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
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 4
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 5
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
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 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
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
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 11

And so, we’re at the last spot before the top 10. It seems like a fitting place to take a short break for Christmas, before I come back refreshed and nursing a broken liver to complete the series over the New Year period. Thanks again to those of you who have stuck with me over the last couple of weeks, making this rather intense and time-consuming labour of love worth the effort.

And, as always, if you’re new, welcome and don’t forget to check out my picks from 30 down to 12 via the links at the bottom of this post.

But now on to he main event and my choice at number 11…

Number 11

subsignal coverSubsignal
‘The Beacons Of Somewhere Sometime’
ZYX/Golden Core Records

I begin this post with a caveat: the only reason why this album is outside the top 10, albeit by just one place is because it was released so late in the year. Career pressures, the stresses of moving house and two small children meant that I simply haven’t had enough time to fully digest ‘The Beacons Of Somewhere Sometime’, the xth album from German melodic progressive rock/metal band Subsignal. Indeed, it is entirely possible that when the dust settles in a few months, I will look back at this placement and call myself a few silly names and will wish it featured higher up the list. However, as this is an end-of-year round-up, I have to be honest and allow my integrity to take precedence. So, number 11 it is.

I make no secret of the fact that I adore Subsignal. In fact, I adored Sieges Even, the more progressive and technical predecessor to Subsignal. Began as a project, it became clear to founding members, Messrs Markus Steffen (guitars) and Arno Menses (vocals) that Subsignal deserved more than just ‘part-time project’ status and the band quickly became the full-time focus.

Credit: Unknown
Credit: Unknown

In terms of sheer sophistication and elegance, there are few acts that can match Subsignal and ‘The Beacons Of Somewhere Sometime’ simply underlines this statement. If you’re after progressive music that is technical and expertly crafted but with an emphasis on strong compositions and plenty of melody, then Subsignal are the band for you. It still baffles me how this band does not command a bigger following; this is now the xth album of the highest quality and yet I hear very few people mention this band. It’s a crying shame but hopefully the breakthrough is not too far away – these guys deserve it.

The thing that strikes me hardest about ‘The Beacons…’ compared with previous releases is the increased heaviness this time around. Don’t panic, Subsignal have not morphed into a death metal band or anything, it is just that some of the riffs are surprisingly heavy both in tone and delivery, whilst there’s more than a little aggressive drumming within some of the tracks that also raises an eyebrow. After the quiet and soothing instrumental intro, we’re hit with the duo of ‘Tempest’ and ‘A Time Out Of Joint’, both of which contain sections that feel heavier than anything that has gone before. They still contain plenty of melody and accessibility mind you, but the added aggression is difficult to ignore. Then there’s the thrash undertones of the riffs within ‘Everything Is Lost’. Personally, I find the extra power and grunt refreshing for a prog band and fully welcome this approach.

That aside, Subsignal are one of those ever-rarer bands that has a unique identity – within moments of the album commencing and then throughout, there’s never any doubt that this is a Subsignal record. Menses’ rich and emotive vocals are all over this thing, as are the clean and acoustic guitar phrases and embellishments that lend the compositions their subtle and majestic beauty. Everything is performed with care, precision and with a sense of real feeling. Piano, saxophone and other interesting synth effects also make an appearance to nice effect, enhancing the overall experience.

Almost all of the eleven tracks are worthy of an individual mention. However, personal favourites include ‘And The Rain Will Wash It All Away’, ‘A Myth Written On Water’ and ‘Everything Is Lost’, all of which take very little time in infiltrating the subconscious and leaving a huge indelible mark on the listener. In particular, the balladic ‘A Myth Written On Water’ is so brilliant that it is quite possibly one of the very best tracks of the year.

As I said before, I can’t understand why Subsignal are not more widely known and loved. Put simply, they are very definitely one of the best bands currently in the progressive music genre. As such, even if you only have a passing interest in this genre, you need to make it a priority to check out Subsignal. I’d be surprised if anyone finds it to be a waste of time.

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
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 19
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 20
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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 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 17

Welcome to Day 14 of my ‘Album Of The Year 2015’ top 30 countdown. I shall spare the lengthy intro, except to remind readers that my picks at 30-18 can be accessed in full via the links at the bottom of this post, so please check them out if you’ve yet to do so & tell me exactly what you think of my choices.

Number 17

cradle of filth coverCradle Of Filth
‘Hammer Of The Witches’
Nuclear Blast

As a long-term fan of this band, I must admit that I never really expected them to feature again in one of these lists. It has been several years since Cradle Of Filth released an album to rival their early output and I feared that perhaps Dani Filth and co. might have hit their peak early and started their descent (at least as far as I am concerned) into the abyss of mediocrity. How wrong could I be?

