By Andrew Bansal
It’s that time of the year again. Despite popular belief, there have been plenty of great new releases in the world of hard rock and heavy metal in 2015. Night Demon’s ‘Curse Of The Damned’ would have definitely been in this list but I chose to exclude them because I’ve worked so constantly and closely on tour with them in the past 12 months. Without further ado, here are my picks for the top 20 albums of 2015.
20. Kadavar – Berlin: German retro stoner rock trio Kadavar outdid their previous two efforts, as their third full-length album ‘Berlin’ proves to be their most dynamic set of tunes in their young but already prolific 5-year career. With instant classics like ‘The Old Man’, gems like ‘Stolen Dreams’ and ‘Into The Night’, and an incredibly trippy cover of Nico’s ‘Reich Der Träume’, Kadavar’s ‘Berlin’ stands as one of the finest of 2015.
19. Royal Thunder – Crooked Doors: Atlanta, Georgia psychedelic rock quartet Royal Thunder made an impressive debut with ‘CVI’ in 2012, but have expanded far beyond the doom-tinged sound of that album with the tunes that constitute their 2015 follow-up ‘Crooked Doors’. As frontwoman Mlny Parsonz succeeds in showcasing development as a vocalist, her band mates also raise themselves further, and the result is a slab of powerful, catchy melody-driven psych rock.
18. Carousel – 2113: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania hard rockers Carousel had a tough task upon their hands to match their 2013 debut LP ‘The Jeweler’s Daughter’, but they certainly did so with their sophomore effort ‘2113’, retaining the type of hard rock melodies that decorated the previous album in plenty, but delving deep into their classic rock influences to come up with a thoroughly enjoyable throwback to a very vintage style of heavy music, as evident in particular on tunes such as ‘Photograph’, ‘Buried Alive In Your Arms’ and ‘Man Like Me’. Carousel’s ‘2113’ is one of the most chilled-out rock ‘n roll releases of 2015, and is the perfect companion for the highway cruise.
17. Visigoth – The Revenant King: Salt Lake City, Utah’s classic metal group Visigoth have announced their arrival onto the scene with their debut album ‘The Revenant King’, a compelling set of glorious battle hymns that musically and lyrically satiate old-school metalheads to the fullest. Boasting of Jake Rogers’ unique and inimitable singing voice, to go with an effortlessly cohesive assortment of harmonies and hooks in the music, ‘The Revenant King’ is one for the quintessential fist-raisers and headbangers.
16. King Parrot – Dead Set: Fast-rising Australian grindcore/extreme metal band King Parrot have earned a reputation for their off-the-chains wild live performances, but with their second full-length album ‘Dead Set’, they’ve shown musical growth and expansion, incorporating more transitional passages and slower, darker elements that make the final output all the more crushing. ‘Dead Set’ successfully captures the unabated sonic insanity of King Parrot the live band, and is a must-have for fans of grind-centric heavy music.
15. Against The Grain – Road Warriors: Detroit-based ‘speed rock’ quartet Against The Grain released their fourth full-length album ‘Road Warriors’ this year, taking a giant leap from their previous efforts with a neck-breaking, foot-stomping 12-track onslaught of high-octane rock ‘n roll filled to the brim with riffs, solos and dynamic rhythm shifts galore. Taking inspiration from the likes of Motörhead and Nashville Pussy, Against The Grain have put their own stamp on the genre with ‘Road Warriors’ and have emerged as one of the most enjoyable and promising bands going around. ‘Road Warriors’ is rock ‘n roll perfection.
14. Bevar Sea – Invoke The Bizarre: Based out of Bangalore, India, stoner doom quintet Bevar Sea spent time honing their individual and collective craft as songwriters and resurfaced in 2015 with ‘Invoke The Bizarre’, a commendable follow-up to their 2012 self-titled debut LP. This is as doom as doom gets, and the song ‘Bury Me In NOLA’, for its hypnotic bleakness as well as its Down/Eyehategod-worshipping title, is perhaps the doom anthem of 2015. The album as a whole is an incredibly righteous representation of the genre, but relies on melody as much as it does on the riff, and instead of the repetitiveness that plagues several doom bands worldwide, Bevar Sea manage to showcase their skill and technicality even in this style. ‘Invoke The Bizarre’ is a powerful sonic beast from the East.
