By Ides Bergen
Monday, December 14th, 2015 at 10:00 am
2015 has sucked in almost every way for me and for a lot of people that I know, too. You could say it was full of Trials and Tribulation (that’ll be funny AFTER you see the top of my list). Fortunately, we were gifted a litany of top-shelf metal albums to get us through it without losing our minds. The following are the top 20 metal records that I subjected my children to while driving them all over L.A. I have to admit that there was so much great stuff this year that I sort of cheated here by including a very extensive “honorable mentions” category for all of the other albums that might have made the list had the year ended when they came out. All of them are excellent efforts that I know I’ll be listening to for years to come.
Check out the list and let me know what you think in the comments below because if I know metalheads (and believe me, I do) you’ll all have some very strong opinions about your own likes and dislikes. The best thing about other people’s year-end “best of” list is that I always discover a few absolute gems that got past me during the year. Last year, you, the readers, even turned me on to Ne Obliviscaris and Solstafir, two amazing bands that I was unfamiliar with and whose albums should have been on my list. It is my hope that no matter what your opinion of my personal list is, that it will inspire you to check out some artists or records that you haven’t yet discovered. Who knows, maybe you’ll find your new favorite metal band contained herein.
Have a wonderful holiday season and rest up, because 2016 promises to be another pummeling year in extreme music. And be sure to stay tuned here at GoD because you know we’ll be doing our very best to keep you informed about all of it.
The “most blasphemous band in the world” celebrated their 25th year as a band by dropping their thirteenth album. This Swedish black metal battalion kicked the year off in style with their best album in years. Songs like the title track and “Thousand Fold Death” proved that these veterans can still lay it down just as brutally as the youngsters.
And speaking of younger black metal bands, Frosthelm brilliantly conveyed the cold and forlorn landscape of their native North Dakota on their debut full length album under legendary metal producer Matt Hyde’s Black Work (Alkemy Brothers) label.
L.A. Doom merchants Behold! The Monolith lost their singer/bassist Kevin McDade to an auto accident in 2013. They miraculously rebounded with a new lineup and this Billy Anderson produced masterpiece. Architects of the Void transcends the doom genre, exploring everything from speed metal to prog in bombastic fashion.
With singer Nick Holmes splitting time between Paradise Lost and Bloodbath, guitarist Gregor Macintosh doing likewise with Vallenfyre, and drummer Adrian Erlandsson doing triple duty here and with At The Gates and The Haunted, it’s amazing that these guys found time to do an album at all. The fact that it is one of their very best face-melters is all the more astounding.
Ben Koller and Steven Brodsky mix the greatest elements of their main bands Converge and Cave In to deliver a hardcore, punk, metal, math rock hybrid that tastes like the best combination since Reeses got “your peanut butter in my chocolate or your chocolate in my peanut butter.”
Matt Pike and his pummeling power trio are the heir apparent to the Motorhead throne. Luminiferous is the band’s seventh full-length effort and was once again produced by Converge guitarist Kurt Ballou. Pike applies his larger than life riffs to songs about aliens, chem trails, and a cadre of other conspiracy theories. While it is not the band’s strongest effort, it’s pretty damn close!
South Carolina metal stalwarts and Egyptology enthusiasts Nile are the kings of technical death metal. It was a crown that seemed, in recent years, to be weighing them down a bit, trying to top the level of technicality with each release. What Should Not Be Unearthed is a portrait of a band getting back to their roots and having a blast doing it. Plus they have become the first metal band that I’m aware of to take on Islamic extremists with the brutal album opener “Call to Destruction.” Be sure to also check out “Evil to Cast Out Evil.”
As you know if you’re a regular reader here, I was blown away by Clutch’s main stage performance at this year’s Knotfest. I started rocking this, their eleventh album, in my car the very next day and it’s been in HEAVY rotation ever since. Clutch is truly one of those bands that ARE their own genre.
I’m going to catch a ton of shit from the “trve cvlt” metal elitists for this one. Legendary satanic Norwegian band Gorgoroth are known for their “take no prisoners” approach to black metal. So, when they dropped this album and it turned out to be more of a mainstream, classic metal album than expected, the legions of the black light cried foul. Well, to Hell with those people because this record contains some of the best songwriting of the band’s two decade plus career. “Ad Omnipotens Aeterne Diabolus” and “Burn in His Light” are instant classics.
