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2015 was a huge year, the biggest of my life really, just not for music. I started out 2015 as a nervous college student that was about to become a first time father in his late 30s and as expected, fatherhood was more work, adjustment and just plain struggle than I could have ever been prepared for. Any projects I had going that were not paying the bills were doomed as soon as I looked into those little eyes. About 6 months following that (just when I was starting to get good at dadding) my wife and I became first time homeowners. Biggest year.

This all meant that there was little time to keep up with new releases. I did make note of a few that really impressed the shit out of me that I listened to whenever possible, and a number that I made note of, or some that I expected would be very good, but just never got the time back to give them a deeper listen where I could absorb what was going on. Music listening became a passing fancy. It became something that happened mostly in the car, and when I am driving with my wife in the car, I found it more useful to put something on that I was dead-familiar with so it could kinda be in the background and I didn’t feel I was missing something. If I was registering “best” by amount of plays and the rules bent that way, this would be the 23rd year that Entombed’s Clandestine made my top 10 list.

Sadly, a lot got past me in 2015. By all reports, it was a very strong year for heavy metal releases and I greatly enjoyed what I got the opportunity to listen to, but I wasn’t allowing myself to let much sink in. My focus had to remain elsewhere because I was successfully achieving goals and I wasn’t about to give up an afternoon a week to give music critical attention if it meant that even one of those goals remained unmet. There were albums that I listened to several times, like the Shrine Of Insanibilis album, yet didn’t remember a thing about. Horna is one of my favorite black metal bands of all time and I just didn’t absorb Hengen Tulet no matter how many times I had it on. I was completely distracted for most of the year. This is the first year in a long time I have zero opinions to offer on the hot records of the day, and if I did, it would be completely dishonest bullshittery. No Deafheaven, no Tau Cross, no Panopticon or Horrendous. Everyone’s pet “albums of the year” are just something I am going to have to make note of and check out in 2016. For all these reasons, my “runners up” are loose and unordered. I was stoked as fuck on them, but just didn’t get the time to really dedicate to listen to them. 2015 is the year that I dropped the ball on metal.

One observation I did make was that the novelty of “chicks playing metal” seems to be wearing off. There are enough high-profile women in metal bands being taken seriously as musicians and vocalists that maybe heavy metal will finally shrug off the image of 1980’s misogyny. This is no surprise to any of us from within the metal community who have been seeing women on stage for years, but for those outside the community who still equate heavy metal to hyper-sexual videos for “Girls Girls Girls” and “Here I Go Again.” Yes, that was 25 years ago, we moved on long ago.

—Skid Rÿche

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Honorable Mentions:

Black Twilight Circle - Serpent Sermons and Desert Dances (Crepusculo Negro, USA)
BTC are hands down, the most interesting thing to happen to USBM since Leviathan and Krieg saved it from a very corny death in the early '00s. If you are familiar with some of the acts like Volahn, Kallathon, Arizmenda and the like, then you can expect the same high quality raw, yet epic, lysergic black metal that you already know. Essentially, this is a 4 way split compilation of four long-form songs, each from a different act, but the Black Twilight Circle acts all share so many members that it might as well just be a solid album, not unlike the Tliltic Tlapoyauak double album comp they released a few years ago.

Sannhet - Revisionist (The Flenser, USA)
Queazy instrumental post-black metal that verges on beautiful. Probably better than Deafheaven, but I don’t really know because I have never listened to Deafheaven.

Krallice - Ygg Huur (Self-released, USA)
Krallice dropped a surprise new album this year. I dug it, but didn’t dig into it, which is something I usually like to do with new Krallice albums. Still one of the most creative and exciting acts happening in the US metal scene.

Theories - Remission (Metal Blade, USA)
One of the best grind-oriented albums in recent memory. Always a destructive live unit. I think I listened to this album 4 times after I brought the LP home. It’s a short album. That was a pretty good night.

Shroud Of The Heretic - Unorthodox Equilibrium (Iron Bonehead, USA)
Really loved the Revelations In Alchemy full length, kept forgetting I had this one to listen to. I would recommend it to anyone who likes murky death metal, much more than all that other murky death metal that's been going around lately.

Goatsnake - Black Snake Blues (Southern Lord, USA)
The masters return. I did listen to this album a number of times. Goatsnake are kind of like My Bloody Valentine in the regard that on the rare occasions that they release new material (not at such a protracted pace obviously) their footprint is so deep and indelible that you instantly recognize the singular nature of their music and those that followed in their absence just look like followers.

Khemmis - Absolution (20- Buck Spin, USA)
Probably the most “promising” of this list of promising releases of 2015 that I think may be pretty darned good when I get around to listening to them when my daughter enters kindergarten. I bought it unheard from the record store because I saw some glowing reviews of it. Never heard of them, but I have learned to trust 20 Buck Spin implicitly and this album only proves that 20 Buck Spin absolutely killed the game with their release schedule this past year. Strong melodic content and weighty “classic” doom made 2015 a good year. Khemmis really knocked me flat upon first listen and I am hoping for much more out of them.

Uncle Acid - The Night Creeper (Rise Above, UK)
Whooda thunk I’d ever find an album on Rise Above while passing through Best Buy? I had to get it just on principle and it is excellent as I am sure many already know.

