kronosAnd so emanates my refrain: 2015 was a shit year for metal. My colleagues, and you, reader, may disagree, but I stand firm in my ambivalence towards this year’s release schedule as a whole; it’s not that the big labels were all pushing out duds or that established bands like Sigh and Leprous shat the bed—they in fact were quite competent releases. But overall, there wasn’t too much exciting material out there – just a lot of solid metal that didn’t particularly move me. Because of the paucity of good tech/prog/avant-garde death for me to process, I have been forced to compensate, and my listening habits have focused mostly on the greats of 2014, including some of last year’s top picks that I didn’t give enough love at release (from Archspire and Wretched), fantastic records that I had no clue existed at list-time (the sophomore effort from blackened-mathcore outfit Plebeian Grandstand and the excellent debut from snare-tone sophisticates Under the Pledge of Secrecy), and a few non-metal favorites like Three Trapped Tigers.

But metal has to have off years; if it didn’t all of the brilliance of good years would be lost. And beyond necessity, it allows new voices to hop into the ring that is a reviewer’s perpetually cramped listening schedule. These are the scrappy underdogs that keep metal alive, unimpeded by the restraints of commercial sale and this year’s best records come from independent bands whose labors of love often went sadly unnoticed because of the sea of new music we all try to keep up with. This is their time, when the tides finally recede and they glint on the shores, cast up for all to see, to be picked apart by you; the seagulls of the metal ocean, who will subsequently shit them out into the waters once again where the sudden influx of nutrients will pollinate huge blooms of algae, the first link in the great chain that ends when some asshat pulls up a shark and chops off its fins to make a fucking soup, leaving it to die in anguish.

Yes, Cattle Decapitation made it onto the list.


Beaten to Death - Unplugged#(ish) Beaten to Death // UnpluggedRepeated listens might send this further up my list, but as it stands I’m still gaga for Beaten to Death‘s uniquely melodic grind. The band has a knack for heavy riffs and pairs them with gurgling vocals and tender melodies that somehow fail to destroy each other’s impact. Maybe this is the sort of thing that Deafheaven is going for, but for whatever reason I can really get behind Unplugged and its catchy and irreverent grind.

Cattle Decapitation - The Anthropocene Extinction10. Cattle Decapitation // The Anthropocene ExtinctionSpending a summer working in California made the San Diego grind gods’ latest album all the more potent; when you see up close the insidious destruction that inspires their vitriol, you’re more capable of looking past how fucking brickwalled it is. While not as adventurous as Monolith of Inhumanity, this album is still packed with brutality and insane hooks, yet another great example of the band’s hybrid take on extreme metal. While I really love this album both for its music and its themes, I’m loathe to put something this compressed-sounding and loud high up on the list. Maybe if I complain enough they’ll send me an alternate master? It happened last year…

Lorna Shore 029. Lorna Shore // PsalmsCue joke about the year being so bad that deathcore made it onto the list followed by the eating of words; Psalms isn’t just a great debut, it’s a great album through and through and an invigorating release that’s sure to challenge your preconceptions. The riffing is there, the band is tight, and the breakdowns are far from predictable – jarring rather than crowd-pleasing. A flawed but ambitious and successful album, this deathcore debut kicks more ass than it has any right to.

Okazaki-Fragments_Abandoned8. Okazaki Fragments // AbandonedThis album is solitary, nasty, brutish and short; its lack of melody as impeccable as its rhythmic asymmetry. It’s tight, strange and somehow really addictive despite its uninviting… well, everything. Abandoned isn’t a perfect record, and it seems it’ll be the only thing we hear from Okazaki Fragments, but it’s an excellent experiment in pushing the boundaries of deathgrind.

Beardfish - 4626 Comfortzone 017. Beardfish // +4626-Comfortzone – My prog-rock loving friend got into Beardfish after reading Dr. Fisting‘s review and had me converted in due time. This band has a knack for storytelling and an unexpected energy that makes their ’70s prog wankery not just tolerable but fun. Comfortzone coverts everything depressing about small-town anywhere into a heartfelt and rambunctious album built around epic songs like “Ode to the Rock’n’Roller” and ” If We Must Be Apart (A Love Story Continued).” Prog rock this good is hard to come by, and I have to tip my hat to these guys for making an album completely devoid of growling and clashing semitones that I really enjoy.

