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Top Albums of 2015, by Andrew Sacher

baroness1

2015 was my favorite year for music overall in a while. It was one of those years where I had over 20 albums that I thought were top 10 material (which makes making year-end lists hard, but life more enjoyable), and one where I found it impossible to stick to one or two genres of music with so much good happening across the board. Metal was no exception. My taste in metal leans towards the more straight-up rock side and the hardcore-leaning stuff, so you’ll notice my list has a bias towards those things. If that’s not really your cup of tea, check out one of the many other IO lists and you’re sure to find something you dig. If it is, and you think I left out something I’d like, let me know in the comments! Maybe I just haven’t heard it yet.

—Andrew Sacher

Honorable Mentions:

15. Red Death – Permanent Exile (Grave Mistake, USA)
14. Crypt Sermon – Out of the Garden (Dark Descent, USA)
13. Ufomammut – Ecate (Neurot, Italy)
12. High On Fire – Luminiferous (eOne Music, USA)
11. Horrendous – Anareta (Dark Descent, USA)

torche

10. Torche – Restarter (Relapse, USA)

After getting increasingly poppier on their last few albums (which, for what it’s worth, I take absolutely no issue with), Torche dialed up the badassery and put out their heaviest release since 2007’s In Return EP. It’s about as long as their last two full lengths, but with just 10 songs and most of them on the faster side, it feels shorter, tighter, and trimmed of any fat. Restarter‘s got some of the most in-your-face ass kickers they’ve ever written like the addictive “Loose Men,” but it also often has them at their most psychedelic. Not that Torche haven’t had the term “stoner metal” thrown at them for their whole career, but they’ve rarely (if ever) been as downright trippy as they are here.

elder
9. Elder – Lore (Armageddon Shop, USA)

Elder’s third album moves them on just a bit from traditional doom into another sound from that same era: the proggy hard rock of bands like UFO, Armageddon, Budgie, and at times a little Led Zeppelin. They filter that sound through just enough modern sludge to keep it from being a genre workout, but it’s also enough of a throwback that your cool uncle who saw Deep Purple on the In Rock tour might dig it too. The record is five songs that clock in just shy of an hour, and this thing has riffs for days. Any given song on Lore has more insta-classic riffage than some bands manage on an entire album. It’s the kind of record I could picture some kid hearing and wanting to learn to play the whole thing. Every generation needs records like that, and we’re lucky to have this one.

noisem

8. Noisem – Blossoming Decay (A389, USA)

It was clear that the young Baltimore band Noisem were a force from day one, but their first album felt too much like a love letter to their influences (Slayer, mostly) for me to feel any real impact from it. The last two years have done a lot of good for Noisem though, and this year’s Blossoming Decay kicks my ass every time. It’s not like they stopped listening to ’80s thrash and crossover bands, but they never really feel indebted to a particular one. On top of that, the production is clearer, the songs are stronger, and the album makes time for more than just mile-a-minute thrash. “Hostile End – Hollow Life” ends with a passage of droning dissonance that leads right into the pounding doom of “Cascade Of Scars.” When they pick the speed back up again after that, it only hits harder.

bosse-de-nage

7. Bosse-de-Nage – All Fours (Profound Lore, USA)

USBM has seen a lot of bands reach outside of the genre for influences, but Bosse-de-Nage might be the only one to consistently get Slint comparisons. Here they go full Spiderland on parts of the nine-minute “Washerwoman,” and they find plenty of other ways to get unconventional too. The vocals often sound like the work of a world-weary hardcore band, and the music can go from ambience to uplifting melodies to evil riffs, sometimes in the same song. I could see a black metal purist scoffing at all of this, but adhering to purism is how things get boring. All Fours is anything but.

lomaprieta

6. Loma Prieta – Self Portrait (Deathwish, USA)

Okay so they’re more screamo than metal, but it’s not like Loma Prieta don’t have a foot in this world. They share a producer with two other bands on this list (Jack Shirley) and like one of those bands used to be, they’re on Deathwish. Plus this is raw, desolate stuff, unlike the prettier direction some of the bigger screamo bands have been taking lately. Some of it’s crushingly heavy, like “Net Gain” and the sludgy parts of “Nostalgia,” though they do find time for delicate atmospheres and a few catchy choruses too. Whatever mode they’re in, there’s a serious desperation to the music. They sound like the world is ending while they’re playing, which is what the best and most influential bands in this genre have always done.

