Published Dec 10, 2015Our Best of 2015 albums lists by genre continue today with our staff picks for the 10 best metal and hardcore albums this year.
Click next to read through the albums one by one, or use the list below to skip ahead to your favourites.
To see more of Exclaim!'s Best of 2015 lists, head here.
Top 10 Metal & Hardcore Albums:
- 10. Napalm Death - Apex Predator - Easy Meat
- 9. Monolord - Vænir
- 8. Between the Buried and Me - Coma Ecliptic
- 7. Fuck the Facts - Desire Will Rot
- 6. Torche - Restarter
- 5. Windhand - Grief's Infernal Flower
- 4. Dragged Into Sunlight / Gnaw Their Tongues - N.V.
- 3. Chelsea Wolfe - Abyss
- 2. Deafheaven - New Bermuda
- 1. Cult Leader - Lightless Walk
10. Napalm Death
Apex Predator Easy Meat
When it comes to UK grind pioneers Napalm Death, one thing that has been made abundantly clear throughout their 30-year-plus career, which comprises a whopping 15 albums, is that they simply don't disappoint. This year's Apex Predator - Easy Meat is yet another masterpiece to add to their impressive, influential repertoire that captures every ounce of the chaotic intensity and vicious grit that have made the band's sound instantly recognizable and massively admired across extreme metal sub-genres. But Napalm Death are not ones to be unvarying.
Although they've maintained their classic style, the band still manage to keep things fresh. They've been boldly experimenting with some musical diversity on their previous few albums, and Apex Predator - Easy Meat continues along that path: Moments of heavy, thrash-y rhythms juxtapose stunning melodies and progressive song structures, adding a whole new level of complexity to Napalm Death's approach. Harsh and aggressive, thoughtful and innovative, Apex Predator - Easy Meat is absolute brilliance.
Gothenburg trio Monolord impressed with their 2014 debut, Empress Rising, then avoided the sophomore album slump by cranking it up a notch on Vænir. This record drops a slab of progressive, psychedelic doom so sizzling and bone-crushing it could turn a chicken coop into a pile of McNuggets. Thomas V Jäger's spaced-out vocals float hints of Ozzy, à la "Planet Caravan," particularly in the tripped-out downtempo interlude "The Cosmic Silence."
His scuzzy guitar is absorbed into the sludge riff-worship of bassist Mika Häkki, while the drums of Esben Willems —who also recorded, mixed and mastered the whole affair — snap and kick, maintaining the poise and scope of their colossal magnitude through lengthy compositions (the title track itself runs over 16 minutes). Monolord may not have reinvented the wheel with this one, but they put spikes all over it and sharpened the hell out of them.
8. Between the Buried and Me
Though the format is nowhere near as prominent as it once was, one would be hard pressed to find another modern band that have produced concept albums with the same degree of quality and consistency that Between the Buried and Me have. When it was anyone's guess where the group could possibly take their prog-metal mastery after two-album concept suite The Parallax, they billed Coma Ecliptic as a full-blown rock opera. And rightly so: It's easily the closest they've come, in a musical sense, to their art-rock idols yet.
As any frontman leading a conceptual full-length should, Tommy Giles Rogers remains a focal point here, trading a good deal of his dry, scraping howls in for clean singing. Straying from their technical death metal roots was a gamble, given their prior formula was just as successful, but such reinvention couldn't have come at a better time.
7. Fuck the Facts
Desire Will Rot
Fuck the Facts don't fuck around. Just listening to the first 30 seconds of "Everywhere Yet Nowhere," the opening track on Desire Will Rot, it's clear that the quintet play every note like grindcore's going to go out of style any minute now. Truth is, though, if grindcore did go out of style (that's saying that it ever was in style), Fuck the Facts would be completely fine with it.
On their 10th LP, the Ottawa/Gatineau metal band don't seem as interested in rehashing Napalm Death and Terrorizer's bloody blueprint as much as they seem obsessed with finding hidden passageways and trap doors within it. Finally benefiting from a stable lineup, Fuck the Facts seem ready to take sweeping chances on Desire Will Rot, the same way they're comfortable playing with the more subtle elements of their songwriting. They remain one of the leading groups in modern grindcore simply because they're ready and willing to completely burn it to the ground — on Desire Will Rot, that's exactly what sounds to be happening.
So many bands plateau after hitting that decade mark; they start lacking the impact they once had and releasing material that doesn't quite live up to their earlier works.
Torche don't fall into this category. Since their 2005 self-titled debut, the Miami act have consistently surpassed expectations, with each offering more gripping than the last. This year's Restarter follows the tradition, laying out 10 epic tracks that are overwhelmingly heavy yet captivatingly melodic, showcasing the distinct sound that Torche have been honing over the past decade.
Combining stoner rock, doom and sludge with light pop elements, the band defy genre barriers by juxtaposing harsh, dense rhythms with pretty, otherworldly tones. Insanely catchy hooks, airy harmonies and immensely crushing riffs are peppered throughout the album, which features some of the band's most thoughtful, impeccably written songs to date. Unique yet memorable and truly compelling, Restarter is the band's finest work thus far, making it apparent that Torche only improve over time.
