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Unless you spent the better part of last two weeks burrowed in a dirt mound, or buried in snow, you've likely heard the latest saga involving Phil Anselmo. At the Dimebash 2016 festivities, celebrating the life of slain Pantera guitarist Dimebag Darrell, Anselmo took to the stage and, in a moment, set the fingers of thousands of metal fans aflame. He struck a familiar Nazi pose, screaming out "white power."
Outrage ensued; fans and bands alike came out in stark opposition to what Anselmo had done and said, and rightfully so. He said we misunderstood; they had been drinking white wine, and his salute was to the power of the beverage, not a racist exclamation. He then apologized, walking the fine line between "I'm sorry you were offended," and actually saying he was sorry. A petition has been launched to have Anselmo's Down removed from the Roadburn Festival as a result, so far garnering over 1,100 signatures. Organizers of the Dutch FortaRock Festival have removed them already. A hometown gig was cancelled, in the best interest of all parties involved. Organizers of the French festival Hellfest refused to remove the band from their bill, and subsequently lost €20,000 in government funds.
But for every fan who has put their digital signature on a petition, for every other band who spoke out against Anselmo and his actions, there seem to be an equal number, if not greater, who are content to shrug their shoulders, accept a weakly delivered apology, and proclaim that Anselmo isn't a racist. They love Down. They love Pantera. They love Phil Anselmo. The reaction has been murky, and like similar socio-political issues, it misses the larger point.
This isn't a Phil Anselmo issue, it's far more widespread. Racism, along with other forms of exclusion and discrimination, have no place in 2016, let alone in the fabric of popular culture.
This is also where things get increasingly more complicated. We've covered the tricky relationship we, as music fans, have with our favorite bands, thanks to 24/7 access via social media. We know more than we ever have about bands and their members, including political affiliations, food thoughts, and so much more. Consider, for a moment, that without the invention of the internet, scandals such as this would have been limited to those who witnessed it first hand, and bothered to report it via word of mouth.
It isn't until something like this happens that we are left to reexamine our love of a band and their music, and make the tough decision: are our ideals and moral sensibilities worth more than fandom? More importantly, can we separate the two?
For many, including members of The Ocean, Machinehead and others, the answer is a flat "no." The racist, bigoted words that escaped from Anselmo's mouth weren't a joke, or a misguided slip of the tongue brought forth by an emotional evening of memories and alcohol. They were a glimpse inside the man, brought to light. No apology will ever change that.
Maybe this was a blessing in disguise; racists, bigots, sexists, and hate mongers always reveal themselves, sooner or later. It's brought a small amount of exposure to a serious problem that isn't going away. But this simply can't be an ebb and flow issue. This isn't just about Phil Anselmo, a Nazi salute or a two word chant. If you truly believe that racism, sexism and exclusion have no place in the metal community, it must be a consistent effort to remove it. There are no excuses to be made for those who spew hate speech. Don't buy their albums, don't pay to see their shows. And, most of all, let them know that the preaching of hateful ideals won't be tolerated. Not in 2016, and not in our music.
The choice is yours to make.
It's a weakness we all have. As much as we profess to not care about anyone else's opinion, we look, we read, we dabble all around the darkest corners of the interest to see who thinks what about what. It's part of what makes the end of the calendar year all the more exciting. We have to know what Website X thought were the best records of the year. But what about Website Y? Or Website Z? Frankly, we look at all of the lists, as tiring and frustrating as it may be, because we want to know if others, by and large, agree with our own self-righteous opinions. And so we read them all.
What makes metal, specifically, so interesting is how different those lists can be. Because of its many sub-genres and underground culture, no two lists are the same, with very few common components to be found. You might find ten bands you've never heard of, or maybe a mix of half and half. This year was no different. Except, of course, for Baroness.
Despite being pinned down to the end of the year - December 18th, to be exact - few albums made as big a splash as Purple. And, by our estimation, few heavy albums garnered as much attention and strong opinions. As an album, Purple is special. It is, at the same time, accessible and intimate. While it attracted many of those unfamiliar with the band, fans and newcomers alike got to experience an album that felt like it was written for them. One quick glance through the Baroness social media web and you'll find countless messages expressing exactly that; feelings of camaraderie, a common ground of emotions, and, even more, the notion that it spoke to their listeners on an personal level.
