The Best Albums of 2K15: TovH Editor’s Picks
Today your friendly editors are sharing their picks for the best of 2K15.
W.’s Top 10 of 2015
10. False – Untitled | Gilead Media
Untitled is a churning sea of riffs, blasts, and keyboard flourishes, each of the five long tracks its own epic tale of heartache and terror. That may sound like standard fare for a black metal album, but what sets False apart from contemporaries is the pomp and grandeur of each individual track combining to form a legendary release. The crown jewel here, though, is Rachel’s throat-shredding voice, beckoning your reckless soul with its siren song to come and bash your worthless life against the toothy rocks.
Listen to — “The Deluge”
9. Adversarial – Death, Endless Nothing and the Black Knife of Nihilism | Dark Descent
Death, Endless Nothing and the Black Knife of Nihilism is the sound of an unrelenting death march through the trenches of the Maginot Line. Riffs whir and crunch like tank treads on the skulls of the dead, the drums launch salvo after salvo of mind-shattering artillery, and the vocals belch and groan like the anguished moans of men being put to the torch. This album is anguish, but the clever songwriting and careful attention to each grisly detail is what sets it apart from the other often monotonous releases done in this style.
Listen to — “Old Ruins Slumber in a Crushing Hatred of Man”
8. Turbid North – Eyes Alive | The Pyramid
Turbid North’s previous album, Orogeny, was a near-flawless release that captured the very heart of the mountains in such a perfect and timeless way that I was doubtful that the band would be able to fill their own very large shoes. As Old Man Doom pointed out, though, Eyes Alive sounds as immense as the mountains themselves. With riffs as big as jagged peaks, leads as scorching as the desert sun, and production as crystalline as the driving snow, Eyes Alive is yet another perfect paean to the rugged beauty of mother nature.
Listen to — “Bring Home the Motherlode”
7. Grey Heaven Fall – Black Wisdom | Aesthetics of Devastation
There’s been no shortage of killer black metal releases this year, but if you’re looking for an album that’s got killer chops AND unique flair, look no further than Black Wisdom. Opening track “The Lord is Blissful in Grief” treats you to a surf-rock riff from Satan’s beach party and continues to bring the weird with each subsequent song while never relenting on the intensity. This album is for people who think staring at a Dada painting while tripping on bath salts and eating their neighbor’s scalp sounds like a good time.
Listen to — “The Lord is Blissful in Grief”
6. Imperial Triumphant – Abyssal Gods | Aural Music
Is it black metal? Is it death metal? Does it even matter? No, because either way, Abyssal Gods is easily one of the heaviest albums you’ll hear all year. Discordant riffs brawl for dominance against incessant blasts in the blood-soaked streets of a nightmarish New York City through all ten of the tracks on display, and the soul-crushing intensity never relents. Most impressive, though, is the way the band incorporates obtuse left turns in the form of an avant-garde piano outro or a psychedelic drone while still maintaining a horrific uniformity. This album is repulsively hideous and yet surprisingly gorgeous in its execution, and as Edward said, it lingers with you like a waking nightmare.
Listen to — “Black Psychedelia”
5. Death Karma – The History of Death & Burial Rituals Part 1 | Iron Bonehead
Back in January, I described The History of Death as a “story of cultural treatments of death written in the fragmented bones and torn sinews of black and death metal and sewn together with sinuous and peerless instrumentation.” Although I knew then that the album was something special, I could only hint at the lingering effect it would have on my psyche. Though the songs themselves and the cultural histories they explore are each unique, the final product is a singular focus on confronting the fate we all must one day face. If death is anywhere near as exciting as this album, I cannot wait.
Listen to — “Mexico – Chichén Itzá”
4. Keep of Kalessin – Epistemology | Indie Recordings
Epistemology is immense, polished, heroic, and uplifting. It embraces and revels in a sense of grandeur and majesty that most metal bands can only hope to achieve. Simply put, Epistemology is the album Keep of Kalessin have always wanted to write, and as I indicated in my review earlier this year, this record is a work of transcendental beauty, one that reaches down to your terrestrial position, takes you by the hand, and dares you to do something absolutely epic.
