Saturday, December 12, 2015

My Top Fifteen Favorite Albums of 2015

2015 had its share of ups and downs but it was an overall productive year for yours truly. Between various job switches and personal debacles, my band Spirit Division managed to release its full-length debut album late April, dealt with another lineup change shortly thereafter, and subsequently participated in some of the best shows I’ve ever played. But don’t worry; that recording isn’t on here even if I enjoy my own music way more than an artist ever should…

However, this was a year I made a conscious effort to check out more bands that I was previously unfamiliar with or aren’t quite as experienced. I may be naive but it seems like a culture where talent is only given attention if it is based on nostalgia or clickbait has arguably contributed more to declining profits and audience apathy than online piracy. With that mindset, this year just may have been the best that the 2010s has offered so far. This list is full of even higher quality than I’m used to and could’ve easily been a top 20 with a bit more deliberation. So with that, let’s take a look at my personal cream of the crop.

15) Moon Watcher by Witchdoctor
Epic doom band Witchdoctor strikes a great balance between savagery and class on their debut album. The song structures are thematic, the guitar work ranges from intricate to pounding, and the vocals have an unhinged quality even in their most melodic moments. The title track’s main riff is undeniable but other tracks like “The Gathering” and “Power Master” are just as strong. They’re surely one of the most promising bands that Indianapolis has to offer.

14) Dorthia Cottrell by Dorthia Cottrell
Icons such as Wino and Scott Kelly have dabbled in the genre before, but the acoustic solo debut by Windhand vocalist Dorthia Cottrell made me think more about the relationship that apparently exists between folk music and doom metal. The two genres are polar opposites in terms of sonic presentation but they’re both based more on emotion and atmosphere than technicality. This is especially true for all of Cottrell’s efforts but this album has a dark desperation to it that wouldn’t have as much depth in the hands of her main band. Grief’s Internal Flower is a satisfying listen and recommended to doom fans, but I’ve been listening to this one a lot more.

13) The Rise of Disaster Capitalism by Tyranny Is Tyranny
I had the privilege of sharing a Bloomington stage with Wisconsin’s Tyranny Is Tyranny this summer and am lucky to keep tabs on them since. While I am not as well versed in post-rock as I should be, their sense of dynamics and angry vocals remind me of Neurosis’s most recent efforts. Add in occasional horn flourishes and you’ve got a band worth chilling out to.

12) From The Ashes by Tvsk
While Tvsk’s debut album is highly recommended for fans of all things Al Cisneros, the California duo has more going for them than mere Om/Shrinebuilder worship. The songs towards the end get more atmospheric but songs like “Sacred Kind” and “Dead Womb” bring in vocals that dare to be as catchy as the heavy bass lines. Add in a perfect narrative flow and you’ve got a group to look out for.

11) Render Unto Archarus by Archarus
Thrash and doom are another two subgenres that aren’t combined often, due to their contradicting approaches. While no one will confuse Indianapolis’s Archarus for one of the Bay Area speed legends anytime soon, songs like “Under A Tattered Banner” and “Tower Of The Wizard” are packed with more energy than your average doom group. They’ve come a long way in such a brief time and are sure to get even further.

10) The Plague Within by Paradise Lost
A successful return to death/doom is enough to make Paradise Lost fans rejoice but The Plague Within also manages to be the band’s most diverse effort to date. “Beneath Broken Earth” may be the slowest song they’ve ever done, “Flesh From Bone” may be their fastest, “An Eternity of Lies” and “Victim Of The Past” both show symphonic influence, and “Cry Out” even throws a nice groove out there. It’s a grower compared to Tragic Idol but also a nice example of how veteran bands can still keep putting out strong material.

9) Extinct by Moonspell
Moonspell has always jumped between their goth and extreme metal sides for the bulk of their career, to the point of giving each side its own disc on 2012’s Alpha Noir/Omega White. Extinct serves as a great combination of both sides as songs like the pounding title track gel well with the post punk rhythms on “The Last Of Us” and “The Future Is Dark.” It isn’t on the same league as Wolfheart or The Antidote but it comes pretty damn close.

