Zach Duvall’s Best of 2015: The Atomic Countdown

For myself, 2015 was not necessarily a year of adventurism within the heavy music realms. In fact, I spent a good amount of time this year catching up on other sides of rock that I had long neglected. I fell hard for 80s post-punk and goth (In the Flat Field may very well be my most listened-to album of the year), finally gave into charms of Killing Joke, found just as much satisfaction in Funkadelic as I did Faustcoven, and listened to more Rolling Stones than is probably healthy.

Signs of getting old? Maybe, but more likely signs that my curiosity was elsewhere for much of the year. Not that I’m finding the heavy landscapes less pleasing these days, just that my need for a full breadth of styles is only increasing.

The result is a ‘eavy metal top 20 that might be a bit more loaded with some old favorites than stuff that jives with the so-called zeitgeist. But if that’s what you’re looking for, you probably never clicked on this article to begin with, and I’m talking to air.

Anyhoo… this year had it all: Returns-to-form, sophomore efforts delivering on great promise, amazing debuts, age-defying acts with more than a couple tricks up their sleeves, and enough variety of styles to fit any possible mood.

After all, that’s why we put stuff in our ears—it affects us in more ways than we can possibly express in words. Here is what affected me the most in 2015.

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20. AhabThe Boats of the Glen Carrig
The Germans decided to slow their evolution for an album, but the results are no less leveling. Plus, their first attempts at a “single” resulted in a beastly track.

19. DødheimsgardA Umbra Omega
This is one odd, drifting, charismatic expression of mania. A daunting listen, to be sure, but also the year’s best collection of tremolo riffage.

18. Iron MaidenThe Book of Souls
Is it bloated? Sure, but not by the four longest tracks, all of which see the band in (nearly) top form. When you’re the Greatest Heavy Metal Band in History, nearly top form is still damn elite.

17. Crom DubhHeimweh
What a pleasant, entrancing little surprise this one was. Melodic black metal majesty, like Drudkh mashed in with so many folk-fueled acts from the British Isles.

16. SarpanitumBlessed Be My Brothers…
Your favorite WAR METAL band has nothing on the feeling of triumph one gets from every solo on this album. Conquer or be conquered. Or both. Both.

15. LeviathanScar Sighted
Wrest’s music is bleak, disturbing, drenched in acrid atmosphere, and hugely dynamic. But at the roots, it’s still all about the riffs, and Scar Sighted is loaded.

14. My Dying BrideFeel the Misery
I have been in and out of MDB for the last several albums, but Feel the Misery is of a quality comparable to their utmost classics. Aaron Stainthorpe is an avatar for all of our tears.

13. Killing JokePylon
New convert to legendary band hears great new album by said legendary band. New convert becomes fully addicted to great new album from legendary band. Smiles ensue.

12. Sulphur AeonGateway to the Antisphere
This band’s combination of Hypocrisy with Behemoth-styled “extreme metal” is nothing short of massive, and methinks an equally-sized following is only a matter of time.

11. SlugdgeDim & Slimeridden Kingdoms
Slugdge continues to write songs that are far better than their goofy gimmick should allow. Really, just insanely good. Possibly even better than last year’s Gastronomicon.

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With Hearts Towards None reported to the world what some had known since the early EPs and Groza: Mgla is a major shining star (black hole?) of black metal. Exercises in Futility reaffirms this truth, not so much building upon its predecessor than refining it in a few key ways. Most notably, the flow is different, relying less on the huge peaks and more on constant intensity. What hasn’t changed is the band’s flawless execution in just about every facet, from the delivery of the vocals all the way down to the irresistible ride cymbal work.

Released: Northern Heritage Records, September 4th

Released: Northern Heritage Records September 4th
Released: Northern Heritage Records September 4th

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The sheer amount of church/pipe organ heard on An Antidote for the Glass Pill should come across as gimmickry, or a cheap ploy to stand out amongst all of the evil black metal bands out there. In actuality, it only adds to the madness on this wild and unsettling album. The dissonance is enhanced by the pipe organ tones, while the depth of the organ adds drama to the excellent black metal base. Maybe don’t play this for the little old lady that tickled the keys in your childhood church. It might kill her. Like, literally kill her.

Released: Blood Music, August 8th

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Most have described Aria of Vernal Tombs – and Obsequiae’s sound as a whole – as medieval-infused melodic black metal. While this is certainly true, my ears can’t escape the connection with The Jester Race. Not the thrashier, heavy side of In Flames’ classic, but the dedication to majestic melody, in combination with that medieval-infused melodic black metal. Intentional or not, the results are as captivating as they are a fitting soundtrack for escapism. Gorgeous.

Released: 20 Buck Spin, May 26th

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With respect to the very good Those Whom the Gods Detest, What Should Not Be Unearthed is handily Nile’s best album since Annihilation of the Wicked. Translation: this is a really, really good death metal record, one that renews faith in one of the genre’s greats. And with maniacal vocal parts in tracks such as “Call to Destruction,” “In the Name of Amun,” and “Evil to Cast Out Evil” begging for a scream-along, it’s also the 2015 album most likely to get you some seriously weird looks from your coworkers.