Hope Drone - Cloak of Ash6. Hope Drone // Cloak of AshAMG will have something to say about my bryophyte-loving ways, but no amount of bullying can make me not adore this record or this band. Simplistic but brimming with subtle textures, it’s an album that’s not catchy but still hooks you with its tone and atmosphere, an earthy mix of noise and distortion spread out over something like four hours. It’s not easy, it’s not going to help me woo the ladies, and it’s not something entirely healthy to like; this is nihilism made into sound.

Alustrium_A Tunnel to Eden5. Alustrium // A Tunnel to EdenI slobbered all over this record when it came out and my opinion hasn’t changed; it’s prog-death with actual riffs paired with some great melodies and lyrics that aren’t cringe-worthy. Yes, it’s too long, but the thematic unity of the last three tracks allows them to be easily digested as separate from the rest of the album, cutting it down to a manageable size. A Tunnel to Eden is a must-have prog-death album and that cover art is gorgeous.

Trials - This Ruined World4. Trials // This Ruined WorldI’ve met Dr. Fisting on multiple occasions – more than enough to know that he’s far too amicable to follow through on his threats to kneecap staff members that don’t heap enough praise on This Ruined World. And if you’ve heard the record, you know that he doesn’t need to anyway; Trials are in peak form and after a period of long and difficult introspection, I have come to see that This Ruined World is even better than In the Shadow of Swords. The band’s energetic, intelligent, and down-to-Earth thrash is truly peerless and heavier than ever. From the Gothenburg-rampage of “Digging My Own Grave,” which I’ve loved since I first heard them play it live sometime last winter, to the fantastic guitar harmony of “Truth Defiled,” every single song is awesome and must-hear moments are almost unrelenting.

Ad Nauseam_Nihil Quam Vacuitas Ordinatum Est3. Ad Nauseam // Nihil Quam Vacuitas Ordinatum Est – Some people like to complain that Obscura worship and wannabe-Ulcerate poseurs are running amok in the death/black metal scene. Let them run, I say. The style is starting to diversify and produce some very interesting albums like Baring Teeth‘s Ghost Chorus Among Old Ruins and the Okazaki Fragments release covered above. But I haven’t seen a band venture this far into 20th century avant-garde music since Dodecahedron. Listening to Nihil Quam Vacuitas Ordinatum Est is a hellish adventure full of abused grand pianos and scraped violins.

The Armed Untitled 022. The Armed // UntitledWhile I’ve been a fan of The Armed since their Spreading Joy EP, I never imagined they’d write an album this good. Every song on Untitled is fantastic and memorable in its own unique way, and pretty much anything on the album could be my song of the year. They’ve come a long way since their young Dillinger Escape Plan-aping days in the late 2000s and ended up somewhere they can call their own. With an intensity matched by inventiveness, the untitled album’s reckless punk rock partners smartly with piano and polyrhythm, perfecting a cynical, angsty masterwork from the band that’s armed, anonymous and anti-everything. I love it.

Arcania_Fearless1. Acrania // Fearless – Never before has an album hit so many of my switches; Acrania are a band after my own heart, and the heart of every metalhead who has a soft spot for Latin music. What’s really stunning about Fearless is its cohesion; while it’s easy to write a genre-skipping break into a bridge or a little lick at the end of a chorus, it’s nearly unheard of to weave a half-dozen different styles of music into a song and make each one completely integral to the sound, and that’s just warming up for Fearless. Yet for music so dense and technically demanding, it’s more fun than a barrel of monkeys playing Revocation songs, compelling you not just to bang your head but to jump out into the street, dance, and do shots with the stray dogs. All of this comes with a stunning lack of pretense from a band that draws both from existentialist holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl and the one-hit-wonder rock band The Champs. If you only listen to one album this year, make it Fearless.


Best Thing We Missed Last Year: Plebeian Grandstand // Lowgazers – The angriest band on the planet makes the jump from blackened mathcore to something way more evil.

Song o’ the Year: Beaten to Death // “Don’t You Dare to Call Us Heavy Metal” – Everyone I’ve played this song to has liked it, whether or not they had any idea what grindcore is. Truly pummeling, beautifully melodic grind.

