2015 Best Heavy Metal Albums

It's time once again to honor the year's best metal albums. This is the 11th time this site has done an annual "best of" list, and for me it was one of the most challenging to put together, both in terms of deciding which albums to select and how to rank the ones that were selected. Without further delay, here's our list of 2015's top 20 metal albums along with another 20 that just missed the cut. 

Honorable Mention

These albums, listed in alphabetical order, just missed making the cut:

Arcturus - Arcturian (Prophecy)
Baroness - Purple (Relapse)
Beaten To Death - Unplugged (Mas-Kina)
Brothers Of The Sonic Cloth - Brothers Of The Sonic Cloth (Neurot)
Caina - Settler Of Unseen Shores (Broken Limb)
Cloud Rat - (Halo Of Flies)
Fulgora - Stratagem (Housecore)
Hate Eternal - Infernus (Season Of Mist)
KEN Mode - Success (Season Of Mist)
Kylesa - (Season Of Mist)
Lamb Of God - VII: Sturm und Drang (Epic)
Lucifer - Lucifer I (Rise Above)
Marduk - (Century Media)
Melechesh - Enki (Nuclear Blast)
Moonspell - Extinct (Napalm)
Rivers Of Nihil - Monarchy (Metal Blade)
Sigh - (Candlelight)
Sons Of Huns - While Sleeping Stay Awake (Riding Easy)
Unleashed - Dawn Of The Nine (Nuclear Blast)
VI - De Praestigiis Angelorum (Agonia)

20. Byzantine - 'To Release Is To Resolve' (Snakepit)

Byzantine - To Release Is To Resolve
Byzantine - To Release Is To Resolve. Snakepit Records

Byzantine continue to blend various genres such as groove metal, death metal, post thrash and progressive into a style all their own.That makes for a diverse album, both musically and vocally.  One difference on To Release Is To Resolve is that the band has written some longer, more epic tracks.

Byzantine went the crowdfunding route on this album and raised more than their goal. That shows that fans were hungry for new material, and To Release Is To Resolve delivers the goods. That bodes well for the success of a talented band who deserve more exposure, and the quality of this album should open more doors for them.

19. Gruesome - 'Savage Land' (Relapse)

Gruesome - Savage Land
Gruesome - Savage Land. Relapse Records

A few musicians passionate about Death's Scream Bloody GoreLeprosy and Spiritual Healing got together to compose their own songs in that vein. An homage to the gore-soaked days of the genre, this effort accomplishes exactly what it set out to do. The vocals from Exhumed’s Matt Harvey have a bit of a Chuck Schuldiner tone to them, and the solos rip out with flair even when descending into outright screeches.

Gruesome avoid the proggy/complex aspects of Death that started with Human. The malicious riffs are swift, leaving no room to ferment and develop. Any time a tempo changes, it’s not for melodic purposes, but another way to invoke hellish torment on the listener.

18. Horrendous - 'Anareta' (Dark Descent)

Horrendous – 'Anareta'
Horrendous – 'Anareta'. Dark Descent Records

Horrendous made some serious waves in the death metal scene with previous album Ecdysis. Following that up with Anareta almost exactly a year later proves that the trio is just beginning to scratch the surface of their potential. Anareta doesn't just follow Ecdysis, it pushes beyond it into new realms of progression.

The foundation remains firmly rooted in death metal, but often the leads venture far outside rigid constraints into melodic black metal and even power metal territory. Elements of thrash and that ambitious, epic feel of classic metal inform this complicated amalgam of genres. The complexity, however, doesn't overreach itself and alienate those listeners targeting death metal's baser attributes; heavy, fast riffs, blazing solos and violent power. Horrendous are quite possible legends in the making. 

17. Cruciamentum - 'Charnal Passages' (Profound Lore)

Cruciamentum  – ‘Charnel Passages’
Cruciamentum  – ‘Charnel Passages’. Profound Lore Records

Slow and plodding death metal is what you get with Cruciamentum’s first LP Charnel Passages. They take all of the best parts of Incantation as well as sharing two members with powerhouse Grave Miasma. That combination will surely let you know what you are in for.

