We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again here: there is simply too much good music available these days. Far too much for any single human to seriously consume it all in any significant way and form meaningful opinions on it. In that sense, these kinds of end-of-year lists will always have some serious flaws. Certain albums inevitably gravitate towards critical and popular attention more than others, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy that pushes them to the top while other, just as worthy and valid albums languish in relative obscurity. It’s supposed to be our jobs, as part of the music media, criticism, and tastemaking business, to help shed light and illuminate those kinds of albums to prevent just that, but at the end of the day, we’re humans with lives and jobs and families. So aside from the fact that lists are inherently a wholly subjective experience representative of our personal identities, they’re also inevitably incomplete.
We here at Heavy Blog try to do our best with our lists to balance all of the inherent flaws and pitfalls of the format while still delivering something that looks like an adequate representation of both the year in music and our identity as individuals and as a collective. Sometimes this works out better than others. Our top 50 aggregate list from last year – the first of its kind we’ve done – raised some eyebrows both from readers and even ourselves. At the end of the day though the numbers (mostly) don’t lie. Our system for assembling this list is slightly modified and simplified from last year. Over 20 of our contributing staff members submitted up to 50 of their favorite albums from this year, and each was scored on a sliding scale from 5 to 150, increasingly favoring albums given high rankings. Points were then added up, and the results are the fifty albums you see below.
A few things to note before we get started. First, the competition for albums getting on the list this year was absolutely fierce. 2015 was, by any measure, a simply breathtaking year for music of all sorts, but particularly metal. Every single album you see on this list is 100% worth your time to give a proper listen to, and every single album here, from #50 to #1, were exemplary examples of the absolute best of their given genres and sub-genres. The order of said albums and individual pieces mean far less than the sum of its parts. Second, as we did last year, non-metal albums (ones we’ve covered and ones we have not) were allowed in voting, and you will see some here, from prog-rock to post-rock to jazz and hip-hop. Rest assured though, this is still by-and-large a metal list. And third, we are both firm believers that December is a valid month of the calendar that deserves recognition for its releases, but also recognize that at the end of the day, people want their year-end lists to come, well, at the end of the year and not at the beginning of the next. So even though our list is coming out later than most publications’, we still could not take into account releases coming out in the latter part of this month, which in this case means specifically that Baroness’s heavily-anticipated Purple could not be taken fully into account. We will have our review of it going up later in the week though!
And with that, we bring you our 50 favorite albums from 2015. Be sure to check out our other lists coming throughout the week, which will dive into some of our personal favorites that didn’t quite make the cut, our favorite EPs, and a slew of guest lists that we’re very excited about! And as always: it’s okay to not like thing.
50. Myrkur – M
Myrkur’s rise over the past couple of years has been nothing if not extraordinary. Her gender alone is enough to set her apart from the majority of her counterparts, but it is her transition from the world of pop music to black metal that has garnered such controversy amongst the kvltists. There are arguably no genres further apart than these two, yet Myrkur makes the transition with ease, and so putting the politics and gatekeeping to one side, the real talking point should be how amazing her music is. She expertly fuses post-black metal with folk music and atmospheric elements, beautifully contrasting the purity of her clean vocals with the dissonance inherent in black metal to create something which feels fresh.
Her harsh vocals are visceral and raw, whilst her clean vocals for are equal parts angelic, melancholic and haunting, shape-shifting to rise to whichever task a song demands of her. The album’s greatest strength lies in the eerie, chilling atmosphere which pervades it throughout, the production perfectly complementing the vocals and instrumentation. The record’s peaks and troughs highlight Myrkur’s versatility, bringing to the fore what helps set her apart. Whether it be tremolo picking and double kick drumming accompanied by desperate shrieks, or choral vocals interspersed between morose piano melodies and atmospheric guitars, Myrkur straddles both extremes of the black metal spectrum and, most importantly, she does so brilliantly well.
49. August Burns Red – Found In Far Away Places
That August Burns Red have made such an incredible album at this point in their career is mind-blowing in itself. While they’ve always been a great band, it’s hard to deny that they’ve generally sat in a spot where they were better than pretty much the entirety of metalcore yet they hadn’t been able to transcend it. Given that they also had two lackluster albums in a row before Found in Far Away Places, their seventh album being their best is quite surprising. And with this album they have truly found their calling and risen above. With songs that are simultaneously emotional and full of interesting riffs, they’ve shown how great writers they are and how much they have to say.
