I Compiled A Bunch Of Best-Of Metal Lists Into a Mega List. What Happened Next Will NOT Shock You!

It’s no secret around here that I love lists. I’ve been the person responsible for organizing and compiling our aggregate best-of list the past two years, and I’m probably the only person on staff who looks at the tedium of it all with an almost deranged glee. So when I was finished assembling our own top 50 list for the year, naturally, I looked around to see what else I could aggregate and rank for my own perverse pleasure. By that point, most metal blogs and publications had already released their own best-of lists, and as the staff shared them and picked them apart (as you do), I was noticing a few patterns in what the big names felt were the top albums of the year.

So, more as an intellectual exercise (and way to distract me from all the work I actually had to do) than as a way to prove any particular point or push an agenda, I decided to assemble all of the metal best-of lists I could find and aggregate them using the same system I used for our own list. I searched far and wide to find lists I could include, bringing in any well-known entity who released a metal-only or at least metal-dominant list. The group I finally wound up with included the following: Stereogum, Loudwire, Rolling Stone, Consequence of Sound, SPIN, Decibel, LA Weekly, Apple Music, Metalsucks, Metal Injection, Metal Hammer, and Pitchfork. Metalsucks and Metal Injection added an extra layer of complication to this as they both released only individual staff lists and not an aggregate, so I went ahead and aggregated it for them (has it not been established by this point that I am a crazy person?). The group features a pretty good mixture of high-profile, long-standing publications catering to very wide audiences, large metal websites that serve the greater internet metal community, and a few websites that are a bit more niche and targeted towards more indie-friendly crowds.

Eden and I have a few thoughts on the results of all of this, but first, let’s take a look at what the “establishment” has deemed are the top 50 metal albums of the year.

  1. DeafheavenNew Bermuda
  2. TribulationThe Children Of The Night
  3. Baroness – Purple
  4. Horrendous – Anareta
  5. PanopticonAutumn Eternal
  6. High on Fire – Luminiferous
  7. Mgła – Exercises in Futility
  8. GhostMeliora
  9. Paradise Lost – The Plague Within
  10. Bell Witch – Four Phantoms
  11. LeviathanScar Sighted
  12. Iron Maiden – The Book of Souls
  13. Faith No More – Sol Invictus
  14. Napalm Death – Apex Predator – Easy Meat
  15. VHÖL – Deeper Than Sky
  16. Bosse-de-NageAll Fours
  17. MyrkurM
  18. Cattle DecapitationThe Anthropocene Extinction
  19. Marilyn Manson – The Pale Emperor
  20. Refused – Freedom
  21. Clutch – Psychic Warfare
  22. False – Untitled
  23. Obsequiae – Aria of Vernal Tombs
  24. Khemmis – Absolution
  25. Killing Joke – Pylon
  26. Elder – Lore
  27. Royal Thunder – Crooked Doors
  28. PrurientFrozen Niagara Falls
  29. Lamb of GodVII: Sturm und Drang
  30. Krallice – Ygg Huur
  31. Satan – Atom by Atom
  32. Between the Buried and Me – Coma Ecliptic
  33. Skepticism – Ordeal
  34. Dead to a Dying World – Litany
  35. Slayer – Repentless
  36. SarpanitumBlessed Be My Brothers
  37. Mutoid Man – Bleeder
  38. Intronaut – The Direction of Last Things
  39. Windhand – Grief’s Infernal Flower
  40. Vattnet Viskar – Settler
  41. Halestorm – Into the Wild Life
  42. Sannhet – Revisionist
  43. Failure – The Heart Is a Monster
  44. Noisem – Blossoming Decay
  45. Lucifer – Lucifer I
  46. SlugdgeDim & Slimeridden Kingdoms
  47. Bring Me the Horizon – That’s the Spirit
  48. Cloud Rat – Qliphoth
  49. EnslavedIn Times
  50. Vastum – Hole Below

Obviously, there’s a lot to learn from this list and we won’t be able to cover all the intricacies of the results here. However, a few points do spring to light immediately, so let’s take a closer look at them:

AggregateList-Subbanner-Predictable

AD idk expected

Seriously, is there one name on this list that surprises you? Some of the locations might not be the ones you would have expected but not by too much; two or three spots at best. The top is dominated by either extremely well-established and veteran bands, high budget bands with extensive PR to their name or bands which are “in” right now or trendy (more on that below). While we’re not saying that’s a terrible thing or that the bands featured here are bad and not worthy of praise (11 of these albums made our own list), this has all the feeling of an “establishment” list. Does this have a negative impact though? Certainly. Several genres and amazing albums from 2015 are completely missing from here and while the personal ones had more variety, it wasn’t by much. It seems as if the old and the established still reign supreme when it comes to metal journalism and that doesn’t surprise any of us.

