Best Hard Rock and Metal albums of 2015
Each December as another year comes to a close it becomes harder and harder to read the various “Best of Metal” lists that pop up across the web. Each year the trendy elitism becomes worse and the band’s being raised on exalted high sound less and less like metal at all. Post-metal ambient blackened shoegaze, what? We’re sorry, that’s not metal. These lists all seem to ignore the actual hard rock and metal bands churning out high quality albums. This is not to say, some of these band’s are not turning out some interesting work, but it is difficult to swallow as hard rock or metal. These magazines and websites, for the most part, seem to ignore traditional, power, symphonic, and thrash metal almost completely. Leaving only death and black metal among the hipster metal of the moment. Okay, rant over.
So with that off our chest, Metalholic has once again put together its own list of the year’s best (from our perspective), and as with previous years the list includes only full-length studio albums. There are no EPs, re-issues, or live albums. As always, we attempted to capture a cross mix of all hard rock and metal, rather than one or two sub genres. It’s a daunting task, but we always have fun pulling our hair out making it happen.
As with all previous years, we have attempted to listen to as many new albums as possible, but it is simply not possible to catch them all. There are probably a dozen albums out there that we may have missed that might have made this list, but from the hundreds we did sift through, these are the 50 that resonated with us the most. Three albums that we discovered after 2014 closed out which would have made our Top 50 were Mike Lepond’s Silent Assassins eponymous debut, Mörti Viventi‘s The Day the Dead Returned…, and Iris Divine‘s brilliant sophomore album, Karma Sown.
Honorable Mention: Motörhead – Bad Magic
Bad Magic may not have been Motörhead‘s greatest recording to date, but as the final submission to Lemmy Kilmister‘s unmistakable legacy, it is certainly worthy of note. Bad Magic is exactly what one expects of Motörhead, and it sounds like the continuation of every other Motörhead record that has come before. It is the Lemmy formula reworked into new sequences with new lyrics. There is no such thing as a bad Motörhead album, and Bad Magic is yet another slab of attitude-infused, dirty, blue-collar, Motörhead rock and roll. Bad Magic isn’t winning any beauty pageants or showing up at debutante balls, but this record is the one you take home after a beer or 20 when the bar closes down.
50. Powerwolf – Blessed & Possessed (Napalm)
In all honesty, as a hardcore Powerwolf fangirl, the band could likely release a carbon copy of any previous album and I would love it just the same. However, Blessed & Possessed was a surprising breath of fresh air with faster tempos, guitar riffing, and more intricate drum patterns that truly fit the band perfectly. I didn’t think I could love these guys any more than I did, but they may have proven me wrong with this release. This is a new, faster, and harder hitting Powerwolf, and they absolutely nailed it. ~ Mattie Jensen
49. Ektomorf – Aggressor (AFM Records)
Hungarian groove metallers, Ektomorf return with their eleventh studio album, Aggressor which will get pumped up. It will get you pissed off. You will stomp around in anger, for Ektomorf have delivered dynamite for the eardrums with Aggressor. While the band does not deviate much from its usual signature, you will know exactly what to expect; an aggressive, super heavy slab of Groove Metal pierced by angst ridden lyrics. It’s surely one of the band’s heaviest incarnations ever and they pack a mean sucker punch that must be enjoyed on full blast. ~ Rakesh Pothengil
48. Tremonti – Cauterize (Fret12)
Mark Tremonti returns with his sophomore solo effort, and not surprisingly shows continued growth as a songwriter and most notably as a singer. He is learning the nuances of his voice and taking ownership of his strengths. It should also come as no shock that Cauterize is a completely riff driven animal, including some extremely thrashy moments. There is a heavy, broody and menacing undercurrent through much of the record. It sets a dark tone for the record. A deeply introspective album from Tremonti, likely to make many a year-end list.
47. Crypt Sermon – Out of the Garden (Dark Descent)
Philly’s newest doom merchants, Crypt Sermon, began creating a buzz with their 2013 demo, MMXIII. Fronted by Trenchrot guitarist, Brooks Wilson, the guys have managed to put their own spin on classic sounds like Candlemass and Trouble along with American contemporaries like Solitude Aeternus. Out of the Garden is a spirited debut that highlights strong songwriting and precision performances, with plodding, heavy riffs and Wilson’s powerful and throaty vocals. A promising new voice for the genre has emerged.