I’d heard whispers online and cryptically from Mr Filth himself that Suffolk’s favourite dark-hearted bunch may be making a return more closely to the blueprint of the early days having experimented with different approaches and styles over the intervening years. For me, as someone who joined the Cradle Of Filth cause around the release of their debut, ‘Principles Of Evil Made Flesh’, this was music to my ears. But I still approached ‘Hammer Of The Witches’ with caution having been disappointed in the past.

cof band

One of the problems over the years has been the curse of the ‘revolving door syndrome’, with rarely a stable line-up to be found. Once again, the clientele has chaged, but the current incarnation of Messrs Dani Filth (vocals), Richard Shaw (guitars), Ashok (guitars), Lindsay Schoolcraft (vocals/keyboards), Daniel Firth (bass) and Martin Skaroupka (drums) feels like it could be the strongest for a long while. And, based on the output on this latest release, I hope it remains together for the long haul.

What I really like about ‘Hammer Of The Witches’ is the really nice blend of music on the album. It sounds modern and relevant, in keeping with their more recent releases but it also manages to reintroduce some of the traits that helped to define those earlier albums. From the opening ubiquitous instrumental ‘Walpurgis Eve’, it is evident that the cinematic and theatrical bombast has returned. Cradle Of Filth have always been an extreme metal band with a spine of black metal and lush Gothic overtones but, to my mind, have always been at their best when pushing the envelope in terms of the symphonic and dramatic aspects albeit often imbued with a darkly mischievous sense of humour and clever word play.

‘Enshrined in Crematoria calls to mind the likes of the classic ‘Nocturnal Supremacy’ for example, before veering into more of a 90s Gothenburg-esque melodeath meets black metal direction. And yet, the groove and heaviness of one of the central riffs is infectious and an excellent counterpoint to the speed and frenetic nature of the surrounding material.

‘Deflowering The Maidenhead’ on the other hand is swamped in rich orchestration in the best ‘Dusk…And Her Embrace’ traditions whilst also incorporating the kind of melody that wouldn’t sound out of place on the 1998 album, ‘Cruelty And The Beast’.

To quote the full review I wrote around the time of it’s release: “There is simply no let-up in the quality either as the title track breaks open the harpsichord to compliment more wonderfully wrought staccato riffing and a mass of symphonic and cinematic theatrics that underline the fact that Cradle Of Filth are at their best when they are churning out pompous, grandiose and downright over-the-top music that revels in its own decadence and malevolent extravagance. Elsewhere, the lead ‘single’ ‘Right Wing Of The Garden Triptych’ offers bombast, plenty of melody and heaviness whilst also bringing the male/female vocal jousting to the fore. Lindsay Schoolcraft has a great voice that’s the perfect fit for Cradle Of Filth thanks to a demonstrable flair for the dramatic.”

A great production and those darkly poetic lyrics wrapped up in a grand concept story only add to the undeniable majesty of ‘Hammer Of The Witches’. Put all these elements together and we’re inexorably heading towards an overall package that simply cannot be ignored. As I also said during my review, “this is the most excited and enamoured I have been with Cradle Of Filth since the late nineties and there’s a reason for that; ‘Hammer Of The Witches’ is an exceptional album, one of the band’s very best.”

I staunchly stand by this observation several months after the dust has settled, too.

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 18

My Album Of The Year 2015 countdown marches inexorably on and today, I bring you my choice for Number 18. I hope you agree with this choice, it’s a great album.

Number 18

00 audioplastik coverAudioPlastik
‘In The Head Of A Maniac’
Bad Elephant Music

AudioPlastik is the moniker given to a musical collaboration which will have fans of progressive rock or metal music very interested indeed. The trio that makes up AudioPlastik is fronted by Dec Burke, the vocalist for Darwin’s Radio and Frost* as well as being a well thought of solo artist in his own right. Dec also plays the guitar and is joined by the impressive duo of Simon Andersson (Darkwater, ex-Pain Of Salvation) and Threshold’s keyboardist Richard West. Excited? You certainly should be.

At times, collaborations of this nature fail to live up to the billing, much to everyone’s disappointment. That’s not the case here though as the final result on this debut album, the intriguingly-titled ‘In The Head Of A Maniac’, is every bit as good as you’d hope it would be.

00 audioplastic band

When I penned the full review (click here for that), I struggled with an adequate description of AudioPlastik’s music. As a listener, that’s to be welcomed; as a reviewer, it leaves me with a bit of a headache. Eventually, I plumped for ‘a blend of melodic progressive rock, metal and pop with rich cinematic overtones’. Several months on, I still can’t do better, except to say that it still delights me when I listen.

