Mike’s Top 10-ish Albums of 2015

2015 has come to an end.  Like all years, it was a year of ups and downs.  Sadly, this year had some pretty big downs.  The biggest was the loss of my metal brother, Josh Watkins who lost his 10+ year battle with brain cancer.  There’s a more proper medical term for what it was, but the name eludes me at the moment.  The most important thing is that he’s no longer here to share my musical tastes with.

Of anyone I’ve ever met in my life, he is the one person who I shared the most in common with.  It wasn’t just music, but we had interests in many other things besides music, but music was the one connection that ignited our friendship when we met in November 1997 working for Best Buy.

Many of the records on this list he would have loved, and it saddens me that he’ll never hear them, or any others that have yet to be released.  Still, I cherish the time I spent with him, and over the 18 or so years we knew each other, there is a huge trove of music that will remind me of him each time I hear them.

So anyway, to the list.  As always, its not easy to narrow it down to exactly 10, so I’ll list a few others with some notable releases for various other reasons.

ish. Secrets of the Sky – Pathway  I am not going to lie, I was almost finished with this article and had forgotten about this album.  Coming back to it now, I remember really enjoying it when I first heard it, and I still do now.  Blending elements of doom with some ambient post metal, death metal, and some prog, this is a really great band, and definitely something worthy of your time.  While there are 13 tracks on this disc, only 6 are proper songs, the rest being musical interludes in between each full track.  All of the interludes are instrumental with sounds of chains clanging, footsteps, chants, rainfall, and just a bunch of other odd things.  I can’t really say that it adds to the whole album, but its not quite out of place either.  I imagine the band wanted this album to be enjoyed as a whole, and while I mostly agree with that, the best parts of the album are definitely in the main tracks.  My favorite is track 2, “Three Swords” a proper doom death song with an excellent vocal performance and a whole lotta atmosphere.  As a whole, the album is very good and has some big up moments, but the interlude tracks tend to drag on, and probably should have been used more sparingly.  Nevertheless, this album is worth checking out.

ish. Arena – The Unquiet Sky  Arena is one of the most consistently great progressive metal bands out there.  Other than Threshold, I cannot think of another band that continues to make great music album after album.  This is the second album with new singer, Paul Manzi, and this album cements that choosing him as the new singer was the right decision.  This album is enjoyable for me from start to finish, and is mostly an excellent followup to 2011’s “The Seventh Degree of Separation”.  The one thing that this album is missing is those one or two standout songs that really make you want to listen to them over and over.  Arena has been around long enough and has made enough great music that it’s getting harder and harder to pick one album as a favorite, but I think that when I get in a mood for their music, this album probably won’t be the first one I think of.  But that’s more of a statement of the quality of their other releases, than a knock at this album.  This is a great disc, and if you’ve never heard of Arena, this is as great of a start as any, its just not their best.

ish. Pyramaze – Disciples of the Sun  This is the third release by this Danish progressive power metal band, but their first in 7 years and first with new singer and lead guitarist, so in some ways its a bit of a debut for them.  If this were a debut, it would be one hell of a freshman effort.  This is a mature, and well written progressive power metal band that shows a lot of experience in crafting powerful, yet heavy melodies.  This album has a couple great tracks like “The Battle of Paridas”, “Back for More”, and “Fearless”, the band perfectly blends the line between progressive and power metal with perfection.  Neither the guitars, keys, or vocals ever cross that line into musical masturbation that so often plagues bands of this subgenre.  This is a very solid album, and the only reason it doesn’t rank any higher is that for as great as the album is, there is not that one song that I strive to hear over and over which would make me come back to this album for repeated listenings.

