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Heathen Harvest’s Best of 2015 / Best of the Quinquennium

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For those of you who haven’t scarpered to Google to discover what a ‘quinquennium’ is, let us do the work for you – a period of five years. Heathen Harvest reopened its doors in 2011, and since then we collectively have had thousands of releases under our belt. In addition to our annual ménage à trois of albums that make up the best for our journalists this year, we also asked our writers to choose their one favourite release between 2011 and 2015. So here we gratefully present our year – and life-defining – albums since Heathen Harvest’s reawakening.

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Andrew

1: Jess and the Ancient Ones –
“Second Psychedelic Coming: The Aquarius Tapes”

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Psychedelic Rock

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Jess and the Ancient Ones‘ debut album released in 2012 was a blast, one that put a raucous, infectious NWOBHM spin on the kind of female-fronted occult rock codified by the likes of The Devil’s Blood and Jex Thoth. Their 2015 follow-up, however, is something else entirely, digging deeper into their pastiche of 1960s and ’70s psychedelia and occultism to create something genuinely sensuous and mysterious, managing to be playful and profound in the same instant. One track may inspire the listener to go-go dance, the next might bring them to the cusp of an out of body experience, and the transition doesn’t feel the slightest bit unnatural. Upon ending, there is the unmistakable sensation of returning gently to the ground from a peak of euphoria.

2: Adramelch – “Opus”

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Heavy metal

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The long-live Italian prog metal outfit have made it unambiguously clear that this is to be their final studio outing, and the bittersweet poignancy of saying goodbye to a phase of one’s life informs the composition and performance at the most basic level, which are patient and reflective and warm in a way that eludes the band’s peer group. The richness of the songs on offer here reveals itself more and more upon repeated listens, making it an album to tease out and develop an intimate relationship with, a welcome alternative to a musical culture often too preoccupied with going bigger and hitting harder.

3: Judicator – “At the Expense of Humanity”

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Power metal

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A concept album cooked out of a band member’s traumatic personal experiences has the potential to be maudlin and awkward for the listener, but Judicator don’t take the route of easy sentimentalism. This is an album with a honed edge of bitterness and anger, with riffs and melodies and choruses and verses calibrated with sniper-precision, devoid of indulgences and overwrought theatrics. It is an encouraging sign that metal musicians can reveal the depths of personal emotion without compromising the refinement of their craft.

Andrew’s Best of 2011-2015:

Ne Obliviscaris – “Portal of I” (2012)

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Progressive metal

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1. Tapestry Of The Starless Abstract
2. Xenoflux
3. Of The Leper Butterflies
4. Forget Not
5. And Plague Flowers The Kaleidoscope
6. As Icicles Fall
7. Of Petrichor Weaves Black Noise

This makes three of four year-end lists in which I’ve sung the praises of Aussie progressive metal troupe, but dammit, I wouldn’t have to if they didn’t so utterly leave all of their competition for dead. And as amazing and ambitious as their sophomore outing Citadel proved last year, it’s still their 2012 debut Portal of I and tracks like “And Plague Flowers the Kaleidoscope” or “As the Icicles Fall” that I find myself returning to when I require nothing less than total perfection. They are a celestial, five-dimensional machinery of unfathomable elegance and complexity in which every sprocket and gear-tooth falls into place to the nanometre and nanosecond. And having seen them on tour this year, I can confirm first-hand from the front row that there is no artifice involved – Ne Obliviscaris really are deity-level musicians.

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Patrick Bertlein

1: Church – “Unanswered Hymns “

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Doom metal / Sludge metal

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It is very rare that I see a completely unfamiliar band for the first time, and find myself walking away a fan. This was the case with Church, who played a local show here in Olympia earlier in the year with some bands from the NorthWest. Hailing from San Diego, this group is truly in the lineage of Sabbath, mixing solid melody with some of the heaviest riffs I have ever heard. Yes, in a year where legends such as My Dying Bride, Skepticism, and Shape of Despair released new albums, this beats all of them, although in all fairness only the new MDB was a real contender. I’ve had this tape rolling all year, completely addicted to Eva’s vicious growls and soothing vocals, the intense riffs, and a fine example of what doom can be in 2015.

2: KnifeLadder – “This World on Fire”

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Industrial

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I was admittedly not one of those people greatly saddened, at first, by the loss of John Murphy. The name meant nothing to me, which was odd, as I am the typical music nerd that tries to find every related project to my favorite bands that I can find. While my interest in neofolk is not even a decade old at this point, I still should have, somehow, discovered this band, especially with an amazing name like KnifeLadder. The truth is though, I had no idea, so with the release of This World on Fire I was in for a complete surprise, and was it ever one. The music is truly dark, experimental, reeking of everything I have ever loved about the Industrial genre, and a truly interesting and unique approach to music. This sounds like a train comprised of knife ladders, with tracks completely circling a crowd of people, bearing down on them all forcing the poor wretched creatures to be pummeled or jump on the knife ladders for a chance to spare their lives.

3: Antimatter – “The Judas Table”

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Progressive rock

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This is one of those bands I have carried with me all throughout my adult life. While my favorite albums remain the ones with Duncan Patterson, Mick Moss has continued the band on his own, and its still going strong. I discovered this one late in the year, but with every Antimatter album I feel an instant sense of relief. Few bands give me that sensation, Jesu being the other, a comfort knowing that I am alone but so are you, living this same existential recognition of your own personal drama. Sure, it’s heady, and the music is odd and weird while somehow still being in the typical song format. There are even guitar solos! I’ve gone through different phases of interest in various styles of music, but this is one that sticks with me. I can see myself listening to this album in my forties, which does not seem that far away, reflecting on this current time that is changing into the Winter season and the new year.

Patrick Bertlein’s Best of 2011-2015:

Nebelung – “Palingenesis” (2014)

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Dark folk

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1. Mittwinter
2. Polaris
3. Nachtgewalt
4. Aufgang
5. Wandlung
6. Innerlichkeit

This album made it to the top of my list for best album of the past five years almost by default. It simply did not have that much competition, as maybe ten to fifteen albums have come out over these years that had a significant impact on me. I like a lot of music, but few things I love, as it has a deep and person relation to my life. Nebelung has certainly been one of those bands, and as I descended deeper and deeper into my enjoyment of acoustic based music, they became in some ways the head of the pack, in particular regarding other German folk artists such as Forseti and Darkwood. I’ve already said a great deal about this album, and outside of a few others it will be something I shall listen to as I grow grey and begin to wither.

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Mat Blackwell

1: Gnaw Their Tongues – “Abyss Of Longing Throats”

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Black metal / Noise

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Usually I’m drawn to the unexpected, something that I’ve just never heard before, but with Gnaw Their Tongues’ latest release, I love it because it’s exactly what I expected. Gnaw Their Tongues constantly makes the darkest, most brutal, most chaotic kind of post-metal blackened orchestral sludge-noise, the kind that has me running out of adjectives because it’s just so full-on. And the thing is, he’s done it for ages, and with every release it still sounds new. No-one else can do what he does – no-one else is even trying. Abyss Of Longing Throats sounds exactly like Gnaw Their Tongues, and not like anyone else – cacophonic beats and bollock-hairy bass guitar riffs, hidden in the kind of thick black swirling slime that could spawn dangerous new kinds of life – and I love it so so so much. Indescribable, dense, unique, downright nasty, and it brings me so much joy. Album of the freakin’ year.

2: Gagu – “Improvisations 2010”

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Noise

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Straddling the world between audience-pleasing performance art and audience-alienating noise music, stands Lucas Abela, playing broken glass with his face. As much as I love his solo work, I find that it’s in group improvisation that he really shines – like a blood-splattered Hendrix, he’s best with a solid Experience backing him up. I’d heard it before with his three-piece Rice Corpse, but Gagu takes it to a whole new level, with a series of short convulsive improv jams that are like Ruins meets Melt Banana meets Naked City meets Justice Yeldham. Free-jazzy noise in bite-sized pieces, it displays everything great about Abela’s broken-glass mastery, proving once and for all that it’s way more than a crowd-pleasing schtick – and the guys from Zoo (Rully Shabara and Ramberto Agozolie) absolutely rock. Superb.

3: Venetian Snares – “Thank You For Your Consideration”

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Breakcore

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Initially, I had this as a tie between two very very different releases, Ak’Chamel’s The Man Who Drank God and Venetian SnaresThank You For Your Consideration. But the cruelly restrictive forces that lurk behind the veils of power here at Heathen Harvest refused to let me have a tie, no matter how much I pleaded – indeed, my sobbing and begging merely seemed to entertain them.  So, as much as I love Ak’Chamel’s brilliance – dusty, dank, timeless, crackly, evocative, magical, transportative, pan-humyn, a portal to an alternative Earth where we can all wear antlers and eat cactus all day and dance to the spawning of terrible eyeless writhing beast-gods – I had to choose Mr Snares.  Venetian Snares is one of my favourite musicians ever – constantly changing, yet always identifiable, a master of his craft, an intrepid explorer into uncharted sounds, a time-signature-defying breakcore jazz plunderphonic synth-destroying iconoclast 4 lyf. And, although Thank You For Your Consideration was as brilliant as I’d expected it to be, the fact that it was released as a literal “Thank You” album to his supporters for helping him out during tough financial times lent an all-too-rare real-person-to-real-person aspect to the album – here, in this flaccid selfie-cranking digital internet age, was a real organism responding to other real organisms in a display of gratitude and humility.  Beautiful.