Unlike many other prog collaborations, the guitars and bass courtesy of Burke and Andersson carry some real weight and therefore create a heavier foundation to the music than I was perhaps expecting. The riffs and timing signatures are often challenging and not of the ‘norm’, another important plus point for this kind of music.

West’s keyboards are another massively important factor in the AudioPlastik sound; without the blend of subtle embellishments and all-out symphonic and cinematic swathes of sound that bathe the music, much of the drama and depth would be lost. The keys never overpower the compositions but they do accentuate the rest of the music expertly and deftly to create a richness that has to be heard to be fully appreciated.

Those familiar with Burke’s other works will immediately recognise the vocal delivery but that’s no bad thing. Coupled with a superb melodic sensibility within the songs themselves, there’s a tangible sense of immediacy and warmth to counterpoint the more technical and complex elements. Just about every track on the record contains a hook, melody or big chorus to grab the listener’s attention and keep them coming back for more. Even when AudioPlastik are at their busiest and most ambitious, such as with ‘Bulletproof’, there’s room for a chorus to stop you dead in your tracks.

To conclude, I feel that I can only quote my original review, as it sums things up perfectly and remains as true today as it was some eight months ago:

‘I’m completely enamoured by this album. Almost imperceptibly, it has burrowed into my head and my heart and it refuses to let go. If your tastes dictate that you enjoy music that is rich and varied, deep and thoughtful, beautiful and genuinely unique, look no further than ‘In The Mind Of A Maniac’ by AudioPlastic. You won’t be disappointed.’

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 19

Welcome to chapter 12 in my ‘Album Of The Year 2015’ countdown. I hope you’re enjoying this series as much as I am putting it all together.

A reminder that the positions 30-16 are very arbitrary and are only really ordered this way to allow a new blog post each day. These albums are equal in many ways and should be treated as such. If you’ve missed any of the previous posts in this series, links to each one can be found at the bottom of this post.

And with that, I give you the next featured album…

Number 19

triaxis zero hour coverTriaxis
‘Zero Hour’
Rocksector Records

From the heart of South Wales comes a band that does things the right way. A strong work ethic, abundant touring and a warm rapport and interaction with fans both in person and over the Internet. It’s no wonder that Triaxis have taken the title of being the metalheads’ metal band – they certainly deserve the accolade.

However, most fundamental of all, Triaxis maintain a steely focus on creating the best music that they possibly can. The result in 2015 is ‘Zero Hour’ the quintet’s third full-length album and what an album it is. I have been an admirer of Triaxis since their debut and I can safely say that ‘Zero Hour’ represents a big step up in just about every department. The riffs are more incisive, the melodies that little bit bigger and more infectious, the singing, the playing, the song writing; everything is just that little bit better, meaning that Triaxis have thrown down a massively impressive challenge to their rivals.

triaxis band

I penned a full review of ‘Zero Hour’ earlier in the year. If you want to read it, click here. I also interviewed the delightful voice of the band, Krissie, the result of which can be read here.

The overall sound of Triaxis is deceptively difficult to define, so I hope you’ll forgive a generous quote from my review which tackles this conundrum in a rather ham-fisted way if I’m honest:

‘…there are many nods to the thrash genre thanks to the aggressive and powerful drumming, the barrage of tight, incisive, fast-paced riffs and the overt attitude that vocalist Krissie conveys with her singing. However, in addition, there’s a demonstrable NWOBHM and classic metal vibe to much of the material. The likes of Iron Maiden and Judas Priest to name a couple are referenced thanks to Triaxis’ love of galloping tempos, harmonies and choruses that contain enough hooks to catch a blue whale. And then, there are also a few more modern twists for good measure, including a smattering of metalcore- tinged growls to compliment the clean voice as well as the occasional use of synths and sampled sounds away in the background.’

It isn’t my best example of descriptive prose but it gives the uninitiated a rough idea of what to expect. Of course, what I could have said was ‘if you love proper heavy metal, you’ll love Triaxis’. That would have been far simpler and just as accurate to be honest.

Having lived with ‘Zero Hour’ for half a year now, what strikes me more than anything else is the subtle variety that’s on offer across the 12 tracks that make up this record. From the majesty of ‘Liberty’ to the thunderous battery of ‘Death Machine’ and from the NWOBHM-inspired ‘Terraform’ to the more melodic hard rock swagger of ‘Stand Your Ground’, this is a record that delivers on a number of levels and never gets old or stale; several months down the line and the music remains as fresh and vibrant as it did at the very beginning.