The songs are as dynamic and impactful as anything the band has written to this point. In the scope of a career that has found more praise than criticism, that alone speaks volumes. Taken as separate pieces, they are all intoxicating in their own way. Whether it's the urge to howl along to Shock Me, or the unrelenting tap of the fingers and feet to Fugue, you are never more than a pause away from a song that could become the anthem to your life, regardless of what age your driver's license says. That those pieces add up to be something meaningful isn't merely a side effect; it's the intended result. Purple is an album that begs to be heard and, moreover, begs to be shared with anyone and everyone.
And yet, the album as you've heard it is only a fraction of the lasting impact it is likely to have.
It began as a simple social media post, some twenty weeks ago. Under a wheel of colors, the caption read "Any color you like..." While we all knew what this meant - something new was on the way - it restarted a conversation that had faded to the periphery of our memories.
In August of 2012, the band was involved in a horrific bus crash near Bath, England. Frontman John Dyer Baizley suffered a broken left arm and left leg in the accident, and then-drummer Allen Blickle and bass player Matt Maggioni each suffered fractured vertebrae. It was a devastating setback for a band that was touring in support of the critically acclaimed double album Yellow & Green, forcing them to cancel touring plans to focus on their own recovery. Fans were left to wonder what the future of Baroness would be, as Baizley and guitarist Pete Adams worked to rebuild their lives. Some seven months later, both Blickle and Maggioni exited the band. Baizley and Adams began a headlining tour of North America only a week after the announcement came, introducing their new line-up, completed by bassist Nick Jost and drummer Sebastian Thomson, to the world.
It'd been three years since the accident, and since the world of Baroness changed so suddenly and so drastically. One glance at a simple color wheel, and it seemed we were all back together at a single point in time, ready to begin a new journey. After all, we could never go back to the way things were. When you brush with tragedy, you leave that part of yourself behind.
It soon came to be that Purple, the band's fourth studio album, would be released on December 18, 2015. Pre-orders were launched, with more configurations than anyone could have hoped for. Not only had they catered to their audience in format - different vinyl options, digital and CD all available - they had offered their fans pieces of Baroness; signed lyric sheets, drum heads, guitars, artwork. It was, for many, like being released into Willy Wonka's factory and told to choose wisely. You made your choice, and marked the date on the calendar. After all, we knew how this would work.
We've grown accustomed to the typical album cycle; a formal announcement, artwork revealed, a single or two, and then the album miraculously lands in our laps, all in the span of a few weeks or more. As such, we've lost track of how much went in to bringing you that piece of art. Even in the age of social media, with unfettered access to bands 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and 365 days a year, we rarely see behind the curtain to the bare bones of the process. Purple changed that in an immeasurable number of ways.
First came the artwork reveal, a time lapse video of Baizley's design coming to life. It jumped off your screen, as only his artwork can. It mirrored previous album covers, all done in a signature style. The shades and textures were there, and we could see the vision for what Purple was meant to be.
Music followed, with Chlorine And Wine serving as the first single to the record. The animated video for the track once again showcased the visual component. But the in-studio version is where the curtain would begin to be pulled back. The first time you saw and heard Baizley, perched in front of a microphone wearing a Minor Threat t-shirt, shout "I've never felt so uncomfortably numb, here by your side," it sent chills through you in a way you never thought possible. You can see the brace on his elbow. The changes in his face. The weight of three years of painkillers, doubts, and memories collected in the bags under his eyes. And they poured out onto an unsuspecting pop filter. It set into motion a series of featurettes, all a part of the 'Making Purple' theme, that would strip back the facade that many "rock stars" hide behind. The uneasy smiles were gone, and you had a look at the overwhelming reality.
They'd cover the bases at first; recording of guitars, melodies, vocal harmonies, and even the addition of Jost and Thomson to the fold. But as the videos kept coming, there was a noticeable and poignant change to be had. The members of the band were, as we've all been, completely vulnerable. They spoke of uncertainty and apprehension. They spoke of coping with pain. They even shared those real moments of triumph that went into the making of an album that was as much about therapy as it was art. And through it all, the good and the bad, they showed an unwavering honesty that revealed them to be what we'd always hoped our heroes to be: they were human, after all. And all at once, the wait for Purple ceased to be about hearing songs, and more about hearing their stories and thoughts put to music.
