So, 2015 has come and gone such as a gust of wind inside the empty halls of our lives in which we blindly crawl, writhing until we fall to our death in one of the unforeseeable traps set up by the mad architect of this edifice. But at least, we have music to make our aimless trip more bearable. So, what artists and albums shone this year? We asked our team to come up with their picks, so there they are: the very best of 2015.
2015 started off as a promising year but it concluded with many releases that were simply good but not mind-blowing or releases with great moments but not albums full of great songs. So, the albums that follow are those that, in my opinion, do not fall under those categories; albums that managed to get my attention going for their whole length. As always, this is mostly a personal list of the music I listened/enjoyed the most this past year, rather than my top 10 of this year’s best releases, although I believe those seven albums on my list can easily compete for that title as well.
1)Mgła – Exercises in Futility
2) Arcturus – Arcturian
2) Arcturus – Arcturian
3) Leprous – The Congregation
3) Leprous – The Congregation
4) Enforcer – From Beyond
5) Pyramids – A Northern Meadow
6) Leviathan – Scar-Sighted
6) Leviathan – Scar-Sighted
Urfaust – Apparitions
Djevel – Saa raa og kald
Nettlecarrier – Black Coffin Rites
Alien Syndrome 777 – Outer
Katavasia – Sacrilegious Testament
Spectral Lore – Gnosis
Lastly, I would like to devote these lines to some albums that I found interesting and played them quite a lot but not as much much as I’d want to in order to fully grasp them. Those titles are: Napalm Death – Apex Predator – Easy Meat and Magic Circle – Journey Blind and of course, the truly captivating Umbras de Barbagia by Downfull of Nur. On the contrary, I was fairly let down by DHG’s A Umbra Omega. I get the statement the band wants to make with it but unfortunately, as much as I tried to like this album, it has yet to click on me. Nevertheless, I think that it’s still an important and ambitious release for the Norwegian pioneers and certainly overabundant with ideas (perhaps this is the biggest con of this album). Here’s to an even better 2016!
Trying to rank everything linearly is how you end up with the contents of Rolling Stone, so in order to avoid anything like that, here’s my favorite albums this year in the order they were released. It was hard to whittle it down to 12 since there were quite a few more that I really loved. Surely there are plenty that I missed and deserve to be included, but I’ll just have to catch up to them later.
The Kandinsky Effect – Somnambulist
- Something of a post-jazz power trio that I find difficult to describe. At times they almost sound like a traditional-ish jazz trio, but they’re never too far from disabusing you of this foolish notion when they bust into a sax solo breakdown that makes you want to fucking bang your head(or maybe that’s just me).
Ghost Rhythms – Madeleine
- Conceptually meant to be an alternate soundtrack for Hitchcock’s Vertigo, a film I haven’t seen, but if it inspired this, it must be intriguing. Stylistically we have orchestral progressive fusion with a cabaret feel that I like to call chamber fusion. They make great use of polyrhythms to manipulate tension, leading to an engaging listen throughout the entire double album.
Becca Stevens Band – Perfect Animal
- My favorite pop album of the year, because it’s really so much more than that. Becca is BRILLIANT!
Crown Larks – Blood Dancer
- Part avant-jazz, part lo-fi psych, part free rock, entirely awesome.
Jaga Jazzist – Starfire
- If I had to pick, this would probably be my album of the year. Jaga’s brand of electronic jazz fusion remains at the forefront of musical excellence. The epic, extended cuts on this release (that they haven’t really done before in studio) signal that this band is nowhere near over.
Consider the Source – World War Trio (Parts II & III)
- This progressive world fusion power trio (or “sci-fi middle eastern fusion” according to them) continues to amaze. Somehow carrying the torch of John McLaughlin’s Shakti but fused with more modern prog idioms, this group is really something unique and wonderful, as evinced by this impressive double album. Full Disclosure: I contributed to the crowdfunding campaign for this album.
Rosy Finch – Witchboro
- This power trio/supergroup serves up such a fresh, irresistible blend of stoner rock and grunge with tinges of psychedelia and even reminds me at times of riot grrrl punk; not really prog but excellent rock and roll nonetheless.
