Captain’s Best of 2015: Out Of The Dark… Into The Light

Well, the planet somehow managed to make it through another year, despite ebola outbreaks, droughts, hurricanes, earthquakes, turkey influenzas and massive, MASSIVE amounts of tyrannical human ballbaggery.

Loads of dark times in 2015, which led me to seek out more levity through music. Unfortunately (or fortunately, for some), that meant spending more time than ever straying from the mostly gruesome embrace of Mother Metal and into the arms of other genres. But let’s not kid around, less metal for me still managed to deliver approximately 40 potential records to battle out for the top 20 spots, and three of those contain some of the most bleak & shadowy notes I’ve heard in quite some time. But those truly dark records were used more sparingly, and I made sure to always flank them by speed/power metal, old standbys and a billion episodes of various Star Trek shows.

One thing for certain, I couldn’t take much black metal in 2015. I trust my colleagues, friends and readers that there was enough good stuff to choose from, but I simply didn’t have the fortitude to withstand much of the ski-masked “no lives matter” metal this year because there was enough real world hopelessness cropping up around every corner, and that’s pretty much that.

Before jumping in, I’d like to take a quick moment and thank all those who continue to read my words and give me feedback – positive and negative. Here’s to a 2016 that allows a little more happiness into everyone’s lives. If you want it and are willing to work for it, you most assuredly deserve it. And if it’s pure negativity that gets your rocks off, I guess here’s to hoping you fall down an escalator with a bag of grenades in your arms.

Into the reactor…

 

HONORABLE MENTIONS:

20. JudicatorAt the Expense of Humanity
• An exceedingly triumphant record delivered by one of the more promising American power metal bands. The music is bright, melodic and engaging, and the lyrics tackle a difficult subject matter in a way that’s both impassioned and cathartic.
Bandcamp

19. Paradise LostThe Plague Within
• Old dogs don’t really need new tricks if they’re the best at the tricks they do.
Band website

18. ObsequiaeAria of Vernal Tombs
• Like a medieval version of Blood Ritual-era Samael, plus a stack of ridiculously engaging interludes that forced me to realize I was born a thousand years too late.
Bandcamp

17. SarpanitumBlessed Be My Brothers
• I normally run when I hear triggered drums. This, however, does not make me run. Quite the contrary, actually. Must be the 34,509,834,950 lovely leads.
Bandcamp

16. Death KarmaThe History of Death and Burial Rituals Pt. 1
• Sure, murky death metal has been done a thousand times over, but Death Karma’s method of murk as an ode to actual death and burial rituals from various cultures is original and intriguing.
Bandcamp

15. CruciamentumCharnel Passages
• Brutal death metal minus the bullshit.
Bandcamp

14. Chaos EchoesTransient
• I couldn’t get through this record during my initial run-throughs. Oftentimes, patience is not only a virtue, it’s the key to maximum gratification. Curious, mesmeric and morbidly glorious.
Bandcamp

13. He Whose Ox Is GoredThe Camel, The Lion, The Child
• Another one of those records I thought was destined to land too far outside my typical wheelhouse. Life tip: Wheelhouses are for chumps.
Bandcamp

12. TerminusThe Reaper’s Spiral
• An extremely promising debut of traditional, walloping heavy metal with an emphasis on walloping. I fully expect album #2 to land inside a future Top 10.
Bandcamp

11. Symphony XThe Underworld
• Am I insane for loving this record? Why hasn’t anyone else talked about it? The Underworld is worth it for the brilliant hooks and Michael Romeo’s lead guitar work alone. I know it’s a bit corny to admit how much I love a song like “Without You,” but I can’t help myself.
Band website


TOP TEN OF 2015:

10. Iron Maiden – The Book of Souls

I really don’t care if picking a new Iron Maiden record as a top tenner earmarks me as an old man. Firstly, I probably am older than you, and secondly, I happen to be on the side of the fence that believes this band is still releasing relevant music in the modern age of heavy metal, and this record is certainly no exception.

Whether or not The Book of Souls maintains momentum well into the future obviously remains to be seen. I can tell you that a number of Iron Maiden’s post 2000 records continue to persevere, and even if only half of this admittedly stretched 92-minutes ends up having serious legs, that’s still a full record. Plus, it doesn’t take an ear scientist to hear that a lot of this material is once again geared to please from the stage, and I intend on taking advantage of that fact in the first part of 2016. I’m certain the visual spectacle will match the musical theatricality throughout The Book of Souls, and I could not be more excited to watch it all unfold with friends.

Released: Parlophone Records, September 4th
Band website


9. Bell Witch – Four Phantoms

What I initially thought was missing from 2015 was a sloooow, bruising, agonizingly heartbroken funeral doom record that could make a guy like me feel as if I’d just watched ten Old Yellers meet their maker behind a horrifying woodshed, then I remembered that Bell Witch dropped something new way back in April that I hadn’t fully committed to yet. As a result of that misguided error, I spent the better part of two weeks obsessing over this thing and nearly landed myself a one-way ticket to Sadsacksville on a permanent basis. Four Phantoms is a fairly difficult record to digest because of the length of the songs and due to the effectiveness and affectiveness of its overall misery, but it’s very rewarding once the listener begins to resonate on that weirdly zen level of despair the fellers must have attained (to the tenth power) while crafting it. Exquisite agony.