It was four months between that color wheel and the physical realization of Purple, on that Friday in December. Perhaps unbeknownst to us, we had all become part of something bigger than another album release. Hell, maybe the band members themselves didn't really know. We watched them make Purple. We helped them find Purple, the tracks hosted in various corners of the internet music community, or a set of tickets, hidden in the town hosting their show that night. But for many of us, Purple helped us to find something, too.
The year came and went, and there were more albums released than one person could listen to in a lifetime. Most of those will come and go, a piece of wax or plastic that will forever be confined to a calendar year, only to be replaced in the weeks and months that follow. Purple is different. It's very quickly become a symbol, though what it stands for depends on the person. I don't know if Purple is everything Baizley, Adams, Jost and Thomson hoped it'd be. I've read close to one hundred reviews, found the album on countless Top 10 lists for 2015, and have listened to it more times than I care to admit. I've tried to connect the themes of 'Making Purple' to the lyrical themes on the album. And, after all that, it's left me with one existential question, for which the answer is as important as any realization I've had in many years.
When does an album become something more?
We asked for your opinion, and we got it. The votes have been tallied, and considering the wide variety of albums that made the final 10, we're delighted at the result. Yes, there were a few albums that were a little out of place amongst the contenders (to whomever cast a vote for Papa Roach and Three Days Grace, sorry!), but luckily they didn't receive enough support to make it on the list. That said, the #1 spot was a pretty solid runaway, garnering more than half of the first place votes.
A reminder of how scores were calculated: Points will be assigned based on position. Albums that make the #1 slot will receive 10 points, #2 will receive 9 points, and so on down to #10, which receives 1 point. Thank you to everyone that voted!
10. Slayer - Repentless. For all of the nonsense about whether 'repentless' is a word - it isn't - this album had some highlights that seem to be critically panned. Regardless of who you are, you age, things change, and your sound evolves. Good or bad, it seems to have worked just fine for Slayer.
9. Intronaut - The Direction Of Last Things. Maybe Metal Injection summed this record up best in saying that Intronaut haven't made the same album twice. They bend and twist their output each and every time. To some, that could be off-putting; you might not get exactly what it is you wanted. But it keeps there catalog fresh and diverse. And, with little question, it was one of the most beautiful LP packages we saw this year.
8. Ghost - Meliora. Many people just don't 'get it' when it comes to Ghost. That isn't an indictment of anyone's taste, though. Ghost isn't just about the music, but the pageantry, the characters, and things happening beneath the surface. Whether you're in it for the 'Satan gone mainstream' aesthetic, or you just have a taste for the theatrical, Meliora is Ghost's strongest release to date.
7. Sunn O))) - Kannon. Fans of this band are rabid, albeit in the most subdued way. Every release becomes an event, and Kannon was no different. Some called it bright, and one e-mailer said it was the most fulfilling acid trip he ever had. But even without herbal inducements, Sunn O))) have aised the bar for themselves once again.
6. Baroness - Purple. One of the most talked about albums of 2015, and it's every bit as good as people say it is. Had we had more time to listen and digest, it likely would have taken a place near the top of our list, but I digress. Baroness did something special with this album, and we'll address that in an upcoming feature.
5. Between The Buried And Me - Coma Ecliptic. I've yet to find myself enjoying an album by Between The Buried And Me, and that seems to put us in the minority. Another album, another round of critical acclaim. Longevity and pleasing their fanbase are certainly strengths you can dig.
4. Thy Art Is Murder - Holy War. Vocalist CJ McMahon has since exited the band cited the inability to make a living as a full time musician, but before he did, Thy Art Is Murder made a hefty splash. What their future holds is up in the air - Nick Arthur of Molotov Solution will be filling in on tour - but this won't be the last we've heard of these Aussies.
3. Paradise Lost - The Plague Within. When you put together a strong death metal/doom metal album, your listeners will swarm to it. Paradise Lost did exactly that - following it with a live symphony - and the results speak for themselves. Is there a Bloodbath effect?
2. Cattle Decapitation - The Anthropocene Extinction. This was a slight surprise; not because the album isn't good, however. In a year headlined by one high profile release after another, it was shocking to see how many year-end lists featured this record. A testament to what this band is STILL doing.
1. Tribulation - Children Of The Night. It's always good to see that an album is liked, outside of the broadening sphere of music critics and media. A lot of major music publications touted this as a can't miss record for 2015, and your votes seem to have backed that up.
