For anyone who missed the “non-metal” list, a little background first. I was asked the last couple years to compile an all-encompassing year end list and inevitably every year that list was weighted quite heavily in favor of all things metal. This year would not have been any different. So I decided that if I was going to do this again I’d split it out between all things metal, and all things not so much.
This was a great year for metal music. I’ve looked at a lot of these year end lists for a lot of sites and magazines and I’m amazed at just how much great music came across everyone’s desks this year. Below you will find my personal Top 50 Metal Albums of 2015 (plus another dozen or so that I’m giving honorable mention to as well). Two things to keep in mind: 1) I listed these albums alphabetically by artist because it was too damn hard to try and list them in some sort of hierarchical order and I already had to do that for my Top 10 albums which you can read over at Metal Insider if you so choose. 2) This is not a traditional “best of” list. I’m not trying to tell you what the “best” albums of the year are, but what I am giving you is the albums I personally loved the most and the ones I spent the most time with. As I said on the other list, omission from this list is not an indictment of talent level at all. So without further ado…
Abyss – Heretical Anatomy
Dirty, gritty, nasty death metal from Toronto. In what was a stellar year for death metal in general Abyss managed to stand out early and often as a band that was carrying the flag of the old-school. This album is an unrelenting gut-punch from beginning to end. Highly recommended for fans of both the classic Swedish and American sounds.
Ævangelist – Enthrall To The Void of Bliss
An album that, quite honestly, sounds as if it’s emanating directly from the bowels of Hell (and on a list like this, that’s saying a lot). It’s an often times unsettling journey through a wide array of sounds and styles. To simply label this album ‘death metal’ would be a gross understatement and not serve it justice as Ævangelist succeed in delivering a truly unique musical experience, and one that can be wholly terrifying at certain turns.
Antigama – The Insolent
Poland’s masters of crushing grindcore returned in full force in 2015 with one of their best efforts to date. The Insolent was exactly that – a complete lack of respect for anything resembling law and order. The soundtrack to a pack of wild dogs tearing apart their prey.
Autopsy – Skull Grinder
One of the last great albums released in 2015 was yet another brutal slab of death metal delivered by one of the true American masters of the genre. Autopsy have been firing on all cylinders since their highly acclaimed return to action. But this seven-song slab of madness is some of their best work since the big comeback. It’s everything you’ve come to know and love about Autopsy and then some.
Black Breath – Slaves Beyond Death
I’ll be perfectly frank here. Although I’ve always liked this band it was never enough to purposely search out their albums at my local record shop…until now. This is, in my humble opinion, easily the best record this band has released to date. Tons of galloping rhythms matched with nasty, memorable riffing that give this album a kind of throwback death metal appeal that they have finally perfected ten times over. Seattle has delivered us a ton of great heavy music over the years and Black Breath are right near the top of that ridiculously talented heap right now.
Christian Mistress – To Your Death
While a big chunk of the metal world is trying in vain to recapture some sort of 80s magic, there are a small handful of bands that are just nailing the traditional metal thing right out of the park and leaving the rest of the pretenders in the dust. One of those bands is Christian Mistress. This band had a tall task in front of them matching the amazing output of their last album, Possession, but they were more than up for the task and delivered a ripper of an album. Fans of the heavy metals done in the ways of the old should be salivating all over themselves for this record.
Crown – Natron
This was one of those albums that kind of came out of left field and smacked me upside the head like a wayward foul ball. Crown delivered a truly captivating menagerie of sounds. Combining industrial heaviness with black metal and post-metal elements, Natron, was an album that felt as heavy as something from the Neurosis or Isis catalogs but even more suffocating and dystopian at times in its overall oppressiveness.
Crypt Sermon – Out of the Garden
Did I mention this was also an amazing year for doom metal? No? Well it was and possibly no band exemplified old school doom metal aesthetics better than Crypt Sermon. Hearkening back to a time when doom and traditional metal were different leaves on the same branch of the metal world tree, Crypt Sermon rolled out riff after delicious riff on their way to creating one of the best doom records of the year.