13. Behold! The Monolith – Architects Of The Void: Over the past two years, Los Angeles stoner doom stalwarts Behold! The Monolith underwent a major lineup change with the sudden and tragic death of bassist/vocalist Kevin McDade, and the addition of vocalist Jordan Nalley and bassist Jason Casanova to turn the band from a power trio to a four-piece entity. Their first album in this incarnation, ‘Architects Of The Void’, has proven to be a defining moment in their career. Darkness, desolation, despair, angst are only a few of the many expressions emanated by this colossal set of tunes. ‘Architects Of The Void’ embodies the metamorphosis of Behold! The Monolith and stands as the finest doom-laden musical offering of 2015.
12. Satan – Atom By Atom: British veterans Satan returned from an extended period of inactivity with their 2013 album ‘Life Sentence’ and their comeback was celebrated by NWOBHM fans worldwide, but the onus was on the band to keep the momentum going and prove that it wasn’t a one-off, which they undoubtedly did with the 2015 follow-up ‘Atom By Atom’. The album presents more of Satan’s modern-day tendencies as musicians along with the ’80s metal sound they’re known for, which keeps them relevant in 2015 and puts them above and beyond old bands that rely on mere nostalgia.
11. Black Breath – Slaves Beyond Death: Seattle, Washington-based Black Breath have been known for their signature blend of death, doom, thrash and crossover for the past nearly ten years, but they’ve never done it as devastatingly as on their third LP ‘Slaves Beyond Death’. Absolutely relentless in its 49-minute duration, this is the most punishing album of the year, and does an almost unbelievably brilliant job of capturing such massiveness so cleanly with its production. A skull-crushing masterpiece.
10. The Sword – High Country: Austin TX rockers The Sword took an adventurous turn in their creativity and came up with their fifth album ‘High Country’ their most diverse and experimental endeavor till date. This one takes fans of the band by surprise and takes a while for the listener to grasp its vibe and flow, but after repeated and patient listening, ‘High Country’ comes into its own and makes the impact its creators intended. The album takes The Sword beyond the scope of previously used sub-genre labels such as stoner and sludge, and simply makes them a rock band that knows no boundaries.
9. Lamb Of God – VII: Sturm Und Drang: In 2015, Richmond, Virginia metal heavyweights Lamb Of God lived up to their reputation and then some, with some of their best work coming forth in their seventh studio album ‘VII: Sturm Und Drang’. Lyrically and musically fueled by frontman Randy Blythe’s trials and tribulations, this is as fierce as the creative force of Lamb Of God has ever been, but alongside the raw power lies the finesse and skill, as the band continues to explore newer stylistic territories such as clean singing and dark guitar melodies. A true epitome of modern American heavy metal.
8. Black Trip – Shadowline: Swedish group Black Trip caught the ears of old-school metalheads with their 2013 debut ‘Goin’ Under’, and while the tunes on that album carried a strong early Iron Maiden vibe, Black Trip took it further old-school on their next effort ‘Shadowline’, channeling their Thin Lizzy, KISS and ’70s classic hard rock influences to create some instantly enjoyable gems of their own. More laid-back than its predecessor, ‘Shadowline’ is high on vocal and guitar harmonies, and is without doubt one of the catchiest albums of the year.
7. Intronaut – The Direction Of Last Things: Los Angeles prog luminaries Intronaut celebrated their tenth anniversary as a band in 2014, and truly came of age on the subsequent studio release. On their fifth album ‘The Direction of Last Things’ they revisit some of their older, heavier tendencies that weren’t as evident on the preceding album ‘Habitual Levitations’. The newest effort strikes an unmistakable balance between the slow and the fast, and between the straightforward heavy parts and the complex proggy sections that they’re such experts in. ‘The Direction Of Last Things’ is by far the most listenable modern prog album of 2015.
