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.
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40. Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Asunder, Sweet And Other Distress
While Godspeed’s latest effort, Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress didn’t have the same level of reunion hype that their previous LP, Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend had, the band didn’t really lose any of their darkness or edge, despite this record’s more subtle and timid first impressions. With the band’s fifth full-length, the Canadian godfathers of post-rock have placed even more emphasis this time around on atmosphere and ambience. There’s as little rock to be found here as possible, while still maintaining the band’s classic, climax-heavy aesthetic. Tracks like “Lambs’ Breath” and “Piss Crowns are Trebled” are absolutely terrifying in their context and are certainly one of the darkest pieces to come out of the band’s discography thus far. You should definitely listen to the aforementioned tracks alone and with a good set of headphones on, but just don’t say that Heavy Blog Is Heavy didn’t warn you first. It may not be as instantly gratifying or as memorable as some of their classic albums, but Asunder still shows how masterful each member of the band is at interlocking all of their parts, how to perfectly navigate colossal dynamic shifts, and managing to say a hell of a lot while actually delivering very little at the same time.
39. Kamasi Washington – The Epic
In capping off my extensive praise of The Epic during our inaugural Jazz Club conversation, I claimed that Kamasi Washington’s debut would eventually be regarded as a classic in spiritual jazz, alongside John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme and Pharaoh Sanders’ Karma. And each time I revisited this three hour masterpiece over the course of the year, that assertion only further solidified itself in my mind. One of Nick’s comments in our conversation captured exactly why: The Epic is a capital “J” jazz album. All of the album’s seventeen tracks either reference or emulate the genre’s major movements through a distinctly fresh and inspired approach. Kamasi’s playing is perhaps the greatest asset to this achievement; his mastery of the sax manifests via the unbridled emotion of Sanders, utter fearlessness of Ornette Coleman and the sheer technical prowess of Coltrane, all while sounding distinctly “Kamasi.”
But what ultimately defines every great jazz musician is their band leading ability, something that Kamasi demonstrates in spades with The Epic’s lush compositions. The way in which he leads his fellow brass brats – trombone via Ryan Porter and trumpet via Igmar Thomas – atop Thundercat’s incomparable bass lines and Ronald Bruner, Jr. & Leon Mobley’s eclectic percussion makes it difficult to comprehend that this is Kamasi’s debut album. And while I don’t typically enjoy jazz vocals, The Epic not only includes some excellent solo vocals from Dwight Trible and Patrice Quinn, but also frequents the use of massive spiritual choruses, spreading the grandiosity of the album even further.
Essentially, anyone who claims to be a fan of jazz and doesn’t enjoy The Epic should really assess their preferences. And while they revisit the album and hopefully discover why their opinion’s invalid, I’ll be on the floor weeping to Kamasi’s heart-wrenching phrases on “Askim.”
38. Caligula’s Horse – Bloom
Following on from their tremendous 2013 release, The Tide, the Thief and River’s End, Caligula’s Horse returned in 2015 with the magnificent Bloom, proving they’re at the top of their game and hungry to build on their past success. The band is starting to gain some serious traction internationally, and it’s easy to see why. They’ve proven to be remarkably versatile, the vibrant, uplifting nature of Bloom a sharp contrast to the dark, brooding masterpiece which preceded it. Yet, despite such a dramatic shift in album aesthetics, the ethereal vocals of Jim Grey, the introspective lyrics and the instantly recognisable guitar tone mark this album as unmistakably Caligula’s Horse. The album is a mixture of straight-ahead tracks such as the emotional “Firelight,” and longer, more progressive pieces such as the title track. “Daughter of the Mountain” takes its listeners on a journey, the infectious guitar licks and uplifting lyrics of “Turntail” dare us not to smile, whilst the rhythmic, djenty breakdown of “Rust” is sure to get headbangers going. Thus Caligula’s Horse offer genuinely accessible music which makes no compromises, a rare gift allowing them to bring meaningful music to a large audience without compromising their integrity. There really is something in Bloom for everyone to enjoy and one thing’s for damn sure, enjoy it we shall.
37. Tangled Thoughts of Leaving – Yield to Despair
There are probably only so many times I can write about this band this year without utterly repeating myself, but it’s truly a testament to the immense talent and originality of this Perth-based group that their latest full-length caught on with our staff and really took hold despite few having much familiarity with them prior to this year. Yield to Despair is a landmark record and statement for this experimental post-metal group, one that takes the many sounds and influences the band have touched upon since their formation and utilizes their strength as a unit built on improvisation and interplay to create some of the darkest and most affecting music out there. This is an album that will slowly, but surely, exhaust you emotionally and pull any sadness and agony present within you out into the foreground.
The group’s combination of drone, jazz, doom, and other more conventional post-metal sounds is not only a breath of fresh air musically; they work together brilliantly to form a perfect mixture of darkness and light, offering just enough glimmering hope (often in the form of Ron Pollard’s impeccable keys/piano work) to make the ultimate crushing “despair” always either lurking underneath or out in front all the more devastating. What the band have surrendered in technical brilliance here and in their more recent output they’ve more than made up for in sheer weight and compositional mastery. This is an exceedingly dense collection of music, but one that will still grab you immediately and refuse to let go until the very last note dies out, revealing the despair inside of you all along and somehow still making you want to repeat the process over and over again.
