You’re probably drowning in the deluge of year-end lists, so of course I thought it would be a good idea to add mine to the mess. It’s a well-worn tradition after all.
Firstly though I should address the status of this site, something I do every couple of months and find myself apologising for the lack of posts here. I go through phases of posting and then this place lies barren for a few weeks. Maybe that will be different in 2016, maybe it won’t.
As for this list, it has about as much value as every other list but they’re usually fun. The interesting thing about this year is that I’m just not listening to as much new music I used to; mostly because I don’t write about music half as much as I did a few years ago. In a sense it’s nice as I have more time to appreciate and pick apart the records that really interest me and not waste time on half-baked, overhyped promos. That’s swell.
As ever, putting together the list is actually challenging. I stuck with 20 this year instead of some bloated top 50 list like last year (I certainly didn’t even hear 50 good albums this year anyway). With that limitation in mind, there are some notable exceptions. Slidhr’s very recent EP Spit of the Apostate isn’t here and Bvdub’s stunning Strength in a Number, which is another testament to the overwhelming creativity of Brock Van Wey, didn’t make the cut either. Both were late releases in 2015 and difficult to leave off this list. Other honourable mentions should go to Dead to a Dying World and Addaura; two excellent records. As I type this sentence, it’s just dawned on me that I could have just done a top 25.
Anyway, drawn out introduction aside, I feel this list is pretty representative of the year in music (well, the music I’m into and follow I mean) so without further ado…
20 Misþyrming – Söngvar elds og óreiðu
Ask anyone with a notion of black metal and they’ll probably sing the praises of Iceland in recent years. For such a small country, it’s actually quite remarkable the sheer volume of breathtaking black metal records that have come from there. Misþyrming are the latest BM darlings from Iceland but very deserving of that accolade with Söngvar elds og óreiðu.
19 Devouring Star – Through Lung and Heart
Speaking of black metal hotbeds, Finland hardly needs much in the way of introduction. This discussion usually centres on stalwarts like Beherit or Horna but it’s still churning out quality black metal every year. Devouring Star are one of the bands at the top of the pile with first LP Through Lung and Heart.
18 Napalm Death – Apex Predator – Easy Meat
The old dogs of Napalm Death can’t stop learning new tricks. 2012’s Utilitarian was a coarse reminder that history’s greatest grindcore band were still capable of putting out stellar releases. Arguably you could say that it was their best record of the ‘00s and somehow they managed to top it with Apex Predator – Easy Meat.
17 Unyielding Love – Demo 2015
Belfast’s Unyielding Love seemingly came out of nowhere with this seething grind demo that pulls in plenty of harsh noise elements too. The obvious influences like Iron Lung and Column of Heaven can be parsed from this terse but punishing release but Unyielding Love definitely feel like they’re on their own path moving forward.
16 Barghest – Into Weeping Firmament
Barghest are slowly but surely becoming a vital black metal band. Last year’s The Virtuous Purge album was a staggering step forward for the band, which says something considering the quality of their earlier material. Into Weeping Firmament is a brief EP that picks up where The Virtuous Purge left off but if anything, it’s a means to introduce their new vocalist who brings a raspier bite along with a little more focus on melody, which pokes through that wretched din several times throughout these three tracks.
15 Grey Heaven Fall – Black Wisdom
Coming out of leftfield was Russia’s Grey Heaven Fall. Black Wisdom, the band’s second LP, covers a lot of ground within the intersection of black and death metal. The several twists and turns, angular riffs and coarse production brings Deathspell Omega to mind while the drumming and pace wouldn’t sound out of place within the realms of quality Icelandic black metal about right now. This is definitely one of the year’s most impressive and pleasant surprises.
14 Envy – Atheist’s Cornea
Atheist’s Cornea was the much-needed return of Japan’s Envy. It had been five years since the band’s last full-length Recitation, though it felt even longer. Formula wise, this is Envy to a tee with heartwrenching emotional hardcore colliding with post rock but as ever, the results are stellar, and it also delivers perhaps two of the best songs that Envy have ever written in ‘Ticking Time and String’ and ‘Footsteps in the Distance’.
13 DRAG – Demos
This collection of demo tracks is a brief but infectious EP from London’s DRAG. Featuring members of Light Bearer, the band couldn’t be further away from them in sound. Fuzzy guitars, poppy danceable riffs, and almost-saccharine vocals rule the order here. It’s an EP that demands an immediate re-listen as soon as its closing notes die out.
12 Cruciamentum – Charnel Passages
Will they, won’t they? That was pretty much the premise behind Cruciamentum for years over whether they’ll finally do an album or if they’re even still together. After a demo that won the death metal underground’s heart and a sublime EP in 2011, it would be tragic if Cruciamentum never followed through. Thankfully we avoided such a faith as Charnel Passages is easily 2015’s most essential death metal release.
11 Godstopper – Lie Down
Toronto’s Godstopper have been on a roll with their last couple of releases. Last year’s Children Are Our Future EP in particular is a highlight. It introduced a slightly more melodic side to the band’s generally raw brand of rock but never compromises its brashness either and Lie Down expands on this formula just perfectly. Just listen to the gritty but shamelessly catchy ‘Giver’ for proof.