The songs are long and varied (Only one of the seven tracks in under five minutes) with sections that operate at breakneck speeds. The powerful and slow riff sections showcase a kind of evil that sometimes gets lost in a genre operated by bands that constantly travel at 100 MPH. Cruciamentum pull no punches; much like Motorhead, “they are Cruciamentum and they play death metal;”  the kind that a purist pines for, day in and day out.

16. Crypt Sermon - 'Out Of The Garden' (Dark Descent)

Crypt Sermon - ‘Out of the Garden’
Crypt Sermon - ‘Out of the Garden’. Dark Descent Records

This debut album checks off the essential qualities of doom: ascending melodic vocals, fret-scorching guitar leads, mythical reverie. All of them done with a nod to groups like Candlemass and Saint Vitus, without directly mimicking those timeless acts.

Though there a few quicker moments in “Heavy Riders,” the album functions in a blissful mid-tempo style. The lofty ambition of the eight-minute “Into the Holy of Holies”—the tender acoustic beginning picking up to a joyful main riff—is an accurate depiction of Crypt Sermon’s range. The band isn’t reshaping the genre, but their inspired work instills confidence for their subsequent releases.

15. Sarpanitum - 'Blessed Be My Brothers' (Willowtip)

Sarpanitum – ‘Blessed Be My Brothers…’
Sarpanitum – ‘Blessed Be My Brothers…’. Willowtip Records

Despoilment Of Origin was an absolute monstrous debut from UK’s Sarpanitum, who needed an enormous follow up to complete the devilish face of that record and the band’s wicked vision. Blessed Be My Brothers... is on the racks now as the band’s newest massive effort, which can define new imagery and expand the realm of their music.

Slight additions of keyboards and choir in the background of the songs made them sound more chunky and atmospheric. All songs are filled with complicated multi-layered melodic guitar, chaotic drumming and mostly guttural vocals. The result is nothing short of an apocalyptic death metal record with strength, magnificent beauty and abnormality. It has the makings of a true death metal classic.

14. Amorphis - 'Under The Red Cloud' (Nuclear Blast)

Amorphis - Under The Red Cloud
Amorphis - Under The Red Cloud. Nuclear Blast Records

Combining elements of folk and classical seamlessly with timeless metal tendencies, Amorphis have released some of the greatest metal albums to ever grace the genre. Vocalist Tomi Joutsen has now fronted the band for ten years and this is his sixth album with Amorphis. Slowly they have been working death metal growls back into their sound and on Under the Red Cloud they represent about half of his melodies.

Overall, Under the Red Cloud is the strongest release with Joutsen and is on par with some of their best releases. Its strength lies in the fact that it is as strong in the second half as it is up front. Amorphis have a talent of making a song not overstay its welcome despite breaking the five-minute mark. Amorphis continually deliver a unique sound of their own and show why they are one of the premier bands in music today.

13. Myrkur - 'M' (Relapse)

Myrkur - ‘M’
Myrkur - ‘M’. Relapse Records

Myrkur’s first full-length release is a stunning leap ahead after an adequate self-titled EP. Having sharp-minded musicians like Ulver’s Garm and Mayhem’s Teloch in play gives this music’s blackened bliss credibility. The ethereal choral arrangements still have a place, backed by either contemplative piano melodies or a wave of horns and strings accompaniment.

From demanding screeches to heavenly chatter, Myrkur never loses the melodic touch within the bellowing madness. It’s a taut listen, but one that invokes an evolving series of tangible emotions. With improved production values and welcomed folksy influences, M is a top notch debut.

12. Intronaut - 'The Direction Of Last Things' (Century Media)

Intronaut - The Direction Of Last Things
Intronaut - The Direction Of Last Things. Century Media Records

 Intronaut’s The Direction of Last Things is an album of struggles turned inward and emoted with the language spoken in the post metal hotel, where bands like Between the Buried and Me and Animals as Leaders keep a suite. Intronaut’s home base of L.A. pours urban sprawl against a western border of beaches, which like the tracks on Direction of Last Things, range in quality between jagged and spectacular.

Orange-burn afternoons and string of bar-light evenings infuse the album with a Huntington Beach sensibility, in which beauty, bustle and the eternal music of ocean waves intertwine with wonder and anxiety. 

