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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.