2015 EOY Album List


It was a strong year for black metal and a weak year for just about everything else. Iron Maiden released a new album. It was 90 minutes long. I lost interest before I got to disc 2 but kept listening anyway. Slayer released a new album. It's a re-visitation of their last six, just without Jeff Hanneman and Dave Lombardo. Ugh. It's depressing to think that the last good Slayer album is twenty-five years old. Lemmy died after a two-day battle with cancer. Motorhead is finished. It looks like Black Sabbath finally threw in the towel. They announced they're embarking on their final tour, titled "The End," from January to April 2016. Ugh.

With that said, let's get started.

1. We Lost The Sea - Departure Songs  

If We Stole The Sea had waited until January of 2016 to drop this album it would have been released 30 years to the month after of the destruction of The Challenger, which broke apart seventy-three seconds into its flight on the morning of January 28, 1986 and left nary a dry eye in America. The saga of this disaster is chronicled in this album to perfection throughout its last two tracks, "Flight" and "Swan Song," and I'll be goddamned if I've ever heard instrumentation chronicle a real-life event like this before. These two songs are the bread and butter of the album and the most emotional thirty-three minutes of music I heard all year. I swear, for me the album is as emotional itself as the event must have been (I wasn't alive to bear witness so I can't say for sure), but by the time the recording of Ronald Reagan's speech concludes at the end of "Swan Song" I find myself struggling to hold it together.

I found the album to have a real Godspeed You! Black Emperor - like quality to it, and in fact this year you could say We Lost The Sea released a superior Godspeed You! Black Emperor - like album than Godspeed You! Black Emperor did, as Godspeed's 2015's effort is a hard candle to hold in the cold December rain next to this roaring, dancing torch of an album.

This album chronicles not only the Challenger Disaster, but three other events:

In "A Galliant Gentleman": Lawrence Oats of the British Antarctic Expedition of 1910-1913, who contracted severe frostbite and, slowing down his party considerably, chose to sacrifice himself by walking into a blizzard to die so that his friends might move fast enough to leave with their lives.

In "Bogatyri": plant workers from Chernobyl who dove to their deaths to release a pressure valve in a radioactive pool beneath the reactor that if breached by the water would have caused a steam explosion, blanketing most of Europe in a radioactive cloud.

In "The Last Dive of David Shaw": David Shaw's record-breaking dive to discover the body of Deon Dreyer, a South African diver who had died in Boesmansgat ten years previously, in order to return the body to Dreyer's family.

Each song is a soundtrack to a story that encapsulates the honorable journeys or events throughout history where brave men and women have done extraordinary things for the greater good of those around them. These songs are filled with sadness and hope. They soar to great heights and sink to great lows. As Ronald Reagan said in his address to the nation following the Challenger Disaster, when he addressed the schoolchildren who watched the live coverage of the shuttle's take-off, "I know it's hard to understand, but sometimes painful things like this happen. It's all part of the process of exploration and discovery. It's all part of taking a chance and expanding man's horizons. The future doesn't belong to the fainthearted; it belongs to the brave."

2. Acherontas - Ma​-​IoN (Formulas of Reptilian Unification)   

There's a lot of filler material on this album that probably could have been edited out, though the band would probably claim it's all some ode to the occult. But the second track, the title track, "Lunar Transcendence & the Secret Kiss of Nut," "The Awakening of Astral Orphic Mysteries" and "Therionic Transformation" form the best black metal album I heard this year. And this has been a really strong year for black metal. It's been a weak year for about everything else, but a strong year for the dark arts, so this album topping the list is no small feat. It's all over the place, from horror atmospherics and unsettling spoken chants (in another language) to ambiance to melodic black metal. It feels very avant-garde, the vocals are strong, the production value is high, percussion is everywhere, and most importantly, it is captivating. I find myself wanting to revisit it time and time again, and there honestly weren't many 2015 albums I can say that about.  It's about as sinister as anything else out there right now.  Really, most black metal albums are relatively mild compared to this.

