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Top Albums of 2015, by Rhys Williams

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Another year comes and goes. I must confess that I did not listen to new music as much this year as I normally do; life got in the way in a big way. Still, I did manage to keep abreast of the general zeitgeist, and discovered some truly excellent albums within this year’s crop. In particular, this was a good year for black metal, at least from my perspective, and, unlike last year or 2013, less for legacy acts (in spite of My Dying Bride, Napalm Death and Slayer’s excellent offerings.) It was a good year for albums that truly spoke to me emotionally, as opposed to last year’s emphasis on fun and irreverence (for instance, Mgla, Panopticon, and Revenge versus Iron Reagan, Goatwhore, and Body Count). So, with all that said, here’s what I thought truly inspired me in 2015. May 2016 be as fruitful and less busy.

Rhys Williams

Honorable Mentions:

20. Tsjuder – Antiliv (Season of Mist Records, USA)
19. Slayer – Repentless (Nuclear Blast Records, Denmark)
18. Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats – The Night Creeper (Rise Above Records, UK)
17. Black Breath – Slaves Beyond Death (Southern Lord
Records, USA)
16. Tombstalker – Black Crusades (Shadow Kingdom, USA)
15. VHOL – Deeper Than Sky (Profound Lore Records, USA)
14. Mamaleek – Via Dolorosa (The Flenser Records, USA)
13. Sunn O))) – Kannon (Southern Lord Records, USA)
12. Weedeater – Goliathan (Season of Mist Records, USA)
11. Leviathan – Scar Sighted (Profound Lore Records, USA)

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10. High on Fire – Luminiferous (eOne Music, USA)

I’d never speak ill of High On Fire, it’s just a matter of how inspired they sound that would dictate where on my year-end list they would end up. And Luminiferous is pretty damn inspired. Matt Pike belts out his tales of high dark fantasy as if he’s summoning the elder gods, and I swear the man can never run out of riffs. There’s no mistaking his style or his gargantuan guitar tone, and on Luminiferous they provide some of the biggest rock-out moments since Blessed Black Wings. Smoke up, you’ll need it before handling this beast.

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9. MGLA – Exercises in Futility (Northern Heritage/No Solace Records, Poland)

MGLA are anything but futile, despite what the title here would have you believe. Rather, they are one if not the, most vital and singular bands currently performing black metal. This is black metal as it is truly defined, a streamlined assault of pessimism carried on razorblade guitars and thunder-god percussion. Seeing this band live is the visual representation of their sound: singular and unflinching, clad in matching leather outfits that scorn the exterior world. Consider this latest record an “exercise in brutality” instead.

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8. All Hell – The Red Sect (Horror Pain Gore Death Productions, USA)

For one of the most influential bands of extreme metal history, very few bands actually bother to outright synthesize Celtic Frost, instead taking partial influence but stopping short of going full Warrior. All Hell is one of those few. Their latest effort, The Red Sect, plays like an HD reimagining of Morbid Tales, a little more muscular and with a unique vocal flair, but bearing the same punk rock spirit in its Venomous early black metal stylings. The drums keep perfect time, no flair or off-kilter wankery needed, and guitars are just caveman chords to satisfy the greatest old-school purist. I like to imagine Fenriz hearing this record for the first time, a smile beginning to creep across his bearded face just before he lets out a Tom Warrior-esque “UGH!”

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7. Napalm Death – Apex Predator-Easy Meat (Century Media Records, UK)

Napalm Death continue to move from strength to strength. Like many of the best long-running acts, Napalm Death has grown adept at honing their sound into a precision assault. They know what works, they can move flawlessly, and thus Apex Predator is a lean, mean, eating machine. Barney Greenway’s highly underrated skill as a lyricist is allowed to shine here (the song “Metaphorically Screw You” getting my vote for best song title of 2015), and for guys approaching 50, Harris, Embury, and Herrera can seriously haul ass. Even when they slow down, you still get the sense that it’s all calculated, teasing the listener before the grind rips them apart in much the same way that a cat will toy with its prey before eating it. How befitting of an apex predator.

