Truly, I wish I had intersected with some of these albums earlier in 2016, as this is a strong, relentless, inspiring list of powerful creations.
Key observations of this list:
- My music interests span across many genres. From trip-hop to dubstep, electronic music to death metal, adult alternative to glitch, my audible interests vary greatly. This list reflects that diversity. While my this list is rich with anger, aggression and sinister sounds, it has subtler, softer tones to give you time to breathe, reflect, and dream.
- I seriously could've had 5 number ones this year. Year after year, I claim that I've got the best list that I've put together, but I seriously was blown away by the awesomeness of music this year. If I had genre-specific lists, I would have 5 number ones. Yes, five. I've structured my list 1-20, and I don't deviate from the ranking, but my top 5 albums of 2015 could stand alone as number ones on lists specific to Rock, Metal, Industrial, and Alternative Rock. See for yourself, and judge for yourself.
- I don't have any female-fronted acts on the list. It is a strange anomaly; I didn't hear any new female-fronted acts this year that caught my attention (ones that warranted a Top 20) mention. In the era of Adele, my list is admittedly manly. Within the metal genre, favorites such as Within Temptation, In This Moment, Lacuna Coil, and Pretty Reckless released albums recently and have been reviewed. I'm not a fan of Halestorm (yes, Lizzy Hale is talented), and I'm still not sold on The Agonist or the new Arch Enemy. Thus, I vow to seek out more female-fronted acts in 2016. That's not to say that these albums don't have female influences or vocals. Doomtree, Bassnectar, Rabbit Junk, Killaflaw, Conjure One and my number one, IAMX, all feature prominent and powerful background or supporting female vocalists.
- Masters of the Immortal. Not surprising to metal, references to that diabolical antagonist, the Devil, are commonplace -- with Blue Stahli representing him well with my #2 album on this list, and Fightstar standing firm "Behind the Devil's Back". IAMX dives brilliantly into secularism with "No Maker Made Me" off his thought-provoking album "Metanoia". Faith No More went back to the Roman Empire with "Sol Invictus", and Soulfly went Biblical with "Archangel". Disturbed's "The Vengeful One" strikes down retribution as the "Hand of God", while the song "Immortalized" speaks to the band's probable stature as one of the most important metal bands of the last two decades.
- A sad "Honorable Mentions for 2015" list. Slayer. Iron Maiden. Soilwork. Coal Chamber. Trivium. Fear Factory. Bands that were once great in my eyes didn't make the cut in 2015, and I wasn't willing to sacrifice great music in other genres so "old standards" could get Grandfathered onto my "Best of" list. Many bands that I grew up and that have been long-time favorites are on the list at the bottom of this blog, It is a reflection on my expansive interest in music of a variety of sounds and styles, not completely on the quality of their work. Truly, if I was picking a "Top 30", many of those albums would fall on the list. But I only have 20, and my 20 were difficult enough to decide given the 100 or so albums I considered.
Congratulations to all bands featured on this list. They created powerful works of art. I hope you take some time to give them a spin. I'm sure you'll echo my appreciation.
While you're at it, please add a comment at the end of this blog letting me know what your favorite albums of 2015 were. I'm always interested in earcandy for my creative appetites.
Happy 2016! Without further ado, my best albums of 2015. Earplugs are recommended.
ALL THAT REMAINS
The Order of Things
I'm still not completely comfortable with the radio-friendly version of All That Remains. Once a blistering metal act, they've toned down their sound a bit to appeal to a greater audience. That's not to say it was a bad idea. They still manage some very brutal chords and inspiring melodies. "The Order of Things" surprised me, mostly because the album is well-written, well-produced and has heart. All That Remains has their things in order for this album, and it shows.
Another year, another EP. I'm elated to hear new Rabbit Junk music; I just wish there was more to "Beast". With 6 great songs (with one instrumental and one remix), "Beast" is a fun shot of Rabbit Junk style, but as with their last release "Pop That Pretty Thirty", the experience is too short for a band as complex and diverse as RJ. Nonetheless, this is a talented band that deserves love for their glitchy chaotic sexiness. They know how to write great electro rock songs with mesmerizing melodies.
Time and Trauma
A solid album from one of Alaska's finest metal acts. The album grew on me, and was a late addition to this list. Been a fan since the "Bloodwork" days, and good to hear them again. A bit underwhelmed by their style, but worthy of a shout for an above average effort.
I was a huge fan of "Lead Sails (and a Paper Anchor)". I still spin it frequently to this day, proof that this is a greatly talented band that deserves attention. Since that powerful album, a masterpiece that they've been unable to replicate, they've been a bit inconsistent and have slipped from their once high status in popular metal. This album signals their return after a lengthy hiatus, and is a powerful and gripping re-entry. While not "Lead Sails" and still a bit imperfect, it proves that Atreyu is far from dead and gone.
Reverent. Beautiful. Brutal. Sepultura meets a beatific sepulchre. "Babylon", in a apocalyptic battle. Sounds like a war in heaven brought to Earth, in perfect Soulfly style. Love the mythology of the album, and their attention to detail.