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.
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:
10. Amorphis - Under The Red Cloud. They've long been the model for consistency in the metal world, churning out solid album after solid album. But this wasn't just another brick in a sturdy wall of records; Under The Red Cloud is a defining moment for the second stage of their career. Amorphis have embraced every nuance of their sound, and have made an album that, while still containing some of the heaviest elements of their back catalog, has focused on their keen ears for melody and masterful songwriting.
9. He Whose Ox Is Gored - The Camel The Lion The Child. First, a confession. This album sat in our inbox for far too long. It burned a hole in our desk. Every day was the next in a series of, "Today, I'll get there." But with the first listen, we knew we were wrong to wait as long as we had. It stands as one of the most complete albums of the last few years, a spit in the face to modern music industry focus on singles. And in doing so, it defies genre tagging and the nonsensical "sounds like" arguments. He Whose Ox Is Gored are doing something all their own, and doing it well.
8. Enslaved- In Times. Much of what we've said about Amorphis also applies to Enslaved; they've undergone a great deal of change and progression over the course of a career free from duds. In Times is further proof that evolution doesn't have to mean compromise; it can be dynamic, and for the better. Those still expecting crushing, viking-esque black metal anthems may not find what they're looking for here. But they won't be disappointed. If you're a fan of anything and everything in the quarter century this band has been productive, you won't ever be given reason to stray.
7. Draconian - Sovran. It's fine to admit that we fear change. When Lisa Johansson left the fold, I'm sure we weren't alone in thinking Draconian may never truly be the same. And, to a degree, we were right.The addition of new vocalist Heike Langhans wasn't just a band filling a void; they were moving on to something greater than we could have hoped. Sovran is a triumph of an album, fusing together melodies and morose in a way few bands can really claim to. By album's end, you weren't pining for the days of one singer over another. You've accepted them as different, but both equally inspiring.
6. Sannhet - Revisionist. We've seen numerous mentions of this album on the "best albums you didn't hear" type lists, and that begs a question. If no one heard it, how has the praise been so widespread and positive? From rave reviews in Pitchfork, to glowing accounts from live show attendees, Sannhet seem to be doing damn near everything right. Instrumental metal that can carry and convey emotion without the need for epic, borderline-too-long song structures, and all the while keep you in awe of how easily they make it come together? Sounds like something more people should be touting as one of their favorite albums of the year.
5. Swallow The Sun - Songs From The North I, II & III. First and foremost, beyond any sort of "journalistic" tendencies we may (try) to show, we are fans of music. Swallow The Sun has long occupied a space in our pantheon, and Songs From The North did a tremendous amount of good solidifying that place. Three distinct and varied styles, all of which are executed to an astonishing degree. Where many bands try and fail to deliver one solid, front to back record, the pride of Finland gave us three. And while quantity will NEVER trump quality, that isn't even a remote concern when you hit play.
4. Chelsea Wolfe - Abyss. We can have the metal or not debate a another time, in another place. Chelsea Wolfe's Abyss was as dark and heavy as damn near anything else released this year, on this or any other list. I have no problem admitting that we came late to this party, but hearing Carrion Flowers was more than enough to brings chills down our spines. There is a great deal of emotional investment you have to surrender to listen to this record, and every ounce you put in is returned tenfold. It's mood music, the way good metal should be.
3. So Hideous - Laurestine. The hype train has a way of killing good albums. You wait so long for it to come, and by the time it does, your expectations have become unreasonable. Fortunately, that same hype train can't kill great albums. So Hideous had, by our estimation, one of the most anticipated records of the end of the year, and Laurestine delivered in every possible way. They've torn down the walls that confine traditional and mass produced metal, infused it with cinematic soundscapes and dared you to try to turn away. We couldn't. And we don't think you would either.
2. Melted Space - The Great Lie. Ah yes, the fabled metal opera. We did what humans do, and prejudged the album before ever pressing play. We knew exactly what it'd sound like, having heard it all before. But when Pierre Le Pape assembled his cast of characters, he changed the entire stigma of the metal opera. This isn't the same old formula, up tempo and bright; this is a well crafted story, acted out by some of the most talented vocalists in metal today. It's unrelenting and powerful, whether in the midst of a ballad or a crushing, death metal voiced orchestra. It's not what you expect, and everything you wanted.