36. Arcane – Known / Learned
Straight up progressive metal is a genre that is often deemed to have peaked. There doesn’t seem to be much left to do with it without bringing in other genres for some sort of inspiration. However, that doesn’t mean it can’t still make beautiful music and conjure up some of the best albums around. Arcane is a very good example of that: with recognizable parts for the guitars, synths, drums and vocals, it doesn’t innovate much on the musical level.
But what it lacks there, it more than makes up for in scope, ambition and execution. It is a masterful conceptual album, creating musical themes that echo with the listener throughout, creating something that is bigger than the sum of its pieces. Drawing on diverse influences from within the progressive metal scene, it seems to blend these discrete elements into something new, a child of the genre that stands on its own and claims its own identity. This double album also has another amazing quality: its long run time never tires. It does this by relying on several musical themes rather than one, interchanging them to create interest and engagement. The fact that the amazing Jim Grey does their vocals doesn’t hurt either.
35. Ghost – Meliora
Upon hearing mention of Ghost, the first image my mind conjures is that of Papa Emeritus standing on stage in full regalia, face painted, as smoke swirls ominously around him, all but obscuring his masked bandmates. Yet, despite the undeniable importance of the band’s occult imagery, the fact remains that it is the band’s music which allows them to remain relevant. Their brand of doom-infused 70’s rock has made waves since their debut in 2010, and Meliora sees them deliver arguably their best record yet. The songwriting is exemplary, the album brimming with memorable hooks and infectious choruses which stay in your head for weeks at a time. The inherent darkness of the lyrics bewitchingly contrast with the poppy delivery of the vocals, the result beguilingly sinister. The vocals are an acquired taste, but they’re worth the effort as they provide the album with its emotive drive and complement the synths and piano superbly. The rhythm section is understated throughout, the bass and drums serving the song and allowing the listener to focus more intensely upon this record’s main attraction, its riffs. The riffs on tracks such as “Absolution” and “Cirice” are absolutely monstrous, and it’s no surprise to see that the latter has received a thoroughly deserved grammy nomination. Sinister yet accessible, heavy yet poppy, Ghost are striking a delicate balance between opposing forces, and the resulting energy is an absolute joy to behold.
34. Caspian – Dust and Disquiet
Watching a band grow throughout their career is always amazing to see. In 2005, Caspian released their debut EP, You Are The Conductor, and here they are 10 years later, releasing their 4th studio album Dust and Disquiet. With this album, they decided to go in a more experimental route yet still keeping their heavy yet emotional sound, and it is arguably their best album to date. In a sea of instrumental post-rock bands, this album proves that Caspian are a master of their craft at the top of the genre. Dust and Disquiet is an album of growth and evolution, as they continue to expand their sound to different lengths, whether it’s adding more layers or new sounds. From their last album, Waking Season, to where they are now, they really pushed themselves as a band and used sounds new and old to great emotional effect. Tracks like “Ríoseco” and “Arcs of Command” show how heavy they can get, yet still smack you in the face with some emotion whether you were ready for it or not. Then you have “Darkfield,” where they proudly display their more experimental side.
The gorgeous album cover is an homage to Caspian’s late bassist, Chris Fredrich, who passed away in 2013. Featuring 6 black feathers and 1 white feather in a circle, the art and music contained within represent the greatest tribute the band could provide. Friedrich will always be a part of the band in one way or another, and Dust and Disquiet is a testament to the longevity and heartfelt musical emotion coursing through the band’s work.
33. Enslaved – In Times
Seeing a band thirteen albums into their career put out such heartfelt and honest-feeling music is a sight to behold. Enslaved have been making progressive black metal in this vein for over a decade now, and they show no signs of slowing down or burning out. The soothing clean vocals intermixed with the screaming, the meditative riffing juxtaposed with tense black metal playing, Enslaved are a band of dualities, and they handle both ends of the spectrum and everything in between very well. The key here is authenticity – the band retreated to a cabin in the woods for the process of the album, like they often do for their releases. And despite having nearly-10-minute-long progressive pieces, the band remain to be very accessible by packing their sound in multiple layers that one can unfold for more and more joy.
32. The Dear Hunter – Act IV: Rebirth In Reprise
One of the biggest challenges for an artist/band with either a well-established sound or a musical universe they’ve constructed is holding true to that sound or universe while still being able to subvert expectations of what that sound should be exactly. Few have been able to walk this tightrope as brilliantly as Casey Crescenzo and prog-rock act The Dear Hunter. If you listen to Acts I-III of their overarching concept album series focused around the titular character of The Dear Hunter, there is a very easily definable sound or set of sounds present throughout. There are themes, callbacks, and certain musical parameters within each installment that subtly builds off of what the previous installment accomplished. So perhaps the greatest surprise of Act IV was how it not only held true to the legacy of those previous albums but absolutely redefined, recontextualized, and refreshed the entire series in ways no one could have predicted.
Crescenzo made the best use of the six-year span in between Acts III & IV and used what he gained in compositional and songwriting experience to assemble 74 minutes of gripping and immensely entertaining music. The music is more subtle, more “mature,” if you will, but it does not sacrifice any of the more grandiose and fun aspects that made the previous installments so deliriously enjoyable to spin over and over again. Rather, he often doubled down on creating instantly memorable melodies and made frequent use of musical and lyrical callbacks without it ever feeling forced or maudlin. It’s certainly no surprise to anyone who has followed my writings on the band in the past year that this was my personal AOTY, but it’s also immensely satisfying to see it grab the attention of so many others, including those on staff here. Act IV is in every way a success because of how it met and exceeded pretty much every expectation of it. It certainly manages to raise the bar even higher for Acts V and VI (whenever they come), but if there’s one thing Crescenzo and The Dear Hunter have taught their fans in the past decade, it’s to expect the unexpected, and to fall in love with their music time and time again.
