05. False – Untitled
Truly unlike any other release this year, False’s first full-length is a difficult and wholly unpleasant experience that offers neither reward nor resolution. It’s also undoubtedly some of the best black metal of the past decade. Seeking to unsettle and explore the great faults of mankind, Untitled finds no comfort and progresses freely from idea to idea; musically, it’s extremely ambitious despite the thematic lack thereof. Rachel’s vocals are viscid and awful and seem to narrate the most nihilist desires of mankind. A small and haunting moment of beauty comes on “The Deluge” when a choir of women join her in hailing, “To cleanse the idea of self with the deluge of blood from flesh.” False flawlessly create music that is unforgiving, relentless, and often miles ahead of you. While you’re reminded throughout that your efforts to overcome it are Sisyphean, the album invites you to navigate the challenges therein as well as examine the inherent faults and futilities of your own existence, and what’s more black metal than that? –Sean Barry
04. Horrendous – Anareta
Transfixing from the very first howl, surprising throughout, and as progressive as it is brutal, Horrendous’ Anareta comes out on top as 2015’s best death metal album, leaving hardly any room for competition. Tracks shape-shift within themselves to move through and pull from the best of other genres. The beginning of “Stillborn Gods” sounds like what every Mastodon fan wishes Mastodon would sound like today, and the end of “Acolytes” pulls from the very best of post-black metal to create the most cathartic moment on the record. That’s not to say, though, that this record isn’t wholly Horrendous’, because with such musical proficiency and willingness to explore and expound upon all influences, to author something so unexpected and so fulfilling is deserving of the highest acclaim. –Sean Barry
03. Elder – Lore
Perhaps no record on this list is as immediately gratifying as Elder’s Lore — at least if you’re a fan of badass riffs and adventurous songcraft. The intro of opener “Compendium” sounds like something off Marquee Moon, a symphony of interwoven riffs to kick off the five-song epic album. The idea of music as an escapist journey is at work here, movement flowing into movement, solos begetting solos, time signatures flip-flopping at precise and dynamic intervals. Nick DiSalvo doesn’t pretend to be any sort of vocalist that he’s not, but his lax stoner-metal delivery is almost kinda punk. Totally amorphous, Elder falls somewhere between Dinosaur Jr., Rush, and Metallica — the ultimate post-metal concoction. Lore is their masterpiece. –Jon Hadusek
02. Bell Witch – Four Phantoms
Whereas ancient civilizations told myths of gods and men, as well as Earth and its creation, relatively more recent cultures have grown to favor the ghost story. Our beginnings are traceable, but the next step for us will forever remain a mystery while we live, so why not enjoy some speculation about the afterlife and get a little frightened in the process? It’s with this concept that the mighty doom duo of Bell Witch (who are named after a ghost story themselves) have succeeded in creating what’s arguably 2015’s most fantastic work of metal.
The album’s four lengthy tales of spirits tortured eternally by the four natural elements engross you in their intricately crafted atmospheres to become like some terrible haunting that won’t ever end. And even when they do, they tend to linger in your mind, inviting you back, making every re-listen seem a little more like home. At some point, Four Phantoms stops feeling like an album and begins feeling like an actual presence, and I cannot give an album any higher praise than that. –Sean Barry
01. Windhand – Grief’s Infernal Flower
It was a cold, shitty night in Denver, and the members of Windhand looked beat. They had just finished playing a string of sold-out West Coast dates and were on the tail end of a hugely successful tour alongside Danava and Monolord. As I approached the band for our scheduled interview before their show at the Bluebird Theater, I could see the weariness in their slouched figures. Windhand weren’t just at the end of their tour, but the end of the journey.
“A lot has changed,” drummer Ryan Wolfe said exasperatingly.
Suddenly and for good reason, Windhand has become the touchstone band for heavy music and doom metal, finding that rare balance of accessibility and classicism as to draw in new listeners — not even metalheads, but fans of slow, alternative music in general — and still appeal to metal’s inner circle, the traditionalists who’ve long guarded the sanctity of the genre. Not that Windhand cares.
“I don’t consider us a metal band,” guitarist Asechiah Bogdan said. “It’s like heavy rock. Pop songs, really.”
Perhaps that’s why Windhand have succeeded in creating the best metal album of 2015. Grief’s Infernal Flower has its own vivid personality; aesthetically, it might be rooted in ominous, down-tuned sludge of doom, but these songs exist on their own plane, due in large part to frontwoman Dorthia Cottrell, whose cool, deep delivery and tragically romantic lyrics have more in common with Lisa Germano than Black Sabbath.
“I love a man whose love is violence
Who always comes, who goes away
Who never brings me any flowers
To blossom in my blazing shade”
Grief’s Infernal Flower copes with dying love in a dying world. It is not a happy album, but a pastiche of grays, blues, and blacks. In a state of despair, one can literally live through these songs, and there is a comfort in that catharsis. Acoustic numbers like “Sparrow”, which features the above lyrics, are scattered amongst crushingly heavy drones (“Hesperus”, “Kingfisher”) and Bogdan’s “pop songs” (“Two Urns”, “Crypt Key”), creating a record that’s both thematically cohesive and musically diverse.
Years from now, when I recall 2015, I will think of Grief’s Infernal Flower. And when I think of Grief’s Infernal Flower, I will remember 2015 — the year of Windhand: the year metal grew the fuck up and wore its heart on its sleeve proudly and without shame.