Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 1

So, here we are. I’ve made it. One month and over 30,000 words later, my ‘Album Of The Year 2015’ Top 30 countdown comes to an end. It has been challenging, tiring and occasionally frustrating but well worth the effort. I have enjoyed the banter, the more serious conversations, the arguments and the positive comments that this series has created. But best of all are the comments from people who say that they have discovered or re-discovered a particular band thanks to one of my posts. This is exactly why I do this.

People ask me why I don’t just write a simple list and put it out there on the Internet. It would be simpler I admit but then, those that know me know that this isn’t the Man Of Much Metal’s way. And it certainly isn’t the Blog Of Much Metal way either. Each and every band that features in this list has spent months creating great music for us all to enjoy. Therefore, the least I can do is spend a decent amount of time giving credit where it’s due and explaining why I feel so passionately about these albums. Giving something back to the music that has given me so much is what I and this blog is all about.

If you’ve stuck with me throughout this series, I offer one last heartfelt thanks to each and every one of you. If you’re new and like what you read here, be sure to spread the word and check out the other 29 albums in my list via the links at the end of this post.

But enough of all that. Let’s get down to business. Ladies, gentlemen and children of all ages and of discerning taste, I give you my gold medal choice for 2015, the best album of a strong year for the music I love…

Number 1

earthside coverEarthside
‘A Dream In Static
Independent Release

I thought long and hard before awarding this album the title of ‘best album of 2015’. I mean, could I really award the title to a debut album from an unsigned band? But then I came to my senses, severely chastised myself and here we are.

Earthside, from New Haven, Connecticut, are comprised of drummer Ben Shanbrom, keyboardist Frank Sacramone, guitarist Jamie van Dyck and bassist Ryan Griffin. And together, they have put together a stunning album that is an utter delight and one that arguably breathes new life into the genre of heavy metal. Not content to plough one narrow musical furrow, instead the quartet have made it their mission to explore numerous different styles across the rock/metal spectrum and beyond all the while managing to keep the end product cohesive and, above all, enjoyable. You could call Earthside’s music progressive metal, djent, cinematic and symphonic or experimental…personally, I just call it damn good music.

Earthside have proved with this release that you can be ambitious, challenging to yourself, challenging to the listener and yet manage to emerge from the other side triumphant. There isn’t a moment on ‘A Dream In Static’ that is messy or clunky or even ill-advised. It all fits perfectly in spite of the myriad of influences at play and what’s more, the end product is absorbing, memorable and extremely addictive.

Photo Credit: Ian Christmann http://ianchristmann.com/
Photo Credit: Ian Christmann http://ianchristmann.com/

One of the elements of Earthside’s success is undoubtedly the unwillingness to rush the end product and to compromise in any real way. As I discovered when I interviewed Ben Shanbrom prior to the album’s release, Earthside have been around for a number of years, working away in the background to hone their craft and perfect their music away from prying ears and the lure of the limelight. In this day and age, it is all too easy to produce music, put it out on the internet and wait for the world to love you or loathe you. Very little thought often goes into the detail; the detail of learning to play your chosen instrument properly for example. And, even for those who are wizards at playing, the detail of honing song writing skills and having a clear vision for the band can be overlooked. This isn’t the case with Earthside – they’ve seemingly thought of everything. The result is ‘A Dream In Static’.

I knew from the moment that I heard ‘The Closest I’ve Come’ that something special was brewing. I had to wait what seemed an inordinately long time before I was finally able to hear the album in it’s entirety but believe me, it was worth the wait. In fact, for those of you familiar with my presence on social media, this choice won’t be the biggest surprise of your lives. I have waxed lyrical about the record over the past few months and I don’t see any reason for that stance to change any time soon.

If you’re after a really detailed look into the individual songs on ‘A Dream In Static’, please check out the review that I wrote for it around the time of it’s release. In addition, for more background about the band, check out my 2-part interview. Links to all three are as follows:

‘A Dream In Static’ Album review
Earthside Interview – Part 1
Earthside Interview – Part 2

For now, for this post, I’ll try to keep things brief. Note the word ‘try’ in that last sentence.

The album kicks off in stunning fashion with ‘The Closest I’ve Come’. In keeping with much of the album, it is an instrumental track but it oozes class and keeps things interesting by frequently altering the tempo, toying with differing levels of complexity and adding an urgent sense of drama via an inspired use of light and shade. One minute it’s heavy, the next it’s quiet and gentle. And, at the 1:30 mark, it explodes with the most gloriously epic melody you’re likely to hear for a while. Spine-tingling stuff indeed.

The title track follows and, featuring TesseracT’s Daniel Tomkins on vocals, it is equally as good as the opener. It is a groovy, djent-heavy beast that features more sumptuous melodies that are impossible to resist. ‘Mob Mentality’ which features Sevendust’s Lajon Witherspoon behind the microphone also boasts the talents of the Moscow Studio Symphony Orchestra and if you’re looking for a complex and moody film score-like feel to it, this is the song you’ve been dreaming of. Gargantuan and bruising, yet precise and subtle, it is a composition that has to be heard to be believed.

‘Entering The Light’ is the shortest track on the album but is also one of the most striking given its demonstrable urgency and the inspired inclusion of a hammered dulcimer courtesy of Max ZT to provide the song’s central melody. Then there are other compositions like ‘Crater’ featuring Soilwork’s Bjorn ‘Speed’ Strid, one of my all-time favourite metal vocalists, ‘The Undergrounding’ with its Meshuggah-like chugging riffs and ‘Contemplation Of The Beautiful’ which is an epic track full of highs and lows that ends with the mother of all crescendos, enhanced by an emotional and committed performance from the final guest vocalist, Eric Zirlinger (Face The King, ex-Seer). Hell, who am I trying to kid, every single track on ‘A Dream In Static’ is a killer and deserving of all the praise that is bestowed upon them.

Going back to my opening paragraph, it belatedly occurs to me that one of the reasons why this record is so exciting is absolutely because this is Earthside’s debut album. Prior to this album, the name ‘Earthside’ was known only to a select few but, given the staggering quality of ‘A Dream In Static’, it is a name that is being talked about more and more with each passing day. Enlisting the services of a full orchestra, convincing the likes of Daniel Tomkins and Bjorn ‘Speed’ Strid to participate and then to be able to have the whole thing mixed by David Castillo (Katatonia, Opeth) means that Earthside must be doing something right.

