Despite starting off really slow, 2015 turned out to be another great year for metal, particularly its back half which saw a flurry of banner releases come out all within a few weeks of each other. Also, I found that unlike past years, where one particular sub-genre or major release seemed to dominate the headlines, 2015 had a lot of strong releases across the entire extreme metal spectrum. So whether you are into doom, death, black, or some combination of the two (…or three – Dave), there was something for everyone this year.
Looking back, I didn’t get to review nearly as much music as I really wanted too, mainly because Dave and I spent a lot of time working on the forum and other behind the scenes activities. Speaking of which, I can’t thank you all enough for making the forum a truly special place to talk about metal, production, and everything else in between. And I’d also like to give a big shout out to the entire AMG community at large who have been nothing but gracious to us, and have allowed both Dave and I to occasionally stink up everybody’s favorite metal review site now and then with our Angry Metal-Fi series of articles. We’ll have more in-store for you in ’16 so stay tuned. Alright, let’s do this!
Bar none, my favorite progressive metal record of the year. Native Construct’s Quiet World is simply brilliant on every level, from its concept subject matter about an eccentric mute that creates an entire universe in his head as an elaborate coping mechanism, to its meticulous yet approachable construction, to even its incredibly stellar DR9 production (all on a college student budget mind you). The backstory behind this record is that between 2011 and 2013 three Berklee Music students, Robert Eden, Myles Yang, and Max Harchik, got together for a few friendly jam sessions between classes. The outgrowth of theses jam sessions became a full-time endeavor, culminating into the debut you see before you. The music itself is a confluence of Dream Theater, Haken, Between the Buried and Me, and even Meshuggah in some places, all of which help make Quiet World an incredibly unique and memorable journey.
The adage “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” most certainly applies to Mgla, as their third full length record, Exercises In Futility, follows the exact same riff-driven black metal formula established by the prior two. Even so, Exercises is just a monster, and without a doubt M.’s finest work to date. This record is forty-two odd minutes of Grade A horn-raising fun with every single track containing some of the catchiest riffs you’ll hear all year. Moreover, its production is a big step up from With Hearts Toward None, as Exercises clocks in a very healthy DR8, sounding really punchy throughout. Let’s hope this trend continues as Mgla has quickly become one of Poland’s finest exports to date.
AD NAUSEAM‘s debut, Nihil Quam Vacuitas Ordinatum Est (“There is nothing but ordered emptiness”) is a stellar example of that classic dissonant tech death formula pioneered by bands like Gorguts and more recently, Ulcerate. But to call Nihil just another Gorguts clone would not be fair to these most very talented Italians. What I found particularly fascinating about this release is that though there are plenty of strange rhythmic and dissonant tomfoolery lurking behind every measure, the songs follow a fairly straightforward path, with plenty of moments where the band takes a break to just rock out to some meaty breakdown or killer lead. Production wise, this is an extremely dynamic record to boot, clocking in at DR9! With that said, there are a few mix issues as the vocals are set far too back for my tastes and sound like they were recorded through a paper cup. But even with that said, this is still one of the best death metal records of the year regardless, and I can’t wait to hear what they have in store next.
Akhlys’ The Dreaming I may very well be the best black metal record of the year. It is the brainchild of Nightbringer’s Naas Alcameth, and combines Nightbringer’s signature high-speed tremolo driven atmosphere with a sort of quasi-Mitochondrion denseness. And like with other Nightbringer releases, Alcameth imbues this unholy exercise with a very strong sense of ritualism, with the whole album coming off as more ceremony than actually music. The experience is simultaneously disturbing and intoxicating, with each track featuring a number of extremely catchy melodic leads in between Alcameth’s high-pitched screams and buzz. In fact, the only aspect of this record that prevents it from being my album of the year is its lackluster production. Obviously, its hypercompression and brickwall limiting lends to the record’s intrinsic sonic claustrophobia that Alcameth was clearly striving for, but it is way over the top and hurts more than helps. If the The Dreaming I had just a few more points of dynamics to it, it would truly be a transcendent release.
