My Favorite Records of 2015

2015 will go down as another legendary year of hard rock and metal album releases this decade. According to last.fm, I listened to a shit load of records this year. My number 1 and number 2 entries this year were the closest they’ve ever been.

Let’s get it on!

25.) Indian Handcrafts - Creeps

I had heard the first track off this record on a whim from a soundcloud recommendation, and I loved it. The rest of the album is as groovy and full of great sludgy riffs and rhythms. “Ye Olde Mastodon” comparison aplenty. Good stuff.

24.) The Bloodline - We Are One

My friend Frankie Harchut plays drums for these guys (used to be called Dirge Within). They added Travis Neal from Divine Heresy recently, and this is their first record with him on the mic. What a difference he makes, this band fucking slams now. Travis was the missing link. Excellent guitar riffs and melodies from Shaun Glass, a great balance of singing and screaming, and great song writing. I couldn’t get a lot of these tunes out of my head. If you like metal, you should check this band out immediately. Frankie is arguably one of the most entertaining drummers to watch live. Keep kicking ass behind the kit. I look forward to the next Bloodline record.

23.) Tesseract - Polaris

I am really happy Daniel Tompkins is back with this band. I really like Skyharbor, too. His voice is great, and this record is another great recording. No screaming, and it works SO well! Excellent progressive metal riffs to sink your teeth into, great rhythms (Jay Postones is an incredible drummer) and great writing. I really enjoyed this.

22.) Scale the Summit - V

More progressive metal riff wizardry from these fretboard melters. Watching these guys shred is a joy. Chris Letchford and Travis Levrier make it look so damn easy. Another great addition to their discography, check it out if you like Animals as Leaders.

21.) Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats - The Night Creeper

Uncle Acid is BACK! The Night Creeper is a great, fuzzy stoner metal album. Great riffs all around. I don’t think this one quite matches Mind Control (that was their best, in my opinion) but it’s pretty solid. The second half of the record sounds really dark, not that Uncle Acid has ever really been light but it’s exceptionally dark and morose. Sludge and fuzz fans check it out.

20.) Swallow the Sun - Songs from the North I, II, & III

Why release one record when you can release three at the same time?! That’s what Swallow the Sun thought, too! This is a great melodic death / doom triple album, and will leave you wanting even more. I haven’t heard a lot of their other stuff, but they have quite a back catalog I need to check out.

19.) Kylesa - Exhausting Fire

There’s something in the water in Savannah, GA. Kylesa, Mastodon, Baroness, the sludge metal capital of the Southeast. This record is fantastic. I’ve always loved the vocal dissonance between Phil Cope and Laura Pleasants, it’s a brash melody that they create and it works so well. Gone are the double drummers, though, but Carl McGinley still throws it down behind the kit. I seem to be in the minority in that I enjoyed the Black Sabbath cover. Another great record from these sludge masters.

18.) Intronaut - The Direction of Last Things

This is a fun fucking record! Great tunes all around, and the video for Fast Worms is just absurd and I love it. These guys toe the line between sludge, thrash, and progressive metal with a tinge of weirdly perfect psychedelic moments. It’s really a great mix, and I find myself liking this the most out of their whole catalog. Did I mention these guys are all excellent on their instruments?

17.) Clutch - Psychic Warfare

Clutch come back from Earth Rocker and deliver another banger. Nothing was going to top Earth Rocker in my mind, that record was so catchy and great, I didn’t think they’d come close. I was right, but Psychic Warfare is still a great record. If you know Clutch, you know what you’re getting into. I got to see these guys with Mastodon and Graveyard this year, and Clutch stole the show. Neal Fallon is a firecracker on stage, and that bleeds into his recordings. Another solid addition to the Clutchography.

16.) Bring Me The Horizon - That’s The Spirit

I can’t believe this is the same band. There is nothing the same here from Count Your Blessings and Suicide Season, and that’s ok. They’re a rock band now, or a pop band, not sure which. But they sure know how to write a catchy ass song. People are saying these guys are what Linkin Park should have been, and I am starting to lean that way myself. I listened to this album so many times throughout the year because I couldn’t get the hooks out of my brain. Drown is one of the best pop songs to come out this decade, I think. Give it a shot, you might dig it.

