elected to do so.
Alright, enough banter… on with the show.
10. Scientist 10100II00101
The Chicago avant metal scene is both sanguine and incestuous, with side project after side project seeming to spring up under the guidance of heralded ur-producer Sanford Parker. Scientist is another spin off fitting under that umbrella, featuring Eric Plonka from Yakuza on guitar and vocals alongside a trio of compadres who typically call Making Ghosts and Taken by the Sun home. If you missed their debut a couple years ago you might be expecting another post-metal album here, but what you'll end up with instead is an odd sort of experimental hardcore flush with sludge, doom and mild industrial elements. The alchemy shifts tectonically from one song to the next, but variety never comes at the expense of consistency.
9. Nyx Home
I took no exception to the fact that controversial solo artist Myrkur's debut full length, M, deviated sharply from black metal orthodoxy, and indeed I appreciated the hell out of its earnestness and ambition; but it felt a little all over the place to me musically. Those that had similar misgivings but nonetheless would like to see more female artists establish themselves in the black metal field would do well to check out the latest by Nyx, a female duo from Germany also making their debut this year. Home is much more in the traditional BM mold, but not suffocatingly so… bits and pieces of melody abound, but album closer "Swallowed Screaming" is an about turn acoustic jaunt that you'll swear is an old Pastels cover or something of the like.
8. Windhand Grief's Infernal Flower
Windhand have hit a sweet spot in their career, their mission statement broad enough to remain familiar without the threat of repeating themselves while at the same time affording a Jenga-like allowance for structural rearrangement without the whole edifice imploding. Grief's Infernal Flower is their finest work yet, but nonetheless the sing of a band still growing. I'd be surprised if they don't show up that much higher in the chart on next year's best of list.
7. With the Dead With the Dead
With all due respect to the many who slotted the latest Paradise Lost on their year end list, I found the debut by Lee Dorian's With the Dead that much more compelling. The other legendary British doom band of the early 90's, Dorian's Cathedral have done as much as any metal group to recapture the swinging boogie undertones of mid-period Sabbath, even to the point of sometimes dabbling in straight up stoner rock. With the Dead continues in that vein, with a little more emphasis on epic, long-form doom, the rock & roll elements adding filigree but little in the way of actual foundation. Mostly, though, this album is just catchy as fuck.
6. Tribulation The Children of the Night
Another out-of-nowhere surprise, I don't even recall hearing Tribulation's previous album, 2013's The Formulas of Death, when it came out, but even listening to it now after the fact there was very little to tip one off that the band was capable of something this sweeping, accomplished, and downright catchy.
5. Napalm Death Apex Predator – Easy Meat
If there isn't a ton of traditional death metal on this list it's because, as much as I enjoy it, most death metal I hear these days (particularly that coming from long established bands) is only challenging in the sense of musicianship that gets a little more technical with each passing year. In terms of songwriting, though, a lot of it is the same old shit we've been listening to for decades now, as as satisfying as that can be I have a hard time rewarding that type of conservative effort with elite top 10 status at year's end. So I'm hardly a lock to include a Napalm Death album here just because it's another solid entry in the catalog, but something about Apex Predator – Easy Meat has stuck with me throughout the year. Well, not just anything… the fact that it's the band's fiercest album since 2000's Enemy of the Music Business automatically establishes Apex Predator as a modern high water mark, and for a band as talented as compelling as Napalm Death that's sometimes all you need.
4. Leviathan Scar Sighted
As a "death of the author" consumer of art, it never even occurred to me to discontinue fucking with Leviathan when Jef Whitehead's domestic abuse allegations cropped up – law enforcement can deal with much more effectively than any boycott I may choose to participate in – any more than Whitehead's calculated posing with his infant child on the cover of Decibel after the fact turned me off to his musical output. Scar Sighted might not quite measure up to the eight-tentacled beast that was 2011's True Traitor, True Whore, but man is it fucking close.
3. Deafheaven New Bermuda
Metal fans as a whole could stand to get a little less dogmatic about what should and shouldn't qualify as "true" metal or not, but unlike sophomore LP Sunbather there isn't much handwringing to be had in that regard with Deafheaven's latest, New Bermuda. Sure, the shoegaze affectations are still there, but this time they work more in service of the band's unorthodox take on black metal. I've never entirely understand why shoegaze wasn't an adequate analogue to traditional black metal's atmospheric tendencies, but either way Deafheaven have deftly sidestepped any intimation that their current effort isn't emphatically metal, even if it doesn't happen to be the kind that suits you. For those of us with the ears and open mind to appreciate this shit, however, the only qualm about New Bermuda's inclusion is the predictable inevitability that we're repping an album that everyone else is likely to slot highly as well. Fuck it. They've earned it.
2. Swallow The Sun Songs From The North I, II & III
Easily the left field shocker of the year, Swallow the Sun come correct with a triple album of melodic doom, compartmentalized by disc into varying degrees of heaviness vs acoustic themes, but when the discs are individually titled 'Gloom', 'Beauty', 'Despair' one shouldn't expect the sun to peek out from behind the clouds for the 150+ minutes this album runs in full. Melodic doom is not usually my jam, necessarily, but between the scale and restrained execution of Songs from the North I'm like Marvin Gaye: I got's to give it up.
1. Iron Maiden The Book of Souls
For my money, a lot of these year end lists focus a little too heavily on emerging artists at the expense of legacy acts that are operating at just that much higher a level of proficiency. No surprise there: it's often the pleasant surprises that stick the most in our craw, whereas with established bands we have built in expectations that we expect them to live up to, and it doesn't necessarily seem quite as special when they meet or exceed those expectations. But at the end of the day that kinda whittles down to some gatekeeping bullshit, so I have no problems loudly pronouncing The Book of Souls as my pick of the year. 2010's The Final Frontier is not anywhere near the piece of shit that many disgruntled fans would have you believe, but nor will it ever go down as "fave Iron Maiden record" for many of us, a handful of weirdos and contrarians aside. So when the band releases their best, most ambitious LP since 1988's Seventh Son of a Seventh Son, well I'd say that certainly passes my "longevity" requirement mentioned above. Admittedly, the album is not without a certain degree of bloat, but any criticism to that effect is peanuts compared to what the band actually do right here, which is fuse everything that has ever been great about Iron Maiden into one epic package: sweeping, majestic song structures meet compact, memorable riffs, with Bruce Dickinson's pipes showing ever-so-slight, age-based wear and tear, but in a way that actually adds wisdom and character to the band's world weary lyrics and timeless themes rather than detracting from the overall virtuosity on display. Even with the bloat at no point did it ever occur to me that Book of Souls would have worked better as a pared down single disc, and what more can you ask out of a double album? A long one at that.
One final disclaimer: I do not read the comments on any articles I write, let alone participate in them, so when the inevitable spleen venting character assassination impulses arise by all means: do not feel the need to bite your tongue. I know most of you are non-confrontational individuals with a tendency to refrain from slander and abrasive accusations, but I'd hate for this to be like a neutered public dialogue or anything. I do thank you in advance for bearing my personal feelings in mind, but fuck that. Go apeshit.
See all of our Best of 2015 coverage here.