Lone Watie's Best of 2015

posted on 12/2015   By: Lone Watie

I recall spending more effort and time than usual avoiding the news in 2015. And I kind of expect that to continue through 2016. I also spent a lot more time not staring at the boobtube, of which I can honestly say I’m at least a little bit proud. I’ve instead given myself up to a few things I actually love for more than their capacity to consume time, like family, friends, leisure reading and lots and lots of music.

Of family and friends, I’ll just say that I experienced enough honest-to-goodness togetherness with genuinely great people this year to overpower the shitty shittiness that 2015 visited upon me and us. Thank you, wonderful people that I love.

I mention reading because I haven’t have a lot of time for the fun kind the last several years and really relish having it now, but also (and mostly) because it played a pretty major role in how I experienced the music I listened to. I spent the most time in the world of Sci-Fi, which is a fairly new thing for me, diving headlong and deep into the works of James SA Corey and Robert Charles Wilson. I’ve always been aware of the connection, but it’s gobsmackingly obvious to me now why so many metalheads geek out over Sci-Fi – it’s a natural marriage. I sure wish I’d boarded the ship earlier on, but hey, nothing that can’t be fixed in a few light years at full burn.

As for the music, it was a pretty even split between the two loves of my life: Heavy Metal and Progressive Rock, with a good slice devoted to the celebration of their union. No surprises there for me. What does surprise me, looking back, is just how little time I spent with longtime favorites. I enjoyed new releases from old friends Iron Maiden, Manilla Road, Amorphis, Queensrÿche and Faith No More(!), among others, but in 2015 my wandering heart found succor more often in that-which-is-new-to-me. Also, in 2015, I find myself more vexed than ever in trying to draw a clean distinction between what’s metal and what’s not, which might be because I’m falling deeper into that stuff that blurs the lines, but it might also be that those who play the music and support it are, too. I like to think I’m not alone there.

All that said, I’m going to balk at the Best Of designation for this list and suggest wholeheartedly that this is just a loosely stacked collection of my favorites from this year. It’s a conversation made for beers; one that I look forward to having with some of you very soon and that I wish we could all have together.

As for the news: here’s to the inevitable superimportant talks and conferences and summits of 2016 happening around a high top at the corner pub.

Thanks for reading my too many words.

Cheers to you and yours.

• • • • •

 

20. Killing Joke -Pylon
Lots of really cool people finally quit fucking around and gave themselves up to Killing Joke with Pylon. I did as well. Weird, because I really love this album, but still can’t even come close to describing how it’s much different from all the other KJ albums that didn’t quite do the trick. Doesn’t matter. I’m hooked.

19. Between The Buried And Me - Coma Ecliptic
I really loved the full-on dedication to the concept of Coma Ecliptic and think it gets pretty close to the apex of this equally loved and snubbed modern progmetal collective’s career. It’s definitely their most professionally executed and fully realized.

18. ni - Les Insurgés de Romilly
A rare combination of RIO wackadelia and replay-friendly listenability. The most fun I had with a fuck-their-ears-with-math band all year.

17. Symphony XUnderworld
They’re still committed to the New Symphony X, so don’t expect a return to the classics, but Underworld exceeds the last couple by feeling more vibrant and exhilarating than anything since The Odyssey.

16. ElderLore
There’s a lot of ways to put a twist into the stoner formula, and Elder find a new one with each album after their debut. Lore’s flirtation with progressive postiness was unexpected but turned out to be nearly perfect. I drove two hours through the night to see Elder play this album in an indescribably beautiful shithole dive bar in Texarkana.

15. Valkyrie - Shadows
Golden Age adulation, this is august doom driving with the top down, never-minding the dustiness of the gravel roads because its summer, after all, and nothing’s getting between me and a cold one, swingin in the ol’ hammock from the willow down by the crick.