Released: Profound Lore Records, April 28th
Bandcamp


8. Kowloon Walled City – Grievances

Being broadsided by an album is obviously fun as hell, but being broadsided by an album from a band you previously had zero experience with is particularly gratifying. Such was the case for yours truly and Kowloon Walled City’s third full-length, Grievances. I’m willing to admit that I made an early snap judgement to let their material pass unnoticed based on the fact that folks mostly parked them under a hardcore/sludge umbrella. Despite not having any particular issue with such a hybrid, it’s not something I find myself pursuing very often. Then I magically found myself falling into a nostalgia that involved re-living days when many of my friends were pushing the whole Revelation/AmRep/Alternative Tentacles scene and this record found its way into my ears as a logical, modern extension. Before long, I was completely hooked. While Grievances certainly parades a number of those hardcore/noise rock elements (the band brilliantly refers to their genre as “short hair”), it also flashes an innate doominess that I find totally lovable.

Released: Neurot Recordings, October 9th
Bandcamp


7. Vastum – Hole Below

“Death metal’s most successful interpretation has always boiled down to one fundamental ingredient: Brutality.”

I said that. I said that for a completely different review for a different death metal band, but it still rings truer than true for Vastum’s amazing Hole Below. Slap this ghastly pig on the ol’ turntable and inch the volume up to 10 and you’ll quickly experience those speakers hurling cinderblocks directly into your chest. Hole Below is as heavy as an elephant tea-bagging a kitten, and at times, it seems just as gross. But not in an all-too-obvious porno-grind kind of way. Poetic gross. Esoteric gross. Like some grim death metal version of Georges Bataille, but not as French. Who the hell knows. Putrid bards with 100-ton guitars hellbent on pulverizing you into lint.

Released: 20 Buck Spin, November 6th
Bandcamp


6. Tau Cross – Tau Cross

Without question, the key element behind my love of Tau Cross’s debut stems from the fact that my history with vocalist Rob Miller has been lasting and valuable; I find his intensity and expression positively invigorating. His gravelly snarl was as crucial to the abiding aggression of Amebix as it is with this latest endeavor, and it really hasn’t lost an ounce of its abrasiveness, despite howling like this on and off again for the better part of the last 30 years. The music that backs him isn’t terribly complex, nor does it need to be; it serves the dutiful purpose of awakening the deep-rooted crust punk/thrash from Rob’s past, but with added bits of post/folk/rock that works beautifully within the overall design.

Released: Relapse Records, May 15th
Bandcamp


5. Blazon Stone – No Sign of Glory

Stormspell Records had a pretty great 2015, thanks in a large part to the exceptional (and prolific) talents of Sweden’s Cederick Forsberg. If that name isn’t familiar to you, then you probably don’t have a thumb on the pulse of the current throw-back heavy/power/speed metal scene. Forsberg’s flair is interwoven within Blazon Stone, Breitenhold, Cloven Altar, Lector, Mortyr and Rocka Rollas (likely his most familiar outlet), and four of those bands released new material on Stormspell in 2015. What made No Sign of Glory stand out, however, is its perfect amalgam of rawness, melody and insanely infectious songcrafting that’s strengthened even further by the strangely addictive, gritty rasp of Georgy Peichev. Everything about this band and album screams early Running Wild (including their name), and the joy that obviously went into making this record radiates from every note on No Sign of Glory.

Released: Stormspell Records, September 15th
Bandcamp


4. VHOL – Deeper Than Sky

I loved VHOL’s debut enough that it landed as my #6 album of 2013. Deeper Than Sky is better than that record in every regard, which is precisely the optimal result one would hope to hear after a new band is granted more time to further coalesce. The wealth of influence from each members’ proven track record and their assorted listening proclivities are on full display here, and their collective decision to release an album that bucks metal’s current “Bleaker Than Thou” slant in favor of something invigorating and UPLIFTING not only helps Deeper Than Sky stand out, it makes it indispensable during an age in which horror looms around seemingly every corner.

Released: Profound Lore Records, October 23rd
Bandcamp


3. Malokarpatan – Stridžie dni

“Folklore, Witchcraft, Drunkenness, National Pride” – No, that’s not an okcupid “I Am Really Good At” list from some Russian black metaller, it’s the lyrical themes explored by Slovakia’s wonderfully batty Malokarpatan. And before you get your drawers in a wicked twist, it ain’t that kind of national pride – this record’s lyrics read like a Slovakian festival pamphlet written by a bombed goblin.

