APESHIT’s Top Metal Albums of 2015

motorheadWhen looking back at 2015, the only thing that seems to matter is the passing of Lemmy Kilmister. Of course losing Phil “Philthy Animal” Taylor in November was sad but Lemmy was on another level – one of the pillars of the entire rock ‘n roll universe. Thankfully, he left a voluminous legacy for us to enjoy for eternity, including some of music’s best interviews and quotes possible. Cheers, Lemmy.

Other than that, 2015 was a remarkably strong year for the pioneering, long-running bands in the metal scene.  Everyone from KILLING JOKE, MY DYING BRIDE, FEAR FACTORY to AMORPHIS put out fantastic records. This past year also saw some very good super groups in TAU CROSS and FIRESPAWN make their debuts.  You’ll find that many of them made it to our respective lists.

Additionally, we’ve recruited some fresh blood in Charles Elliott, Andrew Sample, and Jeff Wagner. These industry vets have been in the trenches with us for years and years, and have helped bring you many of the greatest records ever released for the past 20+ years.

dr.park:

shining.ixeveryoneeverythingeverywhereendsSHINING (Sweden) – X – Everyone, Everything, Everywhere, Ends (Season of Mist)
SHINING‘s 10th album is absolutely effortless – a gleaming gem of soulful darkness.  Memorable, classic riffs with another standout, tortured performance by frontman Niklas Kvarforth.

ABYSSIONLuonnon harmonia ja vihreä liekki (Svart Records)
Very cool EP from this Finnish black metal band that is primal, savage, and psychedelic. The Finnish punk elements are melded perfectly with the early/mid-90’s Scandinavian black metal sound.

GORRCHNera Estasi (Altare Productions, Duplicate Records, Hexencave Productions)
Wow, this album came out of nowhere. Remember when black metal was fast, necro and mysterious? This Italian duo keep that flame burning with a fresh and excellent full-length debut.

KEEP OF KALESSINEpistemology (Indie Recordings)
Don’t let this one get past your radar.  Epistemology is a sleak and highly musical record.  The excellent performances and subtle expert-level tricks employed will appeal most to fellow musicians.  Love it when they get into that awesome hyper thrash mode.  Who knew mainman/guitarist Obsidian C. was this good of a vocalist?

AMORPHISUnder the Red Cloud (Nuclear Blast)
These Finnish legends have been on a quite a roll since 2007’s Silent Waters.  Under the Red Cloud embodies everything that makes AMORPHIS great.  Bask in their warm light.

FEAR FACTORYGenexus (Nuclear Blast)
For all those who felt like The Industrialist (+ drum machine) was a tad disappointing, Genexus (+ human drumming) is the ultimate FEAR FACTORY fan service.  The album easily ranks among the band’s top four releases.

CRYPTOPSYThe Book of Suffering Tome 1 (self-released)
A lot of veteran bands should follow CRYPTOPSY‘s example of releasing a series of hard hitting EP’s on a faster timeline.  Quality over quantity is the name of the game here.  [Read our full review]

CRADLE OF FILTHHammer of the Witches (Nuclear Blast)
CRADLE have not been the darlings of the media in quite some time but that doesn’t mean they’re done making great music.  Leave it to these extreme metal pioneers to kick out a scorcher of an album. [Read our full review]

JAGA JAZZISTStarfire (Ninja Tune)
If you haven’t heard, these Norwegians (who don’t play black metal) fuckin’ rule.  Starfire is an awesome psychedelic journey into the cosmos. [Read our full review]

MY DYING BRIDEFeel the Misery (Peaceville)
Hands down their best album since 2001’s The Dreadful Hours.  MY DYING BRIDE once again remind us of their place in the metal pantheon of greatness.

SOILWORKThe Ride Majestic (Nuclear Blast)
To one who has been a fan of the melodic death metal scene coming out of Sweden during its earlier days, the genre has become more or less tired and dead.  Well, SOILWORK might have single-handedly given the genre the badly needed jolt that it needed.  Bursting with vitality and a sense of renewal.