Dead In The Manger – Cessation
One of the first great albums of 2015 came all the way back in February from Dead In The Manger. Melding atmosphere with annihilation, Dead In The Manger culled together a wide pantheon of influences to create a sound that was often times as ethereal as it was a complete onslaught. Mixing black metal with elements of doom, post-metal, and even death metal, Dead In The Manger were the perfect soundtrack to a winter month spent buried under multiple feet of icy, white death.
Dead To A Dying World – Litany
The unofficial motto of the state of Texas is, “Go big or go home” and that’s exactly how Dead To A Dying World play it. From their massive, dual-vocal, lineup to their even more massive sounds, this is one band that goes for the jugular in a bevy of ways on each track. Each track on this album is its own mini-masterpiece, deftly welding crusty, blackened bombast with epic and soaring doom metal. Oh, and did I mention the viola thrown in for good measure? Total atmosphere and totally amazing.
Demon Eye – Tempora Infernalia
Built on a foundation of riffs, riffs and more riffs, North Carolina’s Demon Eye gifted us one of the best stoner rock records of the last few years. The last couple years have finally knocked the rust off the stoner rock genre in a way not really seen since the late 90s/early 2000s heyday of acts like Nebula and Spirit Caravan and Demon Eye are one of a handful of bands poised to lead the next generation of heavy rockers. Forget the pretenders and check this album out post haste.
Demon Lung – A Dracula
Personally, one of my most anticipated albums of 2015 lived up to all the massive expectations I heaped upon it before its release. Demon Lung dropped one of the most underrated albums of the last decade, The Hundreth Name, and instantly left be begging for more with their brand of horror movie inspired doom metal. This time around, and actually inspired by a particular horror movie, Demon Lung lived up to the hype inside my brain with nothing short of a gloom and doom triumph. Now someone just needs to set up the perfect tour and have these guys open for another band on this list – Paradise Lost – as they lay waste to American venues.
Gnaw Their Tongues – Abyss of Longing Throats
There are few bands on this list, hell, in the entire world that can be as nightmare-inducing as Gnaw Their Tongues. For several years this one-man industrial black metal project has been torturing ears and rotting minds with some of the most scathing soundscapes you’ll ever come across ad this album is no different. When you have an artist as prolific as Gnaw Their Tongues (over 30 full-length alums, EPs, and split releases combined since 2006) it can be hard to differentiate one release from the next. But this album does its best to stand out from the crowd. It’s a downright gruesome cacophony of harsh noise meets black metal and will quite literally leaving you feeling a little deader on the inside with each listen – in the best way possible, of course.
Gospel of the Witches – Salem’s Wounds
Officially titled Karyn Crisis’ Gospel of the Witches, this album was the, long-time coming, brainchild of their namesake, Karyn Crisis and a testament to one woman’s system of beliefs and unique worldview. Crisis, who came to metal fame in the 90s fronting the NYC outfit of the same name, finally returns to metal prominence with one of the more distinctive and ingenious albums of the year. Formed around Crisis’ wholly unique and immediately recognizable vocals, Gospel of the Witches feature an impressive group of musicians from various corners of the metal-verse. The result is one part occult rock, one part doom metal, one part passion play, and an album that is utterly captivating from beginning to end.
Grave – Out Of Respect For The Dead
There are few active bands left in this rotten old world of ours that have stuck to their guns and continued to deliver old school death metal the way Grave have. 2015 saw the release of their most recent long player, Out of Respect For The Dead, and without hesitation it is safe to say that this may just be the best thing they done since their 90s heyday. That’s not to diminish any of their more recent material, but this record has the feel of a band possessed, one that is maybe tired of all these newbies trying to usurp the Swedish death metal sound that Grave helped originally pioneer with 1991’s Into The Grave masterwork. Regardless of the reasons this is an album that death metal fans would be sorry to miss out on.
Grave Ritual – Morbid Throne
On the Bandcamp page dedicated to this album it states that, “Grave Ritual’s sole purpose is to create dark and primitive death metal.” Two words: Mission Accomplished. Grave Ritual create an atmospheric brand of death metal that sounds as if you are continually falling through this dark cavern into the very bowels of the Earth, all the while consciously aware that you will probably never see the light of day ever again. Needless to say it’s quite the mind-fuck of a trip.
