I don’t know if it’s me, but this year’s best albums tend to put me in a deeply melancholic and often truly sad mode. I suppose it has something to do with the fact that 2015 was the year in which I was forced to explore all the niches of loneliness, and not just my own personal loneliness, but the loneliness (without trying to be pretentious, honestly) of modern (wo)man. In exploration of this subject, I was reading George Monbiot’s article “The Age of Loneliness is Killing Us”, in which he wrote:
Yes, factories have closed, people travel by car instead of buses, use YouTube rather than the cinema. But these shifts alone fail to explain the speed of our social collapse. These structural changes have been accompanied by a life-denying ideology, which enforces and celebrates our social isolation.
I think that kind of perfectly sums it up. Now, let’s turn on the lights in here, it is Christmas Eve, after all. Even though life shit piled up this year possibly more than ever (I guess with greater age, comes greater shit), everything wasn’t just grim and bad: I got a job where I do what I love; I started writing for Last Rites again, where I have the privilege to be read by some of the smartest metalheads and music fans out there, as well as work with the greatest crew on the planet.
I expanded my limits in trying to understand this world, listened to people I wouldn’t normally (ever), saw refugees lose everything they had, tried to learn how the fuck do I finally achieve mindfulness, read V for Vendetta in all its comic glory, obsessed over 1984, watched all of Jessica Jones in two days, and got pepper-sprayed by border po-lice.
In between, I listened to music which was as always, a life-line, a much-needed solace and a rescue boat. Even though I had a pretty hard time catching up on all of the outstanding releases this year (metal, and non-metal alike), my 2015 folder got bigger and bigger, so when the time came to compile my year-end list – I wanted to hurt someone. That’s how hard I found the task.
This list is my attempt to categorize a mere 20 out of a whole lot more quality albums that came out this year that I had the chance to listen to. There is at least 20 more that I missed out on, so I hope to hear from you some recs for holiday listening.
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FORMER TOP TENS, LAST-MINUTE KICKING OF MY ASS, CHERISHED YEAR-LONG LISTENS
20. Kauan – Sorni Nai
Based on a real-life story of 9 hikers that died in the Ural Mountains in 1959 (the famous Dyatlov Pass incident), the album interprets that story as well as the mystery surrounding it. It’s basically one song divided into 7 pieces and represents a musical interpretation of the tragedy. Slow, tragic, epic, beautiful.
19. Crypt Sermon – Out of the Garden
Doom, a beloved genre I feel I missed out on this year, but at least I had the sense to devote some time to this great record. Crypt Sermon, welcome to my list of great bands that do doom right.
18. Bell Witch – Four Phantoms
A last-minute kicking of my ass. It has been a long while since I’ve heard a funeral doom record that had me so completely enveloped in its stream of crawling riffs, slow growling vocals and accompanying guitar resonance that perpetuate a deeply wonderful sorrow.
17. Tribulation – The Children of the Night
This was a sure year-end contender since the first spin. A thoroughly fun and catchy listen with enough variety of sound on it to please a great number of metal fans.
16. Royal Thunder – Crooked Doors
It’s her voice that doesn’t let me rest – whether it’s a slow, laid back number, a hard rockin’ tune, a ballad, or a pure hand-banger, Mlny Parsonz’s vocals are powerful throughout and compel you to fucking pay attention.
15. My Dying Bride – Feel the Misery
My Dying Bride? On my year-end list? Nuh-uh. The last MDB album worth a shit was, when even? NOW. The time is now. Welcome back fuckers, it was about god damn time.
14. Eternal Solstice – Remnants of Immortality
Dudes, this is a Dutch metal band formed in 1989. They play death metal. This is their first release in 18 years. It’s released by Dark Descent Records. What are fuck are you waiting for? Go, listen, talk about this.
13. All Them Witches – Dying Surfer Meets His Maker
If this wasn’t 2015, this album would be a sure top-ten. It’s spacey, inspirational, intelligent, melancholic, heavy, fuzzy, bluesy and more. Please, go listen this album. It promises to become timeless.
12. Vhöl – Deeper Than Sky
It’s next to impossible for an ensemble of such proven high-quality music creators to produce anything but excellence. Oh, it’s also gonna make you as happy as a caterpillar chowing down a scrumptious leaf.
11. He Whose Ox Is Gored – The Camel, The Lion, The Child
Engaging, intense, heavy and beautiful – I hope you’ll give this one a spin or ten.
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THE BIG BAD GANG OF TEN
10. AMORPHIS – UNDER THE RED CLOUD
I’m sure you’ve heard a lot about this album by this point, so I won’t drag it out. I will say, however, that this is the very first Amorphis record I’ve listened to on repeat since the glory days of Tales and Elegy. I don’t know how they did it, but this album put all the right elements into its perfect place. Pure joy to listen to.
Released: Nuclear Blast Records, September 4th
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9. PARADISE LOST – THE PLAGUE WITHIN
The Plague Within had me dropping my jaw from the very first listen, and Paradise Lost is yet another band that I never expected to show up in my top ten. I’ve always had nothing but respect for these guys and love their older output, but, to tell you the truth, I completely forgot they were even somewhere on the heavy metal horizon. I guess with the endless sea of great music that’s been out there in the past years, PL didn’t manage to spark my interest. So, yes, a most welcome return to form.
