Top 10 Albums of 2015

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Well, it’s that time of year again! A lot of music came out this year, even if I just narrow it down to the genres that I listen to. However, I’ve managed to narrow down a list of my personal favorite albums released this year! Let’s dive in!

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10. Rise to Power by Battlecross

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Rise to Power is the third album from Detroit-based thrash metal/melodic death metal hybrid Battlecross. Much like the band’s 2013 effort, War of Will, this album is packed full of thrashy riffs and amazing melodies. Standout tracks include “Scars,” “Not Your Slave,” “Absence,” “Blood & Lies,” and “The Path.”

Rise to Power generally follows the formula of War of Will, with a few differences. One is how loud the bass is; I didn’t notice how fantastic of a bass player Don Slater was until I heard this album. He does all theses crazy things that deviate from the guitars and he plays really fast without the use of a pick. The other difference is new drummer Alex Bent, stepping in full time for session drummer Shannon Lucas. Shannon was a beast behind the kit, but Alex does a pretty good job. It’s just hard to match Shannon’s drumming prowess which is instantly recognizable whether he’s playing with The Black Dhalia Murder, All That Remains, or Battlecross. Just like on War of Will, guitarists Tony Asta and Hiran Deraniyagala shred through this album and frontman Kyle “Gumby” Gunther’s alternating high screams and deep growls gives it that unique Battlecross sound. Rise to Power is definitely a great album to check out for fans of modern thrash metal.

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9. Dark Before Dawn by Breaking Benjamin

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After a four year hiatus, post-grunge/alternative metal band Breaking Benjamin reemerged in 2014 with a brand new lineup and the announcement of a brand new album on the way. A year later, the band released Dark Before Dawn, their first album in six years. Despite frontman Benjamin Burnley being the only returning member, the band’s sound is remarkably similar, not that that’s a bad thing. Dark Before Dawn is packed full of great songs like “Failure,” “Angels Fall,” “Breaking the Silence,” “Close to Heaven,” and the unexpected ballad “Ashes of Eden,” which is probably the track that stands out as the most different.

While the new lineup doesn’t change the Breaking Benjamin formula much, the band sounds tighter than ever. Most songs don’t make a whole lot of use out of having three guitarists, but there are plenty of great riffs throughout from Ben, and new additions Jasen Raunch and Keith Wallen, formerly of the bands RED and Adelitas Way, respectively. Aaron Bruch and Shaun Foist round out the lineup on bass and drums with solid contributions. I really like that Aaron’s bass is turned up nice and loud. The place where the this lineup really shines is in the vocals department. Both Keith and Aaron provided backing vocals that are very apparent on tracks such as “Failure” and “Angels Fall.” They just add a whole new layer of sound that wasn’t present when it was just Ben doing all the vocals. All in all, Dark Before Dawn is a really strong return for this band

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8. VII: Sturm und Drang by Lamb of God

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VII: Sturm und Drang is the seventh album from groove metal veterans Lamb of God (technically eighth, if you count their first release under the name Burn the Priest). This album is the first released since frontman Randy Blythe was arrested, imprisoned, tried, and exonerated for manslaughter charges in the Czech Republic. It is easy to tell that his experience there fueled his energy on this album. He has stated that his time in prison really inspired his lyrics, but the energy he brings to this album is so much stronger than on the last few albums. Of course, the other members of the band fire on all cylinders. Mark Morton and Willie Adler bring that signature Lamb of God crunch to their playing. There are some really cool lead guitar moments on tracks like “512,” that really give this album a little extra bite to it. Bassist John Campbell and Chris Adler don’t disappoint either. The whole lineup is just as tight as ever.

There are some very interesting and unexpected tracks on Sturm und Drang aside from the songs you’d expect from Lamb of God. “Overlord,” shows off Randy’s clean vocals and features a more clean sounding guitar tone, two things you don’t expect when you think Lamb of God. Other unique tracks are “Embers,” and “Torches,” which feature unexpected guest vocal performances from Chino Moreno of Deftones and Greg Puciato of The Dillinger Escape Plan, respectively. These two have dramatically different vocal styles from Randy which really make these songs unique. Other standout tracks include “Still Echoes,” “Anthropoid,” and the aforementioned “512,” which is easily the strongest track on the album.

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7. Venom by Bullet for My Valentine

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Despite the mixed critical reception of Bullet for My Valentine’s fifth album, I think Venom is the Welsh band’s best album in years, the best since their spectacular debut album, The Poison. Venom feels like a blend of all the territory this band has covered, taking the best elements from the lackluster Fever and Temper Temper and combining them with the thrashiness of Scream Aim Fire and the aggression of The Poison to create something new. Standout tracks include “No Way Out,” “You Want a Battle? (Here’s a War),” “Broken,” “Venom,” and “Skin.”

