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Even more so than last year, 2015 yielded a slew of incredible records from across nearly every spectrum. Admittedly, I had a hard time selecting a simple ten, as there were dozens this year that struck a specific chord with me, whether it be emotionally or aesthetically. Some moved me as an earthquake would the Earth’s axis, while others simply invoked pure enjoyment. Whichever the case may be, please enjoy this list of records that turned my head and heart in every which way this year.

—Bruce Hardt

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Honorable Mentions:

18. Leviathan - Scar Sighted (Profound Lore, USA)
17. Old Wounds - The Suffering Spirit (Good Fight, USA)
16. Birds in Row - Personal War (Deathwish Inc., USA)
15. Heat Dust - Heat Dust (Flenser, USA)
14. Twitching Tongues - Disharmony (Metal Blade, USA)
13. G.L.O.S.S. - Demo (Not Normal, USA)
12. Harm’s Way - Rust (Deathwish Inc., USA)
11.Turnstile - Nonstop Feeling] (Reaper, USA)

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10. xRepentancex - The Sickness of Eden (Carry the Weight, UK)
In the vein of classic vegan, environmentalist hardcore like Earth Crisis and Dropdead, xRepentancex’s inaugural full length is a throwback to '90s metalcore, replete with the vitriol that their subject matter imbues. Furious in its pace, The Sickness of Eden is electrifying and awe-inducing. I came across this at the recommendation of a friend in my search for solid hardcore records and it came highly recommended. I was not disappointed. Their candor throughout the album’s all too brief eight tracks is striking and it burrows into you deeply. As a vegetarian (working on the veganism. It’s hard work.) conscientious of the horrors of the meat industry, I appreciated the conciseness of their message. For a casual fan interested in swelling, bombastic metalcore, look no further than xRepentencex.

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9. Panopticon - Autumn Eternal (Bindrune Recordings, USA)

If Wrest strives for discomfort and sorrow, then Panopticon’s mastermind, Austin Lunn, seeks to induce wonder and contemplation. Each of Panopticon’s more recent albums,--2012 Kentucky and last year’s Roads to the North--combed the wildernesses of the land to invoke a sense of primal beauty that few can match. On Autumn Eternal, a closure to this thematic trilogy, Lunn is successful in folk sweeps and blast beat overdoses. Replete with his signature poignant guitar play, Lunn imbues his sixth LP with a fervent spirit that was used sparingly on earlier endeavors. This is by far the best material Panopticon has ever produced, or possibly may ever. Get lost in it.

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8. Blistered - The Poison of Self Confinement (6131, USA)

Hardcore spat out a shitload of solid records this year, among them Forced Order’s Vanished Crusade and Harm’s Way’s Rust, but standing tall amid all of them was Blistered’s debut LP. Punishing is the most accurate adjective that can applied to this ten track blur of iron-gavelled political astuteness. Invoking the heavier bits of mid-aughts metalcore with classical hardcore aesthetics, Blistered haven’t just come with guns ablazing; they’re outright burning everything to the ground.

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7. The Body & Thou - You, Whom I Have Always Hated (Thrill Jockey, USA)

The second collaboration between this pair of doom titans following 2014’s Released from Love (also available at the link below), You, Who I Have Always Hated offers six tracks of the megaton heaviness, though that is an understatement in all honesty. Having had the privilege to see both bands on stage at once at this year’s Southwest Terror Fest, I can only say that the recorded versions do them the right justice. This album hangs over you like a noosed thundercloud, with little actual joy to be found outside of its stylistic leanings, instead offering a biting catharsis that rattles your bones with its menacing doom. Both bands, on their own, offer a bleak but rewarding throughout their respective discographies. Both are journeys I highly recommend you embark on.

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6. Cloud Rat - Qliphoth (Halo of Flies, USA)

One of my earliest favorites of the year, Qliphoth opened my eyes to the breath of fresh air that is Michigan’s Cloud Rat. Juxtaposing beauty and fury, the album’s seventeen tracks enrapture, musically and lyrically. Twisting the feminine into the masculine, and vice versa, Cloud Rat punctuates their impassioned grindcore with dream-like stretches of shoegaze made all the more powerful by vocalist Madison Marshall’s lyrics. Qliphoth is intimidating but also eye opening, and one would be wise to keep those eyes (and ears) open when getting lost in its grandeur.