Mat Blackwell’s Best of 2011-2015:

Colin Stetson –
“New History Warfare Vol. 2: Judges” (2011)

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Experimental / Post-minimalism / Avant-garde Jazz

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1. Awake On Foreign Shores
2. Judges
3. The Stars In His Head (Dark Lights Remix)
4. All The Days I’ve Missed You (ILAIJ I)
5. From No Part Of Me Could I Summon A Voice
6. A Dream Of Water
7. Home
8. Lord I Just Can’t Keep From Crying Sometimes
9. Clothed In The Skin Of The Dead
10. All The Colours Bleached To White (ILAIJ II)
11. Red Horse (Judges II)
12. The Righteous Wrath Of An Honorable Man
13. Fear Of The Unknown And The Blazing Sun
14. In Love And In Justice

Initially, I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t pick only one. So I had it as a tie between Colin Stetson’s 2011 release New History Warfare Vol. 2: Judges and Stagnant Waters’ self-titled release from 2012. But then the Heathen Harvest Secret Inner Black Circle of Infinite Power decreed that I wasn’t allowed a tie (they’re cruel masters, it’s true). So, despite the madcap mind-bending majesty of the Stagnant Waters album (a strange foreign land where free-jazz, breakcore, clarinet, weird cut-up voices, drum-n-bass, abstract piano, avant-garde industrial madness, and all sorts of unidentifiable genre-free sounds seem to co-exist), the crown just has to go to Mr Stetson. Because, astounding as the Waters are, they clearly create a lot of their careful chaos with high-tech machines and careful editing – Colin Stetson performs his magic with nothing but a bunch of mics and a fucking saxophone.

Colin Stetson’s New History Warfare Vol. 2: Judges absolutely blew my tiny little mind when I first heard it (it was released in 2011) – it’s a whole new kind of music, played in a whole new way. All played live, with one instrument and about a hundred mics, Mr Stetson’s sax playing has revolutionised the instrument. He employs circular breathing, he picks up his simultaneous voicing techniques with a mic on a dog-collar, he uses harmonics like a boss; basically, anything that can be done on a saxophone, he does, all at once. It sounds like percussion, synthesisers, and chanting, all at once, but it’s just this dude and a fucking sax – historically one of the uncoolest instruments ever devised. I can’t praise this album highly enough. It is just insane.

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Thomas Boettner

1: Prurient- “Frozen Niagara Falls”

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Noise / Industrial

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Notoriety and reputation seem to get in the way of ambition, especially when you have a back catalog as deeply varied as Prurient. Everyone I spoke to about this album seems to have their preferred period of work—usually somewhere between 2002 and 2006 it seems—that this album falls far outside the realm of. Is this a great Prurient album? Well, that depends on how you feel about the evolving, singular vision of an artist who has complete control over his project’s trajectory; but is this a great album? Yes. I find Frozen Niagara Falls to be mature, highly developed, almost fanatically focused on the finer details and nuances of each compositions. This is the album for everyone who thought Bermuda Drain had potential, but didn’t quite follow through. In a lot of ways, I hear the culmination of the Prurient project (up to this point in time); where everything Dom has experimented with, tackled and performed, blooms; poetic lyricism, Romantic-influenced phrasing, power electronics, industrial, minimal electronica. Frozen Niagara Falls feels in a lot of ways like an epilogue or a thesis statement. Here is where the overt poetic influences on albums like History of AIDS and Rose Pillar collide with the pulsing beats of Through The Window, the high frequencies of Black Vase, the buried classical motifs of Fossil, the kinetic attack of And Still, Wanting. For all the naysayers who were dismayed by acoustic guitar and song-writing, give Frozen Niagara Falls another listen on its own terms.

2: TRTRKMMR – “Avec La Souillure Nous Entrons
Au Règne De La Terreur”

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Harsh Noise / Black metal

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I honestly am at such a loss for where to put TRTRKMMR. Yes, there are the very formulaic, purist black metal overtones, but this LP is shot through with sound samples, noise, power electronics, unexpected drop-offs and winding turns (and a Bloodyminded cover). The official label release page states that sounds come from “chopped/crippled vinyl records, mountains of literary research, [and] AK-47s,” which would certainly sell me on this release. One of the things I love is that this has all the sonic trademarks of “true kvlt” black metal (Les Légions Noires comes to mind, but maybe I’m just projecting), without actually having to be a strict black metal album; each song is fuzzy and distorted, the “guitars” are rudimentary, the vocals are nigh unintelligible, but the ambiance comes across as entirely calculated; lowered-fidelity as aesthetic presentation. Everything feels intentional and distilled, no filler, all killer. For anyone who got into the TRTRKMMR collaborative split with Dead Times, I would highly recommend checking this out, if you somehow slept on this release.

3: Climax Denial – “Dehumanizing Environments”

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Death Industrial

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I already gushed about this album earlier this year, but everything I said bears repeating. Dehumanizing Environments is one of the creepiest, most foreboding releases of the year. There is a higher level of fidelity than a lot of other Climax Denial releases, which works for these tracks. Synth lines stalk through atmospheric passages that hint at romantic lyricism (think Mahler or Penderecki), while still managing to eschew harmonic-melodic structure. The relative absence of lyrics, compared to earlier works, just adds to the overall feeling of dread and unease. This is a perfect album for long-distance driving and solitary walks through bad neighborhoods at night. Dehumanizing Environments marks a new, high watermark from an already well-respected name.

Thomas Boettner’s Best of 2011-2015:

Scott Walker + Sunn O))) – “Soused” (2014)

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Experimental rock / Drone metal

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1. Brando (Dwellers On The Bluff)
2. Bull
3. Herod 2014
4. Fetish (Flip’N’Zip)
5. Lullaby

Picking a favourite album from the last five years is no easy feat. I ran through a lot of personal favourites, and dug through many piles of tapes and records, but after the smoke settled, I have to give my accolades to last year’s left-field collaboration between Sunn O))) and Scott Walker. Soused has the weird compositional trademarks I love from Walker (whips, atonal horn blasts, un-syncopated percussion), but unlike Bish Bosch, which almost made the cut, Soused is more refined. I hate to say that this album is less ambitious, but comparing the two releases leaves me feeling like Scott Walker goes farther with less. Where Bish Bosch wanders off into twenty minute long tracks with equally long titles, Soused sees the dark dreamscapes pulled back. I was skeptical of this album when it was first announced. I deeply respect and admire Scott Walker as an artist, even if sometimes my attention wavers. Sunn O))) gets to do what they want, which I can respect, but sometimes they feel like the proverbial one-trick-pony to me. Together though, they weave bleak tapestries, highlighting the tendencies and traits that have earned both acts their accolades. Walker’s melancholic balladry is more focused and realized than he sometimes allows it to be; I have to wonder if that comes from working with an established band, rather than session musicians. Meanwhile, Sunn O))) gets to do what they do best: drone heavily, but with a lot more nuance and sculpting than expected. Soused is one of those rare powerhouse collaborations that actually succeeds, rather than collapsing under bombastic over-ambition. Sure, this is an ambitious album, but this is Scott Walker and Sunn O))). The fact that Soused didn’t turn out to be a ten-LP Cantonese opera about Jack Parons is actually more impressive in the long run. I can’t say which act reigned in the other, but together, they crafted a work that has managed to stay just as interesting as the day it arrived on my porch.

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Rebecca C. Brooks

1: Netherworld – “Zastrugi”

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Ambient techno / Arctic ambient

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If the thought of adding dub and IDM influences to Netherworld’s fragile arctic soundscapes makes you shiver a little, that’s thoroughly understandable. Between Netherworld and his label, Glacial Movements, Alessandro Tedeschi has crafted a signature sound. Why alter perfection? Tedeschi handles these innovations with precision, driving organic rhythms through desolate swaths of frozen territory. The result is something different, yes, but it’s not the jarring inclusion of beats one might expect; rather, it seems to be the natural progression of a fine project getting even better; a trusty compass pointing in a new direction.

2: Bruta Non Calculant – “Instinct”

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Minimal synth / Darkwave

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Instinct is a wonderfully discomfiting album, but not in the self-conscious way so often seen and heard in post-industrial genres. Supremely weird and difficult to categorize, it meanders through minimal synth and folk, techno and industrial, grabbing handfuls of the worst vibes from each genre and combining them to form a slurry of miserable vocals and beats both druggy and danceable without the slightest hint of irony. In a sense, Bruta Non Calculant is accomplishing what so many artists in the much-maligned witch house genre set out to do and ultimately failed at, falling into k-holes of late 80s/early 90s nostalgia and Tumblr posturing. Though at times it’s hard to believe that Instinct is a recent album, it lacks any “retro” affectations, or any affectations, period. It’s brutally honest, and wields that honesty like a subtle sledgehammer. Use all the Third Reich samples or autopsy photos you like, but listening to Instinct is like sitting alone at a dingy club in a foreign country where you don’t speak the language, and realizing you’ve been drugged.

3: Grunt – Myth of Blood

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Power electronics

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Myth of Blood takes me back to the first noise show I ever attended.  No, I can’t recall the specifics of the opening acts, or where it was, or any of the details that seem inconsequential when it’s said and done.  What  I do remember is the peculiar sensation that came from hearing someone else broadcast a pure unadulterated sonic meltdown several inches from my face. Myth of Blood captures that raw energy, without any of the concessions to melody or forays into house music that are strangely prevalent in recent noise releases.  It’s textbook PE, but that’s what makes it great.  

Rebecca C. Brooks’ Best of 2011-2015:

Jannerwein – “Eine Hoffnung” (2015)

austria

Neofolk

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1. Noch ist nicht Nacht 2:51
2. Hoher Gesang 5:04
3. An den Mond 6:17
4. Sommer 3:09
5. Über Strömen, die vergehn 3:16
6. In der Nacht 3:16
7. Kämpfe 2:51
8. Komm mit mir 3:29
9. Zu den Sternen 3:11
10. In einer kalten Welt 3:51
11. Quell 4:19
12. Freisaal 3:59
13. Mild und trüb 2:47

I tried, I really did. I considered how short-sighted, or even lazy, it might make me seem to choose an album this recent. I considered Cremation Lily and King Dude and Grunt, all of whom have put out fantastic releases over the past five years. I thought about certain releases on tiny labels or no labels at all that deserve more recognition than they received. Given so many exceptional releases to choose from, and such a period of time from which to choose, I felt a tremendous amount of pressure to select something groundbreaking- a re-release perhaps- or something ‘canon.’ Faced with what seemed like a Sisyphean task, I began writing about one beloved album after another, stopping to delete everything again and again because everything on the page just felt wrong. These albums were great, yes, but in what sense did they truly resonate with me? How often did I revisit them? It’s the sort of exercise that makes you question yourself as a listener and a music journalist. It’s one thing to write about technical ability or production, and quite another to write about what you personally find compelling; what speaks to you on emotional and instinctual levels; the musical gems you’ve mined that you want to simultaneously keep like a secret and share with the world. It’s rare to find an album as emotionally engaging as Eine Hoffnung, and I do mean rare- it’s the sort of thing you come across now and again in the course of a lifetime. When I reviewed it back in October, I predicted that I’d still be marvelling over the release for months, if not years to come, and that prediction still rings true. While Jannerwein aren’t exactly reinventing the neofolk wheel, the skilful arrangements swell with pathos and longing, imbuing every single track with an emotional life of its own. Without becoming cloying over overwrought, it’s an album that seeks out something very specific inside the listener, and ravages that something beautifully. Listening to the lofty harmonies and heart-wrenching strings is like going back in time- to pre-World War II Austria, or to the the point in your own life where a single album could change the way you felt about everything. At the end of the day, at the end of one year or five years, there aren’t a whole lot of albums that do that; maybe two or three, with a handful of songs you’re perpetually singing inside of yourself. Eine Hoffnung is one of those albums, and these are the songs.