 

 

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  • You get more Golem-like every year, Kronos.

    • Iliast

      Perhaps also Gollum-like.

      • That’s what I meant. He’s hardly made of clay at all.

        • Iliast

          That being said, few things are as metal as אמת and מת (truth and death).

          • Kronos

            Hebrew is a pretty brutal language.

        • Kronos

          That makes more sense.

  • Iliast

    On the issue of Lowgazers (and Throatruiner releases in general), I think Nesseria’s Fractures and Death Engine’s Mud deserved a lot more coverage that they received.

    • Kronos

      I haven’t heard either of those- I’ll have to check them out.

  • André Snyde Lopes

    What’s wrong with 2015, Kronos? Not dissonant enough?

    • Kronos

      Damn right! Although there was a new Jute Gyte release that was quite good.

      • André Snyde Lopes

        I mean, no mention of Abyssal or Aevangelist or even your boys Pyrrhon. Do the holidays always make you this grumpy?

        • Kronos

          Yes. Actually haven’t heard aevangelist so I’ll be checking that out. Pyrrhon was great but I wanted to stick to lps for this list.
          If you’re looking for dissonance or chaos, there are some great releases this year in that field that didn’t make the cut either because of these or because I didn’t know about them until recently. These included works from Dendritic Arbor, Witch of the Waste, and The Crinn.

          • André Snyde Lopes

            Thanks for the tips, man. I’ll be checking those out along with that Acrania album that I didn’t even realize existed.

          • Kronos

            There will be a TYMHM on it.

  • This has been a weird year. I have actually been quite pleased with releases this year, but a lot of the best ones have not come from expected places at all.

    • AndySynn

      I would second that. There’s only really one “big” name in my Critical list, and my Personal list generally focusses on the smaller names too this year. It’s just the way the cards have fallen in 2015 it seems.

      • Kronos

        Rivers of Nihil? Boooooooo!
        Seriously I’ll have to check out some of this stuff since you seem to have a pretty good hold of yourself otherwise.

        • AndySynn

          Ah, but you can’t trust me. I’m British, and we’re all villains, if TV and movies have taught me anything.

          • Why do you assholes always want to blow up planets in the service of the dark side? Is fucked up.

          • AndySynn

            It’s actually all part of a fiendish plot to drive up galactic real-estate prices so we can make a killing on the planets market.

          • Good plan. Very Lawful Evil.

          • AndySynn

            The system is there to be exploited by those with the power, and the will, to do so.

            Chaos serves only itself.

  • Dethjesta

    Just been listening to Acrania on this recommendation – absolutely love it. Cheers Kronos.

  • You wot m8?

    Yasss… Alustrium is on a list. Kronos is my favorite now.

    • Kronos

      Damn good album for when you have an hour and a half to listen to the whole thing.

      • You wot m8?

        Favorite track? Also, I was surprised that Arisen New Era wasn’t on your list.

        • Kronos

          A solid album but I haven’t really returned to it.
          I think the best song off of A tunnel to eden might be the title track.

          • El_Cuervo

            Slackjaw and My Possessor bruh

          • AlphaBetaFoxface

            Don’t forget Illusion of Choice P3! That intro riff deserves a place on the top 10

          • You wot m8?

            My Possessor is quite a catchy tune, I must say…

          • You wot m8?

            I’m partial to “In His Own Image” myself.

            Let’s celebrate, because evolution has worked!
            The final form has come to be.

            That song is sexy, no matter how many times I listen to it. In regards to Kronos [the band], I think that you, Kronos [the man], might benefit from a good ol’ “Soul-Voracious Vultures” or “Purity Slaughtered”.

  • Diego Molero

    Did anyone hear this year realeses by Agent Fresco and Eidola? No reviews in here and so far it hasn’t even been mentioned. I think they are very, very good, someone should check them out

    • El_Cuervo

      Eidola’s pretty cool. Not a TYMHM for me though.

      • Diego Molero

        And what about Agent Fresco? You hear their album?

        • MelbCro

          Agent Fresco are amazing, Destrier makes my top 10 for this year

          • Diego Molero

            Yeah in mine too. Such a great album

  • pfk505

    I found this to be the best year in recent memory.. must be down to genre preference.