15.) Intervals - The Shape of Colour

This came out late in the year, but I was looking forward to it for a long time. This band has a storied past, to say the least. They released two instrumental records, then their bassist became the vocalist to record for the next album, and after that the entire band quit. So what is sole remaining member Aaron Marshall to do? He writes and arranges an incredibly deep, beautiful progressive metal instrumental record all by himself. It’s awesome. There’s a ton of great musical moments on this record, and a bunch of guest stars. Cameron McClellan from Protest the Hero laid down the groovy bass, and Travis Orbin of Darkest Hour fame tracked the drums. This one is way better than I expected, and you want to listen to this right away if you’re into the progressive metal at all.

14.) Marriages - Salome

Oh my, what a beautifully dark record. Only reason this isn’t higher on my list is because there were so many other great records this year. This record is hauntingly surreal. From the opening track to the end, Emma Ruth Rundle just captivates my attention with her beautiful voice. Post Rock / Post Metal, I guess. I dunno. This sounds like a blend of heavier Radiohead and chill Glassjaw. The whole thing is excellent.

13.) The Black Dahlia Murder - Abysmal

Counted down the days for this bad boy and the Detroit death metal heavyweights did not disappoint. Ryan Knight is becoming one of my favorite guitarists, the level of shred throughout this record is top notch. And Trevor Strnad cements himself as one of the kings of death metal vocalists. I think Alan Cassidy (previous drummer of Abigail Williams) is a worthy successor to Shannon Lucas’ drum throne, though I miss Lucas behind the kit. You should listen to this on 11 while summoning the dark spirits to do your bidding. Or just drinking a beer or something. Slams.

12.) Cattle Decapitation - The Anthropocene Extinction

The follow up to Monolith of Inhumanity is so good that, dare I say, it’s their best record yet. I seem to be in the minority, but I love what Travis Ryan is doing with the “clean” singing on this. Sounds great. I feel like this is The Empire Strikes Back to Monolith of Inhumanity’s A New Hope. It never lets up, it makes you want more, and by the end you feel like you’ve been taken on a horror show expedition and you hope they crank it around for one more go before letting you off. Brutally awesome record.

11.) Faith No More - Sol Invictus

Nostalgia! When they first announced this I couldn’t believe it. I had never seen FNM live, and I was almost looking forward to that more than a new record. But this album blew me away. I still think The Real Thing and Angel Dust are better (those are amazing), but this is really close. To get to see them live at Riot Fest was the cement on the cake. This is a great all around rocking metal record. Patton for President.

10.) Windhand - Grief’s Infernal Flower

Windhand has been on a great streak. Their last two albums have been amazing. This is such a great doom record. The songwriting is beautiful, the mood is, well, doomy, and the textures and instrumentation throughout are spot on. Dorthia Cottrell, their singer, put out her own solo record this year, as well. It was also really good, you should check that out, too! But this is the meat and potatos. Start to finish this was one of my favorite doom records of the year.

9.) Kamasi Washington - The Epic

Wow. Wow. Wow. Nearly three hours of mind bending jazz from the saxophone player on Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly. Three hours. IT’S ALL MAGICAL JAZZ. There’s no filler on here. Great record, this guy is going to have a legendary career if he keeps this up. He’s put out a few more that I haven’t gotten to yet. If you love the good, challenging jazz compositions Kamasi has more than enough to keep you busy.

8.) So Hideous - Laurestine

What an incredible sophomore LP for these guys. Their first one, Last Poem / First Light, came out of nowhere, and hit the symphonic black metal genre by storm. Now, this follow up, Laurestine, knocked whatever wind anyone had left right out. This is a beautifully nightmarish record, with a full, 30 member symphony orchestra (First Light Orchestra), conducted and arranged by band mastermind himself, Brandon Cruz. Once again, these guys have taken an idea for a record and made it sound like the score to an artsy horror film. I love this. It’s different, it’s beautiful, it’s chaotic, it’s everything I like in a metal record, and I want more. I’d love to see this live. Check this out if you haven’t already, you’re bound to enjoy something about it.

