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Best of 2015

Nicholas' Top 30 Albums of 2015

Posted by on December 28, 2015 at 11:00 am

Well its that time of year again, loyal readers. As you race to find gifts for relatives who mostly annoy the shit out of you, you'll surely be wandering aimlessly through the decked halls of consumerism, vaguely staring up at the shelves while dodging all the sheeple. But what you're really going to be thinking about is, well, which metal albums were the best of 2015? The previous year featured a host of excellent releases, but this halfway point to 2020 has eclipsed all expectations, bestowing a cubic f**kton of monster new albums upon our slowly deteriorating eardrums.

Below you'll find this man's analysis of the best of the best, which could be no less than the top 30 albums of 2015. 30 is a big number, but such were the quality of the releases this year that the list could be no smaller and still remain genuine. Presented from least mind-blowing to most mind-blowing, nevertheless please keep in mind that the gradations of excellence between 3oth and 1st are really quite small. I cannot overstate this. These albums, whether they occupied my cortex for weeks or months since their respective inceptions, will surely remain ingrained beneath my skin for years. Each and every one.

The artists responsible for these creations have all sacrificed a lot to bring their music to our greedy little hands. Let us not forget that these men and women often spend weeks away from loved ones on tour, or holed up in studios, putting their lives on hold to get this material out. With some exception, most of them do not, or cannot, live off the business, so let us remember their hard work while we enjoy the fine fruits of their labor, during this holiday season and beyond.

I've also included one release from an artist operating outside the stricter realm of heavy metal, apart from the main list, as another essential release of 2015.

Enjoy!


vreid

30. VREID Solverv

Out of the ashes of the almighty Windir has risen . . . well, most of Windir. And this is a great thing, folks. Exchanging the world class pagan black metal of the former for the pitch-black 'n roll of the latter turned out to be a smart move for the boys from Sogndal, Norway. Each of their albums has been better than the last, and Sólverv can sit proudly within Vreid's mighty canon. Growing better with repeated listens, Sólverv fits like a good pair of boots once you break them in. Now what are you waiting for, start walking . . . (Napalm Records)

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kylesa

29. KYLESA Exhausting Fire

As contemplative and dreamy as it is brash and assertive, Exhausting Fire has set the bar for the highly evolved and evolving Georgia act Kylesa. With the combination of stunning voice and superb guitar offered by Laura Pleasants, as well as the multi-talented Phillip Cope and Carl McGinley, diversity and interwoven melody conflate into a stunning, expansive listen that keeps on giving. Sky's the limit for these homegrown talents. (Season of Mist Records)

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my_dying

28. MY DYING BRIDE Feel The Misery

The reclamation of a throne is a beautiful thing to see. Yorkshire legends My Dying Bride endured a few unengaging releases over the past decade, before surprising their fans with some off-kilter works outside of their normal milieu. After welcoming back founding guitarist Calvin Robertshaw into the fold, 2015 sees them in classic form once again. All the doom-laden wretchedness you fell in love with long ago is back like it never left. Ready to strum the chords of your sorrows over eight songs of tuneful heaviness, Feel The Misery will stand as a monument in their already stellar history. (Peaceville Records)

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manegarm

27. MÅNEGARM Månegarm

On their eponymous eighth studio album, Nörrtalje, Sweden's viking metal vets Månegarm breathe some new fire into the lungs of folk metal. Along with the career resurgence of Einherjer over in Norway, there aren't many bands taking folk music, traditional melodies and myths, and weaving them into a fabric of aggressive heavy metal grandeur quite like this. No silly jigs around a campfire here, only solemn folk interludes and grim death metal borne aloft on unforgettable melodies. (Napalm Records)

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sigh

26. SIGH Graveward

Manic, cinematic, chromatic, and acrobatic, Sigh never fail to promulgate the zany end of extreme metal, and with their latest sonic tapestry, composer/visionary Mirai Kawashima hits fans with a bit more of his otherworldly soundtrack-esque forays. Graveward manages to be a vicious album, while still reminiscent of a bizarre carnival play of demonic figures singing show-tunes covered in blood. Genre? What's that? Boundaries mean nothing to Sigh, only music. Join the dance or remain stagnant. (Candlelight Records)

