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.