roycifer:

heavy stuff:
gorrch.neraestasiGORRCHNera Estasi (Altare Productions, Duplicate Records, Hexencave Productions)
CORPO-MENTECorpo-Mente (Blood Music)
SHINING (Norway) – International Blackjazz Society (Spinefarm)
KING WOMANDoubt (Flenser)
SVARTELDERSvartelder (Dusktone)

not heavy stuff:
DERADOORIANExpanding Flower Planet (Anticon)
BEACH HOUSEThank Your Lucky Stars (SubPop)
LAEL NEALEI’ll Be Your Man (Liberal Arts)
PEARL CHARLESPearl Charles (Burger)
JAGA JAZZISTStarfire (Ninja Tune)

big johnson:

gruesome.savageland1. GRUESOME – Savage Land (Relapse)
2. CRYPTOPSYThe Book of Suffering Tome 1 (self-released) [Read our full review]
3. HORRENDOUSAnareta (Dark Descends)
4. SULPHUR AEON – Gateway to the Antisphere (Ván Records/Imperium Productions)
5. GEORGE KOLLIASInvictus (Season of Mist)
6. MALEVOLENT CREATION – Dead Man’s Path (Century Media Records)
7. KRISIUN – Forged in Fury (Century Media Records)
8. MELECHESH – Enki (Nuclear Blast)
9. FIRESPAWN – Shadow Realms (Century Media Records)
10. AMORPHISUnder the Red Cloud (Nuclear Blast)

shady rajah:

slayer.repentless1. SLAYER – Repentless (Nuclear Blast)
2. MARDUK – Frontschwein (Century Media Records)
3. KRISIUN – Forged in Fury (Century Media Records)
4. UFOMAMMUTEcate (Neurot Recordings)
5. MARRIAGESSalome (Sargent House)
6. THE BODY & THOUYou, Whom I Have Always Hated (Thrill Jockey)
7. SKEPTICISMOrdeal (Svart Records)
8. MGLAExercises in Futility (No Solace)
9. KARYN CRISIS’ GOSPEL OF WITCHESSalem’s Wounds (Century Media Records)
10. Three-way tie: INTRONAUTThe Last Direction of Things (Century Media Records) / NAPALM DEATHApex Predator – Easy Meat (Century Media Records) / PARTY CANNONBong Hit Hospitalisation (Gore House Productions)

Oscar Martinez (JSR Merchandising):

slayer.repentless1. SLAYER – Repentless (Nuclear Blast)
2. ADELE – 25 (XL Recordings)
3. LAMB OF GOD – VII: Sturm Und Drang (Epic Records/Nuclear Blast)
4. DR. DRE – Compton (Aftermath/Interscope Records)
5. GHOSTMeliora (Republic Records)
6. AMORPHISUnder the Red Cloud (Nuclear Blast)
7. PARADISE LOSTThe Plague Within (Century Media Records)
8. KADAVAR – Berlin (Nuclear Blast)
9. SOILWORKThe Ride Majestic (Nuclear Blast)
10. LANA DEL REY – Honeymoon (Interscope Records)
11. FEAR FACTORYGenexus (Nuclear Blast)
12. KILLING JOKE – Pylon (Spinefarm)
13. LUCIFER – Lucifer I (Rise Above Records)
14. TRIBULATION – The Children of the Night (Century Media Records)
15. FAITH NO MORE – Sol Invictus (Reclamation Recordings/Ipecac)

Charles Elliott (ABYSMAL DAWN):

wolfheart.shadowworldWOLFHEARTShadow World (Spinefarm)
MY DYING BRIDEFeel the Misery (Peaceville Records)
SWALLOW THE SUNSongs From the North I, II, III (Century Media Records)
HATE ETERNAL – Infernus (Season of Mist)
CATTLE DECAPITATIONThe Anthropocene Extinct (Metal Blade Records)
SHAPE OF DESPAIRMonotony Fields (Season of Mist)
FEAR FACTORYGenexus (Nuclear Blast)
FIRESPAWN – Shadow Realms (Century Media Records)
ARKAIKLucid Dawn (Unique Leader Records)
CRYPTOPSYThe Book of Suffering Tome 1 (self-released)
SO HIDEOUS – Laurestine (Prosthetic Records)
MALEVOLENT CREATION – Dead Man’s Path (Century Media Records)
NILEWhat Should Not Be Unearthed (Nuclear Blast)
AMORPHISUnder the Red Cloud (Nuclear Blast)
TWITCHING TONGUES – Disharmony (Metal Blade Records)
WINDHANDGrief’s Infernal Flower (Relapse Records)

Andrew Sample (Drewcifer’s Pit):

goatsnake.blackagebluesGOATSNAKEBlack Age Blues (Southern Lord)
First full album in 15 years, and all the cylinders are still firing for Rogers, Anderson and Stahl. Although I miss the bald rumblings of Guy Pinhas, the production from acclaimed longtime friend Nick Raskulinecz does the trick and smooths over the void. “Elevated Man” and “House Of The Moon” are both fine indicators and bring the crushing grooves that we’ve always loved from GOATSNAKE, while the closer “A Killing Blues” is a weighty end to this concussive spiral. Not a return to form whatsoever, but indeed a doomy return to fun.