AggregateList-Subbanner-Deafheaven

Deafheaven is the number one album of 2015 according to the press. By a long shot. That means that it was the highest rated album on lists; not necessarily that it was number one on all of them but that it kept cropping up in high places. New Bermuda was mentioned in all but one of the 12 lists we included, landed in the top 10 of 8 of those 11 mentions, and nabbed 4 top 5 mentions. Is that a problem? Not really, it’s a pretty decent album (enough that our staff ranked it at #13). However, does it deserve such widespread recognition and praise within the community? More accurately, is that worship really coming from an appreciation of the music or more from a trend, a wave that is washing the discourse in Deafheaven colors (whether those be the pinks of Sunbather or the more muted palette of New Bermuda). We already talked pretty extensively about those issues, but basically, the answer is complex and less about one’s feelings about Deafheaven and more about the media’s investment in covering music and bands like Deafheaven from a genuine place. Regardless of how you feel about them though, it’s pretty apparent that the fixation with the band isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. To borrow a phrase from political media, Deafheaven completely dominate this news cycle and probably the next. Whatever the band do next and wherever they go, the metal establishment (us included) will probably be there, paying close attention.

AggregateList-Subbanner-Consensus

Not surprisingly, the further down in this list you go, the more interesting (and in our opinion, better) the list and the bands featured get. Like all aggregates, this list presents the illusion of a monolith where there usually is none. All of the individual lists had their own personalities and musical identities come through to varying extents, and for the most part there weren’t too many albums that received more than 2 or 3 mentions. So that’s how you get some of the lesser-known or “hipper” releases in the back half from the likes of Elder, Krallice, Intronaut, Windhand, Vattnet Viskar, Sannhet, Noisem, Slugdge, and Cloud Rat, among others. Most of these lists picked a couple of these types of albums, but the ones that appear here were the ones fortunate to rack up one (perhaps two if they’re further up) top 10 pick and then one other far lower.

Once you hit around the top 10 though, that changes dramatically. There’s an astonishing level of agreement here among these publications on what the very best albums of the year were. With the exception of Bell Witch, all of the albums in the top 10 received at least 6 nods (with an average of over 7 mentions), and half of the lists featured at least 5 albums in their own top 10s that landed in the aggregate top 10 (4.25 average overall). That is a pretty remarkable amount of consensus. When you see that, it becomes really easy to see the echo chamber present in much of the media covering this music. Certain albums create their own positive feedback loop of good press that spirals outward until those who write about it are largely consumed by a very small sect of albums that have been stamped with the general establishment seal of approval.

AggregateList-Subbanner-Pitchfork

This sounds like a totally outrageous statement intended solely to provoke strong reactions, but as they say, the numbers don’t lie. When you break down the individual lists, no one came even remotely as close to matching the overall aggregate list as Pitchfork did. One major caveat I have to put out front here is that I only included the primary top 25 list from their senior metal writer Brandon Stosuy and not the other lists from their other contributors, which I did 1) because of the prominence of Stosuy’s list signifying their intention to be the list that should speak for the site, and 2) because there weren’t enough other lists and significant enough overlap (other than a few of the usual suspects at the top) to make a separate aggregate valuable in this instance. That said, a staggering 22 of Stosuy’s 25 picks were a part of the aggregate list, and the general ordering of those bands was also eerily similar.

  1. DeafheavenNew Bermuda
  2. TribulationThe Children Of The Night
  3. Bell WitchFour Phantoms
  4. PanopticonAutumn Eternal
  5. KhemmisAbsolution
  6. BaronessPurple
  7. Dead To A Dying WorldLitany
  8. MgłaExercises In Futility
  9. HorrendousAnareta
  10. SannhetRevisionist
  11. LocrianInfinite Dissolution
  12. PrurientFrozen Niagara Falls
  13. Bosse-de-NageAll Fours
  14. Paradise LostThe Plague Within
  15. SkepticismOrdeal
  16. VhölDeeper Than Sky
  17. Kowloon Walled CityGrievances
  18. High On FireLuminiferous
  19. VastumHole Below
  20. Pinkish BlackBottom Of The Morning
  21. FalseUntitled
  22. ObsequiaeAria Of Vernal Tombs
  23. NoisemBlossoming Decay
  24. MyrkurM
  25. WindhandGrief’s Infernal Flower

In some respects, this makes total and complete sense in a relatively inoffensive way. Stosuy is a seasoned and well-respected metal writer, and it would make sense that his views would be generally pretty well in line with the median of the professional metal critic/journalist community. But for many fans and followers of the music, I imagine they would be far less than pleased to see a place that is as reviled in what they represent as Pitchfork be so completely in line with the greater metal establishment. But the fact remains that a place like Pitchfork is actually the perfect barometer for where mainstream metal is these days. They’re big and mainstream enough of an entity to reward many of the same AAA releases and bands that even the most out-of-touch and, frankly, lame publications like to harp on, but still “hip” enough to be aware of and throw in many of those lower-profile bands that are more likely to be picked up by less mainstream websites and blogs and fly under the radar of the big dogs.