The mind boggles at what on Earth the band will deliver next time out. However, that’s for another day. For now, let us revel in the sounds, the textures, the emotions and the atmospheres of ‘A Dream In Static’.

In closing, I’d like to quote my original review, as the sentiment remains as true now as it did then: ‘‘A Dream In Static’ is not perfect but it is very close. It is one of the most intense, challenging and ambitious recordings I have heard in a very long time. I’m not a gifted musician, so I prefer to reflect on how albums make me feel; Earthside’s music elates me, excites me and delivers something new on each and every listen. On that basis alone, mark my words, Earthside are going to be huge. A band of this talent, dedication and focus that has produced something as jaw-dropping as ‘A Dream In Static’ as a mere introduction to the metal world cannot possibly be anything else. And you know what? They thoroughly and unequivocally deserve everything coming their way. Bravo gents, bravo.

Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 2
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 3
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Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 24
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 25
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 26
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 27
Album of the Year 2015 – Number 28
Album of the Year 2015 – Number 29
Album of the Year 2015 – Number 30

And from previous years:

Album of the Year 2014
Album of the Year 2013
Album of the Year 2012

Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 2

Welcome to the penultimate post in my ‘Album Of The Year 2015’ Top 30 countdown. If you’re new to this series and have missed my previous choices, be sure to check out the links at the bottom of this post.

And to the regulars who have stuck with me from the start of this epic endeavour, thank you.

And now to the main event…

Number 2

STS coverSwallow The Sun
‘Songs From The North’
Century Media Records

It’s a rather big statement to make, but it’s true: Swallow The Sun are, without doubt my very favourite band from Finland. It is a love affair that began over a decade ago when I heard the band’s debut album, ‘The Morning Never Came’. Ever since then, I have followed the sextet closely and I can honestly say that they have simply got better and better over the years. Have they ever released an album that’s substandard or even anything less than excellent? Don’t be silly, it’s Swallow the Sun after all, a bona fide leader of their particular genre of symphonic and melodic dark doom metal. It might have been a self-coined phrase but the strapline of ‘gloom, beauty and despair’ hits the nail on the head and describes the musical output of the band perfectly.

It’s always a positive sign when the period between releases drags on and, in the case of Swallow The Sun, the three years that has passed since the release of the last studio album, the sublime ‘The Emerald Forest And The Blackbird’ has felt twice as long. But finally, our patience has been well and truly rewarded because ‘Songs From The North’, album number xx is not just a studio album. It’s not even a double album. That’s right, ‘Songs From The North’ is a triple-disc release. Something so ambitious shouldn’t really surprise fans of Swallow The Sun though, because attention to detail, professionalism and offering fans the very best is what the band have been about ever since their inception.

Credit: Photo by Jussi Ratilainen Photography
Credit: Photo by Jussi Ratilainen Photography

The opening disc contains the most familiar Swallow The Sun sounds, namely expertly-crafted melodic doom metal that really deserves the aforementioned ‘gloom, beauty and despair’ description. Disc two then changes tack rather markedly by delivering a moodier, more atmospheric and calm acoustic side of the band before the final disc bludgeons the listener with a monstrous and crushing slab of epic funeral doom metal.

The triple disc offering is always something that divides opinion; there are those who think that such a thing is too much whilst others welcome the generous fare, lapping it up with gusto. I’ll admit that ‘Songs From The North’ contains a lot of music to plough through, but plough I have and what an immensely gratifying and enjoyable experience is has been too. To begin with, I have to admit that the first disc containing the more ‘classic’ Swallow The Sun music was my favourite of the three but less and less so the more I have listened, to the point where I genuinely enjoy all three discs almost equally. If my life depended on it, I’d still pick the opening disc but by not very much at all; in fact it’d take a threat of physical violence to be perpetrated upon me to even jump off the fence in any meaningful direction.

In true Swallow The Sun style, disc one is nothing short of a masterpiece, a tour-de-force of extreme metal. Chock full of crushingly heavy riffs, sublime melodies and the dual clean/gruff vocals that have become such an important part of the band’s sound, Swallow The Sun have arguably never sounded so elegant, sorrowful and powerful. And, in keeping with the Finn’s subtle evolution, there’s a reintroduction and even an increase in some of the newer elements explored on the predecessor including acoustic guitars and an increase in female vocals. Every composition delivers something wonderful but the likes of ‘Heartstrings Shattering’, ‘Lost And Catatonic’ and ‘From Happiness To Dust’ are utterly glorious in every way, sending shivers down my spine every time I listen.

Then we’re confronted with the acoustic disc and, after a few minor misgivings, has blossomed beautifully. The eight compositions are each full of subtlety and elegance as well as a more sombre, thought-provoking and haunting atmosphere. Disc two also has a very poignant and sensitive feel to it as if the hearts of the band themselves are laid bare. The melodies come to the fore on this disc, executed in the main by expertly-played acoustic guitars and piano. The drums, bass and keys remain integral features but in a much more reserved manner. Vocalist Mikko Kotamäki abandons the growls and allows his clean delivery to soar. Tracks such as ‘The Heart Of A Cold White Land’ or ‘Away’ are beautiful and are vaguely reminiscent of another of my favourites, Katatonia.

And then disc three, comprised of five tracks all nearing or in excess of ten minutes each, are a sheer masterclass in crushing and uncompromising funeral doom metal. As many of you will know, this more uncompromising form of doom metal is not normally a favourite of mine but Swallow The Sun work their magic here. The pace is slowed, the heaviness is increased and you’re left battered and bruised by an intense but immensely satisfying extreme metal pummelling. And yet, for all that, even at their most uncompromising, Swallow The Sun allow a hint of their melodious intent to seep into their output. The result is tracks like the breath taking ‘7 Hours Late’ which presses all my buttons or ‘The Clouds Prepare For Battle’ which closes the whole release in about as stirring and powerful a manner as it’s possible to achieve.

If there was any doubt about the near-genius of Swallow The Sun, ‘Songs From The North’ eradicates them in a heartbeat. Swallow The Sun are on fire here, proving once again that they are, in my humble opinion, the masters of ‘gloom, beauty and despair’. Sublime, peerless and untouchable.

Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 3Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 4
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 5
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Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 25
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 26
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 27
Album of the Year 2015 – Number 28
Album of the Year 2015 – Number 29
Album of the Year 2015 – Number 30

And from previous years:

Album of the Year 2014
Album of the Year 2013
Album of the Year 2012

Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 3

Into the top three now, so it’s getting very serious at this point. Want to know who wins the bronze medal for 2015? Then wait no longer…

Number 3

Kingcrow eidos coverKingcrow
‘Eidos’
Sensory Records

Those who know me will not be at all surprised to find so much progressive music within this list and today, as we near the summit of 2015, I bring you another prog metal album that has well and truly rocked my world. I remember discovering Kingcrow a few years back around the release of ‘Phlegethon’ when I reviewed that album for Powerplay Magazine. I wasn’t overly keen on it at first but after a little perseverance, it grew on me to the point where I now really love it. I have therefore kept a close eye on Kingcrow ever since. And, based on the music contained within 2013’s ‘In Crescendo’, a release saw itself rightly nestled within my Top 20 that year, it has been clear for a while that this is a band well and truly on the ascent.

The difference between ‘In Crescendo’ and this, the Italian metallers’ sixth album is that ‘Eidos’ has an almost intangible magic about it all of its own, a certain something that resonates deeply with me and as such has held me captivated ever since its release. It is, stylistically, quite similar to previous releases and so ‘Eidos’ has just about everything; melody, complexity, ambition, professionalism and lashings of drama and emotive atmosphere. It is also one of the most elegantly constructed and sophisticated records of 2015 as far as I’m concerned.

Courtesy of: Devilnax Photoart, Christian Nastas Photo
Courtesy of: Devilnax Photoart, Christian Nastas Photo

The latter comes, in part, from the sophisticated and deeply emotional lyrical themes that are explored on the album. The concept completes a trilogy that began with ‘Plegethon’ and continued on ‘In Crescendo’. These two records looked at life from the perspective of a child and a youth respectively, whereas ‘Eidos’ takes the perspective of a grown man, looking back at his life and the decisions he has made. The concept is reflected in the stunningly dark and powerful cover artwork and is brought to life wonderfully by the highly talented vocalist Diego Marchesi. If, like me, you can look back and identify a wrong decision, a missed opportunity or a dark period at some point in your life, the lyrics suddenly strike an even bigger chord and make a lot more sense. That’s not to say that the lyrics are exclusively melancholy or regretful in tone as they are not; if you listen carefully enough, an undercurrent of hope and positivity becomes much clearer.

One of the most impressive things about Kingcrow and ‘Eidos’ however, is the way in which the compositions are so subtle when it comes to the ‘progressive’ aspect. There can be no doubting that Kingcrow are a prog band and as such, there are occasions where the complexity really comes to the fore to challenge the listener. However, a lot of time, the technicality is almost hidden within the compositions. You see, Kingcrow understand that it is important to write songs first and foremost; songs that the listener will get drawn to and enjoy. Once hooked, then Kingcrow go to work and those clever little embellishments, time signatures, key changes and everything else begin to reveal themselves.

With every listen you discover something new but from the very first spin, you’re left in no doubt that you’ll love it. Much of this has to do with the rich and warm-sounding production which pulls you in from the beginning, not to mention the ingredient which has become something of a Kingcrow trademark: the acoustic guitars. Coupled with some really majestic keys and synths alongside the more standard metallic fare, the acoustic guitar is a masterstroke, providing the material with a much more organic and unique flavour, in keeping with the band’s Latin roots.

Earlier in the year, I conducted a mammoth interview with principle song writer and guitarist Diego Cafolla where we chatted about many things including a track-by-track breakdown of ‘Eidos’. Therefore, should you feel sufficiently intrigued to know more about each individual track, check out the interview via the following links:

Part 1
Part 2

However, to offer a little flavour of the album here and now, tracks such as ‘Adrift’ boast huge melodies that hit me immediately and remain powerful after several months of continuous listening. On the other hand, songs like the quirkier ‘Slow Down’ take longer to make their mark. Lead single ‘The Moth’ creates a bold and compelling introduction for the album thanks to some great riffing, superb drumming and a strong chorus. Elsewhere, ‘Open Sky’ slows the pace majestically whilst ‘At The Same Pace’ creates real drama, blending the heavy with the quietly subtle. To gratuitously quote a review I penned for another publication, this track ‘builds steadily before metaphorically jumping off a cliff face at the midpoint, plunging into an atmospheric and emotional abyss of subtle beauty’. The combination of acoustic guitars, powerful piano and expressive guitar solos is nothing short of sensational.

And then there’s the epic closer ‘If Only’ which is peerless; it is sensitive and beautifully melodic building to a powerful crescendo via an uplifting and infectious chorus that underlines my point about the hope and positivity that’s present but often hidden within the music.

For many reasons, ‘Eidos’ is, to me, a very special and magical album. Each and every track is more than satisfying from a purely musical point of view, whilst the lyrical concept is exceptionally powerful and multi-faceted. Quite simply, in a year that has been exceptionally strong for progressive music, Kingcrow have delivered one of the very best. The phrase ‘criminally underrated’ was created for a band like Kingcrow but I maintain the strong hope that ‘Eidos’ will finally create the buzz and ultimately the success that this band richly deserve. Don’t be mistaken, Kingcrow are one of the best and most intelligent prog metal bands out there and are ignored or overlooked at your peril.

Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 4
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 5
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Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 25
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 26
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 27
Album of the Year 2015 – Number 28
Album of the Year 2015 – Number 29
Album of the Year 2015 – Number 30

And from previous years:

Album of the Year 2014
Album of the Year 2013
Album of the Year 2012

Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 4

Welcome to Day 27 of my ‘Album of the Year 2015’ top 30 countdown. Be sure to check out my choices from 30 down to 5 via the links at the bottom of this post if you’ve yet to do so. Or, if you’re a longer-term reader, thanks for your continued support. And remember, please keep the comments coming – I love them all, both positive and negative and will do my best to reply to them all.

And, with that, I give you today’s main event:

Number 4

Sym X coverSymphony X
‘Underworld’
Nuclear Blast

Symphony X are one of those bands that just polarises opinion. Just about everyone who likes progressive metal will agree that the American band are one of the very best at what they do and that they are comprised of some of the most talented musicians in their field. However, where the disagreement comes is with regard to the musical direction that Symphony X have undertaken during their eight album, 21-year career.

