Just like Sam Eagle from The Muppets salutes all nations, but mostly America, we here at Riot Nerd can recognize, appreciate and respect all genuine and heartfelt forms of music, but mostly give a shit about Metal. 2015 was a great year for the genre and all its many permutations, which made this list a bit difficult to put together, but having too much awesome, loud, fast and heavy music to listen to is a problem I can definitely deal with. Without further delay, here’s our top ten:
“Terms of Surrender is an absolute masterpiece of meticulously delivered scorched earth nastiness. Being somewhat familiar with the band’s previous output I knew I’d enjoy the album but I had no idea that I’d fall in love with it the way that I have. This record should ascend Black Fast to the very echelon of their chosen field in the corrupted minds and burned out hearts of the faithful, on par with long lived and well-loved American blackened thrash stalwarts like The Black Dahlia Murder and Goatwhore.”
Cancer Bats – Searching For Zero
The Bats’ 2015 release pre-dates our record reviews, but I’ve returned to it several times since it’s early March release, both as a reminder of the kick ass show they put on at Underground Arts shortly thereafter, and because it’s just so goddamned good. CB has always had a reputation as a can’t miss live act, but with the help of famous (infamous?) Korn/Slipknot producer Ross Robinson they’ve finally produced a record that does the prowess of their performance justice. “No more bull shit” indeed.
“The difference maker here, as always, is versatile and incredibly talented frontman Trevor Strnad, who is a man possessed with a rapid fire delivery on standout tracks like Vlad, Son of the Dragon (the perfect companion to the Castlevania inspired What A Horrible Night To Have A Curse) and Threat Level No. 3, and I’ve seen these guys live enough times to know that his breathless fire breathing isn’t any studio trickery and will be just as maniacally impressive when these songs make their way onto the setlist.”
“Make no mistake though, this is still a thrash record through and through, with the dual axe attack of Tony Asta and Hiran Deraniyagala as potent as ever. Any of these riffs would feel right at home on a classic Megadeth or Metallica record, but they are never derivative or repetitive, remaining as brutal as they are catchy. Catchiness really is the operative word here as the songwriting is of the absolute highest quality, living up to the standards set on their previous records. Lyrically the band also stays on point, continuing to forge refreshingly positive anthems of self-actualization and personal responsibility, without ever resorting to Hatebreed-level “motivational speaker” corniness. Battlecross have found the perfect alchemy to ascend to the status of metal legends, truly the heir apparent to Pantera’s American groove-thrash crown.”
“Flashes of (their previous record) Helium Head’s rollicking mad science shine through on Bleeder, particularly in the swirling guitar aerobics of 1000 Mile Stare and Deadlock. Soft Spot in My Skull similarly starts with a punishing riff onslaught from guitarist/vocalist Steven Brodsky while drummer Ben Koller beats his kit like it owes him money. Bassist Nick Cageo gets the spotlight too in the sludgy intros to Bridgeburner and Reptilian Soul. But most of Bleeder settles into a driving mid-tempo, giving Brodsky’s considerable vocal abilities and clever, sardonic lyrics the chance to take the wheel. It’s not really better or worse than Helium Head, just different, the band admirably stretching their style but not breaking it, accommodating the extended run time without copying or burning themselves out.”
“Lucifer eschews the psychedelic and prog elements leaned on maybe a tad too heavily in Ghost’s attack, especially on 2013’s Infestissumam, for pure unadulterated heaviness, and the retro flavored production makes it sound absolutely massive. The writing here is absolutely top notch as well, with the riffs just as menacing and foreboding as frontwoman Johanna Sardonis’ haunting vocals, behind a crushing rhythm section, always catchy and never repetitive for the entire length of the album’s too-short seeming eight tracks.”
Napalm Death – Apex Predator – Easy Meat
Coming out all the way back in January, the release of the UK grind pioneers unprecedented 15th LP pre-dates the launch of this site. It’s probably the record I’ve listened to the most this year though, and not just because it’s the one that’s been out the longest. Not referring to themselves as the ‘Apex Predator” (unlike some other douche canoe we know), ND’s socio-politically conscious attack instead takes aim at the big businesses and other such corrupt individuals and institutions that make their money and wield their influence on the backs of the powerless, common working class. It’s hard to listen to legendary frontman Barney Greenway intricately detail these injustices and atrocities on standout tracks like How the Years Condemn and Dear Slum Landlord and not become incensed, and the earth shattering thrash/grind/prog cacophony backing him up only empowers his message. Amazing, incredibly vital and important stuff, especially from a band that’s been around this long and could easily coast on their “legacy” at this point in their career, but nobly elect not to.
“With this release Ghost proves that they are no fake, fly by night, flash in the pan. The cleverness, songwriting prowess and instrumental and vocal skill on display here is undeniable, and any heavy music fan scared of or put off by the so called “gimmickry” of the imagery needs to get over themselves and give this band another listen.”
“I have to admit to being pretty embarrassed about only recently discovering Fight Amp, especially given their local pedigree. In an industry full of mean mugging pretenders it’s truly refreshing to find something this heavy and nihilistic without an ounce of bullshit posturing behind it. I’ll be voraciously devouring their back catalog and greatly anticipating what they do next.”
“The speed picking and double bass blastbeat assault found on (previous record) Sunbather remains but with more tempo changes and catchier riffs employed, along with several hardcore-esque breakdowns and passages of black metal chug, showing that the vocals aren’t the only place that look toward the pagan vastlands this time out. Speaking of the vocals, Frontman George Clarke still brings the Burzum-style howl but incorporates more of a Satyricon aping low growl at times, perfectly segueing into the peaceful shoegaze aspects of the group’s repertoire, now fully blended into and out of the tracks themselves rather than existing as separate interludes between the thrashier numbers. The result is highly effective and affecting, brilliantly conveying the themes of loss, despair, rage and redemption in Clarke’s artfully vague but poetic lyrics. I haven’t been hit this hard in the head or the heart by a record since Converge’s classic Jane Doe.“
Not quite cracking our top ten but still holding a place in our diseased, malformed Grinch Who Stole Christmas hearts were hardcore supergroup Fulgora with “Stratagem”, long lived LA techno thrash icons Fear Factory’s return to “Obsolete” form “Genexus” and Pittsburgh’s two man tag team of creepy noise art strangeness Zombi on “Shape Shift” .
Look for more of our “best of” lists in the coming weeks, probably top fives since I unfortunately don’t get as much time to play games and watch TV and movies as I do to listen to music. Stay tuned!
Top Photo of Deafheaven’s George Clarke by Megan Hawkey