Sunday, January 3, 2016

Top 20 Albums of 2015

# 20 - Ghoulgotha - The Deathmass Cloak
Dark Descent Records

 

Definitely not an album for everyone who enjoys the doomy side of death metal.  Ghoulgotha use dissonant guitar harmonies that may sound a bit "off" to some.  I admit I had to listen repeatedly before I got what they were going for.  (Had the same reaction to Demilich).  These atonal harmonies are the focal point here and they add a gloomy kind of funereal atmosphere to their music.  Thumbs up to Damian Herring for the dynamic mix and master job.  It really brings all the instruments to life; especially the drums.  Topped off with some creepy cover art, The Deathmass Cloak is worth checking out if you like your death metal weird.

# 19 - Desolate Shrine - The Heart of the Netherworld
 Dark Descent Records

 

Dark and chaotic; The Heart of the Netherworld hits your speakers like a storm determined to tear apart your definition of "heavy".  The vocals and drums are standouts for me here.  They help drive the wall of guitars that seem to come at you from all directions.  Their first few releases were decent but this one showcases their strongest songwriting to date.  Best enjoyed in solitude with a bowl of weed.

#18 - Ereb Altor - Nattramn
Cyclone Empire



I picked this up on a whim not long ago and it ended up bumping another album off my list.  Ereb Altor sound like viking era Bathory combined with elements of black and doom metal.  What really shines on Nattramn is the vocals. They manage to effectively blend both clean and death/black metal styles.  Unfortunately the drums are somewhat suffocated by the rest of the instruments so the bass guitar ends up covering all of the low end.  Only a minor gripe though as the songs are strong enough to make this an enjoyable listen.  

# 17 - Cradle of Filth - Hammer of the Witches
Nuclear Blast Records

 

I never thought a Cradle album would end up in my favorites for the year but here it is.  With Hammer of the Witches, they rekindled the energy and flair of their mid 90's outputs.  The dual guitar melodies inject some much needed life into their sound.  Dani's vocals are more controlled and his signature howl hasn't sounded this good in years.  This one was a huge surprise for me.

# 16 - Gruesome - Savage Land
Relapse Records

 

Yeah they're definitely not winning awards for originality with Savage Land but that wasn't the point.  This is simply a fun tribute album to the death metal forefathers.  They did an excellent job capturing the early Death sound from the vocals to the solos and even the production.  Highly recommend reading the track-by-track breakdown Harvey did for Decibel.  It made me appreciate the album on a whole new level.  

http://decibelmagazine.com/blog/2015/4/17/gruesome-savage-land-track-by-track-breakdown-with-matt-harvey

# 15 - Morbid Vomit - Doctrine of Violence
Ranka Kustannus Records



Killer new band from Finland specializing in Swedish styled death metal.  Although this scene is somewhat saturated at the moment, these guys manage to sound refreshing (unlike the new Entrails).  I hear some heavy Bloodbath and Grave influence;  how can you go wrong?

Blast Head Records released Morbid Vomit's first demo and EP earlier this year.  Check it out - https://blastheadrecords.bandcamp.com/album/return-to-the-crypts

# 14 - Obscure Infinity - Perpetual Descending Into Nothingness
F.D.A. Rekotz



This album flew under the radar of a lot of people which is shame because I really can't say enough good about it.  The term "old school" is thrown around too easily these days but these guys truly play the part.  This is straight up death metal for people who enjoy the power of the riff.  Soaring leads, tremolo riffs, blasting drums - it has it all.  Not to mention some awesome cover art and one of my favorite sounding records of 2015.

# 13 - Slayer - Repentless
Nuclear Blast Records



Repentless received a lot of slack from the sometimes obtuse metal community.  I admit to having low expectations but this album managed to thoroughly kick my ass.  Repentless has some of Slayer's catchiest tunes they've written since the 90's.  Gary's addition to lead guitars adds a nice dimension and it's refreshing to hear Slayer work with a different producer other than Rubin.  With that said it isn't without it's flaws.  It would have been interesting to hear Slayer step outside their comfort zone and try something new. Also there are a few parts on the album that would have benefited from a guitar harmony or two (end of "When the Stillness Comes" is a good example.)  Despite this, Repentless is solid output from these speed metal veterans.

#12 - Amorphis - Under the Red Cloud
Nuclear Blast Records



Yet another worthy installment from Finland's Amorphis.  This one doesn't have the immediate impact that "Circle" did for me.  Under the Red Cloud falls more in line with the sound that Amorphis has been crafting over the years where "Circle" had some different elements.  Not to mention it was their heaviest album since the early years.  Red Cloud is still full of catchy songs and even some moments that remind me of Elegy.  A great album!

#11 - Demonical - Black Flesh Redemption
Agonia Records



This is actually an EP release but I couldn't not include it in my list.  Demonical walk amongst kings when it comes to modern Swedish death metal.  4 albums, some split releases and an EP with not one single falter.  This little gem provides 17+ mins of catchy guitar hooks, tasteful drums fills and Sverker Widgren's solid vocal delivery.  If you love Swedish DM and haven't heard of Demonical, you need to change this asap.

#10 - Orphans of Dusk - Revenant
Hypnotic Dirge / Solitude Productions



Orphans of Dusk are a young international band that caught me by surprise.  Technically this is a 2014 EP release but Hypnotic Dirge and Solitude Productions released it on CD this year.  Orphans combine the soothing sounds of Type O Negative with death doom acts like early My Dying Bride and Katatonia.  The result is an epic, dark and creative soundscape of auditory bliss.  I also have to mention the snare on this recording sounds amazing.  Very impressive first release from these guys.