31. Teramaze – Her Halo
“The path to being this good is usually a long one.” These were the words an editor of the blog used to describe Teramaze’s amazing 2015 release and fifth full-length, Her Halo. Having formed in 1995, Teramaze was an older band with a few solid but ultimately average albums under their belt. Something seems to have finally clicked with the group, because their latest offering has propelled them to the forefront of the power-prog genre and given listeners of catchy, heavy music a new benchmark with which to compare other releases.
Nearly everything about Her Halo is grandiose, from the beefy, thundering riffs to the glossy modern production that truly brings out the best of the compositions. Vocalist Nathan Peachey, new to the band as of 2014, deftly guides listeners through a labyrinth of juddering riffs with his angelic voice, and his instantly accessible melodies are catchy enough to hook listeners on their first play. That said, there’s enough meat to the instrumentation and enough subtleties hiding amongst the album’s more obvious facets to warrant repeat listens. With everything from single-ready anthems to 10+ minute prog adventures, Her Halo is an exhilarating triumph of progressive metal.
30. Sannhet – Revisionist
There are many people who aren’t fans of post-rock and post-metal, particularly the instrumental sort. Many complain about lengthy tracks that take too long to build, or that it all just winds up feeling flat and monotonous without vocals present. And that’s a fine and completely valid opinion to have! But to those people I would suggest this: listen to Sannhet, in particular their most recent album Revisionist. As I’ve written previously, Sannhet are not fucking around. They don’t waste time in the standard post-metal fare of extended intros, long ambient interludes, and multiple false crescendos and climaxes. Their songs state their intent right from the get-go, burning with intensity and purpose and not letting go until the track’s run its course several minutes later. Do you like great guitar hooks? Do you like blastbeats and crazy intense drumming that won’t quit? Do you like the occasional smattering of black metal atmospherics in your music? Then Sannhet are a band for you. Forget what you may think about post-metal and instrumental music. Sannhet don’t have time for your pre-conceptions and will continue to do what they do and do it exceedingly well. All you have to do is listen and bang your head.
29. TesseracT – Polaris
A brilliant record from front-to-back, Polaris doesn’t seek to reinvent the wheel when considering the band’s previous output. Instead it largely aims to do more of the same, just better, and in this respect the album can be considered a massive success. They deliver a painfully emotional album which simply takes the listener to another place, aided by the most welcome return of Dan Tompkins and his ethereal vocals. Whilst evoking emotion in their music has always been a strength of TesseracT’s, what really sets this album apart is Dan’s increasing versatility and his development as a story-teller and lyricist. All but gone are the harsh vocals of the past, with Polaris almost entirely instilled with infectious vocal melodies as Dan helps push this record to its full potential. Yet, to focus so much on Dan alone does his bandmates a disservice. As has become the norm, Acle’s production is perfect, the guitars crisp as they traverse time signatures with ease and provide the groove and harmonies fans have become accustomed to. Finally, the rhythm section continues to provide dynamism and power to offset the thick atmospherics which densely layer the album’s sonic landscape. Simply put, TesseracT have taken their songwriting to the next level and the result is their finest release to date.
28. Vattnet Viskar – Settler
Although their name translates to “the water whispers/water whispering,” vocalist Nicholas Thornbury sure isn’t whispering to those who are listening to Vattnet Viskar’s sophomore album Settler. The album is inspired by the tragic event in 1986, when the space shuttle Challenger exploded in the air just minutes after taking off to soar through space, as well as personal experiences with each member of the band. Settler is based on the idea that everything can be alright until something horrible happens, and everything changes. We see that idea come to fruition in the song “Heirs,” as the song pummels through with the opening lyrics, “Something has gone horribly wrong, this was never the plan,” after the somber, soft feedback ending of previous track “Glory.” At that point, we know that this is where the unfortunate event occurs and changes the whole dynamic of the album.
Between the slightly cryptic lyrics that make you really delve into your mind and think about what’s going on in the story and the heavy riffs delivered by Thornbury, the spacey/atmospheric yet hook-filled leads by guitarist Chris Alfieri (which my personal favorites are heard throughout the track “Coldwar”), the super clean blast beats and fills by drummer Seamus Menihane, and anchoring bass riffs by Casey Aylward that keep each song intact, Settler offers a journey of new beginnings and unfortunate endings, and it is an album that I would recommend to anyone who wants to get into post-metal and/or black metal.
27. Jaga Jazzist – Starfire
Succinctly describing the sound of Jaga Jazzist is a nearly impossible task because it’s an ever-evolving and mammoth thing. It’s never quite been jazz in the conventional sense, certainly not since their more loungey debut A Livingroom Hush. But it’s also never quite crossed the threshold into being considered first and foremost progressive rock or EDM, both of which the band have leaned on heavily at times (among many other things). Those lines have never been more blurred than on their latest opus Starfire, an album that is essentially a bedroom psychedelic electronic dance record that happens to be composed and performed by jazz musicians.