It goes without saying that each and every album contains within it some stunning music but there are those that much prefer Symphony X’s earlier, more neo-classical style output and will hail ‘Divine Wings Of Tragedy’ as their masterpiece. Others prefer the heavier, angrier and grittier output that has typified more recent releases such as ‘Paradise Lost’ or ‘Iconoclast’. And it is rare that those in either camp will budge or concede any ground.

Credit: unknown
Credit: unknown

I may have got it all wrong but I appear to be one of those apparently rare beasts that enjoy both and is relatively non-committal when it comes to picking a favourite Symphony X album. For me, I enjoy tracks like ‘The Accolade’ as much as ‘Children Of A Faceless God’. I make no apologies for it as I can hear the brilliance in either. But that might change now with the release of ‘Underworld’ because to these ears, it is the almost perfect blend of the two styles, creating an absolutely monstrous album in every sense of the word. As such, I’m beginning to think very strongly that ‘Underworld’ may be Symphony X’s tour-de-force.

With ‘Underworld’, guitarist Michael Romeo approaches the status of genius thanks to his song writing ability and the way that he commands absolute obedience from the guitar whether it’s via his riffing or lightning fast solos. Messrs LePond (bass), Pinella (keyboards) Rullo (drums) are all highly talented and then up top, Symphony X are blessed with one of the best voices in heavy metal. Russell Allen is the kind of frontman that most bands can only dream of. Allen can sing beautifully and with genuine power one minute and, at the flick of a switch, can produce a much grittier, snarling vocal delivery. This is one of the areas of most contention amongst fans – melodic Russ versus ‘angry’ Russ. Again, I don’t understand the militant opinions either way because both deliveries have their merit and, on ‘Underworld’, they are both showcased to magnificent effect. Allen offers plenty of melody and understated subtlety where the compositions require it but also gives it some ‘oomph’ when the heavier passages demand a less relaxed delivery. What a combination.

When you listen to ‘Underworld’ properly and carefully, it quickly becomes clear why some of the band members themselves have been quoted as suggesting this is the best album of their career and I find it very hard to disagree with this assertion. ‘Underworld’ delivers absolutely everything that is so great about this band and a lot more. ‘Angry’ Russ compliments the heavy and uncompromising riffing within ‘Kiss Of Fire’, one of the album’s heavier tracks. That said, for all of the other moments of brutality and aggression, the overwhelming tone of ‘Underworld’ is altogether smoother and more melodic than it’s direct predecessors.

One of the possible reasons for this is the slightly greater prominence this time around of Michael Pinella’s keyboards. They’re not always front and centre or in-your-face, but they do lend the compositions a marginally softer edge whilst increasing a sense of sophistication and majestic, theatrical intent.

Naturally, for a Symphony X record, there are plenty of Michael Romeo’s blazing solos that light up the songs and delight listeners who, like me, have a real weakness for the excesses of the six string, particularly when executed as impressively as this.

But arguably the strongest aspect of ‘Underworld’ is its melodic sensibilities. Aside from a couple of the more aggressive songs on this record, the compositions are littered with wonderful and memorable melodies, be they within the choruses, via an imaginative lead line or courtesy of Allen’s vocals.

The album’s lead single ‘Nevermore’ displays an upbeat tempo underpinned by great rhythm work from drummer Jason Rullo and bassist Mike LePond that gives way to a huge chorus that genuinely grows with each and every listen. In the tradition of the likes of ‘Accolade II’, ‘Without You’ is one of the best ballads that Symphony X have ever committed to a record whilst ‘Charon’ is deceptively catchy given time to work its subtle charms. Then there is ‘To Hell And Back’ which is simply stunning. It is nearly ten minutes long and yet it flies by in a blur of great riffs, an abundance of neo-classical ingredients and a chorus to die for.

It feels almost unfair to not mention the remaining tracks but aside from the marvellous ‘In My Darkest Hour’ which plasters a goofy grin across my face, suffice to say that there simply isn’t a weak moment to be heard anywhere on ‘Underworld’.

Could ‘Underworld’ be the album that finally unites all of Symphony X’s fans both old and new? I don’t know and, to be honest, I don’t care. All I care about is how unbelievably good this album is. There is an almost tangible magic to be heard as if the stars have aligned and bestowed their celestial powers upon Symphony X. And, if I might be forgiven for directly quoting a review I wrote for this record in another publication, ‘‘Underworld’ is a gargantuan body of work by one of the very best bands in the progressive metal genre. Quite simply, it’s a joy to have bands like this is our lives and we should lose sight of this at our peril.’

Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 5
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Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 26
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 27
Album of the Year 2015 – Number 28
Album of the Year 2015 – Number 29
Album of the Year 2015 – Number 30

And from previous years:

Album of the Year 2014
Album of the Year 2013
Album of the Year 2012

Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 5

Well, here we are, into the final five places in my ‘Album of the Year 2015’ Top 30 countdown. Are you excited? I hope so. It has been a long journey to get to this point – late nights, early mornings and very little sleep in between. But it has been worth it, because it gives me the opportunity to do one of the things that I love the most: write about great music and those artists that deserve all the attention that they can get.

As always, a quick reminder that if you’re new to my blog, you can check out each of my choices from 30 down to 6 via the links at the bottom of this post. But without further ado, I give you the first entry in my Top 5 for 2015…

Number 5

vanden plas coverVanden Plas
‘Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld II’
Frontiers Records

I have been a fan of Germany’s Vanden Plas. Ever since I discovered the enlightened path of progressive metal in my early 20s, Vanden Plas has been a constant musical companion. Theirs is a name synonymous with quality and as such, their entire back catalogue is worthy of your fullest attention. However, I’m here to talk about the 2015 release, ‘Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld II’, not the brilliance of other releases like ‘The Seraphic Clockwork’ or ‘Beyond Daylight’ as just two great examples. Or ‘Christ 0’ or even ‘Far Off Grace’ as another two.

Happily, given their position at number 5 in my list, it goes without saying that ‘Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld’ is magnificent. It is everything that you’ve come to want and expect from such a class act and more besides. AS the title suggests, it is the second of a two-part series of albums and in many ways continues both thematically, lyrically and musically where it’s predecessor ‘Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld’ left off just last year. That record deservedly made it into my Top 10 of 2014 and garnered much praise within the review that I wrote for it, which can be read here if you so wish.

