I had an intro written and ready to go, reflecting on all the good and bad that heavy music in 2015 had to offer (mostly bad), but then I remembered that no one reads these long-winded, pointless intros. So, without further ado, here are eleven musical things (not just albums) that grabbed a hold of my crank and kept on yanking in 2015…
1. All the shit Revenge put out.
Revenge is one of the few bands out there who’s music still feels genuinely extreme to me. Sure, their profile has increased significantly over the past few years; they recently toured with Mayhem and Watain, not to mention recently signing with metal mega-label Season of Mist, but through it all they haven’t altered their filthy, ultra-violent sound or militant visual/lyrical aesthetic in the slightest, and it is this unwillingness to compromise that lands them on the very short list of artists that I not only enjoy listening to but also respect and admire.
Of course, one could argue that Revenge’s fifth album, Behold.Total.Rejection is their most dynamic and downright musical release to date, but “musical” by Revenge’s standards still makes for one hell of an ugly, abrasive onslaught. While their songwriting continues to evolve, the band still makes every effort to keep things well within the confines of the ear-obliterating paradigm they made their name on. It’s still the same all-out attack on the senses you’ve come to know from the band, yet there is a new-found level of nuance amidst the carnage.
The individual performances find Revenge at the top of their game; drummer/vocalist/mastermind J. Read sounds as feral and unhinged as ever, shredding his vocal chords while pummeling the living hell out of a kit that sounds like it could fly apart at any given moment, killing everyone within its blast radius, while guitarist/bassist Vermin lays down some of his gnarliest and most varied axe-work to date. Revenge still manages to sound vicious and hungry, putting many a young upstart band to shame with the explosive energy they pack into their performance.
Behold.Total.Rejection wasn’t the only Revenge assault for 2015; the band somehow managed to find time to release a split with the equally brutal and battering Black Witchery in the form of Holocaustic Death March to Humanity’s Doom. While Revenge’s contribution in the form of a medley of original tune “Humanity Noosed” and Bathory cover “Equimanthorn” is certainly no slouch, the real highlight is the trio of new songs from Black Witchery, which finds the band at their Blasphemy-worshiping ugliest.
2. Danzig releasing a woefully mixed bag of cover tunes.
I’m not really a big fan of cover albums, but I am what some might call a Danzig super-fan. So when I heard that ol’ Glenn was releasing an album’s worth of Danzig-ized versions of classic tunes, I was both excited and apprehensive. As it turns out, Skeletons is the very definition of a mixed bag; there are tracks here such as “Devil’s Angels” “Satan” and “Let Yourself Go” that I love, but others such as “N.I.B.” and “Lord of the Thighs” fall flat and the less said about “Rough Boy,” the better. It doesn’t help much that the production isn’t so great; I can only assume that Danzig was going for a raw sound, but while his voice sounds mostly great, the instrumentation beneath often comes off as muddled and lacking in energy.
So how did this hit and miss collection make the year-end top 11? 1. It’s Danzig, and I can always find something to enjoy in his work no matter what. 2. It makes for an interesting listen, which is much more than I can say for roughly 99.9% of the new-jack critical darling bands I subjected myself to in 2015.
3. The Black Metal Warfare Tour pt. 2 (because it’s still krieg to me, dammit).
Awesome shows have a bad habit of coming to the West Coast whenever I’m out of town on business. Such was the case with part one of the Black Metal Warfare Tour. As such, I figured I was officially screwed out of seeing Mayhem for the first time until their next album rolled around, and given the fact that they aren’t exactly the most prolific band out there (they’ve only released five albums in thirty years) I wasn’t exactly holding my breath. But fortunately the Norwegians once again teamed up with the infamous Watain for another go ’round, and best of all I only had to drive fifteen minutes to the venue as opposed to two hours down to the Bay Area.
Anyway, Mayhem was one of the bands I gravitated towards back when I was first beginning to explore black metal, so this was a very special night for me. With Attila Csihar, Necrobutcher and Hellhammer bolstering the band’s current incarnation, there was a hell of a lot of black metal history up on that stage and they sounded great as they plowed through the likes of “Funeral Fog” “The Freezing Moon” and “Deathcrush.” As cool as it was to see those crafty veterans in the flesh, credit must be given to newcomers Teloch and Chris Hedger for flawlessly recreating both Euronymous’ and Blasphemer’s singular riffing styles. Sure there will always be the “no Euronymous, no Dead, no dice” haters out there, but those haters missed out on one hell of a show from as close to the “classic” Mayhem lineup as you’re ever likely to see.