46. Taipan – Straight From the Underground (Dead Sea)
One of the last entries onto this year’s list is the debut album from Taipan, a collective project featuring the talents of Aaron Rossi (Ministry, Ankla), Tony Campos (Soulfly, Static-X), Michael Black (Black Oil, Stone Faced), Sergey Lazar (Arkona), Sergey Tabachnikov (Nobody One), Chris Poland (Megadeth), Diana van Giersbergen (Xandria), Andrey Nova (Crimson Blue), and more. Straight from the Underground features some of 2015’s best crossover thrash, and is easily one of the year’s best collaborative metal projects.
45. Nile – What Should Not Be Unearthed (Nuclear Blast)
With its eighth studio effort, South Carolina’s Nile finds a return to form. After a couple of less than spectacular releases, the Karl Sanders and company reclaim their crown. Not that they ever fell very far, we just set high standards for the masters of the genre. Superb musicianship and triturating brutality set the pace for What Should Not Be Unearthed. This is an album less concerned with showcasing technicality than creating a dense and memorable beast. Nile has succeeded, making a record that is intelligent, extreme, yet accessible.
44. The Agonist – Eye of Providence (Century Media)
Fans of The Agonist may have been worried when the band announced a new vocalist in 2014, but the band’s first album with frontwoman Vicky Psarakis is as powerful and exciting as any of its previous efforts, and a world better than 2012’s jumbled Prisoners. The doors have been flung wide open on this record and guitarist Danny Marino has allowed his creativity to express itself as never before. Psarakis brings a breath of fresh insight and humanity to the record, and the entire band sounds rejuvinated and rededicated.
43. Raven – ExtermiNation (SPV/Steamhammer)
With ExtermiNation, Raven enters its fifth decade, and the vitality and fervor the band displays is contagious. The guys simply lambasted their instruments and their vocals are as powerful as they ever were. Raven may never have risen to the heights of their NWOBHM contemporaries, but it is not for a lack of quality songs or personal exuberance. ExtermiNation is a bulldozer of an album and Raven continues to keep the NWOBHM sound modern and relevant. The lunatics are stilling running the asylum and the fans are the fortunate benefactors of their high-spirited depravity!
42. Satan – Atom By Atom (Listenable)
41. Nightwish – Endless Forms Most Beautiful (Nuclear Blast)
Endless Forms Most Beautiful is not a perfect Nightwish album, considering the sense of commercial appeasement in sections of the record. But is it a distinctly alluring album? YES! Some of the songs here can get imprinted in the mind and heart permanently. Floor Jansen makes a stunning debut, and all the members of the band have contributed to this record so equally and unconditionally with all their heart, that one will feel their pulse while listening in; and that is a far bigger accomplishment. ~ Owais Vitek Nabi
40. Red Sun Rising – Polyester Zeal (Razor & Tie)
Throughout Polyester Zeal’s 11 tracks there exist numerable moments where the songs go a different direction than one might expect, or build in exciting ways. That is one of the most delightful aspects of Red Sun Rising’s music. They are not reinventing the wheel, but they do make the ride much more exhilarating. Polyester Zeal is one of the most exciting debut albums that rock and roll has experienced in recent years. Red Sun Rising is off to a brilliant start with this release, and those who have lamented the death of true rock music can rejoice at another hopeful example of the genre’s long overdue return.
39. Parkway Drive – Ire (Resist/Epitaph)
Australia metalcore quintet, Parkway Drive celebrated its 10-year anniversary with its fifth studio effort, Ire. I am admittedly not a big “core” fan, but these guys have always managed to set themselves apart from their contemporaries, and Ire displays another leap forward in the band’s growth. In can be difficult to blend melody and brutality, rage and beauty, but Parkway Drive excels here. They continue to innovate and push themselves, and while not all of their experimentation works, overall Ire is another coup for one of metal’s most underrated bands.
