2015 – Top 20 Albums

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For albums 21-40 see here.
For 10 best non-full-length releases see here.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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12. Hæthen – Shaped by Aeolian Winds

Firstly, this album has the best cover art of 2015 by far. Secondly, Hæthens 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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1. Macabre Omen – Gods of War – At War

This album is the “Hammerheart” of our times, simple as that. Full review here.

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2015 – The Good Albums (21-40)

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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
https://youtu.be/Bo_VdeTYxOA
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
https://youtu.be/nLpGXfRFPaQ
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.

2015 – Demo, EP, and Split releases Top-10

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Manii – Skuggeheimen

This one is “outside” the list, since it does not contain any new material, but rather just a re-recording of two tracks from the second and third Manes demos (for those not familiar with Manii, they are -since 2011- the old-school aspect of Manes), which are however still throbbing with perfection. Less eerie, the guitar perhaps a tad more highlighted than in the original versions, yet carrying this unearthly wind that is associated with Manes’ demo years.

10. Nécropole – Ostara (Demo)

A French trio delivering old-school black metal via the Finnish vein (namely the Sargeist, Satanic Warmaster style – melodic guitars sprinkled with a bit of fuzziness in the production, into a channel of passionate impetuosity), in this, their second demo. Not much diversity mood-wise, this is a monolithic cascade streaming rapidly through frozen landscapes.

9. Ithaqua – Initiation To Obscure Mysteries (Demo)

A demo release writhing with nostalgia for the early Greek black metal scene. Perhaps a bit lacking in the originality department, though I suspect that this was something done on purpose. Old Rotting Christ (“Passage To Arcturo” era) worship more or less. Highly enjoyable. Full review here.

8. Loputon Suo – S-T (Demo)

An essentially melodic black metal discographic debut for those Finns, though the somewhat raw production may well obfuscate the fact upon first listen. The guitar ideas in this short (exactly 12 minutes) demo are quite memorable, reminiscent of the flawing, mountainous mentality of both Bolzer and The Ruins of Beverast; dark majesty sums it up quite nicely as far as terms are considered.

7. Cosmic Church – Vigilia (EP)

The Finnish masters of atmospheric, landscape-y black metal returned this year with both a 3-way split (“Beyond The Mirror Of Worlds” with Blood Red Fog and Shroud of Satan) and the “Vigilia” ep. In the 33 minutes of this release, Luxixul Sumering Auter, the single member behind the band, offers us another dose of well-played and compositionally-fluent long-winded black metal, able to create a masterful degree of atmosphere, with a pinch of folk melodies embedded in some of the riffs.

6. Gatekeeper/Eternal Champion – Retaliator/Vigilance (Split)

Shifting of focus with this one, from black to epic metal. Both Gatekeeper and Eternal Champion are among the best new underground bands of the genre, and this collaboration between them is an exemplar gem. The release brings together more or less all of the bands’ past material, and showcases the grandeur of both. Mandatory for all epic/doom metal fans.

5. Grimoire – L’Aorasie des Spectres Reveurs (EP)

One-man black metal band from Quebec. It is not overtly difficult to take a correct guess as to Grimoire’s style; atmospheric (in a nostalgic, crave-for-past-glories way) black metal, with a furious edge, graced with excellent guitar riffing (simple yet highly effective in conjuring pure epicness), sparse use of beautiful keyboards, and above all a highly evocative mythical atmosphere. The vocals are more or less of the typical black metal variety, quite passionate, but where they truly shine is when they go for a clean, desperate and hugely epic hue, as in the ending of “Tragedie des Ombres”. Just under 25 minutes, this EP is pure gold, highly recommended for fans of Forteresse and Ephemer, but also for anyone into quality atmospheric black metal.

4. Spectral Lore – Gnosis (EP)

The single best Greek black metal band of our times returned this year with 2 lengthy ep’s (at least – supposedly there would also be a third one before the year’s end, though it seems unlikely now). And while in “Voyager” Ayloss took a deep dive in the space ambient/electronics genre, in “Gnosis” he returns on more traditional (a.k.a. Metal) forms, through which he tries to create an image of oriental music as it lies in his mind’s eye. The result is a 50-minutes long EP, that bears the distinctive Spectral Lore multi-layered guitar mentality, infuses the whole with certain oriental/Greek melodic parts, conjuring up an archaic atmosphere of historical hue (instead of the almost atemporal majesty of his past albums). By far the most complex and grand in scope release of the list.

3. Black Sword Thunder Attack – Promo

While chasing the phantom of the full-length album (which was to be released in this year, but was sadly delayed for an unspecified amount of time), this promo’s six minutes can showcase the pure epic genius of this Greek band, which draws deeply from the well of Lordian Guard (no only as far as the amazingly epic female vocals are concerned), infusing it with a bit of solid galloping. Their album-to-come is one of my most anticipated things for 2016 (hopefully). (It seems that there is no youtube or bandcamp version, so the link concerns their 2013 demo, whose first track appears also in the promo)

2. Belketre – Ryan Èvn-a (EP)

The return of one of Les Legions Noires members in 2015 was an unexpected event. The fact that the accompanying release, the “Ryan Èvn-a” EP, was an intriguing masterpiece of raw, agile, guitar-based black metal of grotesque production (the sound layers are bizarrely engineered, in a completely unorthodox way) was a most positive surprise. Not much to be said here, this is one of the most original releases of this year. The production may well dissuade a portion of the audience, but for me this, along with the guitar parts, is “Ryan evn-a’s” true advantage.

1. Necromancy – Ancient Wrath (EP)

Necromancy, essentially Necromantia’s earliest facet, are back after more than 25 years, with an ep containing 3 tracks steeped in the early Greek scene’s darkest majesty, reminding us why early Necromantia were among the darkest sounding bands of all time. For more check this amazing review (in Greek).