Swirling melodies, themes, and rhythms dance around each other in labyrinthine compositions that leave the listener constantly on their toes, unable to guess what might come next. It’s progressive sci-fi that’s somehow still performed mostly by acoustic instruments. Of course, the most immediately indelible aspects of it are the electronic flourishes throughout. Squiggly and filthy synth runs fire throughout the album’s 5 tracks, providing the backbone and foundation that horns, vibraphone, and the monster drums of Martin Horntveth fill every sonic nook and cranny of. It’s so huge and dense that it should be utterly overwhelming, overstuffed, and simply not work. But it is the exact opposite. This is an album that is absolutely immediate in every way. It’s an album that makes you want to move, sing along, nod your head, stomp your feet, and whatever else. This is easily the most cohesive and fully-realized package Lars Horntveth and co. have assembled, and it’s a testament to their immense talent and eclecticism that I expect their next release to sound wholly different from Starfire while still sounding just as much like a Jaga Jazzist record.
26. Frontierer – Orange Mathematics
This album explodes out of the first track and continues to level buildings long after it has ceased playing. Accuse me of favouritism or whatever, but this is the music that Scotland needs to be showcasing. Mr. Valiani keeps his cards to his chest for literally one second on Orange Mathematics, the rest of the time they are on display for everyone to bare witness to. Devastating grooves, smashed together rhythms and hoarse as fuck vocals all marry together to make a sound so uniquely crushing, most won’t make it through the entire run time. Most are pansies though and those who can tolerate aural chaos will be left most satisfied. I’ve already run out of superlatives to describe just how jarring the music of Frontierer is, but let me just leave you with this – this record was written and put together in two weeks. Two weeks. If that alone doesn’t make you want to hang up whatever you’re doing RIGHT NOW, then the news that there is more of this to come should definitely do it. Testament that having a really goddamn good idea and just running with it can definitely pay off. Lock up your daughters and your hardcore bros because they can’t handle this.
25. Pomegranate Tiger – Boundless
When four become one, the prog doesn’t stop. Rife with riffs and grooves that’ll make your whole body move, Pomegranate Tiger return nearly three years after Entities with 2015’s Boundless. Now a fearsome team of one, multi-instrumentalist Martin Andres has, in a sense, relaunched Pomegranate Tiger as a solo project, allowing his influences to shine through like a bright, progressive beacon of licks. From the opening melodies that echo TRON: Legacy’s monumental soundscape by Daft Punk to the anxiety-inducing string orgy that closes the album, Boundless lives up to its name by tearing down conventional barriers and exploring rarely-traversed waters.
Boundless stands as a culmination of years of writing work by Andres, finally flourishing by being wrought from the controlled environment of a single mind. You could have considered the reduction in personnel something to be fearful of, but it’s more along the lines of substituting a maze full of rats for a powerful, concentrated laser beam. Pomegranate Tiger is better than it has ever been.
24. Fit For An Autopsy – Absolute Hope Absolute Hell
Just from the intro of the eponymous first track on this album, one can tell they aren’t in for the normal deathcore rodeo of chugs, breakdown patterns, and alternating-string riffing. From the very beginning up until the final, explosive climax of closer “Swing The Axe,” Absolute Hope Absolute Hell is unique in its approach to this oft-dismissed subgenre. Building on the highly melodic, slow-burn style they’d begun to pioneer on 2013’s Hellbound, and injecting a healthy dose of Gojira-influenced passages into the mix, this release is entirely its own beast in the best way possible. The combination of trailblazing and just all-around incredible songwriting comes together to create an album that is as captivatingly fresh in its sound as it is bleak and nihilistic in tone.
Special mention must be given to the lyrics and vocal performance for their great contribution to this: an appropriately defeatist tone about the state of the world and a misanthropic and self-hating view of the planet manifest here in some of the most engaging lyrics in the genre, and it’s easy to see that the vocalist believes every word he says. Absolute Hope Absolute Hell is the exemplar of what the modern brand of deathcore can be, and it’s going to live on that throne for quite some time to come.
23. Steven Wilson – Hand. Cannot. Erase
What more can be said about Steven Wilson that hasn’t already been written? The man has been prolific for the best part of two decades now. While his evolution has been marked, there are some core elements that haven’t changed: Hand. Cannot. Erase is progressive, rocky and electronic. However, where his last album focused on the more acoustic and guitar oriented elements of the 70’s, this album focuses on different areas. It features haunting electronic parts and heavier segments, blending perhaps Wilson’s own unique style and the styles of his inspirations.
This creates an album that is both uplifting and depressing, in true Wilson fashion. The story behind it offers a wealth of extra content and context, raising this emotional album to even more poignant levels. It also features the best production on a Wilson album in years, and that’s saying a lot. While it still suffers from the signature balancing issue, the recording itself is flawless, carrying the distinctly “warm” sound that is usually associated with Wilson’s instrumentations. Just listen to “Happy Returns.” You’ll see what I’m saying.
22. Elder – Lore
It should come as no surprise that I am the one reviewing this album, since (further down the list) you can find an album we’ve called its brethren. But where its companion blends modern elements with classical music, Elder’s Lore relies on the 70s and their unique brand of rock for its inspiration. Somehow though, the album manages to be completely fresh, relying on a bewildering range of sounds for its progressions. Where other albums of the type would focus on guitar technicality, this album resorts to emotions and masterful musicianship, choosing instead to utilize the full range which made early progressive rock so great.
And yet, the guitars are definitely the core part of this album: they are entrancing, both technically smooth and compositionally interesting. They’re also produced just right, without too much fuzz but with enough to get the goosebumps going. The way in which they mesh together, effortlessly pulling from intricacy to alluring simplicity elevates this album to a whole different level. Lore is an album that keeps surprising, holding countless nuances and details within an approachable and enjoyable package, making it one of the smoothest albums of the year.
