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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Volahn/Shataan/Arizmenda/Kallathon – Desert Dances & Serpent Sermons

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Crepusculo Negro is a label that I have been stalking for some years now, and one I am particularly fond of (as was evident in my last year’s list, including both Volahn and Arizmenda’s full-lengths), both due to the quality of its bands, as well as the existence of a unified artistic and spiritual concept among its members, solidified in the Black Twilight Circle. Though not much is clear about the content of this concept, one can be certain of a certain mythological fascination with pre-hispanic Central American civilizations (members appear to be of Mexican-American descend, and strongly influenced by the Mexican legends Xibalba), as the main person behind the Circle has stated. I am quite positive inclined towards black metal becoming occasionally an artistic medium for expression of minorities’ cultural needs, as is the case in this particular case.

In contrast to last year’s rich production, in 2015 the label released only one new album, namely a 4-way split between Volahn, Shataan, Arizmenda and Kallathon, by the descriptive (and quite evocative) name of “Desert Dances & Serpent Sermons”, an album that effortlessly coils its way to the top positions of this year’s black metal production, among sand clouds and black wings.

Volahn kick off the album with the eleven minute opus “Chamalcan”, whose intro and outro can very well disorient; surf-like reverb, a galloping reminiscent of spaghetti-western film music (it was quite a shock upon first listen), before the main part of the track kicks off in well-known (for Volahn fans at least) territory. This means multiple, thin guitar layers, overlapping in an almost ethereal way during the most exhilarating and mystical moments, remaining always in ecstatic motion, sometimes resembling long-winded solos. A comparison with the finest specimens of Les Legions Noires would not be amiss. With a slightly cleaner sound than in their previous releases, a thing suiting well the somewhat travelogue-ish nature of this song (it being a prime guide through the exotic desert concept nature of the release), Volahn once more live up to the high expectations.

Shataan is one of the less well known BTC bands, with only a demo release, 2011’s “War Cry Lament”, to exhibit before this participation. In “Caminando Del Destino / Desert Smoke / Wells Run Dry” we are presented with a 3-part eleven minuter, which introduces us to some “Drawing Down The Moon-” jungle sonicscapes, traversed by a slightly epic acoustic guitar, before it rises itself to a somewhat dissonant, especially vocal-wise, middle part, which nevertheless manages to be highly addictive; the guitars, as in most of the BTC releases, are a feast for sore ears – in this particular occasion they are quite clear, serpentine in quickness of motion. The clean, somewhat punkish vocals may well be dissonant, but they have an innate sense of melody, especially on the last part, which manages to guide them triumphantly through the hazy landscape. All in all a song of mischievous and slightly ironic character, which builds up with time and with repetition.

Arizmenda may well be the darkest and rawest of the label/circle’s bands, a thing widely apparent in last year’s “Stillbirth In The Temple Of Venus”, which was a spectral descent to dungeon schizophrenia. The intro of “Ropeburn Mutilation On The Outskirts Of Life”, the band’s contribution to the split, works well towards supporting the aforementioned Arizmenda characteristic: a children choir performing a somewhat nursery song along slightly discernible chilling keyboards. In the track per se, all known Arizmenda elements can be discerned; ghastly drawn-out vocals, coming behind a hazy curtain of distance; tempo changes sliding from torturous mid-tempo with no apparent direction, to swirling torrential speeds, with guitar riffs (and even the hint of a solo) floating just above the surface of an all-consuming abyss. What differentiates this track from its predecessors is mostly the better production, as well as an essence of atmospheric phantasmagoria, which oddly brought to my mind early Limbonic Art. This may well be the most complex of the split’s four tracks, though it is slightly amiss as far as the conceptual cohesion with the other three is concerned – it is the most traditionally black metal one.

Kallathon, as is also the case with Shataan, is one of the lesser known bands of the circle, boasting just one demo and 2 split releases. Their contribution to the release, “Falling Into The Horizon, Burning Into The Black Twilight” is the longest of the whole bunch, clocking something above 13 minutes. The quite large intro, brings the listener back to the sun-bleached cowboy lands of the first track, steadily building a path towards the main song, which is the most monolithic of the 4, both direction- and riff-wise (though it closes with a solo of excellent taste). Two main tempos pace back and forth, marching mid-tempo giving way to bursts of blastbeats and then resuming with much directness (not succumbing though to inertia). There is large scale echo use in the slightly growling vocals (more towards the clean end of the spectrum), which along with the marching rhythm grace the song with a somewhat epic hue. A worthy closing anthem.

A non-conformist black metal release one could say, both musically (the surf/western parts can drive away black metal purists) and conceptually (as is evident from the somewhat alien to the scene aesthetics of Black Twilight Circle), it also happens to be one of the best albums that have surfaced from this year’s underground vaults. The closing lyrics of “Falling Into The Horizon, Burning Into The Black Twilight” are the most fitting closing line:

Leave the tracks behind as a reflection of
our journey
Let only the winds erase our trace but,
let them carry our name
Like the star that burns above, so does our spirit
to carry on our song”