- How it sounds: atmospheric in a Nordic way, sylvan, heroic, adventurous, marching, autumnal, deep clean sonorous vocals at the forefront, raging Enslaved moments, lots of folkish acoustic moments, hints of post-punk rhythms (listen to track 3, Avond)
- How it feels: nostalgic, wandering, past glories, impressionistic, naturalistic, hiraeth
- Sounds like: first-era Enslaved (especially the blasting moments), first-era Ulver, Borknagar, Empyrium, slight traces of epic Bathory,
- Shortcomings: songwriting could be more robust, some rasping vocals would fit nicely with the faster parts
- Verdict: Graced with an good baritone frontman who raises the majestic and emotional bar, the album captures in a skilled way the spirit of forest wandering (which apparently was the conceptional seed of the record). Solid pagan naturalistic black metal.
Places 11-25 are ordered alphabetically. Skip below for the top 10. Top EPs & Demos here.
Places 11-25 (Alphabetically ordered)
Arckanum – Den Förstfödde
Shamaatae’s swansong is a strange beast with quite unconventional song structures – several seem like weird elongated intros or snapshots from a paranoid film. Yet, that’s the magic of this album – it offers something different, yet remaining throughout an Arckanum album. An excellent farewell.
Attic – Sanctimonious
It sounds like Kind Diamond, vocally, musically and lyrically. To be exact it sounds like good King Diamond – and the few blasting parts they incorporate work just fine. Anything that sounds like good King Diamond is bound to end up in my list.
Cradle Of Filth – Cryptoriana – The Seductiveness Of Decay
I grew up with Cradle Of Filth, I loved Cradle up to Midian, and with Cryptoriana they pulled me back in their wagon. Yes it’s a safe album steeped in nostalgia for the first four albums, but that is what I ask from 2017 Dani. The fact that it contains one of the best songs of their career (The Night At Catafalque Manor) is just the icing on the cake. [Full review in Greek here]
De Magia Veterum – Naked Swords Into The Wombs Of The Enemy
Maurice is one of the most hyper-productive members of the scene, and De Magia Veterum is his best project for 2017. In Naked Swords lie 30 minutes of hyper-tense black metal with a mesmerizing and completely personal guitar sound. The atmosphere of extreme damnation.
Divine Element – Thaurachs Of Borsu
Contemporary epic death metal is a term that automatically repels me. Divine Element somehow manage to become the exception to this, with their spontaneous feeling that combines technical and highly interesting guitars with a bombastic element. The album even winks to Basil Poledouris, what is not to love? [Full review in Greek here]
Fleurety – The White Death
18 years after Min Tid Skal Komme Fleurety returned with a bizarre, seemingly disjointed album – yet somehow the result is very very good. A partial return to the black metal sound of yore, a song-writing skill that hasn’t been blunted by time, this is almost educational, in a dynamic way. [Full review in Greek here]
Horisont – About Time
Amazing hard rock, a tour-de-force of the ‘70s with a slightly radio friendly attitude and a huge ability of writing timeless hymns like “Electrical” and the self-titled. This is the stuff that used to fill arena stadiums. The bastard child of Scorpions, Uriah Heep, Rainbow, and a host of others.
Jordablod – Upon my Cremation Pyre
Somehow this reminded me of old Enslaved jamming with Hawkwind. It definitely has a strong aura of improvisation that brings Vikinglir into mind. A quite exotic nordic listen that flows almost seamlessly – the overall duration could be a bit shortened, but that’s why future discography exists.
Krallice – Go Be Forgotten
I am not a big fan of Krallice. Still, their second 2017 album just clicked. Maybe due to the B&W cover, maybe due to the non-abstract title, mainly due to the absence of sophistication. This is Krallice’s best work, a tight black metal album which does not scoff at its genre – and it shiones because of it.
Malokarpatan – Nordkarpatenland
Pagan rituals in Slovakian countryside, filtered through an ‘80s proto extreme metal lens. Malokarpatan improved hugely since the debut, and here they present us with speed metal/first wave of black metal anthems. All this under an amazing cover art. [Full review in Greek here]
One Master – Lycanthropic Burrowing
Extreme, oh so extreme black metal, flirting with noise structures, dominated by a mania that is lycanthropic indeed. Black metal at its most ferocious which thankfully never forgets the riffs in favour of abstract destruction. Music to howl to the moon.
Profundum – Come, Holy Death
This is how storming through cloudways and angel flesh sounds like – you can’t get smoother than that. This is the distillation of atmospheric black metal and celestial wings, a canvas on which to float eternally. The compositions are not the main focus (though they are pretty good) here; it is the sound that steals the lightning.
Satyricon – Deep Calleth Upon Deep
Another band that returned after many many years with an album worthy of their past. I stopped listening to Satyricon after Volcano, and this is their first album since then that I listened to more than once – many times to be precise. Finally they got the song-writing right and they managed to successfully mix present with past.
Wrathblade – God of the Deep Unleashed
Rough-around-the-edges, barbaric epic metal. Where Lunar Shadow are the Nobles in this list, Wrathblade are the Savages. Galloping riffs (there’s been done some great work at the guitar department), unpolished vocals which call to battle, Brocas Helm and Slough Feg by their side.