The Pale Emporer
This album reminded me of the greatness of Marilyn Manson as an artist. Not the Antichrist. Not a Superstar. Not an 'Aint. It is a fun coincidence that I discovered this album around the release of the Thin White Duke's new album, "Blackstar", and I feel the parallels. Mason's vocals on this album are rich, throaty, and bombastic, with the dark sarcasm he has done so well over his career. His brilliant tune "Killing Strangers" is a primary reason the 2015 movie "John Wick" works so well. "The Pale Emperor" is an altogether powerful piece of artistry.
The Direction of Last Things
First album I've heard from Intronaut, and it’s a great one. Adventurous riffs, powerful vox, intelligent lyrics and a dark demeanor.
LAMB OF GOD
VII: Sturm und Drang
Featuring their first foray into clean vocals and a duet with Deftones vocalist Chino Moreno, this is a different album from one of power metal's standards. Stacked up against my faves "Resolution" and "Sacrament", this could be considered a creative disappointment, but I appreciate their diversity, in the same way bands like All That Remains, In Flames and The Haunted (though now back to their roots) explored a softer side. That aside, it isn't one of their best albums, but is still a quality rager powered with impressive angst.
End of an Empire
Celldweller is essentially one musician: Klayton. He is far more dynamic than I can illustrate in this small review. For instance, like Blue Stahli, he has been a regular successful creator of music for movies, video games and TV ads. His sound is everywhere, even if you don't know it. He is wildly prolific as a musician, producer, mixer, designer... hell, Klayton is a one-stop-shop for all things soncially awesome. He produced the #2 album on this list (Blue Stahli's "The Devil"), while releasing his own full-length album.
Into the Sun
Lorin (primary musician behind Bassnectar) consistently creates high quality electronic music that soars, inspires, bop and drops. Former metalhead turned electrohead, he knows how to create powerful music. He enlists some of the greatest DJs, vocalists and artists on his songs, and creates adventurous rays of sound. Every Bassnectar album has a different feel and sound, still rooted in his dynamic style: "Into the Sun" is a prismatic, energetic and jamworthy trip, a vibrant swirl of dubstep, glitch, dance, pop and chillaxation.
Admittedly, I love Clutch and have been a fan since the "A Shogun Named Marcus" days, have seen them several times, but this is the first album that I've listened to from start to finish. And, wow, did I pick a great one. This album alone (along with their song, "The Regulator", which I featured on my list of Best Respun Albums of 2015) will force me back into their catalog in 2016. "Psychic Warfare" spins like a series of Conspiracy Theory stories pulled from trash mags you find at the grocery store -- from aliens to psychic powers to ghosts to... gosh, I'm still discovering all the great characters and creative spaces this album adventures into. The album is cleverly bookmarked by an "affidavit" interview, creating a "story feel" and vocalist Neil Fallon blasts out impressively soulful and passionate lyrics -- as if he was having fun with this concept, from end to end. The awesome thing about Clutch is that they don't take their content too seriously, and bring the listener along for a wild, unexpected, chaotic ride, one that will have you laughing at the lunacy and clutching for the handrails with every brilliant riff and hook.
Recently tapped to tour with Tool, 3Teeth is a surprisingly fresh echo of 90/00s industrial bands like Godflesh, Front Line Assembly, Nine Inch Nails, and one of my faves, Skrew. Realistically, 3Teeth hasn't done anything overtly new with this album, but they have reinvigorated an industrial sound that has been somewhat under-appreciated over the last decade. With power hitters like Tool on their side, industrial metal will certainly see a bit of a renaissance in 2016.
Behind the Devil's Back
This album is the first time I've ever heard -- or heard of -- Fightstar. I came across them while doing research for my best of 2015, and I'm so thankful that I came across this album. Evidentially, they're a big deal in the UK, a bit of a supergroup that marries metal and pop styles with two different vocalists. I won't purport to be a Fightstar expert, and after spending a bit of time going through their back catalog, I don't think I will become one. My bromance with Fightstar begins with this album; all previous material of theirs does not even come remotely close to the power, creativity, musicianship and production of "Behind the Devil's Back". When I say that all of their tracks are my favorite, I am not lying. Start to finish, this album is awesome -- it crunches with great riffs, rages with Slipknot-esque vocals, and sometimes soars with electropop highlights. I actually find the intermixing of metal and pop styles very fresh; while some metalheads and rockers may find this album a bit too soft in spaces, I think it reflects greatly the delicate and beautiful dance of life behind the devil's back.
Sleeze & Grit
One of two albums on this list that I sponsored, and was awesomely surprised by the outcome. I've been following Killaflaw since I discovered them on MySpace years ago. "Sleaze & Grit" holds a couple of songs that have been around for some years, but they have been spectacularly rebooted. It's fun to hear my fave "Revolution" as part of a full album, telling their first complete story. But this album is full of brilliance and a glowing soulfulness. The vocals of British musician Benn Helm have a tinge of "lawdy" Southern soul, with an impressive range and depth of passion. Their tune "Message" is one of the best songs I heard in 2015, and this band deserves a bigger audience.