Listen to — “The Grand Design”
3. Jute Gyte – Ship of Theseus | Jeshimoth Entertainment
Jute Gyte is a one-man project that lingers in the corners and shadows of the heavy metal world, snarling through alien tongues and casting hexes against the light with mictrotonal alchemy. Take heed where you tread, for if you stumble upon the vertigo-inducing into riff to “Lugubrious Games”, you will soon find yourself passenger aboard a ship sailing dark, unspeakable waters into places unknown, washing ashore on perverse isles where even the most intrepid hearts may falter.
Listen to “Lugubrious Games (Sans Frontières)”
2. Mgła – Exercises in Futility | No Solace
If someone asked me to suggest one album that perfectly encapsulates the quintessence of pure black metal, I would hand them Exercises in Futility by Mgła without hesitation. Despite seeming relatively straightforward, this record is a captivating, incredible record that wields and affirms the power of songcraft with a peerless precision and fervor. And what power that is! While most would likely pin the strength of Mgła on M.’s riffs, you mustn’t forget Darkside’s immaculate, mesmerizing drumming. The two are in sync in such an undeniable way that every single aspect of every song on this record is pure gold. Stripped of all pretense, Exercises in Futility demonstrates how powerful this genre can be when the emphasis is on nothing more than writing a great song.
Listen to — “Exercises in Futility I”
1. Krallice – Ygg Huur | Avantgarde Music
Thrilling. Every time I listen to Ygg Huur, that word returns to my mind. From the moment that Krallice sneakily released this album, I have been utterly enthralled by it. No other record even comes close to matching the lofty heights reached by Barr, Marston, Weinstein, and McMaster. Every note, every fill, every word is carefully and perfectly chosen to take your breath away, carrying you higher and higher as the guitars dance and weave atop an escalating mountain of seething, breathing rhythms until you find yourself drifting among the celestial bodies, baring witness to the splendor to which metal as an art can rise. Every year I try to choose an album as my number one that reflects what metal can be rather than what it is, and Ygg Huur is this year’s thrilling champion.
Listen to — “Over Spirit”
Embrional – The Devil Inside | Old Temple | Listen to “910”
Ad Nauseam – Nihil Quam Vacuitas Ordinatum Est | Lavadome Productions | Listen to “Terror Haze”
Genevieve – Escapism | Grimoire Records | Listen to “Bizarre”
Masterlord’s Top 10 of 2015
10. Obsequiae – Aria of Vernal Tombs | 20 Buck Spin
Utterly dwarfing their (also excellent) debut full-length and self-titled demo, Obsequiae blew me away with their wholly unique approach to black metal atmosphere this year. Tinges of the medieval can be found in black metal all over the globe — and that’s my shit, son — but rarely is it integrated into the fibers of the music as naturally as it is here. Dark Age interludes melt organically into the ol’ trem-and-blast with the right kind of lead melody (i.e., the renaissancy kind of lead melody), managing to be appropriately dark and graceful all at once. I saw this on some other lists, and share the authors’ disdain for how little we’ve talked about this. Put on your finest tunic and get on it.
Listen to — “Pools of A Vernal Paradise”
9. Gloryhammer – Space 1992: Rise of the Chaos Wizards | Napalm Records
I don’t care. This album goes non-stop. It’s irresistible for even the most drakogenophobic of souls, and anyone who says they don’t like it is lying right to your face (Joe). Believing that is how I get to sleep at night. Gloryhammer, the ultimate, railroad-spike-sized thorn in the squishy side of power metal’s less self-aware fans, is back with another well-beyond-over-the-top album dripping with concentrated symphonic power trope juice. Are they making fun of power metal? Are their tongues nestled firmly in their cheeks or do they wear their space-suits with sincerity? Who fucking cares, dude? The riffs burn, the choruses soar, the entire album (with the exception of “The Hollywood Hootsman”, which is the only reason this album isn’t higher up on the list) rules. Give in.
Listen to – “Rise of the Chaos Wizards”
8. Ironsword – None But the Brave | Shadow Kingdom Records
If someone told me that, in 2015, Ironsword would be releasing an album that was better than 2004’s Return of the Warrior, I would’ve been like… “Interesting, I don’t necessarily believe you but I await this album you speak of with guarded anticipation.” That person would have been right. None But the Brave is nearly 50 minutes of fist-in-the-air, song-title-chorus-belting, Robert E. Howard-worshiping, no frills metal, and it puts all other traditional heavy metal albums of 2015 to shame (and at the risk of being struck down, I’d argue that that includes this year’s offering by their obvious inspirations in Manilla Road). Not a shower has gone by where I haven’t sung the chorus to “Forging the Sword” and noticed the unfortunate hairlessness of my chest.
