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.
There are, inevitably, albums we missed, didn't listen to enough, or were just completely unaware of until it was too late. With that, here are the Top 20 Albums of 2015:
20. Bedowyn - Blood of The Fall. Complacency kills. If you aren't constantly evolving, changing, learning, you are doomed to die. Bedowyn found a degree of success with their Wolves & Trees EP, and it propelled them to do more. And that growth is evident on every second of Blood of The Fall. Heavy grooves, smokey, raspy vocals, and a focus on structure and pacing make this the next logical step for a band with a long path ahead. But here, they've created an easily advanced sound, one that can continue to bend and change over the next twenty years... or longer.
19. Fister - IV. It's one 44 minute track. It's slow. It's horrifying. At times, it's downright scary. Fister are, and continue to be, one of the most powerful forces in the independent music "scene." And here, more than on any previous release, they've forced you to listen to things differently. Yes, every moment is part of one larger one, but it can't be broken down, dismantled, and dissected into incremental chunks. It's an audio novel; you can't read one chapter and understand the grander scheme of things. You just have to let it have its way with you. That which does not kill you, right?
18. My Dying Bride - Feel The Misery. True mastery of your craft is a multi-part question with an infinite number of answers. But few have figured out the solution more than My Dying Bride. They can make a sunny sky seem depressing, with just a few minutes of your time. But they've grown over the years, and it shows in their latest release. Feel The Misery isn't a command as much as it's an invitation; one that, even on your best day, you're likely to accept. It isn't necessarily because you want to spend your days sad or in a sea of woe, though it could be; it's the way they allow you to feel their pain whenever you choose.
17. Myrkur - M. Myrkur divided people this year, and, for many, showed their true colors. Amalie Bruun, the woman behind the moniker, brought to light the inherently sexist tendencies many fans of metal still adhere to. There was outrage, there were denials, and there was plenty of controversy, simply because a woman was making a black metal record. Who made the album doesn't matter. What's contained therein is the key. And Bruun, for al the pushback, created an album that was at times grating, and at others surreal. 2015 should be a turning point.
16. Locrian - Infinite Dissolution. We likened this album to a 1957 Chevy pickup being crafted into a space station. It seemed, on the surface, to be mismatched parts housed in the same husk. Yet, we go back to it, time and time again. Much like labelmates Hope Drone (more from them later), they bent the boundaries of black metal until they were barely recognizable. Electronic, ambient, noise, whatever you want to call it to make yourself feel more comfortable, Infinite Dissolution is a monstrous album that laughs in the face of convention, just for fun.
15. Ghost - Meliora. Was there a band or an album that garnered more attention or exposure before, during and after its release than Ghost's Meliora? Singles, live performances, a neverending chain of interviews, they were front and center for much of the year in the music news cycle. And in this case, that wasn't a bad thing. While I understand the arguments made against the album itself, Meliora taps into a different place on the metal spectrum, which makes it unique in the current landscape. But the portrayal of the characters, Papa and the Nameless Ghouls, elevates the music int a different place all together.
14. Hope Drone - Cloak of Ash. When we named Relapse our Label Of The Year, it was largely because of their willingness to embrace bands that were doing something outside of the normal confines of their genre. Hope Drone fit squarely into that category, and they provide one of the greatest risk/reward statements of the year. The album stands at 77 minutes, which is a massive undertaking. But that time ceases to exist when you've allowed yourself to be consumed by the black metal gone wild atmospheres they've created. Just let it happen. You'll thank yourself later.
13. Blind Guardian - Beyond The Red Mirror. This was a no-brainer, really. Anyone who fancies themselves a power metal fan is easily swept up in the majesty and mastery of Blind Guardian. You know, with utmost certainty, what you're going to get before a single note has been played, and yet it's always like a kid on Christmas morning. You're surprised, you're excited, and you have a hard time putting it down. This is the music of triumph and victory, meant to be heard with one fist in the air, striking a metal pose, and chanting along to Twilight Of The Gods. This is the power metal counterpoint to Andrew W.K.
12. Inadran - Dehanrast. Side projects and solo albums tend to occupy a different space then the main band, for better or worse. But when Valkus, half of Italian doom duo Valkiria, sent out to make an album by himself, he found a safe space all his own. One part black metal, and two parts melodic sensibility, Dehanrast quickly became an album that would eat up a large proportionate chunk of our rotation. It speaks to you, without a single word. And it says more than we can even attempt to, about Valkus, his talents, and how personal music can be.
11. Wilderun - Sleep At The Edge of The Earth. It seems as though the folk metal explosion has begun to slow, thanks in part to the massive influx of bands who simply aren't ready for prime time yet. Wilderun, on the other hand, could single-handedly rejuvenate the lost love of many. In a way, they stripped down the folk metal sound into it's two contrasting parts - folk and metal - and reformed them into something exciting again. As well versed as you might be in the genre, one listen to Sleep At The Edge Of The Earth is likely to be as life affirming as the first record you heard.