This has been a strange year for me as the majority of it has been occupied by moving and renovating a house and the birth of my little boy so for the first time ever, music has very much taken a back seat and this has been my least productive year for the Shaman since I started six years ago. That said there has been plenty of quality releases that have managed to force their way into my consciousness, even if some have fallen outside the usual content of this website. So without further ado I give you my top ten musical highlights of the year…
10. High On Fire ‘Luminiferous’
High On Fire are simply in a class of their own when it comes to making high octane, battering metal. Mixing their hardcore speed rush with volatile and complex rhythms, Matt Pike’s men rage about chemtrails, aliens and conspiracy theories in an album that features dazzling solos, heavyweight sludge and throat lozenge shunning vocals. As brutal as ever Luminiferous must surely sit high in their already acclaimed back catalogue. The band even make time to throw in a few new tricks and The Cave stands out in particular with it’s pensive, acoustic introduction that makes a change from the usual club to the back of the head. As with all of the band’s material there is a seemingly defiant catchiness to the album that belies its initial presentation. Buried beneath the wall of sound are hooks that pull you and have you banging your head until spots start appearing before the eyes, OK that might be a medical condition, but its fun getting there!
9. With The Dead – S/T
Basically comprised of people with an axe to grind towards Electric Wizard’s Jus Osborne, Doom ‘supergroup’ With The Dead was founded by former EW members Tim Bagshaw (bass/ guitars) and drummer Mark Greening before fonding a kindred spirit in Rise Above Records Head Honcho and ex-Cathedral frontman Lee Dorrian. Concentrating more on the music and less on the soap opera, the eponymous six track debut is an exercise in how to carve out huge cavernous walls of doom with vicious intent. Quintessentially English, this album captures a similar spirit to Cathedral’s Hammer Horror take on the genre but here the camp and the kitsch are eschewed in favour of a lurching malevolence than crawls from the speakers and dares you to listen with the lights off. Channelling pure hatred this is an angry, heavy album that writhes and scratches at the subconscious as Dorrian sounds more evil than ever before. This is an album that sinks in after several spins and seeks to flatten the competition. The production is raw as hell and despite the less than convincing start, recorded as it was in secret with a slightly thrown together timeline, as the band gather momentum the quality and calibre of the people involve start to shine through. Stripped back and at times incredibly bleak, this is a cathartic blast of old school doom.
8. Vision Of Disorder ‘Razed To The Ground’
Whilst most bands mellow with age, few expected New York hardcore titans Vision Of Disorder to roar back with such a blistering album as 2013’s The Cursed Remain Cursed after a decade of hiatus; yet alone maintain that nary focus with this year’s follow up Razed To The Ground. However that is exactly what they did. Not as directly in your face as the launch of the second VOD era, their latest effort eschews speed and raw fury for a battering groove that allows them to craft a more considered type of blunt force trauma. Over the course of ten tracks the band pummel the listener with cascading riffs and anvil heavy breakdowns that are offset by vocalist Tim William’s spooky Layne Stayley on steroids melodies. Tracks like Nightcrawler, the title track, Red On The Walls and Heart Of Darkness suck you in and have you banging your head whilst the biting and acerbic observations of the frontman snarl and caress you in turn. Less immediate then the last outing, Razed To The Ground still has hooks galore to pull you in to the intensity and grows in stature with every listen, proving that Vision Of Disorder still kill the old way.
