Kyle McGinn Best-of 2015Monday, 14th December 2015
Always a bit tougher to complete the song portion of these articles due to my sheer obsessive need to listen to the entire album start to finish. But over the years, it’s been come to be viewed as an opportunity to “share the wealth,” and highlight some bands that just missed top 10 status or delivered a song that simply resonated in some way or another. There are actually a fair number of tracks that had to be trimmed this year to get down to 10, which is quite indicative of how strong 2015 was.
A nice change this year was finding a few singles worthy of mention, which otherwise wouldn’t have been able to be noted otherwise. With more and more Bandcamp uploads (the year-end Bandcamp list is coming soon too), sometimes a single is a nice way to test the waters, or remind the world that you are still here.
1. Rivers of Nihil – Circles in the Sky (from Monarchy)
Who said death metal can’t be beautiful? The way this song builds emotion all the way up to its breaking point after the 5-minute mark, with a spine-tingling solo that just drops every ounce of tension into sweeping beauty is still breathtaking after an ungodly number of listens. This should be the exemplar for how atmosphere and death metal are combined.
2. Aether Realm – The Chariot (single)
One of the best kept secrets of the US folk metal scene, this track exemplifies everything AR does right. There’s some wild Children of Bodom-esque riffing, strong melodic leads, a catchy acoustic segment, and a goofy-yet-addictive little piano bit all crammed into 6 minutes of epic folk metal goodness. Have a beer and do a jig with this one!
3. Antimatter – Hole (from The Judas Table)
Mick Moss is a master at songs that will effectively bum you out (in the best way possible). “Hole” is no exception to this, as the stripped down and acoustic approach to this one allows his one-of-a-kind vocal timbre to take center stage. So much melancholy in this track, but it’s so genuine and full of emotion that it’s hard to stop listening to.
4. Kauan – “Atva” (from Sorni Nai)
The “introduction” to Sorni Nai (technically the whole thing is one long song) reels you in with its wilderness atmosphere that slowly builds into a somber and atmospheric landscape of cinematic quality. By the time the vocals kick-in at around the 6-minute mark, you will be completely mesmerized. This is the way that you open up an album!
5. Karyn Crisis’ Gospel of the Witches – The Sword + The Stone (from Salem’s Wounds)
Karyn Crisis’ triumphant return is full of tracks that illustrate her wide range of easily identifiable vocals. “The Sword + The Stone” leans in the more melodic direction and keeps an atmospheric yet occult feel as the track builds up to a heavy finish. You won’t find another band quite like this one, and this song is a fitting introduction to the rest of this excellent album.
6. Cryptopsy – Detritus: The One They Kept (from The Book of Suffering – Tome 1)
Combining the insane speed and technical riffing with some massive grooves, “Detritus” feels like a new classic from the infamous Canadians. It sticks to the band’s strengths (much like the entire EP), and one listen to this track is the equivalent of getting a shot of adrenaline. Unrelenting and utterly brutal, all in a way that only Cryptopsy can provide.
7. Alkaloid – Cthulhu (from The Malkuth Grimoire)
This song easily wins the award for heaviest riff. It seems like almost every year yours truly tosses in a track full of sludgy, Domination-era Morbid Angel groove, and “Cthulhu” hits the marks for this year. A monstrously heavy stomper that is simply hypnotizing in tone, it’s certain that this one could awaken the sleeping beast from his slumber.
8. Warforged – Two Demons (single)
More engrossing atmospheric blackened death from Chicago’s underground scene. With sly, eerie undertones, there’s a nice progression as the track gets heavier (not to mention a great acoustic break, separating the track into two pieces). If you are looking for “hauntingly beautiful,” Warforged should be one of your favorites.
9. Solution .45 – “Perfecting the Void” (from Nightmares in the Waking State Part I)
5 years after their debut, Solution .45 return with some rejuvenated heaviness. “Perfecting the Void” has everything that makes the band tick: killer solos, catchy vocal choruses (courtesy of Mr. Älvestam), and groovy riffs. All of the melodic death metal goodness you’d expect, but with a little more oomph behind it.
10. Countless Skies – Solace (single)
Up and comers Countless Skies continue to impress with this latest single, following last year’s EP. Featuring absolutely stunning guitar harmonies and sorrow-soaked riffs, Insomnium and Omnium Gatherum fans should be all over this one. Keep an eye out for their debut album next year, it should be the push that gets them a bit more noticed.
Biggest Surprise: Ghost Brigade on indefinite hiatus
This could also double as the year’s biggest disappointment. My metal heart sank quite a bit when I saw this a few days ago (enough that it off-set my already written up “surprise”). Ghost Brigade was always one of the most under-rated bands around and it’s a bummer that life gets in the way and they decided to pack it in. If you haven’t heard this band, do yourself a favor and pick up their entire discography and cross your fingers that they’ll return someday.
Best Newcomer: Rest Among Ruins
As already stated, Fugue was an incredible debut. The mixture of different influences (both musically and vocally) and the focus on storytelling really takes things farther than most bands attempt. It’s hard to create a concept album that clocks in at over an hour and keep it interesting, and RaR makes it seem easy on Fugue. There’s a ton of potential here for future offerings.
Biggest Disappointment: All that Remains
While one could argue that “I should have seen this one coming,” I’ve held onto ATR as a guilty pleasure over the last two albums. Even with some lowered expectations, the musical catastrophe that The Order of Things was still managed to shock and awe. Bland, formulaic, and commercially-driven songwriting from near beginning to end, this one was much like In Flames’ Siren Charms: it was the last straw.
Best cover art: Cattle Decapitation – The Anthropocene Extinction
(Click here for a larger version)
Lots of great artwork this year, but this one spoke a bit more than the rest. A play on the infamous Great Pacific Garbage Patch, amusingly using humans instead of seagulls, there’s a social relevance as well as its grotesque awesomeness. Look close and you can see nods to artwork from the last few CD albums. How cool is that?
Best Concert – Amaranthe
I must say, it was a tough call between Amaranthe and my excellent 2-night stint with Wilderun and Aether Realm. I caught Amaranthe 4 times this year – three times within a span of a week this fall (Stafford Springs, Pittsburgh, and Cleveland). Their music is catered to the live venue and Amaranthe consistently pull from their best with their setlist (though one hopes “Stardust” makes the cut next time). There’s a reason they are conquering North America – enigmatic stage performances, addictive songs, and being some of the most genuine and humble folks I’ve come across.
Most Anticipated Release of 2016: Allegaeon and Amaranthe
Just could not decide between these two for next year! Chats with both bands certainly helped drive the internal hype machine – Allegaeon moving in a more “melodic” path, complete with new vocalist Riley McShane (Son of Aurelius!) bears plenty of promise (even if album #5 will ramp up the brutality, which will be interesting too). Allegaeon’s new track sounded killer live last month, if they all hold to that standard then we are in for a real doozy of an album. As far as Amaranthe goes, they’ve already patented their formula but it’s going to be very intriguing to see how they raise the bar with their approach to songs (much like the way they did with Massive Addictive). The sky does seem to be the limit for this band.
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