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tribulation

25. TRIBULATION The Children Of The Night

Bat wings, candles, and nocturnal lurking of the sordid kind, all set to a rocking NWOBHM beat, and that's just a hint of the magic found on The Children Of The Night. Tribulation keep a black metal soul simmering beneath their blanket of traditional metal, while their gravel-n-fire vocals, hair-raising solos, and true attention to songwriting detail all help elevate this unique and mesmerizing album to stratospheric heights. (Century Media Records)

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RAM

24. RAM Svbversvm

It might be tempting to call RAM simply a retro act, as their bread is buttered most liberally by the knife of 1980's Judas Priest and Mercyful Fate. But after absorbing their fourth album Svbversvm (thanks for making it a bitch to type that title, boys), its clear these Swedish lads were simply born in the wrong era. Honest, lacking gimmickry, and sporting the chops to come up with unforgettable hooks, delicious solos, and a massive old-school sound, RAM have crafted an album steeped in everything metalheads cannot live without. Don your bullet-belt, raise your fist, and bang your head. Posers, kindly leave the hall.

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MGLA

23.  MGLA Exercises In Futility

Quite possibly the best kept secret in the underground, Poland's enshrouded black metal horde Mgla have been steadily wiping the floor with hosts of their better known contemporaries. Exercises In Futility could be a saying for their competition, let alone being the name of their latest album. Equal parts driving, galloping heavy metal and black metal battery, there are loads of melodies and tunefulness beneath the fierce attack. The six sonic exercises comprising its length have a martial, no-bullshit approach, and yet the compositions flow with all the best bits from black metal's storied past. Never boring, never relenting, always pushing forward, the name of Mgla is being spoken of with reverence more and more among the hordes of underground followers, and for good reason. This album is an exercise in delivery, and it slays. (Northern Heritage Records)

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ARSTIDIR LIFSINS22. ARSTIDIR LIFSINS  Aldaföðr ok munka dróttin

To stand upon a barren shore, beset by cold, wind and memory, to feel the soul of a land and its people flowing into you . . . you can perhaps hop a flight to Iceland and walk such forlorn paths. But if you are unable to make such a trek, spinning the latest opus by Arstidir Lifsins just might be the next best thing. A frigid, blistering black metal template pierced by solemn spoken word, highlighted by traditional instruments, then blended into compelling arrangements by serious musicians with a historical bent, Aldaföðr ok munka dróttin is a journey into time articulated by the serpent's tongue of pagan black metal. Inside its auditory expanse the listener will find his or herself transported far beyond, borne aloft by somber chords, icy blasts, and the resonant timbres of choral majesty. (Van Records)

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napalm_death

21. NAPALM DEATH Apex Predator – Easy Meat

30 years later and Birmingham's grindiest can still wreck the joint. Operating at breakneck velocity with a peerless attention to song dynamics, Napalm Death have never once even threatened to become a nostalgia act. Greenway, Embury, Harris, and Herrera pummel craniums once again on Apex Predator / Easy Meat, spitting straight vitriol around songs that blast, rock out, and blast again with circle-pit inducing precision. Mixing in the odd musical and vocal surprise, they blend it all up with authenticity and balls. Long may they reign. (Century Media Records)

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Lychgate

20. LYCHGATE An Antidote For The Glass Pill

For extreme metal of the more mind-bending variety, England's Lychgate delivered the goods with their latest opus An Antidote For The Glass Pill. A mood of horror prevails throughout, sluiced into the vessels of the mind with phantom fingers made of classical composition and churning metal blasts. Macabre omens of sound arranged with the utmost care, the result is both haunting and powerful. Though each of its composers is a virtuoso, the music is never too technical, nor does it forget to entertain. With vocals either monstrously growled, or robustly sung, there is no filler and not a note wasted in this truly unforgettable work of art. (Blood Music)

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Vhol-Deeper-Than-Sky-44756-1