10. Serious Black – As Daylight Breaks  No, this is not a Harry Potter theme album, instead its a supergroup consisting of Urban Breed (Tad Morose) along with members from Blind Guardian, Edenbridge, and Dreamscape.  Rarely do supergroups equal the sum of their parts, but in this case, the result is one heck of a solid progressive power metal album.  Now, “one heck of a….” is not something normally worthy of being on a best of year end release, unless there are a couple of really standout tracks, which is what has happened here.  If I was making a Top 10-ish Best SONGS of 2015, track 2 “High and Low” would definitely be on there.  Featuring pummeling drums, wicked keyboards and guitars, and Urban Breed’s soaring vocals all throughout, this is one of the best songs of the year.  There are other highlights here, such as “I Seek No Other Life”, “Akhenaton”, and “Setting Fire to the Earth”, this is one of the best power metal albums of the year!  If I had to list two nitpicks about this album which prevents it from being higher on this list is that while the album has some really great highs, there is some filler material that slows down the pacing of the album, and the entire CD suffers from brickwalled sound that kills any discernible dynamic range.  These are two very small nitpicks to an otherwise great album, that unlike Pyramaze, I will come back to again and again.

9. Barren Earth – On Lonely Towers  The followup to 2012’s “The Devil’s Resolve” which was one of the better albums from 2012 which I foolishly omitted from my year end best of list, is also the debut of new singer Jón Aldará, yet somehow I have to go back to the previous album and listen to it again to even remember this is not the same singer.  It’s not so much that the two singers sound exactly the same, its that both guys fit in with this Finnish bands mix of melodic death metal, progressive metal, and even a hint of power metal here and there.  This album is a monster that deserves to be listened to from start to finish.  The album starts off with a short instrumental intro, and then builds and builds through the next 4 tracks until you get to track 6, which is both the albums title track and longest of the album, and peaks with an epic journey across so many metal subgenres.  The progressive elements of the band really shine here, and even though the album could have ended at this point and I would have been pretty happy, it finishes with the one-two punch of tracks 7 and 8, “Chaos, The Songs Within”, and “The Vault”.  This is some of the best music of the year.  I honestly wish I could put it higher than 9 on my list, except that I like 8 other albums just a tad bit more.

8. Ensiferum – One Man Army  Boasting perhaps the year’s best cover art, “One Man Army” is the band’s 6th studio album, and I’m ashamed to admit, but my first experience with the band.  Hailing from Finland, Ensiferum is Webster’s Dictionary’s de-facto definition of viking metal.  Basically take everything that makes power metal, power metal, but add in a lot more extreme vocals and tales of conquering and fjords, and you pretty much have Ensiferum.  Perhaps the thing that was so unexpected to me was how well the band plays serious music, but then at the same time doesn’t take themselves seriously.  This band has some of the same humor that makes me appreciate Edguy over other power metal bands.  This album is a fun romp from start to finish with one of the best tracks by any band from this year.  Track 10, “Descendants, Defiance, Domination” is my track of the year for 2015.  Coming in at 11:20 this song by itself is why this album is on this list.  There’s other good tracks here too, even track 11 “Nieto Pohjolan” which has some sort of weird Tango/Dance vibe with accordion and steel drums, but it somehow works.  This is a great album and one I have already listened to countless times and will definitely come back to again.  If I had one nitpick about this album is that its a tad bit too long.  Solieri told Mozart “too many notes” and I think that runs true here at times as the band could have trimmed a couple of the weaker songs off the album and it would have made it even better in my opinion.  Nevertheless, this is a very minor complaint, if you’ve never listened to Viking metal, this is an excellent place to start!

7. Kingcrow – Eidos  Earlier in this year, I really had this pegged as a runner up for album of the year, and while I still love this disc, it fell to number 7 as I just haven’t found myself coming back to it as much as some of the other albums on this list.  With that out of the way, this is still an incredible album, and probably the most musically diverse on this whole list.  Kingcrow is definitely progressive music, but they walk that line of what is and isn’t metal.  Its heavy, but I hesitate to use the label “progressive metal”.  The album opens with “The Moth” which is still one of my favorite tracks of the year, and it goes from there into a variety of directions that strongly remind me of Porcupine Tree’s “In Absentia” which is a very good thing because that album is one of my favorites of all time.  Another plus to “Eidos” is that it’s one of the best dynamically recorded albums I’ve heard all year.  Listen to this disc on loudspeakers and then again with a good pair of headphones and you’ll have two different experiences.  Listening to this album again while writing this review, I am remembering why I loved this album so much earlier in the year.  This really is a great disc, and definitely something I can safely recommend to any fan of music, whether they like metal or not.  Should I move it higher on this list….such a hard decision!