High On Fire – Luminiferous
Few bands in the world have been as consistently awesome for the last 15+ years as High On Fire. 2015 saw the release of their seventh album, and seven albums in this band shows no signs of rust whatsoever. High On Fire’s brand of high-octane metal is the stuff of legends by now, yet they still find ways to crank it up to 11 and annihilate everything in their path. The sonic equivalent of a rampaging heard of elephants all hopped up on speed and coke. Unstoppable.
Immortal Bird – Empress/Abscess
I have waxed poetic about this band on more than one website this year, so I will tell you this – Immortal Bird, over the course of two EPs have firmly planted themselves in the discussion of best bands in the underground today. Their newest release is a deadly mixture of blackened crust and doom-laced grind that pulls from a wide array of brutal influences. There’s a real good reason why you are seeing this band pop up on more and more of these types of lists. I expect we’ll see it much more often in the future.
Imperial Triumphant – Abyssal Gods
It’s certainly no secret that the US started to finally catch-up to their European counterparts in volume of output when it comes to black metal. The results, however, have varied. With that said though it could be argued that the American version of black metal, as a whole, tends to lean on the experimental side of the genre more so than anywhere else in the world. Enter New York’s, Imperial Triumphant. A discordant array of jazz and classical influences woven into a tapestry of black metal that’s already soaked in the blood of death metal as well. It’s yet another unique take on a genre whose boundaries just keep getting pushed farther and farther into the avant-garde.
Iron Maiden – The Book of Souls
There really isn’t much more I can add about this album that hasn’t already been written. Iron Maiden are arguably the greatest metal band ever…ever. It’s well-documented that this is Maiden’s first double album, which for a band this long in the teeth is an accomplishment in and of itself. But if any band can pull of a double album, devoid of filler, on their 16th time out of the gates it’s these guys. A triumphant return indeed.
Lament Cityscape – The Torn
For this Oakland duo it would appear that their sole goal is to create sonic landscapes as desolate and as bleak sounding as the one found on this album’s cover. They’re off to a great start if that’s the case. If you were looking for 2015’s entry into the race for the soundtrack to your own personal apocalypse then please look no further. Lament Cityscape have delivered a veritable feast of aural depression that will absolutely suck your will to live right out from under you.
Leviathan – Scar Sighted
Last year a whole lot of people lost their collective minds over a certain one-member black metal outfit. They should have waited a couple months if they were looking to fawn over a black metal record that was dug out of the subconscious of one individual. Leviathan returned at the beginning of the year with one of their strongest records to date, the wholly complex and captivating Scar Sighted. Yet another American black metal outfit not afraid to dial up the weird factor, Leviathan are carving out a permanent spot on this side of the Atlantic on the Mount Rushmore of the genre.
Magic Circle – Journey Blind
This Boston outfit has been described in more than one place as “hardcore kids playing doom metal.” Frankly I don’t give a crap what outfit they are wearing to the ball or who takes top billing in their personal record collections as long as they can deliver the goods. And these guys have absolutely delivered the good with this record. Out of all the bands on this list Magic Circle are probably the closest in relation to Dio-era Black Sabbath, which is meant as high of praise as it sounds. This is a headbanging array of early doom meets traditional heavy metal at its absolute finest.
Marduk – Frontschwein
There are very few of the original second wave black metal bands still kicking around all these years later. There are even fewer who are still putting out blistering slabs of unholy blasphemy like Marduk. This is a band that has honestly gotten better with age in my opinion and in the last decade produced some of their most inspired works. This album considers that trend as once again Marduk continue to cement their legacy as one of the greatest black metal bands to ever exist.
Maruta – Remain Dystopian
With 17 scathing tracks, Florida’s Maruta skyrocketed to the top of the grindcore heap thanks to a completely sadistic brand of deathgrind. Mixing some of the best elements from their home state’s long history of death metal classics with grindcore’s intensity and brevity, Maruta dropped an absolute nuclear bomb of an album on an unsuspecting musical landscape. These guys play it one way and one way only: fast and pissed.