7. The Atomic Bitchwax ‘Gravitron’
The Atomic Bitchwax continue to grow in stature and have transcended the tag of being a Monster Magnet side project or early comparisons to Clutch; Chris Kosnik’s men may still share tour buses with Dave Wyndorf in their day job, but their latest full length offering tops anything their other band have done in years. A bold mix of instrumental experimentation and hard hitting, gritty rock and roll, their latest album was a strong contender for a top ten album the moment it was released. Featuring the vocals which were so sadly lacking on The Local Fuzz, TAB play to their strengths with Kosnik’s whiskey soaked drawl holds court over blistering fuzz over drive. Mixing it up with funk, punk, fret board pyrotechnics and catchy grooves this is an album that doesn’t let up until Ice Age Hey Baby swaggers in with acapella vocals, hand clapping and tongue in cheek lyrics about the end of the works and heavy metal. Some albums you put on can immerse yourself in a serious listening experience, others are a joyous celebration that makes you grin from ear to ear. This album was destined to be in my top ten from the very first spin and despite a year of releases from some of my favourite bands, Gravitron is still riding high and finding room in the playing rotation. Because it’s that good.
6. 36 Crazyfists ‘Time & Trauma’
For me it’s instinctual to root for the underdog. It’s why I support the football team I do, it’s why I spent years trying to promote underground British Metal and it’s why I love 36 Crazyfists. Swept up in the tail end of the Nu Metal era, the off kilter Alaskan band found themselves on Roadrunner and tipped for big things with the release of their debut Bitterness The Star. However somewhere along the lines it never quite happened and the bands popularity has dwindled in key areas despite producing better material. After a few years of label and personnel changes, personal issues forced the band to call short their last album cycle, which seemed to deepen the notion that they were living on borrowed time. Happily they came roaring back this year with one of their strongest albums since 2004’s Heart & The Shape. Time & Trauma is a bruising affair that showcases everything about the band – a slamming Nu Metal meets Screamo style that combines subtle melody with powerful pummelling that chops and changes as much as the Berring Sea. All of this is topped by the unique vocal delivery of frontman Brock Lindow, whose wavering voice passionately articulates the pain of recent years in a heartfelt manner that gets you right in the feels. This album is a tale of personal tragedy for the singer and the fresh additions to the Crazyfist family breathe new life into the band and they positively strain at the seams, shoe horning new variations into the tried and tested sound. Sorrow Sings, Also Am I, the title track and Vanish are huge slabs of honest metal that, for all the emotional weight of the subject matter, come across like the sound of a band just happy to exist and making music they love.
5. Clutch ‘Psychic Warfare’
What more can I say about the latest offering from Maryland’s finest that I didn’t say in my glowing review? Nothing much really other than to repeat my extolling of its sonic virtues. In my opinion this is simply the best Clutch record for a number of years and given that Clutch don’t produce bad albums, that means that this is a great, great listen. It takes all the elements that fans have come to love from the band and smashes them together in a manner as satisfying as the large Hadron Collider team must have felt discovering the Higgs Boson particle. Funky? You got it? Hard Rock? Check. Intelligent lyrics delivered with an almost religious fervour? Damn skippy. Basically Psychic Warfare keeps Clutch on the harder edge of their back catalogue without losing the ability to write insanely catchy music that will have you dancing before you know it and singing the words with the conviction of a gospel choir. This is a band who simply don’t have it in them to turn in a dud these days and this is chock full of tunes just begging to become your new favourites.
4. Corrections House ‘Know How To Carry A Whip’
The sophomore album from the EyeHateGod/Neurosis/Minsk collaboration had to follow the stunning debut of 2013’s Last City Zero. Williams, Kelly, Parker and Lamont achieved this with unerring ease. Know How To Carry A Whip is ten more tracks of visceral dissection of the modern age, snarling and weeping for the world being thrust upon us. Like the first album, the loops and beats of Parker provide a back drop for the two vocalists to trade styles, ideas and challenge the listener to step out of their comfort zone and question everything we are being told. The wild eyed beat poetry and shrieking outrage of the EyeHateGod frontman is balanced by the world weary drawl of Scott Kelly and the band draw greater light and shade from the material than on their previous outing. At times this is a bleak and desperate experience that crushes the listener under the dense weight of its subject matter but there is always something captivating about it. I can’t improve on my review summation of this album: Know How to Carry a Whip is a 45 minute howl of pain and frustration that sees Corrections House refine and improve on the blueprint they laid out in 2013. It’s not pretty and it makes for uncomfortable listening at times but the second manifesto from this unique collective is a compelling record that will have you longing to spin it again and again. Resistance is futile.
