20 Best Metal Albums of 2015 - Rolling Stone
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20 Best Metal Albums of 2015

Nineties legends and future-minded grinders: The year in heavy

20 Best Metal Albums of 2015

Illustration by Brittany Falussy

Metal grew out more than it grew up this year. Baroness got their groove back with anthemic triumphalism, "blackgaze" groups like Deafheaven and Bosse-de-Nage reveled in ecstasy and agony, Iron Maiden wrote their longest-ever epic, and Faith No More returned after 17 years with three-part harmonies. Here's the year in heavy.

20 Best Metal Albums of 2015

Metz, ‘Metz II’

With heaps of chaotic, atonal mischief, Toronto's Metz channeled the thrills of early Nineties Sub Pop and Touch & Go on their 2012 self-titled debut. While the slash-and-burn approach was a memorable way for a new band to make an entry, II sees Metz digging beneath the charred surface into the grimy Amphetamine Reptile catalog. During the album's 30 minutes, the trio burrows further into the dark, malevolent recesses of punk, metal and experimental rock, unearthing some indelible, head-bobbing hooks. Scathing, demented cries bounce between throbbing chords, while festering pockets of reverb, delay and sizzling static help the fever to break. J.F.

20 Best Metal Albums of 2015

Killing Joke, ‘Pylon’

Killing Joke deserve a list of their own. For nearly 40 years, the Brits — iconoclasts, Dadaists and humanists in equal measure — have perverted and bestialized metal and punk for their own pleasure, infusing grinding riffs with industrial sterility, cold New Wave vocals and synth soundscapes that actually sound tough. Though their sound is decades old, it's evident in no shortage of contemporary bands, including Foo Fighters, Faith No More, Tau Cross and Pinkish Black. Pylon, the group's 15th LP, is a masterful document of the Killing Joke experience: moody, distressing vocals against throbbing guitar on "Dawn of the Hive," cataclysmic clanging and growling war cries about the Middle East on "New Jerusalem," industrial disco thump propelling stabbing chaos on "I Am the Virus." It's Killing Joke at their best and it's what so many bands wish they were. K.G.

20 Best Metal Albums of 2015

Bosse-De-Nage, ‘All Fours’

In a year roaring with American "blackgaze" bands scrawling bloody valentines to Nordic frost, no one made a stronger statement than Bay Area's press-shy, stage-shy Bosse-de-Nage. Probably because their Eighties and Nineties obsessions seem to bulge well beyond the Creation roster: All Fours revels in the hypnotic jumble of Midwestern math-rock, the keening chords of emo and the optimistic haze of Hüsker Dü. The cathartic feel and beaming chords are a sharp juxtaposition (or possibly, for the whips-and-chains set, a perfect match) to lyrics straight from a Pier Paolo Pasolini film, with vocalist Bryan Manning yelping tales of domination and humiliation. C.W.

20 Best Metal Albums of 2015

Royal Thunder, ‘Crooked Doors’

Royal Thunder's 2012 debut made the Atlanta band one of metal's rising stars thanks to humid, corrosive blues and bassist/singer Mlny Parsonz's rich roar, which garnered comparisons to everyone from Ann Wilson to Janis Joplin. Since then, Parsonz's marriage to Royal Thunder guitarist/primary songwriter Josh Weaver ended, and the band's follow-up is unflinching in its resolve. At its core, Crooked Doors is both headstrong and heartfelt — a winding, visceral journey to reclaim an identity obscured by trauma. Gripping, evocative melodies shift between psychedelic dreamscapes and head-rattling reality checks, and Parsonz cements herself as one of the finest soul singers of her generation, genre be damned. Though there are moments when the struggle feels confounding, Crooked Doors is never bleak; grace is ultimately attainable. In a way, Parsonz is metal's Jessica Jones — a young woman battling murky, haunting memories and gunning for redemption and renewal. J.F.

20 Best Metal Albums of 2015

Baroness, ‘Purple’

Released more than three years after Baroness' near-fatal bus accident, Purple resounds with the urgency of an athlete longing to return to the team following a lengthy recovery. For leader John Baizley, the album is an opportunity to prove that he's still in command of his craft despite having long strands of wire wrapped around metal plates in his playing arm. Most of the songs are built around a series of charged, hard rock riffs, then colored with psychedelic and prog-rock hooks. But while the music pulses with upbeat energy, the lyrics wriggle with pained vulnerability, exposing the raw nerves that throb under Baizley's scarred flesh. About four minutes before "Chlorine & Wine" bursts into a triumphant Pink-Floyd-meets-Queen climax, Baizley laments his medical condition: "She cuts through my ribcage and pushes the pills deep in my eyes/… /And my doctor's unable to cut through the cable that leads to my mind." J.W.