The abundance of leads that enhance the atmosphere make the album fuller, and the genre-bending interludes make it braver and fresher. Their honesty, their desire to better themselves, every ounce of emotion put to work here shows. It’s as if the band realized their potential at last, after years of experimenting with their sound. It’s not even fair to call them metalcore anymore, as even though their roots are within the genre, the trees they’ve created has grown so much and blossomed with so many varied fruits. the band’s evolution from their debut all the way to this album makes a lot of sense, with ideas throughout their career taken and put together in the perfect collage – Found in Far Away Places is like a “Best of August Burns Red”, but taken to the next level. Every member in the band brings their best performance to date, and the end result is more than the sum of its parts.
48. Colin Stetson & Sarah Neufeld – Never were the way she was
I wasn’t prepared for what Never were the way she was had to offer when I first placed the needle on the record. There’s no denying that Colin Stetson is a phenomenal sax player, and though I was unfamiliar with Sarah Neufeld prior to this project, I was intrigued to learn that she contributed to Arcade Fire’s string arrangements. Yet, while I acknowledged their talents as musicians, my preconception of the album was that it would be too simplistic. After all, wouldn’t it be safe to assume that having just two instruments would limit the album’s sonic scope?
No; not remotely. Sarah and Colin craft more evocatively and spatially consuming compositions as a duo than groups of more than twice their membership. With his continuous breathing techniques and the natural percussion of his baritone sax keys, Colin crafts a dense, rhythmic roar which Sarah flutters over as she bows beauty from her violin strings. It’s captivating not only from a general listening standpoint, but in the practice of pondering how this array of lush instrumentation is being generated by such a sparse orchestra.
As the New Year approaches, Sarah has already announced a solo record, and Colin is long overdue for one of his own. But while I can attempt to be as patient as possible, every listen of Never were the way she was leaves me craving for what else lies within the musicians’ marriage of the minds.
47. Cattle Decapitation – The Anthropocene Extinction
Following up Monolith Of Inhumanity would have left 99% of musicians pissing into the wind but not Cattle Decapitation, no. Riding the wave of such a seminal album, Cattle have adapted the melody and vocal presence of Monolith and churned it all together with the tightest, most ferocious material to grace their discography. The Anthropocene Extinction is wall to wall aggression, finely tuned and uniquely delivered. Travis Ryan and co. have made the Cattle sound so recognisable, anyone that attempts to emulate it will be called out right away. The whirlwind, six movement tracks and blatant subject matter continue to push the voices of this band into the limelight. Playing technical, destructive music is their outlet and while they may have relied on the blueprint of Monolith, this newest addition to the Cattle bloodline deserves the plaudits bestowed upon it. Fucking with the core elements of their sound only improves this band and while many will view this as a continuation of their sound, it does nothing but excite me for where this diabolically deviant band will go from here.
46. So Hideous – Laurestine
I didn’t really understand Laurestine until I saw the fearsome four-piece known as So Hideous perform live. The beautiful swells of orchestral black metal and valleys of post-rock ambience blend into a 40-minute suite of some of the year’s most emotionally captivating music, powered by the sweeping compositions of one Brandon Cruz, a multi-instrumentalist whose ability to create lush, textured tracks is second to none in metal circles. Live, with the backing strings replaced with an extra speaker cabinet specifically for guitar reverb, their music bridges that gap between artists and audience by creating an environment that’s palpably thick with reverberating sound.
Listening to Laurestine after seeing So Hideous perform was an experience unlike any other: I sat alone, headphones on, and let the music wash over me for the album’s perfectly-paced 40 minutes. It was then that it truly clicked with me; the way all of the disparate pieces – the yelled vocals, the orchestration, the crushingly heavy drums, and the excellent guitar and bass work – came together into an album that can truly be called unique in both its intent and execution. Although, as we’ve said, no album is perfect, So Hideous has gotten pretty damn close with this latest outing of theirs.
45. Born of Osiris – Soul Sphere
I had completely given up on Born of Osiris. After having been transfixed by their signature take on progressive metalcore for years preceding their 2013 release, Tomorrow We Die Alive, said album came as a crushing disappointment to me as well as the community as a whole. Abandoning their technical flourish and impossibly tight songwriting in favor of low-end chugs and ice cream truck synths, it seemed that Born of Osiris had finally “sold out” and lost their edge. Thankfully, this was the year they returned to form and proved me wrong.