If there is any justice in this world, ‘Zero Hour’ should be the catalyst to propel Triaxis into the big time; you can hear and feel the confidence of the band, the music screams quality and every track offers something exciting for the listener. In the same way that I concluded my review, if you’re after a dose of uncompromising straight-up heavy metal, you need to hear this record.

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 21

Ten days into this mammoth undertaken and I’m officially one third of the way through now. Or, another way to look at it is I’ve come to the end of the 50% extra free this year! Extending this series from 20 to 30 seemed like a good idea at the time but as my nights are now passing in a blur of feverish writing, I’m beginning to question myself just a little. But then, if I didn’t love doing this, I’d not have started, so who am I kidding eh?!

A reminder for anyone new to this series that you can access each of the preceding posts via the links at the bottom. There’s also an opportunity to catch up on the full lists from 2012-2014 should that be of interest to you.

But now, on with the show…

Number 21

moonspell coverMoonspell
‘Extinct’
Napalm Records

I first discovered Moonspell as a teenager around the time when 1996’s ‘Irreligious’ was released. I knew nothing about the Portuguese band but I took a punt whilst standing wild-eyed in one of the large central London record stores. Coming from a sleepy town like Ipswich, I wasn’t used to a specific metal section, let alone one that was nearly the same size as the entire store back home. I remember loving the album almost from the very beginning and it has held a place in my heart ever since. In fact, I’d state without hesitation that ‘Irreligious’ is my favourite album by Moonspell. Until now that is because ‘Extinct’ pushes it mighty close.

The past few albums have seen Moonspell experiment with more a aggressive and extreme sound with, to my mind, differing levels of success. However, coming from an ‘Irreligious’ background, it is with sheer delight and an abundance of newfound enthusiasm that I can say that ‘Extinct’ has reverted to more of a mid-90’s approach. By that, I mean that the album returns to what I personally believe are the key Moonspell strengths: creating music with plenty of groove, an overt Gothic atmosphere and lots of melody. This album has all three and plenty of each.

Rita Carmo / Espanta Espiritos
Rita Carmo / Espanta Espiritos

If I’m being honest and genuinely not falling foul of unwanted gushing hyperbole, ‘Extinct’ features a collection of compositions that border on anthems, such is their strength, power and immediacy. Whilst it was love at first liten to this record, I was also worried about the fact that it may be lacking in the longevity stakes. However, listening as I type this review, I needn’t have been concerned. The songs sound as vibrant and enjoyable now as they did on the first spin, much to my delight. ‘Extinct’ brings all the tunes.

Opener ‘Breathe (Until We Are No More)’ is an enormous statement of intent. It is heavy, has a great chorus and benefits from some really sumptuous, some might say over-the-top symphonics. Whether or not it is intentional, the focal point of Moonspell is their talismanic vocalist Fernando Ribeiro – with a deep melodic croon such as his, how could he not be the focal point? And on this record, Ribeiro is on top form, barking, snarling and crooning all over the track with his exotically-accented smooth, deep voice.

Elsewhere, ‘Medusalem’ calls to mind Orphaned Land thanks to traditional Middle Eastern instrumentation and melodies. It’d stick my neck on the line and suggest it’s the best track on the album too, thanks to a scintillating and addictive chorus. ‘The Last Of Us’ is a more up-tempo no-nonsense Gothic track that strangely calls to mind something that The 69 Eyes might have penned had they been of a slightly heavier persuasion ‘Funeral Bloom’ includes a few The Cure-esque Goth-pop influences whilst ‘The Future Is Dark’ which has yet another superbly catchy chorus and an irresistible lead guitar solo to truly rival ‘Full Moon Madness’, my very favourite Moonspell track of all-time.

I could go on, but I won’t. Instead I’ll end by concluding that ‘Extinct’ really is a monster of a Gothic metal album that showcases Moonspell at their beguiling best.

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 23

The countdown is beginning to gather pace now as we get to the lower echelons of the 20s. I hope that my choices thus far have managed to convince you that a Top 30 rather than a Top 20 was necessary. It is ambitious to say the least, but there has simply been too much good music this year that needs shouting about.

If you’ve missed any of my choices up until now, check them out via these links:

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

Number 23

enslaved coverEnslaved
‘In Times’
Nuclear Blast Records

Enslaved are one of those bands that, if I’m being entirely honest, I’ve only really admired from afar. There is no disputing the fact that they are a highly accomplished band but up until now, their output has never truly resonated with me. That has changed with ‘In Times’, hence their inclusion within this list despite it being the strongest year to date since I started these mammoth countdowns.