Credit: Unknown
Credit: Sandy Huber

However, if anything, ‘Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld II’ is even better. In saying that, there’s nothing that I can specifically point to in order to prove this statement. Instead, as brilliant as ‘Part I’ was, ‘Part II’ just has a slightly bigger aura to it, a feeling of an increased majesty and all of the component parts that make up the modern Vanden Plas sound are dialled up to 11 and delivered with a consummate professionalism, the kind of delivery that comes only from a band that ooze confidence and understand innately what they are trying to achieve.

I also reviewed ‘Part II’ for this blog and, for the sake of brevity for this post, I’ll just offer the link to it here: ‘Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld II’.

So, why am I giving this record a spot in my Top 5 of 2015 exactly, and what can listeners expect? Well, the first thing to say is that had this record been released earlier in the year, it might well have been even higher in my list, it’s that good. For me, it is the utterly mesmerising blend of progressive heavy metal alongside an increased cinematic and theatrical sheen. Unlike many other progressive metal bands, the guitars are properly crunchy, the rhythm section contains a real bite and together, they create a glorious racket that assaults the ears throughout. In addition, the riffs are a mix of the complex and the gratuitous headbanging fodder which I like too.

Then there are the other elements which Vanden Plas add with aplomb without ending up sounding overly pretentious or cheesy. The keyboards are nothing short of brilliant, adding layers of richness to the already impressive sonic tapestry. Subtle one moment then all-out cinematic bombast the next, it is a great combination that compliments everything else within the compositions. Add to the melting pot some choral vocals as well as an occasional female voice to duet with Andy Kuntz and what you have is something rather special indeed.

Speaking of Mr Kuntz, his vocals are another reason for the strength of this release. Messrs Stephan Lill (guitars), Andreas Lill (drums), Torsten Reichart (bass) and Günter Werno (keyboards) all deliver the goods but Kuntz adds some passionate, heartfelt and powerful icing to the already impressive cake.

And after all that, I’ve not even mentioned one of the biggest strengths of ‘Netherworld II’: the melodies. Time and again, Vanden Plas manage to create music that’s complex, multi-layered and ambitious in the extreme but they never forget how to pen a proper tune. ‘Netherworld II’ is no different in that respect. Each and every one of the nine tracks on this record contain a chorus or a melody that will get stuck in your head in true ‘earworm’ style. That’s what keeps fans coming back for more and Vanden Plas understand this fully, delivering time and again.

For a full breakdown of individual tracks, please head to my in-depth review. In the meantime, for this post, I will conclude with the same conclusion I made within that review as it sums things up perfectly: ‘…‘Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld II’ is a killer slab of adventurous, anthemic and sophisticated progressive metal. It cements the band’s place as a genre leader and shows what is possible when five musicians come together with a shared vision as well as the hunger, desire and willingness to produce something that clearly comes from the heart. I adore this band and you should too. Glorious stuff.’

Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 6
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 7
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 8
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 9
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 10
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 11
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 12
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 13
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Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 15
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 16
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 17
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Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 20
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 21
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Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 24
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 25
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 26
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 27
Album of the Year 2015 – Number 28
Album of the Year 2015 – Number 29
Album of the Year 2015 – Number 30

And from previous years:

Album of the Year 2014
Album of the Year 2013
Album of the Year 2012

Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 7

Those of you who were out last night celebrating the end of 2015 and welcoming in 2016, spare a thought for me. So dedicated am I to the rock and metal cause that I spent the night at home, continuing with my ‘Album of the Year 2015’ top 30 countdown. Of course, it might also have something to do with having two children under four, one of which who was ill and a dog who was scared of the fireworks…but I prefer the former excuse. It makes me sound more dedicated and hardcore. Besides, the choice for this post is an absolute belter and begged to be written.

As always, a reminder to new readers that my choices from 30 down to 8 can be accessed via links at the bottom of this post. The choices cover a wide range of different styles within the rock/metal world, so hopefully there’ll be something new to discover or something to disagree with me about. I look forward to hearing from you!

So, let’s not leave you in suspense any longer. My choice at number 7 is…

Number 7

riverside coverRiverside
‘Love, Fear And The Time Machine’
InsideOut Music

Those more familiar with my blog and my tastes will know that Riverside and I share an interesting, some might say ‘chequered’ history. I was blown away by the Polish prog rockers’ debut record ‘Out Of Myself’ but from then on, my love affair waned as the albums came and went. ‘Second Life Syndrome’ was good but not great, whilst I felt like a lone voice in the wind in disliking the overly heavy and melody-lacking ‘Anno Domini High Definition’. It got to the point where I was no longer interested in what the Poles were doing anymore. I knew that here was a talented band that I wanted to like but apathy reigned supreme. That is until I was forced to listen to ‘Shrine Of New Generation Slaves’, to review it for Powerplay magazine. I’m glad I did listen too, because it remains a very good record indeed. Naturally, with interest restored, I looked forward rather eagerly to album number six, ‘Love, Fear And The Time Machine’.

After about two spins, I told my boss at the day job that I wasn’t keen and felt a little let down. This was foolish in the extreme and far to presumptuous on my part. I hadn’t given it enough time. As such, I was on the verge of prematurely shelving it and with it, my rediscovered admiration for Riverside. A few more attentive listens however, and this initial disappointment was well and truly banished, like a naughty child. ‘Love, Fear And The Time Machine’ is, in fact, arguably the quartet’s best release to date.

Credit; unknown
Credit; unknown

Each album from Riverside offers something a little different from what went before. In this case, the response was to distance themselves from the overtly 70s influences that dominated ‘Shrine…’. Instead, this record shares much more with the 80s, as admitted by Mariusz Duda himself in interview. As a result, the keys are not quite so dominant, with the bass and six-string guitar playing a much more prominent role. The other noticeable difference is the further increase in the melodies and the immediacy of the compositions. Sounds like a bit of a contradiction given my early dislike of the record but there is certainly a greater focus on strong melodies and powerfully-written compositions that stick in the mind long after the album has finished. That and the fact that this record sounds rich, warm and inviting.

The album opens up with the neo-prog rock sounding ‘Lost (Why Should I Be Frightened By A Hat?)’ and from that moment on, there’s no let-up in the brilliance delivered by ‘Love, Fear And The Time Machine’. ‘#Addicted’ is a gorgeous track, hugely influenced by the ‘Out Of Myself’ era whilst ‘Caterpillar And The Barbed Wire’ begins with a bass riff and vocals before building into a delightfully melodic track with a killer elongated synth-led outro. ‘Saturate Me’ takes its time to develop but features some excellently rich guitar riffs and solos alongside an incredible chorus melody. ‘Afloat’ on the other hand, takes things down a notch but is made all the more special by some of Mariusz Duda’s best vocal work to date.

