Guys, 2015 was pretty rad, at least in terms of music (I’d also argue it was a watershed year in almost all creative and entertainment media I follow, but that’s a different discussion. Plus, I just had a really good year, in general).
The nine albums listed below earned their spots because they stuck with me all year for one reason or another. However, I wanted to give lip service to a few that ultimately didn’t make the top nine, but that still brought some great musical moments into my life. For instance, I have spent many a rainy night nodding to the cyberpunk synthwave of GosT’s Behemoth while riding the train home, feeling like a character in a William Gibson novel; I took long hikes in Oregon’s lower Willamette Valley to the sounds of Enslaved’s In Times and Misthyrming’s Söngvar elds og óreiðu; and I got to experience the sonic energy of Mutoid Man’s Bleeder (and Helium Head) live in its entirety, in what was probably my favorite show of 2015. These little moments are just a few in a year filled with them.
Anyway, enough nostalgic waxing from me. Here’s to hoping 2016 is as good of a year as 2015 (I’m looking at you Gorguts, Gojira, and Horrendous).
The Top 9
9. Sumac – The Deal
Between Old Man Gloom, and now Sumac, Aaron Turner has made living in a post-Isis (the band, obviously) world much easier for fans like myself. For Sumac’s debut, The Deal, Turner enlisted drummer virtuoso Nic Yacyshyn and Botch/Russian Circles vet Brian Cook to craft a dark and primal slab of experimental metal. The Deal is a winding, brooding album that stuck with me ever since it was released early in the year, and never lost steam.
8. Baroness – Purple
It took me a really long time to like Yellow & Green. At first, the double album felt bloated, overlong, and tedious. Thankfully, Purple, despite being a tighter and more focused album, reaches levels of grandiosity the band fell short of on the previous effort. Baroness have pushed through the tragedy of the bus crash that shook the band a few years prior, and crafted an emotionally cathartic and musically powerful album.
7. The Armed – Untitled
For my money, there is no band doing the “metallic hardcore” thing better and more honestly these days than The Armed. These DIY punks eschew the grimdark, nihilistic aesthetic of their distant “entombedcore” cousins, instead embracing a modern and energetic approach that calls to mind the hey-day of bands like Botch, Converge, and The Dillinger Escape Plan. However, these allusions should be taken lightly; The Armed are doing their own thing their own way, and doing it very, very well, and Untitled proves it.
6. Vattnet Viskar – Settler
Vattner Viskar’s Settler was the perfect soundtrack to early summer; Settler is an album that easily blends a feeling of hope and excitement with well-crafted post-sludge-math rock-black metal (or whatever its called). Its music is effective whether the sun is shining or it’s pouring rain in the bleak dim of December. Plus, being a major space geek and sci fi nerd, Settler’s space-faring aesthetic captured my imagination.
5. Kamasi Washington – The Epic
I know fuck-all about jazz outside of the jazz-fusion put out by some metal musicians (such as Tosin Abasi’s T.R.A.M. sideproject). That said, I was floored by Kamasi Washington’s aptly titled The Epic. Over three hours of intricately composed mishmash might sound like a tough pill to swallow for those not interested in any form of jazz, but this is powerful, compelling, and just really damn good.
4. Cattle Decapitation – Anthropocene Extinction
Anthropocene Extinction feels like the crystallization and full-realization of everything Cattle Decapitation started with Monument of Inhumanity: proggy, technical grindcore, delicately injected with black metal and expanded into massive, epic scope that feels smart and fresh.
3. Horrendous – Anareta
I have predominantly listened to death metal over the past ten years, so it takes something truly special to stick with me these days, and Horrendous’ Anareta is quite special indeed. The deft melding of death metal styles old and new into a stew of progressive-yet-bludgeoning extreme metal showcased on both Anareta, and 2014’s Ecdysis have solidified Horrendous as one of the genre’s best acts.
2. Intronaut – The Direction of Last Things
The Direction of Last Things is not just a return to form after a (very slight) misstep with Habitual Levitations, but a distillation of every era of Intronaut’s constantly evolving sound into what is their greatest achievement yet, and a testament to the solid foundation of their song writing. The Direction of Last Things is my favorite metal and/or rock album of 2015, hands down.
1. Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly
Musically, there’s a lot to discuss with To Pimp a Butterfly — it is number 1 on this list, after all. Hip-hop, jazz, funk, electronic music, spoken word, poetry, and one of the most surreal Tupac appearances coalesce into a dense and intricate work. But to focus on the song writing and composition alone would undermine the real beauty and importance of Butterfly: its message and concept. For me to speak on its themes feels disingenuous and intrusive. To Pimp A Butterfly gives a voice and an avenue of discussion to the black community, who have far more important things to say about this album than I. Seek out their thoughts, and listen to To Pimp A Butterfly; it’s the best and most important album — hip-hop or otherwise — of 2015.
Enslaved – In Times
Tribulation – Children of the Night
GosT – Behemoth
Coheed and Cambria – The Color Before The Sun
Between the Buried and Me – Coma Ecliptic
Behold! The Monolith – Architects of the Void
Mutoid Man – Bleeder
Panopticon – Atumn Eternal
Elder – Lore
Rivers of Nihil – Monarchy
Black Dahlia Murder – Abysmal
Misthyrming – Söngvar elds og óreiðu
Mgła – Exercises in Futility
High on Fire – Luminiferous
King Dude – Songs of Flesh & Blood – In the Key of Light
Kowloon Walled City – Grievances
Black Breath – Slaves Beyond Death
Rosetta – Quintessential Ephemera
The Internet – Ego Death
Town Portal – The Occident
– Brendan Hesse