6. Angra – The Secret Garden  Hey, wait a minute!  Didn’t I already include this album on last years list?  Yes, but this album really didn’t come out for most of the world until January of 2015, and I spent a huge amount of this year listening to this record, that I feel like I did it injustice by prematurely including it on last year’s list.  Besides, this is my site, so I get to make up the rules!  I think that when you compose a year end list, you shouldn’t always go for what you’re listening to only at the end of the year, but what you listened to throughout the whole year, and that is why this album is here.  The Secret Garden is the debut of new singer, Rhapsody (of Fire’s) Fabio Leone.  It was a huge surprise and Angra’s best album in….possibly forever!  I’ve always KINDA liked Angra, and some albums were better than others, but this album is hands down their best.  This album has 2 of the best songs of the whole year, “Crushing Room” which is a duet with Doro Pesch and Rafael Bittencourt.  I’ve never been a huge fan of Doro, but she absolutely kills it on this track.  The other is the last track “Silent Call”  which is a hauntingly beautiful all acoustic track sung once again by Rafael Bittencourt.  It’s kind of odd that I pick the two songs that aren’t sung by the band’s new lead singer, but hey, that’s how it works.  I take nothing away from Leone, his contributions to the album are top notch.  Where Rhapsody’s music often goes far behind the normal lines of restraint, his powerful voice is properly restrained here without actually sounding restrained.  I keep talking about the vocal performances of this album, and as worthy as they are, the music here is great too.  Angra has never hidden their Brazilian roots and there are moments here such as around the 3 minute mark to the album’s opener “Newborn Me” where some Spanish guitar and tribal drums come in at just the right moment.  If I had one complaint, its that the band doesn’t do this more often.  This is a great album and one hell of a return by Angra.  Although I included it on 2014’s list, it should have been here, because this album has been on regular rotation all year long.

5. Enshine – Singularity  One of the later 2015 releases to make it on this list, the Swedish band Enshine shoots up this list to number 5 because it tickles all of my soft spots for music.  Think of the melodic death vocals of Be’Lakor with some Rapture-esque guitars, some Katatonia-like clean vocals, a touch of doom, and an overlying space theme with hints of Ayreon and roll it into 53 minutes of musical greatness.  There isn’t a weak track on this album, yet there isn’t one that stands out either.  This is definitely an album that needs to be absorbed in one listen.  Re-reading those last two sentences might give you that this is a smorgasbord of music that doesn’t have it’s own identity, which would be completely false.  While I hear a ton of different influences in this album, it stands on it’s own very well, which is why I ranked it as high as I did.  This is a lush and beautiful album filled with the best melodic death of the year.

4. Ghost – Meliora  So, I have a confession.  The first few times I had heard Ghost’s previous efforts, I was not a fan.  There is a new movement of “stoner” doom that many people mistakenly confuse with the likes of genuine metal bands.  While I’ll acknowledge these bands are generally heavy, and very closely resemble early Black Sabbath, they are hardly what I would consider doom metal.  When I heard Ghost had a new album, I was not the least bit interested.  It was not until I saw the video for “Cirice” that had me hooked.  Ghost is a bit of an odd duckling in that the whole band dresses like demonic popes.  None of the band member’s names are ever revealed, and supposedly the lead singer keeps getting fired, yet some speculate that its the same guy over and over.  This is certainly a strange band, but that doesn’t even begin to touch their music.  In the first few moments of “Cirice” the music is HEAVY.  There’s some killer bass guitar and drums, yet when the vocals first kick in, they are very “not what you’d expect”.  I’ll admit that I can’t explain why I like this album, yet something materialized after repeated listenings and I really got into this album.  More than half of the tracks on this album are great, other than “Cirice”, there’s “He Is”, “Majesty”, “Absolution”, and “Deus in Absentia”.  I once played this album at a Halloween party and it went over very well.  There are a lot of retro doomy undertones, and lots of cool sounds from the rhythm section, and many of the songs are insanely catchy.  I have found myself singing along to many of the albums tracks more than once.  You can call this music whatever you want, but in my mind, its definitely metal, and worthy of being on this list.  This album both doubles as #4 of the year, and my biggest surprise of the year.

