Saturday, January 23, 2016

Of Woven Dirt and Luster: CJ's Top Metal Albums of 2015

Every year, I make a fairly concerted effort to compile my list of favorite releases in a way that makes the listening experience dynamic. Overall, many of the releases that make my lists are those that command both melody and quirkiness, grimy dissonance and luster. I enjoy so many different genres that my selections even surprise me, at times. Normally I do have some non-metal releases mixed in, which you can see on my RYM profile. Here, however, I will only focus on the metalest of all the metal!

This is my final list with placements that were decided by originality and overall musical contribution to their respective genres. I quickly cut bands and artists out who I felt were not attempting to introduce new nuances to their sound in an effective or interesting way, so this list wasn't just a typical array of albums I appreciated, but a culminating experience that caused me to revisit records multiple times over. I hope you find it interesting!

Honorable Mentions

Advent Sorrow - As All Light Leaves Her
Vehemence - Forward Without Motion

Leprous - The Congregation
Ghost Bath - Moonlover
Coffincraft - In Eerie Slumber
Cult Leader - Lightless Walk
Horrendous - Anareta
Abhorrent Decimation - Miasmic Mutation
Vola - Inmazes
Panopticon - Autumn Eternal
Wrvth - Wrvth

Top 10

10. Swallow the Sun - Songs From the North I, II, & III

If I could have broken this release up per album, I would have, because Despair (part III) is pretty much a 5/5 for me. It's absolutely soul-crushing and some of the best material this band has put out to date. Gloom and Beauty are also very strong, but they're very separate in my mind and are consequently the reason why this barely makes my top ten. I was really worried that these guys wouldn't be able to break into new interpretations of their music after their 2012 record, but they proved me wrong with their ambition and vast creative genius on this collection of materials. I will never complain about waiting three years for an StS record ever again.

9. Kardashev - Peripety

Kardashev return with a contemplative, melodic and brutal piece of progressive deathcore. I really love these guys because of their insistence on keeping the genre of deathcore more intelligent than many of their cohorts have tried to do. With heavy influence from bands like Fallujah and Aegaeon (who are also part this more intelligent interpretation of the genre), it's hard to argue with the formula, here. It's only successful, however, because they are able to reimagine it without faltering or forcing the music into uncomfortable boundaries. If you're a fan of deathcore and you don't like this, it's probably because you like things more straight forward and that's okay, but this band has a chance to open the door for a genre which is incredibly reliant on generic guitar tones, compositions and monotonal vocals. I hope more bands and listeners start offering this band the respect they deserve.

8. Chapel of Disease - The Mysterious Ways of Repetitive Art

What's important about this release is its manifestation of death doom as a trophy of musical wanderlust. You're going to be scarce in finding something that blends more genres, yet maintains a palpable devotion to its respective sound. This could be the first in a necessary development for death doom metal surfacing beyond 2010. It takes what's really successful in the newer, cavernous death metal movement and embraces other important influences that harken back to why a band like Candlemass was so innovative. The key here is that Chapel of Disease have found a sound entirely their own and have crafted an incredibly complete work, here.

7. Underling - Bloodworship

I'm really blown away by the amalgamation of genres, here. Punk, black metal, sludge, shoegaze - you name it. At first, I wasn't sure that I liked this as much what they did with their EP, 'Breathe Deeply', but of course this list is about rewarding bands who choose to innovate their sound and Underling came out swinging in that respect. The more I listened to this, the more I gained an appreciation for what it must be like to break away from a sound and to continue developing it all at the same time. We still hear aspects of Underling on this debut release that were very apparent and successful on their EP, but we also hear so many new things on this record that are initially difficult to digest. Given a chance, I think these guys will take this style of nuanced and hackneyed black metal into new territories that bands like Deafheaven refuse to explore.

6. Tribulation - The Children of the Night

Did Blue Oyster Cult decide to write a new record? Of course, Tribulation bring their very unique sound to the table, here. That's what makes it so good for me - it's somewhat nostalgic yet altogether a very original piece of work. Judge Dredd and I actually wrestled with this one for a while because at times it's hard to tell whether or not this band is prepared to follow the path of Ghost in the way that they are simply attempting to emulate music that's been around for decades. In the end, there's a quality to Tribulation's take on that whole affair that makes it undeniable - completely its own untamed beast. The fact that this album is decidedly more gothic than black, more progressive than gritty, is strange and fascinating because it still conveys those sensibilities overwhelmingly. Indeed, those Strange Gateways Beckon.

5. Mesarthim - Isolate

Ethereal, cosmic, atmospheric and beautifully composed throughout. Space-themed black metal is far from new and it's become part of the new array of themes that are being beaten to death in metal music, but it's certainly a testament towards to the times we live in. It's even somewhat admirable that we have now begun to reconcile this vast body we have, as living beings, been thrust into through one of the most abrasive and vehement forms of music available. Somehow, in that contrast, a project like Mesarthim ultimately commands the beauty and haunting, cold darkness of space without abandoning that vehemence. At times dark wave, at times the blackest of black metal and, oddly, at times cheesy 80s synth-fest. Somehow this is a near perfect formula for me, and while 'Isolate' fell off a little bit for me at the end of the year, I was ultimately enthralled by this odd black metal concoction.

4. Archivist - Archivist

Just slightly overlong, but commanding and beautiful nonetheless. A few people on RYM started praising this record amidst the undeserved fervor (just my opinion!) surrounding Deafheaven's 'New Bermuda' and I had to check it out. With little resistance, this band found their way into my top five and never really left. As the year continued on, I kept listening and was thrust into an oblivious sort of stupor each time. I can't even work when this album is on anymore because all I want to do is focus on every aspect of it, which is a good problem to have. This is heavily sludge influence black metal and all the post-whatever tendencies you could ask for, but they've got a special approach to that style that makes me forget about many other bands who are doing the same. It's unfortunate that such an interesting combination of genres has been beaten so far into the ground by now, but that doesn't mean that the bands who are doing it right don't deserve credit. They deserve a lot of credit. This stuff is absolutely arresting and full of brilliant musicianship at every turn. Turn the volume up, bring the lights down low and make yourself at home. This debut release is as strong as they come.

3. Ad Nauseam - Nihil Quam Vacuitas Ordinatum Est

This was my first perfect score of the year for good reason. Ad Nauseam remind us that Gorguts are really good at what they do, but are not the only prevailing masters of dissonance and disarray. Of course, a group like this probably doesn't exist without their predecessors in Gorguts or Deathspell Omega, but when a band takes a sound so alien and erratic and ups the ante for just how absurd it can become you kind of have to stop and appreciate it. If this album were only fulfilling that quality, it would still rank highly, but here's why it's a perfect album for me: there is a spontaneous and unpredictable quality to this album that is somehow held together entirely by...cohesion. Yes, that's right. This album's real success is born from a formula that is, indeed, difficult to discern, yet somehow so commanding and unnerving. Listen to a song like La Maison Diev. You can hear every calculated moment in a sheer perfection of chaos. If not for musicians like this, metal would get boring really quickly, and even with their clear influences I can confidently say I've never heard anything quite like this before.

2. Mgła - Exercises in Futility 

I don't think I have to justify this selection very much, because I know many of you agree with me on just how great this release is. There's a level of hypnotism on this record that I feel commands its overall comprehension. Most of the soundscapes have a familiar appeal, but their meandering qualities draw the listener in just before the journey's end. At that precise moment, the next movement begins in an eruption of surprisingly repetitive, yet entrancing resolution. This album does it multiple times, in fact. You're listening, listening, listening...and all at once you are utterly thrust into haunting, suspended, even catchy riffs and vocal patterns. Many times I found myself wondering how the release could feel so complete and masterful - a sound unto itself and a precedent for all black metal acts yet to come.

1. Akhlys - The Dreaming I

Sinister beyond description, calculated with directives that make you squirm. This is caustic and unnerving black metal where darkness and morbid sensibilities reign supreme. Akhlys delivers my best album and musical experience of the year. Nothing compared to this in its abject delivery of disgusting and unsettling musical exploration. The pure energy of the record is enough to command insanity, but there is such a surprising and ultimately incomparable sense of melody on this release that is somehow born both of dissonance and luster. Without hesitation, The Dreaming I will make you question every other evaluation of music you've made this year. Only an album of this nature can make you question whether or not you loathe or adore it, and in my case, it was surely the latter.

Thanks very much for giving this a read! Don't forget that Judge Dredd and myself will be hosting the show on KJHK from 9 pm - midnight every Sunday.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Black Metal Banchan - Part 3: Tr00 Korean Black Metal & Snacks (Kalpa + Random Korean Snack Classics + Bedevilled)

The Black Metal Banchan continues!   If you're new to the series or this blog and want to catch up on the older posts for the BMB:
You can read part 1 here.
You can read part 2 here.

Now THAT is a fucking sword!!!