    • Monsterth Goatom

      Yep, pretty much. It was a stellar year in my books as well.

    • Kronos

      Yep. Not enough death metal.

      • Heifer Madness

        Gorod and Grave both released incredible DM albums.
        Where is the love? And don’t give me that “they didn’t send us promos” crap.

        • Kronos

          Gorod was good,and I gave it a good score, but it didn’t stay on rotation long.

          • Philip Pledger

            Yeah, most of the songs just weren’t memorable enough. It’s still on rotation for me, but certainly not as high up on the list as A Perfect Absolution.

          • André Snyde Lopes

            This is true. But I’ll be damned if the end of Syncretic Delirium isn’t the best thing they’ve done since the intro to Varangian Paradise.

          • Philip Pledger

            Yeah, I’m going to have to concede that point. It’s a pretty frickin’ classy way to close the album.

          • Guillotine of Papal Crowns

            “A Maze of Recycled Creeds” it’s, easily, one of my favourite albums of 2015.
            When I listen to their music I feel kinda like when I watch documentaries about sharks, crocodiles or predators: it is brutal but I am fucking fascinated and it is strangely beautiful.
            And that bit at “Rejoice your soul”… Fucking genius

          • Kronos

            There’s a torrent out there with all of the last 20 or so years of major David Attenborough documentaries (Life, Planet Earth, Life in Cold Blood, etc) which I highly recommend getting. Nature documentaries are a real love of mine.

          • Guillotine of Papal Crowns

            MUCHO SUCCESSO

    • JWEG

      Lots of great doom (in all its micro-genre permutations) and atmospheric black metal.

      I was more than pleased.

  • Fuinha

    Beardfish? I forgive all your sins

  • love your shoutout to Plebian Grandstand at the end there…that album is so evil and pissy. Great list overall!

  • Oscar Albretsen

    I’m kinda surprised no one’s even mentioned “Absolution” by Khemmis in their list yet. Okay, so maybe the whole album wasn’t the absolute greatest, but I’ll be damned if “The Bereaved” isn’t the best song anyone’s made this year. It’s like cocaine every time I listen to it. I just want MORE! God, I love that song.

    • Luke_22

      I really enjoyed the core of Absolution, such as the riffs, melodies, clean vocals etc…However, the harsh vocals put a black mark through the album for me. Still a very talented young band on the rise.

      • Oscar Albretsen

        Agreed, they’re at their best when they’re singing clean (such as on “The Bereaved.”) Bands have a tendency to get less harsh as they mature. Hopefully that will happen with Khemmis.

  • Cameron

    I dunno man, The Armed sounds like they’re still aping Dillinger to me. Some pretty darn good aping, but aping nonetheless.

    • Kronos

      Dillinger is less notably punk and way more cerebral, but The Armed is nonetheless very informed by them.

  • Love Acrania. it’s up there on my list as well, but I just have to do this to you, because it is too fucking torturously (word?) funny to not. You realize that’s Cookie Monster on lead Vox right?

    • Kronos

      Acrania’s vocals are way more interesting than that – like a bad Max Cavalera impersonator constantly about to break out laughing at himself.

  • testiklees

    You really need to find some love for doom brother, what a year in doom 2015 was!

    • Kronos

      Wait for the Druhm list…

    • Pimpolho

      Hell yes!

  • Prostidude

    I kept wondering why nobody mentioned ‘London’ by Voices in their lists until I realized it was already released last year. Seems that I too have been more focussed on ’14 than ’15.

    • You wot m8?

      The year’s gone by crazy-fast.

  • Monsterth Goatom

    That Acrania is a real find. Gato Barbieri goes metal! Great musicians, and the recording sounds so good. I guess they have two drummers? One on the kit, one on hand drums?

    • Kronos

      Yep. I’d love to see them live.

      • Ed

        Really sucks live (and studio too) no. 1 in this list? Thats a real bummer

  • Grymm

    I’m kinda surprised that Imperial Triumphant didn’t make your list… and kinda pissed that Alustrium didn’t make mine.

    Excellent list and write-up!