3. Enisum - Arpitanian Lands   

I don't think I've ever had two black metal albums in my top five. I just happened to stumble across this gem while I was listening to Sentimen Beltza's new EP, Atatxa, on YouTube, and this album popped up in the 'up next' feed. I'm glad I clicked on it!

There's surprisingly little about this band on the interwebs, but I did find out that they released two albums in 2006, Samoht Nara in 2014, and then this album. So this is their fourth. Needless to say, I've heard none of their earlier albums. But this one had me hooked from the start. Cascadian black metal meets early Alcest. The music is gorgeous and rich with atmosphere. Most of the tracks start off with a soft atmospheric guitar intro before the percussion leads into riffing and bass lines. But often we hear reprises of the intros throughout the tracks and recurring melodies take different forms with different tones. It's definitely of the post-black melodic Alcest-like metal that fans of the genre have been split on for the past few years (or I guess really, longer than that). I read that the band added a female vocalist to the lineup in 2014, and all the tracks that feature her are especially moody and emotionally charged. "Arpitanian Lands," Fauna's Souls," "Sunsets On My Path" to name a few.

No female vocals, but also recommended are "Desperate Souls" and "The Place Where You Died."

4. Sufjan Stevens - Carrie & Lowell   

From the time my cousin told me this album was going to be about the 2012 death of Sufjan's mother, Carrie, I knew it was going to be special. And about three minutes into the album when he sings "you'll never see us again," I prepared myself for a roller coaster of emotion. And the rest of the album delivered. Sufjan tore himself apart writing this album, pulling no punches and avoiding no inner demons - he tackles it all head on. Depression, addiction, suicidal thoughts, ghosts, masturbation, God of Elijah. It's all here laid out. For an artist who I've considered in the past to be hit and miss, I can say I think this is his finest and most consistent album to date, focused and dedicated. It's probably because of the extreme personal nature of it. This is such a personal album. Sufjan said himself, "this album is not my art project; this is my life."

5. Caspian - Dust and Disquiet   

Caspian's finest recording to date is You Are The Conductor, an EP they released in 2005. Not just Caspian's best, but one of the five best post-rock recordings ever released, and the greatest EP ever released. Yes, even better than Slayer's Haunting The Chapel and Godspeed You! Black Emperor's Slow Riot For New Zero Kanada. You Are The Conductor was a tour de force, and to be honest I've been waiting for Caspian to write something as magnificent ever since, and after four full-lengths and two EPs I'm still waiting.

However, this is Caspian's best full-length. And considering this is 2015, that's an impressive statement. A lot of genres are short lived, or relatively short lived. Thrash was birthed I guess in 1983 with Metallica's Kill 'Em All and Slayer's Show No Mercy, and it started its decline in 1987, a mere four years after its birth. (That's not to say there weren't some killer thrash albums released after 1987). The point being, there was a very short window in history for excellent thrash. Post-rock is a similar case. The genre really launched itself in the late 1990s and fell into decline about ten years later, around the time Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust came out, and today the stellar post-rock releases are just few and far between. There are three post-rock albums in my top 20 this year. In 2009 there were nine. That's why this album and Departure Songs are such breaths of fresh air. They are both examples of post-rock bands in full swing. They are doing their thing despite what the landscape of the genre looks like.

It becomes evident pretty quick that the band took the extra steps perfecting their sound from a sonic perspective. Nothing feels buried beneath walls of sound, even though some of the music borders on the metal side (like towards the end of "Arcs of Command"), and everything from the guitar tone to the cymbals crashing feels fine-tuned. While it may not have anything to do with the actual songwriting, mixing layer-upon-layer of instrumentation can be a real feat, and the excellence behind the mixing of Dust and Disquiet is something to be acknowledged. Mixing has always been one of Caspian's great strengths, but man, the mixing on this album is incredible.

