Matt Coe Best-of 2015

Wednesday, 16th December 2015

Debate reigns over the art of songwriting in any genre- heavy metal included. What criteria constitutes a memorable track from something that’s merely ‘average’? In my eyes, hooks are mandatory on either a vocal or musical part. The element of surprise can help as well – a segment or time signature shift often elevates material to another level of deeper connection.

Once again, here are ten songs that received a modest amount of airing beyond the reviewing scope. This year the list easily could have been doubled, but the editors of Dead Rhetoric hold me to half the selections and this journalist must abide by their wishes.

1. Soilwork – “The Phantom” (from The Ride Majestic)
Rare is the band who develops heavier and dynamically entertaining material this far into their career. Blast beats and intriguing calm transitions beyond the conventional melodic death metal spectrum put this Soilwork cut among their all-time best.

2. Wolfheart – “Zero Gravity” (from Shadow World)
Assembling a full lineup, this Finnish melodic death act knows how to write and perform aggressive, emotional material while still being very memorable. The alluring slow start mutates into a speedy affair, Tuomas’ larynx given a growling workout as the axe harmonies abound throughout.

3. Crypt Sermon – “Into the Holy of Holies” (from Out of the Garden)
Who would have thought a classic doom metal outfit would spring forth from Pennsylvania and take the underground by storm. This song contains all of the melodic textures, hooks, and chilling atmosphere/melodies that meld together the greatness of Candlemass and Solitude Aeturnus.

4. Rivers Of Nihil – “Monarchy” (from Monarchy)
If there is any US act that can combine progressive technical death parts with this crushing wall of sound that reflects a lot of Gojira waves, it’s Rivers of Nihil. The title track from their second album embodies all facets of their sonic landscape.

5. Unleash the Archers – “Dreamcrusher” (from Time Stands Still)
Great power metal isn’t just about anthems – epic songs always have their place, and this nine-minute plus journey from Canada’s Unleash the Archers is one of the best. Moodiness, embodying shades of light and dark and very heavy when called for – Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath and Rainbow would be proud to be the inspiration for this arrangement. Brittney Slayes multi-part harmonic melodies plus the charging mid-section keep ears pined, while the brief drum/bass build up in the concluding third should gain instant audience participation when they air this live.

6. Paradise Lost – “Beneath Broken Earth” (from The Plague Within)
Reaching back to their doom/death roots, this song epitomizes why this English act continues to endure. Nick’s measured words and the raw, low-tuned guitars meld together for crushing total execution. No longer out to prove anything but be happy within themselves, Paradise Lost are enjoying the fruits of their labor.

7. Evil Invaders – “Pulses of Pleasure” (from Pulses of Pleasure)
Belgian speed/power metal with shrieking vocals that will have old schoolers think of John Cyriis (Agent Steel), the up-tempo title track should get adrenaline pumping and bodies diving to and fro. Add in some crazy lead antics and engaging harmonic instrumental elements that any Maiden-head would be proud to bang their heads to and you have the ultimate anthem for worship.

8. Raven – “Destroy All Monsters” (from ExtermiNation)
41 years as a band and still roaring strong, the lead cut from their latest album contains the simplified chorus and charging chord progressions we’ve come to know and love from the trio. Vicious, melodic, and ready to punish, “Destroy All Monsters” proves the old guard still has plenty left in the tank to teach everyone about the heavy metal genre.

9. Nightrage – “When Gold Turns to Rust” (from The Puritan)
Giving off a vibe that reminds me of the chainsaw Slaughter of the Soul period for At the Gates, Nightrage choose to keep a lot of the purity of old school melodic death metal at heart on their new album. The main jackhammer-oriented riff and relentless drumming makes this an adrenaline rush every time.

10. Pyramaze – “Back for More” (from Disciples of the Sun)
Guitarist /producer Jacob Hansen breathes new life into this power/progressive metal outfit, possibly unleashing their strongest top to bottom album to date. This driving arrangement is one of many that still sends chills this many months down the line.

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Biggest Surprise: King Diamond
For many newcomers to the scene, having a healthy and vital King Diamond parading his theatrical metal wares across the globe and doing it convincingly is a sight many thought would never happen after surviving triple bypass surgery. Now touring in support of Abigail in its entirety, let’s hope the man and his band can keep this re-awareness campaign alive and kicking for more killer metal records and tours.

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Best Newcomer: Night Demon
What Hammerfall did to the traditional/power metal scene back in the late 1990’s, I believe Night Demon should achieve for the American scene in terms of bringing old school metal to the masses. This trio have the proper mindset, hooks, melodies, and songwriting skills to becoming headliners quickly – and hopefully continue to inspire others to bring their all. Having seen them live three times over the year only reinforced my belief in their abilities.

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Biggest Disappointment: Mayhem Festival
The war of words in the press regarding the less than stellar turnouts for the 2015 edition of the North American touring summer Mayhem Festival between promoter and bands signaled doomsday right out of the gate. Not booking many of the bigger theater size acts together and hoping old stalwarts like Slayer and King Diamond would be enough to fill 10,000 seat plus sheds in the blazing heat/humidity turned out to be a little bit of a bust- as many shows would only draw in the low thousands. As a result, this fest dismantled at the conclusion of this year’s run – will there be another newcomer concept to fill the void? Time will tell…

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Best Cover Art: Visigoth – The Revenant King
(Click here for larger image)

Kris Verwimp isn’t an unknown entity in the metal cover world – especially if you own records from Absu, Skullview, Suidakra, and Vintersorg among others. The color scheme and battle scene theme makes Visigoth’s debut album very clear of what to expect content-wise – and would be an awesome poster to adorn many walls.

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Best Concert: High Spirits/Christian Mistress/Savage Master/Hessian, September 10, 2015 Ralph’s Diner, Worcester, MA
Four bands from Maine, Kentucky, Oregon, and Illinois came together to a Metal Thursday throng of metal legions ready to bask in the glory of traditional metal. Old school at heart, each band gave their all and left nothing to chance. In front of a packed like sardines crowd upstairs at Ralph’s, there’s nothing like it in central Massachusetts.
Honorable Mention: Skull Fist/Elm Street/Night Demon, January 6, 2015 Firehouse 13, Providence, RI

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Most Anticipated Album of 2016: Night Demon
Deciding that King Diamond’s endless touring schedule will probably put off a new album release another year (although a recent interview with guitarist Andy LaRocque points to the contrary), this journalist hedges bets that the second album from Ventura, California’s Night Demon will push the trio into the major leagues. They know how to perform in that old school way, yet keep things energetic and hook-laden for the casual crowd to become believers. US metal to be proud to give dual devil horn salutes.

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