Mgla – Exercises In Futility
Poland’s Mgla have been quietly putting out quality releases since 2006 but this, this will be the album that defines a turning point in the career of this band as they deservedly start to garner a wider fan base. Mgla play a catchy brand of black metal that pretty consistently pays homage to the great second wave of European acts that put black metal on the map to stay. Needless to say they do the legacy of these acts justice. Fans of the band slotted two spots above this one should pay particular attention.
Minsk – The Crash and The Draw
It’s been six long years since we’ve been gifted an album from Chicago’s masters of post-metal mayhem, Minsk. But the juice was worth the squeeze as Minsk has given us an album that was well worth the wait. Minsk have made a career of deftly intertwining the ethereal with the bombastic and they have once again succeeded here in creating an album that is equal parts lush and violent, often at the same time.
Morgoth – Ungod
One band that somewhat quietly came back from the dead in 2015 was Germany’s Morgoth. Before completely changing their sound during the mid 90s in an attempt to combat the downward slope the entire death metal scene was heading into, Morgoth was among a litany of classic death metal acts to emerge from European soil. Their untimely demise, seemingly finished with their weakest album left a bad taste in the collective mouths of their fan base and seemingly tarnished their legacy somewhat. However, Ungod, was a triumphant return almost 20 years after the fact. Here’s to hoping this album is the beginning of a long and fruitful resurgence.
Murg – Varg & Bjorn
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I don’t know a ton about this band and their digital footprint is virtually non-existent. But what they lack in social media they make up for in blistering black metal. This band is an absolute throwback to a time when the first and second waves of black metal were just starting to be differentiated. In a year that saw a lot of really good black metal albums hit the streets, this one was right near the top of the list for sure.
My Dying Bride – Feel The Misery
I could wax poetic about this record for the umpteenth time since its release, but instead I can sum this up for you pretty quickly. One of the greatest doom metal bands of all time released one of the best albums of the year. It’s really that painfully simple. Feel The Misery is another jewel in the crown for this band as they continue to add to an already ridiculously impressive legacy.
Nechochwen – Heart of Akamon
Speaking of American black metal bands taking the genre on new and wild rides, allow me to introduce West Virginia’s Nechochwen. On paper the combination of black metal with native American influences and stories just doesn’t seem to jive but it works here, and works really well at that. Taking second wave black metal and combining classical and American folk influences emits a distinct sound not unlike some of their European counterparts. Think if Enslaved had written about the history of the native peoples of North America instead of Vikings and you’d be pretty close to home.
Obsequiae – Aria of Vernal Tombs
Every year there are a small handful of albums that upon first listen I fall in love with so hard that I immediately recognize its going to wind up on any year-end lists that I do. This is one of those albums. From the opening Baroque-styled interlude to the Dissection-styled blackened metal, Obsequiae pressed all the right buttons for me. Maybe it was my obsession with Wolf Hall this summer, maybe this album just came at the right time, but there was something so perfect to me about the complex nature of these compositions and how they were structured. Obsequiae certainly isn’t the first band to combine crusty black metal with classical pieces, but I’ll be damned if I’ve heard anyone do it better this year.
One Master – Reclusive Blasphemy
I am a firm believer that the weather can have a profound affect upon ones psyche. This past winter in New England was nothing short of brutal. It just seemed colder and darker and snowier than most New England winters, which on average are pretty intense. It makes sense then that, with this frost-bitten back drop not far in the rear view mirror, New England would vomit forth one of the nastiest and heinous black metal offerings of the year in the form of Reclusive Blasphemy from One Master. If you were ever planning to walk off into the wilds of a raging blizzard with nothing but the shirt on your back in an attempt at dropping off this train into the mighty abyss I recommend this album as your soundtrack.
Opium Lord – Eye of Earth
Released all the way back in February, UK’s Opium Lord delivered ten tons of mathematical, sludgy goodness on their new album. Combine the dreary sludge of bands like EyeHateGod and Iron Monkey with the atmospherics of bands like Neurosis and Isis, then sprinkle in some classic, discordant hardcore for good measure and you’ll get an idea of where this band sows its musical seeds. I had the privilege of catching these guys opening for Primitive Man this summer and it was an absolute treat to witness the brutality of it all in the live setting.