Yellow Eyes – Immersion Trench Reverie
I have a soft spot for these New Yorkers though their previous album was something of a letdown. Thankfully, Yellow Eyes are back with a blizzard of intelligent traditional black metal with a heart of dark folk. Alpine New York, that’s how you sound. [Full review in Greek here]
The Top 10
10. Lunar Shadow – Far From Light
This is the epic metal of the year. Lyricism, history, amazing-amazing guitars which bring to mind epic power metal’s golden era. This is overflowing with epic and romantic emotion, and brings back to mind my early Blind Guardian listens back in the ‘90s, along with AD&D modules reading. [Full review in Greek here]
9. Chelsea Wolfe – Hiss Spun
This is the sonicalization of neuroses into voices both ethereal and full of terror, into waves of metallic noise; a bleak, black landscape in which you can immerse yourself, and let it embrace you like an uterus. This is the sound of impending doom. [Full review in Greek here]
8. Evilfeast – Elegies of the Stellar Wind
There was a time that black metal was only snow, night, forests and stars, as far as I was concerned. This is Evilfeast’s black metal, and I couldn’t be happier listening to it. This is atmospheric black metal as it should be, returning me to this younger state of spirit.
7. Resurgency – No Worlds… nor Gods Beyond
The brutal death metal album of the year as far as I am concerned. Coming out of nowhere, this riff-fest of an album worships Morbid Angel and Deicide, managing to stir completely clear of any filler compositions.
6. Urarv – Aurum
Aldrahn returns once more with a new project, this one dressed in spectacular vestments, treading many music fields, from black metal to avant-garde. His voice, as voluptuous as always, here sings, moans, growls, whistles, and reconfirms that Aldrahnian Norwegian is a pure addiction of a language.
5. Locust Leaves – A Subtler Kind Of Light
A Subtler Kind Of Light is a cryptic creation deeply rooted and devoted to heavy metal, yet an enemy of metal’s rigidity. Here lies everything from black/thrash to Watchtower-like prog. The album reeks of angles and hidden nooks, which turn it into a plateau whose complete exploration requires devotion. [Full review in Greek here]
4. Necromante – The Magickal Presence of Occult Forces
These Brazilians drank deep from the Sarcofago and Necromantia wellsprings, creating an album that writhes with ritualistic volcanic energy. Combined with the delicious vocal mis-pronunciation of English, this is a homage to very early black metal. Music to lift your fist in the face of god.
3. Acrimonious – Eleven Dragons
Eleven Dragons rearranges the chips of extreme metal in familiar yet Highly imaginative patterns. It allows an emotional immersion within it, without raising any pretentiousness walls, engulfing and easily freezing the listener’s blood. This is what apex 2017 black metal sounds like. [Full review in Greek here]
2. Black Cilice – Banished from Time
This is spectral lo-fi music, the closer thing to spirit whispers and haunted passages. This is the furthest one can get from humanity. It feels like wandering in medieval dungeons and upon the paths of the deceased, outside time. Les Legions Noires would be proud.
1. Wolves In The Throne Room – Thrice Woven
Thrice Woven made me experience again this magickal feeling that overwhelmed me when in days long past I listened to albums such as Emperor’s In The Nightside Eclipse: it bade me strap on my headphones and go out in the dark autumn night to gaze at the firmament. Black metal at its most majestic. [Full review in Greek here]
For the top 20 demos and EPs check here
20. Bölzer – Hero
Probably this year’s most controversial and loved-to-be-hated release, “Hero” is a masterpiece that grows with each listen, almost justifies the whole hype around the Swiss’ name. Yes, the vocals need some time to be digested, especially if someone has no contact with the deathrock scene, but the songwriting is excellent, as is the concept, and though not as outwardly impressive as “Aura” was, “Hero” is a multi-layered monstrosity, much deeper than the excellent and much-revered EP.
19. Skáphe – Skáphe²
“Skáphe²” is a beautiful beast of an album. It stands way beyond and above the snoring boredom that characterizes most of the albums of this chaotic type, blazing as dark incense inside the listener’s mind during its 35 minutes of duration, guiding the audience in a grotesque journey through occult lands of non-Euclidean geometry. It is the audio equivalent of fever mentality, and thus it certainly is not an easy album to tackle, yet it rewards with an experience that keeps calling the listener back to it, more so because this experience is inaccessible outside the record per se. An excellent specimen of contemporary black metal. Full review here.
18. Panphage – Drengskapr
Not much to say about this Swede, those who followed the blog last year may remember my love for his works. Continuing on the relentless path of folk-influenced frigid black metal riffs, a la early Taake and other mid/late ’90s artists, with vocals that are immensely satisfying, and excellent song-writing skills, Panphage has been established as one of the best thing to come out of Scandinavia during the past years. Nordic black metal of the highest quality.