3. Riverside – Love, Fear, and the Time Machine  Poland’s Riverside has been a favorite of mine from the very first time I heard their debut, “Out of Myself”, a blend of Pink Floyd esque melancholy with a harder modern edge, they sound a bit like Anathema mixed with Opeth’s softer moments, sprinkled with their own unique blend of progressive metal perfection.  This album took me a bit longer to get into than some of their others, because I’ve always held 2009’s “Anno Domini in High Definition” as the band’s high moment, and 2013’s “Shrine of New Generation Slaves” as a bit of a step back.  Thankfully, “Love, Fear, and the Time Machine” really grew on me throughout the year and now I consider it one of the band’s best.  The album’s opener “Lost”, “Addicted”, and “Caterpillar and the Barbed Wire” are amazing tracks filled with lush melodies, acoustic noodling, beautiful vocals, and some of the best song writing of the year.  Like Kingcrow, the album’s production is top notch, and this album is best appreciated with a good set of speakers or headphones.  In a lesser year, this would be album of the year for me.  I absolutely adore these guys and am so thrilled I got to see them live at this years ProgPower USA in Atlanta.

2. Amorphis – Under the Red Cloud  I should start off this review saying that I don’t believe Amorphis has ever made a bad album.  Their sound has evolved over the years, and they’ve had many lineup changes, including a change at lead vocalist 3 different times.  Most recently in 2006, Amorphis debuted current singer Tomi Joutsen on their album “Eclipse”.  That change was like a breath of fresh air into the band.  They seemed to be stagnating a bit under previous singer Pasi Koskinen.  Eclipse was a really solid album that started a new era of Amorphis.  Since then, their discography has been a bit of a roller coaster.  Like I said earlier, nothing was bad, but 2009’s “Skyforger” was a great album and had I been making best of lists in 2009, it would have definitely been on there.  The two albums that followed were ok, but just seemed to have a bit of the stagnation that preceded the Joutsen era.  So it was with a bit of indifference that I approached this new album, “Under the Red Cloud”.  When I first heard the record, I had to check and see if there were any lineup changes this time around.  In fact, the band has had the same lineup for the past 6 albums, which is the longest they’ve ever gone without changing staff.  This album is very fresh and adds a bit of an Egyptian/Middle Eastern tinge to several of the songs.  The album starts off with the powerful title track.  While not entirely different than anything the band has previously done, there’s just enough in this song that makes this sound like Amorphis 2.0 (or maybe its like 6.0 – I dunno).  Joutsen is at the top of his form and both his clean and death singing are top notch.  This is the best he’s ever sounded.  This whole album is great from start to finish, but without a doubt, my favorite song is one of the albums heaviest, track 5 “Death of a King” is one hell of a song.  Again bringing in the Middle Eastern whistles and some guest vocalists, this is the best I have ever heard Amorphis sound.  Other stellar tracks are “Bad Blood” another excellent heavy song with a driving beat and some great progressive elements, “Sacrifice”, “Dark Path”, “Tree of Ages”….hell, I’m listing almost every song.  This whole album kicks ass.  This not only is my second favorite album of the year, but other than Ghost, is my second biggest surprise of the year.

