End of the year lists seem kind of hasty to me. With new albums out every week and still trying to fit in your favorites from your entire lifetime throughout the year, how can you really gather how much a record affects you in, almost all cases, less than twelve months? There are also records that come out in December and some you entirely overlook until sometime the following year. It’s a daunting task, but I still made one as close to the end of 2015 as I could, but I feel my procrastination and laziness made a more accurate best of 2015. However, almost all of these records were already on my list at the year’s end, though, so what did I really prove?
I learned quite a bit in 2015. For instance, I learned that almost everyone likes Beach Slang. I mean, I get it, the record actually isn’t that bad. The problem is that it’s probably one of the safest albums I’ve ever heard in my life. I understand that not everybody has to reinvent the wheel, but the wheel you’re riding is hooked to a track like that Tomorrowland Speedway ride at Disney World. I will say, though, that they had, easily, the most interesting cover on the Robotic Empire Nirvana tribute Doused in Mud, Soaked in Bleach.
I learned that I have no idea what the fuck I listen to. I mean, I know what I like, but I’m not sure what genre(s) it all falls under. I thought I liked metal, but I literally went through every top 15 list of every MetalSucks.net contributor and I guess I don’t like metal… like at all. Also, everyone who does like metal is swinging from black metal’s nutsack and drinking up every bit of corpse paint tainted ball sweat that drips off each Nordic follicle. What I’m trying to say is I’m about as anxious to listen to anything that’s influenced by black metal as I am EDM, country, and whatever genre Emmy Rossum’s music is considered (keep in mind that life is contradiction when you’re reading this).
Speaking of metal, I learned Morgoth is still capable of writing Odium worthy songs over 20 years later. I learned emo, like true emo, is alive and well. It’s a good thing, too, because most of the heavy bands I like either aren’t touring or are foreign and just won’t tour here, so this emo revival is getting me into venues. Finally, I learned calling a record a full length even though it’s only eighteen minutes long and promoting it incessantly when you have nothing to say is acceptable. Anyway, here it is, stevenlikedsomething in 2015:
Frontierer picks up where The Tony Danza Tapdance Extravaganza left off, ditching the goofy schtick of earlier Danza material and the overt metalcore breakdowns and filler of later releases, but holding onto the fretboard acrobatics and polyrhythms. There is a lot to digest on this record, though, and you might not want to do it all in one sitting. Actually, I kind of like this record better when a song from it comes up on shuffle.
Nice Hooves is the more rock leaning noisecore version of fellow Detroit act The Armed. They share almost all the same members and both bands recorded their albums during the same session with Kurt Ballou.
No frills here, just classic grindcore with Maruta’s modern style. Skulls, destruction, and despair performed fast as fuck.
If you’re familiar with upstate New York metallic hardcore, bands like Engineer and Achilles, as well as the rest of the Hex Records roster, then you probably already have a pretty good idea of what Bleak sounds like. If they’re new to you then you can judge a(n) [album] by its cover… title… author. This record is ugly, gloomy, and grim. It’s also technical with a bit of Botch influence.
I think I always thought that Title Fight was more of a straight ahead hardcore band, and maybe I was somewhat right, but I heard the track “Head in the Ceiling Fan” off Green Floral and really liked it. It was kind of shoegaze-y. Flash forward a year or two and Hyperview follows more of that shoegaze influence without taking away too much of what Title Fight used to be.
Mentioned earlier, here’s the other noisy Detroit band with a release recorded by Kurt Ballou. Abrasive and destructive, it’s a little more on the punk side of noisecore than Nice Hooves, but still beefy, as you might expect from a Ballou recording.
I can’t imagine it’s easy to come right back into the fold after a 20 year hiatus, but these guys have kept up their chops and produced a proper follow-up to 1996’s Fantastic Planet.
Perhaps purposely ironically, lyrics in the opening track of this record feature the line “we’re afraid to die and that’s alright”, and as dark and depressing as this emo/indie rock album can get at times, most of Harmless feels like the light at the end of the tunnel.