All that said, I have to give massive props to Watain for damn near stealing the show and proving once again to be a downright mesmerizing live act. Yes, I realize it’s not cool to like them anymore, but fortunately I’ve never been cool.
4. CHRCH putting out a debut album that instantly crushed all the weak-ass, boring doom that came out this year.
One of my biggest pet peeves with the current metal scene is the astronomical amount of shitty doom and sludge we get flooded with every year. Seriously, somebody needs to tell kids they can’t all be Tony Iommi or Stephen O’Malley or Jus Oborn or whoever’s style it is they’re aping these days. Fortunately, Sacramento)))’s own goddamn mighty CHRCH (formerly known as Church) released their debut album Unanswered Hymns this year and it immediately laid waste to all the half-assed attempts at slow ‘n’ low floating around out there.
But how did they do it? By emphasizing substance over style. By striking a perfect balance between heaviness and atmosphere. By writing dynamic songs that actually go somewhere, effortlessly taking the listener along for the ride. By creating something singular in a genre filled with lame copycat bands that couldn’t write an interesting riff if their lives depended on it. By being totally devastating on record and backing it up in spades each and every time they play live.
All of this is to say that CHRCH released the best damn doom album of 2015 and no other band even came close. Best get in on the ground floor now before these guys get huge.
5. Ignorant death metal runnin’ wild!
I enjoy death metal in all its wondrous guises (well to be honest I’m pretty tired of that murky, cavernous crapola) but some of my favorite DM is of the big, moshy and decidedly unsophisticated variety. Sadly, Dying Fetus didn’t put out a new album this year to satisfy my craving for this shit, but stalwarts Six Feet Under and Jungle Rot stepped up to the plate and brought the pain.
I’m still not exactly sure what Jungle Rot are doing on Victory Records, but if it gets their albums in the hands of more kid then more power to them. Regardless of what label they’re on, there are few bands in the game today that do Cro-Magnon death metal as well as this Wisconsin-based war machine, as proven by their eighth album, Order Shall Prevail. I’ve always had a soft spot for death metal bands from the Midwest (see also: Broken Hope) and Jungle Rot exemplifies the region’s stubborn, scrappy, blue collar attitude, refusing to evolve and seemingly existing only to chew bubblegum and kick ass (and they’re all out of bubblegum).
For whatever reason, folks love to talk shit about Jungle Rot; I guess it’s because simple, thrash-influenced death metal with songs you can actually tell apart has fallen by the wayside in favor of bands playing mushy non-riffs in a wind-tunnel and adorning themselves with oh-so-spooky occult imagery. Sorry, but I’ll take Order Shall Prevail‘s catchy, fun take on death metal any day of the week over the legions of poverty-level bands that wish they were Incantation.
SFU’s Crypt of the Devil is essentially Chris Barnes fronting Cannibal Corpse-worshipping weed freaks Cannabis Corpse, and given the growler’s well documented love of Mary Jane, this is surely a match made in hell. Indeed, the album continues Barnes’ attempts to inject his long-running band with some fresh blood, which began paying dividends with the double whammy of Undead and Unborn. As good as those albums were through, Crypt just might be the best thing they’ve released since 1999’s eternally underrated Maximum Violence.
The Cannabis boyz do a great job of staying true to SFU’s sludgy simplicity while at the same time infusing the material with just enough of an old school Cannibal Corpse vibe to get the blood pumping. Barnes’ patently putrid vocals sound even more grotesque than they did on Unborn and Undead; he’s continued to step up his game and sounds like he just crawled out of a worm-infested grave. It all adds up to one bludgeoning American death metal album that longtime SFU fans will dig and might even change the minds of a few haters.
6. Lycia releasing the year’s best non-metal album.
I have to be honest, I don’t listen to much outside the metal spectrum these days, but I do have a major soft spot for gothy/synthy/darkwavey stuff. As such, I was pretty darn stoked when Lycia came back from the dead with Quiet Moments in 2013. While that album was excellent in its own right, it was just a warm-up for the late-career masterpiece that is A Line That Connects.
Indeed, this is Lycia’s finest work since the classic Cold, an immense, immersive work that covers a variety of styles within the band’s bleak oeuvre and excels no matter what direction Mike VanPortfleet, Tara Vanflower and David Galas choose to take the music in. I could go on and on (and on and on) gushing about the greatness of A Line That Connects, but I doubt I could say it any better than I already did in my original review, so here’s a link.
As an added bonus, fans of this type of stuff would also do well to check out Shinju, a stellar 2015 split between lesser known darkwave practitioners Ars Phoenix and Burnt Hair (full review here).
