All December long, Metal Injection writers are counting down their favorite albums and moments of the year. Make sure to vote for your favorite album of the year in our Reader's Poll here…
This year has been a total crapfest and I for one am anxious to cram it down the garbage shoot where it belongs. The world has seen a number of terrorist attacks and thanks in part to humanity's devotion to wrecking the planet we call home, this past October was the hottest month on record. Here in the United States we've been plagued with an increasing number of mass shooting that no one seems to be interested in addressing beyond offering hopes and prayers, and the Republican party, which is supported by roughly half the country, is offering up presidential candidates who are liars, buffoons, religious wackos or bigots. In many cases they're combinations of all of those things. In my personal life, 2015 was the year my dad was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer out of the blue and passed away only four months later. So yeah, this year can get in the sea.
It's been a good year for heavy metal, though, and the cathartic release it provides was exactly what I needed to get me through this garbage year. It was an especially good year for underground metal. As genre titans Slayer and Iron Maiden released a pair of hugely anticipated albums that were either lazy and uninspiring in the former's case or simply pretty good in the latter's, the underground continued to bubble with great releases from new and established acts alike. The following list represents the best of the best in my humble opinion. These were the albums I wished I was listening to while I was evaluating a promo from yet another cookie-cutter technical death metal band. Some of these artists provided me with a way to channel away all of the anger and crushing sadness I felt through most of this year, while others cheered me up and reminded me how uplifting heavy metal can be when bands embrace fun rather than negativity. It wasn't easy to narrow this list down. There are great releases from Judicator, Cloud Rat, Slugdge, Minsk, Old Witch and Keeper that wound up getting cut but should still be sought out. It's likely I'll look back on this list in a week and think of other bands I should have included, but indecision is par for the course for music writers. Still, I stand behind this list, presented in numerical order only for the sake of formatting, and I hope you find something here that affects you as strongly as what I feel listening to these bands.
All hail traditional heavy metal! Blast beats and growls may be what's popular with today's young whippersnappers, but Night Demon are keeping it gloriously old school with Curse of the Damned. There's nothing grim and frostbitten about this album. It's killer riffs and songs about His Infernal Majesty all the way down, and that never gets old.
14. LAMENT CITYSCAPE The Torn
The Torn is one juggernaut of an album. It occupies the space between industrial music's mechanical repetition and doom metal's humanity. It's a bleak album that brings to mind all sorts of cliche phrases like "expansive," "post-apocalyptic," and "crushing" while avoiding any actual musical cliches. Lament Cityscape are a testament to what's possible when you wholly disregard genre conventions and focus instead on writing solid, emotionally evocative music. I interviewed Mike McClatchey of Lament Cityscape on my podcast Full Metal Hipster. Check it out if you haven't already.
13. COLISEUM Anxiety's Kiss
Coliseum started out as a metallic post-hardcore band, but over the years they've gradually added an increasing amount of post-punk influence as well. On Anxiety's Kiss, that influence takes center stage. The band shuffles off the punk rock coil almost entirely, and the result is one of Coliseum's strongest offerings in an already excellent body of work. This is an album that expertly walks the line between heaviness and art rock; this is gnarly post-punk for people who didn't study Classics in college. Read my review of the album from earlier this year.
12. VISIGOTH The Revenant King
Sometimes I get burned out on the endless cavalcade of microgenres that make up the current heavy metal landscape. When this happens, it's comforting to retreat into the welcoming arms of burly true metal warriors like Utah's Visigoth. The Revenant King is a no-nonsense power metal album. There's no frilly shirts or orchestral keyboards to be found; just hard-charging heavy metal anthems. Read my review of The Revenant King
11. BEATEN TO DEATH Unplugged
Unplugged is the best, most original grindcore album of 2015. Full stop. Norway's Beaten To Death take the standard grind template and throw it out the window. The songs are still short, fast, and jammed with riffs, but there's a ton of clean, melodic guitars thrown into the mix as well. It's hard to describe what the band is doing without listening to the actual music, so stop reading this and start listening to Unplugged. Listen to my interview with Anders of Beaten To Death on the Full Metal Hipster podcast.
He Whose Ox Is Gored is a truly Unclassifiable band. The Seattle four piece has been brewing up a weirdo mixture of metal, shoegaze, and spacey prog rock since 2010, and the group's full length debut is proof that the best music is still coming from deep in the underground. The Camel, The Lion, the Child will lull you into a fugue state with its hypnotic keyboards and then snap you back to reality with some sick riffs.