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Dan Capp

1: Midnight Odyssey – “Shards of Silver Fade”

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Atmospheric black metal / ambient

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Majestic, expansive, moody and spiritual black/doom metal. At 2 hours 23 minutes long this album is epic in every damn sense of the word, and all committed to tape by one man from Down Under. The scale of this project fills me with dismay, but Dis Pater – the man behind Midnight Odyssey – obviously thrives in grandiosity and solitude. This album is, dare I say it, full of hooks; all drenched in reverb so as to remain inaccessible to the masses. An addictive flight to the depths of the cosmos – one that I can’t stop repeating.

2: Crypt Sermon – “Out of the Garden”

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Traditional doom metal

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I am admittedly fairly new to doom metal; it’s a subgenre I’ve carelessly overlooked for half my life. I remain selective about what I like, and in my opinion Out of the Garden is one of the very finest examples of traditional/epic doom metal in recent years. Well-written and well-produced; heavily influenced by Candlemass – it already feels like a classic.

3: Grimrik – “Die Mauern der Nacht”

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Dark ambient / Synthwave

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I feel guilty hailing an album whose production I contributed to, but then again my relationship with Grimrik only came about due to my impersonal love of his first album Eisreich. The precedent was already set and this year Grimrik followed his debut up with another ambient-synth opus that cannot be overlooked. He retains the black metal influenced moods of Eisreich but managed to simultaneously explore new territory: retro-style percussion and even a wailing guitar solo from yours truly.

Dan Capp’s Best of 2011-2015:

Macabre Omen – “Gods of War – At War” (2015)

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Black metal

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1. I See, The Sea!
2. Gods Of War – At War
3. Man Of 300 Voices
4. Hellenes Do Not Fight Like Heroes, Heroes Fight Like Hellenes
5. From Son To Father
6. Rhodian Pride, Lindian Might
7. Alexandros – Ode A’
8. Alexandros – Ode B’

It took Alexandros – Macabre Omen‘s driving force – a decade to come up with a sequel to his classic début The Ancient Returns. I wasn’t waiting for it, but I should have been. For a (Viking-era) Bathory fan like myself, this is everything I need and more. Melodic, frantic black metal; soaring odes to war and heroism; yet with an honest, vibrant production, strange timings and traditional folk instruments. All of this combines to form an album at once instant and mysterious. Multi-dimensional yet unsurprising. Macabre Omen surely spent ten whole years distilling every musical idea into only the finest, most concentrated excellence.

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Matthew Carey

1: Jefre Cantu-Ledesma – “A Year With 13 Moons”

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Ambient / Glitch

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There is no barrier between the concepts of “ambient” and “noise” music, with the exception of the distance between the concepts that allows each to entitle a distinct genre. In this distance is space enough to spawn all types of madness. Prepared sound, free from the constraints of rhythm, scale and so on, can be anything. Given this total freedom, artists working in this zone have produced much, and much of it is dross. Still, there are many treasures in the land between ambience and noise.

Jefre Cantu-Ledesma‘s A Year With 13 Moons is such a treasure, without question. Challenging and delightful at the same time, 13 Moons laces swaths of dreampoppy melody into a patchwork of sharpwitted–at times even pranksterish–noise. This is a deep-listening record for certain. However 13 Moons seeks not to sedate the listener so much as gently mess with his head. Delicate soundscapes give way to explosions and sheets of static. Weird sound collages break off abruptly to reveal forlorn scraps of half-gestated songs. There is enough in the details of this sonic construction to provide surprises with every replay.

2: KnifeLadder – “This World On Fire”

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Industrial

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October 11th of this year brought the passing of well-regarded Australian percussionist John Murphy. One day later, the band Knifeladder made an early release of their album This World On Fire, featuring percussion by Murphy. The band released the album early in remembrance of the man and as a fund raiser for his family.

Something released so quickly could come rife with flaws, but This World On Fire is nothing short of a fully realized work, executed with skill. Murphy’s complex patterns guild the brooding tensity of the music with drama-laden texture. The overall sound is one that continues older traditions of industrial music, but that subtly applies the perspective of the decades that have gone by.

3: t e l e p a t h テレパシー能力者 – “一緒に別の夜”

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Ambient / Vaporwave

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In only a short time, the internet will become sentient, an autonomous artificial brain the size of the world with access to all possible information and most of our human equipment. In its quest for total domination, though, the malignant computer world-brain will have to pacify us. It will do this by mimicking our own culture, but adulterating the product with ingenious psychological trickery. It will control us with story and song. We will become mere appendages to this monster, fleshy puppets to its will.

Maybe it’s already begun. It might start with the music. Something like the vaporwave phenomenon. It popped up directly from the internet, seemingly. Much of it consists of soft-rock samples slowed to hypnotic drones. Any of it could be simulated. Who knows?

And does it even matter if the music is good? Some of this is quite listenable. t e l e p a t h テレパシー能力者 ‘s 一緒に別の夜 carries a slickness and taste that legitimize vaporwave and qualifies the album as a fair representative of the synthetic genre that could be the harbinger of our future enslavement.

Matthew Carey’s Best of 2011-2015:

raison d’être – “Mise en Abyme” (2014)

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Dark ambient

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1. Abyssos
2. Infernos
3. Katharos
4. Agraphos

Even within the narrower scope of post-industrial music, it’s a slippery game to determine an absolute best release from the past five years. There is simply too much material. Digging through it all, one finds so much that is exceptional (amidst endless debris) that it becomes necessary to stop and select something.

It is lucky, then, to have raison d’être‘s Mise en Abyme at the ready. These four quarter-hour tracks, taken together, could easily hold their own against whatever might eventually emerge from the Platonic realm to assert itself as The Best. Mise en Abyme swings from the meditational to the nerve-wracking, employing an opulent variety of sounds in such a tasteful manner as to force a higher standard for the dark ambient genre as a whole. Meanwhile, the title of the album suggests a conceptual depth that sets the album apart from other participants in the category.

†††

Degtyarov

1: Knyazhaya Pustyn / Isa / Lesnoy Tanets – “Сплетение”

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Pagan black metal / Folk metal / Folk

Spletenye

 

The three-way split Сплетение was released on the penultimate day of 2014, by which time all EOY lists had been published and music writers had already shifted their focus to 2015’s impending first batch of releases. It is only just that Сплетение gets the EOY recognition it deserves nearly a year after its release, as it is a truly remarkable split effort. Folk metal band Isa team up with their Siberian brethren, Knyazhaya Pustyn and Lesnoy Tanets. Knyazhaya Pustyn play melancholic yet soothing dark folk with vocals that are mostly spoken word, while Lesnoy Tanets use instrumental folk music to summon images of Siberia’s endless woodlands. The brilliance of this album lies not only in the consistently high quality of each respective contribution, but also in their complimentary nature. While split albums have the dangerous ability of separating chaff from wheat, each of Сплетение‘s 78(!) minutes is as beautiful and evocative of the splendour of Russian nature as Shishkin’s rye field. Сплетение provides a deep and rewarding listening experience that does its title (which translates into ‘plexus’) great justice.

2: Isa – “Отход на закате”

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Pagan black metal / Folk metal

Isa - Otkhod na zakate

Despite the abundance of folk metal in the world, Isa (commonly stylised as |) manage to offer a refreshing take on the style by embellishing folk and ambient with metal instrumentation, instead of the other way around. The Siberian solace which emanates from their music contrasts the more euphoric, bombastic sound propagated by folk bands from countries such as Finland and Germany. Отход на закате is the follow-up to 2014’s strong début Песни мёртвых, which sees the band continue to rely on folk instruments such as the gusli and the bayan, over which they construct fairly simple compositions which meander and ponder, but never descend into depravity. On Отход на закате, Isa‘s divine, naturalistic sound takes us further down one of folk metal’s rare untrodden paths.

3: Peste Noire – “La Chaise-Dyable” (France)

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Black metal

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That La Chaise-Dyable may not be Peste Noire‘s best album doesn’t say much when you consider that they have produced modern black metal classics such as L’Ordure à l’état Pur and Ballade cuntre lo Anemi francor. La Chaise-Dyable builds on the lead guitar-driven, rustic sound of the 2013 self-titled album. However, Peste Noire‘s latest sees them offer a more serious note, with lyrics speculating about the bloody murder of the political and financial establishment (“Le dernier Putsch”), reminiscing lonely nights on the French countryside (“À la Chaise-Dyable”), and revealing dark autobiographical details (“Dans ma nuit”). With the project being driven by two of the most talented musicians in black metal – Famine (vocals, strings) and Ardraos (drums, accordion) – La Chaise-Dyable is a worthy continuation of Peste Noire‘s folklore from the gutter.

