As another year draws to a close, we metalheads tend to take time to reflect on what the year in metal meant to us, and prepare our various lists of what was great, what sucked, and everything in between.
This year we decided to get a little more up close and personal with Team Hellbound, and get a sense of not only each staffer’s favorite albums of the year, but also a sense of the state of metal in 2015 from everyone.
We here at Hellbound thank you for your continued readership, and wish you a very headbanging 2016.
Happy Holidays from Hellbound!
— Kyle Harcott
Best Metal Releases of 2015:
- Leprous – The Congregation (InsideOut)
In a year when I didn’t have time to actually write much about metal I made sure I carved out enough to review The Congregation by Leprous because I could hardly contain my appreciation. I’ve still got the record on regular rotation, revelling in its complex but delicate balance of intense emotions, sophisticated musicality and cathartic aggression. It’s bands like Leprous and albums like The Congregation that make progressive metal one of the most exciting subgenres of heavy music.
- So Hideous – Laurestine (Prosthetic)
Every so often I check out a random selection from the maelstrom of new release promos swirling through my inbox (or maybe it’s my brain that feels like a swirling maelstrom whenever I think about the amount of stuff lurking there…). I can’t remember why I chose this one… Maybe it was the odd juxtaposition of the band name and the melancholy but far from hideous artwork by Daniele Serra. Or maybe it was simply that Laurestine looks enough like my name to catch my eye. There’s no doubt about what kept me listening though – this is the most inspiringly and dramatically passionate metal album I’ve heard in quite a while.
- Solefald – World Metal. Kosmopolis Sud (Indie Recordings)
I wasn’t sure about the latest Solefald album at first. Not in the sense that I expected it would grow on me but in the sense that I didn’t quite know what to make of it – but I was sure I wanted to listen more. Many months later I still appreciate and find its eccentricities and transgenre/transcultural hybridities absolutely intriguing, but I don’t ‘understand’ the record exactly, and that’s a large part of the appeal.
- Faith No More – Sol Invictus (Reclamation Recordings/Ipecac Recordings)
Yeah, there’s some nostalgia in Faith No More’s appearance on my best of 2015 list. But I wasn’t expecting to enjoy Sol Invictus this much. I sincerely believed that the band’s moment was over and feared that a new record could only serve as a reminder. Instead my ears were confronted by a band that transcends linear time, and Sol Invictus earned its own repeat status on my personal playlist.
- The Moth Gatherer – The Earth is the Sky (Agonia)
If The Earth is the Sky came out earlier this year The Moth Gatherer might be much higher up on my 2015 list but I haven’t had it on my player long enough to trust by fascination with it. These Swedes write and record the immersive kind of metal that I am happy to drown in, at least metaphorically and for a little while. I was captivated by their 2013 debut A Bright Celestial Light and though their new record didn’t grab me so immediately I’m finding its more mature and sophisticated development may have even more to offer.
- Windhand – Grief’s Infernal Flower (Relapse)
Revisiting my top picks of the year all at once, it’s hard to miss the fact that the ethereal sludginess of Windhand’s latest is particularly distinct. Maybe that’s part of its appeal. In any case, there’s no doubt that Windhand’s craft results in a near-perfect balance of texture and atmosphere, power and persuasion, and Grief’s Infernal Flower seems more captivating with each listen.
- Moonspell – Extinct (Napalm)
Reasonably or not, I wasn’t expecting a goth rock record from Moonspell this time around. To be fair, Extinct is more than goth rock, but it took a while to appreciate the full package – which is actually a throw-back in many ways, vintage Portuguese goth metal with a lot of 21st-century polish. This is another one that improves with repetition.
- Barren Earth – On Lonely Towers (Century Media)
The various elements of Barren Earth’s sound may not all be unique. Listening to On Lonely Towers I hear Opeth, Amorphis, Borknagar and Dan Swanö’s Moontower project, among others, but never long enough to limit Barren Earth to clone status. Besides, most of these artists no longer provide the same degree of progressive death metal satisfaction they once offered or incorporated into their sound. On Lonely Towers goes a long way toward filling the void left behind.
- Amorphis – Under the Red Cloud
… Not to say that the above-mentioned bands aren’t producing music well worth listening to on its own merits. Amorphis has got to be one of the most consistent metal bands in the business. And while it’s been a while since they came out with an album-of-the-year calibre release (for me, at least), they never really seem to disappoint.
- My Dying Bride – Feel the Misery (Peaceville)
I wonder if My Dying Bride is at number ten on my list because I expect so much of this band that my standards for them are almost impossibly high these days… I have no complaints about Feel the Misery – it has all the major My Dying Bride signature elements (anguished melodies, passionate strings, doom-laden riffs, and so on). But it’s still several slots down on my list of go-to MDB releases.