17. Antaeus – Condemnation
“Condemnation” is the comeback that we would have expected if we had anticipated a reanimation of Antaeus. It maybe too close to what we expected, the French may well have pulled it off quite safely, they were perhaps never interested in diversity. The thing is, that listening to this album, one thinks that the band had pressed “Pause” for ten years, and as soon as “Continue” was triggered they kept playing like no time passed – with just a slightly more robust production. The album is not innovative, the tracks may have similarities, yet “Condemnation” forces you to furiously reach for invisible oranges throughout its duration – thus fulfilling excellently its unholy role. Full review here.
16. Battle Dagorath – I – Dark Dragons Of The Cosmos
The cosmic black metal release of the year unites the ungodly dark spaces of Darkspace with the nocturnal atmosphere of early Emperor, not denying itself a plunge in some well structured melody (usually in the form of guitar leads). Cold, majestic, and just as extravagant as is necessary, Battle Dagorath’s fourth album is what traditional black metal is all about – an extraordinary work.
15. Arizmenda – Beneath This Reality Of Flesh
Crepusculo Negro’s production was quite scarce this year, with only two full-lengths coming out, the Shataan one and Arizmenda’s “Beneath This Reality Of Flesh” (edit: apparently there is another Arizmenda full-length, “Despairs Depths Descended,” out on December 18th via Androgony Whore records) being the only new things released. Arizmenda continue to trot upon a path of maniacal, thin guitared black metal, with unconventional compositional structure and surpringly catchy leads. An overdose of aggressive and weird guitar-work, Arizmenda remain the most extreme among Crepusculo’s roster.
14. Aenaon – Hypnosophy
Aenaon, as Hail Spirit Noir, succeed in presenting three out of three great albums, seemingly effortlessly, a thing to be admired, but also leading to puzzlement as far as what kind of improvement can we expect in the future. “Hypnosophy” is a kaleidoscope wandering through a never-ending celebration, which, despite the use of instruments unorthodox as far as black metal is concerned (apart from the saxophone there are also string ones like bouzouki and shitar – building up to a kind of ethnic essence in parts), has not severed its ties with the mothership genre – the album’s beginning and ending clearly state so. Full review here.
13. Tardigrada – Emotionale Odnis
Expansive, passionate, archaic, like a wraith gliding over castle ruins, Tardigrada’s debut was among the things that I highly anticipated since their 2012 demo (review here), and thankfully it did not disappoint me at the least. This is a case study on how black metal can be romantic – drawing upon the artistic and philosophic movement meaning of the word obviously, not its contemporary and vernacular one. Soaring guitars, a grandly thin production, this is how nostalgic atmospheric black metal is done.
12. Naðra – Allir Vegir til Glotunar
Passionate, utterly frigid, melodic and imbued with the pagan spirit of a decade gone by, “ Allir vegir til glötunar” is an ode to the early Icelandic black metal scene, boasting some of the best riffing that can be traced back to contemporary Iceland (and not only). I had written in the review that it was an early yet strong contestant for this year’s end list, and I have not changed my mind since then. Better than the 95% of the black metal torrent that is coming from this particular land during recent years. Full review here.
11. A Diadem of Dead Stars – Kingdoms Bathed In Golden Light
Who would expect that what Wolves In The Throne Room sowed would find nurturing land near the Pagasetic Gulf of Greece? However, it seems that the Volos-based Pilgrim manages to shine with his sophomore album in a sub-scene that seems to be plagued by lukewarm clones of 2-3 archetypal bands. Sporting a genuine knack for composition excellence and an atmosphere that is more reminiscent of Northern vastness rather than Greek countryside, the album’s five tracks are the best species of Cascadian black metal for 2016.
10. Virus – Memento Collider
The album is a mesmerizing, flowing-yet-solid whole, which unfolds into labyrinthine tracks of jazz attitude, tracks that dissolve and restructure themselves with a protean ease and grace. This fluctuating character does not make the album tiresome, as would be the case in lesser bands, but on the contrary captivates its listener with an almost summery felicity – quite a paradox if you think of its density and diversity. The keys to the album’s brilliance seem to be the absence of solemnity (pretentious or otherwise), Czral’s compositional genius, and the amazing chemistry between the band’s members. The result is something oscillating between the liquid and solid states of being, a physical paradox brought to life before the listener. Time will show if this is the band’s greatest moment. Until then, Memento Collider is certainly Virus’s most ample and feel-good creation. Full review here.
9. Oranssi Pazuzu – Värähtelijä
Steeped in kraut rock and psychedelia, yet never straying from the extreme metal path, “Värähtelijä” functions as a thick hallucinatory fog, with high points its ominous rhythms, the obsessive jazz passes and the keyboard “infinite space” glamour. Each listening session is like wandering in an astral museum of curiosities, with distorting mirrors in each corridor. With their latest and maybe best album to date, Oranssi Pazuzu may well be truly expanding extreme metal boundaries. Full review (in Greek) here.
8. Book Of Sand – Occult Anarchist Propaganda
Though unequivocally anarchistic, Book of Sand retains in its latest opus that spark that is missing from most of the artists of the RABM sub-genre: ominousness; the “occult” in the album title is not just décor left over from the genre conventions. Herein lies atmosphere that many, so-called occult bands would love to permeate their works. This is an album that one can listen to and feel the blood falling upon the grains of sand as the ritual is performed. This is black metal done right, dark, slithering, raw, menacing, otherworldly. Full review here.
