We’ve reached another December and that means another nostalgic summation of 365 days of anger. Looking back, 2015 was a good little year and I’m glad for all it provided. AMG Himself had more free time in which to share his scorching case of Astral Rage of Uni-dwarves and blather on about overlong albums, and the site hit some impressive growth milestones too. We heard Jorn‘s take on Dracula, witnessed the birth of unicorn shaming and the introduction of our classtastic new logo. Hell, we even got a little closer to marketing authentic AMG brand merchandise. Our dysfunctional staff didn’t suffer any mysterious casualties or the
late night grave digging team building retreats they often necessitate, so I’d call the year a stunning success (minus the whole “Jørnicorn jacking my beer” thingee).
And what would a Top Ten(ish) list be without a maudlin shout out to those who helped make the year a good one. Thanks to AMG for all his vitriol and near constant usurping of the legitimate and trve Record(s) o’ the Month selections. He’s cranky as hell and sometimes delusional, but he’s the heart of the blog even when locked away in his ivory tower and things just wouldn’t be the same without his pompous and grandiose musical elitism. A big thanks also goes out to Madam X for all her editing and promo management skills. We’d truly up the creek without her organizational prowess. As for the rest of the AMG staff, they’re all good eggs (except Dr. A.N. Grier, who is a very bad egg and a degenerate click-baiter). We built this site around good writing and our staff provides it on a regular basis, usually without the need of excessive threats, intimidation and floggery. If only they recognized the heartbreaking genius of Jørn, they’d be perfect.
Musically, the staff saw 2015 through vastly different glasses. While some like AMG and myself thought it was a particularly solid year for metal, Kronos and his jaded, misanthropic ilk found it as barren and infertile as well-salted soil. Regardless of where you stand on the musical merits of 2015, it’s been a fun watching the site grow and communicating with like-minded metal folks in the mob ruled comment section. Our loyal community of snobs grows with the readership and though we’ve gotten considerably bigger, we remain a surprisingly assclown-free website. Kudos to all of you for that.
And so without further verbosity, I present the only Top Ten(ish) you’ll need this year (if you appreciate the heartbreaking genius of Jørn). Enjoy of deep Steel.
(ish) Visigoth // The Revenant King – The olde meets the kvlt and together they run into the trve on this mighty slab of classic metal thunder. Oathcore is the order of the day and those who don’t understand will be judged harshly by the Metal Tribune. Paying dutiful homage to Cirith Ungol and Doomsword, this horde executes the near-perfect 80s metal sound and the cheese is infused with so much damn testosterone, it’ll put hair on your back, palms and even your sword! We need much more of this righteous cheddar in these trying times.
10. Khemmis // Absolution – I’m very picky when it comes to stoner doom, but unheralded upstarts Khemmis bowled me over with their Rocky Mountain-sized riffs and ace song craft. Sure there’s some Mastodon influence, but there’s so much more here than meets the ear at first spin. Classic Sabbath riffs swirl alongside Kyuss trippiness, Pallbearer atmospherics and classic melo-death trilling for a heady stew that resonates deeply. Some knock the seemingly out-of-place harsh vocals, but it’s a small matter on what is an amazing debut by a band to watch closely in the future.
9. Goatsnake // Black Age Blues – The year’s most tasty southern-fried doom catfish, combining titanic doom riffs and church revival theatrics make for a strange but infectious listen and the song writing is sharp as all hell. This has the most killer guitar tone you’ll hear this year and songs like the brooding “Another River to Cross” and the manic hoedown of “Grandpa Jones” are shockingly accessible despite the sheer weight they park on your chest, neck and buttocks. The whole album rattles and shakes with southern groove, funk and swagger and the touches of harmonica and female choir are placed perfectly. Most importantly, this is a hugely catchy, fun doom album and you don’t see that animal every day, now do you?
8. Draconian // Sovran – Draconian has been on a run of solid albums and despite some lineup changes, Sovran is another big win for the sad boys (and girl) from Sweden. Containing several of my favorite songs of the year, Sovran shows their undisputed mastery of gothic doom/death and it’s tough to deny the appeal of set pieces like “Pale Tortured Blue” and the haunting “Stellar Tomb.” Equally hard to deny is the charm of new female singer Heike Langhan who brings a strong Within Temptation vibe to the doom and deathery. These peeps can do no wrong and the mood here is perfect for the genre.
7. Amorphis // Under the Red Cloud – With a few “less than Skyforger” albums in a row, even Steely D was beginning to worry the second wave of Amorphis awesomeness might be at end. That was until Under the Red Cloud taught me the error of my ways. This album feels like a fresh start for these beloved Finns, though they aren’t reinventing themselves in any particular way or exploring new soundscapes. This is the excellent follow-up we all wanted after Skyforger but didn’t entirely get. Tomi reaffirms why he’s the best thing that ever happened to Amorphis with a snobberknocker vocal performance and the band shows they haven’t forgotten their death metal roots. Well played, boys. Very well-played.