This record was a moral quandary for me. You see, W.A.S.P. was my favorite band when I was 14. I have followed these guys very closely throughout the ups and downs of their 30-year career. When I found out that the once-blasphemous Blackie Lawless had become a born-again Christian, it nearly broke my heathen heart. The thread of biblical lyrical themes running through Golgotha still make me cringe a bit, but all of that aside this is a kick-ass record. Easily the best W.A.S.P. disc in 20-plus years. Must hear tracks include “Scream,” “Miss You,” and “Fallen Under.”
And speaking of bands making their best record in over two decades, the greatest metal band in the world roared back with their first-ever double studio album. Clocking in at 92 minutes for only 11 songs, The Book of Souls, amazingly, contains next to no filler. Main songwriter and bassist Steve Harris relinquished some of the songwriting duties to his bandmates with spectacular results. The new Maiden classics include the album opener “If Eternity Should Fail,” “The Red and the Black,” the title track, and singer Bruce Dickinson’s 18-minute sprawling album-closer “Empire of the Clouds.”
I’ve always said that great music transcends whatever style or trends that accompany it. Deafheaven is a great example of that. These guys catch a lot of misplaced hate, often being labelled “hipster black metal” for their decidedly non-metal image. But these guys have breathed new life into the often stale genre of black metal by infusing their gorgeously brutal music with elements of Goth, progressive rock, post metal, and shoegaze. Imagine if you mashed up Bauhaus, The Cure, Sisters of Mercy, and Darkthrone, and that kind of starts to describe Deafheaven. Do not miss any of the album’s 5 epic tracks, especially the gorgeously haunting “Baby Blue.”
Never has a band so seamlessly melded Middle and Far Eastern instrumentation and melodies to extreme metal as Assyrian black metal band Melechesh do every single time out. These guys somehow manage to top themselves with each album and Enki is no exception. Go check out “The Palm, The Eye and Lapis Lazuli,” or “Enki – Divine Nature Awoken.”
I once described Ghost to someone as “Abba covering Blue Oyster Cult songs in the style of the Scooby-Doo theme.” It sounds wrong on paper, but oh so right on record. Meliora is Ghost’s third full-length album and is the closest that they have come yet to capturing their phenomenal live bombast in the studio. “He Is” may just be the coolest song of the year. “Cirice” and “From the Pendulum To the Pit” are no slouches either.
British thrashers Sylosis boast one of the best guitar players in modern metal in the form of frontman Josh Middleton. Here, on the band’s fourth full-length album, the singer/guitarist uses the band’s best songs to date as vehicles for his tasteful shredding. Prime cuts include “Dormant Heart,” “Leech,” and “Mercy.”
Until recently, Wrest (real name Jef Whitehead) had been one of black metal’s most reclusive enigmas. Over the past couple of years, Whitehead has been a bit less press shy. He even graced the cover of Decibel magazine while posing with his infant daughter this past year. Fortunately, the newfound happiness has not spilled over into his legendary one man project, Leviathan. Scar Sighted packs all the venom and vitriol that graced his previous recordings. Hands down, the black metal record of the year from the king of US black metal. Feast your ears on “The Smoke of Their Torment,” “Gardens of Coprolite,” the title track, and “Within Thrall.”
Cattle Decapitation is one of the most exciting and unrelenting extreme metal bands in the world today. Everything these guys crank out is top-shelf. Politically charged lyrics meet precision, progressive, technical death metal. Singer Travis Ryan boasts one of the most unique voices in the genre especially with his clean(ish) singing. Cattle Decapitation has transcended the metal underground and burst onto the world metal stage with their last two albums. To listen to anything short of the full album here would be grossly negligent.
I stumbled upon Swedish blackened death metal band Tribulation when they opened for Watain at The Vex Arts in L.A. in late 2013. I became an instant fan of them that night. However, nothing could have prepared me for the level of greatness that they had yet to quite attain. The Children of the Night blasted out of left field to floor metal fans and critics the world over. It is a towering monument to the power of hard work and perseverance and the willingness to throw out the rulebook of underground metal, elitists be damned. Again, do not skip a single second of this beautiful offering.
Trials is the band that truly bridges the chasm between classic and modern metal. Their 2012 album In the Shadow of Swords may just be the best of the decade thus far. The fact that they have met if not exceeded its quality on their latest effort is as astounding as the fact that they still issue their records on their own label without any assistance from the major labels. This Ruined World has seen heavier rotation than anything else on my iPod this year. Singer/guitarist Mark Sugar has one of the most versatile and memorable voices in all of metal. He also happens to write a mean riff and even greater songs. I implore you to give this record a listen. Hell, put it on repeat and crank it until your ears bleed! Blasphemy never sounded so good!