7. Hail Spirit Noir – Mayhem In Blue
Three out of three for Thessaloniki’s avant-garde black metallers, which remain at the forefront of the Greek (and why not, international) extreme/bizarre scene. Despite the increase of the keyboard role and the long dives in the ’70s landscape, “Mayhem In Blue’s” heart remains dark; here lies a shade so deep that not even the hand of God can extirpate. Oh, and “Lost In Satan’s Charms” is easily among the top ten tracks of 2016. Full review (in Greek) here.
6. Agatus – The Eternalist
As with Zemial, Agatus continue to disregard any solid boundaries between musical genres, focusing on converging all their music influences on a diamond of untarnished epic/lyrical metal, straight out of the ’80s forge, with a pinch of winks towards their extreme past. This is what “complete, whole metal album” means. This is heavy metal at its finest.
5. Cultes des Ghoules – Coven, or Evil Ways Instead of Love
The Polish had ravaged the whole scene with 2013’s Henbane, the epitome of dark medieval folk witchcraft. Last year’s “The Rise Of Lucifer” EP was somewhat underwhelming, but enter this autumn’s “Coven,” a magnificently ambitious double record, drawing upon the spirit of Master’s Hammer “The Jilemnice Occultist,” yet retaining the band’s characteristic crunchy medieval sound. As for the concept, it is a grand occult play, with a medieval setting, centering on witchcraft obviously. The sort of witchcraft that is inscribed with dark blood upon yellowed pages and human skin. This band may well be the single more graphically black metal entity in the world right now.
4. ΟΔΟΣ 55 – ΟΔΟΣ 55
In their sophomore full-length, Athens’ ΟΔΟΣ 55 build upon the synthwave motif of their past releases, spreading through seven solid rays/tracks a bionic view towards contemporary society. Hypnotic, ravenous, revolutionary music to dance to, their material easily dissolves any thoughts about the staleness of the resurrected ’80s post-punk/new wave Greek scene, and gazes at the present with confidence, a true child of recent times and social conditions. Full review (in Greek) here.
3. Candelabrum – Necrotelepathy
There is black fire burning in the subterranean places of Portugal during the past years. Last year it was Black Cilice (which most probably shares members with Candelabrum), this year’s Iberian peninsula revelation is Candelabrum’s debut, “Necrotelepathy,” which seethes with spectral ritualistic high-pitched black metal of the highest hypnotic atmosphere. This is how I envision the kind of black metal that is to be heard while strolling among bones and sunless underground places, while ghosts wail all around, and deathless occultists stir in their dusty graves.
2. Eternal Champion – The Armor Of Ire
The extraordinary thing with “The Armor Of Ire” is its resistance towards characterizing it as outdated, despite its deep roots towards the past, despite its non-originality. Eternal Champion presented us with an album of timeless epic heavy metal, which continues on the excellent tradition of recent years. Lyrical, combative, rough, magical, the Americans’ debut radiates with an effortless sincerity and momentum, and contains several tracks that are already lying side by side with genre hymns upon the epic pantheon. Full review (in Greek) here.
1.Ψ.Χ – Το Φως Το Αληθινό
It was several years before the spectres behind Ψ.Χ. decided to gather the tracks haunting the internet since 2008, to add a bunch of new ones, and “release” the whole in a quite unconventional way (namely they sent a CD-r copy of it to the Greek METAL HAMMER magazine, addressed to a particular editor, urging him to spread it in whatever way he chooses – you can find the album here, along with the booklet). The result is an unbelievably black creation, its spirit closer to the menacing spectrum of black metal than any other release in quite a long time. Full of ravishing grimness (and with a twist before the end), its breath is seemingly coming from a demented interpretation of a tuberculous “De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas.” Welcome (back) Menace to Black Metal (once more), gliding on nightwings to snuff out the candles, to be immersed in Tradition, making the hearths cough like sickness incarnate. Full review (in Greek) here.
Humanitas Error Est – Human Pathomorphism (Satanath Records)
In their debut these Germans make a decent attempt at mixing the guitar-sound aesthetics of clinical, “intelligent” black metal (the kind of late 90s Satyricon, album-era Thorns, etc – this legacy is also evident in the best riffs of this album) with some generic but beautiful-in-moments Swedish black metal extremity (Dark Funeral, Marduk, etc) as far as most of the riff content is concerned. Song structures are somewhat complex, befitting the futuristic edge. Vocal-wise there is a multitude of generic black metal growling, but the Dani Filth-esque passionate growls (of the kind that seems to keep echoing in the throat while being uttered) are clearly standing out above the rest. Some samples thrown in add to the industrial/futuristic atmosphere. The release does try to sound extreme, a bit too much occasionally, and the riffs are not highly original, but all in all this is an album that certainly has its moments, especially for the kind of listener that feels nostalgic about the “intelligent” Norwegian wave. Still, Plutonium’s debut (“One Size Fits All”) probably remains the best retro-intelligent release of the last ten years.