I can listen to this band on repeat for hours. No other artist does what Rhys Fulber does so successfully: partner angelic, resonant vocalists with electronic trip-hop, transcendent atmospheres and passionate beats. Conjure One is Rhys Fulber, formerly of Delerium: he provides the music and composes the songs. He brings in the best vocal talent from around the globe to be the voice of Conjure One. Kristy Thirsk, Leigh Nash, Hannah Ray, Aruna, Jeza, Mimic Page, and Christian Burns are all featured vocalists, and provide divine melodies to an album that deeply inspires and softly relaxes, like the vast unfolding horizon on its cover.
FAITH NO MORE
This is one sublimely powerful piece of art. If you know the diverse genealogy of Faith No More, their creations and side projects, you have to be wowed by this album. It feels like an extension of "Album of the Year", picking up in the metaphorically dark place they exited too long ago and taking their quirky sarcasm to the next level. Mike Patton and company are beyond brilliant on "Sol Invictus", as if their core intention is to praise renewed light, pay fealty to a glorious passion that has empowered them for decades. Take 'Sunny Side Up", a song about breakfast. This is a new dawn for Faith No More. Hopefully, they will continue to radiate for many more years, an undying sun continuing to guide the way for future generations of metalheads and artists.
Worst Case Scenario (Vols 1 & 2)
Testament to how much I love this glitchmasterpiece: Vol 1 of "Worst Case Scenario" was featured on my Best of 2014 list. With that in mind, should I really give Cyanotic primary placement in this year's list? Hell yeah! Not only did Cyanotic knock it out of the industrial park with the first volume of this album, they improved upon it in Vol 2 -- with a few new songs and brilliant remixes/reimaginings of the songs from Vol.1. Initially, I was a bit underwhelmed by "Worst Case Scenario", but after immersing myself with the album last year, I uncovered layers of brilliance that I missed previously. Cyanotic has long been a favorite of mine, a band so dynamic and glitchy that they were an instant addiction. With 32 songs, "Worst Case Scenario" is a vast, dystopian canvas of a world in dismal decay, scenes of a world shattered and left in pieces -- Terminator meets Blade Runner, with endless echoes of a mysterious world of samples and Transhumanist science. This album should be the standard for any glitch-thirsty, industrial music lover.
This is Disturbed's best album, hands down. In their long and successful career, I've never heard them so... wise. Disturbed has always been a metal band on the boundary of faith, hence the echoes of mortality. David Draiman's religious influences can be heard on most of their albums, but "Immortalized" shows them at their most ponderous. This album is stocked with awesome rock songs that speak of vengeance, immortality, transcendence and evolution. Their hit "The Vengeful One" speaks of being the hand of God and dealing retribution, while "Legion of Monsters" rails against the media for glorifying violence and vigilantes. Draiman wows with his cover of the Simon & Garfunkel classic, "The Sound of Silence", one of the best songs of 2015. There may be better songs in Disturbed's past, but "Immortalized" is their strongest creation yet, and will inspire you.
In a year absent a new IAMX release, this would be my album of the year. Blue who? I know. The name is cryptically catchy, and radio has no clue of this artist. Yet, he is one of the most active musicians around, with his music featured in movies and movie previews, TV spots, commercials, and all sorts of other behind - the - scenes badassery. "The Devil" was introduced on my 2014 list via two early release EPs that featured 4 final and remixed versions of songs on this new album. I knew then that this would be a special album as each EP was brilliant; I wasn't ready for the whole album to be a masterpiece. From vocals to production to story to style to lyrics to composition, "The Devil" is a clever, sinister, sarcastic, high-energy, soaring sonic adventure through the states of a vengeful rockstar, one born in fire and driven down in flames by powerful demons. The music is aggressive, hooky and mesmerizing, tightly produced by the vastly talented Klayton (Celldweller). While Brett Autrey is the main brains for the rock project known as Blue Stahli, I think he even plays most of the music. If that's the case, he deserves a great deal of a worship -- actual Devil or not -- because the album is diabolically righteous and aurally delicious. I'm spellbound every time I listen to "The Devil", no sympathies for the red-suited antagonist required.
I could easily make "Metanoia" my album of the year based on two songs alone that illustrate the depth and doomful diversity of Chris Corner as IAMX: "No Maker Made Me" and "Happiness". It just so happens the whole album glows with brilliant melancholy and sublime energy, culminating in the best IAMX creation to date. I've decided to devote a future blog to a full review of this album, because I have too much to say about it for an abstract alone. I sponsored the creation of this album, and the resulting "Metanoia Treasure Box" that I received, an elaborate boxed set with an exquisite photo album and poster, is truly a melancholic gem. I listen to this album daily, and it provides a dark and comfortable din to my life. It feels familiar, honest, truthful without brooding, moody yet beautiful. Chris channels Prince on "Aphrodisiac"; and Bowie throughout. Corner is a dynamic artistic genius, one of the most underrated of our time. As IAMX, he may not turn ticket sales and turnstyles like he did with Sneaker Pimps, but he stays true to an avant-garde and authentic, humanistic expression that is both inspiring and deeply appreciated in these unsure and turbulent days.