It's impossible to talk about tr00 Korean black metal without getting into Kalpa.   Although this kind of thing is pretty difficult to actually prove, I'm almost positive that anyone who knows anything about Korean metal would say that the mysterious homegrown black metal horde Kalpa was the first to have sown mayhemic darkness upon The Hermit Kingdom.   Sure, there were other bands around the same time doing a similar thing, such as Sad Legend, Oathean, (see our previous posts about them in this series) and Moonshine, but both of those bands were kind of doing a more keyboard-y melodic black metal thing.   Kalpa formed in the same year as Moonshine and Oathean (1996), a year before Sad Legend, and while they didn't put out a proper album until almost a decade later, it seems like Kalpa was Korea's first attempt to get KVLT.

Kalpa, before Black Candle kicked
everyone else out of the band :(
How so?   Well for one, just look at their pics!   They're rockin' corpsepaint, spiked armbands, swords, long hair, forest promo shoots, etc.  It's too bad that the main dude, Black Candle, eventually kicked everyone else out of the band and became a one-man project because it looks like he wasn't too productive with that lineup change.   Still, you never know!   At least they released some material while they were together, which is more than can be said for a lot of bands!

Anyway, they unfortunately only released one full-length record, The Path of Eternal Years (2002), and honestly... it's not that amazing.   That's not to say that it's bad, as there's plenty of great black metal riffage and grim atmosphere!   Also, while the first half or so of the album is pretty typical of the genre, the second half is actually really cool!   It's one long song, about 16 minutes long, and is the title track as well.   Building with an atmospheric acoustic guitar and haunting keyboard melody, things start off slowly when the drums and electric guitars kick in, but before you know it, shit gets evil fast and you're in the middle of a flurry of blasbeats, tremolo-picked gusts of wind, and icy atmospheric keyboards.  About halfway through the track shit slows down and we're treated to an eerie synthesized flute (I think) melody that really ramps up the atmosphere and reminds me a lot of the other Korean black metal bands I've been covering on here so far (Sad Legend and Oathean) in terms of that "Oriental/Asian" feeling that is such a defining characteristic of their sound.   There's even a gong at the end!!  Definitely the best song on the album!   Recommended as an excellent musical companion for a long walk through a frozen Korean forest at night in the dead of winter!

Mount Gariwang (가리왕산) and its surroundings would have been an excellent place to experience Kalpa's music, but unfortunately South Korea decided to destroy a bunch of acreage in order to make room for the 2018 Winter Olympics :(
More like GHOSTjoseon, amirite???
However, I feel there are a couple of things that really hurt the band.   For one, I don't know if we're supposed to believe that Black Candle is actually playing the drums or not, but it's pretty fucking obvious that they're programmed.   Unless they're done EXTREMELY well or it fits the aesthetic of the band, I usually can't stand programmed drums, especially when we're talking black metal from almost 15 years ago.   It almost always just makes the band sound even more cheesy and cheap than they already are :/  Also, I feel like it takes away from the emotion and organic feel of a real drummer, and instead replaces it with something mechanical and lifeless (a common complaint about programmed drums in general).   I understand that it might be difficult to find a drummer that's willing to join a black metal band in South Korea, but c'mon.   The shit on this record isn't that hard to play.   Get out of the basement and find a session drummer, as I'm pretty sure any competent drummer worth a shit would be able to play this stuff (especially with studio editing)!    

Black Candle, coming soon to a teen summer camp...near you!
I'm not going to pretend like I know what kind of an impact, if any, Kalpa had on the black metal scene here or if Black Candle is even still involved in the scene at all (I doubt it), and whatever happened to him seems to be kind of a mystery.   However, his legacy remains as the first in what could hopefully be a long line of trve kvlt Korean black metal hordes.

OK, so now that we've talked about what is widely considered to be Korea's first black metal band, it's time to get into some O.G. Korean snacks, some of which have been around for decades!

Saewookkang (새우깡)

In terms of what we could consider Korea's "modern snack" scene, it doesn't get much more old-school than this.   They've been around since the early 1970s!   It's a wheat-based snack that you'll see all the time as free finger food to munch on as you drink your beer or soju, although I've also used to feed to seagulls when I'm on a boat or near a harbor :D

I always thought these were just OK and kind of boring, so maybe I've been in Korea too long because I'm kind of digging the fuck out of these right now!   It's slightly puffy, but also still maintains that crunch which is so crucial.   As fir the taste, it has a subtle, lightly salted shrimp flavor.   On the back of the bag they also recommend eating these with ketchup, which I found to be really tasty as well!  I guess there's some controversy with with these particular snack as well, because they are EERILY similar to Kappa Ebisen (かっぱえびせん), a JAPANESE snack that made hit the shelves about seven years before Saewookkang in 1964.   Uh-oh!   We'll have to have a face-off at some point to see who is the true King of the Shrimp-Flavored Snacks That Resemble French Fries Scene (or KSFSTRFFS as its referred to on the street).   8 / 10

Saewookkang's spicy version
But wait!  You really think I'd talk about the regular version without mentioning that there's a SPICY version as well?!   This is a fucking metal blog!!   I don't know about you guys, but I pride myself on being able to not only handle my alcohol, but also my spicy food as well.    That's why I decided to get crazy and try the version with a little extra heat to see how it compares, and, of course, which one is better.    Honestly, I'm going to have to go with the spicy version.   It's not like it's super spicy or anything, but it does pack enough of a mild kick to be acceptable (unless you're dead set on something more intense).   8 / 10

Below is a cute commercial for the snack.   You may be thinking, "Wulf, what are you doing dude?   This shit is the least metal thing of all time."   Maybe you're right, but if you play/listen to this commercial 100 times in a row you will achieve a specific kind of madness unattainable through even the most ludicrously torturous black metal that has been created thus far.

BONUS 1991 COMMERCIAL (same song too!):

Postick (포스틱)

Making its grocery/convenience store debut in the late 1980s, Postick is basically a French fry snack for people who don't have the time or patience to hit up a fast food joint for the real thing.    It kind of tastes like a cross between a French fry, Funyuns, and the Saewookkang snack (see above), and is actually quite tasty!   Addicting too.   At first I thought they were just OK because they don't taste exactly like French fries, but actually the more I eat the more I like them.   Maybe it's because I'm also looking at the cute potato cartoon dude on the front of the bag and imagining him baking the snacks just for me.   That expression on his face really gets me too, like he's hoping so much that you like what he's made.   Yeah, yeah, I know, that's the whole point of having a cutesy cartoon character as the mascot for your snack in the first place, but I think they really did a great job because it worked on me!   I guess he's also kind of metal too since he's a cannibal (being a potato himself and then baking and eating potato snacks).

To get more specific about how this snack looks and tastes, they are quite puffy (something I usually don't like) but they maintain a significant crunch as well, which I think makes up for it.   You also get a shitload of these in one bag, I was pretty surprised!   It's definitely more than enough for one person to handle on their own.  Also, the back of the bag recommends eating these with ketchup, just like the Saewookkang snacks.   I didn't think this would work out too well because it just seemed like an extremely lazy/shitty substitute of eating real French fries with ketchup, but oddly enough I found this to be false!   Especially the aftertaste, which really does make it seem like you just ate some fries and ketchup.   Great work Mr. Potato Chef Dude!!   8.5 / 10 (with ketchup)

Kanchyo (칸쵸)

This stuff is tasty as fuck.   It's very simple, consisting of a biscuit shell with chocolate spread or something in the middle.   Not too complicated or weird, just a solid, sweet snack, and very addicting.   It's also really cute and has cartoon characters and designs printed on each piece.   Gumiho says that it used to be two cute biscuit people (a boy and a girl) that were on the front of the box, but I'm pretty sure the design right now is actually meant to be either identical or at least resemble its original 80s "retro" design to coincide with Reply 1988 (응답하라 1988), a super-popular Korean drama right now that's set in the 1980s (I've noticed that a bunch of other snacks are doing this as well).   Solid snack if you're kind of hungry, want something sweet, but don't want to go overboard.   8.5 / 10

Below is what is probably Kanchyo's first commercial.   The Disney characters that briefly make an appearance seems pretty random, and I wonder if Lotte (the makers of Kanchyo) ever actually bothered to pay Disney to use them:

A more modern Kanchyo commercial below, and, like most things in Korea now, is excruciatingly cute.   I don't mean to make light of the subject at all, but I've always found it so bizarre (and, of course, sad) that both Korea and Japan are the undisputed kings of putting out a never-ending stream of ludicrously cute stuff, but maintain some of the highest rates of suicide (and therefore, I'm assuming, depression), especially Korea.   But that's a subject for another day!

Also, similar to Saewookkang, it's a strong possibility that Kanchyo is a clone of Hello Panda, an extremely similar Japanese snack that was created in the late 1970s.   Sorry Korea, I don't mean to steal your thunder!   However, you gotta give credit where it's due!