21. Between the Buried and Me – Coma Ecliptic
Despite all of their success and upward trajectory (honestly, they’re probably the most popular prog metal band this side of Dream Theater), Between the Buried and Me have become increasingly divisive as they eschew their hardcore roots in favor of theatrical and operatic progressive rock. Like it or not, Coma Ecliptic is undeniably the band’s most ambitious record to date by emulating the passion and theatrical flair of rock operas past by conjuring the musicianship of Queen, Pink Floyd, and King Crimson. Coma Ecliptic truly feels epic in its bizarre story, dynamic, and diversity, while keeping the heart they’ve been known to have. BTBAM seem enthused by crafting scores to cosmic adventures, and it’s a good look. “Maturity” as it applies to music is a bit of a dirty word around here, but what makes Coma Ecliptic work so well is its dedication to the concept without coming off as sterile, cheesy, or pretentious. They’re bridging two completely different realms of progressive music with absolute sincerity, and in doing so, they will no doubt continue to find critical and (relative) commercial success despite potentially losing any pre-Colors fans along the way.
20. Soilwork – The Ride Majestic
To be completely honest, I was skeptical that Soilwork could possibly follow up their fantastic double album The Living Infinite with a worthy successor, just as I was skeptical that said double album would be good. I was happily proven extremely wrong both times. The Ride Majestic is the best modern Soilwork album, and quite possibly the best melodic metal album ever. What the band have done isn’t so much a reinvention as it is a perfection of every part of their career, honing their songwriting to absolute perfection and bringing back elements from their early career without sounding forced or gimmicky. These elements enjoy not only exquisite production but also their own modern and fresh twists which, somehow, still feel like natural progressions instead of forced imitations. The Ride Majestic is majestic indeed, and a more than worthy addition to one of the best discographies in metal.
19. Dreadnought – Bridging Realms
It’s my absolute pleasure to review this album for this list, since it is my own, personal, Album of the Year. Bridging Realms is what you get if a classical concert smashed into a Camel/Led Zeppelin tribute show which in turn careened straight into the mouth of a satanist covenant. It’s filled with violins, flutes and long, expansive tracks but also blast beats, high pitched screams and furious passages set to please even the coldest of metal hearts. This album is a journey and a statement, a painting drawn across the broadest canvas possible, space itself.
Its concept is not explicitly stated at any point, but you can feel it behind the music, pulsing quietly to itself. It lures you deeper into what’s initially a monolithic effort, parsing and making sense of so much excellent music. The drums are an instrument that should be called out in this regard: they guide and direct you through the creation, making sure you have firm points of recognition to hang on to as it bucks and spins. The ability to weave a grand tale but still keep the listener cognizant and aware is one which many, more “veteran” artists would kill for and Dreadnought wield it to great effect in this release.
18. Cult Leader – Lightless Walk
Exhaustion is an all encompassing, universally understood word. It can mean many different things. One can be physically exhausted after working day after day with no rest. One can become mentally exhausted after cramming for a final exam. Emotional exhaustion usually follows a rough patch in a relationship, or after a tragic event in the family, or perhaps even after a major argument. Lightless Walk demonstrates each type of exhaustion, and with startling accuracy. From the second the first guitar note is played, the album screams from your speakers, just begging to be put out of its misery. Anthony Lucero screams as if his flesh is being ripped from his skin, and he can no longer handle the pain. His murderous roar is heard from beginning to end, and the musicians behind him absolutely destroy their instruments over the album’s duration. Many albums, and many bands, can personify anger, but to personify exhaustion is an entirely different beast in itself. Cult Leader have shown that they can rise up from the ashes of their past the create one of, if not the most, brutal album from this year. It’s a testament to how your will always breaks at some point, and it’s an anthem for those fed up with it all. This album will musically punch you until you’re on the edge of death, and honestly, that’s what makes it so special in the end.
17. Eidola – Degeneraterra
We live in a weird age for progressive rock. On the one hand, you have bands like Spock’s Beard and Opeth, who write tunes that strive to capture the magic of the genre’s greats circa 1970-1980, and on the other hand, there are pioneers like The Mars Volta and Circa Survive that have a solidly modern take on the sound, inspired by post-hardcore and other similar genres. With Degeneraterra, Eidola falls squarely into the second category as a sort of stabilizing force, ready to lead the way into the genre’s future. Taking cues from both of the previously mentioned artists, as well as “swancore” staples like Hail The Sun and Children of Nova, the quintet manages to contain a larger-than-life vision of what their music can achieve into an hour of inspiring, moving, passionate prog rock.
Conceptually, Degeneraterra is a huge helping of sweeping, grandiose themes and lyrics that seek nothing less than to elucidate the meaning of human existence, and by and large, they succeed: Eidola’s sound is certainly capable of providing a necessarily huge backdrop for such ideas. This release is diverse and filled to capacity with ideas, both fresh and borrowed, but the glory of it is that each bit, radically different as it may be from those on either side of it, works to complement every other part of the album, and the result is mosaical in form; nothing stands out in a particularly impressive fashion, but cobbled together and arranged properly, Degeneraterra becomes a work of moving beauty and a powerful ode to the ever-changing winds of the musical landscape this band calls home.