38. Battlecross – Rise to Power (Metal Blade)
The appropriately titled Rise to Power finds Michigan’s Battlecross on top of their game, delivering a record that is equal parts aggression and melody, bludgeoning heaviness and ass-kicking hooks. Tony Asta and Hiran Deraniyagala’s guitar pyrotechnics are simply infectious. Rise to Power is statement album for Battlecross who continue to demonstrate growth and confidence in their songwriting, and it shows in their ascension up the ranks of metal’s most promising talents.The band has planted its flag and its ready for war.
37. Bio-Cancer – Tormenting the Innocent (Candlelight)
Where so many other thrash speedsters have been getting it wrong these last several years, Greek upstarts, Bio-Cancer have stepped to the front of the line. The Athens based quintet put the thrash community on notice with its 2012 debut, Ear Piercing Thrash, but they have made good on their bold claims with an even worthier sophomore record, Tormenting the Innocent. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Bio-Cancer‘s newest record is the depth one might not have expected after seeing the old school cover. Every bit of Tormenting the Innocent is jammed with surprising nuances that the casual listener might not catch or appreciate, at least not consciously.
36. Enslaved – In Times (Nuclear Blast)
In Times is a well-accepted continuation to the band’s career. Enslaved have found more ways to sound different yet the same, which is hard to believe considering how long the band has been in existence. Seeing such an aged vessel still fighting alongside the younger crowd is refreshing in such a weird way. I can’t wait to see what these guys have in store for the next record. Until then, I’ll keep myself submerged with this fine work. ~ Jeffrey Allee
35. Eclipse – Armageddonize (Frontiers)
Just one of several projects fronted by Erik Martensson, Sweden’s Eclipse deliver a straight forward, addictive blend of melodic hard rock and 80s hair metal. With Armageddonize, the band has delivered another slab of infectious melodies with huge swooping choruses and memorable riffs. Martensson and his guitarist/songwriting partner Magnus Henriksson continue to lead the way for modern melodic hard rock contemporaries. Think Journey on steroids. Armageddonize takes the success of 2012’s Bleed & Scream and kicks it up yet another notch.
34. Rivers of Nihil – Monarchy (Metal Blade)
Pennsylvania continues to be a breeding ground for some of heavy music’s best new bands, and Rivers of Nihil is no exception. After the band’s notable 2013 debut, The Conscious Seed of Light, fans and critics were prepared for what is often a sophomore slump. Fortunately these upstarts of technical death metal assuaged our fears with one of the year’s most potent releases. Monarchy not only lives up to its predecessor, it eclipses it. The growth is easy to hear. Ripping guitar work and intriguing song structures push the record, and the production issues from the first record are long gone. A monstrous 2015 release.
33. Diemonds – Never Wanna Die (Napalm)
Dipped in the hair metal history of the 80s, this Canadian quintet is breathing new life into a genre beaten into submission during the grunge assault of the early 90s. Diemonds genuine love for old school hard rock and sleaze metal resonates throughout Never Wanna Die. There is a comforting familiarity to the songs here that make them instantly memorable. Diemonds have planted an infectious seed with Never Wanna Die that will grow with each listen. If you are looking for genre-defining originality you will not find it here, but if you are up for some sexy and hard-partying raunchy metal, Diemonds deliver in spades.
32. My Dying Bride – Feel the Misery (Peaceville)
England’s masters of melancholy, My Dying Bride, have once again created an album of weeping doom and gloom complimented by some symphonic and death metal elements. Feel the Misery, the band’s 13th studio effort, marks the return of founding member and guitarist, Calvin Robertshaw, whose fretful meanderings elevate the record. This is among the band’s best and most cohesive works since 1995’s The Angel and the River and 2001’s The Dreadful Hours. There is a strong emotional connection and sense of cinematic atmosphere throughout Feel the Misery that is perhaps most fully captured on the 11-minute closing opus, “Within a Sleeping Forest”.
31. Once Human – The Life I Remember (earMusic)
Former Soulfly and Machine Head guitarist turned producer, Logan Mader, emerges to the forefront again with his new band, Once Human. Mader and Australian vocalist Lauren Hart serve up one of the year’s best and most ruthless debuts. What began as a production deal for multi-instrumentalist Hart, became a chemistry fueled partnership for Mader. The Life I Remembered is packed with fantastic riffs and the songs vary the gamut of extreme metal. Hart manages both harsh and clean vocals, and Mader seems re-energized here. A potent and exciting release.