Ojingeo Ddangkong (오징어 땅콩)

Weird-ass name (translates to "squid peanuts"), but fucking delicious!    Salty, crunchy, squid-flavored shell with a sweet peanut inside.   Killer 1-2 punch!   I think it's supposed to resemble takoyaki, the popular Japanese street food snack.   Like the others on this list, this is pretty addicting.   Also, it's interesting too because when you eat it as a whole and the squid-shell taste combines with the peanut, it creates a new, unique flavor, which is pretty cool.   Highly recommended with beer (except Korean beer...but that's a topic for another post).
8.5 / 10

Ddangkong Gangjeong (땅콩강정)

Similar to the peanut squid balls (ha) above, we have this stuff, which roughly translates to "peanut snack" in English, except gangjeong (강정) in this case is kind of like a traditional snack cake...just click on the link, Wikipedia will do a better job of explaining it.   Anyway, also like the peanut squid balls, these are surprisingly pretty fucking delicious!   Instead of a squid flavored biscuit-y shell this time, we get crispy rice balls!   It's quite crunchy too, as well as being fairly sweet with what I'm assuming is a mild presence of honey.   Can't go wrong with this snack.   8.5 / 10

Caramel Corn Maple (카라멜콘 메이플)

Saved the best for last.   I thought these were going to suck, as I'm not crazy about caramel, maple syrup-flavored shit, "puffy" snacks, or sweet stuff in general.   Also, the front of the bag has a cartoon corn-on-the-cob mascot who's wearing what I'm assuming is a Canadian Mountie hat and a jug of maple of syrup, and apparently they use real Canadian maple syrup too, according to the info on the back of the bag.   So yeah, this shit is obviously going to be way too sweet and gross, right??   Hoooooly shit was I wrong!   This is one of the best snacks I've ever had!   It's pretty intense (although it doesn't go overboard with the syrup like I was expecting it to), so I don't know if I'm going to eat it all the time, but if you're in the mood for a snack that's similar to pancakes with maple syrup, then this is your best bet!   It tastes just like a crunchy pancake!   I couldn't believe it!   Killer stuff.   9 / 10  

Obviously, this isn't an exhaustive list.  And yeah, I know, it's boring that I gave all the snacks an 8.5, but I'm being completely fucking honest!   These snacks obviously kick the shit out of the Korean Doritos and Cheetos (see previous entries in the series).   There are tons of other tr00 Korean "modern" snacks (as opposed to traditional Korean snacks, which do exist, and we'll get to later!) that we could have covered, but we'll just have to save for another time.   Are you hungry yet?   Wherever you are in the world, I hope you manage to find the time to sit down, rip open a bag of your favorite snacks, put on your favorite killer black metal tunes, and just have a fucking time!!

At the Movies with Wulf!!

In addition to Korean black metal and Korean snacks, I'm going to start covering Korean cinema as well, particularly horror and action as well!  

BEDEVILLED (김복남 살인사건의 전말)

As you can tell by the poster, Bedevilled
is the feel-good comedy of the summer
that you've been waiting for!!
Korean films tend to be pretty intense, and I've noticed that the thriller/horror movies here seem to often feature themes of rape, physical/sexual abuse, pedophilia, domestic violence, sadism, suicide, extremely abnormal psychology, and other supremely depressing topics.   I don't feel like this is the place to really explore WHY this seems to be so prevalent in Korean films, or if it is even is a thing and not just a result of the small sample of the films that I've seen, but more often than not, at least in my experience, you're probably not going to be in a happy mood by the time the credits roll.   

Why am I talking about this?   Because Bedevilled (김복남 살인사건의 전말, or, literally "The Whole Story of the Kim Bok-nam Murder Case") (2010) has got ALL of this stuff!   This movie is pretty fucked up and not for the faint of heart, although I wouldn't say it's quite on the same level of absurdity as like Human Centipede or Audition, as its a bit more grounded in reality and conceivable that it could have been based on a true story.   At first I found the movie to be kind of nihilistic and just a tale of revenge and brutal violence, but now I realize that it's really about standing up to oppression and injustice, as well as the importance of defending those who are unable to defend themselves.  There's also some social commentary in this as well in terms of the young violently rebelling (due to decades of abuse) against Korea's traditional, patriarchal, rigidly hierarchical society, which definitely adds a much-needed, deeper, more meaningful dimension to the film.

I wouldn't go so far as to say that this is a MUST-SEE, but it's still quite good.   Also, the performances of all the actors are great, especially from Seo Young-hee (as Kim Bok-nam).   I don't want to spoil anything, but she does an amazing job transforming from sweet and happy-go-lucky to completely batshit insane.  The trailer (below) unfortunately doesn't do the movie justice, as there's a lot more going on in the movie than just some woman going crazy and killing everyone.

Monday, January 4, 2016

The State of Metal 2015: Judge Dredd's Dreaded Top 10

I will preface this by saying this is probably the most curmudgeony end-of-the-year write up that I have ever done. Fitting that it's also the end of the first year of my 3rd decade on this hell called Earth and I'm quickly approaching 20 years of listening to Metal. So, just the natural course of things I suppose.

The older I get, the more I find myself attracted to the realer, rawer side of heavy music. More and more, I tend to avoid a lot of Metal music that is not firmly rooted in the "Real" (i.e. no fantastical elements). With some exceptions, I also tend to avoid anything that's overproduced, and I'm glad there are bands out there who don't believe that EVERYTHING should be quantized. I feel like that just takes away any emotion and power from music that SHOULD foster emotion and power within the listener. In fact, there seems to be quite a blowback from bands of all subgenres rejecting the still-current trend of over-digitizing music. But, of course, this rejection of quantization and over-digitization doesn't guarantee great results.

A lot of the bands that seem to reject quantizing and over-digitizing are too often bands that are merely repeating what has been done before, and thus are trying to maintain the sound quality of some past era. Whether Black Metal, Death Metal, Doom Metal...I keep hearing more and more retreading every year. And the fact that we have had various "retro" waves (Thrash, Death, Proto/Occult and now Doom) is all the more telling that Metal is in serious need of a creative boost.

Concerning my Metal tastes, what I've found most appealing in the last few years is excellent songwriting with either emotional or mental depth (or both), excellent musicianship that avoids overly complex noodling, various qualities that make a specific band distinct or unique, and for Satan's sake, bands that sound MODERN. Obviously, all of these characteristics are pretty subjective, but such is the nature of music taste. *

Of current trends in Metal music, I am most impressed with the skronky Black Metal (aka the house that Deathspell Omega built), Post-Black Metal, and skronky Death Metal (aka the house that Gorguts built). However, I feel like these three styles are approaching over-saturation status rather quickly. I am also enjoying a lot of these bands that I hear combining Hardcore, Crust, and Black Metal in a variety of interesting ways, though many of them come off as being too derivative. Finally, I heard a fair amount of really good Grind/Powerviolence this year. While I love Grind/Powerviolence, they are two subgenres that don't produce a lot of memorable songs and albums. Bands like Unrest, Die Choking, Cloud Rat, and of course, the godfathers of Grind themselves, Napalm Death, have proven this notion wrong this year.

To me, bands that really pushed the envelope this year include Gnaw Their Tongues, Deafheaven, Liturgy, Igorrr, Cloak of Altering, Orakle, Aevangelist, Pyramids, Howls of Ebb, and Dendritic Arbor amongst others. The thing is, I don't even like some of these bands that much, but I fully acknowledge their unique sound and their pushing of boundaries. Despite how controversial Liturgy has been over the last 5 or 6 years, I don't think anyone can willingly admit that their newest album sounds like anyone else in the Metal world right now.

* Now, before you call me a hypocrite, I will explain why a couple of my choices could be designated as having "retro" qualities. For example, Tribulation was definitely going with a "retro" vibe with "Children of the Night". But the thing is, their songcraft is just so undeniably good and their unique mix of Occult/Psychedelic Rock and Death/Black Metal really sounds like no other band out there today (although I'm sure that will change shortly considering their recent success).

An Invisible Oranges writer basically summed up a lot my feelings quite nicely in his 2015 write up.

Without further adieu, here is Judge Dredd's Dreaded Top 10 of 2015:

10. "Qliphoth" Cloud Rat
Hands down the most emotionally gut-wrenching Grindcore album of the year. The band alternates between really crusty, punk-driven Grind songs and slow, churning and at times, shimmering, sludge songs. I get the impression from the lyrics that the vocalist, Madison Marshall, has gone through some pretty heavy emotional shit the last couple of years. A lot of songs focus on the despair of a downtrodden everyday life. A lot of the songs are named after animals ("Raccoon", "Bloated Goat"), which makes me wonder if they're used as metaphors for the lyrics. The French Romantic poet Charles Baudelaire did this, so I wonder if he's a lyrical influence. Baudelaire often took objects (most infamously "Spleen") and would write poems centered around the object. Anyway, it was close, but this probably my favorite Grind album of the year.

9. "Antikatastaseis"Abyssal
"Antikatastaseis" is one evil-sounding album. Albeit, there are some parts that have an almost triumphant sound to them, this album is overall psychologically dark. The record was produced/mixed to make it sound cavernous and murky, so most of the separate elements (guitars especially) have a fairly equal presence. Thus, it's difficult to distinguish each element from one another. This creates a sort of looming, chunky mass of malevolence, similar to that of Portal.

