Here are the ten albums that I have loved the most in the last twelve months. Well, apart from Abomnium’s A Hollow Path, that is. But nominating my own album just might be a little bit too cheeky… 😉
10. Cannibal Corpse – Red Before Black
You know what you are going to get from Cannibal Corpse, as their album-to-album consistency is something of a trademark. I guess what really hit me with this latest 46 minutes of splatter from the granddaddies of gore is just how damn heavy it is. It’s not just the production either – there’s just something distinctly more crushing about the riffs.
9. Immolation – Atonement
I confess to being a bit late to the party with Immolation, as the first of theirs that I heard was 2013’s Kingdom of Conspiracy. How wonderful to have a back catalogue of another eight albums to discover! I love their jagged, dissonant riffing and tight, twisting song structures. Death metal doesn’t get any sharper than this.
8. Ruins of Beverast – Exuvia
This album creeps me out. In fact everything by the Ruins of Beverast creeps me out. It’s like music from the Stranger Things alternate realm, “the upside-down”… I remember me mate Trevor who writes for The Lair of Filth saying I should listen to it because I’d probably like it. Well, lad, you were right! Exuvia opens with what I hope is a field recording of a tribal shaman. If it’s not, then lord knows what’s going on. The riff that then kicks off underneath it is sparse and unpleasant, and things just get more twisted from there on. It’s great stuff!
7. DOOL – Here Now, There Then
I wondered whether, under my own, self-made rules, I could include DOOL in this list. After all, they don’t really market themselves as metal and they don’t have an entry in Encyclopaedia Metallum. But dammit, this is my list of favourite albums of the year, and Here Now, There Then is an absolute belter. I suppose if I was trying to pigeonhole them, I’d describe their music as psychedelic, metal-infused, goth rock, which probably does their sound a massive disservice. But if you think that Fields of the Nephilim crossed with, I dunno, Alice in Chains, or the less whacked-out bits of Soundgarden, might be your thing, then you are in for a treat. The opener, “Vantablack,” is a fantastic example of how to write a stupidly heavy song without turning the gain on a guitar amp much past about 4. Gives me goosebumps every time I hear it…
6. Satyricon – Deep Calleth Upon Deep
After they apparently caused a bit of a fuss with 2013’s eponymous album (dunno why, I thought it was a cracker), I could well imagine that Deep Calleth Upon Deep will bring old fans running back. It’s dark, it’s heavy as hell and it’s fast in all the right places, crafted with that oh-so-distinctively dry sound that they have made their own. In many ways, Satyricon strike me as the spiritual opposites of Cannibal Corpse: while the latter deliver with tremendous consistency, the former have never been afraid to experiment with what atmospheric black metal sounds like. Here we get a touch of opera, a touch of black-n-roll, and a perfect lesson in how to write dark songs that get stuck in your head.
5. Abhorrent Decimation – The Pardoner
The Pardoner delivers fifty minutes of perfectly furious, razor-sharp death metal. I love every minute of the album and not just because of the technically excellent brutality, but also because of the textures, the changes of pace, the additional instrumentation layered in at just the right moments. And every time I listen to it, there’s a little voice in the back of my head that asks, ”I wonder what Bernie Clifton thinks of it?” 😃
4. Sólstafir – Berdreyminn
To me, Sólstafir sound just like Iceland looks. Majestic, sparse, a bit bleak, and utterly captivating. This latest album is the perfect follow-on from their last one, Otta, from 2014. The melodies and raw emotions that burn through in Aðalbjörn Tryggvason’s vocals are all there, along with a clear disdain for worrying about song length. As on Otta, these songs all feel perfectly formed, even though most are seven or eight minutes long. Take “Hula,” the album’s third track, as an example. Menacing synths, slide guitar and a piano all combine in the first couple of minutes to build a rather disturbing, yet somehow peaceful soundscape. It’s excellent songwriting. I love it.
3. Enslaved – E
They’ve only just gone and done it again, haven’t they? Quite how Enslaved manage to write songs that are consistently this good is beyond me. You know you are in for quite a ride when you see that the album opener, “Storm Son,” is nearly 11 minutes long. It lulls you in with clean tones right out of the early 70s prog playbook, giving you nearly three minutes in which to get setted with a cuppa, before pulling out riff after jagged riff of purest Enslaved genius. Each one of them feels like a gateway drug to a next level of heavy, teasing with one repetition more than your ears expect before hitting the 7-minute mark with one of the heaviest things I’ve heard from them in years. The way they fuse pure black with prog, old-fashioned heavy metal and weird-assed jazzy stuff is nothing short of genius.
2. Wolves in the Throne Room – Thrice Woven
Much as I loved WITTR’s synth-based covers of their own material on 2014’s Celestite, I did wonder if that was it. Perhaps that was them signing off, hanging up their boots and guitars and just retreating into the fog-shrouded forests from whence they came. And so it was an utter delight to have them back this year with Thrice Woven. Heavier and faster than ever, and yet still threading spellbinding melodies through long, hypnotic songs. Thanks, gents. You make my ears very happy.
1. Me and That Man – Songs of Love and Death
For months I wondered what yer man Nergal from Behemoth was up to, as he posted teaser after teaser on his Instagram account for something that was clearly not going to be a Behemoth project. And then Songs of Love and Death appeared… Written with British-born, but Polish-resident, folk-rock guitarist John Porter, this carries the spirit of Behemoth, wrapped in pure Americana. Nergal and Porter are a fearsome combination, alternately growling, crooning and spitting out the grimmest of lyrics over razor-sharp low-down-and-dirty blues riffs. I was lucky enough to get to see them play live just days after the album came out, and what a pleasure it was to be in a crowd that could sing along to everything they played. An utter delight. The album to play on a roadtrip to hell!