Morar – Wahlheim (Nebular Winter Records)
Since 2013’s really nice “Chants Of Ossian” demo, this act dabbles in obscurity, stating no member names and (until very recently) no country of origin (last time I checked their entry in Enyclopaedia Metallum the country was Greenland). Their debut full-length (which was one of the things that I keenly anticipated) was scheduled to be released last year, but apparently it had to be delayed a bit, hitting their bandcamp in mid-January.
What one can find inside this album with the evocative cover photography is highly melodic atmospheric black metal with a knack for NWOSDM-style leads and (by extension) the occasional heavy metal riffing. Old Emperor’s starry haze is here, in the album’s two best tracks, “Afflications” and “Thee To Scorn,” while the hauntingly melodic, almost lullaby-like, “’Tis Night” is following just behind in quality terms. In general, the band has traded some of the demo’s darkness (and rawer production) for a more folky (some excellent riffs draw upon pure folkish melodies) and flowing side. The thing is, where their character truly shine is in the less formalised (chaotic if you want) side of their music, the most purely black metal (aesthetically) one, rather than in the melodic leads which evoke heavy metal clarity. Nevertheless, this is a good album of melodic nature-worship black metal, with three excellent tracks, reminiscent of past days of glory.
20. Y – De Occulta Philosophia
Somewhere between noise and harsh black metal with an all-consuming occult feeling, one and a half hour of wanderings in dungeon corridors. Including some of the most diverse and interesting vocals that one can hear today. The intelligence behind This Is Past delivers an onslaught of mysticism. Bonus Track: this radio show, which is one of the most imposing and atmospheric things that I have heard.
19. Arcturus – Arcturian
I had long waited for this album, namely a worthy successor to “The Sham Mirrors” (“Sideshow Symphonies” didn’t quite convince me). Sverd&co return to the glories of days past, creating an album that sounds refreshing, showcasing a band tightly bonded. ICS Vortex’s performance is magnificent, reminiscent of Garm’s glory days. One of the most flowing and catchy albums of this year. Full review here.
18. Batushka – Litourgyia
An album that came out of nowhere at the year’s end, exhibiting an orthodox painting in its cover, teasing us with the members’ supposed identities, and hyping very quickly. The thing is, that “Litourgyia” lives up to most of the hype; it sports amazing monastic/psalm-like vocals, is permeated with a deeply devout atmosphere, and riff-wise the things are getting more interesting with each successive listening session.
17. Death Karma – The History Of Death & Burial Rituals part I
The magic of Cult Of Fire resides within this project of 2 of the Czech masters. Highly varied black metal, which roams through six countries, gazing upon the (pre-)burial rituals of each with a different sonic lens, always within the genre territory. An album that sees face to face with Cult Of Fire’s latest opus, and proves (along with this year’s Malokarpatan album) that Central/Eastern Europe is a matrix of ingenious extreme metal. Full review here.
16. Awe – Providentia
One of the most non-conformist albums of 2015, “Providentia” moves beyond the boundaries of orthodox black metal per se, implementing a bucketload of guitar ideas, which make the careful listener return again and again in this multi-layered masterpiece. It certainly takes a lot of courage to immerse oneself in the complexity of the album, but the result is certainly rewarding. Full review here.
15. Black Cilice – Mysteries
This Portuguese black metal band has been very active for the last 6 years, but it was only with this year’s “Mysteries” that they got in my radar. Raw (more production- than compositionally- wise) black metal with an almost ritualistic core, that nevertheless includes some of the most fulfilling of this year’s riffs. A work of art to be listened to in dark isolation, an ode to the spirit of true black metal.
14. Mûspellzheimr – Hyldest Til Trolddommens Flamme
If you are asking for the best traditional (in the strict ’90s sense) black metal album of 2015 search no more. The Danish have crafted an album that gazes steadily upon the frosty darkness of the Scandinavian scene of days past, and has the glamour of such grand artists as Kampfar, Setherial, and first-album Dimmu Borgir and Borknagar. Most people seem to have fallen for Slaegt this year, but for me there is no doubt about the best Danish black metal act.
13. False – Untitled
Gilead Media has nailed two brilliant albums this year, the first being False’s debut, “Untitled”. Black metal steeped in both American and European tradition, drawing just a bit from the cascadian scene, creating a study in negativity and the archaic. Graced with brilliant compositions and more than satisfactory vocals from Rachel, “Untitled” is an album to return to, again and again.
12. Hæthen – Shaped by Aeolian Winds
Firstly, this album has the best cover art of 2015 by far. Secondly, Hæthen‘s debut album is an atmospheric ode to nature and the past, filtered through the prism of early Enslaved and Emperor, as well as Wolves In The Throne Room. Deeply pagan throughout, with a hint of eeriness production-wise, “Shaped by Aeolian Winds” is the definite winter album of the list. Full review here.
11. Pale Chalice – Negate the Infinite & Miraculous
The second album of Gilead Media in the list, Pale Chalice’s debut is not so far from False’s sound, though it is more deeply rooted in the European scene. Highly agile guitars, which do not shy from melodic outbreaks, and some of the most suggestive song titles of 2015, like “Fragile Bones Cradling Tallow ”. What shines above all however is its passionate, occult atmosphere; a nocturnal album that pleads for solitary listenings. Full review here.