8. "The Armed" The Armed
These guys are kind of off the radar to a lot of Metal fans. They mix hardcore, noise rock, and metal, but a little less on the metal side. They obviously owe a huge debt to The Dillinger Escape Plan, but with this release, I feel like they are moving in a direction that is more their own. Their sound is much more focused in that there are a lot less instrumental gymnastics. Their songs are concise and violent.

7. "Children of the Night" Tribulation
"The Formulas of Death" was one of my favorite albums of 2013. In "Children of the Night", Tribulation take a much more psychedelic/classic/occult rock approach to their already potent mix of Death and Black Metal. I still hear a lot of Dissection influence, which is obviously not a bad thing. Not much more to add that hasn't already been said about this album. Looking forward to hearing more from these guys, and I really hope they don't turn into Ghost (bleh!).

6. "Anareta" Horrendous
It seems like a few bands are starting to "retrofit" the '90-'95 Death sound (as well as other Progressive Death Metal bands of that time, such as Atheist) onto their own sound, but this record stands out for a few reasons. First, there is an unbelievable amount of emotional depth to this album, and that comes out in a lot of different ways, but especially the expressive guitars. The guitarists have almost a mournful, elegant way of expressing melody at points. There almost a lyrical element to some of the guitar melodies. Second, solidly written, memorable songs. Definitely one of the best guitar performances of the year.

5. "New Bermuda" Deafheaven
I'm not really able to add much that hasn't already been said about this band and album. They kind of perfected the "blackgaze" sound (I hate that word) on 'Sunbather' and we've already seen some copycats in the last couple of years (*cough* Ghostbath *cough*). So, I think it was a great move for them to expand their sound in some ways (see the "Kiss Me" by Sixpence None The Richer" part in "Brought to the Water") and to make it a bit more aggressive. They took a chance and it obviously produced great results.

4. "Exercises in Futility" Mgla
I sort of suspected that these guys would be doing awesome things in the future when I elected to put their last full length, 2012's "Hearts Towards None", on my honorable mentions from that year. There were a lot of really good Black Metal albums that came out this year: Akhlys, Azavatar, Blaze of Perdition, Leviathan, Deafheaven, Pale Chalice, Bosse-de-Nage, etc., but Mgla stands above the pack for me. Nothing they do, at least on paper, is particularly unique but their sound is immediately recognizable. It's hard to pinpoint what's so damn good about this album, but there is certainly something hypnotic about the music.


3. "Lightless Walk" Cult Leader
Easily the meanest, angriest sounding album on my list. Former members of noisy metalcore legends, Gaza, come back more misanthropic than ever before.

2. "Nihil Quam Vacuitas Ordinatum Est" Ad Nauseam
Holy FUCK!!! Where the FUCK did this album come from?! And how come did I see absolutely NO PRESS about this? It's really noisy in the style of Gorguts, and I, straight up ripping off of Gorguts, but it's just soooooo good. Best Death Metal album of the year BY FAR.

1. "One Day All This Will End" Svalbard
This album came out of nowhere for me a few weeks ago. I cannot FUCKING BELIEVE that this has not been covered more. I've seen it quite a bit in the UK Metal press, but not in the US Metal press for whatever reason. Mixing a variety of subgenres can have disastrous results, as it sometimes comes out like having jigsaw puzzle pieces mixed from different sets, but not having all of the pieces you need to create one uniform image. However, Svalbard's sound is an organic mix of Black Metal, Crust, Hardcore, Screamo, and Post Metal that is uniquely their own (I've often seen the term "Stadium Crust" thrown does that even mean?!). The album is an emotional, dynamic journey through various aspects of our modern and digital lives.

Honorable Mentions
"In Times" Enslaved
For some reason I never really got around to listening this album more than a couple of times. As always, though, really good stuff from Enslaved!

"The Dreaming I" Akhlys
This album was so close to being on my Top 10. I love how layered this album is. The layered guitars especially create an almost orchestral element to the music.

"Grindcore" Unrest
The title says it all. A phenomenal Grind album, kind of in the vein of older bands like Terrorizer...but BETTER. Musically tight with dynamic songwriting and songs you can actually distinguish from one another. Better than the newest Napalm Death, IMHO. This album also came very close to being in my Top 10.

"Hubris in Excelsis" Scythian
Some great Death/Black/Folk/War Metal from the UK. Their first album in six years and well worth the wait.

"All Fours" Bosse-de-Nage
Another great Post-Black Metal release from these guys. 

"Lore" Elder
Easily the best "stoner" album of the year. Long jams that don't get boring.

"Sentient Village//Obsolescent Garden" and "Romantic Love" Dendritic Arbor
The almost psychedelic way that this band uses the murky production value combined with their noisy electric guitar collisions (that's what it sounds like) makes "Romantic Love" the most nausea-inducing Metal albums of the year - and one of the best. They kind of encompass a strange intersection of Noise, Powerviolence, and Black Metal. The new single from "Sentient Village//Obsolescent Garden" is a bit more produced and sharp. Truly bizarre and whacked out, and terrifyingly unique.

"Death, Endless Nothing and the Black Knife of Nihilism" Adversarial
Great, evil Death Metal from the Great White North!

"Maktbehov" God Mother
I have a soft spot for Powerviolence/Grind/Punk kind of stuff, but the band has to do it RIGHT (I especially like when bands of that sound use the buzzsaw guitar tone made popular by Entombed). God Mother gets it right in almost every way. 

"Eclats" Orakle
One of my early favorites of 2015. Weirdo-progressive Black Metal from France. It gets a little too much in places, but really interesting stuff overall. Some parts are comparable to Arcturus while others are more comparable to Opeth or Deathspell Omega.

"Bleeder" Mutoid Man
Stephen Brodsky has been one of my favorite musicians for many years, and I kind of suspected this was where a band of his would end up once I saw Cave In covering "Dazed and Confused" by Led Zeppelin many years ago. Nonetheless, some great stoner shredding.

"Absolution" Khemmis
I wrote this album off pretty early. Retro Classic Doom, ya know *yaaaaawn*. But when I actually listened to it I realized how great the songs were. Awesome stuff.

It's 2015, Metalheads are allowed to listen to different styles of music.

"Further Out" Cloakroom
"Celestial Frequency Shifter" Anakin
"Ultraluminal" City of Ships
"The Things We Do to Find People Who Feel Like Us" Beach Slang
"The Circle Binds" Glower
"The Heart is a Monster" Failure
"Painted Shut" Hop Along
"Sun Coming Down" Ought
"Viet Cong" Viet Cong

"Sallows" ANAMAI
"On Your Own Love Again" Jessica Pratt
"Primrose Green" Ryley Walker

"Caracal" Disclosure 
"In Color" Jamie XX
"Obsidian" Benjamin Damage
"1983" Kolsch
"Body Pill" Anthony Naples
"Fading Love" George FitzGerald
"Company" Slime

Emo/Pop Punk/Punk
"No Closer to Heaven" Wonder Years
"Summer Bones" Hit the Lights
"The Story So Far" The Story So Far

"Abyss" Chelsea Wolfe
"Cranekiss" Tamaryn
"Best Blues" Small Black
"Hallucinogen" Kelela

Sunday, January 3, 2016


This is eventually what I turn into when
my students won't shut the fuck up in class.
This year, I'm going to be doing something a bit different.   Of course, I'll be including my own top 10 (which, I think we can all admit, is going to be much better than everyone else's you'll find on this blog or any other place on the internet (ESPECIALLY Judge Dredd's wack-ass list, but everyone already knew that :p), but this time around I'm going to take advantage of my current situation as a temporary denizen of the Far East to find out what people around here, expats and/or Koreans, are digging as well!   So, prepare yourself for not just my dumb list, BUT a slew of other lists of well from the Korean underground metal community!   In my opinion, you can never have too many Top 10 lists because ever since we all got high-speed internet and access to virtually any music that's ever been recorded EVER, you'll find a seemingly infinite amount of variety, and, more importantly, inevitably at least one hidden gem every time you browse.

It's funny, I was actually talking to my buddy WinterTriangles about submitting his own Top 10 list for the MI blog when he told me that he actually found the whole Top 10 albums-of-the-year lists frustrating because he felt like they just end up being completely different in a couple of years after you inevitably discover all the other shit later on that you missed when it came out.   However, while I do feel like this is a valid point, I'd like to argue that instead, these Top 10 lists should be like a snapshot of what your favorite jams of the year were at the time you made the list, instead of being considered like THE definitive guide to THE BEST METAL ALBUMS OF "YEAR X".   So, let the party begin!


