2015 brought plenty of great albums with it, and as with the year before there were so many outstanding efforts that it was hard to really narrow things down into a concise list. Instead of agonizing over it for too long, I simply decided to go through everything I had given high marks to since January and rank according to what I was still listening to in the months after the initial review. This list only reflects albums that I personally covered throughout the year, as I’m sure there are plenty more that would have been candidates had I been able to spend in-depth time with them. I’ve have contributing steadily to Transcending Obscurity since its relaunch with two reviews every week, so hopefully anyone reading this will find some artists they may not have been exposed to before or reassert how good some of these releases are. Here’s to next year bringing more killer metal with it!
In this extensive, three-page feature you’ll find the best, or the most outstanding, records from 2015.
Move on towards page two to discover the runner-ups (the honorable mentions), and finally on page three Wouter discusses his personal Hard/Fast/Grindcore Highlights of the year.
BEST RECORDS OF THE YEAR (in alphabetical order)
Ancient Rites – Laguz
Belgian institution Ancient Rites is one of the earliest death/black metal outfits of the country. Like country mates Insanity Reigns Supreme its output has become sporadic in the last decade. ‘Laguz’ continues with the heavy symphonic power metal direction the band debuted on ‘Fatherland’. What makes ‘Laguz’ work better than any of the preceding albums in the style is that the production finally complements the band’s playing. Gunther Theys once again handles his trusty bass guitar for the first time in a decade, and drummer Walter van Cortenberg remains one of the genre’s unsung heroes. As always European history and folklore are central to the lyrics, and with ‘Laguz’ there’s a greater fixation on Roman antiquity and military history.
Embodied Torment – Liturgy Of Ritual Execution
California combo Embodied Torment made a big splash on its New Standard Elite debut, and rightly so. Embodied Torment combines the chunk of ‘Tomb Of the Mutilated’ Cannibal Corpse with the intensity of early Deeds Of Flesh and Brodequin on one of the most promising debuts in quite some years. ‘Liturgy Of Ritual Execution’, nonsensical album title aside, has the modern sheen with its production, and has a lush Paolo Girardi painting functioning as its cover. The band is helped in no small part thanks to the amazing endurance and limb control of multi-talented drummer Cindy Chaco (who also does some fantastic painting herself with Cinners Art). While California death metal is generally the least distinctive (along with probably Chicago) of the USDM scene, Embodied Torment reassures that there’s still life to the old corpse. Read the full review.
Fear Factory – Genexus
A promising start. Two breakups/reformations and one questionable record can’t stop Fear Factory. Ever since Bell and Cazares reconciliated the Factory has been pushing out records on a steady pace. ‘Mechanize’ was the big comeback, ‘The Industrialist’ was the misunderstood follow-up – and now ‘Genexus’ proves the duo’s resilience and vitality. Boasting the best production the band has had in years, and breezy in its atmosphere ‘Genexus’ puts the best elements of ‘Obsolete’ and ‘Digimortal’ into bouncy, snappy songs with big choruses and Bell’s famed harsh-soft vocal dichotomy. It won’t go down in the annals of extreme metal as a vital record, but it was a sober reminder that an aging and ailing institution shouldn’t necessarily be written off on the hit-and-miss nature of its output. Read our full review.
Gruesome – Savage Land
Matt Harvey is no stranger to doing tribute/worship acts. Dekapitator and Ghoul are two throwback projects that everybody should have a passing familiarity with by now. Gruesome is Harvey’s tribute to formative genre act Death, and it truly is the closest one can come to the early legacy of Chuck Schuldiner. Full of references to Mantas/Death, subtle and not-so-subtle, in its visuals, production and music ‘Savage Land’ is what could have been. Perhaps this is what Death sounded like had they remained within the perimeter of the ‘Leprosy’ and ‘Spiritual Healing’ direction. The presence of bass guitarist Robin Mazen (famed in the underground for her work with Demonomacy, and more recently Castrator) and former Malevolent Creation drummer Gus Rios certainly added to the star power of the project. Gruesome has something for traditional death metal fans, as well as 1970s/80s exploitation flicks alike. Read our full review.