10. Enforcer – From Beyond
It’s almost impossible to skip an Enforcer release on a year list. With their fourth album the Swedes keep delivering excellent heavy metal, whose caliber is on par with the grand ’80s monsters. A bit more introspective than their previous works (take for instance the magnificent “Below The Slumber”), it nevertheless has all the trademarks of this amazing band that we are privileged to experience in out time.
9. Crypt Sermon – Out of the Garden
Just listen to “Into The Holy Of Holies”. “Out Of The Garden” is epic doom metal done right, and simultaneously managing not sound like another Candlemass/Solitude Aeturnus clone. Riffs here are plain majesty. It is quite a rare thing the existence of a doom album in my end year top list, yet Crypt Sermon was nailed there since this album came out.
8. Misþyrming – Söngvar elds og óreiðu
Noxious, maelstromic black metal, which draws upon the darkest side of the orthodox genre (Svartidaudi, Numinous), and wanders through subterranean passages with majestic skill. Top-notch riffing, suffocating atmosphere, and vocals full of command; the necrotic spirit of black metal breathes mightily in here. Another masterpiece from Iceland, following on the tradition of Wormlust, Sinmara and Svartidaudi.
7. Dødheimsgard – A Umbra Omega
Well, a new Dødheimsgard after 8 years is definitely cause for celebration, especially since it is so much better than its predecessor, fighting toe to toe with “666 International” (as far as I am concerned) in quality terms. We had missed Vicotnik’s ingenious riffs, doubly so their being accompanied by Aldrahn’s voice. The storm of ideas that coexist in this one is threatening to the listener’s sanity (and a bit to the album’s cohesion to be honest). Full review here.
6. Terminus – The Reaper’s Spiral
Good old epic heavy metal. Whoever had heard the “Into Exile” demo (whose four tracks are part of the album) was on the lookout, with the uttermost attention for this debut. Not much to say here, Terminus are the last link on a long chain that contains bands such as Lord Weird Slough Feg, Isen Torr, Borrowed Time, etc. Pure epicness deserves pure praise.
5. Panphage – Storm
I recently reviewed this album, and I stand by my opinion, that if this album was released somewhere in the late ’90s it would be considered a classic. Black metal with a folk soul, with guitar parts that are begging to be listened to again and again. This year’s shining jewel and example of the Swedish underground scene’s blazing quality. Full review here.
4. Volahn/Arizmenda/Kallathon/Shataan – Desert Dances and Serpent Sermons
It is indeed rare the year in which a Crepusculo Negro release is not part of my list. There was not a full album from any of its bands in 2015, but this 4-way split more than made up for it. A tour of the desert, the jungles, and the dungeons (in Arizmenda’s case) of Central America, this is like a fist of devotion raised towards the indigenous gods of the continent. Full review here.
3. Nocternity – Harps of the Ancient Temples
Taking a different approach, more hypnotic and subdued (not in a bad way), without moments of elation, “Harps of the Ancient Temples” showcases a band that has matured in an elegant way. Mesmerizing mid-tempo black metal of refreshing clarity and originality. If one searches for influences, he may well stumble into the middle tracks of “Hvis Lysset Tar Oss” and the gloomiest parts of “Filosofem”, as well as the more shadowy parts of “Thorns”, all filtered through Khal Drogo’s personal mark. Minimalistic in many ways, Nocternity’s new opus is an album that breezes, not blasts, its path through the listener without much effort, without climaxes, and ends up winning you all the way.
2. Trial – Vessel
Can’t really say much about this masterpiece. Maybe the best example, in recent years, of ’80s heavy metal revival, focusing on US power, classic British metal, and Mercyful Fate guitars, this is just amazing. Each of these songs is an artifact to be treasured and exhibited next to the Classics.
1. Macabre Omen – Gods of War – At War
This album is the “Hammerheart” of our times, simple as that. Full review here.
An alphabetically sorted list of 2015 albums that did not quite make it to the top-20, yet are just a step below. I found that ranking them was time-consuming and non-essential, since the difference in quality between them was almost non-existent, hence the alphabetic hierarchy.
A Forest Of Stars – Beware The Sword You Cannot See
In their fourth album, the British avant-garde band continue their exploration of atmospheric and narrative aspects of metal, distancing themselves even more from traditional black metal, yet managing to maintain a high level of quality, just a step down in comparison to their first three masterpieces. Full review here.
Akhlys – The Dreaming I
Nightbinger’s Naas Alcameth delivered with his side project’s sophomore album a frigidly thin, ambient-like black metal, with abstract structure, that conjures almost effortlessly a spectral soundscape of the night void. A fine species of hypnotic dark music. Full review here.
Cradle Of Filth – Hammer Of Witches
Well, this one is the first more-than-decent album of CoF in more than 10 years, so it must be mentioned. They have finally managed to pull off some excellent riffs, that though they are well below the masterpiece level of the 90’s, are an oasis for those who have silently been following them all these years.