Listen to — “Forging the Sword”
7. Nocertiny – Harps of the Ancient Temples | Iron Bonehead
Okay, so it’s not quite as good as Onyx, but I’m a hopeless sucker for this sort of slow-to-mid-paced black metal, and there’s not enough of it out there that conjures this sort of mood. Plus do you see that there’s another fucking knight on the cover? Listening to Harps of the Ancient Temples is sitting in the moon shadow of an abandoned castle and staring out across a forgotten medieval landscape. Not literally, but… like… figuratively.
Listen to — “Harps of the Ancient Temples”
6. Bloodlust – Cultus Diaboli | Independent
This has been a damn good year for black thrash. Deathhammer‘s Evil Power and Invincible Force‘s Satan Rebellion Metal undoubtedly brought it, but Bloodlust’s mostly under the radar Cultus Diaboli topped them both, and that is a fact. From the moment I heard “Sworn Servant of the Devil,” I was pretty sure this sucker would end up here. Also I sprouted goat horns and bat wings and started vomiting my Alphabet-O’s in fully formed Latin incantations. This is unholy might at the most breakneck of speeds with downright infectious songwriting. Miss it at your peril!
5. Black Cilice – Mysteries | Iron Bonehead
Quite possibly the rawest release of the year; Mysteries sounds like absolute fucking shit, and in the best way ever. Black Cilice has been around for a while, but when Joe slung me the promo for Mysteries I had no idea what I was getting. During my first cursory listen, I still had no idea what it was. After three or four listens, I still… you get the point. It took a while to settle into its own, but once it did, it did, man. The endless layers of distortion, the dying-whale-in-a-wind-tunnel howling, the hauntingly melodic ebb and flow of deliberate feedback, all coalesce into a suffocating soundscape of coarse but captivating sum of its parts. I had trouble explaining the appeal when I reviewed this way earlier this year, and that hasn’t changed. But this has stuck with me, and I find myself throwing it on every time I need a depressing dose of raw ambiance.
Listen to the whole thing.
4. Trial – Vessel | High Roller Records
Discovering this album and sharing it with me was Randall Thor’s crowning achievement in life, and that’s nothing to sneeze at; it’s more than most of you will ever accomplish. Not because you’re shitty, but because this album is just so damn good. Taking bits of Satan’s Host and warping it into their own game, Trial takes power metal deep — and I do mean deep — into the dark. There’s really nothing quite like this on the market, my people. Ghostly minor key falsetto harmonies pierce through the endless salvo of perfectly-written riffs in 51 minutes of pure, sinister, black-hearted metal. This is power metal befouled.
Listen to “To New Ends”
3. My Dying Bride – Feel the Misery | Peaceville Records
My Dying Bride rarely fuck up, and when they do fuck up, it’s not really very fucked up. Feel the Misery — and I don’t say this lightly — might be their best work ever. Yeah, maybe even better than Turn Loose the Swans. So there. They’ve torn up the track on their journey from deathy beginnings to the more gothic leanings of their current output, dropping unchallenged classics in each phase. This is the best of their recent work, by a long shot. Feel the Misery is overflowing with a thick, syrupy sadness. If you don’t have clinical depression before spinning this one, you just might after. The riffs lumber along with listless melancholy, crushing in both the aural and the emotional sense. Aaron Stainthorpe may not be the best singer in the game, but I’ll be damned if you can find someone who emotes like him; someone who can make you feel their pain like he can. Get this. Die inside.
Listen to — “A Cold New Curse”
2. Macabre Omen – Gods of War – At War | Ván Records
Epic Hellenic black metal might! The dude behind Macabre Omen is in a league of his own, and has been for quite a while. Nobody, and I mean nobody, has made paganesque battle-worthy metal this good since we lost Quorthon. Taking his obvious Bathory influence and weaving it into the familiar melodic structure of his Greek brothers-in-arms in bands like Rotting Christ and Varathron, Macabre Omen has crafted a gate-crushing siege weapon of epic black metal. From slow stomping marches to sword-raising, galloping rides to glory, Gods of War – At War is enthralling from start to finish. Close your eyes and allow yourselves to be whisked back to a better time, when men fought with steel, shat in chamberpots and died en masse to disease. If 2:45 in “Man of 300 Voices” doesn’t speak to you, don’t speak to me.