7. Melt Banana uh, melting my brain live.
I’ve witnessed a metric fuck-ton of great live music since moving to the West Coast, but Melt Banana’s set at Harlow’s was by far the most fun I’ve had at a show in ages; their headlining set was a pure joy to behold that had me smiling so much my face hurt by the time they were through pummeling us with their patented noise/punk/alt/electronic assault. Again, I don’t think I could say it any better than I already did in my original review.
8. Sunn O))) getting back to their roots (droney roots) with Kannon.
After the stunningly ambitious Monoliths & Dimensions, the bizarre yet oddly enthralling collaboration with Scott Walker and the rather forgettable collaboration with the terminally overrated Ulver, it was a pleasure to hear Sunn O))) getting back to their roots with Kannon.
While some may see this album as a regression following the aforementioned trio of releases which saw the band pushing their sound into previously uncharted territories, I see it as a return to the core of what has always made Sunn O))) such a powerful musical entity. Indeed, by stripping the arrangements and instrumentation down to basics, Greg Anderson and Stephen O’Malley have proven that they don’t need an army of outside collaborators in order to create something absolutely massive.
This isn’t to say that Sunn O))) haven’t incorporated aspects of their more recent outings into Kannon; there is an increased level of musicality at work here, as well as a more nuanced overall approach that goes beyond the pure amplifier worship of say, 00 Void or The Grimmrobe Demos. The glacially paced, heavily textured music is aided greatly by the presence of Attila Csihar, who sounds like a cross between Nosferatu and one of those humanoid reptiles that conspiracy wackos think rule the world in secrecy. His otherworldly vocals perfectly compliment Sunn O)))’s penchant for chiseling alien soundscapes out of thick slabs of distortion.
While I’m still in the process of digesting this release, my only complaint about Kannon to date is that it feels painfully short at just thirty-three minutes. I could easily listen to a double album’s worth of this shit.
9. Car dancing to Eagles of Death Metal’s Zipper Down.
Mrs. IG and I do a lot of our music listening in the car and occasionally we’re moved to dance. While I have no doubt that this must look completely ridiculous to any passersby, it is my firm belief that you know you’ve found the right person to be with when you have no issues whatsoever with acting utterly silly in their presence. Zipper Down is the kind of album that makes me want to be silly; a fun, catchy, pure rock ‘n’ roll album that doesn’t aspire to be anything more because it simply doesn’t have to.
For those that have been living under a rock this year, Eagles of Death Metal is a collaboration between Queens of the Stone Age’s Josh Homme and his childhood friend Jesse Hughes, and when it comes to making great rock ‘n’ roll, these two go together like chocolate and peanut butter. While there are echoes of recent QOTSA to be found within Zipper Down, the album is by and large a much more stripped down, loose and traditionally rocking affair than anything Homme has produced with his more well-known band of late. This is no doubt due to the presence of Hughes, who brings a raucousness to the table somewhat akin to what Nick Oliveri once brought to Queens.
What I’m ultimately trying to say is, if you can’t uh, get down with Zipper Down, then you’re probably a soulless fun-hater and should go back to listening to the latest post-blackened doom crust band or whateverthefuck.
10. Ghost writing a perfect song in the form of “Cirice.”
I have to admit, I wasn’t totally sold on Meliora as a whole initially (it’s since grown on me like a fungus), but I knew there was something special about the album’s first single “Cirice” from the moment I first heard it. From its down-tuned, Sabbathy main riff to its ultra-earworm of a chorus, it’s the kind of song that gives me the chills every time I hear it, and at this point I’ve probably heard it a couple hundred times.
Sure, Ghost have written some great songs in the past such as “Year Zero” “Monstrance Clock” and “Elizabeth,” but “Cirice” is one of those rare perfect songs that will still sound as good a hundred years from now as it does today (although in all honesty Earth will probably be a smoldering pile of ash a hundred years from now and no one will be around to hear it). In a perfect world, “Cirice” would be taking the radio by storm and Ghost would be a million-selling sensation ala Nirvana, but unfortunately we live in the era where the vast majority of people find art and music to be as disposable as a McDonald’s extra value meal (except people are actually willing to pay for McDonald’s… the sooner this planet nukes itself out of existence, the better).
11. Baroness making this list go up to 11 with Purple.
Baroness’ tragic 2012 bus accident has already been well documented at this point; given the severity of the physical and emotional damage they’d sustained, it seemed unlikely that they would return any time soon, but return they did; upon recovering from his injuries, Baizley and co-guitarist Pete Adams recruited a new rhythm section and set about rebuilding the band. The end result is Purple, a triumphant comeback that sees them continuing to refine and evolve their craft to the point that it just might be their finest work to date.
