2015 seems to have yielded a larger-than-usual crop of good music. For the first time since I’ve joined this fine website, I’ve found a lot more than 10 albums that could have easily made this list, and I’ve had to make some tough calls. Obviously, this is a good problem to have, and I’m not complaining.
As always, if your favorite album isn’t on my list, it’s because your opinion is wrong, you have terrible taste in music and I don’t like you. Onward!
(ish). Tau Cross // Tau Cross – From the ashes of the short-lived Amebix reunion comes Tau Cross, featuring Amebix frontman Rob Miller alongside members of Misery and, of all people, Voivod‘s Michael Langevin on drums. The resulting music resembles a more organic Killing Joke at times, or perhaps Motorhead with a social conscience. The album does have a few more tracks than are absolutely necessary, but “Fire in the Sky,” “Stonecracker,” “Prison” and “We Control the Fear” are all winners.
10. Satan // Atom by Atom – On a roll following the unbelievable comeback of 2013’s Life Sentence, NWoBHM legends Satan take a victory lap with Atom by Atom. Classic, catchy metal riffs are plentiful here, bolstered by songwriting chops that newer “retro”-minded bands can only wish they had. Atom By Atom does pale somewhat in comparison to Life Sentence, and I’ll admit that I’m not quite as enamored by it as I was initially. However, it’s still a damn fine record, and it goes a long way towards scratching that classic metal itch that Iron Maiden‘s new record didn’t quite reach.
9. The Night Flight Orchestra // Skyline Whispers – The 2nd album from Soilwork frontman Björn Strid’s ’70s rock vanity project. Chock full of era-appropriate synth work and tasty lead guitar, Skyline Whispers effectively evokes the era of tiny shorts, mustaches and Camaros. It doesn’t quite measure up to the band’s debut Internal Affairs in terms of songwriting or audacity, but there’s still a lot of good things happening here. Tracks like “Stiletto,” “Demon Princess,” and “Living for the Nighttime” will rock you like a hurricane.
8. Queensrÿche // Condition Hüman – Other than perhaps Body Count, there is no band that has inspired years of totally unwarranted adulation from this author quite like Queensrÿche. This time though, my praise is well-earned: Condition Hüman finds the band on solid ground for the first time in over two decades, and marks a return to a more blatantly metal/hard rock approach. The songs here are catchy, heavy, and somewhat progressive, boasting plenty of dual guitar work and the powerful voice of new-ish singer Todd LaTorre. Hüman is the record most Queensrÿche fans have been waiting for since Empire, and it settles any arguments about this lineup’s legitimacy once and for all.
7. Mutoid Man // Bleeder – While his main band Cave-In botched their comeback attempt with the pretentious and unlistenable White Silence, singer/guitarist Steven Brodsky proves that he’s still got his wits about him. Bleeder‘s material is heavier, shorter, and more direct than most of the Cave-In catalog, and for lack of a better term, it’s pretty fun. As the sole guitarist, Brodsky gets to show off his chops more than usual, backed up by insanely fuzzed-out bass and the spastic drumming of Converge‘s Ben Koller. As a side note, these guys put on one of the most entertaining live shows I’ve seen this year.
6. Baroness // Purple – Baroness‘ 4th album lives up to some high expectations while avoiding predictability. The huge choruses and songwriting prowess displayed on Yellow are still in full force, yet that approach is tempered by the presence of heavy, proggy riffs that are more reminiscent the band’s early years. Longtime members John Baizley and Pete Adams continue to deliver anthemic guitar work and impressionist lyrics, capably backed up by a new rhythm section. While relatively concise by Baroness standards, Purple covers an awful lot of sonic ground, and proves that despite some major setbacks over the last few years, this band has continued to grow and evolve.
5. Wilderun // Sleep at the Edge of the Earth – I suppose we have you, the AMG readers, to thank for this one, since you told us about it via the AMG Forum. Wilderun combines Opeth-esque riffs and vocals with traditional folk instrumentation and some classically-inspired arrangements. Musical themes and vocal lines reappear throughout the album, giving it thematic cohesion and an almost cinematic feel. And, even when removed from the context of this album, “Linger” is possibly the most gorgeous piece of music I’ve heard all year. Sleep is a monster record, one that actually delivers on its massively ambitious aims. Keep an eye on these guys.
4. Killing Joke // Pylon – If I seem slightly less impressed by Pylon than my colleague Grymm (who gave this album the coveted 5 out of 5), it’s because Killing Joke has spoiled me rotten. Everything they’ve released since 1996’s Democracy has ranged between “really good” and “head-explodingly awesome,” and Pylon is no exception. This record contains some of the bleakest, most abrasive music of the band’s career (see “Dawn of the Hive,” “Delete”), while balancing it with more sublime tracks like “Euphoria” and “War on Freedom.” Not content with having influenced everyone from Metallica to Ministry to Nirvana, Killing Joke will probably continue to beat the shit out of our eardrums for decades to come.
3. Vhöl // Deeper than Sky – My fanboyish worship of guitarist John Cobbett (Ludicra/Hammers of Misfortune/Slough Feg) is further encouraged by Vhöl‘s sophomore record. The band pulls from classic speed and thrash metal, then augments those influences with equal parts prog rock, black metal, and psychedelia, resulting in a truly unique and strange sound. Cobbett’s efforts are backed by an absolutely grinding rhythm section and the deranged vocals of Mike Scheidt (also of Yob). Oh, and the slide guitar section during the title track wins the 2015 Riff o’ the Year™ award — the 2nd time Vhöl has taken that trophy home.
2. Royal Thunder // Crooked Doors – Making the most of some Fleetwood Mac-style inter-band turmoil, Atlanta’s Royal Thunder delivers an incredibly mature and emotionally charged sophomore album. Crooked Doors may be somewhat less aggressive than debut album CVI, but it’s also miles ahead in terms of songwriting and performance. I honestly can’t believe this album was released this past April, because these songs feel like they’ve been with me for years. Credit must also be given to vocalist/bassist Mlny Parsonz, who happens to possess what might be the most powerful singing voice on earth. Like Baroness before them, Royal Thunder is transitioning from “another sludgy metal band” into “writers of great songs,” and Crooked Doors is the tipping point.
1. Failure // The Heart Is a Monster – In perhaps the most flawless comeback since Carcass‘ Surgical Steel, 1990’s space-rock icons Failure return with their classic lineup and musical prowess intact after an 18-year layoff. The songwriting tandem of Ken Andrews and Greg Edwards is still a force to be reckoned with, and the resulting material, while more nuanced and less blatantly drugged-out than before, is absolutely mind-blowing. “Mulholland Dr.” and “Snow Angel” still give me chills, while “Fair Light Era” and “Hot Traveler” are loud and weird, just as Failure should be. Extra points are given for operating via PledgeMusic instead of a traditional record label, thereby delivering top-notch music directly to the fans.