Somehow managing to best its predecessor, 2015 has been tremendous enough of a year for extreme music that this list is brought to you with no small amount of knuckle-biting and head-scratching. Such is the influx of killer albums that this, the result of my nerd-labor, was originally slated to be a top-25. Some of the spillover is contained in the “Close Contender” list at the bottom because I like the rigid, formalized standard of 10 as a number, and am not being paid by the word. Let the games begin!
10.Krallice - Ygg Huur
Released in early August with no fanfare whatsoever, Krallice’s Ygg Huur is a harbinger of both storm and skronk. Buried below the maelstrom of dizzying riff-whirlpools, the vocals sound that much more desperate and panicked. This album will thoroughly buffet you as it changes direction and speed without warning. Of these six songs, the middle four all clock in at exactly 6:42, which I suspect has some sort of occult significance. Any elucidation of this subject would be appreciated.
9. Mgla - Exercises in Futility
In this, the post-blackened age, it comes as a huge surprise that a straightforward, traditional black metal album can bring something new to the table. In addition to their hypnotic guitar work and top-notch drumming, these rising stars of Polish nihilism also carry a philosophical heft worthy of Thomas Ligotti, and a worldview as colorless as their album art. Bonus points to their vocalist for sounding as though he’s projecting through six feet of dirt.
8. Maruta - Remain Dystopian
Since first coming across their music in This Comp Kills Fascists, I’ve always considered Maruta as some of the leaders of modern grindcore. While their albums up until this point have sometimes felt like collections of good but unrelated songs, they’ve made here a cohesive listen which, after hearing it for the first time, I immediately replayed. Splashes of doom peppered throughout the album help to break up the dynamic and really drive dystopia home.
7. Author & Punisher - Melk en Honing
For as long as people have been thinking about this sort of thing, the bicycle has been considered the prime example of the man-machine relationship. Now we have something that further blurs that boundary and he goes by the name Author & Punisher. Building on the empathic delivery of Women and Children, Melk en Honing sees him stepping up his songwriting game and communicating better in general. The machines have grown and so has he. Crushing industrial brutality is balanced with some solid pop sensibilities, and genuinely human concerns.
6. The Body & Thou - S/T
Enter the swamp of despair. While collab-happy life-haters The Body have more than enough emotional power between their two members to fill the air, they found a perfect partner in Thou. Chip’s bird-shrieks cut through Bryan’s gravel atop marching drums and guitars shrouded in impenetrably murky production. Between the two of them, they’ve reached an event horizon in which the sludge is so viscous as to be indistinguishable from a solid and no light may escape. Pairs well with pill addiction and failure.
5. Napalm Death - Apex Predator - Easy Meat
The grindfathers have not mellowed, nor have they stagnated. Opening with a bizarre noisescape, the listener is told from the get-go not to expect a by-the-numbers grind release, even though these masters of the craft could put out such a thing and probably still make it onto this list. We’re then taken into a place where time is frenzied and the animal within reigns supreme, lashing out against its mechanized surroundings with the passion of Hell. Barney’s is a roar like no other, not even that of his younger self and their songs have grown so much more interesting, more complex since the Harmony Corruption days. They’ll be touring the states again soon. Let neither hell nor high water keep you from their fury.
4. Paradise Lost - The Plague Within
What was once an anomaly is becoming more and more commonplace. Bands that’re 25+ years deep are putting out their best works. Case in point: Paradise Lost. Blending a haunted melancholy with slow, merciless death, they’ve put together elements of all their prior releases to create their definitive death-doom stew. With a vocalist and guitarist taking clear influence from their recent forays into more straight-up death metal (Bloodbath and Vallenfyre, respectively), this sound is slowed to a crawl that weeps blood at a life without hope in a world without meaning.
3. Lonesome Wyatt and Rachel Brooke - Bad Omen
Here we have a nothing-to-do-with-metal release, so, if that’s not your bag, turn tail now. For those remaining, what we have here is a sepia-toned duet between gothic death-country icon Lonesome Wyatt and alt-country blues-crooner Rachel Brooke. This is their second collaboration, and, on both, they add up to something greater than the sum of their already erstwhile parts. With hook-writing skills and sensitivity to the human condition that would make ol’ Hank Williams hum a tune and hang his head, their high-low, male-female harmonies seem to travel disembodied through the listener’s soul. Between the spooky theremin and ghostly ambience on its production, this is an album that seems to exist in an apocryphal ether, penned by the lost, wandering soul of Anonymous.
2. Ghost - Meliora
I generally feel resentful of catchiness, as if its earworms have invaded my thoughts without necessarily having asked first. To Ghost, I extend this permission unconditionally. Though they came out of the gate more or less fully formed, it’s on this last album that their sound finds the bombastic pomp and circumstance large enough to mirror the pageantry of Catholicism. Transcendentally beautiful hymns to Our Dark Lord alternate with more riff-oriented proto-metal in the most satisfying of ways, as pompous as Queen and as evil as King Diamond.
Since seeing them live (Thanks, Steve!), I have held the belief that their masked band is a supergroup made up of musicians we know and love, yet perhaps wouldn’t suspect as doing this. There is simply no other way to explain how a band so new to the game can create something so masterful and debut to so much (deserved) hype. If I’m wrong, then it’s even more impressive still. Pairs well with red wine, black candles, and dramatic arm movements.
1. VNV Nation - Resonance
Same caveat as number three applies. The album that’s had the most replay value, effect, and memorability this year has been as far removed from metal as my childhood dog. VNV Nation’s Ronan Harris, normally known for what can most succinctly be described as dark synth-pop (though that doesn’t do it justice at all), has gone back through his considerable back-catalog to rewrite songs from each album to be performed by the Babelsburg Film Orchestra, an act who, as their name suggests, writes scores for films. With his already heartfelt voice subdued and soulfulized for this undertaking, Ronan is delivering his wisdom not from a soapbox, but at eye-level, sitting in the same train station as you are, blowing at the steam from his coffee abstractedly, because it’s 4 a.m. and he too has to stay awake in this world; and, as painful as that is, there is a beauty in feeling it. Enjoy.
Bonus - Best Debut Albums of the Year
3. Pissgrave - Suicide Euphoria
2. Sanzu - Painless
1. Awe - Providentia
Close Contenders (in no particular order):
Ghost Bath - Moonlover
Sigh - Graveward
Skepticism - Ordeal
Cattle Decapitation - The Anthropocene Extinction
Shape of Despair - Monotony Fields
Leviathan - Scar Sighted
Skinless - Only The Ruthless Remain
Gnaw Their Tongues & Dragged Into Sunlight - N.V.
Shining - International Blackjazz Society
Failure - The Heart is a Monster
Gnaw Their Tongues - Abyss of Longing Throats
Prurient - Frozen Niagara Falls