In no particular order…
Clutch – Psychic Warfare (Weathermaker)
They get my groove on.
Tribulation – The Children of the Night (Century Media)
Loved this when it came out (and now, when I listen again) but then forgot about it until I saw it on other people’s lists.
Enslaved – In Times (Nuclear Blast)
They’ve still got it.
The Visit – Through Darkness Into Light (Independent)
So my favourite heavy Canadian release of 2015 isn’t exactly metal…
Vile Creature – A Steady Descent Into the Soil (Independent)
When your Bandcamp page describes you as “Anti-Oppressive, Queer, Vegan Doom + Gloom” that gets my attention. Back that up with full creative force and ferocious power of your recordings and live performances – well, that gets my devotion.
Favourite album cover of 2015:
The colours, the detail, the eeriness, the magic… Sebastian Jerke’s artwork for the 2015 Ahab album is creepy in an uncanny sort of way, and utterly mesmerizing. www.sebastianjerke.de/artwork-2
This album artwork says a lot in its simplicity and captures a strong sense of the atmosphere evoked by The Moth Gatherer’s music. According to Agonia Records, “The artwork has been made by SCG, while Swedish printer, EJG, prepared the layout, creating an exclusive painting for each of the six tracks on the album.”
Here’s a little more info from the band: “SCG has no homepage or site, he is underground. 😉 He has created both of our albums from scratch and the layouts. Basically he is the visual mastermind of The Moth Gatherer! He also made Mr. Death’s Descending Through Ashes.”
You can check out more work by EJG here: www.facebook.com/EJGIllustration, www.instagram.com/EJG999.*
Best gig of 2015:
I like, even love, a lot of Finnish metal. I’ve wanted to visit the country for a long time, but desire became an irrepressible need after I watched A Finnish Summer with Turisas (2008). This year was the time to make it happen. And what would a trip to Finland be like without experiencing Helsinki’s annual Tuska festival?
In terms of organization, I approve of the relatively small size of the festival and, for the most part, the scheduling. I liked that I could grab some shade or a seat when I wanted it, and had no shortage of vegan food.
The line-up wasn’t jaw-droppingly amazing but it was solid, and we did catch some strong and even killer sets by bands like Ghost Brigade, Enforcer, Bloodbath, At the Hollow, Sirens, Opeth and Amorphis (playing the entire Tales from the Thousand Lakes album), among others. I wish I was going back for 2016.
Favourite physical artefacts of 2015:
All of the physical heavy metal objects I purchased in 2015 were cool in their own way. That said, here are a couple that stand out:
Not purchased but also worth a mention is the D-Trash Records “Trash the World” USB key I received, featuring a 48-track audio compilation and 18 music video tracks.
The keys are sold out, but the compilation is still available: /d-trashrecords.bandcamp.com/merch/dtrash200-d-trash-records-trash-the-world-usb-key.
My year in metal:
I wasn’t able to make it out to nearly as many shows this year, or even to listen attentively to as many albums. That means the scope of my 2015 year-end reflections is rather selective and idiosyncratic, determined by already long-established metal tastes, evolving quirks, impulsive curiosity and chance musical encounters. One clear benefit of the narrower range of my metal exposure this year has been a deepened focus on the sounds and experiences that did grab my full attention, and a more intense pleasure in what metal I was able to enjoy.
Even so, it’s possible and necessary to identify a few particular highlights with which I now present you:
That surge of joy that comes from connecting with fellow metal lovers in new and sometimes unexpected places – a classroom, a conference, a dinner, a coffee shop, sidewalk…
Finally seeing Enslaved in a headlining performance.
Attending Tuska 2015 with Adam Wills and meeting some amazing folks there (and thanks to Justin Richardson for introducing us to this new crew).
Taking our niece to Heavy Montreal, and posting some of the photos she took here on Hellbound.ca.
Discovering the “Anti-Oppressive, Queer, Vegan Doom + Gloom from the Garden City” of Vile Creature (see above), getting to know the band members a little, and having them guest on our radio show, Kill Eat Exploit the Weak.
Date night at the Judas Priest show in Toronto with Mastodon opening, not needing to review the performances, and having a painkilling time. (bad pun intended)
Catching the festival-closing screening of Deathgasm at Toronto After Dark.
Getting into the Xmas spirit with Dee Snider’s Rock and Roll Christmas Tale.
Working with some delightful and cool people here at Hellbound.
Looking forward to more metal awesomeness to come.
* I’d like to thank one of our readers from last year whose comments reminded me to give proper credit to the artists behind these album covers.