1. Wilderun – Sleep at the Edge of the Earth  My album of the year is the only American band on this list and probably the least known.  I started out this article mentioning the loss of my best friend Josh.  Even though he would have never heard this album, I know in my heart this would have been a very special album to him too. While he would have loved to have heard most of the albums on this list, this album reminds me of him even though he never heard it.  Hailing from Boston, MA, Wilderun is best described as a folk-influenced doom death band with traces of progressive metal.  This album is musical perfection in my opinion.  If there is one subgenre of metal I love the most, this is it, and Wilderun NAILS IT.  This is an album that transcends mere music and is an experience to listen to.  For the most part, I can come up with small nitpicks of every album on this list, but not this one.  The death vocals are actually quite similar to Amorphis, but the music is equal parts Katatonia, Turisas, Opeth, maybe even a tad bit of Saturnus here and there.  Some of the album’s best moments are in the instrumental pieces.  Tracks 2 and 9 are beautifully quiet pieces of music.  Track 2, “Dust and Crooked Thoughts” starts out with the sound of an acoustic guitar played over the sound of a running brook.  The finale which is the title track can be summarized by the word “haunting”.  The sound of a piano playing slowly in an echoey chamber, with some strings, and then what sound to me like Gregorian monks, this song brings me to tears every time I hear it.  This is what I mean by musical perfection.  Every element of this album is so well thought out and done, even the cover art just fits in with the feel and mood of the music.  I can picture myself on the porch of that house on the fog covered hillside listening to the sounds of this whole album.  I could go on and on about how much I adore this album, but the point is, this album not only is my favorite style of music, it does everything well, and with perfection.  While there were a number of other really great releases in 2015, none is as complete of a musical experience with Wilderun.  This being the band’s second album, I absolutely cannot wait to hear what they do next.

Best Non Metal Album – Perturbator – Dangerous Days  This album did come out in 2014, although I first heard it this year and since I don’t really have anything non-metal, I felt this was worth a mention in this year’s list.  Technically considered to be synthwave, Perturbator is like a combination of cheesy 80s horror movie music, with some retro video game synth, blended together into some type of John Carpenter-esque soundtrack.  I’ve always had a soft spot for electronica music, perhaps as a result of my love for the Commodore 64 and Amiga as a kid.  For those unfamiliar, both Commodore systems were way ahead of any other computer system in the 80s in terms of music and sound.  So much so that some modern artists still use the SID chips from the C64 in composing their music.  While this is not metal in any stretch of the imagination, I feel as though it is great crossover music for a metal fan as most of the tracks have a very sinister and dark feel to them.  I am not kidding when I say these songs would fit perfectly well into any 80s horror movie soundtrack.  I feel as though the album’s opener could have been included in “Escape from New York”, “Halloween III”, or even “The Running Man”.  If you like evil sounding music, electronica, or just are a movie fan, you should check this out.  It’s unlike anything I’ve ever heard, and very cool!

Biggest Surprises – W.A.S.P. – Golgotha and Queensrÿche – Condition Hüman  If last year you would have told me that both W.A.S.P. and Queensrÿche would release albums worthy of mention on a Best Of list, I would have thought you were crazy.  I have never been a huge fan of W.A.S.P., only liking a few of their biggest hits of the 80s, and in my opinion Queensrÿche has not released anything worth listening to in over 20 years, yet both bands are back with really solid albums in 2015.  W.A.S.P. is probably the better of the two.  Blackie Lawless is a bit of a reformed Christian these days, so he’s not quite as “black” as he once was, but that has not had any effect on his voice, which is still top notch.  For those of you stuck in the 80s who think “they don’t make ’em like they used to”, well here you go.  This album is a time warp back to W.A.S.P.’s heyday.  No lame 1990s attempt at mixing in alternative or 2000’s nu-metal here.  This is old school balls to the wall Texas-style rock and roll!  While the whole album is solid, my favorite two tracks are the opener, “Scream”, and track 6, “Slaves of the New World Order”.  Lawless and the rest of the band have not lost a step and even if you weren’t a huge W.A.S.P. fan, you really should check this album out if you like straight up hard rock!  Queensrÿche on the other hand releases their second album with new singer, Todd La Torre who in some ways both perfectly captures the vocal sound of original singer, Geoff Tate, while still bringing something new to the mix.  La Torre is both a fresh start for the band, without alienating the sound that made the band famous in the first place.  Condition Human is probably the most metal album the band has made in years, some of the guitar work has a bit of a “Maiden” sound to it.  The album’s opener “Arrow of Time” is a really great place to start as it perfectly blends bits of old and new together.  La Torre does his best Tate impersonation here, yet it somehow works better than anything the band has done in the last two decades.  This isn’t a perfect album, and I don’t know how often I’ll come back to it, but like “Golgotha”, this is one hell of a comeback for both bands.  These albums aren’t worthy of being on the main top 10-ish list, but they’re very solid albums, and something fans of either band should definitely check out.