Released: Century Media Records, May 29th
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8. TAU CROSS – TAU CROSS
When Tau Cross’ self-titled first came out, there was such a buzz about the release that I immediately had to investigate. And hello there, Amebix and Voivod! I bought the release, went on a road trip, put my musical friends and colleagues in the car and played the album. Their reaction was that of confusion (new Amebix?!) and happiness, and we ended up riding around this small town listening to the album and giggling like teenagers. What can I say, folks, this is metal as it should be, this is metal as I love it, and as it should stay forever more.
Released: Relapse Records, May 15th
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7. CORSAIR – ONE EYED HORSE
Boy, does this album deserve more love. It contains so much beauty that I can’t even describe it. From the almost perfect guitar tone, mixing the sounds of the finest old hard rock and the finest heavy metal, to the warm and familiar feeling it creates, it’s really hard to believe more people didn’t go cuckoo over this record. I blame modern times and too much crap posted in your heavy metal feed. This is music showcasing pure love towards the best our genre has to offer, spanning right back to its very roots.
Released: Shadow Kingdom Records, February 24th
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6. MGLA – EXERCISES IN FUTILITY
Why is it suddenly so cold in here? Why did someone completely suffocate the fire? But wait, there’s something in this coldness that draws me to it, that actually makes me feel pretty great. It’s as if this cold is the only truth there is, and I have stumbled upon that great revelation. No, the revelation was given to me. I turn my ear to the magnificently carved chill, mesmerized by it. I can hear someone whispering. Do you hear them whispering? They’re saying: “Self-crucified… missed the right tree, tore the wrong eye out… The hissing of hellfire… Self-crucified… missed the right tree. For this I have gained a victory. I burn as I ought to…”
Released: Northern Heritage Records, September 4th
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5. OBSEQUIAE – ARIA OF VERNAL TOMBS
I have never before heard of this band whose name takes me back to the horror that was Latin studies. But as an avid fan of the black metal genre, always craving newness and creativity, I gave them a go. As you can see by the number associated with their name on this list, I was pleasantly surprised. Not only did Obsequiae put medieval in black metal, but they owned it. “Their” medieval is not just a decoration, a trick to gain LARP metalheads to buy their records, but an honest need to fulfil their sound. The one thing I always want, nay, demand, in the music I listen to is an honest approach, and these guys have it. Plus, they just plain kick ass.
Released: 20 Buck Spin, May 26th
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4. HORRENDOUS- ANARETA
I was blown away by Horrendous’ last album, Ecdysis. The only thing I wanted to do was put on my jeans, a metal shirt, buy a crate of beer (so I can sit on it, while drinking) and gather children round the fire to tell them: kids, this is how you do death metal. Anareta kind of had the same effect on me, only I was even more happy listening to it. It’s still Horrendous doing what they’ve shown to do best, except their sound is a bit more polished here, and they’ve expanded their explorative quest of old-school death metal to give it a more unique, Horrendous feel. The thing about this band is that they give you pleasure in listening to the best death metal of yesteryears, but it’s new! God bless their souls.
Released: Dark Descent Records, October 27th
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3. ABYSSAL- ANTIKATASTASEIS
It is so glorious, this metal genre of ours. It shows such diversity, effort and tireless exploration of its sound, and it’s always moving the limit a bit more, even when you thought it was impossible to move it further. Abyssal stands as one of the searchers of new corners in what was thought to be the observable universe of metal. Using death metal as their baseline, they give a grim, tar-black sound of scary depths while rummaging through blind holes and pulling out artifacts that would make a normal person shit their pants. . “There is so much beauty in this world”. While not referring to a plastic bag, some people would think us equally crazy for finding this album beautiful. Seeing how we’ve long been defined as not-normal people, we love this. Keep it coming.
Released: Profound Lore Records, June 23rd
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2. PANOPTICON – AUTUMN ETERNAL
The moment I heard that Panopticon released yet another album, I knew it was going to be in my top 20. And here it is, standing at number two as a piece of art nakedly showcasing its creator. It’s a very rare occurrence in these times (not just in the music world, but generally), for a person to pour so much of himself into his art as Austin Lunn does. Art is something that has endless permutations of what it can serve as – whether it’s a political and/or social critique, or just a show of aesthetics – at its core, it is always the person that creates the art and thus communicates with its consumer. Lunn communicates his world in its countless variations and depths. Numerous listens of this album would not be enough to uncover all that’s confined within. But one thing is sure, with each new listen, it gets better and better.
Released: Bindrune Recordings, October 16th
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1. DEAD TO A DYING WORLD – LITANY
I often find that albums that leave the greatest impression on me are the hardest to write about. How do I sum up this journey in a blurb of text, while at the same time, I want to write novels about it, but have lost the ability to speak? It isn’t just the intensity of this album that has me so overwhelmed, but the story it tells; the message Litany tries to convey is what really hits this old activist’s heart. Never was there a more perfect match of my beloved genre with the world I live (and fight) in. It’s both beautiful and tragic, hopeful and completely lost, violent and calming, disturbing and meditative, and rageful and introspective. This is an album masterfully composed and executed, wrapped in sounds of black, crust and doom, with strings and raw and angelic vocals. Play again, and again, and again. Just, wonderful.
Released: Gilead Media/Alerta Antifascista Records, October 16th
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As the year and our cycle of lists come to an end, I want to thank you, dearest readers, for hangin’ with us and reading what we have to say. I wish you guys not to be lonesome tonight on this Christmas Eve. If you are, there is always music to listen to and explore, and endless ways to find kindred spirits in it.
I leave you with this awesomepants song that has been most played this year on my bike commute, and with the hope that you’ll have many good beer in 2016. Cheers.