7.) Deafheaven - New Bermuda

These guys have gotten huge since Sunbather. And with good reason, they know how to write a tune. I feel like where Sunbather was a really raw record full of bipolar chaos and beauty, this goes even farther to the extremes (both heavier and more pretty) but in a glossier package. The production on this is really tight, and the tunes are just as good as on Sunbather. The drumming by Daniel Tracy continues to inspire me to get on the throne, and the signature George Clarke barking and shrieking is right where it should be. What I think stands out on this record are the guitars. Sunbather had a lot of melody and harmony, and yes, there was a lot of riffs, but I felt like the beautiful sounds dominated that record from guitar point of view. On New Bermuda, Kerry McCoy brings some nasty, chugging riffs front and center. It’s a different feel, and I for one really enjoyed the hell out of it.

6.) Ghost - Meliora

Best Ghost record yet. I got to see them twice this year, once headlining with Purson and once in Arizona for Monstermash. This band really stepped it up big time. Every song on Meliora gets stuck in your head for days. Cirice might be my favorite Ghost song. I love the schtick, I love the riffs, I love the hooks. Great fuzzy metal record.

5.) Abigail Williams - The Accuser

Did not expect this from these guys. What a deep, deep black metal record. Ken “Sorceron” Bergeron knows how to craft a black metal jam. The thing that really got me about this is how it blends traditional black metal songwriting with almost psychedelic themes and melodies, without losing it’s identity. It’s a great listen, and surprised the hell out of me.

4.) Kendrick Lamar - To Pimp A Butterfly

Easily the best hip hop album I’ve heard this decade. If the last two are any indication, this guy is on pace to become the greatest of all time. Every moment on this record is perfect. The beats, the lyrics, the delivery. You can feel every bit of aggresion and desire for greatness in every syllable. I want more. After watching Untitled II on The Late Show with Jimmy Fallon, I want more of that, too! Flawless victory.

3.) All Them Witches - Dying Surfer Meets His Maker

Who? Yea. Same here. It’s a nice blend of hard hitting jams that groove for minutes at the right pace to really, REALLY chilled out acoustic tracks with chilling vocal delivery. I got to see them live at a tiny venue recently (Lincoln Hall in Chicago, approximately 200 person capacity) and they rocked the house. They played a lot of older stuff, which I found out their back catalog is full of great songs as well. I like the production on this record, it’s good without being overdone, and it sounds like they had as much fun making this record as they do on stage. Call Me Star is one of my favorite songs of the year, so chill. Great band, great record.

2.) Baroness - Purple

Ah, the mighty Baroness. This band has become one of my favorites since Yellow & Green infected my brain in 2012. I had extremely high hopes for Purple. I got to see them last summer when they were at Subterranean during Lollapalooza weekend (they headlined with Royal Thunder supporting). That was an incredible show, and their current new rhythm section was there on their first tour with the band. I thought they slammed. Fast forward to this year, about 3 weeks before release, and I got to see them in Beat Kitchen, which is essentially a tiny bar with a music hall latched onto the end. The abundance of energy that John Baizley and crew gave back to the crowd that night was something special, and I’m pretty fortunate I was able to experience that. That was the first taste I got of a couple Purple tunes, and they have been sticking with me ever since.

The new rhythm section really brought something special to the table for Purple. Nick Jost on the bass and keys and Sebastian Thomson on the drums just SLAM out song after song on this. Pete Adams on the lead guitar and the man, John Baizley, on rhythm guitar go back and forth again in the usual Baroness harmonized guitar assault of beauty and the beast. This collection of songs is fucking awesome. From start to finish, it follows the familiar Baroness themes and formulas, but there’s so much fresh and new stuff here from the new guys that it feels reinvigorated and alive. Baizley has inked some of his best lyrical work to date on this one. The inspiration and determination following the extended hospitalization and rehab from the bus crash seems to permeate every second of this production, and also their live show.