Panopticon – Autumn Eternal
You could argue that Louisville’s Panopticon have officially replaced Wolves In The Throne Room as the darlings of the USBM scene, at least as far as the Metal Illuminati are concerned. But the praise that’s been heaped upon this outfit, and this album, is well-deserved. Mixing elements of Appalachian folk music with atmospheric black metal, Panopticon have the ability to transport the listener in ways that few acts of their ilk can. This time around Panopticon explore the season of Autumn in eight gorgeous movements. Well worth the listen no matter what season you are currently in.
Paradise Lost – The Plague Within
When I pieced together my Top 10 albums of the year for Metal Insider, this album was firmly planted in the top spot. For the last 25 or so years I’d argue with anyone who would care to listen that Paradise Lost is one of the most influential metal bands the UK every produced (and that’s saying a ton if you know your UK metal history). While I don’t think Paradise Lost has ever made a bad record, this record more than any other of their most recent output could be considered the direct heir of their classic 90s discography. It’s so oppressively heavy at almost every turn, and yet so warm and engulfing in its embrace. Just pop it on and allow yourself to be completely immersed. You won’t regret it.
Ruby The Hatchet – Valley of the Snake
Heavy, fuzzy, soaring, tripped-out stoner rock of the highest order. Ruby The Hatchet deliver a lethal dose of pot-fueled sonic mayhem akin to Deep Purple on a bad acid trip. Forget all the cliches for a moment though. If you just dig really heavy, super groovy, stoner rock the way it was meant to be played and fronted by one of the best female voices in the genre then look no further than this hulking masterpiece.
Satan – Atom By Atom
One of the most underrated bands of the whole NWOBHM movement was Satan. Their 1983 debut full-length, Court In The Act, is an absolute gem of a record and one that simply didn’t have enough ears on it during its initial run. After a and almost 20 year hiatus Satan returned with a new album is 2013. This year they keep the momentum going with Atom By Atom, a blitzkrieg of traditional heavy metal that will have you rocking as if big hair and spandex are still in style.
Savage Master – Mask of the Devil
The debut album from Louisville quintet, Savage Master, is a tribute to all things sleazy and evil in music, and the world at large. Mixing in influences as varied as Venom, Motorhead, and The Plasmatics, to name a few, Savage Master are the whips and chains answer to today’s ‘trve’ heavy metal revival. Here’s to hoping this debut is just the tip of Hell’s own iceberg.
Secrets of the Sky – Pathway
In 2013 this band came out of nowhere to drop jaws with an absolutely breath-taking EP that made my (and a bunch of others) year-end list that year. Fast forward to 2015 and their full-length debut for Metal Blade picks up right where their EP left off – swirling, atmospheric guitars, vocals that go from guttural to ethereal in a heartbeat, and songs that flip the script every chance they get. Existing somewhere on the metal pantheon between Opeth and Neurosis leaves some rather large footwear to try and fill but Secrets of the Sky are more than up to the challenge and this album proves that they weren’t just some one-trick pony either. Fans of all things dark and elegant should give this one a go-round for sure.
Shape of Despair – Monotony Fields
One of the most underrated doom bands of all-time is Finland’s Shape of Despair. The three albums they dropped at the beginning of the last decade are absolutely must-owns for any doom fans, yet you rarely hear them mentioned when talking about the all-time greats of the genre. Maybe it’s because their brand of doom dances (slowly) along the funeral doom side of the pantheon, thus rendering them a little less accessible than their American and British cousins? Whatever the reasons, perhaps their first album in over ten years will help to change that. Monotony Fields hit the ground over the summer and it was as if these guys and gal never missed a beat. Oppressively heavy, yet intricate and truly gorgeous songwriting from front to back. A must own for anyone who considers themselves a doom fan.
Skepticism – Ordeal
Did someone say something about criminally underrated, Finnish doom bands releasing seminal albums in 2015? Maybe it’s the super extreme winters that help Finland produce so many amazing metal acts, maybe it’s just something in the water? Regardless the reason one act that has been doing Finland proud for two decades now by remaining near the top of their respected genre in recorded output is Skepticism. Another brutally oppressive funeral doom outfit that really helped define the sub-genre back in the mid-90s has once again helped to perfect it twenty years after their debut. Ordeal is just that, a complete ordeal for anyone looking for hope or happiness on this release. They don’t exist here.