Like it or not, if you want to know which metal bands are likely to take off and dominate the year in terms of media accolades and attention, places that occupy that middle ground like Pitchfork and Noisey (who we did not include as they only published a mostly unranked list from Kim Kelly, though many of her picks are also well in line with these lists) are likely as good as you can get. Also, another fun fact: the only list that had more overlap with the aggregate list was Apple Music’s editor list, which featured 24 overlapping picks, though over 44 picks. So, you know, chew on that as well.

AggregateList-Subbanner-Zines

Going to alternate sources for your news, opinions and even music is a really good idea (this goes way beyond music as well). It makes sure that you avoid biases as much as possible and sidestep the prejudices and axioms of the community. However, in order for that to work, you need to diversify the sources that you go to; numbers aren’t enough. Even if you have been reading all of the sources above (and it’s a hefty list) you would have still been blinded not only to numerous great releases but also to complete sub-genres of the metal community. In order to breach those blind spots, you need to ask yourself: “How much does this source vary from the others in writer composition, writing style and approach to music?” If the answer is “not that much,” then you’re probably good with reading just one of them and moving on to more interesting pastures. At the end of the day, this is one of your major portals into music: you want to be sure that it gives you as accurate a picture as you can. While there’s no such thing as “pure” journalism, certainly not here, the only path to more varied, educated and enjoyable palettes lies with diversity and internal criticism. We hope we’ve helped to further you down that path and closer to your own goals in how you consume and understand music. At the end of the day, even though our opinions and lists don’t match up too well with that of everyone else we cited (and internally we may joke around and give them shit for it), we appreciate that they’re out there because that diversity of opinions and viewpoints is necessary for actual conversation and helps ground us to where the establishment and community surrounding it are at.

Hopefully you can pardon us for continuing to believe our list is the best list though.

-NC&EK

Comments

"We're all fools, all the time. It's just we're a different kind each day. We think, I'm not a fool today. I've learned my lesson. I was a fool yesterday but not this morning. Then tomorrow we find out that, yes, we were a fool today too. I think the only way we can grow and get on in this world is to accept the fact we're not perfect and live accordingly." - Ray Bradbury






8 thoughts on “I Compiled A Bunch Of Best-Of Metal Lists Into a Mega List. What Happened Next Will NOT Shock You!

  1. Kronos Reply

    Interesting article, at least from a curatorial standpoint, since as you said the picks aren’t that surprising. How exactly did you compare different sized lists?

    • Eclecticore Reply

      Good question! The points scale I used was the same as what we used for our own aggregate list, which accounted for up to 50 entries (#1 picks got 150 points, #50 picks got 5 points). So for all of these I just used the same points system as they fit those lists. This ensured that albums mentioned lower down in lists that were larger still counted but weren’t overly weighted.

      • Jean-Luc Ricard Reply

        Thanks for putting in the work for this, it’s pretty interesting. I’m keen to know how robust the results are to different aggregation methods – I would presume pretty solid unless your methods are wacky…

        • Eclecticore Reply

          Also a good question, though I’m afraid in this case I’m likely to disappoint you haha. As much as I love these sorts of stats-based things, I myself am nowhere close to being a statistics expert, so this system was essentially drawn up solely as something I found to be logical. I had actually wanted to research the subject and learn some things about just that so I could use a well-tested and robust aggregation system, but alas, I did not have the time. Perhaps a good goal for me in the new year.

          To be more specific though, basically each album was assigned a score from 5 to 150, with 150 being the highest, and then I simply added up the total points. Albums ranked 1-10 were spaced out by intervals of 5 (150, 145, 140…), #11-20 spaced by intervals of 4, and so on. I toyed with starting the scale higher up around 25 so lower-ranked albums wouldn’t be as diminished in weight, but in the end I felt it was more important to reward albums consistently given higher rankings.

          So in the end it’s certainly possible that a different and better aggregation system may have yielded some different results, but it’s unlikely given the data and level of consensus that it would have resulted in a drastically different list overall other than some relatively minor ordering.

      • Kronos Reply

        This seems like a relatively solid methodology, so long as your scale weightings are reasonable.

  2. resurgam Reply

    great work

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