Plaistow – Titan
- One of the best minimalist releases of the year, consisting of hypnotic grooves juxtaposed with a touch of avant-garde oddness oh so deftly.
Panzerballett – Breaking Brain
- These masters of jazz metal are practically guaranteed to make my list any year they have a release. I’ve enjoyed all of their releases to date immensely, this being no exception.
Alarmist – Popular Demain
- Math fusion that just hits on all cylinders. Impeccable release!
Intronaut – The Direction of Last Things
- I’m a total Intronaut fanboy so I’m not going to pretend I can do anything but gush. It’s great, but I knew I was going to say that before I even heard it. Their continuing evolution is a sound to behold.
Kneebody & Daedelus – Kneedelus
- This is a fine release all around, but realistically if it only consisted of the stellar third track “Drum Battle” it would still be a contender. This collaboration between some of the finest among modern jazz and IDM pleasantly exceeded my high expectations. Full Disclosure: I saw Kneebody perform “Drum Battle” live and it blew my fucking mind, which I am still recovering from.
Instead of ranking albums, I’ll put them in chronological order: one for each month of this year.Let’s begin with Nathan Parker Smith‘s big band metal ensemble and their album, Not Dark Yet. It’s a really successful experiment, and one that needs to be reiterated! I want a follow-up to this jazz metal orchestra, and I’m certain I’m not the only one! Truly one of the highlights of the year! Then comes our favourite French weirdoes, Pryapisme, with their one-song, 22-minute EP, Futurologie. As their two previous discs, this is an upbeat experimental and progressive metal piece that is intricate and luxuriant, with a multitude of instruments playing at all time, and a wide palette of soundscapes that you pass through while listening to it. A complete album written around Marco Minnemann’s drum solo project, Normalizer 2? Heh, why not? At War with Self did the experiment and ended up with a 50-minute, multipartite prog fusion song, Circadian Rhythm Disorder. You can hear the signature sound of Marco’s playing, with the added bonus of ulterior context. By only listening to it, one couldn’t be able to tell what came first: the drums or the rest of the music, and that’s, I believe, why this is another successful experiment. A really peculiar beast, Marena Whitcher’s Shady Midnight Orchestra! Ghostology is an experimental, jazzy avant-pop album revolving around ghost stories. Some songs are hauntingly beautiful, such as the opening track, “Ice Soldiers”, while others are completely bedazzling, like “Transformation Train”. It was an album that left its mark on me, definitely. I suggest you give it a try; you’ll be charmed by it. Not many bands seem to take pride in continuing the legacy of Gentle Giant, their weirder side, at least, but ni totally embraces it, and modernize it by setting it in math metal. You’ll hear them shout wordless cries amidst the time signature wreckage of their songs, making it sound like a trip to the zoo while listening to triple-A math rock! Really an album you mustn’t miss! All right, I couldn’t resist. Here’s a second pick from May: Sevish‘s microtonal drum-n-bass album, Rhythm and Xen. This is a masterfully crafted dnb album that totally forgoes the traditional 12 notes per octave tuning system in favour of a variety of exotic ones! I hope this marks the beginning of an era in popular music in which we’ll hear more unconventional scales like this! The Ship of Theseus album from Jute Gyte is the beginning of a new cycle from him, ending his Discontinuities/Vast Chains/Ressentiment trilogy, and presenting us a different approach to his ghastly microtonal black metal. There is an increase in the variety of the instrumentation used, and that’s a welcomed change. Not that it grew old, but a little stirring is most often than not a good thing. You already know that Travis Orbin is a madman: he plays drums for such a long list of bands that I wouldn’t even know where to begin! Of course that’s a lie, I’d start off by saying he played on The Gabriel Construct album! But in his spare time (if any), he seems to have the time to come up with the craziest songs of all! Last year was his album Projects, which put to shame every band that claims to make math music, and this year it’s Silly String, that just kicks them while they are down! But in addition to the mental rhythms, there’s an impressive amount of instrumentation in there. That’s why it’s one of my picks! I feel Dumbsaint took the post-metal world by surprise with their album Panorama, in Ten Pieces. Centred on suburban horror stories and urban legends, the music comes with its 60-minute feature film, strengthening the concept behind the music, and making it somewhat akin to