So we draw 2015 to a close, and what a year it’s been. No one knew whether the dress was white or blue, Drake busted some of the most insane shapes known to man, and Kanye West confirmed what we all believed from the get go, you know, being the second coming of Jesus and all. But anyway, I jest, this year has been a colossal year for music, it made narrowing down a top 25 a chore, let alone a top 10.
After a lot of research and a team working around the clock on analysis, stats and a vast array of pie charts (by team, I mean yours truly), this rather long list got narrowed down to a slither of its former self, which goes as follows…
10. Marilyn Manson – The Pale Emperor
15th January – Loma Vista Recordings
Coming from a very unlikely source, 2015 kicked off in a very surprising fashion. Recent years have seen my boy Marilyn Manson fall from grace, involved in a maelstrom of drug use and very poor performances, and people have cast him off to the wayside – with good reason. Remember Download 2009? *shudders*.
So fast forward a few years and a handful of rehab visits, and he has returned with probably the most surprising album of the year, and a return to form no less. With The Pale Emperor, Manson has returned to a time where The God Of Fuck was the king of the world, or at least in a musical sense. It’s like going back in time to the Mechanical Animals era and hearing it all over again; the songs are right out of the John 5 riff book, although reuniting with long term bass player Twiggy Ramirez probably didn’t hurt the creative process.
If like me, you were a massive fanboy way back when, then The Pale Emperor will restore whatever shred of respect you may have lost for the man. On behalf of everyone, welcome back Brian.
9. Kardashev – Peripety
30th October – Subliminal Groove
As debut albums go, this one has to be one of the best in recent years. One of Arizona’s best kept secrets, Peripety made Kardashev a major player in the tech-death world, and not a lot of people realised it. I kid you not, it’s on the same level of execution with Fallujah, or any other band of that ilk.
Raw power is one of the underlying themes of the album, as song after song you’re hit with a barrage of left and rights that’ll leave you on the floor in a bloody mess. It’s okay though: somehow you’re able to leave two thumbs up from your mangled corpse; it’s a most enjoyable beating it must be said.
Kardashev’s musicianship is tighter here than a hundred people in a lift that’s meant to house twelve. There are riffs aplenty, but the way the drums are delivered is something unworldly; with the same ferocity as staring into a swarm of Africanised bees that attack you from every direction, it’s the boiler room which steers this enormous space hulk of an album. It’s a fulfilling journey that’ll both destroy and enlighten you at the same time.
8. Northlane – Node
24th July – Rise Records
Replacing a vocalist is never easy – especially if said vocalist was Adrian Fitipaldes. For those of you who are already aware of Northlane‘s existence, you’ll know of the sterling job he (and the rest of the band for that matter), did on their 2013 masterstroke Singularity. For that very reason, fans were apprehensive about whether new guy Marcus Bridge could fill that void – or even if the band could reach the same heights as they hit previously. Thankfully, Node far surpasses anything they’ve ever done.
Northlane 2.0 is super effective. I certainly wasn’t expecting something like Node from the boys down under – initially it’s like “OK cool, new Northlane, it’s alright I guess” – but by the end of the album you’ll be crying their praises like they rescued your cat from a burning building. If you don’t have a cat, then any other pet-like thing/child/inanimate object you hold in a similar standing, and you get the idea.
Node takes you on a journey; one which will make you feel like a better person for taking. Erase all preconceptions you have before listening to this, as the abundance of new ideas within sidesteps many of the trappings they were previously beholden to as a straightforward metalcore act. Northlane have evolved from merely a solid tech band to one of its flag-bearers, and not just for the Australian scene (which is thriving might I add), but the whole tech/prog/djent/ whatever you want to call it scene as a whole.
7. Kylesa – Exhausting Fire
2nd October – Season Of Mist
Where to begin? Right, Kylesa have produced an album which is nothing short of magical. They’ve always been one of those bands which have a handful of good songs, but too often the rest is filler – you know the kind. But Exhausting Fire isn’t like that; it’s an album which explores a more psychedelic aspect of the band’s sound, like what would happen if Jefferson Airplane decided to start a doom band, as heavy as 20 bags of hammers, but coming from a place of swirly patterns and bright colours.
As the first few chords ring out, you expect it to be the same hell ride of mediocrity that has unfortunately plagued this band in the past, but as you delve deeper into this Pandora’s box, you realise that such thoughts were for nought. Have Kylesa finally lived up to all the hype that surrounds them? You’d think so, as Exhausting Fire has been one of the most surprising albums of this year; seriously, where the hell did this come from? It’s one of those rare occasions where I actually like to be proved wrong!
6. Royal Thunder – Crooked Doors
3rd April – Relapse
Back in 2012, Royal Thunder struck gold with their album CVI (one of my favourites of that year I might add), which meant that their latest album, Crooked Doors had a significant bar to clear. Did it hold its own? Hell yeah it did, and then some! I was taken aback quite a bit to be honest.
CVI was always going to be a hard act to follow, and yet somehow, Royal Thunder managed to pull it off. Much like as I mentioned with Kylesa, it’s like a modern day Jefferson Airplane, but unlike Kylesa, it’s not aggressive, yet still just as powerful and with just as many brightly coloured patterns. The psychedelia is strong with this one, helped with the ever so seductive voice of Miny Parsons, who is an absolute talent in her own right.