Listen to — “Man of 300 Voices”
1. Blind Guardian – Beyond the Red Mirror | Nuclear Blast
Look, Blind Guardian could release the shittiest album of their career and it would still be the best album of the year. They’re the greatest and I love them and Hansi is such a good singer and so handsome. Luckily, this isn’t the shittiest album of their career. It’s actually one of the best. There, I said it. But Beyond the Red Mirror has been met with mixed results. It seems like one half of the fanbase is in love and the other half is up in arms. Guess which half is right and which half is fuckin’ dumb. This is Blind Guardian at their most ambitious; their most enthusiastic. They went all out; they packed every song with everything they could muster up. As a result, every song is an earnest, bombastic epic — exactly what I want from Hansi & Co. This might even be more over-the-top than A Night at the Opera (which rules regardless of what some butthole told you). Honestly, I don’t know what the detractors have crammed up their ears and/or asses. This shit is unbeatable.
Mgła – Exercises in Futility | Listen to “Exercises in Futility I”
Adversarial – Death, Endless Nothing and the Black Knife of Nihilism | Listen to “Eonik Spiritual Warfare”
Kroda – Ginnungagap Ginnungagaldr Ginnungakaos | Listen to the whole thing
Joe Thrashnkill’s Top 10 of 2015
10. Deez Nuts – Word is Bond | Century Media
Hip hop influenced NYHC as performed by a bunch of Aussie goons. If that sounds like a joke, you clearly haven’t pressed play on this record. I’ve been championing Word is Bond since I first reviewed it in April, and I still stand by it. Deez Nuts has long been relegated to the scene garbage disposal, neither serious enough to warrant underground approval, nor ironic enough to gain widespread acclaim like The Hell. With Word is Bond, Deez Nuts are no longer a punchline. They’ve delivered my favorite hardcore record of the year. One listen to “What’s Good” will let you know, yeah that’s what’s up.
Listen to – “What’s Good”
9. Adversarial – Death, Endless Nothing and the Black Knife of Nihilism | Dark Descent
I tend to shy away from music that allows chaos to distract from the almighty riff. With Adversarial, I’ve found a happy medium between the endless void and interesting (and audible) fretwork. Our dear Dubya introduced me to Death, Endless Nothing and the Black Knife of Nihilism with his brief review in our weekly new music feature, Toilet Tuesday. This record sets itself apart from the pack of dirty death metal by applying an apparent knack for tunefulness in between all of the shredding and blasting. The album will beat you to death, to be sure, but it never feels like a slog. Get your dick crushed.
Listen to – “Eonik Spiritual Warfare”
8. Peasant – Go To Hell | Self-Released
My favorite find of our Best Unsigned Band in the United States competition was Houston natives Peasant. Unfortunately, you jerks didn’t allow them to advance past the first round of competition. Regardless, Go to Hell is still rocking my jam bones. As I said before, “From the second you click play on “Do You Believe in War?” the opening song on Go to Hell, the latest full-length from this Houston trio, it’s obvious that the New Wave of British Heavy Metal swam it’s way to the third coast. Along the way it picked up some disgusting oily blackness and additional detritus from thrash and OSDM before crashing on the City of Syrup’s shore. By the way, does Go to Hell sound familiar? A little band called Motörhead recorded a song with that very name on their 1982 classic Iron Fist.”
Listen to – “Wretched Codex”
7. Blistered – The Poison of Self Confinement | 6131
My boy Dagon really found a gem in the world of metallic hardcore with his review of Blistered’s The Poison of Self Confinement. If you crave the fury of classic Earth Crisis, Blistered is all you need. Allow me to lazily recount his stellar reviewmanship: “The guitars are easily my favorite aspect of the record – a showcase of their metal influences and a library of Riff Ov The Week contenders. Seriously, there are earworms to be found in nearly every song of this LP. “Illusion of Destiny” alternates between a mighty tremolo and a slow & melodic guitar phrase. “Into the Dying Light” has an opening riff that sounds like a call to arms. The guitar tone is really enjoyable, in both lead and rhythm guitars. The first is usually a death metal tone, while the latter is more akin to a hardcore sound. Be it start-stop, chugging, melodic or even a crossover riff found at the beginning of “Caustic Promise”, it’s always tasteful.”