Délétère – Les heures de la Peste
Quebec is bound to appear once or more times in my end-year lists. Délétère, after 2 promising demos released their debut, which stands steadily upon the Quebecois sub-genre, yet manages to instil a dark sense of occult upon it, mainly through the lo-fi, fluctuating production, which results in eeriness aplenty. Full review here.
Diabolicum – IA Pazuzu
The return of the industrial/clinical black metal Swedes was triumphant, creating an album that was based on the fantastic “The Grandeur Of Hell”, sporting a degree of variety that was unexpected and more than welcome. Full review here.
Drowning the Light – From the Abyss
From the Australians with the huge discography, came one of 2015’s most pluralistic takes on the early Norwegian sound, full of devotion to early Emperor, Gehenna, and all the atmospheric sub-genre in particular. If only its duration was somewhat shorter, it could well climb pretty high. Full review here.
Ethereal Shroud – They became the falling Ash
A UK black metal band is always welcome in end-year-lists, especially if it plays a sort of atmospheric BM that manages to create magnificent vistas of the dark side of nature. A mix of Summoning and Paysage D’Hiver would be the right decription.
Grafvitnir – Necrosophia
This is a last minute entry (figuratively speaking), that is bound to bring smiles to all old-Dissection fans. Excellent songwriting, close to the spirit of Nödtveidt’s band (meaning well-structured and flowing riffs), “Necrosophia” showcases a band that may not be the most original, yet manages to convey the 90’s occult spirit, along with blazing compositions.
Haukruunu – Havulinnaan
Epic black metal, drawing from epic-era Bathory (just listen to “Kuvastaja”), crossovering it with Scandinavian black metal riffing of a frosty nature. Nature- and past-worshiping, this is pagan black metal of raw elegance.
Malokarpatan – Stridžie Dni
Certain albums can fix your interest and positively bias you even before you listen them. That’s the case with those Slovakians and their debut, which is graced with an outstanding (and unusual, as far as black metal art goes) cover art, and a folklore lyrical content. Their style is an amalgam of Venom and Negative Plane, with much rawer production than either of these bands. If one, however, manages to dive under the murky surface, one can discover a multitude of excellent ideas accompanying the telling of dark tales from the Slovakian countryside.
Mgla – Exercises In Futility
The Polish masters’ third album was received with high acclaim almost universally, and though I tend to find it a bit predictable, and simplistic, riff-wise, it remains a release with high quality, and some of the best melodic riffs one can listen to in 2015. Full review here.
Nahtrunar – Symbolismus
It takes a lot of courage to kick off your album with “En Vind Av Sorg’s” riff, and not sound like a Darkthrone copy, yet these Austrians somehow manage it. Coming with an innate sense of romantic melody, this one is a prime example of black metal soundscaping.
Nechochwen – Heart Of Akamon
This was quite a surprise. The project of one of Obsequiae’s members, this is epic black metal done rightly, in the vein of Falkenbach or early Solstafir. It would be higher, if not for the odd (early) Opeth influence, that mellows down the overall image. Nonetheless, an excellent album.
Nettlecarrier – Black Coffin Rites
Nettlecarrier’s sophomore album follows on the tradition of the debut as one of the best examples of second-wave black metal of nowadays. Darjthrone and Gorgoroth worship of the highest qualitative caliber. Full review here.
Obsequiae – Aria of Vernal Tombs
The US riff-masters (with a deeply folk soul) returned after 4 years, with an album that follows upon the tradition of the amazing debut, is somewhat mellower, yet retains all the distinctive elements of the band, especially the excellent riffing.
Outre – Ghost Chants
One of the few examples of really interesting and refreshing orthodox black metal nowadays, this album a somewhat traditional mindset into Deathspell Omega sound, accompanied by some of the best vocals that one can hear nowadays. Full review here.
Revenge – Behold.Total.Rejection
Outstanding Grind.Noise.Black_Death_Terror from the Canadian masters of extremity, which (at least in my ears) have long surpassed their legendary compatriots (Blasphemy and Conqueror). A beast of an album, that emits uncontrolled sonic chaos.
Sacral Rage – Illusions In Infinite Void
US power metal, with a bit of Watchtower weirdness thrown in is definitely my cup of tea. I had high expectations from this album, and the Greek band did not disappoint me, though a fluctuation of quality throughout the album is evident. Nevertheless, a grand debut, and my radar is definitely on them and their sophomore attempt.
Saligia – Fønix
This one was startling, in a good way. From the traditional second-wave black metal of their debut, Saligia turn to a more earthly disposition, somewhat doomier, somewhat crunchier, with a hint of epicness in the clean vocals.
Serpent Noir – Erotomysticism
A surprising turn of sonic direction for this Greek band, which slow down their black metal, imbuing it with psychedelic elements, yet retaining a deep sense of the occult, as well as the quality that permeated their debut.
Visigoth – The Revenant King
This one boasts some of the best songs of this year, with “Dungeon Master” being right on the top, but the bit of a groovy edge spoils the fun for some of us. A solid example of traditional epic metal, nevertheless.