6. Venomous Maximus – Firewalker: Houston, Texas heshers Venomous Maximus shifted from the stoner/doom/sludge vibe of their debut album to a decidedly more classic metal sound on their second LP ‘Firewalker’. Cleaner, catchier, dancier, more melodic and straightforward, ‘Firewalker’ treats the listener with one soul-soothing tune after another, as frontman Gregg Higgins enhances the poetic quality of his vocal delivery much further on this one, standing out amongst all singers on the planet for a voice instantly recognizable and all of his own. With no expectations and slipping under most people’s radar, this has been the dark horse release of the year and has galloped its way nearly all the way to the top.
5. Paradise Lost – The Plague Within: More than 25 years into their career, British gothic doom pioneers Paradise Lost are still staying as prolific as ever, but without much repetition and absolutely no stagnation, coming up with varying shades of musical expression on every album. Their 14th LP ‘The Plague Within’ is a wonderful set of tunes exuding unadulterated darkness, but orchestrating a strangely uplifting effect on the listener’s psyche. ‘No Hope In Sight’, arguably the song of the year, sets the tone brilliantly and the rest of the album follows suit with masterful creations aplenty. A captivating opus of all things dark and heavy.
4. Armored Saint – Win Hands Down: Los Angeles classic metal cult legends Armored Saint released their long-awaited seventh studio album ‘Win Hands Down’ this year, a major upgrade in every sense from its predecessor ‘La Raza’. Saint’s newest is as true to the band’s early years as it is contemporary with modern times, decorated by impeccable songwriting and performances, all brought to life beautifully by the exemplary production and mixing. Vocalist John Bush demonstrates his entire range better than ever before, and his band mates are flawless. ‘Win Hands Down’ presents Armored Saint at their peak, and is essential for fans of clean-singing old-school heavy metal.
3. Enforcer – From Beyond: Every time Swedish classic metal band Enforcer releases an album, it stands tall as one of the best of that year and serves as an example for other young bands to follow. Their fourth full-length ‘From Beyond’ is no exception to the trend, not only well and truly triumphing over the efforts of all of their contemporaries in the year 2015, but also rubbing shoulders with the big guns that occupy the top positions in this list. The scorching 10-track album is as righteous a salute to denim-and-leather heavy metal as any, not just in 2015 but in a long time.
2. Enslaved – In Times: Album after album, Norwegian progressive extreme metal giants Enslaved have garnered greater and greater degrees of respect and admiration since their 1991 inception. They ventured into their most progressive sound on the 2012 album ‘RIITIIR’ and did so with success, but heightened their dynamism much further on their thirteenth studio effort ‘In Times’, retaining the prog tendencies but blending in more intense black metal segments to create a perfect album for fans of both styles. The push and pull between these elements makes ‘In Times’ a gripping listening experience. Enslaved have re-established themselves as creative geniuses and if they haven’t already asserted their stature as metal gods, with the longlasting impact of ‘In Times’ they are well on their way towards doing so.
1. Iron Maiden – The Book Of Souls: After their underwhelming 2010 release ‘The Final Frontier’, Iron Maiden, from their own perspective, had something to prove on the next album, and they undoubtedly left no stone unturned in doing just that. Their 16th studio undertaking ‘The Book Of Souls’ is a massive 92-minute double LP. No one expected Iron Maiden to put out such a release in the year 2015, nearly four decades after their formation, and they’ve shown their class by pulling off this herculean task with emphatic success. The band’s best album since ‘Brave New World’ (2000), ‘The Book Of Souls’ is Iron Maiden at their most advanced as well as vintage best. The entire band has come up trumps as songwriters, with singer Bruce Dickinson in particular making an unusually large contribution, singlehandedly penning the longest Iron Maiden song released till date, the overwhelmingly spectacular 18-minute epic ‘Empire Of The Clouds’. Fans can rejoice and haters can mourn, because in 2015, Iron Maiden have stamped their authority on the metal world all over again.
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