Music

The Best Metal of 2015

Adrien Begrand, Jedd Beaudoin, Chris Conaton, and Jeremy Ulrey

In a year rife with division, one band brought metal fans worldwide together like no other.

5 - 1

Artist: Faith No More

Album: Sol Invictus

Label: Ipecac

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/s/sol_invictus.jpg

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Faith No More
Sol Invictus

We’ve reached the end of the year and we’re past all of the recaps of Faith No More’s career, reviews of their triumphant North American tour shows, and reminders that they were at least partially responsible for rap-metal and bridging the gap between alternative rock and heavy metal. What we’re left with is Sol Invictus, a comeback with remarkably little rust on it for the band’s first album of the 21st century. Faith No More sound just like they always have, which is to say heavy and catchy in equal measure and seasoned with an appealing contrariness. Lead single “Motherfucker” showed that spirit is alive and well by letting keyboardist Roddy Bottum take lead vocals, relegating all-world vocalist Mike Patton to the chorus. But what a chorus it is, and Jon Hudson’s triumphant guitar hero solo, all 15 seconds of it, just soars over the song. “Superhero” thrashes along before hitting the singalong chorus and melodic bridge, but then abandons those bits to spend its back half jamming out with the song’s creepy piano riff as its anchor. “Cone of Shame” puts Hudson’s sparse, gothic guitar riff front and center and then lets Patton loose to be as unsettling as possible before the rest of the band finally kicks in. The band even shakes off the dour mood of the rest of the record to close out on the upbeat, acoustic guitar and harmony-laden “From the Dead”, which seems to teasingly celebrate the band’s own return. -- Chris Conaton

 
Artist: Tribulation

Album: The Children of the Night

Label: Century Media

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Tribulation
The Children of the Night

Tribulation jumped the ranks this year to the big leagues, with Century Media’s wide release of The Children of the Night ensuring the band enough active ears to potentially reinvigorate a mostly underground fan base. The Swedish quartet seized the day here, crafting a mini-masterpiece that’s both gripping in its immediacy as well as quietly ambitious, the unfussy arrangements belying a genuine sense of ambition made all the more alluring by its lack of pretension. The Children of the Night didn’t loudly announce its presence but rather gradually ingratiated itself over time as one of the top releases of the year, a combination of critical lauding and fan-based word of mouth combining to cement Tribulation as one of 2015’s biggest surprises. -- Jeremy Ulrey

 
Artist: Between the Buried and Me

Album: Coma Ecliptic

Label: Metal Blade

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Between the Buried and Me
Coma Ecliptic

Four albums into their reinvention as a full-on progressive metal outfit, Between the Buried and Me have created a record that perfectly balances their metal and progressive sides. Coma Ecliptic is more focused on melody than ever before, letting Tommy Rogers use his singing voice in new and interesting ways without abandoning the metalcore screams that previously dominated the band’s sound. We’ve heard soaring melodies from Rogers before, but his snarling, scuzzy M. Shadows meets Gerard Way performance (and its accompanying metal on Broadway music) on “The Ectopic Stroll” feels completely new. The complex, technical side of the band is present, as always, but here it feels like they’ve found a way to integrate their disparate, genre-bending ideas into complete thoughts. Even Coma Ecliptic’s longest song, the ten-minute “Memory Palace” has a conceptual and songwriting backbone that makes it cohere better than many of the band’s previous epic length tracks (which often sound like collections of great ideas strung loosely together). Detours like the pulsing electronics of “Dim Ignition” and the doomy low piano and acoustic guitar intro of “Turn on the Darkness” keep the album’s curveballs coming while the solid bed of thundering riffs and fiery leads that have been the band’s stock in trade for the past decade keep it grounded. -- Chris Conaton

 
Artist: Deafheaven

Album: New Bermuda

Label: Anti

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Deafheaven
New Bermuda

With New Bermuda, Deafheaven continued to refine their sound, expanding their sonic palette while continuing to pound out the blastbeats, heavy riffs, and throat-shredding vocals. But since they are the latest band to break out of the metal scene and into the music nerd fandom at large, they also continued to be one of the genre’s most divisive acts. Metal’s decades of built-up insularity seem to make the core fanbase suspicious when a band catches on with non-metal fans. So Deafheaven have to absorb everything from accusations of unoriginality (we know Alcest did it first), bitching about how they aren’t true metal, and even criticisms of their haircuts (yes, really). Still, New Bermuda is powerful stuff. The five tracks here find guitarist Kerry McCoy pushing the band even further into shoegaze and post-rock passages while still barreling through black metal sections that fit George Clarke’s howls perfectly. But the catchy guitar heroics of “Brought to the Water”, the thrashy opening riff in “Luna”, the pleasantly laid-back first three minutes of “Baby Blue”, and the delicate ending of “Come Back” provide contrasts that make the hard stuff hit harder. Closer “Gifts for the Earth” is the one that really tries something else, attempting to shoehorn Clarke into an upbeat rocker whose verses practically cry out for an actual singer. That doesn’t quite work, but what does work is the song’s two-minute piano-laden outro that sounds like Oasis circa 1996. “Hey, this black metal band sounds like Oasis for a couple minutes” may not be a selling point for everyone, but Deafheaven is taking big swings and connecting the vast majority of the time. -- Chris Conaton

 
Artist: Iron Maiden

Album: The Book of Souls

Label: Sanctuary Copyrights/BMG

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Iron Maiden
The Book of Souls

Many up-and-coming bands lucky enough to find themselves on year-end "best-of" lists do so by riding a wave of goodwill due in no small part to a lack of pre-existing expectations. It’s not that they don’t merit the honor, it’s just that they are afforded a less intense degree of scrutiny and second-guessing as their longer in the tooth peers. Iron Maiden represent the latter contingent: while themselves benefitting from over 30 years of built up goodwill – not to mention singer Bruce Dickinson’s victory over tongue cancer earlier this summer - Maiden have spent those same decades establishing a rather elite bar for themselves. Most recently this has not quite worked in their favor, as many fans felt their last studio album, 2010’s The Final Frontier, suffered from too much of a focus on musicianship and not enough on actual songwriting. This year’s The Book of Souls earned its spot on this list by giving us the best of both worlds: epic, lengthy instrumental workouts fused seamlessly with bottomless hooks and some of the band’s most heroic guitar playing in a history chock full of iconic axe work. This year’s finest, no qualifiers needed. -- Jeremy Ulrey

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