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10.Slægt - Ildsvanger/Beautiful And Damned (Necroshine, Denmark)

Twin nomination in my bottom-of-the-top spot. I still love the raw punk elements that early '90s 2nd-wave black metal had and many acts have since lost with triggered drums and slick production. Slægt’s put out two releases this year. Ildsvanger being the earlier of the two, and the one that really appeals to that early 90’s aesthetic. It’s abrasive and filthy sounding, but with fantastic riffs and compelling songwriting, eschewing the typical repetitive nature of many other TNBM fetishists and going instead more for a rocking, punk-like push to the songs. Their Beautiful And Damned EP was released in the last few months though, and while it is more modern, cleaner production, that sheen does not affect the songwriting at all. It is still as propulsive and compelling as ever, but there is no sense that their 8 track is going to catch fire and melt mid-recording. I loved them both equally and count Slægt as a new entrant to watch out for in the future.

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9. Lucifer - I (Rise Above, Denmark, UK)

Lucifer is absolutely ruling the very-oversaturated “occult '70s metal” tag. They are intensely heavy as well, which cannot be said for some other bands that seem to be dialing back the gain for more of a '70s sizzle than a roar in an almost Opeth-like attempt to distance themselves from much of the last 40 years, while adding Hammond organs and the occasional flute part. Lucifer skip the freak-folk elements, preferring to keep the knife to your throat.

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

Raging politically and socially motivated punk/grind/noise from Michigan that totally takes me back to seeing grinding Michigan bands like Jihad and Parallax View in the late '90s/early '00s.

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7. Killing Joke - Pylon (Spinefarm, UK)

Nearly 40 years into their career, Killing Joke is making some of their most vital and crucial music to date. Iron Maiden is doing nothing of the sort.

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6. Marriages - Salome (Sargent House, USA)

This album from members of Red Sparowes (who I am not personally familiar with) is beautiful in that 4AD way without being another bullshit “shoegaze” act. Chelsea Wolfe really solidified her position in the hearts of dark metal fans everywhere, but Marriages really deserves more copy as well.

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5. Demon Lung - A Dracula (Candlelight, USA)

Colorado doom quartet follows up what I feel to be one of the most overlooked releases of the past half-decade (2012’s The Hundredth Name) with a concept album centered around the story of the Juan Lopez Moctezuma classic '70s Satan-sploitation film Alucarda. One of my favorite films, I immediately recognized what they were doing and had to hear it, so I actually bought this from Bandcamp rather than sweating a publicist for a promo. They still don’t seem to be getting the press they deserve. Fenriz did really like this album, I did make note of that. Me and Fenriz are on the same page. Hi five to me.

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4. Obsequaie - Aria Of Vernal Tombs (20 Buck Spin, USA)

20 Buck Spin are straight killing the game this year. So many good releases. Obsequiae released one of the most compelling black metal albums I have heard this century. That’s not just this year, that’s the last 15 years. “Obscure” in the best possible ways, while not sacrificing melody or atmosphere. Aria Of Vernal Tombs is nearly perfect in an era of fashionable style-over-substance black metal.

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3. Royal Thunder - Crooked Doors (Relapse, USA)

Deeply moving, emotional, layered, and mature are weird words to be expressing about a metal album. In a perfect world, it would be the only heavy metal breakup album of note in history. Maybe it actually is. They took some flak from the metal community for not being particularly heavy, but this record digs down into the bones of heavy metal to be able to tell it’s tale. Anyone who has ever had to go through some of these situations would feel these songs. That is also weird because usually the situations associated with metal songs have to do with eating disemboweled human corpses or spilling virgin blood upon an altar. I don’t care how metal you are, you have never eaten a disemboweled human corpse. Maybe you have though, and that would explain why you have never had to get through an awkward relationship with a coworker. You are also a virgin.

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2. Sorcerer - In The Shadow Of The Inverted Cross (Metal Blade, Sweden)

YESSSS!!!! Sorcerer were contemporaries of Candlemass in the '80s Swedish metal scene who were a little late to the game with their demos, then broke up before getting signed or releasing a full length. Those demos were heavily bootlegged and traded by true-metal aficionados and even saw a legitimate release on Brainticket records in the 1990s, but they STILL had to wait for their moment. Apparently 2015 was their moment because they released one of the best classic doom albums in recent memory. Metal Blade saw the possibilities in their stomping, soaring, epic chug and presented their debut full length, while Hammerheart put out a newly-scrubbed 2LP/CD of their demos collection which is a straight banger as well.

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1.Crypt Sermon - Out Of The Garden (Dark Descent, USA)

Holy Shit! Who are these guys? I can only hope this album makes nearly everyone’s top 10 list. Classic doom once again that came out early in the year and went immediately straight to the top of my list. 2015 was a great year for metal, even without getting to listen to much of it, picking fave releases for the year was like shooting fish in a bucket. Even that being said though, Crypt Sermon absolutely owned it for me. Soaring, impassioned vocals, incredible songwriting and STELLAR lead work kept Out Of The Garden firmly seated in that top spot for the entire year.

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