I was never into the 80s movement of shoegaze, so I’m really surprised at my current attraction to the contemporary version of it. Most of the bands influenced by My Bloody Valentine and other acts of that ilk are also mixing this style with grunge and that’s probably what’s appealing to me. In true shoegaze fashion, Turnover executes catchy melodies in a depressing atmosphere, but uses more tender riffs rather than the heavy fuzz tone of similar bands like Nothing and Pity Sex, and vocals that will raise an octave or 2 over the common monotone singing of the genre.
Since their dawning in 1999, KEN Mode have always been purveyors of noisy, metal influenced hardcore. They really mastered it, though, on 2013’s Entrench. That record was produced by Matt Bayles, whose work on heavy albums like Botch’s We are the Romans and Mastodon’s Leviathan really shows its influence on KEN Mode’s previous release. Their approach to noisy music on Success is quite different. Opting for a rawer sound via producer Steve Albini, this record can come off a little jarring if you’re accustomed to KEN Mode’s catalog, but a few spins and you’ll realize the incensed bitterness is still there, it’s just coming from a garage that could house The Jesus Lizard.
Sometimes I’ll look at this list and wonder how this album ended up so high on it. Then I’ll hear a song from Joy, Departed and think, “Oh yeah, that’s right.” Anyway, for sad, but poppy modern emo, this record from Sorority Noise is tough to top. Especially the mental health anthem “Using”.
Sometimes, if you’re a casual fan of a band, business as usual can be a great thing. I have certain expectations when I put on a BTBAM album and if those expectations are met then they will always have a spot on a year-end list. How high depends on how far they go beyond those expectations. I understand that lifers highly invested in BTBAM’s music will be quick to rank the albums, if not point out the flaws of newer material. To me, though, as long as they’re still releasing mathy, hardcore influenced prog-metal I will be happy to keep up with their output.
Okay, fuck these guys. They post more updates than just about any band on social media; they hype up all their tours and do something like 3 dates on the east coast, promote the hell out of a new full length only to release an 18 minute EP, and drop singles that sound kind of lackluster. However, when it’s all packaged together, it’s a fierce noise rock record with groove and balls, and these guys definitely need all the balls promoting the way they do. Fuck them, but a pretty satisfying “album”. Postscript: They broke up.
Throes comes from the ashes of Boise metallic hardcore act Bone Dance. It’s pretty much the same band except they picked up a new vocalist and the former vocalist moved to drums. Unfortunately, the only noticeable difference is that the drumming on this EP isn’t as technically proficient as the final Bone Dance full length. However, that album ended up as number 7 on my best of 2012 list, so I guess it’s not that detrimental after all.
Since 2014 was the year of female fronted grunge revival for me, it would seem 2015 needs a theme, too, and this year it’s noise… core/rock/whatever. No one is going to perform it with as much vitriol and filth as Great Falls, though. Guitarist/vocalist Demian Johnston has been doing it for 25+ years through his involvement with Undertow, Nineironspitfire, Kiss It Goodbye, and, most recently, Playing Enemy. With Great Falls, he’s picking up where he left off with Playing Enemy, including employing former PE band mate Shane Mehling on bass, and their second full length finds them delving even deeper into the grimy underbelly of noise… let’s go with /whatever.
I don’t listen to much death metal, but I get excited when I find something new from the genre that resonates with me. You might be able to hear influences from some death metal mainstays like Pestilence and Morbid Angel throughout Heavy Over the Home, but what Sanzu is able to accomplish on this record is a fresh perspective while in the company of derivative bands that get accolades for paying tribute to tropes of a constrained genre. Plus, the vocalist sounds like Scott Angelacos (Bloodlet, Hope and Suicide, Junior Bruce) at times and that wins some points with me, too.