19. VHÖL Deeper Than Sky

Not wishing to be called a super-group, Vhöl boasts members of Hammers of Misfortune, Agalloch, Yob,  and Ludicra. The hard to classify beauty of Deeper Than Sky lies in its sheer unpredictability, a cohesion achieved by keeping the listener on his or her toes, as each song rips, wails, and floats apart from the fetters of trend and era. Unique, diverse vocals abound, as album number two from this brilliant collective sees them in an echelon all by themselves. (Profound Lore Records)

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helrunar

18. HELRUNAR Niederkunfft

Massive and crushing, Helrunar exemplify what pagan black metal is all about. On Niederkunfft, the Germans level all in their path with eight compositions of metallic devastation. Their songs build up deliberately, weighty and thick with slow dark melodies and growled German language vocals. From such ponderous beginnings, each song morphs into other avenues of tempo and delivery, holding and releasing tension with gifted precision. A monument to no-frills pagan black metal might, ignore Niederkunfft at your peril. (Prophecy Productions)

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skyforger

17. SKYFORGER Senprusija

From the misty forests of Latvia comes the pagan storm of Skyforger, stepping their game up in a big way with riff-heavy, pounding rhythms and their trademark, primal take on folk-infused metal. Avoiding the tropes that have many considering the genre too silly, Skyforger bring a gang-vocal, almost punk ethos to their hard-driving songs. On Senprusija, their sixth full-length, the chugging riffs, D.D. Verni-esque bass guitar sound, and old-school production keeps the mystique intact, while painting vivid tales of the land of Old Prussia. Fans of many types of heavy metal should find something here. Looking back now, Skyforger has quietly, and with zero support from labels and promoters in the United States, come to the forefront of the international folk metal storm. (Thunderforge Records)

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tsjuder

16. TSJUDER Antiliv

Samuel Jackson once said "when you absolutely, positively got to kill every motherfucker in the room, accept no substitutes." Sure, he might have been acting in a film and talking about AK-47's, but this album brings that phrase swiftly to mind. Tsjuder may be dipping in the well of second wave black metal once more, as is their unapologetic career trademark, but with Antiliv they prove unequivocally that there is plenty of bloody water left in that bastard. The jackhammer riffing, drumming, and snarling malicious vocals go right for the throat and they don't let go. Cold mastery of early Gorgoroth, early Celtic Frost, with a pinch of Sodom and a dash of early Bathory, these Norwegians know how to write great songs that impale the senses, and if you got the songs, you get respect. Tsjuder gets my respect. (Season of Mist Records)

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nechochwen-akamon-sm-cov

15. NECHOCHWEN Heart of Akamon

From the wooded hills of West Virginia comes an eclectic blend of extreme metal and folk instrumentation, piercing in arrangement and killer in delivery. Tales of the Native American experience and ultimate tragedy are spun out by Nechochwen on their latest album Heart of Akamon. Acoustic passages weave their way like streams through virgin forest, spilling into chasms of blistering metal attack, all the time illustrating the story of a forgotten people with clarity and respect. Essential listening at its best. (Bindrune Recordings)

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SecretsOfTheMoon-SUN

14. SECRETS OF THE MOON Sun

From straightforward black metal to a creeping miasma of occult, mind-expanding darkness, Secrets of the Moon are going somewhere only they know the way to – and the results are captivating. Sun features a further vocal shift to a more goth, alternative style which befits both the slower parts and the blasting sections equally. Gripping and majestic, dusky and driven, the album takes a few listens before its spellbinding atmosphere takes hold, but once its in you, Sun does not let go. (Prophecy Productions)

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enslaved

13. ENSLAVED In Times

If consistency was a social issue, Enslaved would be guns, global warming, and terrorism; always in focus and always relevant. If RIITIIR (2012) was a tiny bit of a drop in quality from Axioma Ethica Odini (2010), then In Times is a spear through the ceiling of expectations of this veteran Norwegian horde. Featuring sprawling songs with a razor sharp focus, there is not one second of filler on this gem of a release. Having only six tracks is one way to avoid overkill, but Enslaved fill those tracks with everything we love about their sound. A touch more accessible, yet still exuding the underground otherness they were birthed within, In Times shows Grutle Kjellson and company are firmly in command of their destiny. Oh yeah, "Building With Fire" is damn near the best song they've ever written. The verdict? Its Enslaved. By now you shouldn't even be surprised. (Nuclear Blast Records)