The word ‘unique’ gets thrown about far too often when describing the output of heavy metal bands. However, Enslaved have become truly unique. A constant evolution over the years still sees their extreme metal roots intact but as the albums pass, the roots have become ever-more intrinsically linked to, and entwined with, other elements. Progressive rock and metal, ambient, post-rock, jazz and a whole host of other ideas collide in what can only be described as some of the most fascinating and rewarding heavy metal currently being created anywhere in the world.

enslaved band

But more than that, to these ears at least, ‘In Times’ is as warm and inviting as it is cold, extreme and challenging. There are accessible moments on this record and strong passages that stick in the mind long after the record has stopped playing, more so than on any previous release by the Norwegians. I may be shot down by that last statement, but it is certainly how I perceive things.

‘Thuriasz Dreaming’ may begin in a spiky and confrontational manner, much more aligned with their black metal roots, but as the track develops, more in the way of experimentation comes to the fore including quieter passages, almost discordant sounds and those clean vocals that juxtapose the more guttural delivery excellently.

By contrast, ‘Build With Fire’ is a much more catchy and up-tempo track that bounds along and even introduces a lead guitar solo in the latter stages. ‘One Thousand Years Of Rain’ injects a touch of folk metal into proceedings whilst ‘Nauthir Bleeding’ changes the pace yet again. It is more symphonic and epic in nature but features a great riff at the midway point as well as yet another guitar solo to hammer home the almost euphoric nature of this track.

Containing just six tracks, it is fundamental that each of the compositions adds weight to the overall album and that there are no weak moments. That’s exactly the case here as Enslaved, assisted by a great in-house production and mastering job by Fascination Street Studios, are seemingly incapable of delivering anything short of superb. I love the increased black metal elements and coupled with an increased sense of experimentation and drama throughout, ‘In Times’ is arguably the best that Enslaved have ever sounded.

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 24

Number 24

Native CoverNative Construct
‘Quiet World’
Metal Blade Records

Native Construct is comprised of vocalist Robert Edens, guitarist Myles Yang and bassist Max Harchik. All three individuals study at Berklee College of Music, the same breeding ground as the progressive metal juggernaut that is Dream Theater. So, they must be talented musicians. But, more than that, they also appear to have big aims and ambitions judging by their brief internet biography. It talks of a group of musicians who were ‘fueled by a desire to breathe new life into the modern metal genre…’ So, they’re talented musicians and ambitious. But does this translate into a strong end product? Oh yes.

‘Quiet World’ is the trio’s debut album under the moniker of Native Construct. Since the release, one further appointment has taken place, namely in the form of guitarist Kee Poh Hock. I am sure that he, alongside an eventual full-time drummer, will add another dimension to Native Construct both in the live arena and on future recordings. But, to focus on ‘Quiet World’, where does one begin?

Photo: Sam Harchik
Photo: Sam Harchik

I admit to being completely daunted by this album on a first listen. Even as a long-term prog fan, I was blown sideways by the sheer audacity and abundance of ideas being thrown at me as the listener.

To get a fuller insight into the album, check out my full review here. however, to paraphrase it just a little: ‘just about every genre of music is explored within the seven tracks on offer; jazz, rock, metal, prog, folk, classical, funk and a whole lot more collide in a smorgasbord of musical ideas that masterfully manages to dodge the bullet of being messy, incoherent and lacking in structure. I get the feeling as I listen that this could quite easily be the soundtrack to accompany a stage musical in the West End or on Broadway; instead of the dreaded mess, ‘Quiet World’ is, instead, an uplifting, life-affirming album that revels in its many idiosyncrasies rather than shy away from them apologetically.’

During an intriguing chat with Myles Yang (read the full interview here), it was revealed that the basic foundations of this record are quite simple and are based around just a handful of notes, scales and melodies. It’s hard to believe but, if you listen carefully as I have done since faced with this revelation, it can begin to sound like the truth. Recurring themes and motifs are used throughout; they may be altered or tinkered with or embellished significantly but they are there, acting as anchors or moments of clarity to help guide the listener along the testing journey. I love things like that!

This is a real, proper, bona fide progressive record. It sounds like no-one else for a start and it refuses to settle down into any kind of predictable pattern; instead, it is a challenge from start to finish. However, it is a wonderfully enjoyable challenge. The lyrical concept displays real depth, the production is full of clarity and warmth and when they hit, the melodies offer up a surprising number of earworms that do get under the skin if you let them. It’s all the more impressive to think that this is a debut record – the mind boggles at what is to come in the future. But for the here and now, sit back, relax and enter the jaw-dropping ‘Quiet World’.

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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