Insanity Reigns Supreme – Unorthodox
The second Belgian institution to make its long overdue return was long-suffering death/doom metal combo Insanity Reigns Supreme. ‘Unorthodox’ lived up to its name by being far more death metal than doom, although stylistic elements of the latter remain central to its sound. Frontman Criz Jamers never sounded better, and the production by Andy Classen is top notch. Draped in esoterica and occult imagery ‘Unorthodox’ is the most comprehensive, engrossing and complete that Insanity Reigns Supreme has sounded to date. With only a handful of releases to their name they are of the old adage that quality trumps quantity – and they couldn’t be more correct. Enter the Cult Of Doom…
Lost Soul – Atlantis: the New Beginning
Forget about Behemoth. Forget about Vader. Forget about Hate. Lost Soul released the crowning achievement of its career with ‘Atlantis: the New Beginning’. ‘Atlantis’ is a record chockfull of the most technical, groovy and melodic material Jacek Grecki has yet written. Replete with choirs, acoustics, and the most accomplished artwork that beats even the most established of its peers no praising adjective, or superlative exists that can do ‘Atlantis’ the justice it deserves. This record is a milestone for band, and country alike. This is the new standard to which all Polish albums shall be measured. It is the apex of creativity and extremity. Read our full review.
Nachtlieder – The Female Of the Species
Over the last couple of years Nachtlieder has established itself as one of Sweden’s more interesting black metal bands. ‘The Female Of the Species’ sees Nachtlieder branching out into more distinct, individual territory. Boasting an intelligent concept that fuses elements of Biblical parables, Satanic philosophy and feminism sole member Susanne Hansson more than outdid herself. Matched in her ambition only by her instrumental prowess and cleverness Nachtlieder, nor ‘The Female Of the Species’ feels the need for any gimmickry. Forget the established Swedish black metal bands, the future has arrived… Read our full review.
Odetosun – The Dark Dunes Of Titan
After debuting spectacularly with ‘Gods Forgotten Orbit’ German progressive/atmospheric death metal trio Odetosun took its time crafting the much-anticipated follow-up. ‘The Dark Dunes Of Titan’ is everything the debut was, and so much more. Influenced in equal measure by classic European death metal, as by David Gilmour era Pink Floyd the trio expanded upon the atmospheric direction of its debut. Not bound by genre classifications and merely using death metal as its designated vessel to journey into more compelling musical territory ‘The Dark Dunes Of Titan’ breathes artistry from every aspect.
Revulsed – Infernal Atrocity
Never judge a book by its cover. No band embodied this better than Australian outfit Revulsed. ‘Infernal Atrocity’ has the appearance of a typical, by-the-book Suffocation clone in the often reviled post-1990s tradition. More importantly, however is the membership. Revulsed is the much lauded return of scene veteran Jayson Sherlock (Mortification, Paramaecium) and the new venture for German vocalist Konstantin Lühring. ‘Infernal Atrocity’ is completely over-the-top in brutality, and Lühring’s performance might be one of his best yet. Sherlock has spent a good deal of his post-Paramaecium career in relative obscurity, now he might transcend it again. Revulsed now introduces his outstanding percussive mastery to a whole new generation of death metal fans across the world. Read our full review.
Sickening Horror – Overflow
For its past two albums this Hellenic death metal combo had been infusing its music with industrial sounds and electronics. While impressive in their own ways (‘When Landscapes Bled Backwards’ had drumming by George Kollias after all) none quite escaped the conventions of its parent genre. ‘Overflow’ no longer concerns pigeonholing itself with specific genres, as it is an extreme metal album first – and all the rest second. Sickening Horror finally liberated itself from the suffocating tropes that neutered its creativity. Having found an equilibrium between electronics, symfo elements and extreme metal ‘Overflow’ is the most comprehensive and ambitious Sickening Horror effort yet. ‘Overflow’ overflows with creativity and the desire to break free from imposing genre shackles. As such it is a resounding success. Read the full review.
Feature continues on page two.