Saturday, 23 January 2016

The Top Five Albums of 2015: The Runners Up

Being productive and/or consistent with content was unfortunately not one of my new years resolutions. I am the kind of person that considers finding the time to have three meals a day productively successful. That said, here are my top five albums of 2015, spare a thought for all the meals I have missed in writing this.

5: InAeona – Force Rise the Sun

This album came straight out of nowhere for me, a chance glimpse of an advertisement from their label Prosthetic Records could not have remotely prepared me for what was to come, given Prosthetic's favouritism towards more traditional metal.

After the first listen I was left staggered, what did I just listen to? I couldn’t quite comprehend it, my colleague asked me to describe their sound and I was inundated with too many influences and styles to give it any kind of credibility. I tried regardless. Confidently I began.
“Imagine alternative style metal, not unlike Deftones or Karnivool with a uniquely talented female singer reminiscent of Bjork, add a prominent industrial/electronic influence and infrequent inclinations towards post-metal”…. 

*blank stare* 

That has been the beauty of Force Rise the Sun, it presents itself as almost genre-less and regardless of what genre you may decide to pigeonhole this album into, there is no denying how massive the sound is, especially for a debut. Lead singer Bridge Lavaizar is able to seamlessly vary her vocal range between an almost ethereal cry with instances of vulnerability, to impassioned screams. Her guitar work often mimicking her vocals with similar impactful transitions of tone. The dramatic electronics present throughout make this a very forward thinking and modern sounding record. 

4: Ghost – Meliora

Considering Ghost’s fascination with satanic imagery and lyrical themes, I was left wondering if they had indeed sold their souls to Satan to create music so undeniably gratifying and catchy. For all the criticism the band receive for favouring style over substance, Meliora has received near unanimous praise and not just from the typical metal media. 

With Opus Anonymous, Ghost delved heavily into seventies doom metal and deliberately exaggerated satanic references. Their follow up Infestissumam was a more experimental affair, owing more to progressive rock influences with elaborate orchestration and choral arrangements. 

With Meliora, Ghost have found their sound and consequently, demonstrated their song writing ability on a whole new unholy level. Meliora could be described as a more traditional metal album. The outstanding production from Andy Wallace has bought the guitars further into the mix, particularly on the heavier songs such as From The Pinnacle To The Pit, Majesty and Mummy Dust. The nameless ghoul operating the keyboards has also been allocated a more pronounced role this time round, transitioning from the horror themed keys of Spirit to the almost Van Halen inspired synth of Absolution. Meliora is a sing along album if their ever was a more appropriate term. When Papa Emeritus calls out

“Put your hands up and reach for the sky,
Cry for absolution”

Such is the power of the music, I almost feel compelled to do so.

Lead single Cirice is certainly the most infectious song Ghost has ever released, despite it also being one of the heaviest. A riff-laden affair which complements Papa Emeritus III’s haunting, yet objectively compelling delivery. Aside from He Is which could be described as some pseudo-folk ballad, the album gives Ghost the increasingly metallic edge that has been lacking from their previous releases. Beforehand, the affinity towards the theatrical and subsequent controversy from the lyrical themes have always taken precedence over the music. The references to Satanism seem almost vague this time round, songs such as the aforementioned He Is, utilise creative metaphors and wordplay to present the intended theme without ever directly referencing Satan.
With Meliora, if Ghost ditched the costumes, it would take nothing away from the music.

3: Dog Fashion Disco – Ad Nauseam

There is no secret of my love for Dog Fashion Disco. That said, following the revelation that they would be releasing another album with the surplus finances they received from their enormously successful crowd funding campaign, I did briefly ponder if the result was going to live up to its title (I would have loved it regardless). Ad Nauseam is quite simply brilliant. Dog Fashion Disco are the dignitaries of the now, admittedly limited, avante-garde metal scene. On the plus side… No competition at least.

The title track showcases DFD at their more upbeat, the playful synth of Tim Swanson rings out like an early nineties game show theme, if it not were for Todd Smiths regular lyrical excursions to the dark side. Last Night Never Happened is more reminiscent of Anarchists of Good Taste and gives demonstration to Smith’s impressive vocal range. One minute a sultry croon, the next a demonic wail. Just as the tracks darkly sexualised lyrics leave you feeling almost uncomfortable, Golden Mirage kicks in and completely alters the tone. 

It is fair to comment that Ad Nauseam features some of the most accessible music DFD have produced, the sing-along cabaret-influenced chorus of Golden Mirage had me tapping along quite contently. But you can never let your guard down with DFD, as it is also fair to comment that Ad Nauseam also features some of the heaviest tracks DFD have done in years. Covered in Blood, in particular showcases the bands personal take on Thrash Metal and puts the spotlight on guitarist Jasan Stepp with a rare example of his soloing ability.
Just as 2014’s Sweet Nothings saved its best till last with End of the Road, as does Ad Nauseum with Starving Artist, which perfectly channels Mr Bungles 1991 debut in all its demented greatness. 

2: Judicator – At The Expense of Humanity

2015 was an enlightening year for me; over the years I have been guilty of predominantly dismissing Power Metal, never fully comprehending the genres preoccupation with fantasy and lore. Imagine the chagrin when I came to realise American Power Metal band Judicator had released one of the best albums of 2015.

Judicators At the Expense of Humanity is a concept album detailing lead singer John Yelland’s experiences during his brothers fight with terminal cancer. In abandoning the traditional themes associated with power metal, the group has formulated a significantly more poignant and most importantly, relatable experience. Yelland’s soaring vocals describe the emotive and deeply personal account of the concept with so much passion that you can hear the grief in his delivery. 

There is little ambiguity to the lyrics, the story acts as a detailed exploration into mortality and is easy to comprehend. For this reason the album is such an inspiring experience. The music puts the listener right within the story, I found myself visualising the events detailed as if I were viewing a dramatic reconstruction of the entire scenario. Any expression of indignation, fear, acceptance or anguish, I felt too.

I have always ascertained that the best music originates from the artist bearing their soul, music should appeal to emotions and this touching tribute serves as the perfect eulogy. Rarely have I found myself enthralled in someone else’s personal tragedy, especially not through the art form of music.
Concept aside the album will still appeal to more traditionalist fans of the genre. From a purely musical consideration the powerful vocal delivery, captivating guitar work and atmospheric keyboards validate that, lyrical themes aside, this is still very much a Power Metal album. Considering Judicator have only been around since 2012, At The Expense of Humanity serves as a testament to their talent. The bar has been set unfavourably high for any future power metal release.


Honorable Mentions:

Shining- International Blackjazz Society
Faith No More - Sol Invictus
Boduf Songs - Stench of Exist

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