3. Author & Punisher ‘Melk En Honnig’
Author & Punisher’s 6th album is a high water mark in the musical career of the visionary artist behind it, Tristan Shone. Recorded in Nodferatu’s Lair, Produced by the one and only Philip Anselmo and released on Housecore Records, this is the culmination of years of careful crafting of a unique take on industrial, droning doom. The focus of Melk En Honing was to take the clashing, cold mechanical tropes of A&P and hone it into something more accessible for a live setting and this seems to have worked in spades. Despite still being as terrifying in its biomechanical nature as the Alien, the album features hooks and structures that have previously been deemed unnecessary – the beautiful weeping chorus of Future Man is a massive highlight and was something missing from his previous cannon of works, showing off not only the fact that Shone has a great voice, but the project loses nothing of its intensity if you can sing along. Tracks like Callous And Hoof, Disparate and towering opener The Barge show that Author & Punisher has the tools to detonate a moshpit as well as being an impressive visual and aural spectacle. It takes skill to take a niche genre of music and make it more accessible without compromising the original concept and vision, but on Melk En Honing (under the guiding ear of Anselmo) that has more than just been achieved, it has made a great, great album.
2. Lamb Of God ‘VII: Sturm Und Drang’
There have been so many column inches written about Randy Blythe interment in one of the toughest prisons in the Czech Republic, the man slaughter trial and the derailing of momentum for a band that rely on touring. Quicker than expected Lamb Of God came out of the blocks this year with one of their strongest albums since Sacrament. The Storm And Strife, to give it’s English translation, features some of the bands most diverse work yet and is a game changer as they move from the more blunt percussive thrash to a full on Southern Groove Metal band. There is plenty of room for the straight ahead battering, as the likes of Still Echoes, 512 and Erase This provide plenty of ammunition for the Mosh Pit inclined, but Overlord features clean vocals and a more mature direction for the band that loses none of their edge as the track explodes with rage at the close. If there was any more room for surprises then Deftones Chino Moreno makes a cameo on Embers, providing a softer foil against Blythe’s trademark bark and on Torches Greg Puciato from The Dillinger Escape Plan helps turn the slow burning climax into a stunning display of power and dynamics. If you love watching a band evolve without compromising their roots, then LambOof God’s latest offering has plenty for the fans of ultra-violence and those looking for them to expand on a well-trodden blueprint. One of their most satisfying in recent years and a comeback worthy of Rocky.
1. Iron Maiden ‘The Book Of Souls’
In all honesty no one would really be surprised if, after 30 years as one of the greatest metal bands of all time, in 2015 Iron Maiden were on their victory lap before riding off into the sunset on a trademark galloping bass triplet. What is surprising is their first double album, a mammath 92 minutes of music that is in turn a nod to the past, as fresh as anything in the present and even a glimpse into the future. The two disc Book Of Souls has everything – for those that yearn for a return to the shorter length blood and thunder of the 1980’s, you have Death Or Glory, Speed Of Light; if you like the epics, you have the Mayan themed title track, the divine The Red And The Black and the ludicrously indulgent Empire Of The Clouds, which despite its near twenty minute run time, manages to side step any Spinal Tapisms and if you wanted something fresh you have the Dickinson penned If Eternity Should Fail and the touching Robin Williams tribute Tears Of A Clown. In short Maiden’s sixteenth studio album is a revelation that has been received more enthusiastically than any other album since 1988’s Seventh Son. Even as someone who has embraced the reunion era albums, The Book Of Souls feels like a band who are showing no signs of slowing down.
Up the Irons!
Scribed by: Mark Hunt-Bryden