1. Malnatt - Swinesong. When our mid-year list came out, we had the nagging feeling we'd forgotten something. Sure, we were happy with our choices, but it felt wrong. We had forgotten Malnatt. Whether they make another album or not, Swine-song will stand as a testament to a different tier of heavy music. Even a half-assed translation of the lyrics prove to more thought provoking and earnest than we've come to expect from our metal heroes. And the musicianship, as tight and deft as it is, only enriches the experience. Malnatt have long been innovators in their blackened metal craft, and if this is the end of their journey, oh, to make such an end.
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?
There is a subtle beauty to the way bands are handled in the metal world. It's a different method of thinking, really, not driven by platinum status but by the fans themselves. In 2015, it seems like every metal label gave us something worth celebrating. These five did more than the others, delivering artists, albums, and products that made this year another banner year for heavy music.
Honorable Mention: STB Records, a small, boutique label with a focus on doom and psych metal, has done an incredible job this year, particularly in the vinyl department. Releases from Goya and Doctor Doom, specifically, are then perfect example of catering to your customers. Limited colors and packages, done in small batches, and done right. And watching these different configurations sell quickly and consistently is all the validation they need. With a new release from Druglord on the way, STB is poised to continue their growth for years to come.
5. Season of Mist may not have a stable full of household names, but what they have is a roster of unique acts, many of them one of a kind. 2015 was a great year, undoubtedly, with releases from Weedeater, Thy Catafalque and Carach Angren leading the way. But rather than saturate the market with album after album, artist after artist, they've kept their schedule focused and formidable. More isn't always better, especially in a music industry overwrought with filler acts. A label debut from The Lion's Daughter opens 2016, and by this time next year, we'll be singing their praises again.
4. Napalm Records has made a habit out of releasing tremendous albums, year in and year out, from some of the best and brightest the genre has to offer. They've become a constant, in the best possible way. This year, they unloaded an avalanche of records onto an unsuspecting community; Draconian, Ahab, Kamelot and Gloryhammer put out, quite possibly, their best work yet, and new signee Phantasma, featuring Delain frontwoman Charlotte Wessels, proved to be one of the surprise releases of the year. Candlemass celebrate 30 years, and Varg will burn your village to the ground. Sounds like a great 2016, doesn't it?
3. Century Media is, arguably, the biggest name in all of metal. Chances are, if you listen to anything heavy, you have at least one band from the Century Media family included in your favorites. This year, they provided some of the biggest releases, ranging from Intronaut and Swallow The Sun, to Butcher Babies and Paradise Lost. Next year is shaping up to be another huge one, led by a new studio album from Borknagar in January. Over twelve months, it's a virtual certainty that the Century Media logo is going to be stamped across the backs of many of 2016's best releases.
2. Nuclear Blast was front and center for much of the year, thanks to an extensive list of active bands, a great PR department, and a ton of exceptional releases. What other label could be home to Blind Guardian and Symphony X, but also house Slayer and Enslaved? Their variety keeps fans of all genres happy, and when you see that radioactive logo tacked onto a new music video, album cover or concert announcement, you can expect excellence across the board. Fleshgod Apocalypse will return next year, and label mainstay Avantasia will release Ghostlights in January. Yeah, we're in.
1. Relapse Records did it all in 2015. They spent the year celebrating their 25th anniversary with a slew of reissues, recaps, and new releases, and single-handedly gave the vinyl revival a face and a name. They embraced the resurgence of the format, and gave their followers options and quantities to satisfy their craving. You would be hard pressed to find one label that put out as many quality releases this year, let alone one that embraced the evolution of the genre. Myrkur became the female face of black metal. Hope Drone and Locrian pushed the boundaries wherever they chose. All the while, they continued to strengthen their brand with established bands like Torche and the Baroness side project Valkyrie. While the 26th year anniversary doesn't have the same ring to it, 2016 will be bigger than ever.
Our picks for albums of the year will be coming over the course of the new few weeks. But this year, we want to know what you've been listening to! So, we're going to tally some results, based on your picks. Just fill out the form below with up to 10 albums. You can refer to the list here for help, of course.
- Include artist name and album (example: Amorphis - Under The Red Cloud)
- Points will be assigned based on position. Albums that make the #1 slot will receive 10 points, #2 will receive 9 points, and so on down to #10, which receives 1 point.