Venom is the first album since the departure of bassist Jay James, and frontman Matt Tuck took over bass duties during recording in addition to vocals and rhythm guitar. The bass is nice and loud but isn’t anything special, however there is so much great guitar work from Matt and Padge. It’s heavy, thrashy, and melodic. And, of course, Moose is a beast behind the kit. His drumming constantly stands out across every track on Venom. If you’re a fan of Bullet for My Valentine, but were disappointed with their last few albums, this is the album for you!

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6. Dormant Heart by Sylosis

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Dormant Heart is the fourth album from British thrash metal band Sylosis. As usual, Sylosis does not dissapoint; Dormant Heart is full of the crushing riffs, blistering solos, brutal vocals, and insane drumming you expect from this band. Right from the start, this album had my attention, and it kept it all the way through with tracks such as “Victims and Pawns,” “Dormant Heart,” “To Build a Tomb,” “Overthrown,” “Leech,” “Mercy,” “Quiescence,” and, well, pretty much every track. Sylosis tends to lean toward more progressive arrangements, so each song is a unique experience that keeps things fresh.

Josh Middleton and Alex Bailey tear through Dormant Heart with such prowess. The rhythm riffs are crunchy and heavy as hell, and the lead playing is just spectacular. I cannot praise these guys enough. Bassist Carl Parnell does a great job keeping up with them, and he’s turned up nice and loud in the mix, giving the guitar that real meaty sound. Drummer Rob Callard makes his final appearance with the band on Dormant Heart, and he certainly went out with a bang. He plays so fast and technical. Finally, we have to talk about vocals. Josh is such a great vocalist. His growls just have so much power behind them, and he has a great range. While he mostly uses harsh vocals, there are a few moments where he sings, making those particular songs stand out. There’s a moment in the middle of “Overthrown,” the chorus of “Mercy,” and, of course, “Quiescence,” which is mostly clean vocals, and features a lot of acoustic guitar, making it one of the most unique Sylosis tracks. Dormant Heart continues to prove that there is no such thing as a bad Sylosis album.

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5. Silence in the Snow by Trivium

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I’ll admit, when I first heard some of the songs on Silence In the Snow, I was kind of disappointed and I wasn’t really digging the new sound, even though one of the things I love about this band is they do something incredibly different on each album. But the more I listened to it, the more it grew on me. Once I got to track four, “The Ghost That’s Haunting You,” I knew that I liked this album. It’s very different, yes, but it’s still amazing. To me, the best tracks are “Silence In the Snow,” “Blind Leading the Blind,” “Dead and Gone,” “Until The World Goes Cold,” and the aforementioned “The Ghost That’s Haunting You,” but there’s not a bad track here.

The biggest change is frontman Matt Heafy’s new singing style. While this album is void of any harsh vocals, unlike all their other albums, Matt has so much power with this new singing style, and he holds out certain notes and it just sounds so good. Matt and fellow guitarist Corey Beaulieu crammed in a ton of really crunchy, heavy riffs and so many great guitar harmonies and melodies. From a guitar standpoint, this is some of the best music since 2008’s Shogun, which is my personal favorite album of all time. Then Paolo Gregoletto’s bass playing just makes everything even heavier and it’s always audible. Drummer Mat Madrio makes his first and last appearance with Trivium. His playing fits in very well with the sound of Silence in the Snow, but it’s nothing too technical. Overall, Silence In the Snow is another great edition to Trivium’s diverse discography.

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4. Meliora by Ghost

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Meliora is the third album from the Swedish heavy metal band/satanic cult that is Ghost. The album maintains the band’s blend of classic heavy metal, doom metal, and religious themes, but adds this new 70s prog-rock feel to that formula while simultaneously adding a more modern sound. The result is the best album from Ghost to date. The eerie opener “Spirit,” sets the tone for this album and then it just gets better and better with songs like “From the Pinnacle to the Pit,” “Circle,” “He Is,” “Majesty,” “Absolution,” and “Deus in Absentia.”

There is just so much great music on Meliora, I don’t even know where to begin. Groovy base, catchy rhythm riffs, almost bluesy sounding lead guitar, dreamy synths, great drumming. The Nameless Ghouls really stepped up their playing from 2013’s Infestissumam. Then there’s “new” singer Papa Emeritus III. This incarnation of the spooky frontman is my favorite. I just love the way his voice sounds. I can’t praise this album enough. Even if you aren’t a fan of even the lightest of heavy metal, you really should check out Meliora. Heck, even Stephen Colbert had them perform on The Late Show this past Halloween!

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3. Immortalized by Disturbed

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This year, alternative metal titans Disturbed returned from a four year hiatus to deliver a new album. Immortalized is the band’s sixth album, and the fifth to debut at number-one on the Billboard 200 chart. This album stays true to the Disturbed formula, while also mixing things up and giving things a new sound. Instead of self-producing the album, Disturbed worked with Five Finger Death Punch’s longtime producer. You can really hear his influence on the sound of Immortalized, especially on the drums. While the production sounds very much like the production on Five Finger Death Punch’s album, Disturbed’s signature sound still shines through, giving this album a very different feel. There are songs on Immortalized you’d expect from this band such as “Immortalized,” “The Vengeful One,” “Open Your Eyes,” and “What Are You Waiting For,” but there are also some curve balls such as my favorite track, “The Light,” which has some elements you might expect from U2, and “Fire It Up,” a groovy jam about frontman David Draiman’s use of Marijuana, and a beautiful cover of Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence.”