20 Best Metal Albums of 2015

Refused, ‘Freedom’

"We will never play together again and we will never try to glorify or celebrate what was," proclaimed Swedish anti-capitalist hardcore band Refused when they broke up in 1998. A lot has changed in 17 years — especially the group's core sound. Having played in non-punk bands like (International) Noise Conspiracy and Text, the band members have learned to radicalize with a more user-friendly touch. "Old Friends/New War" weaves urgent, undistorted strumming, programmed drums and wah-saturated bass through a combination of sung and screamed vocals and "Françafrique" features syncopated hip-hop beats, boogie-woogie guitars, horns and a slick chorus. Such stylistic flourishes make heavier songs like "Dawkins Christ" — which starts with a mélange of cooing female vocals and delicate notes and builds to a crescendo of serrated guitars and machine-gun rhythms — all the more destructive. J.W.

20 Best Metal Albums of 2015

Iron Maiden, ‘The Book of Souls’

Given their 40-year history and massive international fanbase, Iron Maiden could have easily rested on their laurels and released Number of the Beast Number Two. Instead, the New Wave of British Heavy Metal valedictorians created a vibrant, powerful, sprawling 92-minute double disc that takes risks and satisfies the appetite for their classic formula of fist-pumping riffs and soaring choruses. Frontman Bruce Dickinson screams epic tales of black magic rituals and airship disasters with as much power as ever — no small feat for someone who just vanquished throat cancer — while the triple guitar attack of Dave Murray, Adrian Smith and Janick Gers take a wild van ride back to 1984. C.K.

20 Best Metal Albums of 2015

High on Fire, ‘Luminiferous’

The seventh full-length by Oakland's stoner-metal warriors sees vocalist Matt Pike fighting the very real demon of alcoholism. Luminiferous is the first High on Fire album written and performed by an entirely sober Pike, which some fans worried would dull the shirtless wonder's edge. But the music tells a different story — a ferocious blast of charging guitars, blasting drums and Pike's inimitable hoarse roar. Tracks like "Carcoas" and "Slave The Hive" are breakneck assaults, while moodier moments like "The Falconist" and "The Cave" have practiced precision: Pike's drying out has revealed a focused predator. C.K.

20 Best Metal Albums of 2015

Tau Cross, ‘Tau Cross’

Tau Cross made as confident a metal debut as we've seen in ages — but the band's three-plus-decade collective pedigree makes them a bit of a special case. The international quartet features two survivors of the Eighties underground: bassist-vocalist Rob "The Baron" Miller of British crust-punk originators Amebix and drummer Michel "Away" Langevin of Québécois sci-fi-thrash machine Voivod. No lazy supergroup effort, Tau Cross stake out clear aesthetic terrain — in this case, a melding of moody, Killing Joke–style postpunk and anthemic, post-Motörhead hard rock. Miller's lyrics can skew cornball ("Night falls; these walls are leaking memories again"), but he sells the material with conviction, singing in a gravelly, yet determinedly melodic croak. H.S.

20 Best Metal Albums of 2015

Faith No More, ‘Sol Invictus’

The alterna-metal square pegs return 18 years since their last LP and still refuse to fit anywhere. Though you could fill an Ozzfest and an All Tomorrow's Parties with the bands they've influenced, Faith No More instead lean into post-punk rhythmic hypnosis, goth-tinged atmosphere, castanet-flecked Morricone metal, three-part harmonies and one barking anthem featuring a metaphor about breakfast cereal. Vocalist Mike Patton has spent the last two decades extending his throat into a versatile instrument that's at home gurgling moist splatter-jazz alongside John Zorn or crooning silky Italian pop with Filarmonica Arturo Toscanini, and now he absolutely floats above the monolithic grooves of drummer Mike Bordin and bassist Billy Gould, still a hard-hitting, sui generis rhythm section 30 years on. C.W.

20 Best Metal Albums of 2015

Marilyn Manson, ‘The Pale Emperor’

With The Pale Emperor, Marilyn Manson finally realized the goth-metal album he had been threatening to make since he declared himself the "Antichrist Superstar" back in '96. All he needed was a little restraint. Where the Manson of yore reveled in over-the-top, garish showmanship — the first words he bellowed on his 1994 debut were "I am the God of Fuck" — the stately Pale Emperor, age 46, would rather swagger his way through eerie textures, primal drums and whining guitar to whisper about feeling lonely before, naturally, dubbing himself the "Mephistopheles of Los Angeles" on one of the record's standouts. Moody tracks like "Third Day of a Seven Day Binge" and "Odds of Even" serve as treatises on the after-effects of decadence, while the disco-ish "Deep Six" is the best dance-floor banger he's come up with since "The Beautiful People." Gone, though, are the thumping signposts of nu-metal (save a couple of cheeky one-liners), replaced instead with echoes of Bauhaus, Bowie and, most surprising, the blues. For once, Manson's true voice — husky, morose, full — shines through. Our boy's all grown up. K.G.

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