6. Crypt Sermon // Out of the Garden – Simply put, the best Candlemass album since Ancient Dreams. These youngsters adroitly merge Dio-era Sabbath with classic Candlemass and Solitude Aeturnus to create the best “classic doom” release of the year. Heavy, moody as hell and just melodic enough to be memorable and addicting, this is the most successful “throwback” doom album I’ve heard in years that didn’t have Leif Edling involved. Hell, they even take a stab at “Stargazer” heights of metallic grandeur on the monolithic “The Master’s Bouquet.” It’s pretty unfair to ask for anything more from a debut.
5. Pyramaze // Disciples of the Sun – Easily capturing the power-prog crown for the year, Pyramaze comes back with yet another singer and a totally new sound. Tracking the style of Threshold and Anubis Gate, the band delivers one melodic ear worm after another with just enough punch to keep things metal. Definitely one of the more infectious listens of the year, very few albums got more spins at my Fortress of Snobbery and this leaves me anxiously awaiting the next platter (hopefully with the same line up for a change).
4. Avatarium // The Girl in the Raven Mask – I was quite taken with the first Avatarium platter but Leif Edling’s efforts to take his doom sound even further backward into the past to approximate a Jefferson Airplane meets Sabbath style yields some truly funky and phenomenal results. Jennie-Ann Smith’s jazzy, sultry delivery continues to bewitch and the slick song writing conjures just the right retro mood to blow the listener away. Songs like “Pearls and Coffins” aren’t exactly the doom we know and expect, but that makes them all the more interesting and fascinating.
3. Nechochwen // Heart of Akamon – This is one of those rare albums where you immediately sense something special is going on. It isn’t just the Native American spin on traditional black metal and folk, but how much raw emotion and sincerity they create via heavy doses of Opeth and ’70s prog. Heart of Akamon is a difficult album to explain but an easy one to fall in love with; full of quirky arrangements and offbeat transitions from genre to genre, but the heart of it is so pure and real. I called it the Native America version of Bathory‘s Hammerheart and while that’s certainly true to an extent, this feels like something bigger and more spiritual. That makes for a rare kind of release and one everyone should experience.
2. A Swarm of the Sun // The Rifts – This came so very, very close to #1 but the very nature of what it is holds it back from the title. This is a slow walk through the stages of pain we as humans must endure when we lose someone or something dear to us, brought into stunningly depressive life through a blend of post-rock, doom and goth. It’s unrelentingly grim and despairing but also hauntingly beautiful and at times, vaguely uplifting. It’s easily one of the toughest listens of the past few years and as much as I admire and respect the album, I can only take it in small doses or it severely damages my happy. Still, it’s one of the top achievements of 2015 so here it sits, lonely and damaged.
1. Enshine // Singularity – Without a doubt the most gorgeous and lush soundscape of the year and the very best melo-death/doom had to offer in 2015. Drawing obvious comparisons to Insomnium, Rapture and Omnium Gatherum‘s almighty New World Shadows, Singularity is awash with beauty, atmosphere and somber melancholia. The trilling leads, weeping solos, forlorn cleans paired with despairing growls—this is where the sad boy emo-death train stops and sobs forevermore. It’s also as close as we’re going to get to a new Rapture album, thereby making it even more precious. AMG thinks it’s boring because he’s become a heartless, soulless Finnophobe, as evidenced by his incessant screedifying against Swallow the Sun. Ignore him, listen to me and marinate deeply in the cold lakes of the soul created by this haunting album.
- Pentagram // Curious Volume — With Sabbath retiring these vets are ready to become the vanguard of classic doom.
- Jess and the Ancient Ones // Second Psychedelic Coming: The Aquarius Tapes — Semi-satanic hippie cult rock now featuring extra shroom power!
- Trials // This Ruined World — The fact these elite thrashards remain unsigned says everything about today’s music industry.
- Wino & Conny Ochs // Freedom Conspiracy — World weary and wonderful anthems to societal estrangement (and meth).
- Ironsword // None but the Brave – the thinking man’s choice for shirtless barbarian metal ov trveness (ov steel)
- W.A.S.P. // Golgotha — Blackie is back with a more age appropriate codpiece and a whole lotta sweet, sweet Jesus.
- Sabbath Assembly // Sabbath Assembly — Everybody’s favorite satanic hippies finally put it all together for one goat licking extravaganza.
- Queensrÿche // Condition Hüman — Meat withoüt the Tate(rs) never söunded so good.
- Tau Cross // Tau Cross — Away + The Baron = major win.
- Swallow the Sun // Songs from the North — Ha x 3!
Disappointment o’ the Year
Virgin Steele // Nocturnes of Hellfire and Damnation – Is it really a disappointment when you expect a train smash but get one bigger than anticipated? Semantics aside, my hometown heroes Virgin Steele gave us the aural equivalent of riding a sandpaper horse off a cliff into a pit of sharp pins dipped in iodine and itching powder. So painful, so maddening, so confusing. No album made me ask “what the holy fuck were these guys thinking?” quite so much as this and that wins them the 2015 Crown of Shame. No, wait, it goes to Miss Colombia!
Song o’ the Year
Ereb Altor “Midsommarblot” – Something about the downbeat, epic mood and those killer vocals held me in thrall all damn year.