2015 has in certainly been a year with refined balance between great expectations, majestic comebacks, sore disappointments and great losses. Firstly, it should be mentioned that 2015 has lost some of 2015’s greatest musicians in the world of rock and metal. A grand homage has been made to Phil “Philthy” Taylor, eminent drummer for Motorhead, inspirational and creative Gong mastermind Daevid Allen, timeless Yes bassist Chris Squire, Bolt Thrower drummer Martin Kearns among others. Let’s not forget the artistic contemporaries who spanned numerous important generations and devoted a grand amount of their talent to the world throughout life: Exceptional writer Terry Pratchett and legendary actor Christopher Lee both passed away, to the great sadness of fans and acquaintances alike. And for those who almost crossed the deathly line to the beyond, Lemmy himself who had contracted several problems which caused him to cancel numerous shows, Iron Maiden singer Bruce Dickinson who briefly was diagnosed with tongue cancer, but who also came out the other side roaring gleefully, and Of Mice and Men frontman Austin Carlile who is currently doing his utmost to overcome what is now known as a little known but still devastating lifelong illness. Full respect goes to each and every artist aforementioned, and to everyone else who has encountered deeply emotional turmoil over the past 12 months-particularly the recent terrorist attacks all over the world. My condolences go to everyone who died a very unfair and untimely death at the hands of the world’s most cowardly, vile creatures.
Now let’s get on to business-this is a music article, after all! As with 2014, I personally have been amazed and awed at the level of creativity emanating from new bands in the underground-particularly those black metal related, a sub-genre which is gradually becoming the most experimental and otherworldly metal sound at the moment. Comebacks have been in abundance from bands which were formerly well respected over a decade ago or so: Shape of Despair, Goatsnake, Lamb of God, Iron Maiden, Slayer and Dodheimsgard amongst other have all stood the test of time having either originally split up or due to personal reasons have not been able to carry on with their respective musical careers, but came roaring back in 2015 with some of the most outstanding releases fans may or may not have expected. Let’s also note my personal highlight of the year: HRH Prog in March took place at Phwellhi, North Wales, and was certainly my most enjoyable live experience yet. A little known festival compared to some of its peers (Ramblin’ Man Fair, Soundwave, Hellfest, etc.), but the line-up was incredible. The quality of newer, up-and-coming groups (Agent, Knifeworld, Lifesigns, etc.) fully matched up to the quality of prog rock giants, namely Mostly Autumn, Rick Wakeman, Steeleye Span, The Enid and of course Sanguine Hum.
One song has stuck in my memory over the course of 2015, and it comes in the form of the debut single from Royal Thunder’s “Crooked Doors” album, the opening song entitled ‘Time Machine’. This song personally gets my praise as 2015’s most engaging, most well-written rock tune of the year. It really demonstrates the effectiveness of Royal Thunder’s debut album, and builds on the momentum to create some of the most hook-laden, eccentric material to brace the world.
I should also name my biggest disappointment of 2015, which is in all honesty Annihilator’s “Suicide Society”. Main reason being, it wasn’t even supposed to be a disappointment. I mean, Jeff Waters, the one band member who has remained true to Annihilator’s ongoing career progression over the last three decades, and who has also singularly identified every musical direction they went through as a band, is now technically Annihilator’s frontman. This sounds like it would have been an album which increased Annihilator’s popularity in the thrash metal world, but instead fell flat because of uninspiring musicianship and generally forgetful songs. There was an absence of what made Annihilator’s best records so good in the first place, and for that reason, “Suicide Society” will be forgotten seemingly instantly.
Now for the top 10 albums of 2015…
10. Death Karma-The History of Death & Burial Rituals Part I
In 2015, black metal continues to be among the most interesting and experimental metal sub-genres of the underground. And Death Karma have proved that this can only be a good thing with their debut full-length effort. The debut is based around the concept of how different countries around the world perform rituals and burials to pass the deceased onto another life, or perhaps dimension. Each song here is devoted to a specific country, and the mystery surrounding each burial/ritual is reflected eccentrically in the band’s majestic mixture of black metal, heavy metal and keyboard-laden symphonies. It all sounds marvellous, with the musicianship sounding consistently fresh and sharp to the listener. Part II of this enigmatic concept should be even better.
9. Nullingroots-Shrouds of Celeste
When regarding black metal and shoegaze (or blackgaze for the purists), wholly instrumental records seem to be few and far between. Such is not the case with Nullingroots, who have decided to go instrumental from the very start-and the result, their 2015 debut album, “Shrouds of Celeste”, borders on spectacular. It is uplifting and spiritual, and the compositions here (a mere five, two of which exceeding the 14 minute mark) are energetic, ever-flowing and basically the reason why musicianship never gets stale. This 50-minute piece is somewhat breathtaking at times, but the elements of black metal and shoegaze are done with gusto and pride to make sure the listener never gets bored. With albums like this, the music speaks for itself so much that vocals just aren’t necessary.