10.   Ghost - Meliora
I don't care if this sounds like music from the '70s Scooby Doo cartoon, the whole thing is a gimmick, etc.   These are great songs, even if they are barely metal (definitely more on the hard rock side of the spectrum).   A lot of people felt like maybe this band was on the decline after the mixed reception that was seen with the release of their sophomore record, Infestissumam (2013), but I think the general consensus with Meliora is that Ghost are back with a vengeance, proving to everyone that they're here to stay and still have the skills and songwriting ability to pull off a great album.  Of course, it's not as good as their debut, Opus Eponymous (2010), and they probably won't ever put out anything that will be as good, but I still enjoyed the hell out of this album!
RIYL: Blue Öyster Cult, The Devil's Blood, Blood Ceremony, Mercyful Fate, Deep Purple
Recommended track: "From the Pinnacle to the Pit"

9.   Myrkur - M
At this point, I'm so fucking sick of the whole controversy surrounding Myrkur that I'm not even going to talk about it because it's just been done to death and I don't really have anything to add.   However, I WILL say that I found the music on this record to be fantastic, even if it did, at times, get a bit "New Age-y / Enya" for my tastes.   Also, the drums are too quiet and sound too digital or over-produced...I'm not exactly sure what the right term is, but this kind of album needs the drums to be louder and more raw!   That way everyone knows that you're not fucking around!
   Anyway, not to take anything away from Ms. Bruun's own composition skills, but I do also feel like M benefited immensely by enlisting Garm as producer and adding a real drummer (the drums on her 2014 self-titled EP are programmed) and a bunch of other session musicians to add to the dark, neo-folk-ish atmospheric ambiance (horns, violins, fiddles, etc.).   While the ambient pieces by themselves are quite pretty, the real gems on this album are when Myrkur goes for the jugular with the black metal.   She retains her own sound and style, but definitely takes some influence from Darkthrone, Ulver (old and new!), and maybe even like Amorphis or Otyg (lol).   Fuck the haterz!  This album won't score you any points with basement black metal dorks, but it is definitely a badass, refreshing new take on the genre and a welcome addition to the whole "post-black metal" scene that's all the rage right now.   Don't let the naysayers get you down, Amalie!    is a beautiful album!   Gorgeous album art too.
RIYL:  Ulver, Alcest, Wolves in the Throne Room, God Seed
Recommended track: "Hævnen"
You can listen to the entire album for free here.

8.   厄鬼 (Aek Gwi) - 靈樹林 (Forest of Ghost)
It's entirely possible that Vhan (the dude behind Aek Gwi, one of his many pseudonyms) created this album entirely in one sitting when he was drunk one night in his basement.   I don't care!   It's fucking brilliant!   I'm actually in the process of writing an entire post about Aek Gwi (including an interview with Vhan himself!), so I'm going to keep this description short.   All I'm going to say is that it kind of reminds me of a mix between like Nortt and some "Oriental" ambient/ritualistic bedroom black metal, so you know what that means!   Turn off the lights, put on your headphones, and let this baby take you on a mysterious journey deep into the various layers of the Buddhist hells.
RIYL:  Beherit, Nortt, Xasthur, Sunn O))), Burzum
Recommended track: "靈樹林 (Forest of Ghost) - Part 1"
You can listen to the entire album for free here.

7.   Vastum - Hole Below
In the mood for absolutely crushing, evil-ass death metal?   These guys nail that "cavernous" sound perfectly, except for some reason when listening to this I imagine the band playing in some dilapidated abandoned factory instead of a cave.   Catchy riffs, plenty of groove, and otherworldly guttural vocals meant for summoning demonic entities from the Abyss.   Really hits the spot when you want some occult-tinged punishing brutality!
RIYL:   Morbid Angel, Cannibal Corpse, Immolation, Incantation, Dead Congregation
Recommended track: "Sodomistic Malevolence"
You can listen to the entire album for free here.

6.   Ghost Bath - Moonlover
Yeah, yeah, these guys are posers and tried to make us think they were a DSBM collective from China but really they're just an indie rock band and blah blah, but I don't give a fuck.   This stuff is great!  With gorgeous melodies that masterfully evoke the angst, sadness, and beautiful, haunting despair that we all expect when listening to this kind of "Graduation Day black metal", if that sounds like your thing then I highly recommend checking this out.   It's going to be interesting to see where the band decides to go from here.   Whether or not this is a "gimmick" (same goes with some of the other albums in my list) is beside the point- this is killer stuff.
RIYL:  Silencer, Alcest, Nachtmystium, Deafheaven, Woods of Desolation, Lifelover
Recommended track:  "Golden Number"
Read Wulf's interview with the band here.
Read CJ's review of the album here.

5.   A Forest of Stars - Beware of the Sword You Cannot See
The madness continues!!   There's a lot to love about this band- their weird backstory, the obsession with Victorian England, and the sheer insanity and experimentation that goes into their psychedelic black metal-based music.   I'm not going to waste time and debate genres here, because it's obvious that A Forest of Stars have their own thing going on here.   The music conjures up scenes of Theosophistic séances, perusing the wares of a semi-forgotten curio shoppe, hallucinatory visions in the midst of an opium overdose, or even at times the violence and sheer insanity akin to something you'd see in the Lovecraftian-esque horror/action/rpg Playstation 4 game Bloodborne (easily one of my favorite games of all time).   The second half also comprises of one "song" split into six parts (titled "Pawn on the Universal Chessboard")
RIYL:  Negură Bunget, Arcturus, Oranssi Pazuzu, Peste Noire, Nachtmystium
Recommended track: "Drawing Down the Rain"
You can listen to the entire album for free here.

4.   Archgoat - The Apocalyptic Triumphator 
The mighty Archgoat return with another blasphemic, evil, bestial collection of elite hymns dedicated to all things perverted and sacrilegious.   This is no-frills, no bullshit, straight to the point, punishing mayhem.   Badass album art too, you can always count on Thorncross to bring the grimness.
RIYL:  Blasphemy, Beherit, Black Witchery, Incantation, Inquisition
Recommended track: "Nuns, Cunts & Darkness"
You can listen to the entire album for free here.

3.   Obsequiae - Aria of Vernal Tombs
Underrated band AND album!   Is it because they're on a small label?   Is their name too hard to pronounce?   Maybe it's because they have a harpist in the band.   Either way, this album fucking rules.   Yeah, the cover art is kind of lame and the drums are too quiet, buried, and sound a bit too sterile (almost programmed), but those are characteristics easily ignored when you have those goddamn gorgeous lead guitars running the show!   The vocals are also great as well, mixed just right as they're slightly buried and echoing from the back of a Medieval castle's great hall or an ancient cathedral.   When you think "medieval metal", your mind immediately goes to cheesy power metal like Hammerfall or Rhapsody, with synth horns, nonstop double bass, etc.   Not so with Obsequiae!   I'm not exactly sure how they do it, but by combining the atmosphere and aesthetics of black metal with the production (kind of) and melody of The Jester Race-era In Flames.   Thematically I feel like there's a lot going on here too, but haven't had enough time to really explore that angle yet.   Definitely going to come back to this one in the future.   Brilliant stuff!
RIYL: (old) In Flames, Forefather, Peste Noire
Recommended track: "Autumnal Pyre"
You can listen to the entire album for free here

2.   Tribulation - The Children of the Night
This band took me awhile to get into for whatever reason, but once I started reading their interviews and realizing how much fun they are I started really digging their music.   So, without further ado, I'm going to jump on the Tribulation bandwagon now (I remember Judge Dredd has been telling me to check them out for a couple of years now!) and join in the chorus of praise that's being heaped on these guys right now.   It's a melodramatic, adventurous, kick-ass journey that blends black metal, death metal, and progressive rock into something that is catchy, mysterious, and theatrical.   I don't know exactly how serious they are about the occult lyrical themes, but it doesn't matter because this just straight-up bad-ass music.
RIYL:  Mercyful Fate, Dissection, Ghost, Watain, Witchcraft
Recommended track:  "Strange Gateways Beckon"

1.   Akhlys - The Dreaming I
At this point I'm going to argue that the US has the best black metal scene right now.   While Europe has seemingly had a monopoly on the genre since its inception, at some point in the last 10 years USBM went from a joke to putting out the most innovative and compelling material not just in black metal, but in all of heavy metal regardless of the subgenre.   If you would have asked me in the early 2000s, I'd probably have said Europe would still be the leader in the genre, but anyone who still seriously believes that clearly isn't keeping up with the times.
Just look at this new Akhlys record.   As a once dark ambient side project of Naas Alcameth (Nightbringer), what we have here is some top-notch, evil as fuck USBM from the majestic mountains of Colorado.   Some parts of this album I'd imagine are perfect for standing at the top of a craggy peak whilst performing a bizarre occultic ritual under an ominous starry evening sky.  Some of this is unrelentingly frantic in its intensity, and would be the perfect soundtrack to people being swallowed up by the earth and plunging headlong into Hell.
RIYL:  Lucifyre, Pestilential Shadows, Emperor, Nightbringer, Blut aus Nord
Recommended tracks: "Breath and Levitation"
You can listen to the entire album for free here.

