Riley's Top 20 Albums of 2015
I proudly present a semi-organized list of my favorite albums of the year. Just as every music journalist or avid listener will complain, choosing which releases to be featured surely felt strenuous with countless memorable albums from an array of genres seemed to pour from the industry's mouth in excess this year. As with all reviews, editorials, and lists of this nature, please for the love of all that is holy within comment sections, remember that the content presented is the product of opinions from a subjective individual. The fifty albums LPs below are simply those which I personally felt to be the most impactful. So, feel free to recommend any albums I may have missed and check out those which you have not yet heard.
Also included are a couple sub-sections to give the "look at me, I'm eclectic" side of my ego a nice pat on the back. And as a last side-note, if you particularly enjoy any albums mentioned (or even not mentioned), consider sauntering on over to their respective site and giving the band the compensation they deserve for said created art. I'm a firm believer in giving credit where it is due in the world of creatives and especially in this age of piracy, streaming, death of large touring festivals, etc., the need for financial support is truly present for artists.
Deathcore releases nowadays seem to be a coin toss. You either get a buffet of bland breakdowns or something a bit more boundaries-pushing. Luckily, this Australian group's latest flip landed heads-up as their song structures contained some solid hooks above all. With terrorism unfortunately once again peaking in popularity this year, the theme in Holy War at first seemed pandering, but after lyrical look-ups, it was later realized the content was fitting and challenging of the issues at hand.
Released via Nuclear Blast, UNFD / Listen to: "Holy War"
Remember back when Mastodon made really good progressive sludge metal? Well, Elder sure does. They took that style and ran with it for their third LP, ringing the bell for their best release yet. Five songs may not seem like a lot to sink your teeth into, but don't fret, these fully-fledged psychedelic and doom jams are as epic and immersive as that Mordor-meets-Van Gogh album art.
Released via Armageddon Shop, Stickman Records / Listen to: "Compendium"
The cheesy connotation of power metal has always left a bad taste in my mouth, but with a stylish addition of progressive licks, this band not only produces the genre to be tolerable by my ears, but sincerely inviting. Ranging from ballads to headbangers, this record certainly proves that even after twenty years, Symphony X has still got it.
Released via Nuclear Blast / Listen to: "Nevermore"
I honestly assumed that these guys would be too stoned out to keep going this strong seven albums in, yet every vital organ of their signature sound is still alive and beating. Frontman Matt Pike brings his A-game with raspy vocals, jet-propelled energy, and sludge galore.
All hail the newcomers to progressive metal land! Well, not exactly "new," but as this marks their first label debut and step into the spotlight, I assume many of you folks are unfamiliar with these guys to an extent. And what a perfect first impression that these Aussie boys have presented for your eardrums. I have a hunch that this is just the beginning of the long and impressive career that Caligula's Horse have ahead of them. Be sure to give this a full listen if you enjoy the lighter, alternative sides of the genre.
It seems the 'jump-on-the-Ghost-bandwagon' has hit an all time high with this release. The combination of their image and verse-chorus-verse formula continues to appeal as the gradual instrumentation experimentation strengthens the actual integrity of the group. In whole, Ghost is undeniable proof of a band that creates fine collections of compositions which also smoothly translate to their live performance.
14. KATAKLYSM Of Ghosts and Gods
There seems to be a theme of fresh starts surging through the veins of the year. I'd be lying to myself stating Kataklysm's past albums were anything less than magnificent, however Of Ghosts and Gods has a hefty share of riffs that revitalized the presence of these Canadian metallers.
Released via Nuclear Blast / Listen to: "The Black Sheep"
In my whitest attempt to sound edgy, this is one groovy-ass black metal album. It is as evil as it is epic. But above all, the Middle-Eastern melodic approach weaved through these pieces are what form their unique significance. Metal's popularity epicenter is balanced between America and Europe, but bands such as Melechesh are the reason behind the slow spread and evolution of the genre.
At this point in their career in regards to legacy and number of albums, most bands churn out a variation of their past success without the integrity to push beyond creative boundaries. Fortunately, Paradise Lost take their craft seriously and absolutely destroy any writer's block accusations. With an extensive fusion of death, doom, and goth, the depth to explore in this LP is bottomless.
There is a certain zeal surrounding this collection of tracks that harken a Gojira-like aura in the most positive way. The earthy tones and passionate vocals are the driving force behind the grandiosity. But don't get me wrong with that previous comparison; Sylosis are an amalgamation of many tasteful styles rather than the simple spawn of a greater influence.
Released via Nuclear Blast / Listen to: "Mercy"
If I was forced to summarize this release into two defining words they would be 'beautiful' and 'contrast.' The orchestral and choral musicalities unite with the black metal vocals and instrumentation to construct a soundtrack like feel. As an entity, Laurestine's most compelling feature is the range of dynamics, going from high ends of intensity to tranquility.
9. SHINING International Blackjazz Society
This was tough. On one hand, the overall sound almost leaned towards an experimental rock vibe. But on the other, the consistent innovative aspects were so compelling to simply settle for that broad and vague pigeonholed notion. In the end, I felt the sonic and tonal extremes that were reached, categorized this oddball LP to fit snuggly in the outskirts of metal town. If given the choice, this is where I pictured and would prefer the 90's Marilyn Manson to sound in modern day.