locrian

5. Locrian – Infinite Dissolution (Relapse, USA)

Chicago’s consistently great Locrian continue to diversify their sound with Infinite Dissolution, one of the hardest records to categorize that I’ve heard this year. There’s black metal, post rock, industrial, synth-driven drone, and more worked into this album, and it never sticks to any one sound for too long. It’s actually highly accessible music even though it refuses to follow any kind of formula, and it’s also still harsh music even though it has so much beauty. It can function as background music better than most albums on this list… but it still deserves to be played loud.

napalmdeath

4. Napalm Death – Apex Predator – Easy Meat (Century Media, UK)

It’s always an amazing feeling when a veteran band makes a new album that ranks among their best work, and that’s exactly what grindcore legends Napalm Death did this year with Apex Predator – Easy Meat. In my review of the New York show they played earlier this year, I compared them to Swans, whose shirt Barney was wearing on stage. Not because the new album sounds like them at certain points (it does), but because both bands were making groundbreaking music in the 1980s and continuing to sound vital in the 2010s. Granted, no one in today’s lineup played on the influential Scum, but it’s still the same members they’ve had since ’91. (It’s an impressive feat on its own that those guys haven’t gone more than three years without a new album in that whole time.) The noise elements here are great, as is the technical fretwork, the production, and Barney’s chaotic screaming that has the urgency of a guy half his age. It’s one hell of an album.

baroness2

3. Baroness – Purple (Abraxan Hymns, USA)

I’ve loved all three Baroness records leading up to this one so my anticipation was high, but I was anxious about it too. It followed the album that began splitting their fanbase and it has an entirely new rhythm section too (the old one left after their tragic 2012 bus crash). Was it going to be able live up? Well, as you’ve probably guessed by its inclusion at #3 on this list, my answer was “hell yes.” They recorded it with Dave Fridmann, who produced the last 20 years of Flaming Lips albums and helped Thursday move from their post-hardcore roots into more atmospheric territory, and that pairing makes a lot of sense. Whether it was Fridmann’s influence or not, it’s their most full-on prog record to date and pretty heavy on the atmosphere. And though John Baizley’s still using the cleaner singing style he developed on Yellow & Green, the music’s a return to their heavier days. It’s pretty much the culmination of everything the band’s done so far. If you’re a longtime fan, it’s tailor-made to your tastes.

Tribulation

2. Tribulation – Children of the Night (Century Media, Sweden)

No longer trying to recreate the black and death metal the band members were probably raised on, Tribulation have taken their knowledge of those styles, some classic rock, and some glam, and written one of the most alarmingly unique albums to come out this year in any genre. The vocals are still harshly screamed and the band is still wearing corpse paint at their shows and in promo photos, but this is pop music through and through. (Those hooks! They are SERIOUS hooks!) They may want to look like Watain, but in some bizarro world where Johannes Andersson’s croak was marketable, these songs could be on the radio. The album is home to my favorite metal song of the year by a long shot, “Melancholia,” and I’ve used that song as hype-up music this year as much as I’ve used Drake. Children has gained Tribulation comparisons to Ghost (who they’re rumored to share a member with), but the band it reminds me of most is Kvelertak. Both combine extreme metal with the kinds of bands who top “VH1’s Greatest Hard Rock Artists” lists, both are endlessly catchy, and neither sound quite like anything else right now.

deafheaven

1. Deafheaven – New Bermuda (ANTI-, USA)

Yeah it’s my #1 pick and yeah it’s sooo obvious and yeah I should probably go listen to Mayhem or something. But the truth is once the drums cut out on album opener “Brought To The Water” and Kerry starts chugging, it becomes overwhelmingly obvious to me that I’m about to dive in to my favorite metal album of the year. The others didn’t even come close. I liked Sunbather, maybe just a tiny bit less than some critics did, but I’m firmly convinced that this one tops it. The wall of sound stuff is still here, but those air guitar-worthy chugs, the wah solo, and the sparkly clean post-rock parts make this a way more varied album than anything you could safely call “blackgaze.” The heavy parts are heavier, the soft parts are softer, and the whole thing whips by in a way Deafheaven albums never did. Maybe it’ll end up being a majorly important album to the history of metal or maybe it won’t, but I know this much: It’s so damn fun to listen to.

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