    • Kronos

      I figured you’d give it plenty of love, and I didn’t have much time for it after the Ad Nauseam record,

  • Hope Drone. Omfg. Stahp.

    I still love you, though.

    • Kronos

      Succumb! My love comes with Hope Drone free of charge.

      • You wot m8?

        Now that’s a deal!

  • Thatguy

    Excellent list but I too was more impressed by this year than you.

    Glad that Hope Drone got some love though.

  • AlphaBetaFoxface

    Lorna Shore definitely deserve some attention. And by the gods do they kill it live.

    From a variation perspective, this year was great. Never had a personal top 10 brimming with so many styles of metal outside of the comfort zone. Then again, Alustrium have pretty much been the only death metal act to catch my attention this year. Great list, and brilliant, brilliant reviews none the less for this year dude!

    • Kronos

      I saw the last few minutes of their set when they came to Chicago. Pretty tight live band and they played hard despite being onstage in front of very few people.

  • Luke_22

    Nice list Kronos. Acrania sounds batshit crazy and very cool. Also need to check out that Plebeian Grandstand. .

    • Kronos

      You won’t regret it.

  • Irineu Carvalho

    Beware. There is another band named Acrania, from London, which plays some displeasing to my ears deathkore with inane lyrics. The British and Mexican Acrania are listed together at Spotift and Encyclopedia Metallum.

    • Kronos

      Dr Fisting ran into this problem as well, much to my amusement.

    • Philip Pledger

      Yeah, I tried listening to the British one by mistake, and was thoroughly confused by Kronos’s praise of the band. Very tepid, unlike the Mexican one which is fantastic. I laughed fairly loudly at the interjection of the Tequila melody, much to the confusion of my coworkers.

  • Hulksteraus

    Acrania is awesome! Reminds me a bit of some of the best SKA, but METAL!!! Go the horns and hand drums :)

  • Carlos Marrickvillian

    A list like no other I’ve seen! Well played Kronos
    Serdce ended up being one of my favourite things I missed last year, I have a feeling Arcania might be the same next!
    I’m still waiting for Locrian to make an appearance on a list I was semi expecting it to sneak in here.

    • El_Cuervo

      Ye, Kronos’s listing of Serdce awakened me to their majestic presence too. Their preceding album, The Alchemy of Harmony, is really good too.

  • Alex Benedict

    But what about Irreversible Mechanism???
    I can’t imagine that you wouldn’t like it since you like tech death

    • John Mosley

      Decent album. Name your price on Bandcamp.

    • Kronos

      I’ve seen plenty of people talk about it, but everything I’ve heard from it so far annoyed the hell out of me. It’s far to overdone.

  • JL

    “Paucity of good tech/prog death metal…” yet Alkaloid wasn’t in your top 10…?

    • John Mosley

      F’kn right

      • Kronos

        Good no, the music was decent but the songs felt like show tunes. I hate all the lyrics and they’re impossible to ignore.

        • John Mosley

          Lyrics are heavy-handed. Nothing wrong with a little melodrama.

        • André Snyde Lopes

          No love for Cthulhu? That song is tight, man.

          • Kronos

            That’s got to be the most clichéd song I’ve heard this year.

          • André Snyde Lopes

            That song unique because of those alien lead guitar flourishes after every verse that make my spine tingle. Can’t say I’ve heard those done before.

          • Kronos

            True but the lyrics…

  • John Mosley

    This Acrania album makes me want to rape a piñata. It’s the tits. If tits had tits it would be the tits’ tits.

  • Lasse Momme

    I’m a bit surprised you didn’t include Arisen New Era, seeing as how highly you scored it earlier in the year. Was it just a case of it dying on you or did better records just release afterwards?

    • Kronos

      Solid record, but it didn’t stay in my rotation.

  • tomasjacobi

    Love the Acrania album; thanks for bringing it to my attention. These guys have officially out-funned Revocation!

    • John Mosley

      A co-headlining tour would be the tits.

  • Oscar Albretsen

    Right on! And now Madam X has it listed in her top 10 list. Glad this album’s getting some recognition.

  • sir_c

    Thanks to some other commenter I realize that Poland should have been enlisted: Batushka and Non Opus Dei. But that is generally speaking towards the AMG staff. But still thanks for all those other great finds