6. Baroness - Purple   

The much awaited follow-up to the divisive Yellow & Green. Count me in the camp of those that loved Yellow & Green. Specifically, I thought the Green side was Baroness' best color yet. I admit I was hoping they were going to continue in that direction moving forward. Yellow was more like older Baroness except less sludgy and more "rocky." Green was bolder, and experimented with acoustic and psychedelic sounds, and I found “Psalms Alive,” “The Line Between,” and the interlude “Stretchmarker,” especially, to be awe-inspiring and the most gorgeous compositions of Baroness' career. But instead of continuing down the path of experimentation, Baroness revisited the two albums that launched them to prominence, Red Album and Blue Record, and fused the two together to make Purple. This album is heavier than the last, but a balance is created with the combination of heaviness, melodic interludes and rich atmospheres. The sound is very organic. "Chlorine & Wine" is probably the best song here, but "If I Have to Wake Up (Would You Stop the Rain)" is a great one too. This album won't disappoint anyone who was a fan of the band's first two, and if anything, fans of the first two should welcome the band's return to true form.

7. Black Oath - To Below and Beyond   

This is a fantastic doom album, just like Black Oath's last two. You won't find a better vocalist in a traditional style doom band than E.A. Zorath. He has some pipes! And the riffs. The tone isn't quite as heavy or chainsaw-like as on The Third Aeon, but still, what an album. This band is criminally overlooked. I never see them discussed anywhere. Check them out here:
Recommended to any fans of Candlemass, Procession or Solstice.

8. Julia Holter - Have You In My Wilderness   

I would like to stress the immediacy of pop music. It's a different animal altogether than the extremities of metal, which often requires a lot of work on the part of the listener to fully absorb and appreciate the sound polluting the airways. Metal can be like eating crab legs - it takes effort but the effort rewards. Pop is handed to the listener on a silver platter with a silver spoon on the side, allowing for easy consumption. This album is immediate musically. It's pure chamber/dream pop. Not bitch pop, which is what the radios love so much. No, this is pop I can get into. Damn if it's not dark lyrically. I've yet to dedicate the necessary time to the lyrics to really figure out the narrative, but I will say, I love the lyrics to "Feel You." They're dark and sobering, and the song feels very lonely. A lot of this music feels very lonely.

It's impossible to see who I'm waiting for, in my raincoat.

Also, I always love to hear saxophones. There are certainly no "Jungleland" - like sax passages in this album, but what we hear in "Sea Calls Me Home" is just enough to give the album a real musical flare that most pop albums lack.

9. Vanum - Realm of Sacrifice   

If members of Ash Borer and Fell Voices can't be working on new Ash Borer and Fell Voices albums, I guess they might as well be writing music for a side project. But seriously, any fans of the two aforementioned bands should check this album out. Melodies lead the way in a melancholic style of black metal, though there is less atmosphere here than on an Ash Borer or Fell Voices disk. Plenty of rapid-fire tremelos and riffs to go around.

10. Akhlys - The Dreaming I   

For all the black metal listeners that shy away from symphonic black metal for being too soft and cheesy, The Dreaming I is a workaround that should shatter any doubt that it's possible to simultaneously have a ton of atmosphere without sacrificing heaviness and violence, and in this case, terror. I think this album was created with a compilation of nightmares. It's Lustmord or Aghast meet early Blut Aus Nord.

This album is available on the band's bandcamp page for 6.66 Euro.

11. Batushka - Litourgiya   

This is Batushka's debut, and man, what a unique experience. They combine baritone/bass orthodox chants in Russian (even though the band is Polish) with a brutal mixture of black and doom metal that really floors the listener.

12. Iron Maiden - The Book Of Souls   

As much as I hate to say it, even though I recognize the musical merits of Iron Maiden's music post-turn of the century, it doesn't pull me in like their music of the 80s and 90s did and continues to do. This is a better album than The Final Frontier, Dance of Death, and maybe A Matter of Life and Death. It's probably Maiden's best album since Brave New World. It's strange considering I enjoyed The Final Frontier more at the time of its release in 2010 than I do this one now, because this is by all accounts better. I think it's just a matter of my tastes evolving. I can still listen to their classic tunes and find myself fully engaged just like I always was, but maybe it's because all their classic tunes are burned into my brain and will be there for my reminiscence and enjoyment no matter how old I get.