11. Clutch - 'Psychic Warfare' (Weathermaker)

Clutch - Psychic Warfare
Clutch - Psychic Warfare. Weathermaker Records

Throughout Psychic Warfare Clutch pull out classic touchstones of their sound; spectacular riffs, perhaps the best rhythm section in the biz, and frontman Neil Fallon's inimitable storytelling delivery, all shaded with a bluesy swagger and propensity for toe-tappin' and hip-shakin'.

Psychic Warfare sees these bona fide men of action all giving career best performances making for one highly infectious and enjoyable album that simultaneously has you reaching for the repeat button as well as yearning to rediscover past classics. They set out to top Earth Rocker and you don't need x-ray vision to see that they did.

10. Ghost - 'Meliora' (Loma Vista)

Ghost - Meliora
Ghost - Meliora. Loma Vista Recordings

Meliora is a genius mix of pop song structure, keyboard heroics, heavy metal swings of the psalter and enough darkness to hush the host of its haters. Beginning to end, including the fractured fairy tale harp interlude “Spöksonat,” the collection of 9.5 songs is so addictive that it should be illegal except in Colorado.

Meliora is keyboard and melody rich, but Nameless on bass is the thirteen knot noose that hangs everything together. Nameless on drums (and, no, that’s not Dave Grohl) keeps it all in the hell-bomb zone, leaving his trap kit under-utilized. The weight of the album will bear down on you like your darkest guilt. The album is never bleak. It is the alchemy of ground cloven hoof, wormwood, absinthe, black and white keys roiling together in a cauldron under the outspread arms of Papa Emeritus III.  

9. My Dying Bride - 'Feel The Misery' (Peaceville)

My Dying Bride - Feel The Misery
My Dying Bride - Feel The Misery. Peaceville Records

The UK’s melancholic doom metal giants My Dying Bride return with a monstrous new album in Feel The Misery,the quintet’s thirteenth full-length studio album. It easily stands alongside their first two albums as being among My Dying Bride’s finest. 

Featuring harsh moments interwoven with pleasing melodies, Feel The Misery features excellent songwriting, musicianship, and production. The main focus of  the album is melancholy enhanced with pleasing melodies, clean vocals, and the expertly applied uses of violin and keyboards.No doubt, Feel The Misery will grace many best of the year lists in just a couple of months.

8. Cattle Decapitation - 'The Anthropocene Extinction' (Metal Blade)

Cattle Decapitation - The Anthropocene Extinction
Cattle Decapitation - The Anthropocene Extinction. Metal Blade Records

 The Anthropocene Extinction is what any proud misanthrope would expect from a band that write lyrics like “We've made this godd--ned place a toilet/Maybe it's high time we flush it.” Travis Ryan’s focused disgust at humanity and the way the world we inhabit is treated is made abundantly apparent from each raspy word spat out. Even when he “sings,” a loose term considering how inhuman his voice still gets, the point is clear. We are horrible. We don’t deserve what we have. We are doomed.

Its' difficult enough for a band to release three great albums in their career, and Cattle Decapitation have done that in a row. Metal can get so mundane, week after week of bands barfing out disposable material, which makes an album like The Anthropocene Extinction so influential.

7. Paradise Lost - 'The Plague Within' (Century Media)

Paradise Lost - The Plague Within
Paradise Lost - The Plague Within. Century Media Records

The Plague Within could be the band’s heaviest release to date. The guitars are de-tuned and are mind crushingly heavy and Holmes has never sounded as guttural. “Terminal” and “Flesh From Bone” feature up-tempo intense drumming, fast tremolo picking and are a great change of pace from the slower, heavier moments. It is a major triumph and a message that they are out for no mercy.

I cannot think of many bands that have released a record as relevant and strong more than 25 years into their career. They have also given their fans exactly what they have been clamoring for, a return to their most aggressive side.

6. Napalm Death - 'Apex Predator - Easy Meat' (Century Media)

Napalm Death - Apex Predator
Napalm Death - Apex Predator. Century Media Records

Not only have Napalm Death continued to deal in intensity, with a long stable lineup no less, but they remain unquestionably relevant. Instead of rehashing the ideas that fans of the band yearn for ad nauseum, Napalm Death are constantly refining their sound and that trend continues on their 15thfull length, Apex Predator-Easy Meat.