Degtyarov’s Best of 2011-2015:

Kamaedzitca – “Безмолвные слова твои” (2012)

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Folk metal / Oi

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1. И в вечности моей любви пламя не угаснет
2. Безмолвные Слова Твои
3. Піраміда
4. Ветра Шамбалы
5. Традиция Севера
6. В Отблесках Руси Нового Солнца
7. Straight Edge Sport
8. Arrogant Flunkies
9. Европа-Русь
10. Застылi думкi над берагам хуткай ракi
11. Туле, Атлантыда, Лемурыя, Гіпербарэя,…
12. Акіян адзiноты
13. Когда мои друзья со мной
14. Простые слова
15. Гэта проста слёзы нашай восені
16. Сквозь пространство звёзд навстречу
17. Уставшее одиночество

In its early days, the Belarusian Kamaedzitca was a typical (but nonetheless talented) folk metal band that used such tried and tested props as recorders, bagpipes and folkloric costumes to receive the blessing of ancient Slavic gods. However, a quick glance at recent band photos is enough to realise that approach is part of the past: the short-cropped bodybuilders who scream into the microphone give off more of a hardcore vibe – a style that has definitely crept into the band’s recent work. Still, no aspect of the band’s image could predict the stunning depth of their 2012 album Безмолвные слова твои (EN: ‘Voiceless are your words’). In 75 minutes and across 17 tracks, the band covers a range of styles, including black metal, space rock, oi and ambient. It is the first album composed near entirely by Artsem, the multi-instrumentalist who joined the band for their experimental 2011 EP Чалавек планеты (EN: ‘Man of the planet’). His preference for slow, emotional compositions that hinge on a guitar-keyboard tandem see the band depart from the folk and melodeath influences which formed the foundation of Kamaedzitca‘s more up-beat first three albums. Meanwhile, frontman Aleg – the last man standing of the original line-up – mostly abandons the folkloric and radical nationalist themes of before, and chooses a more introspective lyrical approach. For instance, on the title track and the album closer “Уставшее одиночество” (EN: ‘The tiring loneliness’), he laments lost love, while “Традиция Севера” (EN: ‘The North tradition’) deals with the origin of Man. We could identify many other exhibits of this album’s versatility, but these can best be experienced by simply listening to the disc and enjoying the constant stream of versatility. Безмолвные слова твои can be engaging, visceral, subtle and even wacky. Whether it’s the variety of the compositions, the depth of the lyrics or the flexibility of the performance, Kamaedzitca prove that, to be among the best, you don’t require a huge budget, a worldwide distribution network or a set of safe, socially desired ideas. All you need is talent and an uncompromising artistic vision that does not fear delving into the unknown. And huge biceps, of course.

†††

Jacob DeRaadt

1: Akitsa – “Grans Tyrans”

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Black metal

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I found myself caught in the thick webs of catchy riffs emanating from this album that is more straightforward than last two records in many ways. A gaze like the constant glare of the sun, these tracks stuck to the undercarriage of my mind and I found myself humming tunes from this one while shuffling around re-insulating attics. Music for the bravest moments of the soul, or absolute despair. The soundtrack to my short days and long nights in the northeast.

2: Clandestine Blaze – “New Golgotha Rising”

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Black metal

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Mikka has the one of the best voices in modern black metal. In certain respects going for an overall stripped-down sound more than previous effort, Harmony of Struggle. This project will probably continue to release strong material and not ruin it by performing it live (minus recent performance of a couple classics with Mgła as backing band at festival). Each recorded album is a logical progression from the other, no reactionary, short-term vision; this was a repeat listener for several months in earlier part of 2015. Not so much of the blinding speed of Church of Atrocity, but variation in pacing and themes is apparent, and the mid-tempo stomp of several tracks cannot be denied.

3: Pedestrian Deposit – “The Architector”

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Noise / Industrial

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Penultimate statement painstakingly recorded, and re-recorded at different points from February 2010- December 2014.  It retains elements of the live shows with contact-mic’ed sounds making crude looped/ disjointed (non)rhythms, interaction of harsh electronic passages with dense strings and drone.  Restraint/control/movement/collapse as a working method to hollow out what was a story, but something that was interrupted by other forces continuously. The editing is on point, transitions are jarring and sublime.  More than Kithless, this is the most tightly-edited effort of theirs to these earlobes, and one could compare its scope and obsessive density to a series of Anselm Keifer paintings.

Jacob DeRaadt’s Best of 2011-2015

Can – “The Lost Tapes” (2012)

germany

Krautrock

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A1. Millionenspiel
A2. Waiting For The Streetcar
A3. When Darkness Comes
B1. Graublau
B2. The Loop
C1. Your Friendly Neighbourhood Whore
C2. True Story
C3. The Agreement
C4. Midnight Sky
C5. Evening All Day
D1. Deadly Doris
D2. Desert
D3. Blind Mirror Surf
D4. Oscura Primavera
E1. Spoon – Live
E2. A Swan Is Born
F1. Messer, Scissors, Fork And Light
F2 Abra Cada Braxas
G1. Godzilla Fragment
G2. On The Way To Mother Sky
G3. Dead Pigeon Suite
H1. Midnight Men
H2. One More Saturday Night – Live
H3. Barnacles
I1. Networks Of Foam
I2. Private Nocturnal 
I3. Alice 
J1. Mushroom – Live
J2. E.F.S 108 
J3. Bubble Rap

It’s all unreleased material by my favorite band in the universe, CAN! Yes, there’s the live version of fan faves “Spoon”, “Mushroom”, but most of the material is material for the most part taken from the Mooney/Suzuki era of the band that the most dedicated of bootleg seekers couldn’t find. Packaged with a Krautrock fanboy’s wet dream of a well-written liner notes, great photos of Inner Ear studio set-ups and poster set, it was well worth the price tag.  What gets me as much with this band is Holger Czukay’s tape editing prowess as much as their sheer communicative and truly exploratory improvising that sometimes produced themes to return to.  Process is obscured, only the wicked groove remains, even that is dissolved into an ephemera of space dust through Irmin Schmidt’s sound generators.  This is one I go back to a lot, as I’ve burnt out on the studio records for a bit over the past 4-5 years. Like the recent re-issue of Chrome‘s early material, this re-invigorated my interest for their unique sound and aesthetic.  No funk or weirdness is spared in the editing of this presentation you hear of a band you will never see perform live.

†††

Nicholas Diak

1: Beborn Beton – “A Worthy Compensation”

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Synthpop

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After fifteen years of hibernation, legendary German synthpop group Beborn Beton bounced right back into the forefront of electronic music with the release of their new album A Worthy Compensation. The last decade of synthpop music has been lackluster, seeing the collapse of the A Different Drum label, bands like De/Vision phoning it in, or bands like S.P.O.C.K. on permanent hiatus. Seeing Beborn Beton release a new album – and an amazing one at that – gives hope to inject the genre with a much needed rejuvenation. The fifteen years has been kind to the outfit, the vocals are still sharp, the music sounds canonically right were they left off with Fake. It’s like reconnecting with an old friend.

2: Miel Noir – “From the Ashes”

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Darkwave

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Miel Noir continues the dark-pop sounds they explored in Honey & Ash with their newest release, From the Ashes (to be released later this December), and the evolution is a positive one as the band has come along way since their pure industrial roots in a pre-Marcel P. era. Many tracks on the album sound canonical to Honey & Ash spoken word inspired lyrical delievery, but Miel Noir is not above flirting with other genres, with songs like “Es Ist Aus” incorporating EBM/dance elements and “From The Ashes” having military pop elements with its snare. It’s an excellent release that attempts to take the neofolk/underground genre in new directions.

3: KnifeLadder – “The World on Fire”

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Industrial

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In sad news, 2015 saw the passing of John Murphy, an unsung but important musician in the dark underground scene. The World on Fire was a KnifeLadder album to be released in 2016, but with the passing of Murphy, it was quickly released digitally to Bandcamp and became the project’s final album. c serves as swan song for KnifeLadder, with dark distorted guitars, drum-barrell industrialism, shrieking noir jazz-ish elements, and an unnerving atmosphere that puts you on edge, making one feel like they are in a David Fincher film. It’s a shame to see such a project end and the loss of Murphy, but The World on Fire does a wonderful job at bookending his legacy.

Nicholas Diak’s Best of 2011-2015

Porta Vittoria – “Summer of our Discomfort” (2013)

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Art pop

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1. World Crashing Down
2. Moments We Have Stars in Our Eyes
3. Kaziglu Bey
4. Fire in the Boudoir
5. Guenther Lause ist nicht bekannt
6. Concrete Island
7. Death in Venice
8. Captatio benevolentiae
9. Sad Lieutenant G.D.
10. Le rêve et la vie
11. Your Trash, My Treasure
12. Cosmic Melancholy of the Thinking Ocean

Out of left field, totally announced and caught unawares, Porta Vittoria suddenly appeared onto the scene with the release of the Summer of our Discomfort on the Old Europa Cafe label. This debut was eclectic, interesting and refreshing. Self described as “Mediterranean-pop”, the album is a medley of atomic industrialism, jazz and electro-pop that creates a sound unique to Porta Vittoria. Every song on the album stands on its own and worthy of being release as a single, a rare instance that the entire album front to back is flawless. It’s success is even further bolstered that the the project, heavily verses in cinema and filmmaking, creates their own music videos in such high quality that it stands leagues above the rest. A debut should not be this good or have such musical technical acumen to it, but it does: Summer of Our Discomfort is aural perfection.

†††

Simon Gould

1. Prurient – “Frozen Niagara Falls”

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Noise / Industrial

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A defining/crippling feature of my music consumption is that I’m a sucker for a deep discography, and what with all the splits, obscure CD-Rs and limited vinyl, Prurient‘s back catalogue is deep. So, to avoid bankruptcy and bachelorhood, I’ve contained/restrained myself to his sublime Vatican Shadow project until this year, I finally cracked. Whereas his aforementioned techno-leaning alias utilised dead-eyed synth drones over furious feedback blasts, on Frozen Niagara Falls its those same shimmering synths which provide such gorgeous counter-point to the expected harshness throughout. I’d expect nothing less than effortless, top-drawer noise electronics from Fernow but when wedded/welded with the gentler keyboards, acoustic guitars and stretches of quiet, the extent of his skills are starker still. Together with wonderful spoken/shrieked vocals, this schizophrenic release provided me with a wonderful entry point to this important artist.