Overall, I don’t think this compares to Yellow & Green. It’s fantastic, but it’s not quite the musical journey that Yellow & Green was for me. And that’s how it should be. I don’t think anything will match that record for some time. But Purple is so good on it’s own right that I think Baroness is on it’s way to being one of the biggest bands in music some day. Only time will tell.

1.) Dreadnought - Bridging Realms

This album blew me out of the water so many times that if I didn’t make it my tops of the year I’d just be lying to myself. Yet another discovery that I can thank the internet for, this Denver based doom / jazz / black metal / fusion-of-all-things-musical collection of virtuosos wrote one of the best records of all time. Bridging Realms is an experience unlike anything I’ve taken part of before. There’s 5 tracks, each one it’s own story, piecing together a winding narrative of discovering the universe, black holes, the moon, astral projection, and our very existence. There’s so many out of this world musical moments on this record that it’s pointless to even list them all. Just listen to it.

I feel like Dreadnought have only scratched the surface in terms of their composition. This record feels like a proper jazz record, with overtones of black metal and doom thrown in on top for good measure. It works SO WELL. It’s infectious! I couldn’t stop listening to this record in the summer and fall, it just kept playing over and over and over again. I love it. You can tell these guys and gals really gel together, and it bleeds through in their compositions. Each song (even the shorter than the rest Minuet De Lune) feels like three movements, and they all unfold unto themselves much like the chapters of the most engrossing story you may have read. The ebb and flow permeates throughout, and simply leaves you wanting more. I would love to sit in on a jam session with this group, just to experience their musical creation process, even for just a moment. It’s breathtaking, and I really hope they capture it again in the near future.

And the instrumentation! Oh, the instrumentation! 4 members all play a plethora of instruments. Kelly Schilling doubles on the guitar and the flute, along with the harsh vocals. The flute playing on this record is magnificent. Perfectly articulated and beautiful, I would never imagine a flute working so well on a doomy, jazzy, metal record but I’m amazed how well it fits. Kudos. And the guitars are masterful, as well. Great conflicting rhythms and moments that make me smile again and again.

Lauren Vieira absolutely shines on the keys. Hauntingly hypnotic scales that dazzle my ears and keep me coming back for more. She also performs the beautiful clean vocals on this record. One of my favorite moments of the year was hearing the bare, echoey “Within / This emptiness / Lies great / Tranquililty” repeated on Odyssey. Arrgh, it’s so awesome!

Kevin Handlon manages to craft some truly memorable bass lines. The tone on this recording is thick, meaty, and all around a perfect match for the material. Odd time signatures all around and great finesse just cement his playing as a bass player to keep an eye on for the upcoming future. The mandolin work is outstanding, as well! Always a more reserved instrument, you can really feel the accents and melodies when it comes out to play. And Kevin appears to have written the majority (or all) the lyrics. Stories that I will be talking about and reliving for years, decades to come. Well done, sir.

And last, but not least, Jordan Clancy just SLAMS the drums out on this record with the ferocity and precision of a rhythmic machine. The ridiculous time signatures and polyfills on this record are one of the things that keep me coming back again and again. There is a cymbal pattern in the middle of Minuet De Lune (around 3:46) that I look forward to on every listen. Further, there are so many parts that break the silence in a way that defies timing and rhythm.

Keeping all this in mind, this band still has the maturity and discipline to know when it’s the right time to not play anything and when a different instrument should be front and center in the arrangement. There’s such a synergy in their compositions that every note feels like it has a place, and not a single one feels forced or deliberate.

If you can’t tell, I love this record. From the opening bells and chimes to the double bass blasting at the end of “Bridging Realms” with the furious flute and ferocious piano chording playing over top, this is an incredible voyage of musical mastery. Great job, please make more, and please tour frequently so I can experience this live for myself. Hands down my favorite record of 2015, by a long shot.

Honorable Mentions


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