30. Michael Schenker’s Temple of Rock – Spirit on a Mission (Inakustik)
With each Temple of Rock album, Schenker’s latest brainchild becomes more of a cohesive band rather than just a vehicle for Michael, which is fantastic to see…and hear. Doogie White’s vocal prowess runs the gamut on Spirit on Mission, and the songs strike the right chord at each turn. Schenker remains brilliantly Schenker, and Findlay adds his own quiet magic. Michael Schenker’s Temple of Rock is a band that delivers flawlessly and with understated genius. Lest I wax hyperbole, I will simply say Spirit on a Mission is a monster rock and roll record created by masters of the genre.
29. Symphony X – Underworld (Nuclear Blast)
Four long years post-Iconoclast, New Jersey prog-metal masters, Symphony X return with the masterpiece that is Underworld. An album based around the theme of Dante’s Inferno. Michael Romeo and company continue to set the standard for their genre, balancing brilliant individual performances with inspired songwriting brought together in way that so many bands aspire to but fall far short of achieving. Underworld is another triumphant release for Symphony X.
28. Royal Thunder – Crooked Doors (Relapse)
Atlanta’s psychedelic groovers, Royal Thunder, return with their sophomore effort, Crooked Doors. This is classic stoner rock of the old school riffing fronted by the gritty and soulful voice of Mlny Parsonz. It seems clear the band is in a transition phase with Crooked Doors, but that does not take away from the ripe rewards of the music. This is a far more adventurous record then its predecessor, CVI which came out in 2012. It is, perhaps, less metal, and more hard rock, but the journey is equally enjoyable, and the future promise for Royal Thunder is understated.
27. Marius Danielsen’s Legend of Vally Doom Part I (Crime Records)
If Kai Hansen was indeed right, and what we need right now, is a miracle on our power metal Earth, Marius Danielsen’s Legend of Valley Doom is that miracle. Power metal fans, rejoice, you are not dreaming. There is a new name out there taking the concept that Avantasia utilized in the early 2000’s; bringing together names from all around the rock and heavy metal world into a solid metal opera with an epic story, and equally epic delivery. Norway’s Marius Danielsen has put together a stunning debut record with Legend of Valley Doom Part I. One of the best power metal records of 2015. ~ Mattie Jensen
26. Deafheaven – New Bermuda (Anti Records)
San Francisco’s Deafheaven is one of those “post-metal blackened whatever” bands I am loath to give credence to, but these guys set themselves apart with 2013’s Sunbather. It was an album that struck a visceral chord with many within and outside of the metal community. With New Bermuda, the band has made dynamic shifts that heavy up the sound and make bold declarative sonic statements. The album can be beautiful and vicious in equal measure, occasionally at the same time. While others may see this is a Top 10 affair however, there are a few slow and uninspired passages which drag the album down a bit.
25. Halestorm – Into The Wild Life (Atlantic)
As Pennsylvania’s Halestorm continue to grow as musicians, songwriters, and people, they have bucked the trend of chasing the formula for being true to who they are and living in and for the moment. Three years of fresh experiences have translated into an album thick with nuance and moods. You may not love every track on the album, but you have to respect their passion and commitment to being true to themselves and their art. With Into the Wild Life, Halestorm remains unpredictable, and as the album’s bonus track declares, unapologetic. Can I get an amen?
24. Intronaut – The Direction of Last Things (Century Media)
Los Angeles-based progressive metal outfit, Intronaut continues to set itself apart from its contemporaries. The Direction of Last Things is the band’s fifth full-length studio effort, and easily its most intriguing to date. Technical and complex while also heavy and driving, the band continues to showcase top-notch musicianship with textural diversity. This record is more energetic and expansive than 2013’s dynamic Habitual Levitations (Instilling Words with Tones). One can only enjoy and immerse while pondering where these guys might take us next.