Listen to – “Memories to Burn”
6. Xibalba – Tierra Y Libertad | Southern Lord
Waaay back in February, I gave Xibalba’s latest album a glowing mini review in the inaugural edition of Mini Reviews from Around the Toilet Bowl. This record still bangs. At a point in time where Donald Trump’s bullshit is broadcast with up-to-the-minute frequency, Xibalba provides the perfect soundtrack to fighting that orange butthole and his army of racist hillbilly followers. Fans of hardcore, Morbid Angel, and Slayer solos should jump on this. Despite “El Vacio” being just as empty as the name implies, the rest of Tierra Y Libertad is jam packed with death metal riffs and Spanish rage.
Listen to – “Tierra Y Libertad”
5. Baroness – Purple | Abraxan Hymns
To be totally honest, I only got this album last week, but Purple was my most anticipated record of the year. It takes an awful lot of nerve to declare an album THE BEST when it’s only had a chance to work through your earholes a handful of times. I think this record is just that good. In between straight-forward anthems like “Shock Me” and “Try to Disappear”, this album chooses to explore a bit with proggish tunes like “Fugue”. It feels like the best possible combination of Blue and Yellow.
Listen to – “Shock Me”
4. Trails and Ways
– Pathology | Barsuk Records
The way we feel about music is so closely connected to where we are in life when we hear it. Back in July, I was unhappy. In an effort to work myself out of a hole, I decided to fly across the country and interview for a job in Seattle. It didn’t work out for a huge list of reasons. While there, miserable as I’d ever been, I went to see a friend of a friend play at some hole in the wall club. He opened for a young touring band called Trails and Ways that performed sultry pop music in English and Portuguese. I connected with the music in a way that made me feel, for the moment, slightly less alone in a strange place. Pathology was one of the few things that could raise my spirits over those tough months. I highly recommend this album if you’re feeling down (or need jams for your next sexual encounter).
3. Harms Way – Rust | Deathwish
Rust is another record that I spent months breathlessly awaiting. In our inaugural edition of “Get Prep’d“, I slobbered all of the Harms Way like so: “Next week the band will drop Rust and I’m positive it will be my most played gym record of 2015.” Was my prediction correct? HELL YES, SON. This album continued down the path set by 2011’s Isolation and further explored Godflesh-esque electronic territory in between all the crushing mosh riffs. I want more of this, and I want it now.
Listen to – “Hope”
The best surprise of the year was getting an unassuming email in my inbox from a little band I had never heard of. Hadean is a jazz/metal/experimental sextet from Massachusetts that are so dang talented, they’re capable of getting an actual idiot like me interested in their complex compositions. On Fading travels the gamut from formidable chaos (“Noise Reduction Impulse”), to fist-in-the-air riffs (“Inertia”), to groovy doom (“Saudade”). Yacht rock? Prog metal? Jazz doom? Whatever it is, it’s captivating, it’s beautiful, and it’s exciting. You won’t find a more interesting record this year. Expect big things from Hadean.
Listen to – “Inertia”
1. Deafheaven – New Bermuda | Anti-
There’s nothing I can say about New Bermuda that hasn’t been said more eloquently by every thoughtful metal writer on the Internet, so I’ll leave it at this: I knew I loved this record from the moment I recognized “Kiss Me” in the first melodic break of “Brought to the Water”. Any band that can mesh Slayer and Sixpence None the Richer is on some completely next level shit. Combine the music with the newly diverse range of World’s Greatest Wizard/Acclaimed Metal Vocalist George Clarke, and you’ve got something sweeter than Yoohoo.
Listen to – “Brought to the Water”
Horrendous – Anareta | Dark Descent | Listen to “The Nihilist“ | Read the review
Ryan Adams – Live at Carnegie Hall | Buy it for me here | Listen to “New York, New York“
Ghost Bath – Moonlover | Self-Released | Listen to “Golden Number”