GHOSTMeliora (Republic Records)
Musically this band just gets better, as Meliora is hands-down their best album of the three. Papa III’s voice is probably my favorite as well, and songs like “From the Pinnacle to the Pit,” “Mummy Dust” and “Majesty” are just so enticing. The production has never been better either, bold and dirgy but just polished enough for mass consumption. The image and ambiguity has always taken a back seat to the music for me (much like KISS, KING DIAMOND or any pioneering black metal band), and it still bedazzles me that how GHOST have fans who won’t dare touch a clear-cut Metal band or album. So be it. Late Night TV appearances and Rock Radio have since jumped on the GHOST wagon, and opening for IRON MAIDEN in early 2016 should make them a metallic and hard rock household name soon.

INTRONAUTThe Last Direction of Things (Century Media Records)
I’m not sure if there are many American bands who continue to push themselves creatively like INTRONAUT, and it’s awesome that they manage to simultaneously get heavier, experimental and more refined with each album. “Digital Gerrymandering” is a concoction that OPETH, THE DEFTONES and RUSH could all be proud of, while “Fast Worms” gets my vote for one of the best singles (and videos) of the year. This album is a clinic from start to finish, and the tones these guys get with their instruments are nothing short of audio perfection.

IRON MAIDEN – The Book of Souls (Sanctuary Records Group/BMG)
I’ve thought for 15 years now that Kevin Shirley is the weakest part of the post-Millennium MAIDEN repertoire. To me he just doesn’t get the best tones from Nicko’s drums and the guitar triad. But what do I know, if it’s good enough for Steve Harris it should be good enough for me. As lofty of an idea as the double-album is in modern times (even for England’s greatest) I have to admit that the blokes pulled this one off. Sure there could be a couple of minutes cut from a few songs, but it’s not enough shy away from repeated listens in full. “The Red and the Black,” “Death or Glory,” “Shadows of the Valley” and the PURPLE-ish burner “Speed of Light” all get high Aces (boom), and thankfully, Bruce can just catch his breath enough to still keep us wondering if he’ll ever get old. Good on ya boys!

KILLING JOKE – Pylon (Spinefarm)
Since the original lineup got back together in 2009 (sadly after they all met at longtime bassist’s Paul Raven’s funeral), KILLING JOKE have been on quite a roll. 2010’s Absolute Dissent sounded the alarm for a new beginning (“The Great Cull” is one of the band’s greatest songs in my book), and MMXII was almost as volatile and convincing of a release. Pylon, however, just might be my favorite KJ album since the early 80’s. Never fully understood or appreciated by a good portion of true Metal fans, KILLING JOKE’s influence has lingered over the years in such acclaimed acts like GODFLESH, PRONG (where the late Raven spent several years) and more recently RAMMSTEIN and even TAU CROSS (see review below). The cold, industrial production of Pylon is spot on for the band’s dismal moods and lyrics, and with Paul Ferguson’s staccato beats firmly in place this album rides high from start to finish. “Dawn of the Hive,” “New Cold War” and “New Jerusalem” lead the way…all over six glorious minutes each.

LUCIFER – Lucifer I (Rise Above Records)
Can’t say I was a big fan of Johanna Sadonis and her previous band THE OATH, it just never got under my skin enough for repeat listens. Enter a new rhythm section and CATHEDRAL’s Gaz Jennings on guitar, and I’m a big fan of the debut album from LUCIFER. Raw and simple fuzzy doom with rugged production, it’s not meant to fool anyone but rather consistently deliver on its basic strengths. The music twists and turns while Sadonis’ hauntingly ethereal voice rides along in a sultry harmony. “Purple Pyramid,” “Sabbath” (go figure), “White Mountain” and “Izrael” are all solid tracks and worthy of Hammer Film score, while the opener “Abracadabra” is one of my favorite songs of 2015. Rise Above has delivered again, as Lucifer I is just as alluring as its sea-foam green cover.

NAPALM DEATHApex Predator – Easy Meat (Century Media Records)
Nothing strikingly new here from the kings of grind, but this album is more consistent than its immediate predecessors. As corrosive and driven as the band has ever been, Apex Predator may be the best ND album since Jesse Pintado’s passing in 2006. The foursome of Greenway, Harris, Embury and Herrera provide another visceral ride through corruption, corporate greed, social stratification and political ineptness. “Smash a Single Digit” and “How the Years Condemn” are excellent singles, but there’s plenty more meat to chew here. Surprisingly this album was recorded in sections over the course of a year, but you wouldn’t know it judging by the end result.