14. Abnormal Thought Patterns - Altered States of Consciousness
Abnormal Thought Patterns is one of the two latest projects of brothers Jasun and Troy Tipton, who are also responsible for the amazing Zero Hour. ATP isn’t for everybody, as it’s unabashedly obsessed with following the guitar wherever it may wander, but for those who go out of their way to avoid the trail marks, it’s perfect.

13. Vly - I / (Time)
Beautiful and dreamy as the hazy submerged touch-too-slow art suggests, the fusion of Pink Floyd and Anathema on I / (Time) is executed as perfectly as the idea would sound to you if you’d had it yourself.

12. Mörglbl - Teatime for Pünks
I’ll give you a hint: track #9 is called “God Shaved the Queen,” and these French weirdos cram all the attitude that irreverent humor implies into a kickin’ stew of metal and rock and punk and jazz and a bunch of other tasty stuff.

11. Satan - Atom by Atom
Ageless, timeless, peerless heavy gatdamned metal that simply refuses to leave my work commute playlist.

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10. Subterranean Masquerade - The Great Bazaar

 

Somebody said true understanding is reflected by one’s ability to convey complex ideas in simple terms. Subterranean Masquerade kind of nails this. The prog, the avant-garde of The Great Bazaar is more keenly felt than heard, an embodiment of the spirit of progressive rock-and-roll told with heavy metal’s voice. Complex structure and eclectic styles and the songwriting acumen to keep it well within itself. In the end, though, what kept this album in the running after almost a year past its release is its deeply emotional essence; The Great Bazaar is the only album this year to feature a song that moved me to tears.

Released: Taklit Music, January 13th
Bandcamp

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9. Horisont – Odyssey

I’m a real sucker for heavy rock that worships the 70’s. As long as it’s adventurous (repeat radio rock won’t cut it) and comes with that sweet summery sound, I’ll be in it. Thing is, not many bands manage much more than that nostalgic bippy flip; fun and familiar, but rarely compelling. With Odyssey, Horisont explodes from the pile of stuff that kinda sounds like other stuff that I really love and landed on a slice of shelf alongside the Corsairs and Witchcrafts and is comfortable even among the Queens and Heeps.

Released: Rise Above Records, September 18th
Band website

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8. Momentum - The Freak is Alive

Momentum is an Icelandic band that’s been tagged by a few folks as progressive doom, which I’ve always thought is a silly thing to say, even if it might kind of capture a sound. What Momentum does could also be described as what might pour out if you put Neurosis and Novembers Doom and Woburn House in a bag and shook vigorously. So it’s slow and heavy and dark and dreary, but it’s also progressive, deceptively complex, melodic and full of supremely subtle hooks. It takes a little time for this one to grab but, given the chance, it holds tight.

Released: Dark Essence Records, February 9th
Bandcamp

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7. Malnàtt - Swinesong

What the fuck is this? I’ve been listening to Swinesong for almost the whole year now and I still can’t say for sure. It’s black metal at its core, but this is more than that. That is, this is that and more. It made my year-end list because it’s a proud declaration of weirdness that’s also riffy and headbangy and beautiful and at times a little bit silly. When you can do all that and keep it all cohesive and engaging, you’ve got my attention. When you can do all that through fifteen songs that are about your founding member’s fifteen tattoos, you’ve got my admiration. Malnàtt says Swinesong is their swansong. I hope not.

Released: Il Male Produzioni, January 19th
Band website

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6. Necroblaspheme – Belleville

What I really want in death metal is a more intelligent brutality that reaches its barbed tentacles outside itself to twist and corrupt whatever thing it grabs to its own odious melodiousness. To wit, the French wackadoodlers that comprise Necroblaspheme have crafted a fully sentient death metal that feels an awful lot like the death metal you know and nothing like it at all. Belleville traverses a full range of heavy, and alternates between bleak and bright, sludge-ridden and atmospheric, straightforward and convoluted. It’s hard to say just what makes Necroblaspheme different, but that may be just what makes them so fantastically different.