Honorable mentions:
There was a lot of other great stuff that came out this year that didn't make it on my list that I'd still like to talk about, but I'm not sure if I have the time or patience to go through each one.   So, here's just a (lame) list of other stuff I really enjoyed this year:
Ancient Rites (Laguz), Drowning the Light (From the Abyss), Leviathan (Scar Sighted), Pyramids (A Northern Meadow), Drudkh (Борозна обірвалася (A Furrow Cut Short)), Liturgy (The Ark Work), Arcturus (Arcturian), Negură Bunget (Tău), Violet Cold (Desperate Dreams), Sarpanitum (Blessed Be My Brothers...), Deafheaven (New Bermuda), Árstíðir Lífsins (Aldafǫðr ok Munka Dróttinn), Vhöl (Deeper Than Sky), Kroda (GinnungaGap GinnungaGaldr GinnungaKaos), Abigail Williams (The Accuser), Ævangelist (Enthrall to the Void of Bliss), Panopticon (Autumn Eternal), Havukruunu (Havulinnaan), Enthauptung (Adirondack), Marduk (Frontschwein), Thorr-Axe (Gates of Winter), Doomentor (The Second Ceremony), Enslaved (In Times), Visigoth (The Revenant King), Crypt Sermon (Out of the Garden), Melechesh (Enki), Peste Noire (La Chaise-Dyable), Dead in the Manger (Cessation), Venom (From the Very Depths), Abstracter (Wound Empire), Carach Angren (This is No Fairytale), Abyss (Heretical Anatomy), Goat Semen (Ego Svm Satana), Shining (IX - Everyone, Everything, Everywhere, Ends), Dødheimsgard (A Umbra Omega), Forefather (Curse of the Cwelled), Blaze of Perdition (Near Death Revelations), Hypothermia (Svartkonst), Xibalba (Tierra y Libertad), House of Atreus (The Spear and the Ichor That Follows), Terra (Terra), Enforcer (From Beyond), Napalm Death (Apex Predator - Easy Meat), Night Demon (Curse of the Damned).

Dungeon Synth
Do you REALLY think I'd end my list of favorite albums without including some dungeon synth?   Yeah, I know it's not metal, but it's definitely in the metal "spirit", plus I guarantee you that most dungeon synth fans/artists are black metal fans as well!  Many of the dungeon synth artists themselves actually have their own black metal projects too.   It's not a coincidence that a lot of these dudes have corpsepaint in their promo pics and black metal-esque logos and album covers.   Anyway, I know you're dying to find out the best DS albums of this year, so let's get to it!

So far, Deivlforst Records has been killing it this year with some really great stuff.   I'm not going to name names, but some of the DS labels/groups out there don't really seem to discriminate when it comes to who they'll include in their roster, so their Bandcamp page has become bogged down with a bunch of crapola.   Like any music genre, the vast majority of the stuff is mediocre, and dungeon synth is no exception.   Luckily, though, there are labels and collectives that you can almost always count on to only put out high-quality material, and Deivlforst so far has proven to be one of them!

Murgrind - Inheritor of the Forest
First up is what is probably my favorite DS album of the year, Murgrind's Inheritor of the Forest Throne (either that or Grimrik's Die Mauern der Nacht, see below).  It's arguably just as good as his last album, Journey Through the Mountain (2013), but I feel like this time around the production is slightly better.  Anyway, it continues the epic story that began with the previous album, and retains the same ancient beauty and old-world atmosphere as well.   Definitely going to write more about this album in a future post, because it's absolutely killer and really sets the bar for what truly excellent dungeon synth sound like.

Grimrik - Die Mauern der Nacht
Grimrik is another amazing Deivlforst artist, although musically it is quite different from Murgrind or really any other DS artist for that matter.   I don't know if you can consider this even DS at this point.   Instead of being transported to a mystical fantasy world, Grimrik's music sends you into the cosmos.      Anyway, it took me awhile to get into his last album, Eisreich (2013), but I took to Die Mauern der Nacht immediately.   This is the soundtrack to the exploration of hulking, derelict spaceships, to arcane alien technology, and to collapsing, ancient galactic civilizations.   Same as Murgrind's Die Mauern der Nacht (see above), I planning on writing more about this album in a future post.   Anyway, this album fucking rules, and while I can't honestly say it's 100% dungeon synth, it's thus far my favorite release of the year within the "DS scene", whatever that means.

Sviatibor - Discovery of a
Blazing Emptiness
Last, I'd like to briefly discuss Sviatibor's Deivlforst Records debut, Discovery of a Blazing Emptiness.   I guess it's kind of in the same boat as Grimrik in that I don't know if this really counts as dungeon synth, but I suppose it could work!   Definitely cosmic-themed (according to his Bandcamp, this album is heavily inspired by the movie Interstellar (2014) and its OST), this album will have you floating amidst the vast comic sea in no time.   Can't wait to write more about this album later, it's pretty cool!   As a side note, it looks like he also puts out black metal under the Sviatibor moniker as well, so I'll have to remember to check that out as well.

Lord Lovidicus - The Book of
Lore - Vol. I
Moving away from Deivlforst Records, we can't end the discussion without talking about (arguably) the two major heavyweights of new-school dungeon synth, Lord Lovidicus and Erang.   Lord Lovidicus picked up sound-wise where he left off with with his last album, the amazing Wandervogel des Waldes (2014), except thematically he's incorporating a bit more "dungeon" in his dungeon synth this time around (going back to his roots or whatever) and taking heavy inspiration from J.R.R. Tolkien, with a concept centered around The Silmarillion.   I haven't read the Silmarillion, but I'm assuming that this music will be a pretty good soundtrack to go along with whatever's happening in the book as you read.   While I don't feel like Book of Lore - Vol. I was quite nearly as good as Wandervogel des Waldes, it's still a badass album and wayyyy better than 99% (seriously) of the other DS out there.

Erang, not to be outdone, dropped TWO different albums this year, with The Kingdom of Erang in March and Tome X in October.   Unlike Mr. Lovidicus, all of Erang's music seems to be based on a fantasy tabletop RPG (probably D&D) campaign (set in a world known as "The Land of the Five Seasons") he was involved with when he was younger, so it's kind of cool when you listen to his music because each song offers another glimpse into this mystical realm which had such a strong impact on him as a teenager and continues to haunt his imagination as an adult.

Erang - Kingdom of Erang
However, just like Lord Lovidicus' latest album, Erang's 2015 material wasn't quite as amazing as his earlier stuff, such as Another World, Another Time (2013) and In the Land of My Imagination, I am the Only God (2014).   Kingdom of Erang is quite experimental in terms of new-school dungeon synth, and is almost transcending the genre entirely and getting into proper video game soundtracks and new age ambient stuff.   It's still definitely Erang and retains that mysterious, medieval fantasy atmosphere, not bad, but I prefer his older stuff more.

Erang - Tome X
 His other release, Tome X, is all over the place just like Kingdom of Erang.   You've got beauty, intrigue, tiptoeing through the dungeons, whimsical madness, etc.  All in all, this is definitely one of his more diverse albums, but still does an amazing job of stimulating the imagination!   I'd say Tome X is the stronger album of the two, although I'm going to need more time to explore it to really get a feel for what's going on.   All you need to know for now is that it's another fine Erang release, although I would recommend it more as music for listening to as its presented rather than as tabletop fantasy RPG background music (same goes for Kingdom of Erang as well).

Foglord - Celestial
Oh, and I almost forgot to mention an artist who's been in the game for a few years now but whose music has improved dramatically- Foglord!   While he did put out a short demo earlier in May (The Old Wanderers Tale) containing a couple of unused tracks, I'm going to focus on his excellent full-length album, Celestial, released a few months later in August.   Celestial works on a bunch of different levels- you can listen to it as music to relax to, to fall asleep and dream to, and, of course, as background music for a tabletop RPG :)  It's quite dreamy, ethereal, and minimalist, so there's plenty of room for you to let your imagination wander.   Really beautiful stuff!

Are you interested in reading my other articles about DUNGEON SYNTH??   Of course you are!   You can read ALL of Wulf's posts about DS here.


JON CAMP (US Air Force)
I've only met Jon a handful of times, but he's a really nice dude who clearly knows his extreme metal, especially when it comes to brutal death metal!   Check out his list below, there's a ton of great stuff!!

10.   Chapel of Disease - The Mysterious Ways of Repetitive Art
Really awesome production and a morbid, cemetery-like vibe has kept my interest since I got this.   It's not the flashiest album of the year and is maybe a bit of a sleeper because of that.   Crank up the volume, as this sucker clocks in at an amazing DR11.

9.   Sarpanitum - Blessed be My Brothers
Really spaced out sounding progressive death metal.   If this didn't sound so much like Mithras it probably would have ranked higher, as it's very good.   The guitar melodies/solos and drumming are definitely the backbone of the album.   This is interesting music through and through.   And we're getting treated to the new Mithras in 2016.

8.   Kronos - Arisen New Era
Very catchy brutal death metal that makes me want to pump my fist and bang my head.   It's plenty technical, plenty brutal, and just plain good.