The aforementioned theme of ear-catching melodies continues throughout ‘Love, Fear And The Time Machine’. Lead ‘single’, ‘Discard Your Fear’ is in the running for one of the best songs of the year thanks to a wonderfully addictive chorus whilst ‘Towards The Blue Horizon’ and ‘Found (The Unexpected Flaw Of Searching)’ take it in turns to bring me close to tears.

Special mention has to go to ‘Found…’ because it holds a special place in my heart. It has been a tough year in many ways for me and so the entire album which deals with the conflicting emotions associated with making an important, life-changing decision resonates with me. However, it is this final track with the line ‘It’s a lovely life, you have gone so far don’t give it up’ followed by ‘It’s a lovely life, gotta go with what you think is right’ that has had the biggest impact on me. At moments where I felt like I couldn’t see the wood for the trees, I’d play this song and I would find a little more inner strength to go alongside the floods of tears. For that reason alone, I thank you Riverside.

Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 8
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 9
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 10
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 11
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 12
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Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 24
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 25
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 26
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 27
Album of the Year 2015 – Number 28
Album of the Year 2015 – Number 29
Album of the Year 2015 – Number 30

And from previous years:

Album of the Year 2014
Album of the Year 2013
Album of the Year 2012

Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 8

On New Years Eve, I present you with my choice at Number 8 in my annual ‘Album of the Year’ countdown. Unbelievably, this is post number 23 in this series, a series that has departed from previous years in that it has been extended to a top 30 rather than a top 20. One reason for this is that I’m a masochist. The other is that 2015 has been too damn excellent to limit the output to just 20. Too many great and worthy releases would have missed out.

If you’re new to this series, please be sure to check out my picks from 30 down to 9 via the links at the bottom of this post.

If you’re a regular, thanks for sticking with me. I hope you’re enjoying the series and hopefully, you might have discovered something new or been persuaded to return to a previously overlooked record. Either way, keep the comments coming as I love the interaction and debate that such a list can generate.

Anyway, on to the main event…

Number 8

leprous con coverLeprous
‘The Congregation’
InsideOut Music

In just seven short years, Leprous have gone from an unknown band to genre leaders. It seems unlikely but that, to my mind at least, is exactly what Leprous have managed. In 2008, very few people knew the name Leprous; in 2015, their name is spoken with a certain amount of awe and reverence. No-one else sounds quite like Leprous and as such, the word ‘unique’ is rightly used when referring to the Norwegian progressive metal band. Sickeningly, the core of the band remain relatively young, boding well for a lengthy career and even worse, having interviewed the band a couple of times, they are really nice people, with their feet firmly on the ground.

Fotograf Henrik Fjørtoft
Fotograf Henrik Fjørtoft

It is fair to say that every album differs ever so slightly from the last and so each of the preceding three full-length records offers a marginally different approach. This trend continues with album number four, ‘The Congregation’ which again treads a subtly different musical path. Nevertheless, once heard, you’ll never mistake them for anyone else. Some may raise an eyebrow or two on a first listen as this record stands out due to its increased accessibility. Leprous have always been a band that explores the darker and bleaker aspects of life and ‘The Congregation’ is no different. However, the material on this record is definitely more immediate, almost catchy with plenty of strong melodies throughout. Initially there’s a feeling that the compositions may not be quite as quirky and challenging as previous material. Rest assured that this feeling is only fleeting and is banished swiftly once the album has been repeated a few times; Leprous do not do ‘normal’ or ‘ordinary’ where the music is concerned. ‘The Congregation’ is definitely technical, complex and quirky but in a much more subtle and refined way.

Frankly, ‘The Congregation’ is an album that only a band at the very height of their powers and brim-full of confidence could possibly have recorded. And, in spite of a couple of frustrating line-up changes, the results are stunning.

Opener ‘The Price’ offers a near-perfect blend of quiet, introspective calm and explosive all-out metallic bombast, held together by some strong melodic moments. Vocalist Einar Solberg is one of the reasons why Leprous sound like no-one else; his is a delivery that is beguiling and powerful, verging on the surreal and almost unhinged at times. And ‘Third Law’ benefits from one of his strongest performances yet as well as a chorus which is a real delight thanks to a genuinely anthemic chorus.

It’s impossible to mention every track individually. Suffice to say that there’s not a weak moment anywhere on the record. Stand-out moments however include ‘Rewind’ which is part prog metal and part modern post black metal workout whilst ‘The Flood’ features one of the band’s strongest choruses that helps to transform an otherwise intense and claustrophobic song into a sing-along anthem that’s truly addictive. If that wasn’t enough, there’s also the synth-heavy, ponderously-paced and darkly hypnotic ‘Slave’ which is breath-taking. It has a wild and unkempt beauty to it, but there’s a feeling that there’s more to come and it inexorably builds to a savage conclusion.

Oh and then there’s the simply-titled ‘Down’. It is another sensational composition that drips with genuine emotion, joining a chorus that will have you hooked and coming back for more time and time again.

What else is there left to say? I love Leprous and have done since their debut, ‘Tall Poppy Syndrome’. If my life depended on it, I’d have to say that ‘The Congregation’ is both my favourite disc yet and the band’s strongest release to date. However, that’s like being asked to choose between the sublime and the exquisite. It’d no wonder that Leprous is one of the first names that springs to mind when I’m asked to recommend high quality progressive metal. Leprous are truly special and ‘The Congregation’ fully deserves its place in this year’s Top 10.

Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 9
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 10
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Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 24
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 25
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 26
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 27
Album of the Year 2015 – Number 28
Album of the Year 2015 – Number 29
Album of the Year 2015 – Number 30

And from previous years:

Album of the Year 2014
Album of the Year 2013
Album of the Year 2012

Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 10

And I’m back! After more food and drink than it’s socially acceptable to admit to, I’m ready to crack on with my ‘Album of the Year 2015’ top 30 countdown. It has been a long journey to this point but I’m finally beginning my Top 10. Given the strength of 2015, you can rest assured that the albums that feature from now on are truly special and worthy of their lofty position in this list.

Of course, there will be those that disagree, so if you’re one of them, tell me why & who you think should be featured. But I hope a few of you will agree or be intrigued enough to check the music out if you’ve not already done so. After all, that’s why I do this.