Best Triple Disc Album of the Year – Swallow the Sun – Songs from the North I, II, and III  OK, haha, how many albums are released in triple disc format?  A lot has been written about this Finnish band’s decision to release 153 minutes worth of music spanning 3 discs.  One of my favorite metal review sites, Angry Metal Guy, has a lot of strong opinions about this band’s lack of ability to edit itself.  If you would like to read it, read this, this, and this.  While I agree with many of the comments that this album is entirely unnecessarily long, and the production leaves a lot to be desired, I think that by dismissing this whole triple disc slab is a shame, because there is at least one whole album’s worth of excellent melodic death metal here.  I really wish someone would re-edit the best moments of these 3 discs into one album.  I think that if that would have happened, the single disc version of “Songs from the North” would have been much better received.  This is a good album, just WAY too long.

Best Album Everyone Else Loves But I Think is Just OK – Trials – This Ruined World – This album has been on many other Top 10 releases this year, and while I am definitely a fan of the band’s music, there’s just nothing particularly amazing about this album that stands out to me.  Trials’ blend of metalcore and thrash works really well, but I guess my biggest complaint is that most of the songs sound too much alike to me, which wouldn’t be a bad thing if there was more variety on the album.  Trials is a local band from Chicago, which you would think would give me more reason to come back to this album, but in the 6 or so months since this album came out, I haven’t found any particular reason to come back to it.  Clearly, I am in the minority here though because a lot of other people out there love this record, so maybe you shouldn’t take my word for it.  Like I said, this is a really solid thrashy / death metal record, just nothing that really captures my interest.

Honorable Mentions:

Symphony X – Underworld  Symphony X has never made a bad album, and its a testament to their talent and legacy that they can pretty much keep making the same album over and over, yet it never quite gets boring.  If you’ve heard one Symphony X album, you know what to expect, and Underworld is no different.  Russell Allen has one of the best voices in metal, and every member of this band is near the top of their game at their respective position.  “Underworld” is a solid album, and I can’t honestly tell you why I didn’t like this album more than I do, but it’s just OK to me.  There’s nothing wrong with it, and if you’ve never heard of these guys, this is as good of a place to start in their discography as any, but I can’t in good conscience say this is one of the best albums of the year.

Armored Saint – Win Hands Down  Like W.A.S.P. and Queensrÿche, this is a bit of a comeback album for the band too.  This is probably the best Armored Saint has sounded since 1991’s “Symbol of Salvation”.  John Bush still has an awesome voice and sounds as good as he ever has before.  I can’t quite say this is as big of a surprise though because it doesn’t surprise me as much that these guys would release a very solid album this year.  If you are a fan of the band, or Bush’s work with Anthrax, or even just classic metal, this is something you should hear.  Very solid, very solid indeed!