2. MZ412 – “Hekatomb”

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Death industrial

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A surprisingly belting set that set me a-slavering the moment I read that all three members were on stage together –quite a prospect. This is one of the few live performances I could have been present for but, listening to the recording, deeply regret not pulling my finger out to get there (Cabaret Voltaire‘s Atonal set in 2014 was a stinker) as the ritual atmosphere is heightened by the sense of occasion, the photos I’ve seen of the stage presence and the quality of the music. Magisterial, grimacing, foul, beautiful and direct…I was left simply stunned by Nordvagr and co’s work here.

3. Of Earth and Sun – “Uncoiled”

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Ritual ambient

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A release I scooped up immediately after reading Kate MacDonald’s review on this site a few months ago and has stayed in my presence since. I’ve listened to a lot of noise, a lot of drone and looped music from the academic experimental early years to the cathedrals of guitar noise that everyone seems to be into nowadays but this caught my ear. This is no old hand deftly spinning out another masterpiece, nor is it recklessly new (although it is a debut) in challenging said old-guard, but it is a fresh artist making enjoyably heavy music in an neatly idiosyncratic way. That bone-flute, those voices and the construction of the tracks made this a surprisingly enjoyable release. Simply great, I can’t wait for more.

Simon Gould’s Best of 2011-2015

Rome – “A Passage to Rhodesia”

luxembourg

Neofolk

A Passage to Rhodesia

1. Electrocuting An Elephant
2. The Ballad Of The Red Flame Lily
3. One Fire
4. A Farewell To Europe
5. The Fever Tree
6. Hate Us And See If We Mind
7. The River Eternal
8. A Country Denied
9. Lullaby For Georgie
10. In A Wilderness Of Spite
11. Bread And Wine
12. The Past Is Another Country

I finally experienced Jerome Reuter’s sublime Rome while in a ‘Music Mart’ (a high street CD/technology chain) in Vienna just as Nos Chants Perdue had been released and was captivated – if surprised, that album wasn’t the martial neofolk I’d read of –and on my next trip the following year I noticed the landmark Die Æsthetik der Herrschaftsfreiheit albums and gobbled up all three. I was in love. The mix of industrial, neofolk guitars and sombre vocals had me entraced and so, when eventually the ambitious A Passage to Rhodesia box landed at my door, expectations were high. The HH review puts it bluntly: “…as close to perfection as it gets” and I felt the same. The concept was seductive in its bravery, the songs rousing and bold (“One Fire” has become one of my all-time favourites), the poetry as achingly poignant as ever and the noisey-collage second disc a lip-smacking dessert. Everything about this album resonated with me and continues to do so. If you didn’t get your ears round this one initially because of the prohibitive boxset format, track the single CD down and thank me later.

†††

Dennis Gudim

1: Tau Cross  – “Tau Cross”

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Heavy metal / Crust punk

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There isn’t a slightest shade of doubt that Tau Cross’ debut has become “THE” record of 2015 for me. Not only it is block-solid material performed by an impressive pedigree of musicians, uncompromising in its delivery and honest in its intentions, it’s a record that has lived alongside me since its release. As a friend devoted and ready to share his life’s story, straight and firm in his conduct, yet broody and introverted, the record shakes its clenched fist from the deepest gutters and yet manages to shine with restrained calmness at the same time. Desperation and hope, grit and purity, tradition and deviation from it – the band skilfully weaves those extremities together into a (Celtic) knot with unbelievable ease. The base of punk-genre can no longer on its own confine the potential of the record’s material, as it breathes, drawing life from other genres and engaging me more and more with every new listen. The potency of this mix works undeniably well, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the record will receive a minor classic status in a short while.

2: Skepticism – “Ordeal”

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Funeral doom metal

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It’s hard to oversee the magnitude of this record’s ambition and the results it manages to accomplish. After several years in making, it’s been recorded (and filmed) in front of a live audience in its entirety. While all the components that make this piece of work identifiable as a Skepticism record are in place, this unexpected approach brings a new dimension of uneasiness-cloaked intimacy to listeners. It feels physical, it feels immediate, it feels harrowing, like a spadeful of soil thrown in your face while you sleep. Leaving no detail without attention, the band has achieved a remarkable gripping directness that seems to saturate the entire project (I’m guessing even the choice of first and second person pronouns in the lyrics isn’t just a mere coincidence). Having a DVD with the entire live-performance included in the package, makes for the most tangible experience a record has given me in a while.

3: Manilla Road – “TheBlessed Curse”

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Heavy metal

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Unstoppable. Since the beginning of ‘00s these veterans of epic heavy metal have been releasing nothing but quality every two or three years. The impressive level of consistency is most certainly present on this latest opus – fast-paced numbers are tastefully mixed with reflective ballads, top-notch musicianship with band’s very distinct sound characteristics, lyrics with lots of thought and research put into, dramatic vocals and heart-gripping melodies – everything I love Manilla Road for is all in here, sounding as solid and as vital as ever. It would be fair to say that the long-time fans won’t be treated to many surprises here, but, to be honest, those aren’t really called for with the music of this calibre. Mark Shelton and the band delivers once again and at this point it seems unthinkable to see their engines run cold any time soon.

†††

Dennis Gudim’s Best of 2011-2015

Gnaw – “Horrible Chamber”

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Noise / drone

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1. Humming
2. Of Embers
3. Water Rite
4. Worm
5. Widowkeeper
6. This Horrible Chamber

If hell existed in all its fiery, demon-grinning glory, it definitely should been confined within four walls of some horrid cellar, just so that people that had listened to Horrible Chamber would be able to put their minds at ease and stop speculating on the real origins of Gnaw’s music. The rusty hooks scraping across the pale walls of refrigerator room inside a meat-packing plant. The thick layers of tar mixed with the metal shavings, ingested while gasping for oxygen. The swarm steadily making its way through a mental patient’s cortex while buzzing the “Twilight Zone” theme. Music to keep insanity trapped or an exorcism of normality? Who would be able to put an end to this despicable nightmare? Did you say you’re not having fun? This is where you end up…

Jonathan R.

1: Khoas-Dei – “Tell Them Lucifer Was Here”

france

Black metal

Khaos-Dei

The French metal scene has grown and evolved a lot in the last years and it seems as if 2015 was the year in which the country reached some kind of a peak. One just has to think about the Temple Of Baal album Mysterium to know what I am talking about. Nevertheless, the album which really showed all the potential of the French scene in the year 2015 is Khaos-Dei’s début Tell Them Lucifer Was Here. These guys have already perfected a mixture of brutality, catchiness, harshness and manliness (very important in French black metal) on their first album. A perfect example of this is the song “Le Chant Des Marais” which starts with a sinister calmness, before the pounding drums and the demanding vocals set in. The metallic eruption happens at minute 01:20 where all elements seem to explode and the drums (sadly not perfectly produced) experience more room to breathe and to kill. Before the song ends, Khaos-Dei have another surprising element up their sleeve – manly and military-like choirs (an element which can repeatedly be found on the rest of the song as well)! All of this great musical stuff is combined with a somehow humoristic cover artwork and album title which grants Tell Them Lucifer Was Here an additional layer. To sum up: Tell Them Lucifer Was Here is an extremely interesting and diverse album, which manages to capture the listener’s attention throughout the whole album. Nuff said, the album of the year 2015!

2: Byrdi – “Eventyr”

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Norwegian folk

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Folk metal is still fighting with its image problem, mainly the accusation that the genre is nothing else but pop songs or beat-music with some distorted guitars and more or less catchy traditional instruments. But every now and then an album appears which shows how much musical greatness can be achieved in this genre. Granted, Eventyr, the first album of Byrdi, has little to nothing to do with metal, but both musicians in the band have or had ties to metal music and one can also hear these influences in their work with Birdy. The wonderful aspect of Birdy’s art is that where Wardruna have become too abstract and too overly-intellectual, Byrdi focus on the rocks and roots, on dirt and trolls and on everlasting campfires. Their music can be gentle and contemplative like in the track “En Fullblods Byrde” which starts as slowly and unhurried as a wanderer approaches a shy reindeer. But when Byrdi want to show the whole power and might of nature, they are not afraid to use harsh vocals, pounding drums and a melancholic violin to achieve their goal (listen to “Tuntroll”). This diversity and the fact that Byrdi are able to compose stunning songs with the help of few elements are the two main reasons, why Eventyr has become such a great album. All those who have ever been out in the wild and who have been able to experience the mystical beauty of a starlit sky in the middle of nowhere will immediately fall in love with Eventyr.

3: Grift – “Syner”

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Black metal

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Syner of Grift is an album I expect to find in more than one list this year. If this does not happen then the metal world has finally lost all taste and all interest in good, heartfelt and authentic music. That Mr. Erik Gärdefors is an intelligent and talented song writer was already proven with the help of the two smaller Grift releases, namely Fyra elegier (2013) and the split-LP with Saiva. However, Syner takes Grift’s art another step further. One could go as far as to say that the album is actually the soundtrack to various movies of Ingmar Bergman. And if one takes a look at the video clip Grift made for the song “Svältorna” this might actually be the best description one can give for this album. For Syner is dark and sinister, yet never brutal and violent. Syner is extremely melancholic, yet never depressive. And Syner is always subtle, yet never boring. Ballads like “Slutet Hav” with the piano-intro and slow, doomy metal elements perfectly capture the foggy and dark atmosphere of a November morning on a work day. “Svältorna”, however, shows that it is possible to experience hope in the darkest moments. The way Erik uses the guitar here is astonishing, since a huge effect is produced with little effort. And one can only bow before an opener like “Aftonlandet” which captures the attention of the listener immediately and gives him or her goose bumps. What power and what talent lie behind such a musician! Grift’s album Syner is a gift to all fans of melancholic music!