Soul Sphere, the band’s fourth studio album, is nothing short of a glorious return to form for a band that had, for many, fallen from grace. It is an amalgamation of all of the permutations of their sound they’ve explored in the past, and it’s an improvement upon those sounds as well. Soul Sphere is a massive record that bristles with a power that’s sure to induce lip-curling grins on the faces of listeners. They’ve managed to preserve their low-end heaviness without relying on just a few guitar frets, and they keep it fresh throughout without falling into repetitive chugging. Not only that, but the orchestration behind the riffs has improved significantly, lending a truly epic aura to an already monstrous album. It’s so, so good to have these guys back.
44. Leviathan – Scar Sighted
Jeff Whitehead has had a pretty rough last few years, to say the least, and it reflected in his music. After all, who can forget the misanthropic, misogynistic work of True Traitor, True Whore? It was undoubtedly not his highest point, but, luckily for us, it seems as if now he has come back swinging with Scar Sighted, a record that once again opens it scope to completely hating everybody vs. singling out one single group of people. The album is full of classic Leviathan trademarks, being built around a firm black metal (with hints of death metal) skeleton before drifting into some slightly more odd, at times ambient areas. The album is unrelenting, a reflection of pure, unadulterated misanthropy, a trademark of Whitehead’s, that leaves a tingling shiver shooting down the listener’s spine and making them wonder if they will ever hear such a dark force of hatred ever again. However, at the same time, Scar Sighted shows a maturing Whitehead, one who recognizes the mistakes of his past, and aims to grow from them instead of allowing them to define him. Scar Sighted is truly Leviathan at its best.
43. The Black Dahlia Murder – Abysmal
It’s an odd numbered year so that guaranteed one thing – new The Black Dahlia Murder record. While most, including myself, were left a bit underwhelmed by Everblack in the long run, Abysmal has fucked that up by being the best Dahlia album since Nocturnal. There’s really no debating it, some have tried, the rest will also fail. Every track has THAT unique sound of the Detroit death metallers but they bring way more experimentation in tonal shifts and tempo changes. With some of their heaviest material on display since Miasma, these five gentlemen brought their A-game all day when committing this to tape (probably not but whatever). The straight death metal production really gives this record such an edge over previous releases; no more washed out guitar tones and reverb swamped drums, this cuts deep. It makes this super fan so happy that they took the super hooks from Everblack and mashed them up with some of the most ferocious melodeath guitar work this side of Slaughter Of The Soul. Special mention to the unceasing drum chops of Alan Cassidy. Dude has leaped over all of the fuck boy fans still bitching about Shannon Lucas’ departure.
42. Earthside – A Dream in Static
A Dream In Static, the debut full-length from Connecticut-based progressive metal band Earthside, took me completely by surprise. Although the name had been tossed around on the blog here and there and the album received fantastic critical acclaim from one of our editors in the form of a review, I simply hadn’t gotten around to it. It was with great pleasure then that, late in the year, I caught wind of Earthside’s brilliance and was ultimately able to include it in my personal top 50 releases of the year – and among my coveted top 10, no less.
This album is a wonder to behold. It’s so dense and lush and full of human emotion, it can be a daunting, even overwhelming listen at first. Additionally, it’s nearly impossible to pin down exactly what genre of music Earthside plays without rattling off a laundry list of sub-genres: progressive metal, post-rock, cinematic rock, etc. The point is that all of these elements are somehow made to work together and mesh into a cohesive whole that flows like water through a ravine.
Add to that fact that the album features multiple vocalists taking the helm for certain tracks, and it’s even more impressive that the album manages to work as one piece as well as it does. The aural contributions from Lajon Witherspoon (Sevendust), Daniel Tompkins (Tesseract), Bjorn Strid (Soilwork), and Eric Sirlinger (Face the King) are all handled with aplomb and elevate their respective tracks to new heights. A Dream In Static is a behemoth of a debut album, one that can and should elevate Earthside to the front lines of the heavy music scene.
41. KEN mode – Success
Another diamond release from my favourite Canadians. Success didn’t pick up where Entrench left off; instead, it has started a new ball rolling. A snarling, haggard ball that is picking up speed at an exponential rate. There are so many carefully worded bursts of hostility and snark, the most in-form stand up comedian shouldn’t even try to compete. A huge sounding album handled by legendary producer Steve Albini, the guitars, bass and drums here sound like they’ve been recorded down at your local dive bar; the one where people crowd surf to the bar for a shot to bring to the stage for the low slung bassist. Not just aggressive either, but precisely articulated, KEN mode scrap their metallic hardcore sound for the most part, instead crafting the best anti-pop music I’ve heard in years. Wild eyed and bushy tailed, listeners have been left after listening to Success. The most authentic noise rock from huge fans of the genre can be found here, but where the fuck is their Juno Award this time around? Seriously, Canada.