8) Pre-dating god Parts 1 & 2 by Satan’s Host
Satan’s Host may have set their ambitions high with the release of two albums this year but the blackened power metal style they’ve mastered on their most recent efforts is just as strong here. While the first part is a bit more consistent and the second is more melodic but it is an incomplete project without both editions. Still hoping that more bands will find ways to follow in their footsteps.

7) Gates of Winter by Thorr-Axe
If Wall of Spears was Thorr-Axe’s Kill ‘Em All, then Gates Of Winter is their answer to Ride The Lightning. The Viking conquest storyline has a more epic scope, black metal influences run rampant on songs like “The Seer’s Vision” and “Awakening,” and you’ll find plenty of stomping riffs on “Mountain Crusher” and the title track. It was definitely worth the wait and is just as excellent in the live environment.

6) Black Age Blues by Goatsnake
Despite showing off more authentic blues influence and more unique vocals than your typical stoner metal fare, Goatsnake never got full due back in their heyday. Fortunately, their first album in fifteen years manages to just as good as their classic two, if not a smidge better. The overall sound is more laid back than before but you can’t deny the swing on songs like “Another River To Cross” and “Grandpa Jones.”

5) Out Of The Garden by Crypt Sermon
In a scene full of stoner and sludge, Crypt Sermon does an excellent job of carrying the epic doom sound on their full-length debut. While the vocal performance has a rougher quality more in common with Solitude Aeturnus, the massive scope, heavy riffs, occasional tempo shifts, and even the muffled guitar tone perfectly emulate the sound of classic Candlemass. I highly recommend it for all doom fans and still hope they can make their way to the Midwest in the near future.

4) Eidos by Kingcrow
Having seen Kingcrow open for Pain Of Salvation in 2013 and then promptly forgetting about them, I feel fortunate for having rediscovered them just in time for their sixth album. The Italian group is one of the finest in prog metal today and captures a lot of the elements that made POS, Porcupine Tree, Anathema, and others so special while keeping things direct and memorable. I’ll definitely need to explore their discography further but I’d be surprised if this wasn’t a major highlight.

3) Psychic Warfare by Clutch
Clutch isn’t a band known for making any drastic changes over the years but there’s one thing about them that many of their peers lost long ago: They still give a shit. Psychic Warfare may have the same tricks as 2013’s Earth Rocker but it executes them in a much more energetic and infectious fashion. Even that guy who kept calling for “Spacegrass” couldn’t have been too disappointed when they played this sucker live in its entirety. I wouldn’t expect anything less from these sons of Virginia.

2) Tempora Infernalia by Demon Eye
There’s a reason why I thought Demon Eye’s second studio effort was going to be my top choice for most of the year. While the North Carolina group has been grouped in with the doom community, the weaving twin guitar work, energetic tempos, and nasally vocals suggest the likes of classic Deep Purple, Rush, and Iron Maiden than anything else. Either way, it was impossible to find songs that swung better than “I’ll Be Creeping” or “In The World, Not Of It” this year.

1) Hand. Cannot. Erase by Steven Wilson

Steven Wilson’s fourth solo album was an album that I expected to see on here but maybe not at the very top of my list. Past albums like The Raven That Refused To Sing remain ambitious favorites but Hand. Cannot. Erase hits me in a way that I haven’t felt since the classic run of Lightbulb Sun to Fear Of A Blank Planet. It manages to capture every aspect of his long running career as the title track and “Routine” have poppy vocal lines that rival the best of Porcupine Tree, “Perfect Life” has some appropriate industrial flirtation, and “Ancestral” has plenty of neat instrumental work to please prog fans. As much as I strive to hear the best that the new generation has to offer, it can be just as pleasing when the old guard still gets the job done.

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