16. Gods of Eden – From the End of Heaven
The ages-old debate between technicality and what is dubbed “tasteful” songwriting continues to rage amongst metal circles. However, while the rest of us were out there picking sides and making our cases, a Sydney five-piece with nothing but a short-yet-promising EP to their name took it upon themselves to put together an album that is quite literally the future of progressive metal.
Suffice to say, they very, very well succeeded. From the End of Heaven is unlike any piece of music that precedes it. The level of songwriting prowess on display is practically incomprehensible as it is, but somehow each band member’s performance is completely impeccable as well – you’d think no human beings could write music this ridiculous, let alone perform it with this level of precision. Yet despite the rampant technicality and mind-boggling virtuosity on display, the album is incredibly cohesive from front to back, and no part of it feels even remotely forced for the sake of self-indulgence. Rather, memorable vocal hooks abound amidst the sweep picking, perfectly timed breakdowns, and occasional orchestrally-minded grandiose chord progressions, in ways that could easily grab the attention of both casual listeners and those that like to dissect their music down to every last note alike. Calling it right here – it may be the “end of heaven,” but Gods of Eden have ushered in the start of a whole new era for the genre.
15. Arcturus – Arcturian
After a decade of silence since their last studio album, Arcturus’s return was an important moment for avant-garde metal, as they could ostensibly be considered one of the originators of it. It’s also a given that Arcturus have a different sound on each album, yet they continue to surprise listeners by delivering something unexpected every time. Combining a base black metal sound with sci-fi synths and ICS Vortex’s incredible vocal delivery, Arcturian is wholly unique yet still recognizable as Arcturus. After being away for so long, that the band can still make music that’s not only coherent but also compelling and intriguing is amazing. To top it off, the songs are also deeply emotional and memorable. Arcturus have delivered yet another classic that sets the bar for the genre, and is perhaps their best album yet, after so long.
14. Gorod – A Maze of Recycled Creeds
A disparate mix of influences has become a bit of a commonality when it comes to tech death bands, but there is something particularly special about Gorod. Between their precise command of rhythm and groove, the highly intricate guitar work, and their liberal venturing into arrangements rooted more in funk and jazz than metal, the band has a wonderfully unique sound to their music, and retain that quality beautifully on fifth release A Maze of Recycled Creeds. Now, five records is already much further than a lot of tech death bands go – however, Gorod show no hints of slowing down their innovation on the record, with punchy thrash riffs facing off jazzier arrangements and downright tasty funk moments alike in what is a tech death fan’s paradise. A Maze of Recycled Creeds is an absolute delight, and only furthers Gorod’s reputation as a band that’s still on top of their game.
13. Deafheaven – New Bermuda
For a band that is so deeply entrenched in music that is filthy and off-putting to the general public, Deafheaven have ascended to a stardom that is eerily far-reaching. How many black metal bands do you know that are covered on musical news outlets ranging from Pitchfork to Rolling Stone? The craziest thing about their rise is that they didn’t have to “sell-out” to do it. If anything, the band are getting more and more hungry. This increase in hunger is well documented throughout their latest album, New Bermuda. It’s a sonic escape from the band’s newfound fame that takes us to the dirt with straight shooting black metal riffs and lo-fi snarls, only to lift us up into the bluest of skies with post-rock interludes and alt. rock bridges. It’s also a deep dive into their pool of influence that’s just as varied and interesting as the songs themselves. New Bermuda sees the band incorporating these influences tastefully while still retaining their raw and powerful musical presence. If the band growing bigger means that they’ll make records that hit as hard as this one, I hope they continue to gain traction and coverage for years to come. This album is a spit in the face of complacency and I don’t think the band would have it any other way.
12. SikTh – Opacities
Hype is a funny thing. Few things can live up to the ridiculous expectations it creates, and fewer still can surpass them. When I heard SikTh were reuniting to make music again, I was initially excited (how could anyone not be?) and then slightly skeptical. It’d been roughly 7 years. Everyone in the band had moved on to new and different things, and the musical landscape had spent the time attempting to recreate the magic of those two albums, usually with little success.
But not only have SikTh delivered a worthy addition to their discography, they managed to surpass the insane levels of hype and deliver an EP that iterates and improves upon every aspect of their music, while sounding like they never took a hiatus. That proto-djent/nu-metal vibe is still much present, somehow blossoming next to the insightful and radical lyrics. How little effort this seems to take from the band is a true testament to their unique prowess and style. Opacities is magnificent and the sort of release every veteran act or “comeback” should strive for. It stands proudly alongside The Trees… and Death of A Dead Day as one of the very best tech/prog metal releases of all time.
11. Rivers of Nihil – Monarchy
In modern death metal’s current climate of extremely flashy (and often lifeless) performances, it’s always good to see a band embrace their humanity while still being able to make speakers crumble. There really hasn’t been a more perfect merger of the old with the new in 2015 more than Rivers of Nihil’s Monarchy, a stunningly-proficient slab of riffdom from a relatively young band that’s now well on their way to becoming one of the most interesting figures in the genre for this current decade. Monarchy is an absolutely titanic record; seamlessly swirling and shifting through walls of Decapitated-esque blasting mayhem, ethereal and atmospheric guitar leads, and more than enough chunky dissonance that’d make both Gorguts and Morbid Angel proud. The album’s 49 minute run time is seamlessly paced and always knows when to appropriate the right dynamic shifts to never let the listener become overwhelmed by the bulk of the album’s blistering tempos. If you’ve slept on this record for whatever reason so far, let this be your wake-up call. You won’t find a meaner scrunch tone than right here, and Monarchy’s conviction and passion is simply undeniable.