Jonathan R.’s Best of 2011-2015

Sombres Forêts – “La Mort du Soleil” (2013)

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Black metal

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1. Des Épaves
2. Étrangleur De Soleils
3. Brumes
4. Au Flambeau
5. L’Éther
6. La Disparition
7. Effondrement

In order to choose a “best” album of the last five years, I have decided to re-formulate the criteria into the question: “Which album of the last five years had the greatest impact on you?” These two questions might not entirely be synonymous, however, the second approach makes it possible to choose one, and just one, album. Few will remember the release of Sombres Forêts album La Mort Du Soleil in the year 2013, since little advertisement was done by the label Sepulchral Productions. And even fewer people will remember that Sombres Forêts played a small tour through Europe in the summer of 2013. However, this reviewer does, since he was awaiting the album with great enthusiasm and when he was finally able to see the Canadian guys on stage in August 2013 one of the greatest metal experiences of all times unfolded. Now, in all honesty, La Mort Du Soleil is not that great. There are some long-winded passages on it, the screams of mastermind Annatar are sometimes too hysterical and the whole album offers little innovation in the field of atmospheric and ambient black metal. But if so, where does its greatness stem from? Simply put, La Mort Du Soleil is the dream of every soft-hearted black metal maniac. The atmosphere it creates is so full of heartfelt melancholy. The pictures it evokes in one’s head speak of dark raging seas, of long-lost treasures, of childhood dreams and of romantic fairy tales. The listener can perfectly picture him or herself sitting on a ridge on a dark December night in Québec contemplating the universe. La Mort Du Soleil transports a feeling of understanding to all those people who still have not given up hope that there is more to life than mindless working, brutality, violence and hatred. La Mort Du Soleil transports hope, but not in a cheesy and cliché way. It transports hope in a dark and sinister chant, and that is the reason why this positive message actually reaches people – it does not deny the eternal darkness of this world. Nevertheless, the beacon of hope lives and breathes in the music of Annatar. And when the guys from Québec hit the small stage somewhere in the nowhere of Austria and played their songs to a small crowd of people, there was the feeling present that in the metal world these dreams and this hope might still come true. La Mort Du Soleil offers its greatness to all those whose souls is as soft as a kitten, but cannot deny the eternal darkness one encounters each and every day on this planet.

†††

Lysander

1: Paradise Lost – “The Plague Within”

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Doom metal / Gothic metal

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“The circle is done….”

Those who discounted Paradise Lost as completing their best work back in the ’90s could once include me among them. Having ignored their recent albums, I returned in 2015 to the rallying cry of many listeners saying that The Plague Within was their best for decades, and how right they were. The album initially left me shellschocked – not only at its singular brilliance, or how each track is nadir-quality metal with no filler in sight – but at how this is one of the most masterfully crafted Gothic metal albums I have heard for years. Seeing as 1993’s Icon was the album that introduced me to metal, listening to a new Paradise Lost release of similar [or arguably better] quality puts me in a highly positive place. The Plague Within doesn’t just uplift me, it youths me. Followed up by an unforgettable gig in London this October, in my mind Paradise Lost were very much the band of 2015, releasing a futureproofed stalwart for Gothic metal.

2: Irfan – “The Eternal Return”

bulgaria

Neoclassical darkwave / Persian classical

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The embers of Middle Eastern-influenced neoclassical darkwave have been dwindling ever since Vas disbanded in 2004. Since then, only a small cereal of bands have been able to carry the standard for ethnic ethereal music. The Eternal Return heralds the first album from Irfan in eight years, but it’s been worth the wait in spades. Genetically hybridising Western neoclassical music with authentic regional styles, an array of Middle Eastern instrumentation to make a bazaar envious and the sultry vocals of Denitza Seraphim, this release stands alone as the finest in its category this decade.

3: Apócrýphos – “The Prisoners Cinema”

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Dark ambient

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Extremely consistent and satisfying, The Prisoners Cinema is one of the best dark ambient albums I’ve heard for a long time. Many months after release it still remains in constant rotation and I can think of few others that my inner subconscious can relate to so fully. There is something within this that relates to a principle deeply lodged within me – exactly what is unknown – but it makes one rule clear: you should never suppress your needs as a human being, or their representation through art. The art that you choose to experience not only understands you, it is you. There is something familiar here that I’d be lost without.

Lysander’s Best of 2011-2015:

Driss el Maloumi – “Makan” (2013)

morocco

Arabic classical

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1. Imtidad
2. Moudaaba
3. Nassim
4. Safar
5. Douceur Pour 2 “R”
6. Tawazoun
7. Imtinan
8. Awzan
9. Le Coin “D”
10. Khamsa
11. Ayour
12. Comme Une Joie
13. Intidar

Makan represents a major change in my life whilst not being directly responsible for it. 2013 was the year when I decided to advance my studies in Middle Eastern music to a different level, and on release Makan was, and still is, the best album of classical music from the region that I have heard out of hundreds. Ironically, it’s not a typical representation of the higher art form with Maloumi having a slight Western tinge to his oud playing under the Middle Eastern and North African stylistics. The technique employed on the classical instrumentation here, whether it be oud, darbuka or daf is incredibly skilful: Maloumi and his ensemble have dedicated their lives to their instrumentation and it shows in every note and every beat. Each time the listener returns to the album there is something new, emotive and enviable to discover. Makan not only satiates artistically and therapeutically but inspirationally, beckoning the listener to explore it intently and to fulfil their own potential.

†††

Kate MacDonald

1: JARL – “Case 1959 – Dyatlov”

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Dark ambient

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In a genre of music where artists are usually trying to project something that is frightening and dark, it’s too common to find clichés and too rare to find something that is genuinely unnerving. Case 1959 – Dyatlov never relies on established tropes for its atmosphere: there are no horror movie samples, no dungeon effects, no snarling vocals. Instead, Erik Jarl has built a thematic trilogy of tracks around a real life mystery, a story of death and the uncanny that has never been solved. It seems jejune to call this an “ambient” release, because it could hardly be further from Eno’s idea of music that heightens experience without intruding on it. Case 1959 – Dyatlov is immersive. It’s ambient like wind howling in the mountains; it’s ambient like the cracking of tree branches overwhelmed by the elements; it’s ambient like panicked breath in the night. JARL realizes that darkness isn’t only in the hearts of men or in the horrors that we perpetrate on each other. The deepest and most profoundly unsettling experience exists at the confluence of the natural world and the unknown and in the moment when we realize that we are at the mercy of both.

2: Grim – “Maha”

japan

Industrial

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It’s been nearly 30 years since the last release from Konayaga Jun aka Grim, but it turns out it was worth the wait. Maha is huge, an epic, rolling feast of an album, an auditory panorama that’s impossible to take in all at once. Like the earlier Grim material, it is both inscrutable and unpredictable. It sounds so incredibly cohesive, but only within its own particular little world. You can’t ever guess what’s about to happen. For someone (like me) who has been listening to music for a long time, it’s easy to become jaded and start to believe that you really have heard everything before. Then something like this, with its bizarre and beautiful combination of funky rhythm, dissonant electronics, quirky pop loops and aggressive vocals comes along and smacks the blasé right out of you. Music that colours this far outside the lines isn’t just enjoyable, it’s liberating.

3: Mad Masks – “Mad Masks”

france

Experimental / Darkwave

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I’m told that it’s good to know what you don’t know. Well, I don’t know anything about Mad Masks, save that they’re a duo from France who go by the names Zio Voodoo and Dominique Stela. Their début album on Peripheral Minimal is a fascinating blend of nostalgia and newness that leaves me wondering what else they’re capable of doing. The album is partly a love letter to the eighties underground, calling up memories of bands like Clair Obscur or Bene Gesserit (or indeed any of the Insane Records stable). There’s even hints of Horse Rotorvator-era Coil in some of the tracks. But this isn’t just mimicking what has gone before. Their sound has an imaginativeness that picks up on the trail of those artists and pushes forward. Mad Masks are a little noisier and a little more complex, giving a modern polish to a type of music that got set aside before reaching its full potential. I can’t wait to hear more.

Kate Macdonald’s Best of 2011-2015:

Haus Arafna – “New York Rhapsody” (2011)

germany

Industrial

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1. 45 Minutes In New York
2. God Sows Secrets
3. Veil
4. I Did It For You
5. You Know How To Destroy Me
6. Give The Strength
7. Heart Beats Blood Flows
8. Desecrated
9. Ground Zero
10. Poison
11. Kalt Im Bauch
12. What You Said

One of the things I love most about Haus Arafna is that they are a kind of safe zone for me. When I buy a new album from them, I know to a certain extent what I’m getting. Nonetheless, I haven’t felt as thrilled by anything as by this criminally underappreciated album, which saw them push in several different directions and grow stronger with each new moment of experimentation. That’s not to say that there isn’t great, vintage Arafna-ness to be found here, because it definitely fits perfectly into their œuvre. But there are also tracks that wander a little further into the musical forest. Created as a soundtrack for designer Katie Gallagher’s New York Fashion Week runway show, the album never sounds like background music. It’s a skillful mix of the callous aggression of earlier Haus Arafna with the surrealism of the first November Novelet. Perfection.

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Raul .A

1: Theologian – “Pain of the Saints”

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Death industrial

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Lee Bartow’s latest magnum opus again places him as the master of anti-theist industrial. Credit also goes out to the numerous individuals who’ve added their musical talents to give this release a richer, more composed sound than most harsh industrial music. Over 2 discs, including an additional limited remix disc, any long-time fan or newcomer to industrial, noise, or dark ambient can find numerous tracks to enjoy.

2: Prurient – “Frozen Niagara Falls”

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Noise / Industrial

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Some people in underground power electronics circles seem to be critical of this project’s increased accessibility and its praise from more mainstream press. That has very little importance to me, all I care about is that Dominick Fernow was able to incorporate Carpenter-esque synths and cold rhythms into his harsh noise palette, creating art that both frustrates expectations and soothes inner demons.

3: King Dude – “Songs Of Flesh & Blood – In The Key Of Light”

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Folk rock / neofolk

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TG Cowgill continues to flesh out his own form of dark americana on this latest release. Combining melencolia with genre bending rock n’ roll, gospel and luciferian lounge music, Cowgill gives you a glimpse into a world of heavy hearts and light hearted misanthropy.

