Keeping up with the slow blogging paradigm, my last post was written over three years ago, where I talked about older albums that I’d picked up based on retrospective reviews and the like. WordPress tells me that I created the original draft of this post on January 10th 2016 and then I totally forgot about it for two years. Fucking hell. Anyway, this post is probably going to have a jumble of past and present tenses, plus the original ordering I had in mind has changed around a bit due to albums released late in the year that I then developed a liking for so you’ll have to bear with me…
It’s been an interesting year by the standard of the apocryphal saying. My sister got married at long last, I did a work placement in Japan for two months which led to me finally achieving my long held dream of moving to Japan last November, my Dad passed away and I’m still dealing with that, but without the safety net of family and friends. 2016 could technically be worse than 2015, but it would have to involve a major earthquake destroying Tokyo whilst I’m still in it. For now, let’s just fuck all that off and talk about metal instead.
The “ish” list
#(ish) Kjeld // Skym
Kjeld is very reminiscent of second-wave black metal bands (blatant Emperor moments abound), but in a good way. That said, despite listening to it a ton in 2015, if I’m not concentrating on it closely when listening it tends to pass by without me noticing, so it gradually slipped down off the actual top 10 list and later off my Bandcamp wishlist, so perhaps Kjeld’s next album will be the one.
#(ish) Galar // De Gjenlevende
Putting the black metal into folk black metal, Galar’s second album is melodic, beautiful and emotionally uplifting.
#(ish) Demon Lung // A Dracula
Doom was never really my thing until a few years ago when it felt like Last Rites were constantly talking about Candlemass (plus Autothrall loves the shit out of Nightfall) so I gave the band yet another crack and things finally clicked. Honestly speaking, I’m not sure why I was never a fan as this kind of doom is chock-full of riffs but ever since I’ve been checking out every new (non-funeral) doom release and Demon Lung hits the spot, with its combination of double kick pummelling, riffs and the breathy vocals of Shanda Fredrick.
The actual top 10
10. Vhol // Deeper than Sky
When I heard Vhol’s debut in 2013, I have to admit that I wasn’t a fan (the vocals of Mike Schedit are an acquired taste to be sure), but it grew on me a lot over this year and so I was primed for the band’s sophomore effort. Deeper Than Sky also took time to settle in but the melodic yet slightly off-kilter riffing of John Cobbett are uniformly superb. That all said the bass/drums/piano of “Paino” is jarring and pulls me out of my immersion in the album, despite its fast-paced and otherwise very metal feeling groove. Going back to Cobbett’s riffs, I’ve also been checking out his other bands such as The Weird Lord Slough Feg (former) and Hammers of Misfortune (current and main band, whose 2016 album turned out to be stellar).
9. Pitbulls in the Nursery // Equanimity
All reviews about this album concede that the band name is awful, and I do not disagree. Luckily the music makes up for the band name, being a glorious mash-up of Gojira and Meshuggah with added progressive moments, like the arpeggiated chords in the chorus “The Oath”, followed by a bridge of bass noodling with clean guitar jangling over the top and then a harmonised guitar lead. By rights Equanimity should be a total mess but somehow it successfully marries the aggression of the often monotonous rhythmic chugging verses with beautifully melodic breaks. Criminally underrated.
8. My Dying Bride // Feel the Misery
Opening track “And My Father Left Forever” was written about the passing of vocalist Aaron Stanthorpe’s father, and as a perverse coincidence I first heard it waiting in hospital for my own father to recover after a sudden accident. It occurred to me at the time that listening to the track was inviting bad luck, even though he had been expected to make a full recovery, but I don’t believe in superstition and so I listened anyway. My father never left that hospital alive, and now the song is locked in my memory as a sign of what was to come. Listening to this sorrowful dirge of an album makes me cry even now, three years later, but in spite of the emotion it continues to evoke, the song and the rest of the album feels reminiscent of the riffier MDB that I remember as a teenager in the 90s. I mean, just listen to that grindingly heavy riff that starts at 7:10 and then returns with added double kick at 8:12 for crushnity. That said, I have to admit that I haven’t listened to MDB properly since The Light at the End of the World, so I’m not in a position to call this a return to form, but it certainly feels that way. I’d probably rate the album higher if I could bring myself to listen to it more often, but it is what it is.