NIGHT DEMON – Curse of the Damned (Century Media Records)
It’s not just the nod to NWOBHM or the 80’s heyday of US independent metal that attracts me to Cali’s NIGHT DEMON, but also the fact that their talents as musicians and songwriters are above what most of the British and American punters of yesteryear had. If this trio decided to play a more intricate or virtuoso style of Metal, they would probably also excel in spades. Meticulous playing, spot on imagery and a thirst to deliver their craft at the utmost level of intensity are what set NIGHT DEMON apart from their fair weather traditional peers. Almost all of the 13 songs are winners, and the bitchin’ cover of RIOT‘s “Road Racin’” (fitting as bassist Jarvis Leatherby has almost as magnetic of a vocal style as the late Guy Speranza) is the feather in the hat for this lofty debut. NIGHT DEMON are just as aware of the history of their style as they are of the stubbornness of its fans, and perhaps only CAULDRON (and its inception, GOAT HORN) has been able to cut such a modern path of top-shelf old school Heavy Metal prowess, at least on this side of the Atlantic.

PARADISE LOST The Plague Within (Century Media Records)
Fourteen albums and more than 25 years in, PARADISE LOST are putting forth some of their best material to date. Like so many of their peers who have weathered three decades of existence, the band went through questionable times and experimenting (Host and Believe in Nothing come to mind immediately) where they seemed to almost completely shed their Metal roots. However, these album were some of their best sellers overseas, but the old saying, “You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone,” seemed to have crept back into the minds of vocalist Nick Holmes and company. The Plague Within is a bold entry into the band’s vast catalog, and their most accomplished (for me) since the turn of the millennium although their last few releases have all had great moments. “No Hope in Sight” and “Punishment through Time” bring back the solemn securities of both the Icon and Draconian Times albums, while “Terminal” and “Flesh From Bone” awaken the aggression and the Holmes growl that we’ve missed since their earliest years. Flawless production helps seal the deal on The Plague Within, this is the album of 2016 for many.

SAVIOURSPalace of Vision (Listenable Records)
Melding BLACK SABBATH with THIN LIZZY and IRON MAIDEN is easy to talk about, but near impossible to do while attaining any sort of original face. Witnessing SAVIOURS live on stage in 2007 for the first time I thought that a band had finally achieved that dream. Although their first releases were crude in production, the rough edges lent themselves to the band’s dirty-knuckle attitude and workhorse ethics. 2015 brought us Palace of Vision, the first full album in four years. Thankfully, the roughness is still present but the songs couldn’t be sharper and it’s obvious that SAVIOURS are determined to weather any storm. The heavenly guitar harmonies are here in spades, more notably with “Devil’s Crown” and the title track, and “Burning Shrine” and “The Beast Remains” prove they haven’t lost their MOTORHEAD-like punk upper lip. The huge rhythms are almost war like at times, and guitarist Austin Barber‘s apocalyptic cries bring the songs to a commanding level. Shrouded in a dense California haze, Palace of Vision is SAVIOURS’ greatest achievement, and thankfully we didn’t have to wait another year for it.

SLAYER – Repentless (Nuclear Blast)
Teased for almost a year with “Implode” and later “When The Stillness Comes,” one began to wonder if the chase would be better than the catch with the new SLAYER album. Their new life with Nuclear Blast has started off on a very nice foot, as Repentless is my favorite album from Hell’s house band since 1994’s Divine Intervention. I miss Dave Lombardo’s playing when I see the band on stage, but Paul Bostaph has delivered a monstrous performance here. Gary Holt’s first release with SLAYER gives him plenty of spotlight as well, although I can’t wait to hear what can happen when he’s allowed to contribute writing. “Piano Wire” and “Vices” are favorites, both with backbeat rhythms that bring a steady, less blistering pace that breaks up the album nicely. The melodic feel of a lot of the album brings back the aura of Divine, and Araya’s vocals light up the songs even further. “Atrocity Vendor” brings about the band’s punk roots, and the album’s packaging is nothing short of awesome. If you can’t come to terms with the lack of satanic or hellish lyrics as some critics have sited, then you may want to return to the Scandinavian bands who continue to beat that dead goat. Kudos SLAYER, you’re still reigning for me!