Sometimes sleeping giants never wake, or, even worse, they come back to life as a hollow shell of what they used to be. Isis mastermind, Aaron Turner, churned out quite possibly the heaviest record I’ve ever heard in Celestial. Each successive record Isis released after that was still in the same heavy vein, but were more progressive and atmospheric. The albums were often more revered, too, but just never quite carried the same colossal weight as Celestial. Isis disbanded in 2010 after they released a proper swan song in Wavering Radiant. Since that time, and even a little before Isis’ dissolution, several post-metal acts took their title shots at heaviest band on the planet, and quite a few landed some great blows. Turner seemed to be biding his time, patiently waiting for a towering inspiration and suitable supporting cast to arise and when it finally did we were dealt The Deal. It’s a crushing monster with devastating riffs and the thunderous low-end rhythm section is filled out by influential bassist Brian Cook (ex-Botch, Russian Circles, etc.) and rising metallic hardcore drummer Nick Yacyshyn (Baptists). At its release, The Deal was the heaviest album I had heard since Celestial, making it an easy contender for album of the year and undoubtedly the heaviest album of 2015, right? But alas…
I know it’s one lone album, but Employed to Serve is the reason I don’t like the practice of year-end lists being posted in November. I didn’t hear about this band until Mathcore Index posted their Volume 1 compilation in July of 2016. So, sure, this album wasn’t heard by me in 2015, but it is far too good to be left off a best of list. It’s ferocious and relentless with angular dissonant riffs, staccato rhythms, and chunky grooves. It’s very reminiscent of early 2000s Botch influenced technical metalcore. Though, with metalcore being such a dirty word now, I feel obligated to state that you shouldn’t expect any singing. All of frontwoman Justine Jones’s vocals are harsh, glass swallowing screams.
Rolo Tomassi have been around for over a decade, a product of the tech metal craze generated by The Dillinger Escape Plan. Rolo’s style was more akin to the staccato and quirky synth nature of bands like The Locust and Me and Him Call It Us. It seems, with the addition of a new guitarist and bassist on the previous release, and a new drummer for this one, plus using their keys as a layer of depth to their sound rather than a clashing novelty, Rolo Tomassi has found their stride. What really sticks out, though, is Eva Spence’s elevation in her vocal prowess from tech metalcore copycat to the center piece of an influential hardcore band. Her black metal screams, delicate singing, and powerful poetic lyrics are striking indications at the massive growth between records and an exciting revelation of what’s to come from this band. And among all the metallic riffs on Grievances that could make Kurt Ballou jealous, the scream-less and darkly graceful “Opalescent” is the standout track on the album, displaying the range of every member in Rolo Tomassi.
(cont’d from 4.)… When this record came out, Cult Leader were 2 years removed from the demise of Gaza and I’m sure they’re sick of it being mentioned, but sometimes people don’t know these things. Gaza was an ominous dissonant heavy band influenced by hardcore, metal, sludge, grind, etc. Their lyrics were politically and religiously charged, spit with vile contempt. The band hit an impasse when their vocalist was accused of rape. For reasons, possibly obvious, but perhaps not, the band fired their singer and contemplated continuing on as Gaza. Any band that has existed in the social media era can tell you that even a hint of such an accusation can follow you not only from town to town, but also IP address to IP address. In favor of a fresh start and a new direction, Gaza was (somewhat) dismantled. Remaining guitarist Mike Mason and drummer Casey Hansen held their positions and bassist Anthony Lucero, who also performed backing vocals in Gaza, moved solely to frontman. New bassist Sam Richards was added and Cult Leader was formed. The EP Nothing for Us Here was released shortly after, and the Useless Animal 7 inch was put out in early 2015. Both brief releases were not a departure from the Gaza sound, but also waded in the murky waters of unfocused chaos that sort of plagued post-I Don’t Care Where I Got When I Die Gaza releases. What’s unleashed in Lightless Walk, though, is a harrowing magnificent record that buries Gaza and places a thrown for Cult Leader in the heavy music pantheon. No matter what the key focus of a particular track is, every song is executed with the density of Osmium, whether it’s the chunky grooves on “The Sorrower” or the weight of emotion in the crooning on the title track. The pacing is brilliant, too, with a structure that is very similar to We are the Romans and Jane Doe. This one may go down as a classic for me, along with the 2 aforementioned records as well as Entheogen, Functioning on Impatience, and Calculating Infinity.
Other bands with 2015 releases worth checking out:
A Sight for Sewn Eyes | Palm Reader | Birch | Speedy Ortiz | Minsk | The Rodeo Idiot Engine | Vision of Disorder | DSGNS | The Velvet Teen | 888 | &u&i | Modern Baseball | Mutoid Man | Morgoth | Birds In Row | Creepoid | The Prestige | Statues