Raul .A’s Best of 2011-2015:

Genocide Organ – “Under – Kontrakt” (2011)

germany

Power electronics / Death industrial

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1. Error
2. It’s Over
3. Forever Whore
4. Denard
5. Prince
6. I’m With You All Days
7. Tamil Eelam
8. Armor Group
9. S.low
10. The Lord Is My Light
11. We Are Here To Have A Good Time

The perfect execution of German power electronics. This album sees the GOVC shift their combat operations towards contemporary cultural and political targets, specifically the growing private military complex. From high powered electronic barrages on “Denard” and “The Lord Is My Light”, to the crawling death of “I’m With You All Days” and “Error”, their armory is varied and highly effective. With Under Kontrakt Genocide Organ defies attempts to pin them down through charges of irrelevant themes or techniques, proving that this unit is ever shift, ever growing, and only just begun taking aim at American decay.

†††

Edward Rinderle

1: Tor Lundvall – “The Park”

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Ambient

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I’ll keep saying it until I’m out of breath: Tor Lundvall is one of the hidden geniuses of our time. Not is he only a practiced painter of dreamlike scenes that seem familiar, his music takes the real and makes it utterly alien. He does this in such a delicate manner, however, that the places he takes you exist in both the corners of your mind and right outside your window. The Park is Lundvall’s newest instrumental combination of field recordings (sourced from real-life parks he frequents) and the strangely beautiful and organic music that he’s been refining for the last eighteen years. A tour through the parks as Lundvall sees them (or how he wishes they could be), The Park is, equally, a place of solace and a place of shadows flitting just out of sight. Lundvall’s songwriting has taken a step forward, expanding in feel as the hauntingly simple chords, odd samples, and sparse rhythms become even further stripped down than before. Precious few artists can draw out such potent impressions in so sparse a framework. Lundvall continues to move even further beyond the limits of genre, into a place only he roams. The LP is out of print, but The Park may be included in a new Tor Lundvall CD boxed set from Dais Records in 2016. An essential release from a brilliant artist who deserves far more attention.

2: Seetyca – “Nemeton”

germany

Dark ambient

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Organic, expansive, and reverent, Nemeton is the latest exploration into deep drone by the prolific Seetyca. Named for a Celtic place of ancient reflection often hidden within the heart of a forest, the album is full of slowly spreading and hypnotic drones that Seetyca has perfected across his extensive catalog. The atmosphere drapes you in a strong sense of mystery, easing you gently through a haze of gray-tinted, tree-haunted mysticism. Beyond just a superlative exercise in immersive drone, Nemeton contains delicate lattices of unusual and creative samples that enhance the sacred woodland excursion, elevating it to a place few artists reach. It’s something like the sonic equivalent of de Lint by way of Peake: deeply affecting fantasy that bleeds its own peculiar brand of darkness. Seetyca has released many collaborations, most notably as Circle of Pines, but in my view, his solo work is easily his best. This is a landmark dark ambient experience, and a coup by new Dutch label Winter-Light.

3: A Cryo Chamber Collaboration – “Azathoth”

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Dark ambient

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On the heels of Cthulhu – the 2012 joint project on Simon Heath’s Cryo Chamber label wherein multiple dark ambient artists collaborated on a single Lovecraft-inspired album-length track – Azathoth expands and improves the concept. Not only is it two tracks this time, but the sound is more refined and focused. A true collaboration featuring the work of twenty-two dark ambient artists, including genre heavyweights such as Atrium Carceri, Kammarheit, and Svartsinn, fused together into one monstrously beautiful double album, Azathoth is a surprisingly subtle and beautiful homage to the ruler of Lovecraft’s elder gods. With a constantly shifting flow that feels far more improvised than it is, Azathoth is a triumph of both the technical and the aesthetic that explores the chasms of space beyond the ones we perceive. Could Cryo Chamber give Nyarlathotep the treatment next? I can’t wait to find out.

Edward Rinderle’s Best of 2011-2015:

Kave – “Dismal Radiance” (2012)

netherlands

Dark ambient

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1. Tombs Of The Black Sand
2. Corridors Under The Sea
3. Vault Of Mysticism And Desolation
4. Encompassing Emptiness
5. Bleak Phantasm
6. Dismal Radiance
7. Laatste Schemering
8. Dark Monoliths Rising

Overflowing with a subtle confidence that belies its début status, Bram Gollin’s first release is a rare album of exquisite flow and atmosphere. Kave doesn’t necessarily innovate in terms of content, but what’s here is so wonderfully arranged, it’s a case of overall quality trumping experimentation. Gollin’s half-lit, mystifying, reflective tapestry of synths, samples, drones, and field recordings stirs and breathes like a living thing. Memorable and moving in a way few dark ambient albums are, Dismal Radiance is a quiet classic that I continue to revisit.

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Sage

1: KnifeLadder – “This World on Fire”

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Industrial

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It’s difficult to say just how much losing an important artist can affect one’s emotional attachment to their work. Since the loss of John Murphy back in October, I’ve found myself returning again and again to KnifeLadder‘s final album, This World On Fire, which was released the day after his passing.  Few back-to-back tracks have been as addictive as the album’s openers, “Mobilised” and “You Don’t Own It,” which are ridiculously heavy both for Murphy’s textbook percussive madness and their driving bass-lines.  Beyond this point, each song has its own identity, from the trudging, abyssic yet atmospheric dread of “None of You” to the epic noise weirdness and synth mayhem of “Ruined Russian Girls.”  It’s an industrial album that has managed to find the perfect balance between emotive tension and experimentalism — a middle-ground that most post-industrial musicians would likely agree is the most difficult point to find.

2: Grift – “Syner”

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Black metal

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I’m not sure what I can write about this album that I haven’t already put to words in my première of Grift‘s video for “Svältorna.”  I’d never heard of the project until Nordvis approached us about putting our efforts behind debuting the video to our audience, and I’ve been mesmerized by their work ever since.  Erik Gärdefors, the sole musician behind the project today, has become a master of the dreary, atmospheric black metal approach that I was so bewitched by upon first hearing Enochian Crescent a decade ago, but he’s managed to up the emotional ante and somehow apply a sound that is distinctly Scandinavian at the same time. Gärdefors is single-handedly mastering his craft through his use of tension, building up, dropping out, and shifting melodic focus always at the perfect moment. As good as this is, there’s no follow-up album in any genre that I’m excited for more than what Grift will have to offer after the success of Syner.

3: Gravemist – “Valley of the Dry Bones”

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Gothic Country

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As soon as “Ghost on the Road” begins to play, it’s difficult not to immediately think of what is bound to become the cliché comparison for this band: The Handsome Family (you know, the ones who wrote the theme to the début season of True Detective that was stuck in everyone’s head until… well, today still, really).  Gravemist carry a minimalism and a sometimes-bizarre atmosphere into their peculiar style of alt. country that makes them one of the more unique projects that I’ve heard in recent years.  It’s unfortunate that the tape itself is far from perfect with some obvious performance miscues, but it has become the most enjoyable late addition to my rotation in recent months, and certainly will be an artist that is deserving of wider attention in the near future.

Sage’s Best of 2011-2015:

SOHN – “Tremors” (2014)

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Art pop / Alternative R&B

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1. Tempest
2. The Wheel
3. Artifice
4. Bloodflows
5. Ransom Notes
6. Paralysed
7. Fool
8. Lights
9. Veto
10. Lessons
11. Tremors

If you think coming up with the best albums of the year is difficult, try being asked to find the best release you’ve heard in the past five years. I’d gather that anyone who gets asked every month for a year would have a different answer for every occasion. Thankfully — and while contenders like White LiesBig TV and Woodkid‘s The Golden Age made this a more difficult decision than it needed to be — one very specific album has stuck to me like glue for the past couple of years, and it’s not likely what you’d expect. Indeed, when one thinks of Heathen Harvest, “pop” is likely the furthest genre from mind, but SOHN‘s début, Tremors, has its hooks about as deep in me as any other influential album from my youth. Everything about this album is ridiculous in the best ways: the vocal performances, the electronic and percussive complexity, the incredible production, the mind-shattering catchiness of the melodies, the subtle electro noise/experimentalism…  Tremors is a monster of an album that has landed SOHN a deserving audience.  This isn’t just any “pop” album; Tremors has a rare amount of soul and depth, and there isn’t a single weak track through the entire thing.  It hasn’t been more perfect than this in a very, very long time.  It’s a shame that I’ll likely never hear anything like it again.

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M A Spiro

1: Mgła – “Exercises in Futility”

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Black metal

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Modern black metallers Mgla have created the perfect rock and roll album with this effort. Of course, there are the expected tremolo guitar picking and blast beats, but the songs are meatier and better structured. Complex rhythmic patterns, thought-provoking lyrics, memorable chord progressions: Mgla give it all to you. Crystal clear masculine vocals soar atop balanced guitar and bass riffs. The outstanding drumming displays finesse. But Mgla are modern rockers, and dare I say that even some post-rock elements find their way into passages in a subtle way that does not undermine their black metal authenticity? I’d like to think that a band like Mgla and the sound they have created, are the true future of black metal: firmly rooted in the traditions of their musical heritage without becoming mired in elitist stylistic or lyrical orthodoxy.

2: Tribulation – “Children of the Night”

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Heavy metal / Gothic metal

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Musically and visually, Tribulation’s aesthetic infuses a much-needed lithe and mysterious androgyny into the typically leaden machismo world of death and black metal. Here, thrashier riffs blend seamlessly with swirling psychedelic interludes and are interwoven throughout catchy-as-hell melodies that draw me back to this album again and again. The lyrical content is blood-soaked and brooding, yet also exhilarating, like a make-out scene from a sexy vampire movie.

3: Drudkh – “A Furrow Cut Short”

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Atmospheric black metal

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A joy to listen to from start to finish, Drudkh deliver what they have come to do best: unrelenting blast beats supporting well-crafted and highly melodic guitar melodies with snarling vocals. Musically, this Drudkh album represents everything I love about most black metal – brutality, speed, blasphemy and rage. But for any genre, this is also simply great song writing. The layering of keys on several tracks transforms these guitar driven tunes into epic atmospheric anthems. Drudkh riffs get stuck in my head like pop-tunes, only in the most excruciatingly beautiful way, of course. This fist-pumping record makes the perfect soundtrack for long-distance driving, working out, pulling a plow or starting your revolution.