Released: Independent, September 14th
Bandcamp

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5. Eternal Journey – Nebular

I discovered this wonderful little “progressive space metal project” on progstreaming.com. Eternal Journey is space opera and the brainchild of Alex Papatheodorou, who employs a host of friends and colleagues to cover various parts of the musical story. The obvious reference, then, is Arjen Lucassen’s Aryeon and Nebular is every bit as ambitious if a few steps behind in its development. Firmly rooted in plain ol’ kick ass heavy metal, Nebular paints a cosmic canvas with all the expected progressive colors, always in service of the story, making for an engrossing and exciting listen worthy of repeated spins.

Released: Independent, March 6th
Band website

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4. Corsair - One Eyed Horse

I’ve been following Corsair since their first EP, thoroughly enjoying everything they’ve created, and One Eyed Horse is their best work yet. Yes, it’s more technically proficient and they’ve definitely achieved a distinct voice while maintaining a staunch foothold in the golden grass of rock-and-roll’s yesteryears, but where they’ve surpassed themselves is in just how intimate this new record is. Now it may be me and my oldness connecting to Corsair through our shared reverence of heavy metal’s early adolescence, but I’d bet it’s more a reflection of the band’s love of the music they play and the inherent invitation to share that it opens up.

Released: Shadow Kingdom Records, February 24th
Bandcamp

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3. Thy Catafalque – Sgùrr

Thy Catafalque has been an epic and utterly immersive adventure since its inception and Sgùrr might just be its most complete experience. It’s got a massive metal core around and through which swirls a rich array of complementary sounds ranging from folk to industrial, electronic to ambient. The resulting tapestry presents a tale of trepidation and perseverance and ultimate conquest. It’s up to the listener just what that conquest is over; for me it’s the fears and self-doubt of everygoddamnday living that Sgùrr paints as sky splitting mountains and icy badlands, the journey driven by the recurrent memory of warm sun on the other side.

Released: Season of Mist, October 16th
Bandcamp

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2. Leprous - The Congregation

The dark, twisty bizarre bazaar feel of Leprous’ new record had me rapt from the first spin and never let go. Like so much music that I love, this record made me think deeply about myself and my place in the world. The songs are crafted to capture a full range of uncomfortable but very real emotion, from pity for an unfortunate other wrapped in a sober better-he-than-me, to that feeling of needing someone near at the same time I want to be left the fuck alone. Both within songs and between them, musical elements criss and cross from isolation to interdependence and back in a reflection of what it means to live with other people and begging the question of where each of us stands with respect to The Congregation.

Released: InsideOut Music, May 25th
Band website

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1. Vhöl - Deeper Than Sky

I knew Deeper Than Sky would be my favorite album of 2015 before I even heard it, and it still managed to surpass my expectations. It’s everything I loved about heavy metal in my formative years updated for the new millennium to tell amazing stories about the next one. Besides being rooted in the fundaments of the best thrash ever, it’s oblivious to boundaries, technically brilliant, explosive and inextinguishable and – the real key – unrepentantly fun. Where so much metal is bent on answering the weight of the world with its own crushing mass, Vhöl responds with the ferocious grace of a ninja. In space.

Released: Profound Lore Records, October 23rd
Bandcamp

 

• • • • • 

 

TOP 10 NON-METAL ALBUMS OF 2015:

10. ptf What is Constant?
• Artist website

 


9. Jason IsbellSomething More Than Free 
• Artist website

 


8. Dave KerznerNew World 
• Bandcamp

 


7. Circle Pharaoh Overlord 
• Artist website

 


6. Pharaoh OverlordCircle 
• Artist website

 


5. Beardfish +4626- Comfortzone
• Artist website

 


4. Barock ProjectSkyline 
• A perfect soundtrack to a freezing, Norwegian murder mystery.
• Bandcamp



3. Unreal City – Il Paese del Tramonto 
• Bandcamp

 


2. Steven WilsonHand. Cannot. Erase. 
• Artist website

 


1. Anekdoten Until All the Ghosts Are Gone 
• Band website