10. Wardrum – Awakening
Power metal is a genre that lives and dies by the chorus, so the fact that Awakening seldom casts a hook that doesn’t land proves to be a substantial mark in its favor. Even with a chorus-centric design, though, it’s an album that rarely feels forced or overly corny, in large part due to its relatively aggressive, bass-heavy construction. It’s still a power metal album through and through, but outstanding vocals, solos, and songwriting easily trump the cheesiness that plagues much of the genre’s output. This isn’t exactly a fantastic record from an objective standpoint, but its easily-digestible and endlessly-repayable nature make Awakening far too much of a good time to ignore.
9. Khemmis – Hunted
If last year’s Absolution reflected a band beginning to come into their own, Hunted is Khemmis fully realized and at the top of their game. It’s got the earth-shattering riffs and Iron Maiden-esque guitar leads that made the band stick out in the first place, but everything is in a much tighter, smoother package this time around. The vocals, which were solid to begin with, are a step forward, allowing Khemmis to more effectively build tracks around soaring, emotive choruses. Even if doom isn’t really your thing, do yourself a favor and check out the behemoth of a title track; it’s one of the most impressive songs of the year.
8. Medevil – Conductor of Storms
Though it’s lost some of its luster since I first reviewed it, Conductor of Storms is nonetheless a stellar, dynamic debut record. Boasting hard-hitting riffs (Nightwalk, an Empty Glass) as well as surprisingly mature, complex songwriting (The Angel of Rain, The Fabled Uxoricide), this is an enviable debut that won’t disappoint any fan of thrash or traditional metal. The vocals, which land somewhere between Bobby Blitz and Fear of the Dark-era Bruce Dickinson, are certainly an acquired taste, but frontman Liam Collingwood delivers a performance that’s ultimately diverse and endearing. These Canadians have got some big expectations to live up to come album number two, but if Conductor of Storms is any indication, they’ll be just fine.
7. Destrage – A Means to No End
The quirky, spastic metalcore that made Destrage’s earlier material such a breath of fresh air gets turned up a notch and refined on A Means to No End, resulting in a more focused but equally infectious final product. I’ve heard the label of “partycore” used to describe groovy hardcore bands like Every Time I Die, but that label fits the more offbeat Destrage like a glove; it’s simply not possible to listen to “Don’t Stare at the Edge” or “The Flight” without getting a smile on your face and an internal urge to punch a wall, and that’s a hell of an endorsement. The riffs may be tasty, but the energy is downright undeniable.
6. Nails – You Will Never Be One of Us
Speaking of punching a wall, the new record from acclaimed powerviolence act Nails likely accounted for a good deal of property damage this year. As a whole, You Will Never Be One of Us isn’t considerably better or worse than any of Nails’ previous releases, but the modernized production gives it an added level of replayability. Even with the somewhat slicker sound, though, the complete insanity and unrelenting brutality that made Nails a household name haven’t gone anywhere. This is 21 minutes and 43 seconds of one of the best metal bands on the planet kicking you straight in the balls, and that’s all that could ever be asked of it.
5. King Goat – Conduit
Conduit is easily one of the best, most mature debut albums I’ve ever heard. While a band’s first full-length project generally showcases a group of guys searching for their sound, Conduit boats an original and highly addictive take on doom metal, one that avoids every expected pitfall. Spearheaded by song of the year “Flight of the Deviants,” this is not only the year’s best debut record but also its best doom metal release. King Goat have the vocals, instrumental work, and songwriting chops of a band far beyond their years. Don’t let their silly name fool you—ignore these guys at your own peril.
4. Jimmy Eat World – Integrity Blues
Jimmy Eat World are and have always been awesome, and any differing opinion is objectively wrong. Though Clarity is generally thought of as their “classic” album (a sentiment that I don’t wholly disagree with), Integrity Blues is a more consistent, arguably better record. The weathered old band wisely avoids the pop punk sound that defined much of their earlier output, instead opting for a style dominated by simple, emotional, and shockingly effective tracks. I honestly don’t quite know what it is about this album that works so well, but tracks like “You With Me” and “It Matters,” straightforward as they may be, have managed to stick with me and stay in a near-constant rotation since October. It’s certainly not gonna get your blood pumping, but Integrity Blues is the kind of album that simply provides an immensely enjoyable experience from start to finish—and that’s what it’s all about, right?
3. Vektor – Terminal Redux
I wasn’t really sure what to say about this record the first time I heard it, and I’m not all that sure what to say about it even now, dozens of listens later. I know it’s good—very good—but the sheer scale of this thing makes it a bit difficult to put into perspective. Undoubtedly, though, Terminal Redux provides some of the most engaging, breathtaking musical moments I’ve heard in quite some time, even if there’s a bit of bloating here and there. 73 minutes is a ludicrous runtime within the realms of thrash metal, but if any band can pull it off, it’s certainly these guys. Black Future is still probably my favorite Vektor album as a whole, but Terminal Redux is admirable if for nothing else than its ambition; it’s impossible to sit down and listen to this behemoth and not be taken aback by the effort and talent that went into its creation. “Pillars of Sand” is the cut where everything comes together most effectively, but the album as a whole is worth listening to at least once, even if you’re not a thrash fanatic like yours truly.
2. Hail the Sun – Culture Scars
A post-hardcore album seems to steal my heart every year. I the Mighty’s Connector got the best of me last year, and this time it’s the latest and greatest project from Hail the Sun. I became fans of these guys after hearing their 2014 LP Wake, but Culture Scars improves on it in almost every way, boasting better lyricism along with a greatly improved rhythm section. Beyond the instrumentation, the hooks on this thing are absolutely phenomenal, but the intelligent songwriting ensures that the record never gets stale. Donovan Melero has always been an outstanding vocalist and drummer, but he really steals the show this time around, delivering impassioned performance after impassioned performance and ultimately expanding a great album into something truly special. From progressive cuts like “The ‘Fun’ in Dysfunction” to the more straightforward “Ministry of Truth,” the melodies and lyrics never fail to connect. Hail the Sun were already leagues ahead of most of their contemporaries, but Culture Scars has launched them into the stratosphere, and I don’t see them heading back down any time soon.
1. Witchery – In His Infernal Majesty’s Service
Put simply, In His Infernal Majesty’s Service is 37 minutes of flawless blackened thrash metal that relents in neither quality nor ferocity. There was no shortage of suberb material to choose from this year, but this record ultimately distinguishes itself as the tightest package containing the highest quality material. Essentially, this is my ideal thrash album; it’s lean and concise, but the tracks themselves vary in tempo and length, each bringing something new to the table. Previously, Witchery had never been the best band in the scene by any stretch of the imagination, but their new lineup boasts a sound that’s second to none. New frontman Angus Norder’s diverse, snarly vocals perfectly match the record’s hellish aesthetic while Christofer Barkensjö’s snare sound is probably the best I’ve heard all year. Above all else, though, a thrash record needs riffs, and Witchery deliver the goods in a big way this time around. There’s not a track on here that lacks engaging guitar work, and combined with a superb rhythm section, vocals, and hooks, you’ve got yourself a recipe for quite the metal record. “Nosferatu” and “The Burning of Salem” are immediate highlights, but there’s no excuse for not listening to a record of this caliber in its entirety.
Every Time I Die – Low Teens
The Dillinger Escape Plan — Dissociation
Echelon – The Brimstone Aggrandizement
Rimfrost – Rimfrost
Ordinance – The Ides of March
Weezer – The White Album
Thrice – To Be Everywhere Is To Be Nowhere
All Human – Teenagers, You Don’t Have to Die
Hyperion – Seraphical Euphony