10. Periphery – Juggernaut
Periphery revealed that Juggernaut was originally projected to be the band’s first album, but that the timing never seemed right. Now with it almost a year under our collective belts, this album definitely feels as though it truly took almost a decade to piece together. With a run time as long as some feature-length films, the seventeen tracks of Alpha and Omega go through every possible nuance and style that Periphery has ever touched on before, and certainly takes plenty of time in tracks like “The Scourge,” “Priestess” and “Hell Below” to touch on new sonic ideas never previously done before by the band. This double album is simply massive in scope and really feels like it took equal contributions from all six members to piece this leviathan all together. There’s still a crushing groove and pulse throughout, Spencer Sotelo’s most charismatic and professional-sounding vocal performance ever, as well as one of the finest mixing jobs you’ll hear in heavy music this year. Periphery has never sounded more abrasive or as poppy at the same time; an intriguing position in music if there ever was one. It would be a huge disservice to only call this a djent album; Periphery is well on their way to becoming one of the most exciting faces in progressive metal today.
9. Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly
When an artist has the spotlight following them relentlessly, the last thing you would expect them to do is take a risk. Kendrick Lamar isn’t just any old artist, though. After making good kid, m.A.A.d city, Kendrick could have continued on his path to becoming one of the most popular and far reaching emcees the game has seen in quite some time, but instead the Compton rapper decided to risk that popularity by taking control of his spotlight in order to use its steady, focused beam to help the black community gain visibility, guiding it through the issues that they face day to day. He set it all to funk and jazz infused hip-hop instrumentals and titled it To Pimp a Butterfly, effectively creating one of the most important records of the year. Not only is it important, but it has enough widespread appeal to end up in the top ten of a heavy metal website, so clearly his risk has paid off in spades. Whether you’re listening to the funky and confident “King Kunta,” the psychedelic and jazz-laden “For Sale? (Interlude)” or the hard hitting and critically self-reflective “The Blacker the Berry,” you’re getting music that is not only enjoyable on a surface level, but thought provoking and poignant enough to be picked apart and analyzed in order to find even more value in an already deep treasure chest of a record. Whether To Pimp a Butterfly stands the test of time can only be seen as the years pass, but in this particular year, it’s an album that is an essential part of the musical and cultural landscape.
8. We Lost the Sea – Departure Songs
Concept albums are extremely difficult to do. One can argue that making a record with an overarching theme, whether it be musically or lyrically, is a feat that can not be accurately described. There are some bands that have found success with it and know how to do so with pure ease, and there are others who can try but fail. Then a band comes along that has a concept so profound that it does not require certain words or sections of music to tie it together. Instead, the theme is achieved by the overall experience, and with each story the song exemplifies. We Lost The Sea came back from the tragic suicide of their lead singer to create an absolute monster, but in the most rewarding way. The entire album, comprised of five songs, is a journey beyond the realm of comprehension into the realm of tragedy. It shows itself in the many different stories that set the tone for each song. Each song is a personal journey for the listener, while the entire album serves as catharsis for the band, who have courageously carried on when all hope was lost. The band have used their experiences, their sorrow, and all of the pain they endured to craft a work that is only described as a universal eulogy. While the band may change, this album will always remain as one of the most compelling and emotional pieces of music there has ever been.
7. Alkaloid – The Malkuth Grimoire
When Christian Muenzner and Hannes Grossman left Obscura and created prog death supergroup Alkaloid with musicians like Linus Klausenitzer (Obscura, Noneuclid), Morean (Dark Fortress, Noneuclid) and Danny Tunker (ex-Aborted), expectations were very high. Somehow, the band managed to outdo all of the expectations and deliver something unexpected and truly special. Combining the tech death leanings of the members with a grand sci-fi concept and avant-garde elements, Alkaloid have managed to differentiate themselves while also breaking new ground for the genre. Opening with a 9-minute-long song and continuing with another one, the album already makes a bold statement: they’re focusing on the progressive aspect of writing, and it’s a huge success. Both the individual epics (they truly deserve to be called that) and the multi-part “Dyson Sphere” suite flow as smoothly as possible for a song, and they throw in unique, experimental elements with such finesse that one might miss them. And that’s the crux here: A creative and extremely well-conceived album with so many layers to unpack and so many reasons to return to.
6. Agent Fresco – Destrier
After the relatively noiseless response that Iceland natives Agent Fresco’s sophomore full length Destrier earned this year, I mentally filed the album away as a sleeper hit that no one would notice. Imagine my surprise that not only did Destrier make the cut for Heavy Blog’s Top 50 Albums of 2015, our staff voted it up into the top 10 where it rightfully belongs. I do not say this lightly: Destrier is everything modern prog needs to be; passionate, intellectually engaging, and ambitiously experimental. Chances are, you’ve never even heard of Agent Fresco, so allow me to set the scene: Floaty Nordic prog with neo-classical influence that runs the gamut from math rock to ambient drone and everything in between that allows for this year’s most ridiculous breakdown – via title track “Destrier” – and most satisfying musical reprise (sorry BTBAM, it was close!). Make no mistake, Destrier is a modern prog masterpiece, and allow this to put you on notice.