While it batters on an immediate level, repeated listens deepen the appreciation. Apex Predator-Easy Meat sees Napalm Death dialed in, raging enough to start a riot, crushing and plundering with death metal might and stealthily working in varied elements making for a well-rounded effort. Everyone will have their favorite Napalm Death album and this vicious and razor-sharp offering should stand up against them quite well.

5. Deafheaven - 'New Bermuda' (Anti)

Deafheaven - New Bermuda
Deafheaven - New Bermuda. Anti Records

Black and beautiful, shrill and shimmering, tortured and confident, New Bermuda is 46 minutes of shattered glass as well as the cold comfort of rain against a windshield.  Excruciatingly harsh vocals are shades of the message conveyed, just as guitars often shift from loud to soft, swirl into beautiful curls and howl back into ear-wrenching roars.

New Bermuda is more consistent, more refined and spreads the brilliance as well as the burn across all five of its tracks. Black metal’s bitter elements are muted but present, yet it’s the grandeur of the album that frames George Clarke’s lyrics about disappointment and disenchantment. No devils are worshiped here except for those that reside within.

4. Enslaved - 'In Times' (Nuclear Blast)

Enslaved - In Times
Enslaved - In Times. Nuclear Blast Records

Enslaved’s tried and true formula is thoroughly on display with In Times, their thirteenth studio album. The opening track “Thurisaz Dreaming” fires the first salvo by blazing right out of the gate with blastbeats, furious riffs, and the punch of bassist/vocalist Grutle Kjellson’s rasped vocals. Soon enough, though, the song slows down and adds plenty of melody, atmosphere, and the wonderful clean vocals of keyboardist Herbrand Larsen.

Throughout In Times, the weaving together of extreme and progressive moments continues with plenty of melody, atmosphere and accessibility. Filled with catchy moments and hooks,In Times probably ends up being the most memorable of Enslaved’s most recent albums with fantastic and varied songwriting.

3. Leviathan - 'Scar Sighted' (Profound Lore)

Leviathan - Scar Sighted
Leviathan - Scar Sighted. Profound Lore Records

No doubt aided by the production prowess of Billy Anderson, Scar Sighted holds tremendous depth. Wrestled into the bitter black metal and its insidious tone you'll find moments of brighter melody, at times even radiance. Between the melancholia, doubt, chaos and fiery rage, that depth turns to perspective. It's right there in the title, Scar Sighted. Past trials cannot be erased, though through them we clearly see the way forward.

Leviathan's range is not limited to the musical course. Spine-tingling howls, deep and terrible growls and all manner of mentally corrosive vocalizations float in and out of auditory existence. It's part of the chaos, the confusion and the overall grasping nature informed by life.

2. Iron Maiden - 'The Book Of Souls' (BMG)

Iron Maiden - The Book Of Souls
Iron Maiden - The Book Of Souls. BMG Music

When a band as beloved as Iron Maiden release a new album, expectations are high, but they also receive a little extra leeway, especially from rabid fans. No need for leeway here. The ambitious The Book Of Souls is an outstanding album by any measure. 90 plus minutes of music is hard to absorb, no matter who the artist is, but since this is a double album it’s easy to listen to disc 1 and disc 2 separately.

Maiden’s heyday was back in the ‘80s, but as they approach the latter stages of their career,The Book Of Souls is probably their best album in a couple decades. All is good in the metal world when veterans like Iron Maiden exceed expectations and show much younger bands just how it should be done.

1. High On Fire - 'Luminiferous' (eOne)

High On Fire - Luminiferous
High On Fire - Luminiferous. eOne Music

Matt Pike ‘s guitar and bludgeoning chords will always dominate High on Fire’s sound, but Luminiferous also contains a new level of achievement for HOF’s rhythm section. Des Kensel’s drumming is apocalyptic. Jeff Matz somehow keeps his E string cemented to Kensel’s kick beats. Together they forge the terrifying thump of asteroids careening one into another. There are no weak performances and no weak tracks onLuminiferous.

As the barking dogs locate their prey and the asylum guards return the escapees, High on Fire’s record of maniacal rampage is left behind in the fiery ashes. For the innocent who are witness to High on Fire’s greatest album, it is innocence gladly given to the violent gods.