7.   Horrendous - Anareta
I'm a big Horrendous fan, but I was kind of let down by this the first couple weeks I had it.   I (finally) gave it a chance, and it has blown me away since.   These guys are incredibly talented, and they know how to make a song move.   I'm still digesting it, so it might become more of a favorite as time goes on.

6.   Scythian - Hubris in Excelsis
A blackened death/thrash scorcher!   Who needs genre tags anyway?   Great riffing, mind-blowing solos, twisted vocals with plenty of variety, and great songwriting.   A must buy for fans of extreme metal.

5.   Spectral Voice - Necrotic Doom
The best death/doom I've ever heard.   The album title says it all...this is doom and it's necrotic.   This might be the heaviest thing released this year, and I can't stop playing it.   Again, next year's full-length on Dark Descent is getting purchased as soon as it drops.

4.   Blood Incantation - Interstellar Extinction
After several listens, this bite-size morsel is hard to chew and has gotten stuck in my head.   When I tell people that I listen to technical death metal, this is what I mean!   Please get Rings of Saturn or whatever other off-the-shelf tripe out of your vocabulary and listen to technical DEATH METAL, not TECHNICAL death metal.   I'm eagerly awaiting the 2016 full-length announced by Dark Descent.

3.   Sulphur Aeon - Gateway to the Antisphere
Lovecraftian-themed death metal that is dark and epic.   I've listened to it enough times (too many to count) that I know the songs inside and out.   I can confidently say that these dudes didn't miss a beat writing this album.   Fantastic.

2.   Monolithe - Epsilon Aurigae 
The long wait is finally over.   Monolithe have ditched the slower portions that kind of helped them keep the funeral doom handle for a much (relatively) faster-moving sound, and they've succeeded in making some mighty fine music that doesn't fit any genre mold that I've come across.   The entire album is like the mid-section of III...very moving, engaging, dark metal with interwoven guitar melodies, unexpected shifts in mood, an epic sound, and overall stunning performances.   This could very well steal the number one spot (in my Top 10 list) from Ad Nauseam in the coming months, but with a December release it's hard to tell.   Overall, excellent!

1.   Ad Nauseam - Nihil Quam Vacuitas Ordinatum Est
Twisting, twisted progressive death metal with plenty of technical flair, fantastic songwriting (songs? overrated!), and an eerie backdrop.   The production job is one of the best I've heard all year, and I can't get enough of this bizarre masterpiece of mind-bending music.   To think that this is a debut...

DAN OROZCO (Asia Metalhead)
In addition to being a metal enthusiast and
all-around nice guy, Mr. Orozco is an MMA
fighter, is almost penta-lingual (English, Japanese,
Korean, Japanese Sign Language, and some
Spanish!), and runs the Asia Metalhead blog. 
Dan Orozco is arguably the leader of the expat metalheads in Seoul, and I'm happy to say that he's a good friend as well!   On top of that, he happens to be a great source of information for all things metal that are going on in East Asia (from India to Japan), so why not check out his list of favorite albums over on his site, Asia Metalhead?   It seems kind of silly/plagiarizing to just copy and paste Mr. Orozco's Top 10 on here, so I'm just going to link you to his blog so you can see for yourself!   While it's mostly non-Asian metal that ended up making his list, he does mention a couple notable albums by Asian metal bands that are worth checking out, such as new stuff by Gotsu Totsu Kotsu (Japan) and Ishtar (South Korea)!
Check it out here:


Does this dude look familiar?   Of course he does!  We just posted his interview a few days ago on here!   Because it took me forever to get the interview translated and published, while we were going over the layout and corrections to the post I realized that it was getting close to the end of the year, so I was lucky enough to get his picks for the best metal of 2015.    Check out the list below to see which records especially tortured his eardrums...

10.   Cruciamentum - Charnel Passages
Dark, brutally atmosphere psalm!!!   "Charnel Passages" is pure essence of death metal in U.K.!!

9.   Abominator - Evil Proclaimed
Aussie demonic hordes!!   Blasphemous, non-stop brutal assault.

8.   Embrace of Thorns - Darkness Impenetrable 
Greek extremists' 4th album!!   Heavy, solid, and barbarous death/black metal.

7.   Doombringer - The Grand Sabbath
Brooding, heavy, epic death/black metal with a doom metal touch!!   Impressive!!!

6.   Goat Semen - Ego Svm Satana
Debut full-length from Peruvian goat trips since 2000!!!   Evil madness sound!!!!

5.   Deiphago - Into the Eye of Satan 

Filipino Antichrist are back!!!   Primitive black/death of war!   Must get it or die motherfuckers!!!

4.   Black Witchery / Revenge - Holocaustic Death March to Humanity's Doom 
Two barbarians unite!   Total chaotic and brutal split.

3.   Revenge - Behold.Total.Rejection
Canadian Antichrist elitists rise!!   New chaotic/bestial attack!!!   Recommend.

2.   Archgoat - The Apocalyptic Triumphator
One of the best albums of 2015 without any doubts!!   Obscure black/death metal.

1.   Blasphemy - Fallen Angel of Doom (2015 re-issue)
In short, a classic war/death metal album!!   There's no need to explain any more!!!

MOON SANG-HO (문상호) (厄鬼 - Aekgwi, Misanthropic Art Productions, Misanthropic Artworks)

This dude's artwork fucking rules.   Yeah, it's kind of a rip-off of Thorncross, and yeah, his logos are kind of look like every other metal logo out there (especially those by Christophe Szpajdel) but I don't give a fuck!  This kid has immense talent!   Not only that, but I really dig his music too (see #8 on my own top 10 list above!).   Judging by his art, I'm pretty sure he listens to nothing but kvlt-as-fvck bestial black metal 99% of the time, and my suspicions were confirmed as you can see below...

10.   Selbst - An Ominous Landscape
A rising newcomer BM band from Venezuela.

9.   Herxsebet Dí Ad Vermes
I have no doubt in Herxsebet.   True Mexican cult BM.

8.   Sad / Sarkistra - Fury of the Doomsday Apostles
Both elite bands' splits are amazing.

7.   Pimeydentuoja - The Devil's Epoch
Archgoat, Beherit, Teitanblood worship sound.   Blasphemous black death metal

6.   Initiation - A Ritual of Blood, a Pact of Ashes
Rising newcomer raw BM band from USA,   Highly-infused Drowning the Light, Mutiilation, Judas Iscariot, Sargeist, I think.

5.   Belkètre - Ryan Èvn-a
Long-awaited legendary French BM.   There was no disappointment.

4.   Osculum Infame - Axis of Blood

French elite BM horde.   Killer album, for sure.

3.   Drowning the Light - From the Abyss
DTL often releases albums, and most of the albums are great.   But this album is even more amazing.

2.   Vlad Tepes - The Drakksteim Sessions
Reissue of rare music.   The value is sufficient by itself.

1.   Mgła - Exercises in Futility
I have no doubt in this Polish band.   They are always right.

Mark Bruno (It Djents webzine)
Believe it or not, It Djents is so huge in South Korea that Mr. Bruno
really can't go anywhere without hordes of fans (mostly female,
of course) crowding around him and begging for a photo.   You can't
go anywhere with this guy!!
Same as Dan Orozco (Asia Metalhead), Mr. Bruno is a strong force (or at least a loud voice :D) in the crowd of local expat metalheads, and he also happens to be one of my best friends here in Korea as well!   Because he's a writer for It Djents, it's obvious that we don't always see eye to eye when it comes to metal (or pretty much anything else, for that matter!), but don't let that stop you from checking out his list over at It Djents!   Who knows, you may find an album or two that's halfway decent among whatever drivel he's thrown up there ;)
Check it out here:

Norse Rage (ex-Groove Magazine contributor)
I have no idea what the fuck is going on in this picture, but
I think it's cool that his cat has a denim vest!!
Mr. Rage felt entitled to give us 11 instead of 10, as everyone who's seen This is Spinal Tap (1984) knows that 11 is ONE more than 10, and thus superior.   Also, he's a pretty big dude and could easily crush our heads like grapes and stuff our bodies into the nearest trash can.   Seriously though, Ian (what his parents call him whenever he manages to make it back home to good ol' North Carolina) is a super-cool dude and extremely knowledgeable about the Korean metal scene, as well as all things DOOM.

11.   Uncle Acid - The Night Creeper 
Yep.   Fuzzed out hymns to everything bad in the late 60’s.   Makes me wanna stab someone for a fucking bong rip.   Ugh.

10.   Thulcandra - Ascension Lost 
This is fucking Black Metal.   Although these guys are German, this sounds like straight mid-90’s era Dissection, but a bit more low end in the production.   Frosty, melodic, wind-swept, hate-filled.   Jon Andreas Nödtveidt and the MLO would be proud.

9.   Cattle Decapitation - The Anthropocene Extinction 
Deathgrind, on my list?!?!   You know these guys have come a long way.   I saw them in like 2000 with GWAR and they were just generic death metal but good.   This new shit is tight, super technical but not contrived.   Also his other “manic” vocals are one of a kind.   They show up at like 2:24 and at 4:00 in this track.