- If you want to include a label for the release, feel free!
- Results will be announced at the end of the month.
It's almost a certainty that at some point in the last twelve months, a band that you value has launched a campaign to secure funds for something or other. With the state of the music industry, and the lack of label support, the idea of crowdfunding a project has been increasingly more common. The major label model hasn't completely disappeared, but given the alternatives, it seems more likely by the day. And, as a result, the fans truly hold the power.
But before we extol the virtues of passing the collection plate, we have to remember that not all funding ventures are created equal. Be it a Juggalo-centric documentary, a book of poetry, or a one woman show, crowdfunded success is not a guarantee, or even a likelihood. But for a band looking to do something a little outside the norm, it can serve as a call to action and hype session, all at once.
And this is where Kickstarter, Indie Go-Go, and Pledgemusic, among many others, have become an integral part of the music industry structure. Their success and growing appeal is plain as day:
- You know where your money is going. All successful campaigns have one thing in common: clear, concise descriptions of why they're here, what they want, and where your hard earned money is going. Whether it's a new album, music video, or extensive tour, every penny (minus administrative costs) is going to good use.
- You're in on the ground floor. For the casual music fans - those who listen to music but rarely venture any deeper in the new, reviews and rumors that come along with being a full time fanatic - it gives you a small sneak peak at the process. You buy in to the idea the band is laying out. And you have a chance to see it go from idea to reality, thanks, in part, to your contribution.
- You know what you're getting. The beauty of the process is simple: you aren't giving your money away. The notion of a reward system makes "donating" your money easier. In fact, it's even simpler than that; you're buying something, up front, and your cash is being used to get it into your hands. You decide how much you want to give, based on what you want out of the project. CD, vinyl, digital downloads, shirts, signed artifacts, it's all there for you to choose from. It's fair value for your dollar.
It's more likely than not that you'd be spending the money anyway, so why not shell it out on the front end, and help things get rolling? And if the option is to give the money to the band, or to a cashier at a chain music store, the decision should be easy.
From the artist perspective, an open campaign is even more telling. They control how it is promoted, and how big the payoff will be. Success is a reinforcement of what they're doing. It means there is a concrete number of people who have committed, monetarily, and will receive content in exchange. It isn't a hope of sales, or an empty promise; it's a base line reading and it can only go up as you come closer to completion. Conversely, if it fails, it could also be a saving grace. Maybe the people, the fans, are trying to tell you something.
Put both perspectives together, and it all makes sense, doesn't it?
The major takeaway here is relatively simple: you have the power. With your clicks, your views, and, more specifically, how you spend your money, you tell the bands, the labels, and everyone that wants to keep their hand in the cookie jar what you want. And when your favorite band decides that crowdfunding is the best way to get the job done, pick your reward and tell them how much what they're doing means to you. You won't be alone. Unless you still want that Juggalo documentary to get made. Then you're alone.
In the year 2015, we have something that our parents never dreamed of: unfettered access to all of our favorite bands, 24 hours a day, and seven days a week. With a simple keystroke, the swipe of a finger, the click of an app, and we can see where they are, what they're doing, and what they're listening to. With this sort of voyeuristic approach to modern music fandom, it begs a question that has yet to be answered.
How much do we want to know, and how much can we really handle?
Sure, you can scroll through your Facebook timeline right now and walk away with more knowledge than one would expect. Metallica is in the studio. Wes Borland's guitar was stolen while on tour. Dream Theater are releasing a double rock opera in 2016. These are all objective pieces of data, that is to say they are not malleable and prone to dispute. They happened. They're real and true. They are also safe.
Social media, however, has gone a long way in the quest to humanize musicians beyond their stage name and persona. It gives them the opportunity to share personal details, anecdotes, or even just remind you, the listener, that they are a living, breathing, human being, with bills, troubles, and maybe even a family. We say this is an opportunity because it is, largely, optional. Many artists don't find it important to open themselves up in this way, while others do it often and consistently. And while many of us have grown up with this as the norm, we are still, by and large, unprepared for that side of a performer.
It leads us to an uncomfortable side of "fame," one where political, societal and religious views are not universal; they aren't objective truth. So when an artist we admire reveals his or her self to be inconsistent with our own views, how do we reconcile fandom with human respect? More importantly, do we want them to speak out? I'm not talking about the Republican/Democrat-type decisions we make, the ones that while certainly bringing about uncomfortable and often contentious conversations, are relatively light weight in the grander scheme.