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autumn-eternal

12. PANOPTICON Autumn Eternal

Bindrune Recordings is like the gift that keeps on giving, to use the holiday season vernacular. Austin Lunn, the mastermind behind American extreme metal entity Panopticon, has once more – two years in a row in fact – crafted a superb ode to the mysteries of the north woods. Stylistically black metal, Autumn Eternal's soul is one of many colors, though this time around the American folk element rests in the distorted medium, as the vast song structures resemble the Agalloch/Winterfylleth/Wodensthrone variety of approach. A stellar, highly engaging listen, extreme metal fans be warned . . . if the forests could speak this might be their tongue. (Bindrune Recordings)

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Tau_Cross

11. TAU CROSS Tau Cross

The disbandment of Amebix left a void in extreme music's expansive left field. No worries, because Rob Miller picked the script back up with a brand new outfit called Tau Cross. Their eponymous debut is a more stripped down affair, driving forward with simpler structures that make an immediate impact on the listener. Away (Voivod) on drums lends a simple yet powerful performance for songs as unforgettable as they are powerful. One of the finest albums you'll ever hear, Tau Cross nailed their debut down to the last cymbal strike. (Relapse Records)

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Solefald-World-Metal.-Kosmopolis-Sud.-40843-1

10. SOLEFALD World Metal: Kosmopolis Sud

As part of Norway's black metal originators, Solefald became synonymous with the middle 90's weirdness which grew its own arm out of extreme metal's ever-sprouting family tree. One never knows what one will get from Cornelius Jakhelin and Lazare Nedland, a duo who are to convention what Varg was to stave churches in their homeland. What we have here on World Metal: Kosmopolis Sud is brilliantly poetic lyrics, adventurous arrangements, everything from electronic beats to tribal drumming to the hints of black metal from Solefald's past. Marvelously coherent, the album is a true monument to musical genius and top-notch songwriting. (Indie Recordings)

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cover ok copie

9. AMORPHIS Under The Red Cloud

Achieving stratospheric heights of quality since invigorating their career with vocalist Tomi Joutsen, Amorphis have not put a foot wrong in over ten years. Under The Red Cloud sees the two-headed melody machine known as Tomi Koivusaari and Esa Holopainen once more showing why they are one of the most formidable guitar duos in all of heavy music. Leaning on Jens Bogren in the studio, the boys from Helsinki remain at the pinnacle of their powers once again, crafting a rich, unforgettable album to melt in the ears of fans for years to come. (Nuclear Blast Records)

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Arcturus-Arcturian

8. ARCTURUS Arcturian

Boasting the boundless vocal talent of ICS Vortex (Borknagar), Arcturus respond to rumors of their rebirth with a stunning work of art replete with the compositional styling so unique to Sverd (keys) and Knut Valle (guitar). A bit of the old black metal beats, courtesy of Hellhammer (Mayhem), persist amid songs as melodious and tuneful as ballads from outer space could be. Strange as unfamiliar fruit, inviting as the first stars after dusk, Arcturian is a bit more stripped down than albums past. "Game Over," "Crashland," "Demon," and "Warp" are so good they should be illegal. Strap in and enjoy the mission, folks. (Prophecy Productions)

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Myrkur

7. MYRKUR M

Raw black metal aggression stirred into an elixir of choral dirges, rendered by the sure hand and ear of Amelie Bruun, aka Myrkur, has transported the music of M into a realm indescribable by any genre tags. From folkish melodies to icy blasts, with piano and layers of traditional choir, the stories of personal journey and traditional myth paint a gorgeous template which has rendered this album an instant classic. The promise of the E.P. was no false hope, and whatever future awaits extreme music, let us hope Myrkur plays a part in enriching it for all of us. (Relapse Records)

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ancient_rites

6. ANCIENT RITES Laguz

Nine years is a long time to wait between albums. Luckily, Ancient Rites didn't fade into obscurity, instead bestowing upon their loyal legion of fans a magnificent slab of historical, symphonic metal in the form of Laguz. Triumphant keys, clipped steely blast-beats, and the bardic Flemish accent of Gunther Theys unearth the lost stories of the past with grandeur, attention to detail, and the superb arranging skills this severely underrated band does so well. (Massacre Records)