8.   Paradise Lost - The Plague Within
Holy shit this is heavy.   Never got into to hardly any of the “Peaceville 3” but these guys have dropped the bomb on what is cutting edge death/doom.   Not all gritty, there’s some soaring parts ala Type O here and there.   And a lot of Crowbar.

7.   Forgotten Tomb - Hurt Yourselves and the Ones you Love Italian...strangely!   Not much Italian stuff in my collection!   Hahaha (Sorry Emmanuele).....more black and roll than straight black metal.   Dirty, grimy, groovy, misanthropic.

6.   Ghost - Meloria 
Back from their sophomore slump, keeping the polished production but way more of those slick hooks we had on the debut.   Tight, catchy as hell 70’s occult metal.

5.   Shape of Despair - Monotony Fields 
Crushing glacial funeral doom.   Hahaha wow.   SO much atmosphere. Not for the casual doom fan that’s for sure.

4.   Nightfell - The Living Ever Mourn
This is ALSO FUCKING BLACK METAL!!!   Hahaha and doom/crust.   Some crust punks like Todd Burdette from Tragedy. Love the live feel of the drums.   Pummeling and jacked up without delving into noise ever.

3.   Arcturus - Arcturian 
Our favorite black metal space jesters return, with more artistry and not giving a fuck about being TROO than any other asshole in Norway.   I mean, if it's got ICS Vortex on clean vocals, how can it not kick total unrepentant ass? So glad to hear these fuckers again.

2.   Karyn Crisis' Gospel of the Witches - Salem's Wounds
How do you even describe this?   A blend of all heavy elements, but mostly moody, slow mournful, amazing clean female vocals and a hardcore punk angst at times. Low end by members of Immolation.   TOTALLY ORIGINAL, freshest release this year.

1.   Khemmis - Absolution
WOW. WOW. Yeah some doom, but mostly just heavy metal.   How often do you simply get to describe something as heavy metal these days?   Pentagram core, Pallbearer vocals, Thin Lizzy/Iron Maiden harmonies/leads. Hardcore group shoutouts.   This takes me back to 12 year-old Ian hearing Sabbath’s Paranoid the first time.   It does everything I want in heavy music.

Matt Ross (Fake the Future, Atlantic A.M.)

(taken from his Facebook page, reprinted here with permission)
Matt Ross is the fuckin' man.   Not only is the frontman for two rock bands (Fake the Future and Atlantic A.M.) here in Daejeon, South Korea, but he's also the GM for the new Vampire: the Requiem campaign I just joined.   Obviously, it kind of goes without saying that he's into metal as well.   Check out his list below to see what, in his opinion, were the top records this year to jam while knocking back a pint or two of blood...

10.   Wrong - Stop Giving
Given that Helmet’s recent records have left a lot to be desired, somebody had to go back and resuscitate what made their first few records so great. No, it’s not original, but damned if I didn’t listen to this EP so many times this year. Crushing tone, tight arrangements.

9.   Demon Lung - A Dracula 
A band to watch. They are heavy as hell, are tasteful with the atmospherics, and have a great vocalist. Anybody who makes a concept album based on the 70’s Mexican horror film Alucarda is cool in my book.

8.   With the Dead - With the Dead
Doom record of the year from some serious veterans coming together for a new project. Morbid and absolutely devastating in its heaviness, the way true doom must be.

7.   False - Untitled
Maybe the best USBM today for my money. Ambitious and progressive without overstaying their welcome. Somehow both tasteful and daring…a neat trick. 

6.   Deafheaven - New Bermuda 
Call me a hipster if you want but I had very little expectations for this record and I think I like it more than Sunbather by more than a little bit. I think this is the sound of a band with something to prove, namely that they aren't a flash in the pan, and I think New Bermuda makes a strong case that they've got good things ahead of them. Argue about their haircuts and Morrissey shirts all you want but there’s real weight here.

5.   Ghost - Meliora 
All hail the ABBA of heavy metal.

4.   Mutoid Man - Bleeder
These showoffs manage to keep me engaged throughout with their lightning fast riffs, off kilter rhythms, and alternately super poppy and melodic moments with their full on rages. A must for any Converge or Cave-In fan, obviously.

3.   Baroness - Purple 
Holy hell. I said I’d wait to post this list ‘til the new Baroness came out and boy was I shocked at its excellence, particularly after how much I disliked Yellow & Green, their last effort. Often gorgeous in the way the very best 70’s prog rock was capable of (when it was concerned with feel and emotion rather than just virtuosity), it is a record that is full of little twists and turns that are nonetheless satisfying and still sound like Baroness. When they go heavy, they go full battering ram to the midsection.

2.   Clutch - Psychic Warfare
All I had to do was hear X-Ray Visions once and it was all over for me.  I was in love. Even though I am so late to the Clutch party it’s sad it is clear to me that they are great geniuses and should be a much bigger act than they seem to be. This record was so good I bought a bunch of their old ones immediately and was likewise not disappointed. The riffs are so rockin’ and the lyrics are funny and strange and great. A clear dedication to great songcraft and the true weirdness of rock ‘n roll.

1.   Tribulation - Children of the Night
Hi, I’m Matt Ross, I’m 15 years old, I love Vampire: The Masquerade, I've been Dracula for Halloween about 8 times, and my favorite metal record of the year is Tribulation’s Children of the Night. Visual aesthetics aside, this record actually feels classically vampiric to me: seductive, threatening, and ominous. It’s also very fun and clearly doesn't take itself that seriously. Children of the Night is heavy on an atmosphere and is catchy as hell. We may have hit peak 70’s classic rock influence in metal here in 2015 but looking over my previous years’ lists, I can’t pretend I’m not a fan of this subgenre. It can be done well, and I think Tribulation has set a high bar with it.

Michael O'Dwyer (Seoul Film Club)
For whatever reason, Mr. O'Dwyer wasn't kvlt enough to give us a top 10, so we're sadly left with an awkward top 9.   However, he is, of course, still a die-hard metalhead and a total sweetie, so of course we were honored to have the privilege of sharing his list!   He even has some Korean metal in there as well!   Someone should probably tell him that the deal with Ghost not ACTUALLY changing singers and that it's just kind of a joke :p   Anyway, check out his picks below:

9.   Danzig - Skeletons   I'm going to admit that I really thought this album was going to be amazing. Just these insane maxed out rock/metal covers of Elvis Presley songs. I wasn't really impressed with the album and felt like he was trying too hard to sound like Elvis and it came across as an Elvis cover band than Danzig reinterpreting Elvis. The more I think about it, the more I'm disappointed with this album as the recording sounded sloppy and the songs just not inspired. I did like his version of "Satan" just for hearing Danzig work his "WHOOAAAA" into it.

8.  Method - Abstract 
Method is one of my favorite bands in and out of Korea. They've been on fire this past year and their new album is awesome! Just great fast, fun death thrash metal.

7.  Tribulation - Children of the Night
Melodic metal/Death Metal with downright catchy hooks! What the hell!?

6.   Marilyn Manson - The Pale Emperor
I know Marilyn Manson has taken to saying ridiculously stupid things in interviews in recent years. And he's put out a few stinkers of albums. But Pale Emperor is pretty goddamn good. Never gets as fast as a typical metal but he made a set of really intense, moody, dark songs that are great for listening at night when you can't sleep. Pale Emperor is probably his most mature, thoughtful album.

5.   Nekrogoblikon - Heavy Meta
NekroGoblin is great as they're an intense sludge/death metal band that can make fun intense songs and fun songs that have intelligent lyrics that tell a story. They deserve more recognition.

 4.   Chelsea Wolfe - The Abyss
This is another artist I was told about very recently. Very much ambient, experimental metal and I love it. It's all dark atmospheric. I love the cover art too, I'm trying to do some photography in the near future inspired by the album's cover art.)

3.   Windhand - Grief’s Infernal Flower 
I literally found out about this band and this album a few weeks ago and fell in love. It's just the sound and ambient metal I needed to hear this winter.

2.   Ghost - Meliora
I love this band. I love everything about it. I love that they concept albums, that they change the singers, and that's it's so theatrical. I love the love songs to Lucifer and just can't say enough great things about Ghost and the all the related projects the musicians from this band are in.

1.   Motörhead - Bad Magic
I kinda took Lemmy's death hard when I heard about it. My first metal concert I ever saw when I was 14 was Motörhead and Morbid Angel opening for Black Sabbath. Both those bands blew the hell out of Black Sabbath (they were in that phase between Ozzy and Dio, I don't know the name of the singer and was unimpressed after seeing Motörhead just annihilate the venue.

Well, that about wraps it up!   What did you think?   Too many lists?   Are you depressed because you missed out on so much great music, even though you probably spent the entire year thinking that THIS time around you were going to stay up to date??   Fill us in on your inner turmoil in the comments section!   Oh, and Kate MulDOOM, if you're reading this, I hope you have a great fucking night!!!! :p

Judge Dredd (left) and Wulf (right) - "Happier Times"