The idea of choosing not to unsettle the apple cart isn't new; Michael Jordan, arguably the most famous athlete in the world, once refused to back a black Democratic Senate candidate in his home state of North Carolina, because, as he reportedly told a friend, "Republicans buy sneakers too." The icon and businessman chose to leave politics to the politicians, something that he has been admonished for in the decades since. His lack of a stance was seen as a waste of his celebrity and exposure, and an unwillingness to bring attention to a cause. His goal, though, was much more obvious: don't risk alienating the people who pay for your jersey, your sneakers, or your cologne (as bad as it smelled).
And this is where that unlimited access to our favorite bands can become tricky and cumbersome.
Mayhem drummer Hellhammer once quipped that "black metal is for white people."
Varg Vikernes has been linked to Neo-Nazi groups and has served time in prison for murder.
Phil Labonte of All That Remains and Frankie Palmeri of Emmure love to use the word "faggot."
Ted Nugent may be the most openly homophobic, sexist and racist man to ever hold a guitar.
So, again, I ask you: How much information do we really want, and how much can we really handle? Can you convince yourself that, when you buy an album from a known racist, that your money is going to the artist, and not the bigot? When you buy the t-shirt from a band that routinely uses racial and homophobic slurs, can you be sure your money isn't supporting their hatred?
Before we go any further, it's important to point out that we support free speech, even of the hateful variety. I would never ask anyone, famous or otherwise, to censor their beliefs for the sake of not upsetting any one group. In fact, I implore them to speak their minds openly and honestly. If there is anything their fans and supporters deserve, it's the truth. If you're a homophobe, say so. Racist? Go ahead and be who you are. Many will agree with your twisted viewpoints. The listeners, the readers, the sponsors, and the labels can sift through and decide to whom they care to give their hard earned money. And that is the biggest tool we have.
The only variable left in this equation is us. How will we handle it when someone we respect says something deplorable? I'd like to think that today, in the all-access, voyeuristic 2015, that when someone reveals themselves to be hateful or ignorant, that we can make the hard, tough choice and unfollow. Vinnie Paul supports Donald Trump's run for the Presidency? You can laugh and scroll right by. But when Labonte, Palmeri, or any other musician begins to casually and carelessly use hate speech? It's time to jump off that ship.
In the internet age there is no reason not to know anything you wish to know. But do you really want to?
At the time of the North American launch of Spotify, we were quick to jump on the bandwagon. The concept seemed pure, the idea of streaming music from our favorites artists without having to pay anything. It seemed too good to be true. And, as it turns out, it was. Maybe not for the users - the 20 million paid subscribers and 55 million users of the free service - as they continually get their money's worth, regardless of which category they fall into.
But for the artists, Spotify has come ton represent another false ecomony fr musicians trying to monetize their art. The fractions of a penny they earn per play aren't enough to sustain themselves, nor is it fair value for what they've put into it. There has been a smattering of dissent within the ranks, with some major labels and artists pulling their catalogs from the service and others (i.e. Google Play, iTunes, Tidal, et al), hoping to bring awareness to the terms they are subject to. But eventually, they all return.
We've breached this subject before, far too many times to remembers. There is no need to do that again here. The graphic below, tabulated and assembled by David McCandless speaks volumes for where we are as a music buying culture. An important thing to note, it uses the threshold for the US minimum wage, not how many albusm per service a band must move to become millionaires. Whether you buy albums physically, digitally, or partake in a paid streaming service for $10-$20 a month, see where your favorite method of music consumption stands, in regards to how it pays out to the artists you listen to. And, if you can, consider the following:
- Where does the money you spend on music go? If you have a $10 per month subscription to Spotify, how does your $120 a year get divided amongst all of the artists you stream?
- Streaming music is a rental; when your subscription is over, you don't retain ownership. Is that important to you?
- How can you best support the artists you care about? If you know that your favorite band sees a higher profit margin when you buy a CD direct from them, does that influence your purchasing?
The options are seemingly limitless; in 2015, you can consume and digest music in more ways than any chart or graph can possibly breakdown. But how you do so, and more importantly who you give your money to, will help to shape where the sale of music goes from here. And while they always tell you that every penny counts, it isn't always your pennies they are talking about. Even the bass player has to eat.