Grief's Infernal Flower
When an album so pretty is considered one of the best metal releases, does that mean the hipsters have finally won? No matter if your long hair has a flower crown woven into it or not, if you're into the slow and psychedelic side of metal, Grief's Infernal Flower is a can't-miss record that lived up to its touted label of most anticipated doom album of the year.
No longer the new kids on the doom block, the Richmond, VA quintet have made good on their buzz with this third album. Produced by heavyweight Jack Endino, Grief's Internal Flower is more than sludgy; it's aural quicksand. Good luck trying to dislodge your headphones during the crushing 14-minute "Hesperus."
Riffs and fuzz aplenty are a given, but then, right in the middle of its heavy trip, the album gives up "Sparrow," an acoustic lament, showing vocalist Dorthia Cottrell's delicate side, then goes out on a grim lullaby. This is sensitive and fierce Sabbath for a new age.
4. Dragged Into Sunlight / Gnaw Their Tongues
Opening with "Visceral Repulsion," the collaboration between Dragged Into Sunlight and Gnaw Their Tongues accomplishes exactly that; the vile vibrations could nearly induce nausea, and that's a compliment. The vitriol of each act coagulates into a hateful mix of black metal, cyclic and noisy industrial, and viscous sludge, not unlike the thick blood that would pour out if one's tongue was gnawed through or if they were dragged to Hell, a far more appropriate destination for sounds this sinister.
The blast beats roar like thunder, while the screeching brings to mind the tortured cries of a de-tongued victim. The only windows in this wall of sound are covered in macabre sound clips from the depraved: killers and their ill ilk.
In a world where "metal" is used to describe music that is hardly heavy, much less threatening, it's welcome to have music that has you simultaneously on the edge of your seat while also pushing you back into a suffocating corner. Being uncomfortable has never sounded so good.
3. Chelsea Wolfe
Los Angeles singer Chelsea Wolfe battles demons onstage and off. Although she started writing songs when she was nine years old, Wolfe didn't start her music career until she was in her mid-20s due to performance anxiety, and she has dealt with sleep paralysis since childhood, a condition that manifests shadowy figures from her dreams into the darkness of her bedroom. Yet, were it not for these challenges, Abyss would not be so rich, for she drew on them to create this masterpiece.
With the cover art inspired by Henry Fuseli's 1781 oil painting called The Nightmare, Wolfe dug deep lyrically and turned in some of the most dynamic and heartfelt vocal performances in her rich catalogue. Russian Circles guitarist Mike Sullivan helped establish its crushing, distorted heaviness, while longtime collaborator and bandmate Ben Chisholm ramped up the electronic angle, resulting in a sound that evokes the perfect How to Destroy Angels album from a darker parallel dimension. Moments like hearing Wolfe cry "I'm so tired!" on doom metal dirge "Dragged Out" before its church bell-punctuated chorus, or the descending glissandi of Ezra Buchla's viola merging with horrified screams in the gothic folk of "Crazy Love" kept us coming back to experience this nightmare over and over again.
Even coming off the career-changing shoegazing of sophomore set Sunbather, Cali black metal adventurists Deafheaven upped the stakes considerably with this year's New Bermuda. Still key are the relentless blasts, fierce, bat-shrieked vocals and melancholy blurs of guitar noise, as the band embrace heavier sounds than on their last outing — just check opening salvo "Brought to the Water."
The song goes for the jugular for much of its runtime, but closes out with an elegant and affecting minor key piano passage you might expect from a '70s-period Clapton album.
Extended arrangements, like that on "Luna," run the gamut from gut-punching thrash licks and a gun-turret ripple of snare into despair-ridden washes of sadness. "Come Back" offers even more hair-whipping insanity before a necessary reprieve of serene slide guitar. Through it all, vocalist George Clarke adds cyan-stained screams about suburban isolation.
Heavier yet retaining what makes them such a unique force in metal, New Bermuda gave fans something to willingly lose themselves in.
1. Cult Leader
The debut full-length from Salt Lake City's Cult Leader is unrepentantly, unequivocally gutting. It splits the listener's heart open like a ripe fruit, demanding nothing less than blood. While the EP that the quartet released last year, Nothing for Us Here, matches Lightless Walk for violence, their latest effort is a triumph of emotional demolition as well. Whenever faced with a choice between straightforward brutality and something more subtle but ultimately more harrowing, the band chose wisely.
Vocalist Anthony Lucero juxtaposes a lot of rough whispers and harsh, hushed melancholy to his performance, aiming to leave welts on the heart rather than the body. The result is a record as vulnerable as it is cruel: "A Good Life" conveys a wrenching sense of loss, and "How Deep It Runs" leaves long, bloody gashes in its wake. But it's not unrelenting misery that makes Lightless Walk something extraordinary; rather it's how it balances that agony with healing, hope and even defiant joy. "Suffer Louder" is as cathartic as it is crushing, and though "Sympathetic" begins in a place of grinding horror, it gradually progresses to something blazingly transfiguring; it could even be called beautiful.
Lightless Walk is characterized by a hard-won, anguished, bloody beauty, and it's all the more lovely for it.
Natalie Zina Walschots