The three inebriates that make up Malokarpatan have concocted a spicy brew that mixes equal parts Venom, Master’s Hammer and Negative Plane, and they weave the formula through nine tales that highlight many of the delightfully gruesome myths and lore from their native land. If you can’t get down with songs that translate into “What the Deuce Did that Old Hideous Hag Pour Into My Cup” and “About the One Who Obscured His Mind with Drinking and Ended Up Having to Spend the Night Inside the Pigsty,” then you and I should amicably part ways right now. Plus, there’s just enough elegance and melody fused to the overall brawl to add a perfect pinch of wistfulness to the trip.

Released: Independent, September 13th
Bandcamp


2. Crypt Sermon – Out of the Garden

A long time ago, unbeknownst to me, I gave a fairly embarrassing show to a handful of people after falling into my one billionth trance while cranking and singing along to Candlemass’s “Under the Oak” in my car in what I thought was a mostly abandoned part of Oakland, California. That tiny audience applauded my attempt to belt out those epic, emotive lyrics out of the goodness of their hearts, but I knew better. Oh, I knew better. I am fairly certain the wonderful debut full-length from Philadelphia’s Crypt Sermon will eventually find me in a very similar position in the not-too-distant future, because Out of the Garden achieves that classic “epic doom at its most epic” feel in the same way the masters did 25+ years ago. If you don’t find yourself eventually singing along to a tune like “Into the Holy of Holies” at the top of your lungs, you just might be a deplorable human being in need of a rude flogging. Totally essential epic, galloping HEAVY doom.

Released: Dark Descent Records, February 24th
Bandcamp


1. Amorphis – Under the Red Cloud

I was pretty overpowered by how hard Under the Red Cloud hit me. Not because I’d lost faith in Amorphis – they’re a band I’ve loved and followed since the day I was first blown away by Tales from the Thousand Lakes. It’s just that I’d gotten strangely used to simply enjoying their modern output, not loving it. As I mentioned in my review, “one person’s consistency is another person’s predictability,” and predictability is a dangerous thing when a band shows an over-reliance on the same steadfast elements from one record to the next to the next to the next. Under the Red Cloud continues to flash the fundamental details that made much of Amorphis’s modern output good, but a renewed vigor also entered the picture, perhaps from playing Tales in its entirety at MDF, or maybe because the band collectively switched to a more comfortable boxer-brief. Who the hell knows. Who the hell cares, as long as it happened. This record is the most natural follow-up to the widely and wildly hailed Elegy, and it is absolutely the metal release I listened to the most in 2015. I suppose it just made me feel really, really good while listening to it, and that’s a great and lucky thing to have in your life.

Released: Nuclear Blast Records, September 4th
Band website


TOP EP OF 2015:

Blood IncantationInterdimensional Extinction
Released: Dark Descent Records August 29th
• First of all, a tip of my hat to Dark Descent for continuing to highlight and release some of the most promising bands in extreme metal. Every year there’s a pretty damn ferocious battle between high-quality underground labels, but the edge goes to DD for the most consistent collection of head pulverizers in 2015. Adversarial, Tyranny, Grave Ritual and Crypt Sermon all killed me, but Blood Incantation is the band that fills me with the most impish glee. Interdimensional Extinction is technical death metal without sounding like it was stamped out of a soulless Borg factory, and I wish more bands would follow that path. Remember Timeghoul? Yeah, Blood Incantation does. Can’t wait for the full-length.


TOP 10 NON-METAL ALBUMS OF 2015:

10. John Luther AdamsThe Wind in High Places
• Composer JLA lands two releases in 2015, one that sounds like the preamble to a Klingon war (also recommended), and this stretch of floating euphoria.
Artist website

9. Galley BeggarSilence & Tears
• One of the finest trips into moody folk rock I’ve heard in years.
Band website

8. K-X-PIII Part 1
• Finnish ambient/electronic space krautrock with a techno edge. Whut?
Bandcamp

7. Chris PotterImaginary Cities
• This record sounds like a soundtrack to an 80s movie set in New York, and ECM Records is my favorite jazz label right now.
Artist website

6. Terrible FeelingsTremors
• Post pop? Goth punk? I don’t know. If the opener “Cold Eyes” doesn’t hook you, you’re awful.
Bandcamp

5. Leila Abdul-RaufInsomnia
• Yes, this is the same woman who is in Vastum and Hammers of Misfortune. Insomnia is a chill, foggy, comforting paradise.
Bandcamp

4. C H R I S TT O W E R
• A perfect soundtrack to a freezing, Norwegian murder mystery.
Bandcamp

3. Christian ScottStretch Music
• Some have described trumpeter Christian Scott’s style as “jazz meets indie-rock,” which I suppose makes sense. Genre-bending modern jazz that rules.
Artist website

2. John CarpenterLost Themes
• A perfect soundtrack to being a bad-ass in slow motion.
Artist website

1. New OrderMusic Complete
• I suppose there are fans of New Order who aren’t wild about their modern output, but I sure as hell ain’t one of them.
Band website

 

/2015

Posted by Captain

Last Rites Co-Owner; Senior Editor; That was my skull!

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