Her most trusted minstrels do a stellar job in providing a colourful backdrop that completes the total package that is Crooked Doors. There’s a lot more room for experimentation than seen previously, and Royal Thunder benefit from it in a lot more ways than one.
5. Scale The Summit – V
18th September – Prosthetic Records
The aptly named V (this being Scale The Summit‘s fifth album) is less of an album in the traditional sense; more a musical journey. It’s a fantastic aural voyage through myriad high concept landscapes; an album filled with a truckload of monumental highs that’ll leave you weak at the knees, and Marc Mitchell‘s bass tone alone is enough to make a wolverine purr.
The stunning artwork, by illustrator Duncan Storr – who was also responsible for The Migration‘s lush, organic cover – is evocative, and gives a clear indication to the journey you’re about to embark on; one befitting the epics, and on par with Homer’s Odyssey. It’s a contender for album cover of the year for sure.
Like a post-coital smoke, you may well need a cigarette as “The Golden Bird” flies into the distance, because the eargasm you get from V is one of pure euphoria. To say the band have knocked it out the park is an understatement, and as far as purely instrumental records go, it surely belongs in the upper echelons.
4. Leprous – The Congregation
25th May – Inside Out Music
When I first heard this album, I kind of felt disgusted with myself that I hadn’t gotten into this band sooner. A single listen to The Congregation is not like dipping your toe into a shallow pool, as you’re very quickly thrown into the shark infested sea that is Leprous, and despite being torn apart by a merciless prog onslaught, I’m eternally grateful for the savage death.
Seriously though, The Congregation is nothing short of breathtaking. The vocal stylings of Einar Solberg are as angelic as being personally greeted by the archangel Gabriel himself, and as he smiles at you, you can’t help but feel lighter in your bones. Leprous as a whole though, are the total package, something I found that lacked after hearing their previous efforts, they just somehow didn’t hit you in that special place, until now.
I know they’ve been around a while, and yes, a lot of people have gotten into them before me, but I can safely say this rabble of Norwegians are one of my favourite discoveries of the year – I just wish I found them sooner.
3. Caligula’s Horse – Bloom
16th October – Inside Out Music
You know when you listen to a band for the first time, and all your hairs stand on end? Multiply that by 756.63, and that’s pretty much what I felt listening to Bloom for the first time. Much like Leprous, this was my first experience with Caligula’s Horse, and yet again, I felt dirty for not finding them sooner.
Caligula’s Horse are yet another great export from Australia that gives a collective hard-on to anyone that listens. Bloom is baby making music pure and simple; it wouldn’t surprise me if Jim Grey had a copious amount of illegitimate children up and down the coast of Australia, as his voice is just that good – singing a single note would likely impregnate both men and women in an instant. In that respect he’s on par with fellow countryman Ian Kenny of Karnivool.
Most of the time, Bloom is pure feel and chills, but when you least expect it, they’ll throw in a crushing riff or two, just because they can. It keeps you on your toes, and braces you for the unexpected, a trait which I adore most about this band. Caligula’s Horse are as addictive as crack (I don’t endorse this by the way, it’s just a metaphor), and one hit is never enough, they’re so moreish.
2. Baroness – Purple
18th Decemeber – Abraxan Hymns
Screwing up my initial end of year list, Baroness dropped the eagerly awaited Purple right in the final weeks, and needless to say, it’s quite possibly their best work to date. After a near fatal bus crash halted the band’s progress in 2012, forcing half the band to quit, some thought that they wouldn’t continue, me included, but here they are, and they’re better than ever!
Purple is far removed from their sludgy beginnings, instead it’s a much richer listening experience, with a truckload of subtle intricacies that become more prominent with every listen, thanks mainly to new boy Sebastian Thompson, whose fills reek of Mastodon and is somewhat of an unsung hero of Baroness. He’s a bit good, put it that way.
Apart from absolutely killing it on vocals, another of John Dyer Baizley‘s talents lies with the incredible artwork for the album, I’m torn between this and Scale The Summit’s V for best art of the year. It’s just another thing to add to the list that makes Purple one of the best albums of the year. I haven’t stopped listening since it dropped a few weeks ago, and it gets better every time.
1. Agent Fresco – Destrier
7th August – Long Branch Records
One of 2015′s biggest success stories, especially within the tech and prog circles, Agent Fresco dropped Destrier in the tail end of the summer, and was quickly noted as not only one of the best albums of the year, but one of the best in a decade, and rightly so. I thought their last offering A Long Time Listening was a masterpiece, but that pales in comparison to this; it’s like comparing a goldfish to a shark with a laser beam attached to its freaking head.
As beautiful as Destrier is, there’s an overwhelming feeling of pain and anguish, that you only really get a sense of once you start listening to Arnór Dan‘s lyrics. There’s something very vulnerable and innocent to his delivery, but at the same time, it’s balanced with an over-abundance of tranquillity that’ll bring a tear to the most hardened of men.
Agent Fresco are a band who, going by talent alone, should be the biggest in the world, and one which every band should inspire to be. It’s nearly impossible not to fall in love with them, and with this big of a step up from their previous album, there’s no telling how good the next album will be. I’m literally counting the days until such a time.