TAU CROSS – Tau Cross (Relapse Records)
Rob “The Baron” Miller found himself out of AMEBIX once again last year, and he put his energy into assembling a new band featuring VOIVOD’s Michel “Away” Langevin. Not sure if this will remain a one-off release or develop further, but these songs caught my attention immediately with a blending of styles and solid song structures. Crust punk, stoner rock, industrial and full-on metal are all here within the TAU CROSS debut, and Miller’s vocals have never been so immediate (for me). “Lazarous” has you hooked at first riff, painting a bleak picture of dismal solace and a shivering existence (much like the album artwork). It’s impossible to ignore Away’s driving beats, and the perfectly overdriven guitars wage their own war almost relentlessly. The more somber moods of “Midsummer,” “Sons of the Soil” and “We Control the Fear” (a standout track featuring some weighty KILLING JOKE influence) are still scathing due to Miller’s vocals, and “Prison” is the gem at the back end of the album with its tribal and shifting rhythmic assault. I get less selfish in my older age, and if this is the only album we get from TAU CROSS so be it, as it’s my favorite release from Relapse this year.

Best EP: DENNER/SHERMAN Satan’s Tomb (Metal Blade Records)
Whether in MERCYFUL FATE, FORCE OF EVIL or their new found alliance with drummer Snowy Shaw, you simply can’t deny the power and allure of this duo’s guitar work. Although I would prefer a bit grittier of a vocalist than Sean Peck, these four songs are all pretty solid. Probably best this was an EP and not a full album, as I’m not sure there would have been enough gas in the tank for a long ride. As it stands you can have repeated listens and it doesn’t get tired.

Jeff Wagner (Soul on Fire – The Peter Steele Biography/Mean Deviation: Four Decades of Progressive Heavy Metal):

[I proudly work for InsideOut as my day job, but decided to leave off the four InsideOut albums that would have made my list. Conflict of interest and politics and jealous band members all that. Argh. I bought every one of these albums (including “Disappointments”) except ENSLAVED, which was given to me as a promo. I don’t believe in freebies anymore and usually refuse them. People who don’t buy any of their music are leeches and can fuck off.]

Top Tier – The Untouchable Accomplishments:

Arcturus - ArcturianARCTURUS – Arcturian (Prophecy Productions) [Read our full review]
top songs: “The Arcturian Sign,” “Crashland” (greatest metal song of 2015), “Angst,” “Warp,” “Game Over,” “Demon,” “Pale.”
greatest performance by a metal vocalist in ages: Simen Hestnaes

MEW+ – (PIAS Recordings)
top songs: “Satellites,” “Water Slides,” “Rows,” “Cross the River On Your Own

Second Tier:

GHOSTMeliora (Republic Records)
PUSCIFERMoney Shot (Puscifer Entertainment)
HORRENDOUSAnareta (Dark Descent)
BARONESS – Purple (Abraxan Hymns)

Third Tier:

SOLEFALD – World Metal – Kosmopolis Sud (Indie Recordings)
TRIBULATIONThe Children of the Night (Century Media Records)
BJORK – Vulnicura (One Little Indian)
CATTLE DECAPITATIONThe Anthropocene Extinction (Metal Blade Records)
DURAN DURANPaper Gods (Warner Bros.)
GOBLINFour of a Kind (self-released)
STEVEN WILSONHand.Cannot.Erase. (Kscope)
DODHEIMSGARDA Umbra Omega (Peaceville Records)
GOBLIN REBIRTHGoblin Rebirth (Relapse Records)
SATANAtom By Atom (Listenable Records)
ENSLAVEDIn Times (Nuclear Blast)

Disappointing:

ANEKDOTENUntil All the Ghosts are Gone (Musea/Virta Records)
Spinning out in redundancy now, nothing new. Too bad, their previous album was really good.

MUSEDrones (Warner Bros.)
Total poop, pretty much turned me off to the band entirely.

AUTOPSYSkull Grinder EP (Peaceville Records)
Loved last year’s full-length, but it appears these guys are done developing in any worthwhile way…they’re hardly even trying to come up with fresh ideas on this EP. Even the attempts at some measure of newness [“Sanity Bleeds,” “Back to Dead“] come up short and hit a wall…hard. Still, they’ll always be top tier for me overall.

COHEED AND CAMBRIA – The Color Before the Sun (300 Entertainment)
Wasn’t exactly thrilled at all by the two singles I heard, so declined to buy it.

Brandon Stratton AKA rawknrollchef13:

putridity.gnominiousatonementPUTRIDITYIgnominious Atonement (Willowtip)
CUT UPForensic Nightmares (Metal Blade Records)
SATANIC ASSAULT DIVISIONKill the Cross (Black Plague)
NIGHT DEMONCurse of the Damned (Century Media Records)
SWALLOW THE SUNSongs of the North I, II, III (Century Media Records)
CRYPT SERMONOut of the Garden (Dark Descent)
INCANTATIONDirges of Elysium (Listenable Records)
KRISIUNForged in Fury (Century Media Records)
MARDUKFrontschwein (Century Media Records)
SERIAL BUTCHERBrute Force Lobotomy (Unique Leader Records)

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