Just about the most vitriolic and vicious album of 2015 in my opinion-and it’s the debut by a Dutch band called Teethgrinder, who perform on “Misanthropy” as if they’ve been playing for years and years. There’s youthful energy here, yes, but the album is a consistent battering ram through and through, seguing between brutal black metal rhythms, hardcore energy and sometimes majestic soundscapes in the background (particularly the title track). If anything, this is a promising start to an undeniably excellent future career.
7. Macabre Omen-Gods of War-At War
This really is among the best black metal debuts of the year. Naturally, influences are at the forefront but this Greek group perform with such heart and vigour it’s hard not to feel the blood pumping in your veins at the behest of each of these eight tracks. Valkyrie screams turn into sorrowful cleans, against a backdrop of near flawless, never weak musicianship, exploring many emotions but always returning to that all relevant concept which produces the overall power of this album. This certainly emulates the passionate flair of albums like “Blood Fire Death” and “Battle Metal”, but is completely in a world of its own thanks to invigorating musicianship.
6. Tribulation-The Children of the Night
Tribulation have essentially crafted 2015’s perfect Halloween metal album this year, without any cringe-worthy impressions warranted by the doom and gloom of this hour-long excellence. The band have been building up to this style since day one essentially, and that’s why “Children of the Night” is often strongly represented as the band’s current career peak, because its maturity and progression is at such a high level of quality. There’s the drive of ‘Motherhood of God’, the candlelit doom of opener ‘Strange Gateways Beckon’, and the enticing lull of instrumental “Cauda Pavonis”. As such, this is Tribulation’s tour de force, and the only way is up from here.
5. Sunset in the 12th House-Mozaic
Consisting of (ex) members from Dordeduh and Negura Bunget, this new project is a delightful and fresh take on spiritual, post-rock/metal territory with outside influences to boost the enjoyable experience. These six songs are full of life, and rarely break the progressive momentum, transitioning from calmer passages to louder, heavier notes seamlessly. From the opening beauty of ‘Seven Insignia’, through the mesmerizing tones of ‘Arctic Cascades’ and the heart-wrenching effects of ‘Ethereal Consonance’, Sunset in the 12th House sounds like an utter revelation in moving forward and progressing to the point of legendary status. It’s the sort album where you can really feel the spiritual presence inside you emanate into the open world.
4. High on Fire-Luminiferous
Once again High on Fire have excelled everyone’s expectations. The sound here is magnificent for the most part and none of the sludge metal worship is lost, despite there being frequent thrash metal sounds interwoven with the band’s usual musical effects. It’s basically still the HOF monster we’ve all come to know and love, but which is also growing bigger with bated breath and vicious snarls. It’s another excellent addition to the band’s already brilliant back catalogue, and should be hailed with the best in years to come.
3. Lychgate-An Antidote for the Glass Pill
Almost the most unique and pleasantly surprising black metal-related album of the year in my opinion, second only to Dodheimsgard. This sophomore effort from Lychgate presents a daring, forward musical movement into the unknown utilizing rich, Gothic, warped keyboard-laden atmospheres with menacing yet ambitious black metal soundscapes to bring about a uniquely tense atmosphere from start to finish. The bitterness of the sound all in all complements the album’s sometimes quieter, more lenient moments but even here the band add icing to the delicious cake, breaking into experimental/avant-garde territory as seamlessly as Dodheimsgard had done with their latest effort. A superb sophomore release from a band who are too criminally underrated for their efforts.
2. Dodheimsgard-A Umbra Omega
It’s been a long time coming for a new release from Dodheimsgard, but here it finally is. And it’s a marvellous hour-long work which, if not proving anything new for the band, certainly suggests why they’re one of the most interesting and compelling experimental black metal bands around now. Five tracks which stretch beyond the ten minute mark here all encompass a different sound, utilizing the psychedelic flourishes which were rife in previous albums, and even adding a bit of jazz here and there to bring an exceptional performance by the band members. One can only wonder how the excellence of songs like ‘Blue Moon Duel’ and ‘Aphelion Void’will translate to a live setting, but I imagine it would be an exhilarating experience.
1. Shape of Despair-Monotony Fields
Albums like this don’t come too often, where they practically redefine the excellence of a sub-genre and bring a band back from the proverbial dead. As such, Shape of Despair’s latest effort is a masterpiece, rekindling the love of those who are ardent fans of the finest funeral doom metal out there. Essentially, Shape of Despair have crafted their career-defining effort, and it certainly sweeps through the grandiose to give the listener the best experience they have to offer. The whole album feels like a journey through a wintry, solemn landscape, encompassing all that is beautiful about the doom and gloom of such a setting. Shape of Despair have not only crafted my personal favourite album of 2015, they have also crafted one of the finest funeral doom masterpieces of recent times.