Faith No More – Sol Invictus  Believe it or not, but Faith No More was the band that really got me into music.  While not quite ‘metal’ their take on music is what caused me to search out other bands in jr. high which eventually led me down the road to metal.  I’ve always had a soft spot for this band, and despite popular opinion, liked “King for a Day”, and “Album of the Year”.  I was excited, yet skeptical, to hear they would release a new album this year.  Its definitely FNM, and not bad.  I do enjoy this album, but its not something I feel I’ll come back to very often.  A very solid comeback album, and fans of the band will no doubt like this.

Gloryhammer – Space 1992 Rise Of The Chaos Wizards  I had to check twice to see if this was yet another Tobias Sammet side project because this album oozes of Edguy-esque cheesiness.  I really do like this album, and some of the tracks like “Goblin King of the Darkstorm Galaxy” and “Set the Universe on Fire” are some of the most catchy of the year, but the whole album is a little to over the top to listen to from start to finish.  Fans of over the top silly power metal will love this.  If you’re just a casual fan of power metal, then you should still check this album out, but maybe listen to it a piece at a time!

Orden Ogan – Ravenhead  Yet another power metal album finds it’s way to the “Honorable Mention” list.  Like Gloryhammer, there are a couple really standout tracks here, such as the title track and “F.E.V.E.R.” but straight up power metal is a genre that’s been so well covered before, I just find it really hard to nominate any one particular album as being a “best of the year”.  Maybe thats an injustice to the genre, and I wouldn’t want anyone to think I don’t like power metal, because I do, its just a genre that’s very hard to stand out in.  This is a really good album, and if you’re a power metal fan, you should definitely check it out, but as a whole, I feel good leaving it here in the “Honorable Mention” section.

My Dying Bride – Feel the Misery  This is probably My Dying Bride’s best album in the past 15 years.  So why isn’t it higher on this list?  I honestly don’t know.  All I can say is that when I listen to this, I think “hell yeah”…..then I want to listen to something else.  MDB’s early work set the de-facto standard for what doom/death metal should be, and this album is a continuation of that sound.  Theres nothing particularly wrong with this album, and I highly recommend it if you are a fan of this genre of metal, but for some reason, this album hasn’t stuck with me throughout the year.  Maybe one day I’ll come back to it and hear something that I have so far missed, but as it is, I’ll just honorably mention it.

Draconian – Sovran  If this album had been released 15 years ago, I would have fallen head over heels for it.  Harkening back to the early days of 2000, I was a big fanboy of this gothic style of doomy metal with dueling male and female vocals.  Picking up where bands like “Theater of Tragedy” and “Tristania” left off years ago, this album almost comes off as “retro”.  A followup to 2011’s “A Rose for the Apocalypse” this album starts out with the excellent track “Heavy Lies the Crown”, a hauntingly beautiful melodic track with both guttural death vocals and angelic vocals from new female singer Heike Langhans.  The album is very solid, and might have been worth an official “ish” nomination if there were one or two more solid tracks.  If you only listen to two tracks off this disc, let it be the opener, and track 8, “Rivers Between Us”.  As it is, the album has quite a bit of filler material.  There are some highlights for sure, but I feel that this is an album where a couple of its tracks will be on my own custom playlists, and the rest I’ll never listen to again.

So there you have it, my list for 2015.  One thing that I think is interesting is how many veteran bands there are on this list.  Arena, Angra, Amorphis, W.A.S.P., Queensrÿche, Faith No More, Armored Saint, Symphony X, and My Dying Bride all made quality releases this year.  I don’t necessarily think that means there was a lull in releases from newer bands, more that the whole world of metal is as strong as ever that new bands have as much quality competition from the veterans.  For every Pantera, Type O Negative, (and most recently) Motörhead who have lost key members and will never release anything new, theres stalwarts that have been doing it for several decades still releasing quality music.

As always, I am excited to see what 2016 will bring.  I’ve already heard advance copies of some 2016 releases that I may be writing about 12 months from now.  Heres to a great year for music and hopefully with none of the downs of 2015.

Rest in Peace Josh, I miss you so much.

Joshua T. Watkins (1979 – 2015)

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