23. Saxon – Battering Ram (UDR)
Saxon has always delivered solid if not thunderous slabs of memorable metal, but with Sacrifice and now Battering Ram, the band is showing a renewed sense of power and sonic charisma. Battering Ram can hold its own against any of Saxon‘s back catalog, with Byford’s iconic voice leading the charge. Nearly four decades on and 21 albums deep, Saxon are still creating headbanging fury for the metal faithful!
22. Paradise Lost – The Plague Within (Century Media)
England’s Paradise Lost continue to improve over time. The Plague Within proves again why Paradise Lost are considered the godfathers of modern doom and gothic metal. It’s got the heaviness, the atmosphere, the groove; everything a fan would want. The band returns in some sense to its earlier death/doom roots, but still retains its gothic overtones as well. ~ Owais Vitek Nabi
21. Amorphis – Under the Red Cloud (Nuclear Blast)
Finland’s Amorphis caps off its 25th year with its twelfth studio effort, Under the Red Cloud. Once again they showcase their mastery of blending melodic death metal with progressive and folk metal elements, and even some classic hard rock moments. It would be fair to pull out the overused term “epic” to describe this record. The band is firing on all cylinders here and Under the Red Cloud is something of a return to form after the slight let down of 2013’s Circle. They continue to experiment and challenge themselves and the listeners. Each track is a new and exciting journey.
20. Cattle Decapitation – The Anthropocene Extinction (Metal Blade)
San Diego’s Cattle Decapitation have continued to expand beyond their deathgrind roots with each of the band’s previous two albums. Now 15 years into their career, they have taken their most impressive step forward with The Anthropocene Extinction. There is a stark beauty rendered through the ugliness the band has created here. The album’s lyrical content takes a dark look at what man has done to its environment, and in a similar vein the music attacks the listener with unrelenting and brutal aggression.
19. Sylosis – Dormant Heart (Nuclear Blast)
Sylosis is a band that often gets overlooked when the topic of thrash comes up. Some might consider them a thinking man’s (or woman’s) thrash, and they blend in death metal and some core elements as well. With Dormant Heart, Sylosis have continued the band’s ability to deftly craft baleful thrashy riffs with fantastic melodic subtext. Josh Middleton‘s vocal work is inspired. As always, Sylosis has incorporated a good degree of technical and progressive elements here, and it all culminates in a record that is consistent throughout and exciting to experience.
18. Napalm Death – Apex Predator/Easy Meat (Century Media)
Napalm Death show no weakness in their resolve, confirming that they are indeed seeking to become the apex predator. Each listen becomes more devastating than the previous, bringing about an explosiveness and energy that is not easily matched. Apex Predator – Easy Meat will rip you to shreds and leave your sorry excuse for a corpse behind. Napalm Death prove that they are not to be taken lightly and seek to do so by obtaining the coveted “apex predator” title. ~ Jeffrey Allee
17. Horrendous – Anareta (Dark Descent)
If one were to put old school death metal and the word innovative together, they’d probably be talking about Horrendous. The East Coast trio manage to gather a myriad of eras and influences and bend them to their collective will. Horrendous returned this year with its third full-length offering and immediately made heads turn. Anareta is an extreme metal fans wet dream, and tracks like “Acolytes” and “Sum of All Failures” are cranium rattling porn. It’s clear that these guys have a true love of metal, and you can hear it permeate this record.
16. Nuclear – Formula for Chaos (Candlelight)
While casual thrash fans might have expected Slayer to top this year’s list, our top pick is a band that managed to out-Slayer, Slayer. With its fourth full-length studio effort, Formula for Anarchy, Chili’s Nuclear has built the best thrash beast of 2015. Formula for Anarchy mixes traditional thrash elements with an infusion of hardcore that steps on your throat from the opening riff and drum barrage. This is one meaty and brutal affair, and an open invitation to start a pit right in your own bedroom. It has taken Nuclear a decade or so to refine its signature, but make no mistake the band has indelibly made its mark with this record.
15. High on Fire – Luminiferous (eOne)
Frontman Matt Pike is back, (relatively) sober, pissed off, and not a little paranoid with High on Fire‘s seventh slab of crushing stoner/sludge. Kurt Ballou (Converge) handled the production as he did on 2012’s acclaimed De Vermis Mysteriis. One of the keys to High on Fire‘s success, which remains true on Luminiferous, is Pike’s incredible guitar tone and the trio’s immensely tight and persuasive performances. Tie that together with some of Pike’s best songwriting to date, and you have a 2015 standout metal release.