With that said, there are enough tracks here that I enjoy to give this album a spot here. "Empire of the Clouds" is probably their most experimental track to date, and is absolutely gripping, entertaining and emotional. I love the piano. It might as well be a soundtrack for a movie. I also enjoyed the opening track, "If Eternity Should Fail," as well as "The Red and the Black," which has some classic Maiden anthems and solos that old school fans should enjoy. I just don't know why they felt compelled to riff on and on and on and on and on. Thirty minutes could have easily been trimmed out of this.

All things said, Iron Maiden is on their fourth decade of output. They have been active (consistently) for five. How many bands can boast that?

13. Ahab - The Boats of the Glenn Carrig   

Ocean obsessors and self-described Nautik Funeral Doom metallers Ahab have returned after releasing the best doom metal album of the lest five years in 2012 to tell the William Hope Hodgson tale about a few shipwreck survivors who encounter some strange creatures at sea...

14 Triumvir Foul - Triumvir Foul   

The first death metal album of two on the list. The band's name couldn't be more appropriate. The music is foul.

15. Godspeed You! Black Emperor - ‘Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress’   

For this album, considering it's a Godspeed You! Black Emperor album, I feel like I shouldn't be justifying why it's in my top 20, but rather trying to explain why it didn't finish higher. This is easily the band's weakest release to date. It's depressing.

There are a few things going on here. Mostly, there is a certain lack of freshness: much of the content on this album has been available for years in the form of live recordings. The band has been playing “Behemoth” live since they reunited in 2012. It's been a live staple for them. I've heard them play it live twice. "Peasantry or 'Light! Inside of Light!'" is a studio recording of "Behemoth," which wouldn't be an issue in and of itself if there was other material here to compensate, but there's not. After ten and a half minutes of a song we've already heard, we get a heaping double dose of sixteen minutes of drone. "Lambs' Breath" and "Asunder, Sweet" successfully kill any momentum the recording of "Behemoth" built, so that by the time the final track, "Piss Crowns Are Trebled," rolls around we are tired and to be truthful apathetic.

I don't know why Godspeed has become so enamored with drone since 2012, because it doesn't, in my opinion, compliment their music as much as the band might like to believe. There is a place for it, but insisting that two of four tracks on an album be drone, as with this album and 'Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend!, seems like drone overkill. They could at least make it interesting by throwing some melodies in there somewhere or layering in some sound samples.

"Piss Crowns Are Trebled" is the reason why this album is #15 on this list. I would recommend that first-time listeners give this album a spin all the way through once, to understand what I mean about all the droning, but on revisits to listen to the first track and then skip to the last. The last track is, admittedly, a nice payoff. And it's the only fresh, well written material on the album. Gone are the days of Godspeed dropping eighty minutes of perfect, original material.

They should have released one album after reuniting with "Mladic," "We Drift Like Worried Fire," "Peasantry or 'Light! Inside of Light!'" and "Piss Crowns Are Trebled" on it, or some similar variation thereof. That would've been an album consistent with the Godspeed of old.

16. Lluvia - Eternidad Solemne   

This is a cold, raw, harsh, hypnotic and haunting record. The interludes of rain give it a feel of destitute. Such as in "Enterriamiento en la lluvia." Fallen Empire Records keeps putting out good ones.

17. Florence and the Machine - How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful   

Another stellar album from the bombastic Florence Welsh, only this time there is even more attention to musicality and unorthodox instrumentation (for an indie pop band). There are strings and brass! Overall I think Ceremonials is Florence's most well-written and well-rounded release to date, but I have yet to be disappointed by any of her work.

18. Ævangelist - Enthrall to the Void of Bliss   

Not many bands are gifted enough to make a harp sound evil.

19. King Woman - Doubt (EP)   

I knew this EP was going to be good thirty seconds into "Wrong." Even before the beautiful voice of whoever she is sent me into a trance.

20. Vastum - Hole Below   

In 2011 when Carnal Law came out, which I thought was a demo but is now being called a full length, Vastum made a real splash in death metal. Now they're one of the better death metal bands out there. This is the band's third excellent release.

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