So 2015 has come to an end and what a year it was! During my first year at The Monolith, hundreds of albums have entered and exited my playlists, so narrowing the list of great albums down to fantastic ones, and then those down to only a top 10 was a difficult task, but one that brought the added bonus of being able to listen to my top 20-30 albums over and over to decide which ones deserved a place here.
As I’d rather not compare death metal apples to screamo oranges, this list is arranged alphabetically so enjoy 2015′s abbreviated A to W (sorry X, Y and Z) of amazing albums.
Agent Fresco – Destrier
7th August – Long Branch Records / SPV
Agent Fresco may be Icelandic, but they’re definitely not cold and distant. Destrier sees them bring their signature brand of emotional, mathy rock back after a long absence. Long waits will be kind of a running theme on this list, with several bands releasing long-awaited albums that, in these cases, lived up to the hype.
Destrier is definitely one of those, as it weaves together the personal and the fictional to create an account of the consequences of violence; the immediacy of the act and the slow burn of the recovery. From the first notes, and until the last notes loop perfectly back into them again, Destrier is enthralling, emotional and engaging whether you take it at face value or properly dig into it.
And a word of warning based on live shows: you may shed a tear or two.
Cerebric Turmoil – Neural Net Meltdown
13th November – Amputated Vein Records
Mathcore and brutal “slam” death metal; one brings to mind variety and frequent mood changes, the other can prove monotonous and samey – so what happens when the two are joined together?
Meet Cerebric Turmoil, a German band who’ve been around for years, but have now finally made their vision a reality in Neural Net Meltdown, their long awaited debut full length. Crossing the technical insanity of bands like The Crinn and Psyopus with the brutal slams of Wormed, and vocally and instrumentally diverse whilst always in your face, Cerebric Turmoil manage to make this brutal insanity not only strangely catchy, but fun and engaging as well.
Don’t get the wrong idea though, this is not “accessible” death metal by any means. It’ll still challenge you in the best possible way, but if you stick around you’ll be rewarded for your foolhardy dedication with one of the most exciting tech death albums in recent years.
Chelsea Wolfe – Abyss
7th August – Sargent House
Chelsea Wolfe has always had a knack for the dark and beautiful, but never before has her music been quite as dark or quite as beautiful as on Abyss.
Her music can be difficult to classify; falling somewhere between folk, doom and trip hop, it’s instantly recognisable, catchy and enjoyable while still retaining a certain emotional weight. It won’t get you pumped up in the gym but for those late night drives, there are few better soundtracks out this year.
The Dear Hunter – Act IV: Rebirth In Reprise
4th September – Equal Vision Records
After waiting for years for The Dear Hunter to continue their Act series, fans have finally got what they wanted, and after having some time to get into the album it would be hard to imagine someone being disappointed by Act IV as a continuation of this much loved series of theatrical prog rock albums.
The same highly conceptual approach defines this Act as much as the others, where each song‘s mood follows whatever‘s going on in the story at any given time – but as the story progresses we get to see/hear some elements previously not prominent in the Acts but explored on The Color Spectrum EPs; super joyful funk pop and hints of dubstep are among the new additions, but there‘s still plenty of that beautiful and emotional music all of us know and love.
If you thought “Well…I don’t know it.” Familiarise yourself ASAP. There are four Acts out right now, with two more to come and as soon as you start Act I you will ask yourself “Why am I not listening to this every single day?”
The Hirsch Effekt – Holon – Agnosie
24th April – Long Branch Records
Combining the mathy post-hardcore of The Fall of Troy with some even proggier tendencies and interesting experimentation has proven to be a winning combo for Germany‘s The Hirsch Effekt in previous years, and Holon – Agnosie is no different.
Although Holon – Anamnesis is still a personal favourite, that doesn’t lessen the impact of their latest, with their exciting approach to songwriting that simultaneously keeps you guessing and makes some weird kind of sense. Musically, The Hirsch Effekt run the gamut of everything from post-rock and electronic influences, to blast beats and sweeps, which combines to create one of the year’s most exciting mathcore albums. The Hirsch Effekt go every direction except backwards, and are an unstoppable force.
Native Construct – Quiet World
21st April – Metal Blade
The influence of larger bands is something both musicians and critics often have a hard time escaping or hiding and it often leads to over-saturation of trends and an oversimplification when describing bands. Between The Buried And Me have, for example, been a go to reference for such a huge number of bands at this point that it’s lost all meaning.
Despite this, allow me to use this tired cliché one more time: Quiet World is a rock opera filled with the theatrics of The Dear Hunter, the neo-classical metal tendencies of The Human Abstract and the progressive song structures of BTBAM. If that statement isn’t enough to sell you Native Construct just think about this: Between The Buried and Me released a rock opera of their own this year and they’re nowhere to be found on this list…
Periphery – Juggernaut: Alpha & Omega
27th January – Sumerian Records/Century Media
Despite coming out near the beginning of the year there was no doubt in my mind that Juggernaut would end up on this list. Long albums are a dangerous bet, often feeling like they could have been a killer EP if the band simply had better quality control and cut the filler, so when Periphery announced a double album concerns were definitely present.
These concerns were promptly blown away by an epic concept album that flows beautifully as a whole, filled with killer material that‘s truly the culmination of all the band had worked on up to this point. Songs range from the band‘s heaviest material to their poppiest and everything in between. So with these concerns blown away Misha Mansoor and co. only need to worry about what comes next…
SikTh – Opacities
4th December – Peaceville Records
Being a young SikTh fan from a small island in the Atlantic Ocean sure was a painful experience when they announced their breakup back in 2007. Having previously had no chance to see them live, I didn’t have to think twice about hopping on a plane to catch their 2014 Tech Fest set.
Almost a year and a half later we have Opacities, a new EP from the band that’s so familiar in its sound that it might just as well have come out directly after Death of a Dead Day.Some will no doubt see this as a downside but honestly, that’s all I wanted from SikTh. The world of prog metal may have caught on to their infectious blend of tech and pop but catching up to their supreme grasp of that beautiful balance has proved a more difficult task. The SikTh six still got it!
Stream City – HOAX
2nd February – Self Released
So many different things come to mind when trying to describe Steam City‘s latest album HOAX, but which one is the most accurate? Ska and metal influenced folk punk? Progressive party punk?
To streamline the process (this is Stream City after all) let’s go with “fun”.
Since February, the fun hasn’t stopped whenever HOAX hits the playlist – but like Destrage did last year, Stream City have created extremely fun music that’s still interesting and well written enough to keep the prog crowd intrigued. Every song has its own distinct character and each one is catchier than its predecessor which means there’s no clear choice for the “best” track.
Sometimes you may want to privately slam to some sewer gurgling death metal but Stream City is music you can take home to meet your mum, even though she’ll probably disapprove of the rare shouty bits here and there.
We Never Learned To Live – Silently, I Threw Them Skyward
22nd June – Holy Roar
Long names for everything is about as cliché as both post-rock and emo/screamo gets, but there’s nothing cliché about We Never Learned How To Live’s debut full length album Silently I Threw Them Skyward.
Feeling like a more post-y, less hardcore (and a lot more British sounding) version of Devil Sold His Soul, the album hits instantly and it hits hard. It’s quite different from the band’s self-titled EP; shorter songs, less shouty and more clean vocals, but if anything that helps the band stick out in a crowded genre.
A dramatic display of power and emotion is what We Never Learned To Live have prepared for us and I, for one, will gladly return to dine at their table for the foreseeable future.