Baizley’s increased emphasis on writing memorable hooks remains, but Purple also reintroduces some of the heaviness that was often absent on Yellow & Green. Songs such as “Shock Me” “Try to Disappear” and “Chlorine & Wine” strike a damn near perfect balance between metal, alternative rock and psychedelia, and as a result are among the most compelling songs Baroness has put to tape. In fact, there isn’t a single dud to be found on Purple; it finally feels as if they’ve found their sound after several albums worth of exploration.
Releasing an album as superbly crafted as Purple would be an achievement for any band; for Baroness its more than that. It is the sound of a band emerging victorious from the jaws of defeat and finding the strength to push forward in the face of a catastrophic event that would’ve left lesser artists irrevocably broken. It’s also the best damn rock ‘n’ roll album of 2015.
Some more albums I enjoyed in 2015 (no order):
Nihilistinen Barbaarisuus – The Child Must Die (Infernal Kommando)
Marduk – Frontschwein (Century Media)
Tsjuder – Antiliv (Season of Mist)
Clutch – Psychic Warfare (Weathermaker)
Paradise Lost – The Plague Within (Century Media)
My Dying Bride – Feel the Misery (Peaceville)
Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats – The Night Creeper (Rise Above)
Ufomammut – Ecate (Neurot)
Sewer Goddess – Painlust (Malignant)
Napalm Death – Apex Predator – Easy Meat (Century Media)
Archgoat – The Apocalyptic Triumphator (Debemur Morti)
High on Fire – Luminiferous (eOne)
Deafheaven – New Bermuda (Anti-)
Drowing the Light – From the Abyss (Dark Adversary)
Poison Idea – Confuse and Conquer (Southern Lord)
Nile – What Should Not Be Unearthed (Nuclear Blast)
Cattle Decapitation – The Anthropocene Extinction (Metal Blade)
Pale Chalice – Negate the Infinite and Miraculous (Gilead Media)
Enslaved – In Times (Nuclear Blast)
Cradle of Filth – Hammer of the Witches (Nuclear Blast)
Venom – From the Very Depths (Spinefarm)
Solefald – World Metal. Kosmopolis Sud (Indie Recordings)
Top 5 Caligari Records releases:
1. Bretwaldas of Heathen Doom – Seven Bloodied Ramparts
2. Negative Vortex – Tomb Absolute
3. Gloam – Hex of Nine Heads
4. Abjvration – The Unquenchable Pyre
5. Hadit – Introspective Contemplation of the Microcosmus
Few labels have been as supportive of IG as Caligari Records. Check out these top five releases and many more on Bandcamp.
Top 5 Shows that weren’t Melt Banana or Mayhem/Watain:
1. Ufomammut / Usnea / Lycus / Chrch @ Press Club
2. -(16)- / Brainoil / Kowloon Walled City / Chrch @ Starlite Lounge
3. Nocturnal Blood / Xenotaph / Black Horns / Torture Chamber / Defecrator @ Starlite Lounge
4. Incantation / Funerus / Mortuous / Plague Widow @ Starlite Lounge
5. There is no number five because I really didn’t go to that many shows this year… I really need to start going to more shows.
Well folks, I do believe that about wraps it up for the 2015 recap. Looking back on this now that it’s complete, I can’t believe what an impressive year it was for music. I mean, it was so loaded with awesome that I didn’t even get to listen to/spend nearly enough time with albums from the likes of Mgla, Ride for Revenge, Deiphago, Grave, Melechesh, With the Dead, Bosse-de-Nage, Killing Joke, Embrace of Thorns, Mastery, Genocide Shrines and Volahn to even think about giving them list consideration; where I come from that’s a pretty good year.
This exercise in vanity is dedicated to Christopher Lee, Dusty Rhodes, Roddy Piper and Lemmy Kilmister.
Top 5 Movies:
2. The Good Dinosaur
3. Jurassic World
4. Late Phases (ok, this is technically a 2014 release, but I didn’t see it until this year)
5. Crimson Peak
Top 5 TV Shows:
1. Jessica Jones
2. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
4. Ray Donovan
5. Ash vs. Evil Dead
Top 5 Professional Wrestlers:
1. The New Day (Kofi Kingston, Big E and Xavier Woods)
2. Bullet Club (AJ Styles, Karl Anderson, et al.)
3. Kevin Owens
4. Shinsuke Nakamura
5. Dudley Boyz
Top 5 fast food abominations of 2015:
1. Burger King’s Buffalo Chicken Fries
2. Long John Silvers’ Lobster Bites
3. Taco Bell’s Steak and Potato Boss Wrap
4. Jack in the Box’s Breakfast Burritos
5. Panda Express’ Spare Ribs