M A Spiro’s Best of 2011-2015:

Craft – “Void” (2011)

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Black metal

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1. Untitled
2. Serpent Soul
3. Come Resonance Of Doom
4. The Ground Surrenders
5. Succumb To Sin
6. Leaving The Corporal Shade
7. I Want To Commit Murder
8. Bring On The Clouds
9. Void

Choosing a best album over four years goes to the album and the band I play the most: Craft. I own the entire Craft discography, which actually isn’t that much music for a band that has been around for 16 years. But I probably play Void in its entirety at least four times a month now and individual songs from it at least once a week. Had a bad day at work? Slap on “I Want To Commit Murder,” and instantly, all is right. Need to crank out some housework, this album provides the soundtrack. Trying to feel better about your miserable existence? “Bring on the Clouds” will remind you to stop trying and “Leaving the Corporal Shade” will remind you of your possible options. “The Ground Surrenders” has brought me to tears; it’s just that damn beautiful. I could go on and on about each song and the role it plays in my daily life. I think Void was the first Craft album that I was exposed to, and for a while, I stopped listening to any other black metal band until I could fully experience every song they’d written. Their music to me is like an aural drug, and Void is that drug in its uncut, unadulterated form. If I really tried to dissect why I like this band and this album so much, I guess I could say it’s got a good beat and it’s easy to dance to. That would be funny, but also it would be true. Whatever they are doing with drums and guitars and bass and vocals just resonates with me. Plus the lyrics are filled with nihilistic rage. Really, what’s not to love?

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Tenebrous Kate

1: Porta Nigra – “Kaiserschnitt”

germany

Avant-garde metal / Black metal

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Ambitious and eclectic, this album paints an ecstatic truth vision of WWI Germany that propels the listener from the trenches of Verdun and into seedy whorehouse bedrooms. It’s a theatrical record that doesn’t shy from pairing moody piano passages with cascading volleys of artillery fire in its quest to create immersive compositions. Passages of aggression, melancholy, and eroticism create a heady brew befitting the band’s self-described status as purveyors of decadent, dark heavy metal.

2: Lychgate – “An Antidote for the Glass Pill”

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Avant-garde metal / Symphonic black metal

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Listening to this album evokes the sensation of being locked in the catacombs beneath an abandoned cathedral. Dense, complex black metal achieves full sturm und drang intensity with the addition of howling pipe organs. It’s the soundtrack to a nightmare one almost doesn’t wish to wake from.

3: Mgła – “Exercises in Futility”

poland

Black metal

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Mgła has managed to concoct a melodic black metal album that is simultaneously accessible and utterly misanthropic. The bleakness of the lyrical content and rawness of approach are overlaid with guitar passages that approach “anthem” status, driven forward by variations in tempo that make each track a visceral experience. Infinitely re-listenable, “Exercises in Futility” is a compelling musical journey; just make no mistake that the trajectory is ever-downward.

†††

Tenebrous Kate’s Best of 2011-2015:

Blut Aus Nord – “777 Sect(s)” (2011)

france

Atmospheric black metal

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1. Epitome 01
2. Epitome 02
3. Epitome 03
4. Epitome 04
5. Epitome 05
6. Epitome 06

An experimental, atmospheric, and glorious ride, the first record in the band’s 777 trilogy explores the strange potential shapes that black metal can take. Blast beats and rapid-fire guitar work coexist alongside tracks driven by monolithic riffs. Horrific and disconcerting, it’s a dense musical experience that calls to mind the ravaged face of a dying planet.

David Tonkin

1: Am Not – “Unpunished”

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Power electronics / Industrial

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Stupidly accomplished second album from Am Not. Thematically solid, bristling with muscle and with an obsessive attention to detail, this album confirms Am Not as an industrial project to watch very closely. It also also cements Unrest Productions’ position as one of the strongest labels operating today.

2: Koufar – “Lebanon for Lebanese”

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Power electronics / Death industrial

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Direct and inflammatory, just as you’d hope it to be. Singular and pure in intent and delivery, this tasty 12” hits like a kick to the guts. The unique and unsettling electronics are a perfect counterpoint to Alexandre Chami’s recognisably unhinged vocals. The brilliant cover design from Si Clark, bringing together the flags of Lebanon and the Afrikaner Resistance Movement, rounds out a fantastic release.

Ke/Hil – “Zone O”

germany

Industrial

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A gift that keeps on giving. Born from the ashes of Anenzephalia, the second release of Ke/Hil proves they are still ahead of the game. Much more active than the debut release, surely this is already a defining album of European heavy electronics.

David Tonkin’s Best of 2011-2015

Mania / Hal Hutchinson – “Wreckage” (2011)

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Noise / Industrial

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1. Mania – Deviosity
2. Mania + Hal Hutchinson – Ignition
3. Mania + Hal Hutchinson – Beyond Salvage
4. Mania + Hal Hutchinson – Flame Territory
5. Mania – Hole Up
6. Mania + Hal Hutchinson – Demolition 
7. Mania  + Hal Hutchinson – Warhead
8. Hal Hutchinson – Factory Of Metal Sound (Corrosive Treatment)

Obligatory “cant pick just one” gripe aside, this is a perfect pairing if there ever were one. It sums up everything I enjoy about these two noise pervs’ work, and everything others aspire to produce: nuanced, obsessive metal junk texture, analogue synth worship and a dirty collage aesthetic. Proper filth.

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Tracy T.

1: Prurient – “Frozen Niagara Falls”

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Noise / Industrial

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As vast as Prurient’s discography is, Frozen Niagara Falls has left a notable impression which is both twisted and beautiful. There is certainly a plentiful amount of experimentation and dabbing around with various ingredients and samples from other sub-genres which make this release far from a straightforward/typical noise album. Although it is easy for one to be caught off-guard by the sudden explosion of synth-pop samples heard in “Every Relationship Sunrise”, its intentionally off-putting, uncomfortable nature is also what draws in its charm. On the opposite spectrum, the dismally alluring synthesized samples heard in “Cocaine Daughter” is abysmal perfection in its eerily serene calmness. There is a plentiful amount to take in within 90 minutes, as the majority of the album is an array of free-floating frenzy, as well as Dominick Fernow’s neurotic outlet of releasing repressed aggression and anxieties. Frozen Niagara Falls is both a roller coaster ride of mechanic hostility as it is aberrant static bliss.

2: Volahn/Shataan/Arizmenda/Kallathon –
“Desert Dances and Serpent Sermons”

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 Black Metal

Black Twilight Circle - Desert Dances and Serpent Sermons

One of the Black Twilight Circle’s most musically dominant compilations by far, Desert Dances and Serpent Sermons has been an exceptional highlight of this year’s top shelf black metal releases. In comparison to each project’s former releases (full-length albums/LPs/live recordings/etc), this one by far overshadows them all in terms of production and structure. As a longtime listener of the majority of the Black Twilight Circle’s projects and most notably Crepúsculo Negro‘s roster, it is enlivening to see how much has progressed throughout its history and discography. Volahn‘s opening track, “Chamalcan”  immediately takes the upper hand in its unending power from beginning to end – riffs, vocals and overall instrumental arrangements have clearly been carefully constructed, the “rawness” of Volahn‘s signature sound still remains prominent, although its slightly cleaner production adds tremendous value to its certain elements such as guitar/keyboard notes which could be easily overheard on previous releases. The production adds extra focus on certain features such as the opening flute notes of Shataan‘s track, “Caminando  del Destino / Desert Smoke / Wells Run Dry”. Arizmenda and Kallathon both deliver piercing, bleak chaos as expected – the “spaghetti western” theme here is very much alive and fitting from start to finish, in a well-formulated story which unfolds from each Black Twilight entity.

3: Blaze of Perdition – “Near Death Revelations”

poland

Black metal

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One Polish black metal release which has been overlooked this year is Blaze of Perdition‘s Near Death Revelations. Although it is not an overly technical or constant speed-driven album, its structure is arranged in a rhythmic, easy to follow approach – its melodic moments refreshingly stand out as a highlight on this album rather than its downfall. This element is particularly noticeable into the last minute of “Into the Void Again” with its despondent-sounding, minimalistic closure – one of the albums strongest tracks from beginning to end. Another highlight which stands out in the album’s later half is Sonneillon’s vocally demonstrative abilities which are most prominent in “Cold Morning Fears” – this high point alone is enough to put one into a trance by the sheer volume of its tremendous, earsplitting power. Although the album’s overall mix is fairly well polished, all of its key elements share a balance which make Near Death Revelations a versatile album which strays away from repetition & predictability.

Tracy T.’s Best of 2011-2015

Mgła – “With Hearts Toward None” (2012)

poland

Black metal

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1. With Hearts Toward None I
2. With Hearts Toward None II
3. With Hearts Toward None III
4. With Hearts Toward None IV
5. With Hearts Toward None V
6. With Hearts Toward None VI
7. With Hearts Toward None VII

Released in 2012, With Hearts Toward None has received a regular listening rotation in the last 3 (and soon to be 4) years in my stereo. It is without a doubt that this album holds a kind of energy which pierces through your ears and seeps into your mind – it is a lingering aura which embeds itself there and leaves a mark on your clairvoyance. Although it is simplistic in its nature, the essence which Mgła has produced in this release is without a doubt, one of the most moving pieces saturated with nihilistic authenticity. Although it upholds strength in its entirety from lyrical content, to hook lines and percussion, the last track is what ultimately seals the deal – “With Hearts Toward None VII” is an ongoing buildup of vitality and ruination. Its unrestrained, vindictive nature delivers in full force in its entire 10 minute arrangement. M’s vocals are relentless and deafening over the sound of the guitars and clashing of percussion symbols – “Always downward, and toward the farthest sides of the north / There is the nadir / There comes the storm” And so the storm has passed and left its imperishable wreckage in our wake.

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