Ένα ένα τα κομμάτια, 2 λόγια, με 2 ακροάσεις έκαστο, (ήταν) Live ανταπόκριση (όταν το έγραφα):
If Eternity Should Fail: Συμπαθητικό άριφφο κουπλέ, η γέφυρα ξεσπαθώνει, το ρεφρέν αδιάφορο, εκεί στα σόλο καλά το πάει, όχι κάτι τρομερό.
Καλά, το Speed Of Light για τα πανηγύρια, πάμε στο επόμενο.
The Great Unknown: Αδιάφορο καινούριας Maiden εποχής κομμάτι, το έχουμε ακούσει ανά τμήματα ολόκληρο παλιότερα, moving onwards.
The Red and the Black: Το πρώτο από τα άνω του δεκαλέπτου του δίσκου, παίρνει μπρος η μηχανή, Heaven & Hell καλπασμός, καμπόση επικοφολκίζουσα αισθητική με κάτι ωραία περάσματα από 80’ς καθαρό ήχο α λα Europe, ή κάτι AOR σχεδόν ξερω γω , αυτά τα ω-ω-ω-ω να μην είχε μόνο. A, και κάτι γυρίσματα καρμπόν νομίζω από προσωπική πορεία Dickinson μετά το σόλο. Το παρατραβάνε λίγο σε διάρκεια (13:33). Καλό όμως όπως και να έχει, πρώτη πραγματική αναλαμπή.
When the River Runs Deep: Δεύτερο γρήγορο σχετικά κομμάτι, αδιάφορα γυμνασιακό. Το πέρασα στη 2η ακρόαση.
The Book of Souls: Προσπαθεί, τεντώνεται, αναδύεται σαν σε εντολή φακίρη, ευχάριστο, και μάλλον τα καταφέρνει να ξεχωρίσει, κοινώς δεύτερη κομματάρα. Δίνει και πόνο προς το τέλος. Έπος με τα όλα του. Καλύτερο μέχρι στιγμής, καλύτερο μάλλον από ότι έχω ακούσει μετά το 2000 από Maiden.
Death or Glory: Η δεύτερη πλευρά μπήκε με πολύ ωραίο τρόπο, δεν περίμενα καλό γρήγορο κομμάτι από Maiden πλέον, και μου έκατσε στο λαιμό (με την πολύ καλή έννοια). Δεν είναι κάτι ιδιαίτερο επιμέρους (αν και η εισαγωγή είναι θεόλστατη) αλλά σα σύνολο αγνό κοπάνημα. Ο Dickinson έχει πάρει τα πάνω του εδώ και κάποια κομμάτια.
Shadows of the Valley: Ναι, ξεκινάει σαν το Wasted Years, Κάτι από Fallen Angel του Brave New World, πολύ ωραία περφόρμανς του Dickinson. Όχι κάτι ρηξικέλευθο, αλλά μάλλον κολλητικό. Ακόμη ένα καλό στη 2η πλευρά, φαίνεται να κλείνει προς τα εδώ η πλάστιγγα του δίσκου. Δυστυχώς πάλι ω-ω-ω-ω-ω προς το τελείωμα.
Tears of a Clown: Πιασάρικο, hype-ιασμένο από ότι είχα διαβάσει, πολύ πιασάρικο. Τίμιο κομμάτι, όχι να τρελαίνεσαι, αλλά διατηρεί την δάδα των εύπεπτων mid/ελαφρώς γρήγορων maiden-ικών κομματιών.
The Man of Sorrows: Ξεκινάει με μερακλίδικο ακουστικό/μπλουζιάρικο στέναγμα και επακόλουθη αναμενόμενη αλλά ωραία ερμηνεία Dickinson. Έχει κάτι από αυτή την σα-να-πετάω-πιάτα σπαραξικάρδια συνταγή εκεί στην αρχή. Μετά εξελίσσεται πιο στρωτά αλλά μελωδικά κι ωραία. Παιδιά, κιθαράρες. Από τις καλύτερες του δίσκου. (Ο τίτλος τουλάχιστον αμφιλεγόμενος, να βγάλετε και ένα The Tears of the Dragon σε κάποια φάση) Εξαιρετικό κομμάτι.
Empire of the Clouds: Πληκτράκια στην αρχή, φολκίζοντα και ευήλια, τα 8 πρώτα λεπτά θεσπέσια, με καταπληκτικά φωνητικά να καθοδηούν τις πανέμορφες συνθετικές γραμμές, πλήρεις μελωδιών. Έχει κάτι από την εναλλαγή του ομώνυμου Seventh Son (εντός πολλών παρενθέσεων). Ανέβασμα πυγμής με σταδιακή στεντόρια ανάπτυξη της Φωνής και των επιρροών. Ήρεμο και συννάμα τερατώδες κομμάτι. Πετάει βέβαια κι ένα τσιφτετέλι από τα σύνηθή του ο Harris (αν και Dickinson το έγραψε). Συν το ουροβόρο τελείωμα με κάποιες ιντριγκαδόρικες πληκτράδικες πιναλιές. Να ένα έπος κοινώς.