And so, at last, to the final part of my 2015 favourites. These five records are, without exception, ones that I felt were not just my favourites, but ones that I consider to be among the best of their respective genres; whether that be because they nailed the core sounds so perfectly, or because they went beyond, pushing at the boundaries with huge success. As such, I would also argue that, as well as being my favourites, these are what I consider to be the five best releases of 2015. And given this, I feel it’s possible to rank them in a non-alphabetical order. So, here we go…
5 – Yen Pox – Between The Horizon And Abyss
Label: Malignant Records
Full Review: Link
I had to sit on this one for a small while; not because I couldn’t get a grip on it, but because I doubted that my initial impressions were accurate. Between The Horizon And The Abyss – the first album from Yen Pox in fifteen years – sounded so strong on initial listens, that it had me thinking it was perhaps the best dark ambient album I’ve ever heard. That impression held up several months later; and it still does now. Whilst it’s undeniably a dark ambient album – full of drones, loops, and sounds that haunt you long after the album has stopped playing – there is an extra, more musical sense to it compared with most other albums of the genre, which gives the album a very strong foundation, and helps keep it interesting and listenable. In a genre filled with releases that often feel interchangeable, Yen Pox have created something with clear character, that is incredibly strong and deserves recognition as not just one of the year’s best records, but as a high watermark for the genre.
4 – G.L.O.S.S (Girls Living Outside Society’s Shit) – Demo
Full Review: Link
There’s a lot of underground buzz around G.L.O.S.S., and rightfully so. This demo tape is eight minutes of some of the most electrifying, urgent, and vital hardcore recorded in recent years. Whilst it’s nothing too groundbreaking musically – fitting in firmly with Boston style hardcore – it’s lyrically and thematically that this band are so notable. Tackling the issue of trans rights head-on – as well as the interconnected issues of gender and sexuality – the honesty that bleeds from these five songs is impossible to deny. It means that, as short as it is, the honesty and unapologetic nature that radiates from the demo has led to me listening to it more than any other hardcore release in some time. And the abuse the band has attracted simply for daring to exist as a trans- hardcore band only serves to highlight just how important G.L.O.S.S. are. A perfect example of how simultaneously aggressive and compassionate hardcore can be.
3 – My Dying Bride – Feel The Misery
Label: Peaceville Records
Full Review: Link
You’d almost be forgiven for taking My Dying Bride for granted. 25 years in to their career, and with a constant flow of releases under their collective belts, the British death-doom veterans seem like they’ll always be around, releasing records every few years. Yet with Feel The Misery, they have released an opus that will make anyone feeling complacent about My Dying Bride’s status in metal sit up and take notice again, as this is perhaps the best album they have released. For sure, “And My Father Left Forever” and the title track are two of the strongest songs the band have ever released, full of emotional and musically weight, with vocalist Aaron Stainthorpe putting in one of the best performances of his career, full of power and sincerity. Roughly divided in to two halves, the first four songs are prime examples of the “core” My Dying Bride death-doom sound, complete with tasteful violin; whilst the second half demonstrates that they have not lost their appetite for adventure and experimentation, especially on the heartbreaking “I Almost Loved You”. Superb artwork, too.
2 – Caïna – Setter Of Unseen Snares
Full Review: Link
In almost any other year, a release this strong would easily have been my album of the year. Setter Of Unseen Snares is an example of black metal as art, both highly personal (albeit through metaphors and storytelling) and utterly alienating, demonstrating Caïna’s command of modern black metal. The first half of the album is built upon punk fury, and invites comparisons with the likes of Krieg, but is possessed of an individuality and personality that is missing in much music. It’s not all straight-forward raging though, with tracks such as “I Am The Flail Of The Lord” demonstrating the value of building atmosphere and dynamics, as well as pummeling drums and dirty, furious riffs. What sets it apart, though, is the grandiose, cinematic scope of the songs, especially as they are handled without pretension. This is without considering closer “Orphan”, a fifteen minute journey that owes as much to doom as to black metal for the large part, before moving in to more luminous, stratospheric post-black metal realms, with the final five minutes being of a Deafheaven-esque intensity. All of this is without taking in to consideration the lyrical themes of the album and accompanying short story, full of themes of apocalypse and sacrifice that, whilst not needed to appreciate Setter Of Unseen Snares, add new dimensions to it. And as such, the album deserves to be considered both as a superb example of black metal as art. Talk at the beginning of the year was that this would be the final Caïna album. If so, then it’s a remarkably high note to go out on.
1 – Mgła – Exercises In Futility
If I let myself, I could write an essay on Exercises In Futility. For my money, Mgła are the best black metal band operating today, and no one is doing a better job of staying true (“trve”) to the core of the genre in both sound and spirit, whilst simultaneously pushing at the boundaries of what it can be and achieve. As high as expectations were – and following from With Hearts Toward None, one of the best albums of the decade, they were incredibly high – they have been more than met. Dark and misanthropic, Exercises In Futility takes the cold, withered heart of black metal and holds it up proudly for all to see, with these six tracks being utterly crushing and harrowing in their bleakness, whilst simultaneously producing some of the most thrilling black metal made in recent times. Vocalist/guitarist/bassist M. produces winding, labyrinthine guitar lines that weave in and out, complementing by strong, steady bass work and ice-cold riffs; whilst drummer Darkside puts in a bravura performance once more, taking the conventions of black metal drumming and desecrating them in exquisite style. Rather than relying on blasts and raw power (though plenty of that is on display), he fills Exercises In Futility with incredibly skillful cymbal work, almost jazz-like in its technique. You’re unlikely to ever hear a more distinctive drumming style on a black metal record. Combine that with some intelligent lyrics, and you have something very special.
But as superlative as each individual element on Exercises In Futility is, it’s when they are taken as a whole that it becomes clear that no other album could be chosen as the year’s best. There is a bleakness and desolation that permeates the album that ensures that, no matter how thrilling the music is – and make no mistake, it is thrilling – Exercises In Futility is a consistently soul-crushing listen, full of darkness and hopelessness. But despite this, it is an addictive, irresistible listen, full of clever touches and exquisite songwriting. There has been a lot of word-of-mouth hype around Mgła this year, but it can all be believed. Exercises In Futility is an absolute triumph for black metal, and one of the best releases in the genre in years.