2015 – Top 20 Albums

indstries
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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Macabre Omen – Gods of War, at War review

macabre

How does one listen to epic metal? (I limit the question’s scope only on epic metal, since the album in question is a prime example of this sound) With this question, I mean, on what level of immersion inside an album’s concept (including music, lyrics, aesthetics), has one to descend, in order to fully enjoy and experience the album in question? Is just the music, sans lyrics and aesthetics, enough for one to say that he has grasped an epic metal album’s spirit? I seriously doubt that, at least judging from my experience. What would “Hammerheart” be without the Viking lyrics, without Dicksee’s painting, with only the band showing in spikes and leather in “One Rode to Asa Bay’s” video, instead of the visual masterpiece that it is? What if Manilla Road wrote about contemporary Wichita instead of “Necropolis”? Epic metal (as well as black metal, two genres that are not that much apart aesthetically in my mind) is for me, first and foremost, a womb of imaginary thoughtscapes and emotionscapes, which are inextricably tied to an imaginary past, its setting real or fictious, expressed through music, aesthetics, and lyrics. This past’s idealized image usually excites me, creating illogical nostalgic and stimulating emotions within me, illogical because they are focused towards something non-existent, something which only indirectly I have come in contact with. The thing is, that this idealized image (that I tend to crave, due to its emotional effects), if it is concerned with a real-world past, sometimes is not far from the idealized image that has been used by nationalistic movements inside the country in question. I tend to keep the image inside me, for emotional consumption, and actively try to leave it out of my political thinking and attitude, without saying that its effect is non-existent.

This prologue has to do with my response towards Macabre Omen’s sophomore album’s tracklisting; when it was revealed, 2 song titles stood out, causing a certain degree of discomfort upon me: “Man of 300 Voices”, and “Hellenes Do Not Fight Like Heroes, Heroes Fight Like Hellenes” (which also happens to be the album’s best track for me – quite awkward). They both carry a nationalistic vibe, since certain events of (and myths about) Greek history have become a banner under which nationalistic movements have mustered, the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party being a contemporary example. A song’s title is quite an important trait of it, close in importance for me to the lyrics itself, since it is the song’s facade, so the bitter taste of these song titles is not going anywhere. Since, however, I have the uttermost respect about Alexandros’ works, both with Macabre Omen and The One, I was not much thwarted by this discomfort, but neither did I left it to dissipate, choosing instead to also check the album’s lyrics, which as a whole are of a high quality. But there are certain phrases that I found to be part of a nationalistic narrative, namely the ones about “worthless, barbaric lives” (in both of the two aforementioned songs), referring to the Persian armies. One could argue about the historical validity(?) of those terms, but the fact is that they could well be avoided. On the other hand, “Alexandros Ode A&B” lyrics are of a postmortem Achillean mindset; that is, doubt about ideals and longing for the lost life of a youth – quite excellent in fact. On the rest of the album, past and sea intertwine in a more than satisfying manner, while the deeply emotional “From Son to Father” contains a poem of Alexandros’ father.

Moving onwards now, the album as a whole is amazing. It seemed quite hard a feat the surpassing of an album as good as “The Ancient Returns”, but Macabre Omen’s second opus is better from every aspect, a monument of this decade’s (at the very least) epic metal. There are very few artists that have managed to distil Quorthon’s epic sound in their own music successfully, and among them only a minority has managed to truly create an innovative work of art based not on Bathory albums’ music but on their spirit. Apart from this album, I can only think of Scald’s “Will of Gods is a Great Power” as an example of such a magnificent work.

What Alexandros has managed to create in this album is the admixture of the grandiosity of Hammerheart-era Bathory (another similarity between the two albums is the Sea opening: “I see the Sea” is the opening track’s title, just like “Shores in Flames” opened Quorthon’s masterpiece), of Scandinavian black metal ferocity (the opening riff of “Gods of War” is pure “Transilvanian Hunger” worship), and of Greek folk music melody (especially island-ish folk), which is is revealed as an extremely effective medium of the Epic. The alternation of the last two components is amazing, creating a monumental atmosphere, that appears ominous as well archaic. An alteration that does not stop only here, but is extended on to the vocals, which are quite varied; from Burzum-like howls (“Athens is on fire!”), to deep, imposing (a la Hate Forest, in a manner), booming recitations, to highly emotional beautiful melodic clean singing, and battle hymnal screams. I said that “Hellenes Do Not Fight Like Heroes, Heroes Fight Like Hellenes” is my awkwardly favourite track of the album, and in this, one can hear all the aforementioned variety. Many of the folkish guitars are recycled throughout the album, not due to lack of ideas, but in order to emphasize the atmosphere and concept nature of the whole album.

Beyond Alexandros, T. J. F. Vallely (of Lychgate) appears as a band member (drums and all other percussion things), while there are guest appearances from Gothmog (Thou Art Lord), Greg Chandler (Lychgate), and Nocternity’s great Khal Drogo. The first two provide additional vocals on certain tracks, while Khal Drogo has recorded guitar solos for the first two tracks. The album’s production is flawless, both the guitars and vocals being on just the right level of volume and clarity, while percussion is oscillating in voluminous presence, depending on the tracks’ necessities.

Not only there is not a filler to be found in the album, but it is almost impossible to find the album’s weak moment; here is magnificence extraordinaire. Clocking just above 60 minutes, its duration is almost non-perceptible. I could go on praising the album track-by-track, but this is beyond the point. Just visit the band’s bandcamp and listen to one of the best albums of the decade.

Highlights: Everything

Check Also: Bathory – “Hammerheart”, Scald – “Will of Gods is a Great Power”, Atlantean Kodex – “The White Godess”