The Body & Krieg – The Body & Krieg
What do you get when you combine one of the most prolific and unfiltered noise projects in the world with one of the longest standing, and most important USBM bands? You get the collaboration between The Body and Krieg. Born out of a mutual respect for each others brand of musical nihilism, this release takes the scathing black metal of Krieg and views it through the maniacal, twisted lens of The Body. It’s a collaboration that, on paper, seems almost too angular to fit into this particular box, yet both acts are able to seamlessly blend their sound into a cohesive sonic throat slashing.
Tomb & Thirst – Wrath
One of the heaviest and nastiest bands to come lumbering out of my backyard is New Haven’s Tomb & Thirst. They could simply be called Connecticut’s answer to His Hero Is Gone, but that really wouldn’t do this album complete justice. It’s a murky, swampy, crusty album masquerading as a doom record. I’m not completely sure how a band can play it so fast and pissed and yet so overbearingly oppressive all at the same time. It’s an absolutely tyrannical.
Tribulation – The Children of the Night
No band does the whole “death ‘n’ roll” concept the way Sweden’s Tribulation does it. Taking 70s occult rock and deftly merging it with melodic death metal equals pure, unadulterated darkness. This album is a winter night spent under the full moon while conjuring the spirits of the forest. It’s like a blackened seance, a menagerie of twisted rituals. If you are looking for one of the more unique listening experiences of 2015 then look no further than this record.
Valdur – Pathetic Scum
To put it simply, California’s Valdur don’t mess around. They play a brand of death metal that is unrelenting at best and utterly tyrannical throughout. Literally from first note to last this three-piece blast and grind their way through six selections of some of the nastiest, most atmospheric, blackened death metal around. Highly recommended for fans of both black and death metal, especially when the two genres collide and explode like a sonic supernova.
Valkyrie – Shadows
No band built a better album of twin-harmony guitars and powerful riffs in 2015 than Virginia’s Valkyrie. If you are looking for an album to bang your head and sing along to then look no further than this one. With some serious Iron Maiden-styled riffing combined with soaring, clean vocals, and a thumping rhythm section, Valkyrie delivered an absolute monster of a record. Fans of traditional metal and stoner rock alike should be all over this album.
Vastum – Hole Below
Have I mentioned it was a pretty great year for death metal? Possibly the cream of the death metal crop was the newest punch to the throat issued by Vastum. Three albums in and this band just keeps getting better and better. Their last album was an unnerving and grotesque array of songs crafted around some pretty vile subject matter at times. This album picks up where the last one left off and then adds even more sonic mayhem to the mix. Not for weak ears.
Voices – London
For me this was the first great album of 2015. (I’m totally cheating here as it was released in Europe at the end of 2014 but I didn’t get a digital copy until January of this year so I’m rolling with it because this record is that good.) London was a musical stroll through the seedy side of one of Europe’s largest metropolises courtesy of Voices. Featuring former members of seminal act, Akercocke, Voices blend a wide array of sounds and influences into this roller coaster ride of an album. Flowing from ambient interludes to blackened blasts of pure fury, Voices are one of the few bands that still truly defy genre descriptors. Although their sound may be all over the map, the impact is certainly right on point. This album simply needs to be experienced to be believed.
Wiegedood – De Doden Hebben Hey Goed
Last, but certainly not least, is Belgium’s Wiegedood. Their name is a Dutch term for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (literally translated as “death in the cradle”). That should give you a pretty good jumping off point for this band and their brand of atmospheric black metal. Some of the sickest riffing you’ll hear on a black metal album this year combined with a sound that alternates between majestic and malevolent throughout. Total unholy cacophony.
Bedroom Rehab Corporation – Fortunate Some
Hellgoat – Infernal Zeal
Hope Drone – Cloak of Ash
Monolord – Vaenir
Myrkur – M
Naught – Naught
Orphans of Dusk – Revenant
Satan’s Wrath – Die Evil
Swallow The Sun – Songs From The North I, II, III
Urfaust – Apparitions
Vile Creature – A Steady Descent Into The Soil
Wizard Eye – Wizard Eye