2015 In Review

The 50 Best Metal Albums Of 2015

40 False – Untitled (Gilead Media)

Minneapolis’s False put out a really promising couple of EPs back in 2012, making their debut on a split with the excellent and filthy Louisiana black metal band Barghest. The endorsement of Barghest reflected well on False, and the two proved to be kindred spirits, churning out grimy American black metal. And while those early EPs were great, False’s Untitled is stellar. The fully-fleshed False is a gritty, relentless gale, an avalanche of thick black metal that effortlessly incorporates layer upon layer of million-mile-an-hour acrobatic guitars and drums. Frontwoman Rachel’s snarls are both rabid and controlled. And while nearly every song is around ten-minutes in length or more, the black and roll pedal-to-the-metal style keeps Untitled constantly pushing forward. Untitled is full of big gorgeous orchestral melodies, but, covered in soot and decay, this album feels of and for the city, black metal for a dark, grim and filthy future. –Wyatt

39 Dødheimsgard – A Umbra Omega (Peaceville)

You may not have heard of Dødheimsgard, but if you’re a fan of Norwegian black metal of any stripe, you’ve listened to bands with whom they’ve share members. This long-running act’s Metal Archives page is a mere click or two away from seemingly every legendary black metal band the country has produced. But as impressive as this extensive pedigree is, it’s hardly the most interesting thing about Dødheimsgard’s intermittent career, which has roughly tracked the genre’s last 20 years of evolution. After two straight-ahead LPs in the mid-’90s, DHG took a hard left turn with 1999’s 666 International, which was one of the best examples of the Norwegian BM scene’s then-transgressive interest in industrial music. Then they disappeared for eight years before releasing Supervillain Outcast, a poppier (and underrated!) spin on the 666 International sound. And then they fell silent for ANOTHER eight years, to the point that I figured that the band had fallen apart. But they hadn’t, and A Umbra Omega is somehow the weirdest and most ambitious album in Dødheimsgard’s catalog. Trying to name every mood shift and texture that unfolds over these 68 minutes would be a fool’s errand; suffice to say that it couches prog rock, ambient electronics, folk, and jazz in some absolutely blistering black metal. –Doug

38 Death Karma – The History Of Death & Burial Rituals Part 1 (Iron Bonehead)

Prague’s Death Karma are a duo whose two members — multi-instrumentalist Infernal Vlad and drummer Tom Coroner — also play in the trio Cult Of Fire. Cult Of Fire’s first album, Triumvirát, was released in 2012, and Death Karma made their debut a year later with the A Life Not Worth Living EP, and over the last few years, both bands have been responsible for some of the most exciting, insane black metal in the world. Cult Of Fire’s 2013 LP, ?????? ?? ????? ???????? (“Ascetic Meditation Of Death”), found both musical and thematic influence on the Indian subcontinent, paying homage to the Hindu goddess Kali and incorporating sitar and drone into its melodic black-metal buzz. It was one of 2013’s best metal albums. Now, Infernal Vlad has shifted his attention back to Death Karma, and as far as I’m concerned, that band’s debut LP, The History Of Death & Burial Rituals Part 1, is the best album of his career. The History of Death & Burial Rituals Part 1 is proggy, symphonic, melodic black metal with a high concept (literally: a history of death and burial rituals), but more importantly, the thing fucking rips. –Michael

37 Baroness – Purple (Abraxan Hymns)

It’s impossible to extricate Purple from its preceding storyline: the bus crash, the injuries, the rehabilitation and recovery process. It’s impossible not because the context is more compelling than the album, but because the context is woven deeply into the album’s fabric; the first words sung on lead single “Chlorine & Wine” by Baroness frontman John Baizley are, “When I call on my nursemaid / ‘Come sit by my side’…” There’s a danger, though, that the “survivor” narrative might overshadow the music. It’s a little bit like when one-armed pitcher Jim Abbott threw a no-hitter for the Yankees in 1993: By focusing on the adversity that led to the accomplishment, the accomplishment itself somehow feels diluted. That should not have been the case for Abbott, and it should not be the case for Baroness, either. Even if Baroness’ bus had never plummeted off a cliff — hell, even if the band had spent the last three years running a goddamn petting zoo — this album would be a ridiculous, glorious triumph. Forget about the lyrics; every single sound in this thing will produce a dopamine flood in your skull. –Michael

36 Putridity – Ignominous Atonement (Willowtip)

The kind of technical/brutal death metal that Putridity plays gets me tied up in knots sometimes. In some senses, it’s extremely cerebral stuff. It requires a huge amount of physical dexterity and mental precision to execute; Putridity’s albums are basically just long through-composed sequences of blasts, chugs, and vocal gurgles, all delivered crisply at insane speeds. Ignominious Atonement is also, bizarrely, a concept album inspired by Eraserhead. And yet, even though this music is extremely high-tech and even high-concept, the final effect is incredibly primal and direct. Like, absurdly so. For all its complexity, Ignominious Atonement is total goddamn gorilla music. Listening to Putridity doesn’t make you want to sit in your study leafing through Derrida; it makes you want to punch people’s faces inside out. Is it smart? Is it dumb? Is it “avant-dumb,” as I’ve heard brutal death metal called on occasion? Who cares! It fucking rules, and that’s what counts. –Doug