a movie soundtrack. But with or without the film, the album deserves its place here. Hadean took me by complete surprise, in September! The “chamber metal” band released their newest album, On Fading, which I would’ve put in the avant-garde black metal drawer, but in any case it’s a brilliant album! It has a twisted but continuous flow to it that sometimes makes you wonder if it’s the same band as earlier, and that’s something I can appreciate! I will say something: don’t overlook this album, and give it a listen or two! Yes, this album will surely be featured on every metal blog ever, but I can but agree with that! So Hideous made tremendous waves throughout the metal community with Laurestine, an emotional and visceral post-black metal album. The orchestral foundations of the compositions truly help make them soar above pretty much every other similar release this year. So, if you haven’t listened to that yet, I guess it’s time you indulge. November has been a magical month, and so I have no choice but to pick three albums from this month. First up is Instrumental (adj.)‘s debut EP, A Series of Disagreements. I think this can only be called math jazz. It’s heavy yet firmly rooted in jazz, with a demented obsession towards the rhythmics and the thematics. It’s a heavenly EP that I would recommend to anyone! I need to congratulate Serious Beak on taking chances and changing things around, not sticking to the same formula as their previous album for Ankaa. Not that it wasn’t good, far from that, but they tried something different and still achieved one of the best albums of the year! With its longer songs, complex themes and overarching concepts, it really is one hell of a beast! This one will be difficult to top! And finally, for November, Our Oceans‘s debut album. What a masterpiece. Contemplative, atmospheric, soothing, beautiful, and graceful, this album demonstrates the softer side of Exivious (with a different drummer). It is one of the few albums here that can be played almost anytime without people going mad. Everybody will like this. It’s impossible to hate on that one. Go and lull yourself to sleep, weeping with cathartic tears. Let’s finish this off with covet‘s EP, Currents, a majestic and melodious collection of songs that is certainly worthy of being featured in our year’s end list! There’s a mosaic of time signatures and themes that come and go and breathe life to every song on display. Since the band decided to go the instrumental way, I now have two new projects to watch for: Yvette Young’s solo material, and covet! Oh, woe is me!
And here are a bunch of outliers with much merit! Some of these I just didn’t have the time to listen and appreciate, some just came at a wrong time for me to give them justice, and others just came to my attention too late to feature them on the blog. So, here we go!Blumen‘s EP is a pianocentric prog rock album that’s a real breeze of fresh air with very interesting subtleties to it. A very decent prog album that I really wish I had given more time! Heh, it’s never too late! Avant-garde blackgrind band Dendritic Arbor released two albums this year that will totally overwhelm you with violence and disgust! Dystopia Nå certainly made one of the best progressive black metal albums of the year! Give them a listen! Another take on progressive black metal, equally great! Fountainhead‘s indie-folk EP Home really scratches a specific itch, I would pay a lot for a complete album of compositions like these! I have no idea why I wasn’t aware of that band before they decided to break up after releasing one of the best albums of ever! Their tags for “transcendental black metal” are totally justified! We reviewed this collaborative album at length, but I need to include it here too! What do you do when you’re not working on the next Ever Forthright album? You make solo albums, and this one is fabulous a fabulous blend of jazz and metal! Pocket Size Universe graced us with their fun jams on Still Life, an album I overlooked at first, but kept coming back and listening to it! How is this not more talked about still? Surely, it’s one of the best examples of saxophone usage in prog metal! This is an entrancing musical journey through black metal and Middle-Eastern melodies. Simply, a gem!
That’s it. This is all. The best of the best of the music we were able to listen to in 2015! Of course, I’m certain we missed an overwhelming lot of awesome bands and amazing releases, but despite our best efforts, it’s just unrealistic to think that we could cover everything that comes out! That’s part of the beauty of it all, too! Maybe we’ll stumble upon them in a few months or years, and wonder why it didn’t cross our path earlier, but still we’ll take it because it’s life.
I hope you’ll stay with us in 2016, and keep enlarging the family!