14. Gloryhammer – Space 1992: Rise of the Chaos Wizards (Napalm)
Gloryhammer has returned to save the galaxy with yet another fantastic power metal release, Space 1992: Rise of the Chaos Wizards. I don’t really think I can say this enough, but Gloryhammer is exactly what power metal needs. Hitting the scene only a few years ago with their debut release, Tales from the Kingdom of Fife, it only took a few days for word to get around the power metal scene of this hilariously talented group of green-armor-and-wizard-hat-clad men. Space 1992: Rise of the Chaos Wizards is another fund and brilliant step forward for these lunatics. ~ Mattie Jensen
13. Clutch – Psychic Warfare (Weathermaker)
While Psychic Warfare is not better than its predecessor, Earth Rocker, it is equally brilliant in its own way. Clutch has reached a point in its career where its less about innovation and more about sticking with what the band knows it excels at. Every album is simply a new reason to get back on stage, and many tracks on Psychic Warfare are built for live consumption where fans can truly appreciate what the band is about. This is another solid affair from a band that is comfortable in its sonic shoes.
12. Ghost – Meliora (Loma Vista)
Ghost has been among the most buzzed about bands for several years now, but with the release of the band’s latest effort, Meliora, the hype has taken them from the underground to the mainstream. The response has been typical of such bands, with a divisive split between fans and haters. Meliora has been hailed as brilliant or pandering with few people/critics in between. Papa Emeritus III and the Nameless Ghouls could care less about such controversy. The Swedish unit have made their third album their best, balancing psychedelic cult rock with doom metal for a heavy yet accessible album that is worthy of the hype.
11. Lamb of God – VII: Sturm Und Drang (Epic)
VII: Sturm und Drang vibrates with a caliginous intensity and edgy intelligence. Equal parts brutal and intuitive, this record is sonically and intellectually impressive though at times a bit uneven and caught up in musical predictability. While not the best effort in the Lamb of God canon, VII: Sturm und Drang is vital and visceral; packed with the meaty riffage and heavy grooves fans have come to expect, and some of the more intriguing lyrical tableaus Blythe has written about the extremes of mankind. In all, this is a strong return to form for Lamb of God.
10. Queensrÿche – Condition Human (eOne)
Queensrÿche‘s second studio album with new frontman Todd La Torre has squelched most naysayers about the band’s return to form. Condition Human picks up where 2013’s self-titled affair left off and finds the guys still turning out new songs that are faithful to their early years while also pushing them into fresh new directions. La Torre has satisfied most of his critics that he can not only deftly handle the classic material but adds his own depth and nuance to the new material as well. Condition Human is a win for the band and for fans.
9. Manimal – Trapped in the Shadows (AFM Records)
With Trapped in the Shadows, Sweden’s Manimal has delivered a dynamic, headbanging slab of riff-driven metal that feels both familiar and fresh. The record is well-produced without over-production, the artwork is fantastic, and Achim Koehler (Primal Fear, Brainstorm, Sinner) did an outstanding job with the mixing and mastering. It is almost sad that an album this impressive will go largely unnoticed by most hard rock and metal fans, but if you are reading this, you have no excuse for missing out on one of the year’s best heavy albums.
8. Tribulation – The Children of the Night (Century Media)
Sweden’s Tribulation play a unique blend of progressive death and black metal, and with The Children of the Night, the band’s third effort they have added psychedelic rock and even punk elements to the mix. Tribulation approached its newest effort with an ear toward minimalism, stripping things back to an organic base. The band has managed to blend extreme metal with the accessible aspects of fist-pumping, beer-chugging heavy rock. It shouldn’t work, but somehow it does, and that what makes this album so engaging.
7. Earthside – A Dream in Static (Independent)
Earthside have released what is easily the most powerful and majestic debut album of 2015. Grand and glorious, A Dream in Static is an album that transcends the genre of progressive metal, making it something bigger and more resplendent. Earthside even brought in guest vocalists guest Lajon Witherspoon (Sevendust), Björn “Speed” Strid (Soilwork), Eric Zirlinger (Face the King), and Daniel Tompkins (Tesseract) to add magnitude and depth. Words cannot express. You must hear this album for yourself.
