The warmer months of 2015 were a metalhead’s dream, whether their chosen poison lies festering underground or comes plastered across billboards and magazine covers. The old gods in Slayer, Iron Maiden, and Motörhead all released new albums, as did younger, meaner bands like Tyranny, Demona, and Hope Drone. We’ve experienced loss — Cynic and Morbid Angel imploded, both Christopher Lee and Pagan Altar’s Terry Jones passed away — but promising new bands continue to sprout up like mushrooms. As countless bands pounded the pavement and festivals like Maryland Deathfest, Hells Headbash, Eistnaflug, and Blastfest roared across the globe, the state of metal seemed healthier and more vital than ever. Of course, that should come as no surprise to anyone who’s actually paying attention in between Deafheaven albums (I’m excited for that one, too).
It was especially difficult to winnow this column down to six — a bare, Lilliputian six! — standout releases given the embarrassment of riches facing those of us who worship the riff and the darkness, but here’s the best of the best. Some choices were a bit easier than others (up the irons!) but you’re wholeheartedly encouraged to use this column as a springboard into ever weirder, wilder corners of the metal world. Enjoy this Devil’s half dozen of unmissable 2015 releases for now.
Spectral Wound, Terra Nullius (Media Tree)
Relatively speaking, Spectral Wound’s made a 2015 sleeper hit waiting to happen. It would demand attention based on its pedigree alone — Spectral Wound is comprised of ex- and current members of Ensorcelor, Circle of Salt, and Æsahættr — but the sheer quality of its scant six tracks is breathtaking, especially at a time when interesting black metal isn’t exactly hard to come by. Somber at times, rough-hewn at others, and cleaved together by a fertile thread of fluid melody, Terra Nullius is a modern black metal triumph.
Ares Kingdom, The Unburiable Dead (Nuclear War Now!)
As much as fans have grown accustomed to a constant flow of new material, there’s much to be said for moving slowly in order to uphold the highest possible standards. Ares Kingdom took their sweet time recording the follow-up to 2010’s Incendiary, and the result is their best album yet. Though best known as an offshoot of the seminal black/death outfit Order From Chaos, the band — led by historian and WWI buff Chuck Keller — earned its stripes long ago for its ripping blend of black, death, and thrash metal. The Unburiable Dead is a loose concept record that’s been assembled with military precision and meticulous attention to detail. It sounds as though it was recorded in 1987 — and I mean that as a massive compliment.
Abyssion, Luonnon Harmonia Ja Vihrea Liekki (Svart)
Dark, experimental psychedelia has long had a firm foothold in Finland’s heavy music scene thanks to bands like Dark Buddha Rising, Hexvessel, and Oranssi Pazuzu, and now Turku duo Abyssion are the latest shining stars to fly catapulting out of the cosmic abyss. Their debut LP for Svart Records is just incredible, effortlessly blending Finnish punk, grandiose melodic black metal, trippy flourishes, and icy post-punk into an addictive, mind-melting whole that never for a moment sounds contrived or indulgent. They describe their sound as “hard psychedelic progressive” but I’d rather just call them “the future of extreme music.”
Lluvia, Eternidad Solemne (Fallen Empire)
Mexico’s Lluvia (formerly known as The Rain in Endless Fall) has always trafficked in melancholia, and this latest addition to their spotless catalog is no exception. Eternidad Solemne is built upon a foundation of rippling, noisy riffs and soulless, garroted howls; its minimalist approach shows the beauty of well-considered simplicity, but eschews underground black metal’s raw, lo-fi tendencies in favor of a stark, almost poetic approach. Recorded entirely by sole member Lord Vast, Eternidad Solemne’s power lies in its aggression of course, but also its emotional heft and honesty. It’s the sound of someone tearing their heart out.
Iron Maiden, The Book of Souls (Parlophone/BMG)
What’s left to say about Iron Maiden’s new album? The mere announcement of its impending release was enough to whip the Metal Internet into a frenzy, and the actual release hit like an atom bomb. The hype was deserved: The Book of Souls is a fantastic album with everything fans love about Iron Maiden — the bombast, galloping guitars, sprawling ambition — and none of the fatty excess in which this most epic of bands occasionally indulges, all the more impressive on a double album. Bruce Dickinson’s air raid siren vocals sound stronger than they have in years, a feat considering he was battling cancer when he hit the studio. Forty years down the line, Maiden has proven that they’re still the best metal band in the world; we never had any doubt, but The Book of Souls is one hell of a reminder.
Genocide Shrines, Manipura Imperial Deathevokovil (Scriptures of Reversed Puraana Dharmurder) (Vault of Dried Bones)
It’s not easy to make death metal sound genuinely dangerous in 2015, but Sri Lankan war cult Genocide Shrines have done just that on their bristling debut full-length. Taking cues from Incantation and Grave Miasma (or perhaps a truly Subcontinental Necros Christos), the Colombo quartet adds atmospheric Eastern touches and ominous dirges to punch up their blasphemous, violent hymns. The album is a paragon of controlled chaos that, in its elegance and complexity, feels far more threatening than mere noise — a burning spear hurled into the heart of complacent mediocrity.