10 Shardborne – Living Bridges
Limerick’s Shardborne really turned heads with their debut EP in 2011 and Living Bridges, the first full-length, has been a long time in gestation and gracefully, it hasn’t disappointed. Dizzyingly technical instrumental metal bands are ten a penny but only the best ones stick out, like Scale the Summit, mostly because they actually write great tunes to complement their musical prowess. Shardborne are very much a part of that group.
09 Steve Von Till – A Life Unto Itself
Other than his work in Neurosis, A Life Unto Itself may be Steve Von Till’s best work to date. The acoustic solo record has harnessed the spirit of Townes Van Zandt into something unique with Von Till’s corrosive throaty vocals, where he’s never sounded more vulnerable, over barren and lonesome folk verses. It all conjures up images of a lonely bar stool and bottle of whiskey in the corner.
08 Caïna – Setter of Unseen Snares
Released back in early January, Caïna’s Setter of Unseen Snares could easily have slipped from memory but this is easily the best record they’ve done. It’s split into distinct parts, the brief barrages of crusty BM like ‘I am the Flail of the Lord’ and the closing 15 minute epic ‘Orpan’, which is a lesson in captivating post black metal. Granted, the gradually blossoming crescendo that closes the record is a little predictable but that doesn’t make it any less awe-inspiring.
07 Panopticon – Autumn Eternal
It’s rare that Austin Lunn, AKA Panopticon, puts a foot wrong but he did endure a misstep or two in recent years. However 2012’s Kentucky and last year’s Roads to the North saw him return to the compelling folk-tinged black metal that made his name. Autumn Eternal feels like the perfection distillation of the former’s heavy Americana influence and the latter’s notably more aggressive side. The result is possibly Lunn’s best yet.
06 Keeper – The Space Between Your Teeth
Last year’s MMXIV debut from California’s Keeper was easily one of 2014’s best doom records. This EP, The Space Between Your Teeth, changes things up just a little bit. The two weighty songs add a little more pace and melody to counteract the Burning Witch-inspired dissonance. This is illustrated perfectly on the 17 minute ‘The King’, which scales to an uncharacteristically beautiful crescendo that still feels perfectly natural following the wretched and horrid riffs that laid the pathway for it.
05 Svalbard – One Day All This Will End
Thanks to a chance live encounter, Bristol melodic hardcore band Svalbard may have seeped through the cracks around these parts, which would have been regretful turn of events. A couple of splits and EPs hinted at what this band was capable of but One Day All This Will End shows it in spades with emphatic emotional hardcore encapsulated beautifully by the duo of vocals from Serena Cherry and Liam Phelan that gives the record so much character.
04 Mgła – Exercises in Futility
As far as black metal in 2015 goes, there are very few bands that can lay claim to same kind of magnificence that Poland’s Mgła have. While plying their craft for years, it was 2012’s With Hearts Toward None that kicked down a lot of doors for the band and subsequently for Exercises in Futility, released in September, the expectations were at a lofty height. However it’s a task that the Poles have passed with aplomb. They manage to strike a fascinating balance between murky and gloomy black metal and unabashedly catchy tunes. It’s something that so many bands fail to accomplish but one listen to the lead riff on the utterly unforgettable ‘Exercises in Futility V’ and it’s clear that Mgła are becoming almost peerless in black metal.
03 Rosetta – Quintessential Ephemera
Rosetta always felt like the bridesmaids. They’ve always released solid to impressive albums but the Philadelphia post metal band has never really been a centrepiece in their genre’s discussion. That tide really began to change with 2013’s The Anaesthete, and Quintessential Ephemera builds on it beautifully with the addition of a second vocalist handling clean singing duties while the riffs are altogether the most compelling, gorgeous and affecting they’ve ever written.
02 He Whose Ox Is Gored – The Lion, The Camel, The Child
This feels like the record that Seattle’s He Whose Ox Is Gored were always threatening to make. The Camel, The Lion, The Child perfectly meshes crushing sludgy hardcore and hazy shoegaze-scented rock to perfect effect. The results are absolutely breathtaking as monoliths like ‘Zelatype’ or the hypnotic ‘Alpha’ will attest. Compulsory listening.
01 Archivist – Archivist
When Light Bearer announced their split in June, they left behind a massive void. The London post metal band was just halfway through their four-part series of concept albums before the pest that is real life got in the way. However, vocalist Alex CF, along with other Light Bearer members, have always been active in various other bands too, like Carnist or Momentum. Archivist isn’t just another side band though but rather an ambitious project conveyed through a concept chronicling a doomed Earth’s last remaining survivor on her escape from the planet.
This vast self-titled sees the band, which includes members of Light Bearer, Anopheli, and Germany’s Thurm, marry the gorgeous post metal of LB with the flair and the ferocity of modern black metal. The expansive 65 minute record channels all of these elements into one cohesive and breathless album, swooping in and out of dizzying peaks and valleys like the beautiful post rock climes of ‘Leaving Day’, the heart rendering yet vicious crescendo of ‘Tying Up Loose Ends in the Cold Void of Space’, or the blast-heavy ending of ‘4,500’, which ends the album on an oddly soothing life-affirming note.