6. Between the Buried and Me – Coma Ecliptic (Metal Blade)
Coma Ecliptic is an amazing journey into a coma patient’s mind and who better to take you in this journey than Between the Buried and Me. This album is one of the best works the band has produced. Right from the first song, when the upswell comes in, you know you are in for something special. From a musical perspective, this album is the most fun roller coaster ride I’ve been on. Between the Buried and Me have set the bar high with this effort and I don’t know how they can surpass what they’ve produced here, but that’s what I thought when I heard their last album. ~ Owais Vitek Nabi
5. Baroness – Purple (Abraxan Hymns)
One of the year’s final releases turned out, not surprisingly, to be one of its best. With Purple, Baroness returns equally passionate and rejuvenated, turning tribulation into triumph. John Baizley and Peter Adams are at their stellar best, and Sebastian Thomson and Nick Jost make a rousing first impression. Purple is majestic and elegant, steeped in bold chaos and melodic nuance: Baroness has delivered an emphatic aural rejoinder to adversity.
4. Iron Maiden – The Book of Souls (BMG/Parloplane)
One almost had to approach a 92-minute album from Iron Maiden with trepidation. The scope of the record is so large it takes repeated listens just to absorb the magnitude. Once that bridge is crossed though, it is difficult not to admire what this iconic band has created 40 years into its lofty career. With The Book of Souls, Iron Maiden has further cemented its iconic status among the rock and metal community. This record is but another grand and fulfilling chapter in a legendary career that is distinguished by deft musicianship, intelligent lyrics, and masterful songwriting. Kevin Shirley’s production is understated yet flawlessly brilliant. Whether The Book of Souls is the final chapter in Iron Maiden‘s impressive and historic catalog of music remains to be seen, but it is certainly among its most memorable offerings since the band’s seminal 80’s works.
3. A Sound of Thunder – Tales from the Deadside (Mad Neptune)
With Tales from the Deadside, A Sound of Thunder continues to find new ways to impress. Stunning vocal work and bombastic performances that fuel intelligently crafted songs continue to be the band’s modus operandi. The band has taken itself to a new level with Tales from the Deadside. Their collective passion for The Shadowman comic book story and their love of metal have combined to make one of the most dark and compelling records of 2015. A Sound of Thunder put everything it had into each track on this record, more so than any of their previous four efforts. There is more nuance to the instrumental performances and vocalist Nina Osegueda has once again proven why she is one of the reigning voices of heavy metal.
2. Judicator – At the Expense of Humanity (Divebomb)
This is one of those album’s that slipped quietly under the radar after its late winter release, but Judicator‘s third album, At the Expense of Humanity, is easily its best to date. Driven by the amazing voice of John Yelland (Disforia, Dire Peril) and multi-instrumentalist Tony Cordisco, Judicator are among the elite of power metal in America. If you were uninspired or less than impressed with the new Blind Guardian album this year, At the Expense of Humanity is the salve for your ears. Yelland’s powerfully personal lyrics and emotive vocal delivery make for one of metal’s most captivating records of the year.
1. Jorn Lande & Trond Holter present Dracula: Swing of Death (Frontiers)
At the heart of my passion for metal music there have always been addictive riffs and big melodies delivered by a dynamic vocalist. While most people have completely overlooked this record, when it landed back in January I immediately knew it would be among my top picks for the year. Jorn Lande can be hit or miss with the songwriting, but his voice is always amazing. This record finds he and guitarist Trond Holter creating the most memorable and engaging songs of their careers. Even the cheesy aspects to this record work within the context of the metal opera concept and the songs are simply infectious. There is not a weak track on Swing of Death. To be any more effusive in my praise would sound like hyperbole. I imagine that somewhere Jon Oliva is listening to this record with a mix of rapture and jealousy, wishing he had done it first. Records like Dracula: Swing of Death help keep the torch of melodic metal lit. Lande and Holter have matched imagination and talent to create a darkly whimsical and captivating metal opera. The only flaw on this record is it could have been a song or two longer.