9. NIGHTSLUG Loathe
Loathe is one of the gnarliest, ugliest, meanest record to come out this year. The album's title tells you all you need to know about what's in store for you once you hit play. Nightslug is sludge metal smashed together with 90s AmRep bands then infected with rabies and set loose on humanity.
8. GLORYHAMMER Space 1992: Rise of the Chaos Wizards
On their second album, this epic power metal band formed by Christopher Bowes of Alestorm is firing on all cylinders. You'd be hard pressed to find a more fun album than Space 1992 this year. Sure the band goes way over the top with tales of space wizards and elaborate costumes, but Gloryhammer know how to make cheese work. There are so many great choruses and guitar solos that you won't even mind the band put a straight-up disco song on the album. HAIL TO HOOTS!
7. VASTUM Hole Below
You'd be hard pressed to think of a death metal album that came out this year better that Vastum's Hole Below. The San Francisco act combine the devastation of Bolt Thrower's 10 megaton riffing with lyrics about the eroticism of death and disgust at sex into a muddy, writhing mass of death metal perversion. Listen to the track below and tell me you come up with a better death metal release this year. I'll just be over here waiting.
6. VHÖL Deeper Than Sky
VHÖL is a band that legitimately defies categorization. The band, comprised of John Cobbett and Sigrid Sheie of Hammers of Misfortune, Mike Scheidt of Yob, and Aesop Dekker of Agalloch, take a slew of disparate musical genres and run them through a blender, and the result somehow wound up being a delicious heavy metal smoothie instead of unlistenable glop. That Deeper Than Sky showcases elements of speed metal, thrash, crust, prog, jazz, and ragtime (RAGTIME!) without ever sounding like a total disaster speaks to the level of talent all four of these musicians posses. Even if you don't enjoy the album, you have to admit it's a staggering achievement in composition and songwriting.
The other black metal selections on my list have leaned toward the epic and experimental, but Poland's Mgła dropped Exercises In Futility this past September to remind the world that pure black metal can still rock. Throughout the album's six tracks, the duo of M. and Darkside relentlessly assault listeners with nihilistic black metal fury. There's no unconventional instrumentation or orchestral flourishes to be found. This is as in-your-face as the style gets and it's invigorating to hear.
4. DEAD TO A DYING WORLD Litany
Generally I'm not a fan of really long songs and Litany from Dead To A Dying World is jammed with them. The band even go so far as opening the album with a 17 minute behemoth. At this length it's easy to lapse into repetition or lose focus all together, but Dead To A Dying World retain tight control over their compositions throughout the entirety of Litany, and the result is a truly awe-inspiring album. The band's music encompasses black metal, doom metal, classical, and even some country and western flavor that pays tribute to their native state of Texas. There's a lot going on in Litany but everything flows together and the end result is the feeling of being taken on a journey while you listen to the music.
This is the third consecutive year that Brooklyn's Yellow Eyes has made an appearance on my Best Of list, and if they continue writing nearly flawless black metal music that trend will continue indefinitely. There is no American black metal band active today that's better than Yellow Eyes, and they're among the best acts in the international black metal community as well. Their ability to balance urgency with more mellow atmospherics creates a sense of tension in their music that forces you to actively listen to each song. On Sick With Bloom, the band continues to refine their signature sound and they added drummer Michael Rekevics of Fell Voices and Vorde to the fold as well. Follow this link for an exclusive track stream at Noisey.
2. PANOPTICON Autumn Eternal
I don't know how Austin Lunn does it. Autumn Eternal is his third album in a little over three years under the Panopticon name. This is on top of his other musical projects as well as running Minnesota's Hammerheart Brewery. You'd think stretching yourself that thin would start to show in your work, but Autumn Eternal is a nearly flawless album. While I'm disappointed that he's all but abandoned the bluegrass elements from 2012's Kentucky for more melodicism and post-rock influence, that's a minor quibble about such a stellar album.
1. KING WOMAN Doubt
More than any other album that came out in 2015, King Woman's 4 song EP Doubt was where I turned for a cathartic release when things got too dark – which was pretty frequently as it turned out. King Woman's music is a psychedelic combination of doom metal and shoegaze. It's fuzzed out and ethereal but also weighty enough to inspire heads to bang. Singer Kristina Esfandiari has drawn comparisons to Hope Sandoval of Mazzy Star, but Esfandiari's soulful, earthy vocals have more in common with Johnette Napolitano of Concrete Blonde. It's hard to articulate exactly what it is about this album that I love so much, but the effect of listening to it is akin to having a religious experience.
See all of our Best of 2015 coverage here.