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6. Khemmis – Absolution (20 Buck Spin Records, USA)

My favorite debut of the year! Absolution is a truly monumental and monolithic slab of epic doom metal that gets literally everything right about epic doom metal, which is a subgenre rarely attempted and even more rarely pulled off. The album art is straight out of a ’70s Tor fantasy novel, the riffs are truly cut from granite, the guitar tone is a perfect mixture of fuzz and crunch, the dual guitar parts are absolutely spot on, and the vocals, which actually deserve the oft-abused label of “soaring,” strike a balance somewhere equidistant from Wino and Messiah Marcolin. A staggering first outing for this relatively new band, here’s hoping future installments will perfect the bombast of Absolution.

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5. Revenge – Behold Total Rejection (Season of Mist Records, Canada)

I like “war metal,” but often have trouble taking a lot of it seriously since so much of it is ridiculously cartoonish in its adolescent warmongering. Revenge has fallen victim to this over-the-top anger-buffoonery in the past; however, their latest record is nothing to chuckle at. Behold Total Rejection means business, and sinister business at that. It’s abrasive as always, but there seems an evil focus here, a dark hand guiding the vitriol as opposed to the unbridled chaos of previous efforts. J. Read and comrades still bring the fallout guitars and maschinegewehr drums, but they bring in what could almost be dynamic range. The songs sometimes slow, sometimes stop, sometimes switch tempos on a dime, as if moving accordingly to a malevolent master plan. It sounds like the mind of someone who has beheld total rejection and embraced it, the mental static of the spree killer concrete in his convictions. In a year that seemed never ending in its acts of wanton, senseless mass violence, Behold Total Rejection hits uncomfortably close to the soul. You may find yourself thinking about it for quite a while after you listen.

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4. My Dying Bride – Feel the Misery (Peaceville Records, UK)

I wouldn’t call this My Dying Bride’s “comeback,” per se: I’ve been a fan of MDB’s entire catalog and in fact thought quite highly of 2012’s A Map of All Our Failures. However, I hold that Feel The Misery is their strongest record since 2004’s Songs of Darkness, Words of Light. Feel The Misery is MDB firing on all cylinders and drawing from all aspects of their long career to create a real beast of a record, an emotional juggernaut that combines Song’s gothicism with nihilistic riffage that wouldn’t feel out of place on Turn Loose The Swans. Often-imitated, never truly copied, My Dying Bride remains the great and gloomy Crom atop the mountain of gothic doom.

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3. Cattle Decapitation – The Anthropocene Extinction (Metal Blade Records, USA)

With their 2015 effort, Cattle Decapitation have released the greatest death metal record of the year, if not their career. As the latest installment of a sort-of trilogy begun with The Harvest Floor, Anthropocene explores the quickening demise of humanity with a wild relish. Travis Ryan has perfected the choked half-singing he introduced on Monolith of Inhumanity, and the band continues to mix expert riffing with unpredictable turns. Anthropocene is a dynamic, forceful record, a worthy soundtrack for our swiftly approaching extinction.

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2. Nechochwen – Heart of Akamon (Nordvis Records, USA)

Hopefully by now I don’t need to do any more preaching about how folk metal is a serious subgenre and not just cheesy renfair soundtracks. Anyone at the end of 2015 who still disagrees need only be referred to this record. Nechochwen have released the (second) best folk metal record of the year, seamlessly blending Native American and Appalachian traditional music with some seriously skull-pounding black metal and coming up with a truly evocative work. Heart of Akamon is beautiful and terrible, and there’s a weight of sadness in its tales of a lost Native American past, traditional black metal weltschmerz viewed through the lens of a people who, perhaps, would feel it more tangibly than any others. Absolutely breathtaking.

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1. Panopticon – Autumn Eternal (Nordvis Records, USA)

Panopticon’s latest can be seen as the latest piece of a somewhat seasonal trend in theme, starting with the humid summer of Kentucky and continuing with the frigid winter of Roads to the North. Autumn Eternal is, as with every Panopticon record, a perfect balance of new innovation and old tricks that combine to create the latest evocative offering of Americana Metal. It’s like Drudkh playing murder ballads, sad and wistful in that cool, lonesome way that only October and November can be. While it may not be my favorite Panopticon record, it easily flew to the top of my year-end list from first listen. A fitting conclusion to a wild but exhilarating year.

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