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.