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5. Deafheaven - New Bermuda (ANTI-, USA)

If 2013’s Sunbather was a bouquet consisting of sunshine and twinkling riffs, then this Californian quintet’s follow up would be that same bouquet, except half the flowers are withered. New Bermuda boasts much of the shimmering shoegaze that made its predecessor one of the prettiest-sounding metal albums ever, except we also find Deafheaven delving into more metal territory (gasp!). The riffs find themselves less prone to wander into a euphoric dance, instead seizing into a thrashing coma where the dream and nightmare waltz chaotic. If Sunbather was divisive, New Bermuda may just have the power vested in it to marry the naysayers to its vast fold.

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4. Of Feather and Bone - Embrace the Wretched Flesh (Good Fight, USA)

Following a pair of stunning EPs and a split, Colorado’s Of Feather and Bone planted their blade firmly in the pleasure center of my brain with their debut full-length. A melting pot of crust punk, hardcore, grindcore and black metal, Embrace the Wretched Flesh is ten tracks of perhaps the most violent and nasty material heavy music has offered this year. When I say heavy, think of two collapsing stars flying into each other at the fastest speed that the galaxy can muster. Got that envisioned? Good, then you have a the loosest grasp of just how colossal this album’s sound can be.

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3. Ceremony - The L-Shaped Man (Matador, USA)

Ceremony is a band that refuses to stay in one place, having shifted from powerviolence to hardcore to whatever Zoo was to the post-punk of this album. One can connect the dots if they try hard enough, but one thing is clear, Ceremony are a bunch of punks out to do whatever they can with the genre, as an umbrella term. I didn’t like Zoo, and I felt, selfishly, that it was a betrayal to all the band had put out until that paint. Despite my several attempts, I couldn’t get into it. That being said, I approached the The L-Shaped Man cautiously. When viewing/hearing their pre-release video of “The Separation” and “The Understanding,” I quickly threw caution to the wind. Eleven tracks of Joy Division worship, Ceremony add their signature aggressive flair, however subdued it may appear here. “Your Life in France” bounces while the aforementioned tracks immerse themselves in starlit gloom, where other parts enjoy the surf rock lull that permeated 2010’s seminal Ronhert Park. Ceremony may not be producing the furious powerviolence of yesterday, but they have aged like a fine, very moody wine.

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2. Sunn O))) - Kannon (Southern Lord, USA)

There is nothing in metal more pure than the divine experience that is Sunn O))). Last year they collaborated with Ulver and Scott Walker, while their last non-collaborative work, 2009 Monoliths and Dimensions saw them weaving their drone with experimentation. Kannon is this duo at their most pure in years, coming together with only Mayhem’s Attila Csihar joining them to add his ominous croak to their Stephen O’Malley and Greg Anderson’s all-encompassing sonic rituals. We find the trio at their least intimidating here, with their drawn out heft giving way to a delicate, sustained melodicism that bears a more defined shape than prior tracks. “Kannon 2” is the best section of the whole piece, where Gregorian chants attempt to uphold the lofty cathedral that the guitars conjure into being. Of all the tracks SunnO))) has produced, this perhaps is the best example of the cult-like following that they have invoked. If ever there was music to get lost in, this is it, so throw this on at full blast, lay on your floor and let those frequencies and vibrations possess you.

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1. Cult Leader - Lightless Walk (Deathwish Inc., USA)

Since its October release, Lightless Walk has been on near constant spin. I’ve even gone so far as to inexplicably purchase its cassette form. It’s that good, a hyper violent masterpiece of crust punk sewn with appendages of death and sludge metal. Outside of Sunn O))), this has been among the most moving albums I’ve heard this year. From the blistering opening “Great I Am” to the deeply sad title track, Cult Leader’s first full length is as energetic as it is lethargic. The production, courtesy of Converge’s Kurt Ballou, is towering for a punk record, with its sound rumbling through every pore on your body. Lightless Walk invades yet it is invited, hurts what it heals and heals what it hurts. There were very few collections that I came across this year as earnest as what Cult Leader has done here. There is much that can be said of this album, but it is best that you experience its power for yourself.

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