As always, if you’re new to this blog or have missed a few instalments, links to each post from 30 down to 11 can be found at the end of this post.

However, enough rambling, lets find out who bags the first slot in my Top 10…

Number 10

ATP coverAbnormal Thought Patterns
‘Altered State Of Consciousness’
Lifeforce Records

There have been two instrumental albums that have rocked my world this year – this one and the new Arcade Messiah. Both are sophomore releases and both are superb. However, it is Abnormal Thought Patterns that gets the nod for the simple reason that I’ve lived with this record for several months now and it just doesn’t cease to entertain and delight – in fact, if anything, it just gets better and better. ‘Altered State Of Consciousness’ sees the light of day just two years years after the debut ‘Manipulation Under Anaesthesia’ but in that relatively short space of time, ATP have seriously upped the ante and have delivered something that sends shivers down my spine and totally entrances me from start to finish.

If you’re familiar with the technical prog metal of Zero Hour and more latterly, the atmospheric beauty of Cynthesis, you’ll already have a rough idea of how this album sounds. In keeping with the aforementioned bands, ATP features Jasun Tipton and his brother Troy on guitar and bass respectively. However, joining the insanely talented twins are drummer Mike Guy and newest recruit, Jason Montero on guitar. Abnormal Thought Patterns is therefore ostensibly an instrumental quartet that in many ways, is a hybrid of the two aforementioned acts in that it combines the heaviness and technicality of Zero Hour with the more atmospheric leanings of Cynthesis.

ATP Band 2

Or, to put it another way, ATP features technicality of the highest order, intense playing, heavy djent-like riffs, bundles of atmosphere, memorable melodies and some of the most spine-tingling lead guitar work I have ever heard. Blending fast playing with slower moments, it is both highly emotive and heart-breakingly beautiful proving beyond doubt my long-held hypothesis that when a guitar truly sings, there are few sounds on this Earth that are better.

‘Distortions Of Perception’, opens the album and sets the tone beautifully, full of brooding intensity, stellar musicianship and a central melody to die for. That said, it’s the following ten minutes in the shape of ‘Nocturnal Haven’ that steals the show for me. In a real change of pace for ATP, the track boasts a guest vocal appearances from Between The Buried And Me’s vocalist Tommy Rogers who growls and sings his way through this epic and genuinely progressive track. Additionally, guitarist Jeff Loomis (Arch Enemy, ex-Nevermore) offers a little of his personal six-string magic to the song. From quiet and introspective to all-out extreme metal, ‘Nocturnal Haven’ also contains some of the most emotionally intense and beautiful music that the prog genre has ever created. Hyperbole? Not a chance, not even slightly. This monstrous piece of music is replicated later on the album but without vocals just to prove the point that it works just as well as an instrumental.

This isn’t the end of an impressive list of guest musicians because ‘Synesthesia’, in addition to being blessed by some of the best bass-work I’ve heard in years, also welcomes Michael Manring (Into Eternity) and Jon Onder (Artension) as guest musicians.

It’s difficult not to wax lyrical about ‘Altered States Of Consciousness’, such is its power and intensity. Why the name of this band is not shouted from more rooftops than it currently is, is beyond me. This is seriously good music for the discerning music fan that demonstrates that it is possible to be technically proficient bordering on the self-indulgent and yet still create deep and meaningful music that can touch people.

Want to find out more about Abnormal Thought Patterns? Check out my in-depth interview with Jasun Tipton that I conducted, right here.

Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 11
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 12
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 13
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 14
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 15
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 16
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 17
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 18
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Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 23
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 24
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 25
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 26
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 27
Album of the Year 2015 – Number 28
Album of the Year 2015 – Number 29
Album of the Year 2015 – Number 30

And from previous years:

Album of the Year 2014
Album of the Year 2013
Album of the Year 2012

Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 12

Another day and another entry into my ‘Album of the Year 2015’ top 30 countdown. Just when I thought that I might run out of steam in the lead up to Christmas, I press play on the album that’s subject to today’s post and the juices start to immediately flow. When the music is this good, it begs to be written about. As we inch ever closer to the top 10, I feel reinvigorated and ready to tell the world all about the best music to be released in 2015. And what an insanely strong year it has turned out to be too. I’m writing about albums way outside the top 10 this year that in any other year would have easily bagged a top 5-10 slot; yup, it’s been that good.

If you’re new to this blog or this series, don’t worry, links to each of my choices from 30 down to 13 can be found at the bottom of this post. Enjoy!

Number 12

soilwork TRM coverSoilwork
‘The Ride Majestic’
Nuclear Blast Records

Love them or loathe them, Soilwork have grown into one of the most important and influential bands within the burgeoning melodic death metal scene. I, of course, love them and have done ever since stumbling across them via ‘Steelbath Suicide’ circa 1998 when I was trying my best to buy up everything that that this particular genre could offer me. Up until this point, I’d have to refer to ‘Natural Born Chaos’ as the Gothenburg quintet’s finest hour and is a record to which I return frequently. I mean ‘Soilworkers Song Of The Damned’, c’mon that’s a killer composition, as are ‘Follow The Hollow’ and ‘Black Star Deceiver’. However, the decision just got harder in 2015 thanks to ‘The Ride Majestic’ which is unquestionably a special album with magic coursing through its veins.

Predecessor ‘The Living Infinite’ was an enormous and ambitious double-disc statement of post Peter Wichers intent. By contrast, ‘The Ride Majestic’ is the more honed and polished follow-up which proves that Soilwork, whatever the line-up and whatever is thrown at them, can go toe-to-toe with the very best within the melodic death metal genre.

Credit: Hannah Verbeuren Photography
Credit: Hannah Verbeuren Photography

The title track is a true statement of intent and a brilliant way to open up the album. Its strength is simply that it features a little bit of just about everything that Soilwork is known and loved for. Vocalist Bjorn ‘Speed’ Strid growls venomously and croons so majestically, flitting between the two so smoothly. And then, surrounding his vocal gymnastics is nothing short of a heavy metal anthem that builds out of a quiet clean guitar melody into an infectious, full-power riff before launching into a catchy, hook-laden chorus that immediately grabs the attention.

Soilwork have always been known for their big, almost pop-like choruses and if I’m honest, this is one of the big attractions for me; Soilwork know how to get their tunes lodged in the heads of their fans that’s for sure. On ‘The Ride Majestic’, it feels like this aspect of the band’s sound has been taken to a whole new level though, as there are catchy melodies and hooks all over the place.

