Every year we sit down and try to cobble together the list of the best releases of the year. It's agonizing. It's painful. But somehow, it still manages to be fun. We invent ridiculous, imaginary criteria to narrow the list down, and even more nonsensical ways to provide some sort of order. But we've made it our own. EPs are difficult to factor in to the big picture, so we've given them their own special category. We've undoubtedly missed some completely, only to find them early next year.
Without further speechifying, here are the Top 10 EPs of 2015:
10. Northern Oak - Triptych. The UK based folk metal collective proved last year that they're fully capable of making infectiously catchy music of their own, embodying both the uniqueness and spirit of the genre. But this EP showed something else entirely; they made songs based on the requests of crowdfunding backers. The subjects were handed to them, and they tasked themselves with created something memorable. And yet, somehow, every minute of all three songs felt right. Making great music from your own imagination is one thing, but making it from someone else's? Remarkable.
9. Nemaid - Eclipsi. Part of music fandom is tempering expectation with reality. Nemaind popped up on our radar as just another melodic death band, trying to stand out in a sea of similar acts. Three songs later, though, they were anything but another face in the crowd. This Barcelona based band gave it everything they had, and as cliche as that might be, it shows. They aren't "there" yet to be mentioned in the same breath as Insomnium or Omnium Gatherum, but if the future is anything like their 2015 output, you'll be catching them on a major tour one day.
8. Botanist - EP2: Hammer of Botany. As objective as the "music media," or whatever you want to call it, tries to be, we all have a habit of becoming fans. Botanist is an entity more than a musical act, with a well documented lexicon of terms and stories. Each subsequent release becomes a part of something bigger. Even this one, a small proportionate piece of the puzzle, feels more like a novel in a series, instead of a single chapter of a book. And that spells victory, time and time again.
7. Mono & The Ocean - Transcendental. We've often lamented mismatched tours and splits, wondering how it is that two dissimilar bands end up paired together. No more. This particular split, the first in the Pelagic Records Split Series, is proof positive that musical opposites can do more for one another than logical ones. Fans of Mono will be exposed to the heavier side of The Ocean; fans of The Ocean will find the sweeping ethereal charm of Mono. The best of both worlds.All you have to do is hit play, and flip the record every 11 minutes or so.
6. Torchia - Ending Beginning. We do our best to search out new bands, but our reach is far from boundless. Often times, they find us. Torchia didn't just make an impression, though; they knocked us on our collective asses. Don't let their band photo fool you; they have lofty goals for themselves, which will, hopefully, continue to fuel their development into one of the next wave of great melodic death bands. If aco-headlining tour feature Torchia and Nemaind came rumblign and thrashing through your town, you'd best not miss it. And it might not be a pipe dream for long.
5. Elvellon - Spellbound. Symphonic metal bands are a dime a dozen. Hell, it might be a dime for a hundred. But great ones, or even above average ones, are diamonds in the rough. Elvellon have avoided each and every potential pitfall of the genre, and have produced an EP that is sure to raise more than a few eyebrows. Vocalist Nele Messerschmidt is one of the best new talents to hit the genre in years. Her voice, combined with a beautifully refined musical backing, are destined for something more. A full length album will cement this band as a bright star for years to come.
4. A Diadem Of Dead Stars - The Mist Bearer Pt. II. Perhaps the greatest single theme of metal in 2015 is the removal of any and all boundaries from the black metal landscape. Bands are going farther, doing more, and changing the outsiders view. A Diadem of Dead Stars and, more specifically, The Pilgrim in charge of the moniker, threw all fear of backlash from the conformist black metal culture to the wind, and made a record that is, in parts, as bright and vibrant as any release we heard this year. It's a stark reminder that the only rule of black metal is that there can't be any rules.
3. Vesperia - The Iron Tempests. How do you stop the unstoppable? The inevitable? You don't; you just sit back and watch it happen. It would seem that Vesperia have gained the sort of momentum that is all but impossible to stop, or even control. After winning the honor to play at Wacken Open Air this year, they didn't go home for a six month vacation on their couches. They embraced the role of road warriors, touring anywhere they could plug in, and released a new EP to tide over those who couldn't see them live. If not for the bureaucratic details of Canada-to-US travels, we, too, may have been laid to waste
2. Year of The Cobra - The Black Sun. As we mentioned, stepping outside of the proverbial box was a theme this year, and Year of The Cobra did it in numerous ways. The husband and wife team and their drum and bass attack sounds so much larger than any similar configuration we'd heard before. It doesn't leave you wanting more pieces; you won't even miss the guitar you thought metal required. It just leaves you craving more. Bassist/vocalist Amy Tung Barrysmith knocked another brick out of the gender biased wall of old school metal stereotypes. Even the most misogynistic metalhead would be powerless to resist a head nod when she plugs in and steps to the mic.
1. Veldes - Descent. Sometimes, it just all comes together. For Tilen Šimon, it seems to come together more often than not. Descent is poetic and moving, while at other intervals heavy and coarse. Much like A Diadem Of Dead Stars, Veldes isn't shackled by the perceived limits of the genre, but is instead intent on reshaping them. How else can the genre evolve? But it isn't just the way it all sounds; Šimon has found the fabled space where artwork, lyrics and music comes together in the most significant of ways. You have a chance to be transported somewhere you've never been, all by listening to an album, reading the lyrics, and glancing at the cover art. Why wouldn't you do it?