5. WRVTH – WRVTH
From the melancholic opening chords of the first song, “Harrowing Winds,” lush and reverberating with a life all their own, to the drawn-out, slowly-dying outro of “Cease to Exist,” the record’s closer, WRVTH elicits an incredible varieties of emotion from all across the spectrum, from a lethargic, aching depression, to passionate, fiery hope, to caustic anger. Just short of an hour of beautiful, energetic, forever-moving music, WRVTH is a sonic trip through the mind of a quintet of artists performing at their very best; every member of the band feels fully committed to giving 110% of their energy and capabilities to each of the 11 tracks on this epic, and they consistently deliver.
The true power of WRVTH’s self-titled release is their incredible ability to paint with a vast sonic palette, conjuring to mind artists like Loma Prieta and Deafheaven alongside their bay-area contemporaries like Fallujah and The Faceless. Far from feeling excessive, every piece of WRVTH, from the techdeath bits, to the atmospheric and skramzy-feeling black metal, to the jazzy basslines and light sprinklings of sax performance, come together to make something that’s truly more than the sum of its parts. They say the third time is the charm, and that’s certainly true here: the third full-length from this band (previously under the moniker Wrath of Vesuvius) has set an entirely new precedent for just what techdeath can be.
4. Good Tiger – A Head Full of Moonlight
Djent is dead, that has already been established. But that sub-genre has a lot of talented people in it and its echoes can still create some great pieces of art. While Good Tiger is by no means djent, it certainly draws on a common pool of talent that emerged from that scene. Like their original works however, these musicians don’t stay shackled to any definitions for long: Good Tiger defies definition, a lot like The Safety Fire from which, somewhat, it emerged.
It’s an overall energetic album, eschewing long, drawn out passages of contemplation for quick, thick and well-performed brush strokes. It paints with bright color and we’re grateful for that: it’s a refreshing change of pace in what can often be a monotonous and monochrome culture. As always, Coleman’s vocals deserve special attention here: they add a quirkiness and conviction to the whole thing, not so much crowning it as gracing all its parts with a little something extra. At the end of the day, it’s an album with so much variation and exploration that nearly any fans of sleek, modern metal will find something to enjoy here.
3. Native Construct – Quiet World
Talk about misleading titles. Quiet World is anything but quiet – its seven tracks are vividly colourful, exuberant, and lush, and (unlike its silent protagonist-turned-antagonist) its gorgeous songwriting speaks volumes. An instant prog metal classic, Native Construct’s debut is in a league of its own in nearly every facet imaginable, from the constantly brilliant arrangements to vocalist Robert Edens’ incredible versatility in getting the album’s subtly dark story across.
The diverse instrumentation – featuring everything from violins to saxophone to monstrous eight string guitars – is used to maximal effect in developing motifs and themes across the course of the album, and there are surprises to be found at every turn, right up to the magnificent twelve minute closer that is “Chromatic Aberration.” But the eclectic nature of the album never feels overdone or out of place at any point, and despite the gorgeous arrangements to be found all over the place, the songs also get very, very delightfully sinister when they need to. A piece of music filled to the brim with brilliance, innovation, and a clear love of music itself, Quiet World is an absolute work of art, and a towering accomplishment on Native Construct’s part.
2. Leprous – The Congregation
Looking back now, it’s bittersweet that Norway’s Leprous has decided to step out of the shadows as Ihsahn’s backing band. Surely, the time spent under the wings of a black metal legend has bolstered the group’s subtle hints at darkness as a full-fledged blackened influence that, from time-to-time, decides to rear its ugly head. However, Leprous have always been much more than that, first and foremost a progressive rock group.
Their 2015 effort The Congregation is more than it seems on initial listens. Just under the album’s mostly still surface sits a monster waiting to burst, or perhaps waiting in recovery. This bleak album is restraint in practice, and the standalone tracks do contribute to an overall dynamic that may not be immediately obvious through a build and release of emotional tension. Outside of this living, breathing atmosphere is a sense of musicianship that relies on triumphant if not anthemic melodies and technical knowledge of rhythm and time used tastefully. Most importantly, The Congregation is catchy and unafraid of emotional vulnerability.
Over the years, they’ve slipped away from the avant garde and black metal sounds they’ve toyed with in the past, but it has allowed the band to craft some of their finest music to date on their own terms, comparable to perhaps Queen or Faith No More in their ouvre. Whether or not The Congregation itself is the group’s best record is up to debate, but it’s without a doubt one of the most important records of 2015.
1. Intronaut – The Direction of Last Things
It’s a common adage of ours that no album is perfect; even those we give a perfect score to don’t deserve that title. Perfect scores hint towards contextual perfection, perfection achieved within the context of what music is. Surely, an album that graces our number one spot in such an amazing year deserves that honor and The Direction of Last Things absolutely does. In it, Intronaut dig deep into their progressive roots, summoning forth various approaches to their core pop/stoner/rock sound. This enables them to create music that is both instantly recognizable as theirs and yet, innovative and interesting.
Together with a pristine mix by none else than Devin Townsend, The Direction of Last Things supplies everything we can want from a modern, progressive metal album. From fast paced opener “Fast Worms,” through the ominous and spacious “Sul Ponticello” and closer “City Hymnal,” the album is furiously dedicated to keeping us second-guessing on our toes, while sounding pristine and modern. It most gracefully avoids the common pitfall of such efforts: innovation for its own sake. Instead, it knows when to stick to the common path and when to depart, merging technical composition, pure aggression and heartfelt emotion into a salient, delicious elixir. For that, it is the Album of the Year of 2015, a position well-earned.