‘Death In General’ benefits from a chorus that’s more immediate than a slap around the face whilst ‘Petrichor By Sulphur’ delights thanks to a pre-chorus and chorus that keeps giving whilst injecting a touch of melodic hard rock into the track. And then there’s ‘Enemies In Fidelity’ which features some of the most spine-tingling vocal work ever committed to disc by Strid. I’m not joking either, trust me.

All that being said, don’t for one minute think that Soilwork have gone soft, because they certainly haven’t. Indeed, their more extreme metal tendencies remain present and correct. Even within the more catchy numbers there are plenty of heavy, sharp riffs as well as blast beats and fast aggressive tempos – everything that the average metalhead will lap up. And then, just for good measure, there are the altogether more feisty and less melodic numbers, including ‘Alight In The Aftermath’ which is a harder, more savage beast than the aforementioned, as is ‘Phantom’ which dials up the black metal influences thanks to the caustic and raw feel to the staccato riffing.

And I cannot leave this album without mentioning the closing track, ‘Father And Son Watching The World Go Down’. Not only does it contain some of the most infectious melodies, it is an epic track that also dabbles with doom metal to great effect. It’s a stunning song.

I remain just a little unsure, even after several month of listening but I’m still mulling over the conundrum of whether ‘The Ride Majestic’ is Soilwork’s best work to date. The fact that I am still considering it must mean that it pushes ‘Natural Born Chaos’ very close. And it’s for this reason that ‘The Ride Majestic’ swaggers with ease and aplomb into my top 30 of 2015.

Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 13
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 14
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 15
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 16
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 17
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 18
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 19
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 20
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 21
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 22
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 23
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 24
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 25
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 26
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 27
Album of the Year 2015 – Number 28
Album of the Year 2015 – Number 29
Album of the Year 2015 – Number 30

And from previous years:

Album of the Year 2014
Album of the Year 2013
Album of the Year 2012

Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 14

It’s beginning to get serious now as I enter the second half of my ‘Album Of The Year 2015’ Top 30 countdown.

Thanks to my regular readers who have remained loyal throughout this barrage of new posts. And, if you’re new to the Blog of Much Metal, welcome! Please feel free to check out my picks from 30 down to 15 via the links at the bottom of this post.

In any normal year, this record would have been way higher in my list. However, given the strength of 2015, I award the number 14 spot to…

Number 14

PL coverParadise Lost
‘The Plague Within’
Century Media Records

I’ve been a fan of Bradford’s Paradise Lost for a lot of years. I discovered them via their seminal album, ‘Draconian Times’ but was quick to delve further back in time, discovering other gems in their back catalogue. To this day, the criminally underrated ‘Shades Of God’ remains my favourite Paradise Lost album, so it is with genuine joy and excitement that album number 14, ‘The Plague Within’ offers a few nods in the direction of this record as well as many others, principally from the band’s earlier days.

After the foray into more Gothic pop-rock and electronic sounds, I had dreamed for an album like this but even after a return to heavier climes via ‘Faith Divides Us – Death Unites Us’ (2009) and ‘Tragic Idol’ (2012), I never dared to put voice to my hopes. And yet, in 2015, here we have Messrs Holmes, Mackintosh, Aedy, Erlandsson and Edmondson’s heaviest and arguably most varied release for a long time. The darkly-monikered ‘The Plague Within’ sounds modern and fresh, yet manages to pay homage to just about every era of their past. As such, it’s nothing short of glorious.

Credit: unknown
Credit: unknown

Album opener, ‘No Hope In Sight’, is nothing short of a monster of a track that sets the tone for the entire record in that it underlines my previous point by borrowing a little bit of every era of Paradise Lost, pulling it all together into one of the strongest compositions of the band’s career. The foreboding growls of ‘Old Nick’ joust with his mellower, clean vocals that sit on top of a song that’s properly heavy but which also showcases the band’s ability to pen seriously catchy material.

Follow up track ‘Terminal’ is equally as good. Built around a wonderfully crunchy central riff and a relentless, almost metronomic mid-tempo stomp it is deceptively catchy; a cracking mix of early Paradise Lost and ‘Icon’-era material to these ears.

‘An Eternity Of Lies’ immediately calls to mind ‘Draconian Times’ album by virtue of an immediate melody that duet with Holmes’ more melodious delivery. That said, the snarling growls are never far away and once again they feature prominently. What I also like is that this song has a really heavy bite to it as well as some sumptuous cinematic embellishments to add depth and a sense of the grandiose. ‘Punishment Through Time’ is classic ‘As I Die’ homage, complete with a hauntingly reminiscent chugging riff within the verses. And the echoes of my aforemenioned favourite Paradise Lost album continue via ‘Victims Of The Past’ which also introduces a Gothic rock veneer merged with those instantly recognisable lead guitar refrains from Gregor Mackintosh circa the early 90s.

And if you want heavy Paradise Lost, then look no further than both ‘Beneath Broken Earth’ and ‘Flesh From Bone’. The former is all-out doom metal worship complete with pedestrian tempo and crushing riffs whilst the latter borrows much from the death metal genre. In so doing, it harks back to the band’s very earliest incarnation. ‘Cry Out’ plays around with a sludgy Gothic death-meets-rock ‘n’ roll sound whilst also managing to maintain a surprising immediacy.

Arguably, the best is saved until last in the form of the stunning ‘Return To The Sun’. The intro is a thin of savage beauty and teaches other bands a thing or two about creating truly evil-sounding music. And then, once the intro gives way, the remainder of the track is brutally heavy and truly epic-sounding.

Veterans of the English metal scene they may be but ‘The Plague Within’ demonstrates that Paradise Lost have plenty left in the tank of creativity. Indeed, as good as the previous couple of albums have been, the music on ‘The Plague Within’ feels like it has been created by a band that remains hungry and is prepared to pen music that blends the old with new and interesting ideas. The final result is an album of truly epic and majestic proportions.

Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 15
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 16
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 17
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 18
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 19
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 20
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 21
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 22
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 23
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 24
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 25
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 26
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 27
Album of the Year 2015 – Number 28
Album of the Year 2015 – Number 29
Album of the Year 2015 – Number 30

And from previous years:

Album of the Year 2014
Album of the Year 2013
Album of the Year 2012

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