Infinite Dissolution is without a doubt Locrian’s magnum opus. The band has basically infused their patented eeriness codified in The Clearing & Final Epoch with the accessibility found in Return to Annihilation. On top of that, it features some really great DR9 production courtesy of one of my favorite mastering engineers on the planet right now, Brad Boatright of Audiosiege. As you can imagine, being a noise based release, Dissolution has tons of processing effects layered on top of the mix, and Brad did an impeccable job balancing all of them. Make note: you will go buy this record on vinyl and then politely explain to everyone you did it for the master when in reality you did it for the album’s cover. Don’t worry, your secret is safe with me.
Iceland has always been a fertile ground for high-quality black metal, and Misþyrming’s debut, Söngvar elds og óreiðu (“Songs of Fire and Chaos”), is a shining testament to that fact. As I stated in my review, Songs’ beauty is in its simplicity, which consists mainly of Deathspell Omega onslaughts with a sprinkling of doom, groove, and atmospherics added to the mix. The record ebbs and flows seamlessly, creating a very fluid listening experience that you will want to repeat again and again. And despite being basically bricked (DR6), the album’s production is still noteworthy nevertheless, with H.R.H’s impeccable drum performance a highlight in its own right. Best of all, the album is “name your own price” via their official Bandcamp page. Grab it.
Steel Druhm’s album of the year; for good reason too, as Enshine’s Singularity is an absolute brilliant display of the melo-death/doom aesthetic. Steel describes this record as “lush” and I couldn’t agree more. Singularity is simply epic on every conceivable level, with never a dull moment to be had as you make your way through these nine glorious tracks. Haunting, cosmic, and in many respects, beautiful in its own melancholic way, Enshine’s Singularity is well, just that. For all the nitty gritty details, read Steel’s fantastic review.
I’m going to out on a limb here and claim that Abyssal’s Antikatastaseis may very well be Profound Lore’s greatest release to date. Fair warning though: this record is not for everyone, especially if your favorite brand of extreme metal is heavily riff dependent. U.K.’s Abyssal dabble in the fine art of atmospheric blackened death, in the same vein as Portal and Antediluvian. I want you to imagine that somehow you find yourself lost in a sonic desert where rhythm and melody are extremely scarce resources. As you trek across this desert looking for any discernible melody to listen to, you are bombarded by terrestrial downpours of dissonance and sonic sandstorms made out of blast beat and buzz. And just when you think you are about to go mad from the swirling dervish of sonic chaos that constantly surrounds you, out of nowhere, a mirage of some sublime melody appears that your ears instantly gravitate to. Eventually though, it quickly dissipates before you could fully absorb it, and you find yourself back in the sonic desert – afraid, confused, and alone. That’s Antikatastaseis.
Serpents Lair are a Danish black metal band that were featured on some rare compilation cassette that you probably don’t own nor ever heard of. Anyway, this cassette circumambulated around all the usual suspects (Oh, I see what you did there. -Dave), creating quite a lot of underground buzz in the process. Well, the hype machine got it right this time since Circumambulating the Stillborn is nothing short of spectacular. This is probably the best Deathspell Omega record that isn’t Deathspell Omega (Who knows? Maybe DsO is on sabbatical in Denmark? -Dave). And that’s not even the best part. First off, this record is another “name your own price” digital download via their Bandcamp page which is a miracle unto itself. Secondly, Stillborn is one of the best sounding black metal records of the year. Produced by Tore Stjerna at Necromorbus Studio (Watain‘s sound guy), this record is just brimming with life, clocking in at a healthy DR10. Do yourself a favor and go download this record now, it is truly one of the hidden gems of 2015.
Album of the year. Easy. When you combine incredible craftsmanship with top notch production, you get a one of a kind record like Horrendous‘ Anareta. Instead of summarizing this death metal masterpiece once again, I implore you to read either my full review or L. Saunders’ for a complete breakdown. In short though, Anareta is an absolute beast of a record and one that should be a part of every metal-head’s collection. I will leave you with this: I think one more record like this one will firmly establish Damien Herring and Co. as the number one extreme metal act on the planet. Let’s just hope that Horrendous guitarist, vocalist, and engineer extraordinaire, Damien Herring, continues his fervor for producing dynamic records as the band slowly conquers the natural world. Cross your fingers.