#9 - Unrest - Grindcore
Unspeakable Axe Records



There's only a small handful of grindcore releases that I gave a shit about this year and Unrest is at the top of the pile.  The aptly titled Grindcore album is nod to classic bands like Nasum, early Napalm Death and Terrorizer.  I love how each song seamlessly flows into the next.  Reminds me of the first time I heard Inhale/Exhale.  I highly recommend this album.  In fact, I'm going to go as far as saying this is my favorite grind release in years.

#8 - Grave - Out of Respect for the Dead
Century Media Records



One of the most consistent (and awesome) bands out there; Grave return with another slab of death metal from beyond the tomb.  This one has a similar vibe to 2012's Endless Procession of Souls with mid to fast paced songs mixed with dark doomy passages.  The riffs are classic DM style with enough finesse to keep things interesting.  Once again produced by Ola Lindgren who seems to be stepping it up as a producer and engineer.  Glad to see one of the innovators of the genre staying relevant and showing the new generation how it's done.

# 7 - Fear Factory - Genexus
Nuclear Blast Records



The first 2 singles didn't really catch my ear but after spinning this a few times in the car, I was hooked.  Genexus sounds like the album they should have made after Obsolete.  Tracks like Dielectric, Regenerate and Expiration Date cause me to reach for the repeat button.  Their last album was mostly a write off but Genexus is a damn fine release.

# 6 - Cattle Decapitation - The Anthropocene Extinction
Metal Blade Records



All the same ingredients as Monolith of Inhumanity but the recipe has been slightly modified to taste.  I like that they added more of the melodic sections which really made Monolith shine.  The minor snag here is that this album doesn't offer you anything fresh; which isn't always an issue but Cattle have somewhat based their career on this album-to-album evolution.  Curious to see where they go from here.

# 5 - Ghost - Meliora
Loma Vista Recordings



Ghost are one of those polarizing bands.  I don't expect everyone to like them but I think people spend too much energy looking for the negative and miss the fact that Ghost write some damn catchy songs.  Meliora employs elements from both their debut and sophomore albums but with a more modern touch.  The also have some heavier almost doom like moments which is a nice compliment.  A few of the tracks took me some time to get into (Spirit, Mummy Dust) but overall this is one of my favorite albums to sing along too. 

#4 - Sulphur Aeon - Gateway to the Antisphere
VAN Records



Germany's Sulphur Aeon deliver another monolithic and horrifying glimpse into the chthonic universe.  These guys do a brilliant job of producing a nightmarish atmosphere with their music.  I like the way they infuse melody into their dark and sometimes chaotic songs.  The production on Gateway to the Antisphere has that cavernous quality but the instruments are slightly more intelligible than their last album.  I do wish the kick drum had a bit more presence but the snare and toms make up for it.  Like Desolate Shrine, Sulphur Aeon is best enjoyed at home with the volume turned to 11.


# 3 - Crypt Sermon - Out of the Garden
Dark Descent Records



Traditional doom is usually not my thing but man I really love this album!  What's most interesting about Crypt Sermon is that many of their riffs are structured around 2 rhythm guitars playing similar but distinctly different harmonies.  On top of that we have Brook Wilson's amazing vocals.  You would think this guy spent an entire career doing this.  Pretty impressive considering they only released a demo prior to Out of the Garden.  Definitely a band to watch out for. 

#2 - Horrendous - Anareta
Dark Descent





After Ecdysis, I had some pretty big expectations for this.  In fact I wasn't too sure what to expect.  Anareta is not as instantly gripping as it's predecessor.  If I had made this list back in October, it probably wouldn't be on it.  Many of the same elements are present here but with a more technical and progressive feel.  The HM-2 is gone replaced with a cleaner tone which works better in this context.  From a musicianship and production perspective, Horrendous has crafted their masterpiece.  Just listen to the track Stillborn Gods and you can hear what Horrendous is all about.  While I can't say this is my favorite offering from them, this is undoubtedly a fantastic record.

# 1 - Wolfheart - Shadow World
Spinefarm Records



Somehow Wolfheart managed to out do themselves and make an even better album than Winterborn (which also kicked some serious fuckin' ass!)  Front man and mastermind Tuomas Saukkonen is one of the most hardworking and talented musicians out there and it really shows on Shadow World.  All of the same fundamentals that make his projects great are present here but everything has been turned up a notch.  Glad to see him working with drummer Joonas Kauppinen again as he's one of the more stylish players in the scene.  I can't say enough good about Shadow World.  A modern masterpiece to these ears.

Honorable Mentions:

Thulcandra - Ascension Lost
Napalm Records

 

Third album from this melodic black metal band from Germany who think they're from Sweden.  While a lot of their riffs are reminiscent of Dissection's style, I feel like Thulcandra are starting to develop their own identity with Ascension Lost.  Some impressive multi-layered guitar work going on throughout every track.  A very good album!

Bodyfarm - Battle Breed
Cyclone Empire



Some really great Asphyx/Hail of Bullets/Bolt Thrower esq death metal from the Netherlands.  Bodyfarm keep things simple but know how to craft a catchy song.  Some parts of Battle Breed remind me of mid era Hypocrisy which is a definite win for me.  Great guitar tone here as well. 

Disappointments:

Napalm Death - Apex Predator - Easy Meat
Nile - What Should Not Be Unearthed
Skinless - Only the Ruthless Remain
Kataklysm - Of Ghosts and Gods
The Kill - Kill Them…All
Entrails - Obliteration

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