In terms of musicianship, Immortalized is just as tight as ever. They still take the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach for the most part but, as I said, there are a few interesting change-ups here and there, making this album one of Disturbed’s most diverse offerings. David has a very powerful voice, guitarist Dan Donegan lays down some really catchy riffs and there are plenty of his signature wah-heavy solos, and drummer Mike Wrengren destroys on the drums. The production on the drums is just so meaty and I love it. For some reason, bassist John Moyer didn’t play bass on this album so all the bass playing is by Dan. The bass is very audible, but there are only a few places where it really stands out. Immortalized is yet another great Disturbed album, and it is one to show a bit of growth and diversity, however it may not be enough to win over any of Disturbed’s numerous haters. But, for fans, this is an album worth listening to.

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2. The End of Everything by Plini

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I know it might seem a little unfair to include an EP on this list, especially in the number-two slot, but The End of Everything is eighteen minutes of some of the best instrumental progressive rock I have ever heard. No, it’s actually eighteen minutes of some of the best music I’ve ever heard. Seriously, this one Australian guitarist is a genius! Everything he does is spectacular. The three songs, “The End of Everything,” “Wombat Astronaut (Beyond the Burrow),” and “Paper Moon,” are all amazing. Aside from Plini doing the majority of the writing and playing on this album, the drums are performed by Marco Minnemann who has previously worked with the likes of Joe Satriani, the bass is performed by Simon Grove of The Helix Nebula, and longtime Plini collaborator Luke Martin plays the piano. There are also guest performances from Chris Letchford of Scale the Summit and Jakub Zytecki of Disperse.

Everything about this EP is amazing and words cannot begin to describe it. It’s amazing how much emotion can be conveyed through instrumental music. There are elements of rock, jazz, metal, and much more here and it just works so well. If you haven’t heard of Plini, just drop everything and go look up his work right now!

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1. Juggernaut: Alpha and Juggernaut: Omega by Periphery

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Way back in January, when Juggernaut, the double concept album from djent pioneers Periphery, was released I called that it was going to be my favorite music release of the year and I was right. For another eleven months, it stayed my favorite release of the year, and with good reason. Across both Alpha and Omega, there are seventeen tracks of progressive metal goodness and there’s so much diversity here. Every track is unique in its own way. My favorites include the crushing “MK Ultra,” the catchy, almost poppy “Heavy Heart,” and the groovy “Alpha” and “22 Faces” off of Alpha, and the chugging “The Bad Thing,” the ballad “Priestess,” the hectic “Graveless,” the nearly twelve minute epic “Omega,” and the soaring closer “Stranger Things” off of Omega. On top of it all, this pair of concept albums tell one story across the seventeen tracks, a really damn good one too.

These albums are for sure the best things Periphery has written to date. Everything about them is amazing. The triple threat of guitarists Misha Mansoor, Jake Bowen, and Mark Holcomb is insane. There are layers upon layers upon layers of guitar work here from amazing melodies, to super techinal, progressive stuff, to acoustic parts, to jazz sequences. Then there’s Adam “Nolly” Getgood on bass. The way he plays the bass is so technical and man is he turned up loud. And there’s Matt Halpern on drums. He’s a beast and, just like everyone else in Periphery, his playing is so technical. Be it for crazy, hectic bits to poppy, melodic bits, he always has the perfect drumline. And, finally, vocalist Specner Sotelo gives his best performance! A lot of people don’t really like his almost emo-pop-punk singing, but I think it just works so well with this band. He just has so much power, and his voice soars. And the notes he can hit... I’m amazed. In “Stranger Things” he hits this falsetto and just... wow. Then there’s his harsh vocals. He can scream and growl with the best of them. This guy has so much talent. They all do. Both Juggernaut albums are some of the best modern prog-metal on the planet. Go listen to them!

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Honorable Mentions

Last year, I had so many honorable mentions I could almost do a Top 20 list. This year there are only two.

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The Book of Souls by Iron Maiden

So many people raved about this album, but I personally don’t feel it was worthy of this list. It was a damn good album, but it just felt like another Iron Maiden album. The Book of Souls didn’t do a whole lot to stand out from the British metal vets’ amazing catalog to me. I enjoyed it, but I liked the ten albums on my list a lot better.

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Long Live by Atreyu

California Metalcore band Atreyu returned from a three year hiatus in 2014 with a new song, and this year they put out a new album. I really liked Long Live, but I think there are way better albums in their catalog and the ten albums I chose for this list are also much better. That said, Long Live is a great return to Atreyu’s roots and it’s worth a listen.

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