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antimatter

5. ANTIMATTER The Judas Table

Back in 1998, British musician Mick Moss got together with ex –Anathema bassist Duncan Patterson, and even though that may be his one tenuous attachment to heavy metal, we fans are loyal, and most of us got into their mutual project Antimatter because of Anathema. Antimatter gave us some bright spots over the ensuing years, but it is here on album number six where they put it all together. The Judas Table is a special album, the one they always seemed to be on the cusp of making, and now that its here, you'll want to wrap your hands around it like a steaming mug of coffee on a frigid winter day. (Prophecy Productions)

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profan

4. KAMPFAR Profan

Quite simply the greatest pagan black metal band on the planet, Kampfar is up there with Primordial and Amorphis in the 'can do no wrong' category. Profan keeps the brutal melodies, the icy folk background, and the overall caliber sky high. "Icons" alone could melt all the fjords inside its 5:00 minute playing time. Dolk and crew have, quietly and without bending in the slightest to trends, maintained the quality from the early to mid 1990's out of which they emerged with the rest of the second wave. All hail the craft's true masters. (Indie Recordings)

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killing joke

3. KILLING JOKE Pylon

One of the most important records to come out not only this year, but possibly ever, Pylon's content is a scathing reality check for those who fail to see where the world is headed. The music is Killing Joke from all eras, from the new wave and disco influence of their commercial period to the pounding tribal rhythms of their post reformation material of the last 12 years. Stunning and flawless, despite all that singer Jazz Coleman and the band has been through, Pylon will sail off into the sunset as one of the finest records this legendary band has ever made. (Spinefarm Records)

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Moonspell_-_Extinct_(album)

2. MOONSPELL Extinct

Portugal's most famous metal export has been captivating their fans since 1994, and as a veteran band, have seen their share of ups and downs. Being largely experimental but also true visionaries and artists, they are always pushing forward. The results have, at times, varied. While their excellent 2008 opus Night Eternal returned them to classic status, 2012's Alpha Noir/Omega White failed to quite live up to their usual peerless standards of output. Enter 2015's Extinct album. A more solid return to form could not possibly be conceived, as "Extinct," "Medusalem," "The Last Of Us," and "Funeral Bloom" eclipse even the most critically acclaimed songs in Moonspell's long and vibrant history. Darkly gorgeous, stunning, certainly one for the ages, Extinct is dominant enough to be this year's salutatorian entry. (Napalm Records)

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iron_maiden1. IRON MAIDEN Book of Souls

 

This is the one that crowns them all. It had to be. Iron Maiden is why we listen to this music; they more than any other musical entity have launched more lifers in this heavy metal game than any other band in existence. Sure, Sabbath, Priest and Metallica are up there in that department, but there is a magic in that logo that exists nowhere else. There is a stirring in the chest when Bruce Dickinson sings that no other voice elicits. The metallic plunk of Steve Harris' fingers on those bass strings? Nobody else does it like 'Arry. And while its nice to reflect, nostalgia alone cannot plop you at the top of a Best-Of list. Especially not a list as chock full of matchless talent as this one, oh no. But Book of Souls is no last gasp of an aging collective, clutching one more time at past glory. It is the best Iron Maiden album since 1988's Seventh Son of a Seventh Son, and who among even the most optimistic of us would have thought that possible? "Empire of the Clouds" by itself could silence even the most jaded critic, and apart from this longest epic the boys ever penned, the double album is bursting with all the wicked solos, lovely harmonies, and Maiden melodies that put this band inside the hearts of millions the world over. They are the greatest band on planet Earth, and for now the term 'are' remains firmly in place over the dreaded 'were.'  (Parlaphone Records)

Happy holidays.

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Worthy of note: CHELSEA WOLFEAbyss

She is not a metal musician, like, at all, but Chelsea Wolfe is worth your time. Her latest album Abyss is as heavy as something can be without being 'metal.' Full of pain, introspection, longing, and a musical freedom that isn't afraid to spread its wings, Abyss is a masterpiece from this young artist. Don't miss out!

See all of our Best of 2015 coverage here.

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