It took four albums to finally hit that sweet spot between genuine rawness and pleasing unconventionality. Even from the first track, I was sold with a sludgy riff fest transitioning into a jazz-influenced soundscape complete with a bass solo. Above all, this release boasts both solidity and intelligence. Not only does Intronaut continue to do what they want musically, but also redefines their palette with plenty of crowd-pleasing curveballs.
There shouldn't be much of an argument towards this choice. Travis Ryan's vocals are unquestionably at their peak and anyone opposing this screechy-clean style should reconsider their definition of originality. And don't even get me started on the insane instrumental work; it is profoundly breathtaking.
I never could quite comprehend the reasoning behind Sunbather's unexpected hype. With that said, the material on this follow-up is miles ahead in regards to quality and range. The inclusion of subtle classic and alternative rock characteristics fused in with the dark metal is Deafheaven's secret weapon. Imagine Smashing Pumpkins meets modern Mayhem.
5. FEAR FACTORY Genexus
All these accusations that this LP sounded just like every Fear Factory release baffled me. Of course, their signature sound was still there, yet the presentation felt much more threatening. Industrial drumming clashing with the sweet croons of Burton C. Bell never sounded so effective. If for whatever reason, these legends decided to throw in the towel, this would be the album to respectfully end it on.
I feel as if the majority of metal music is divided into songs that aesthetically speak to you and songs which move you from a technical standpoint. The serene, melodious tidbits meshed with blistering tempo soundscapes form one hell of a concoction that evoke both angles of the previously mentioned theory.
Sometimes, the hidden gems shine the most bright. And this diamond's radiance out-shined its own mysterious persona. With relatively zero information publicly given, the obscurity factor may be one reason towards sporadic fame, but the unapologetic post-black metal traits that so easily gel with an atmosphere oozing of melody is what boosts this phenomenal album's likability level to the moon and back.
Released via Northern Silence / Listen to: "Golden Number"
2. PERIPHERY Juggernaut: Alpha
Despite the animosity that this five-piece has garnered due to label demographic and vocal style, the talent shown on this first half of a double album is immense. If you value an assortment of harmony and melodies, each song possesses those in abundance. If you prefer musical virtuosity, the sum of skill and prowess is stacked high and thickly spread. The notion that both of these elements are delivered and balanced is the pure reason why I decided to completely change my outlook on this group for the better.
1. BETWEEN THE BURIED AND ME Coma Ecliptic
Love it, absolutely love it. The transition from their metalcore Victory Records beginnings to the proggy eclectic force that they present on Coma Ecliptic is the epitome of their monumental mature evolution. The ranging vocals, poetic lyrics, and awe-inspiring instrumental sections contain the precise amount of stunning diversity needed to name this by far my most favorite album of the year.
NON-METAL (ROCK, ALTERNATIVE, INDIE, RAP, ETC):
15. CHON – Grow (Sumerian Records / Listen to: "Story")
14. Zardonic – Antihero (eOne Music /Listen to: "Against All Odds")
13. Holy White Hounds – Sparkle, Sparkle (self-released / Listen to: "Switchblade")
11. Uncle Acid – The Night Creeper (Rise Above Records / Listen to: "Melody Lane")
10. Steven Wilson – Hand. Cannot. Erase. (Kscope / Listen to: "Perfect Life")
9. Happyness – Weird Little Birthday (Bar None, Moshi Moshi, Rough Trade Records / Listen to: "Weird Little Birthday Girl")
7. Death Cab for Cutie – Kintsugi (Atlantic, Barsuk Records / Listen to: "Black Sun")
6. Big Data – 2.0 (Warner Bros. Records, Wilcassettes / Listen to: "Dangerous")
5. Alabama Shakes – Sound & Color (ATO, MapleMusic, Rough Trade Records / Listen to: "Don't Wanna Fight")
4. Failure – The Heart is a Monster (INresidence / Listen to: "Hot Traveler")
3. Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly (Top Dawg, Aftermath, Interscope / Listen to: "King Kunta")
2. Awolnation – Run (Red Bull Records / Listen to: "Hollow Moon")
1. Father John Misty – I Love You, Honeybear (Sub Pop, Bell Union / Listen to: "Chateau Lobby #4")
HONORABLE MENTIONS (DESERVING SOME LOVE):
15. Pinkish Black – Bottom of the Morning (Relapse Records / Listen to: "Brown Rainbow")
14. Lord Dying – Poisoned Altars (Relapse Records / Listen to: "A Wound Outside of Time")
13. Dope Body – Kunk (Drag City / Listen to: "Old Grey")
12. Cursed Graves – California Noise (self-released / Listen to "Family Man")
11. Anakin – Celestial Frequency Shifter (No Sleep Records / Listen to: "Satellite")
10. Future User – #steroidsorheroin (Middle Ring Partnership / Listen to: "Mountain Lion")
9. Harm's Way – Rust (Deathwish Inc. / Listen to: "Amongst the Rust")
7. Steve Von Till – A Life Unto Itself (Neurot Recordings / Listen to: "A Life Unto Itself")
5. Author and Punisher – Melk en Honing (Housecore Records / Listen to: "Callous and Hoof")
4. The Last Ten Seconds of Life – Soulless Hymns (Workhorse Music, Density Records / Listen to: "North of Corpus")