7. Crypt Sermon // Out of the Garden
2014 was the year that Candlemass finally clicked, so in 2015 I was keeping an eye out for similarly epic doom, and Crypt Sermon delivered in spades. Riffs and solos for days, and even the lack of full-on Messianic vocals did nothing to diminish the effect. Out of the Garden would have walked the best doom album of the year if not for Sorcerer (see further down)
6. Cattle Decapitation // The Anthropocene Extinction
Is it better than Monolith? The jury is out but it’s still great and crushes and (somewhat soothes) with its mix of grinding brutality and melodic choruses.
5. Agonyst // The Bad Old Days
Agonyst continue to do their thing, which I’m still referring to as SYL-esque (in the absence of a better description) but with more emphasis on extremity and going off into extended jams. It’s still excellent stuff but doesn’t quite hit the heights of their debut album Centennial
4. Sorcerer // In the Shadow of the Inverted Cross
Best doom album of the year without doubt. Crypt Sermon is good, but Sorcerer managed to hold my attention throughout the year.
3. Slugdge // Dim and Slimeridden Kingdoms
Gastronomicon was my top album of 2014 and a nigh-on perfect melding of brutal death metal, with , so I had high hopes for Slugdge’s third album. At first I was disappointed with its lack of immediacy and memorable riffs, but I kept on listening to it even into 2016 and now broadly agree with Zach Duvall’s review on Last Rites, in particularly his view that the album is “not as immediate an album as was Gastronomicon, but it is deeper, more progressive in song structure”. The band continues its brutal progressive death metal and is all the more impressive for coming out a scant year after Gastronomicon. Long live Greatfather Mollusca!
2. Amorphis // Under the Red Cloud
Never a fan of the band, despite autothrall’s love of Elegy, but I tried again with Under the Red Cloud and was entranced. I got to see them live twice in Japan last year (2016, ahem) and they were superb both times, so I guess I’m a convert now.
1. Ghost Ship Octavius // Ghost Ship Octavius
Another band with a terrible name, but what a debut, and something that I only stumbled on via a comment left on either Last Rites or Angry Metal Guy. The main guitarist/songwriter (Matt Wicklund) channels Jeff Loomis so hard that people were leaving comments on the YouTube album stream asking if Loomis was in the band (he only plays a guest solo); GSO is very much a modern metal that has a lot in common with Nevermore, but with more of a power metal vocal style. Almost uniformly excellent, apart from a slightly wanky pre-chorus in “Bloodcaster”, and though I continue to mourn the loss of Nevermore (and later, the untimely death of Warrel Dane in 2018), GSO will do me for now.
(as an aside, I was at the gig during which the video above was filmed in April 2016 , but seemingly managed to dodge every damn camera in the place as I’m nowhere to be seen. Epic fail.)
3. Theory in Practice // Evolving Transhumanism
It’s been 13 long years without Theory in Practice, whom autothrall described as “mind blowing and acrobatic Swedish death metal” and would have been a great success had they continued. Well, they’re back now to show how technical death metal should really be done.
2. Sanzu // Painless
Sanzu use 8-string guitars to play a non-djent form of brutal death metal that sounds like Morbid Angel and Gojira had some kind of horrific inbred baby. Sadly the subsequent album was less good, but we’ll always have Painless. The band’s Bandcamp page appears to have been nuked after signing to Listenable Records for their debut album, so here’s a link to the Listenable Records Bandcamp page, including both the album and the EP.
1. Hath // Hive
Not sure if this counts as an EP at 32 minutes, but it’s a fucking great slab of darkly melodic death metal with a strong Opeth bent to its proceedings (the acoustic sections engage full-on Akerfeldt worship mode) but with added 7-string brutality, such as the absolutely crushing riff that closes out the third track “Swarm”. I have no doubt that the band’s debut album due in 2018 will be killer.
Best albums of 2015 not released in 2015
Vhol // Vhöl
As mentioned above, I had been aware of Vhol’s debut since it came out in 2013, but I couldn’t quite get into it. During the two months I spent in Japan from February to April as an initial tryout, this and Orlog were the two albums that I listened to the most and I am most certainly a fan now.
Necrophobic // Hrimthursum
Plundered from one of Autothrall’s many lists, I tried out Necrophobic and discovered that almost their entire back catalogue of satanic blackened death metal was worthy, and in particular Hrimthursum.
Orlog // Elysion
Another one to thank Autothrall for. Both of Orlog’s Germanic black metal albums are pretty good, but of the two Elysion is the one I keep on coming back to.
Antigama // Meteor
Never the biggest grind fan, but Antigama’s take on it has enough of a death metal flavour (not to mention actual song length) to keep me engaged.