35 Vanum – Realm Of Sacrifice (Profound Lore)

Vanum comes from Kyle Morgan and Michael Rekevics, two figures who have been leading forces in US black metal for some time. Morgan is best known as the singer and guitarist for Ash Borer, the prominent atmospheric black metal band from California, and he runs the small influential label Psychic Violence; Rekevics drums in Fell Voices, a kindred spirit to Ash Borer, and plays in the equally awesome bands Vorde, Vilkacis, and the sorely missed Ruin Lust. Given that history, we’d expect a lot from Vanum, and the duo delivers. Realm Of Sacrifice is raw and pained, and as with many Rekevics projects, you get the feeling that playing this music must be both emotionally and physically exhausting. Of the bands mentioned above, I feel that Vanum has most in common with Vilkacis, who similarly craft melody-forward and memorable songs that feel as if they were etched in stone to be played and marveled at by future generations. –Wyatt

34 Vatnett Viskar – Settler (Century Media)

Vattnet Viskar have a branding problem. The band’s name suggests a Nordic black metal outfit, but they’re really four New Hampshire guys playing clean, hard-edged, riff-based post-metal. The seemingly cheery cover of the band’s second LP, Settler, comes off like a troll job, but the story behind that image is dark as fuck. They’re always compared to Deafheaven — and they’re often incorrectly categorized as “blackgaze” — but aside from a shared propensity for dramatic, knee-buckling hooks and 747-sized guitars, the two groups have little in common. Where Deafheaven build their songs over 10-minute expanses, Vattnet Viskar keep things tight and economical: Settler doesn’t ask you to wait for a payoff; it just spills out rewards like a busted slot machine. The album was produced by Sanford Parker (Yob, Leviathan), and it has a distinctly modern, bigger-than-the-night-sky sound, but in many ways, it feels like a throwback: specifically, a throwback to the best ’80s thrash — Megadeth, Kreator, Testament, Voivod — where technical virtuosity was paired with ambitious, commercially viable songcraft. Settler is a truly heavy album, but it’s an album of pure pleasure. Throw it on, go for a walk — the thing will be over before your legs are tired, and you’ll be hitting play again before you turn around and head for home. Hell, you’ll extend the walk just so you can hear it again. And you’ll feel exhilarated, unstoppable, and fucking alive the whole time. –Michael

33 Vastum – Hole Below (20 Buck Spin)

A friend once posited a grand theory about death metal that has resonated with me over the years, regardless of its accuracy. He theorized that death metal is the musical manifestation of a rejection of sex — physical repulsion writ large. The lack of danceable rhythms, the theory goes, evinces a fear of the body. Lyrics about gruesome death, rotting bodies, and so forth exist in binary opposition to the notion of reproduction, like a juvenile rebuttal of the ongoing cycle of life. Meanwhile, the foulest death metal lyrics — the caveman misogyny of Chris Barnes-era Cannibal Corpse, for example — are supposed to be the clearest instance of the theory at work. It’s a reductive way to frame a genre, but it’s an interesting lens for analysis, if nothing else. Vastum, in a sense, play it both ways. Their songs fixate on sexual revulsion, but they’re not hiding the ball: Every song is shamelessly, brazenly sexual, delving into themes of eroticism, violation, disgust, and abuse, rather than some abstract rejection of the above. Vastum’s third album, appropriately titled Hole Below, waves its themes like a burning flag, while the music continues to push forward, evolving further from their formative old school death metal roots towards something more oblique and haunting. –Aaron

32 Howls Of Ebb – The Marrow Veil (I, Voidhanger)

Using the word “experimental” as a modifier for a familiar genre tag usually means one of two things: (1) the band in question plays some slightly weird variation of an existing genre (think: Blut Aus Nord as “experimental black metal”) or (2) said band is so fucking weird you can’t really describe it, so you may as well just listen and let the weirdness wash over you. Howls of Ebb definitely fall into the second camp. Let’s take a trip; you can click along at home. We’ll start with a base of ’70s kraut/prog/noise: one part freeform krautrock (like, say, Xhol’s classic live album, Hau-RUK); add some adventurous noise from the likes of experimental visionaries This Heat; and a dash of Univers Zero’s stark existential hell. To keep things moist, modern, and metallic, liberally borrow the same ritualistic, mystic-metal throb as Oranssi Pazuzu. We’re missing death metal, so lift a whiff of Demilich’s squealing squelch for seasoning. Oh! Black metal: add the crumpled velvet trappings of Mortuary Drape and stir the pot with the basement-dwelling horror of Cultes Des Ghoules. There we have it: a bubbling pile of disparate shit left to bake under an alien sun, and spread across a three-song, 35-minute record. –Aaron

31 Lychgate – An Antidote For The Glass Pill (Blood Music)

When London’s Lychgate released their self-titled debut LP in 2013, their big publicity hook was the involvement of guitarist/vocalist Greg Chandler. Chandler’s better known as one of two consistent members of Esoteric, a long-running and prolific doom metal band that helped to establish the lugubrious “funeral doom” subgenre during the mid-’90s. With any luck, An Antidote For The Glass Pill should fully deliver Lychgate from Esoteric’s shadow. This is a highly unusual album, even by the standards of a genre as fundamentally freaky as black metal. Multi-instrumentalist James “Vortigern” Young handles its most outré aesthetic touch — a prominent pipe organ that shares center stage with the guitars for much of the album. But this isn’t the cartoonishly spooky pipe organ you’d find on a campy King Diamond record — Lychgate use it in a completely different context. They’ve chosen a technical, aggressive approach to black metal with a major penchant for dissonance as their starting point instead. Amidst such gnarled harmonies and intense performances, the organ takes on an unearthly howling quality that’s kind of terrifying to listen to. –Doug

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