Released: Nuclear Blast Records, August 28th

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This Italian act offered quite a bit of promise with their debut EP just earlier this year, but nothing prepared my ears for this. Grandiose, epic, dramatic, theatrical… whatever you want to call it, Lupercalia is certainly that. Their black-metal-and-more approach is a lot to take in at first, but the maelstrom is anchored by big moments, from the sweeping and dramatic to the desperate and destructive. Finale “N.A.F.H.” might be my favorite song of the year, and these guys are just getting started.

Released: Avantgarde Music, October 19th

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The inimitable Tomi Joutsen was on neither of Amorphis’ two bonafide classics (Tales from the Thousand Lakes and Elegy, naturally), but he has been the vocalist during the band’s most consistent run, which now has lasted for a full decade. Until now, the peak of this era was Skyforger, a gorgeous album that proudly reached back to Elegy. Until now. Under the Red Cloud is not only the best of the Joutsen era, but compares favorably to those aforementioned classics. There is a heft and urgency here that the band has not found in nearly 20 years. In my Year of Amorphis, this album is topped only by hearing Thousand Lakes in its entirety at MDF. I just love the crap out of this band.

Released: Nuclear Blast Records, September 4th

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Listen, I’m not going to sit here and tell you that what Melechesh did on Enki is anything all too profound. All they essentially did was stay the course with their style, but improve the production and increase the energy of the performances. That was enough. Enki is a wild ride of heavy metal thunder, and just about the most infectious smashing-together of the black and thrash metals since Tara. I’m not a man with a convertible, but if I was, the formula for my summer fun would have been top down, pedal floored, and Melechesh in the passenger seat. Preposterously fun.

Released: Nuclear Blast Records, February 27th

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Tamás Kátai is a brilliant, far-seeing genius, but it wasn’t until now that his full scope of ambition has been visible. Thy Catafalque’s last two albums saw the man’s music reach a far wider set of ears, and while both are brilliant in their own ways, the two are still largely reliant on their individual songs. On Sgùrr, his combination of black metal and electronic and trip-hop and krautrock and industrial and folk music and everything else has finally been given the full album scope it so desperately calls for. The result is an album absolutely overflowing with irresistible melody, towering heft, catchy beats, and… well, flow. This whole “black metal for sci-fi geeks” thing is real, and it’s spectacular.

Released: Season of Mist, October 16th

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Much has been made about Paradise Lost’s return to their doom/death roots. But behind the re-emergence of death growls is something far more important: the songwriting. Regardless of style, The Plague Within is the strongest collection of songs these UK legends have written since Draconian Times, and that includes the largely masterful Tragic Idol. The recent death metal works of both Nick Holmes and Gregor Mackintosh created a bit of anticipation, and the early release of “Beneath Broken Earth” created even more, but The Plague Within exceeded any and all expectations. It will never cease to be great when a band of this caliber releases some of their best material ever. Period.

Released: Century Media Records, May 29th

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As I wrote in my review of Atom By Atom, Satan’s revival defies all logic and rules of band lifespans. The new Satan, which is made up of the same five blokes as the old Satan, is, without a doubt, better than ever. Like the runner-up on my list, Atom By Atom is all about the songs. No grand scope, no experimentation, just great songs loaded with hooks, smart vocal melodies, heaps of great soloing, and a level of energy that should be impossible for men of a certain age. The music on Atom By Atom is, in a word, spry. Everything is performed with more agility and precision than bands half this age, but the more one listens, the less the “age story” of the album matters. It actually doesn’t matter at all. Only the feeling I get from that glorious solo bend in “The Fall of Persephone” matters. This is heavy metal of the highest order. This is rock and roll for the ages.

Released: Listenable Records, October 2nd

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Spectacular year for the EP. Several I liked: Spectral Lore, Pyrrhon, Vorum, Yautja, Cryptopsy, Owl, Grimoire, and Selvans.

Costin Chioreanu is achieving something that neither John Baizley nor Paulo Girardi can claim: cover art market saturation without everything looking the goddamn same. The man is a true master, and his band ain’t bad either.

Biggest disappointment of the year: EnslavedIn Times. Not that this is a bad album, but it sees Enslaved sounding awfully settled. And for a band that used to be known for constant growth and evolution, that’s a huge disappointment. Might be time to shake up the lineup.

You’d think that the new Slayer album would be the biggest disappointment, right? Sure, if you weren’t expecting it to be the pile of stink that it is.

I liked not one, not two, but three grind albums this year in Napalm Death, Antigama, and Beaten to Death.

Didn’t listen to much new non-metal this year, just the old stuff mentioned in the intro. However, the new Clutch record continues their massive revival started on Earth Rocker, even if it falls a tad short of that monster.

From Crypt Sermon and Sorcerer to Shape of Despair and My Dying Bride, it was a dream year for the doomster in your life.

And finally, because I simply can’t resist, here are a bunch more honorable mentions: Arcturus, Armored Saint, Blind Guardian, Code, Corsair, Cradle of Filth, Drudkh, Horrendous, Ixion, Judicator, Krallice, Leprous, Magister Templi, Manilla Road, Midnight Odyssey, Murg, Myrkur, Onirik, Pyramids, Queensrÿche (!!!), Sacral Rage, Scythian, Swallow the Sun, Tau Cross, Valborg, and Vhöl.

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 Thanks for reading.

Posted by Zach Duvall

Last Rites Co-Owner; Senior Editor; Obnoxious overuser of baseball metaphors.

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