Top 10 Albums of 2015
Everyone has their opinion about which albums were amazing and which weren’t for any given year. It’s not up for me to tell you that you’re wrong. However, that’s pretty much exactly what I’m about to do. My Top 10 this year reflects a deeper connection with the music I was jamming. There’s a valid reason for every single album to be on this list, and in the order in which it appears. I laughed, cried, partied, and just lived my life to these albums. This year has been relentless and chaotic, but amidst that chaos some truly great things have happened. Nowhere is this more quantifiable than in the world that encompasses music. I’ve already given you my honorable mentions, and Numbers 10-6.
Let’s see what the final five have in store for us, shall we?
5. Stray from the Path- Subliminal Criminals
This album encapsulated every angry feeling I had about society over the past year. Whether it was calling out sexually perverse people in the music industry (most notably the bastard Front Porch Step), taking aim at the over-abundance of police brutality plaguing our nation (and particularly, our minority and poor communities), calling out the rich for trying their damnedest to oppress anyone they can in the name of a profit, or the frightening reality of the abusive government surveillance activities, the SFTP boys did an amazing job of highlighting the worst of the crises we as a nation are currently facing. Do you have to agree with their particular brand of social politics to enjoy the album? Absolutely not, but it definitely helps. Musically, “Subliminal Criminals” will remind you of bands like Rage Against the Machine (not just lyrically, which draws obvious parallels, but instrumentally) or early 2000’s style hardcore bands like Down to Nothing, 7 Seconds, or Bitter End. Each track is passionate and aggressive, and seeing Stray perform the songs live takes that passion and aggressiveness and cranks it up to eleven. I had the joy of seeing their tour with Comeback Kid in October, and they did not disappoint. I left sweaty, bruised, but definitely not broken. Just knowing a band like this exists in modern heavy music thrills me. It doesn’t matter if you’re into punk, metal, hardcore, prog rock/metal, or any of their sub-genres- there just aren’t enough “bigger” bands out there willing to take a strong stance on the issues and not back down. Sure, you could probably point to individual band members who speak out passionately about their views (Buddy from Senses Fail, perhaps?), or to extremely vocal local bands who speak their minds freely. But to have an entire band, signed to a well-respected and well-known label, willing to say, “We see this, it’s wrong, and we’re not going to tolerate it any longer” gives me so much hope for the future of my scene. Go buy “Subliminal Criminals” and support a band that is genuinely making music in an effort to improve the world around them.
4. Between the Buried and Me- Coma Ecliptic
The last time I was excited for a BTBAM album was 2007’s watershed “Colors.” To say my friends and I were obsessed with that album might be an understatement. We drove across multiple states multiple times to see BTBAM perform this record live. As a group, we spent almost two whole years forcing any new member into our circle to have a big “safety meeting” with us that always involved a complete jam of “Colors” from start to finish. That album was a massive turning point in my musical interests, and set the stage for almost everything I listen to now. But when BTBAM released their next studio album (2009’s “Great Misdirect”) I was far from impressed, almost disappointed. I mean it was good, because it was BTBAM and BTBAM rules. But it was a dry record, bland to my now heightened standards of musical taste. When the band released the two Parallax albums beginning in 2011, many of my friends who shared my disinterest in “Great Misdirect” returned to their high praise for BTBAM. I, however, did not. There were a few tracks on the two albums that I could point to and say I enjoyed (“Telos” comes to mind here), but I was left beginning to wane in my confidence towards BTBAM. Would they ever release an album like “Colors” again? Was that album the best they could do? Will they never live up to my expectations of how they should sound again? The answer to that last question is a massive part of why I absolutely loved “Coma Ecliptic.” When I heard at the end of 2014 that the band was almost done recording their new album, I was immediately excited, but cautious. I took a different approach this time, and decided to have zero expectations for how I wanted this album to sound. I was finally ready to just accept any new BTBAM album as it came, and hope for the best. A few months into 2015 when they released the first single off the album, “Memory Palace,” I finally had a chance to see if they would reward my patience. I was not disappointed, as I wound up jamming that track on almost non-stop repeat for two weeks after it was released. In short order the full album was released, and damn is it a doozy. Everything I love about progressive metal is in this album, from ambient soundscapes reminiscent of Pink Floyd to brutal chugging breakdowns that hold their own with even the mightiest of modern metal bands, “Coma Ecliptic” is another seminal Between the Buried and Me album, and deserves every ounce of high praise it has received thus far, and then some!
3. Ghost- Meliora
I’m about to string together a bunch of awesome adjectives to describe this album, then I’m gonna break down what they mean. Satanic, ambient, interstellar, orchestral, pulsating, introspective, catchy, and ultimately fantastically far-out- those are but a few worthy descriptors for “Meliora.” Ghost’s anti-Pope front man, Papa Emeritus, led the band of Nameless Ghouls through the space-rock opus that was their 2015 release. For me, personally, this album was the first Ghost record to really capture my attention. There are intricate layers to this record that to me were missing on previous releases. From the Theremin-pulsing introductory song “Spirit,” on through the Luciferian worship song “He Is,” there’s a relatable track on this album for people of many different musical tastes. I can’t quite put my finger on how to get you as excited for this album as I have been, but there are things this album does that no one else is doing right now. These songs are anthems- you can chant the lyrics in unison with Papa E. if you want. Maybe you’re feeling torn within yourself, facing difficult choices and painful experiences. For you, this album can be a guide to self-discovery and belief in yourself. The raw emotion and energy within this record galvanizes your spirit into a form of self-determination and strength you never knew was waiting within you. I was in a raw place when this record dropped, caught at a proverbial fork in the road of my life, having to make hard choices that I didn’t want to make. This album’s empowering lyrics, dark overtones, but overall uplifting vibes helped me illuminate the proper path for me to follow. I’m not saying this album is responsible for what I’ve accomplished this year, I’m just saying this album helped boost my confidence in myself and the choices I was making. And I’d be willing to bet, if you gave it the chance, it would do the same for you. “Meliora” is a masterpiece.
2. Rivers of Nihil- Monarchy
Turbulent winds whip miasmic clouds of sand all around in an earthly ritual of sand baptism. You’re mouth is dry, brow moist with sweat, and eyes squinted in a feeble attempt to keep the ferocious sun from permanently damaging your vision. The miniscule supply of water you carry is diminishing quicker than anticipated, and you can feel your body weakening under the pressures of dehydration. The trials of the desert, their will bent to destroy you, bearing down on your body and soul like a perpetually growing machine of death. This is the feeling of Rivers of Nihil’s “Monarchy.” Now, maybe the above description does nothing but turn you off from the idea of jamming this record. That’s fine. Clearly, you never beat the Spirit Temple in “Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.” If you had, and you remember vividly travelling to the Desert Colossus, fighting your way through the temple, and facing the harshest villains the desert could throw at you. If you never had that chance, or haven’t done it in a while, I challenge you to go blow out that old Nintendo 64 cartridge, mute your TV, and put on “Monarchy” as you valiantly fight your way through the desert. I’d be willing to bet you modern gamers could think of a billion more recent examples of badass desert levels in video games, but I’m old school- you’re getting an “Ocarina of Time” reference, and you’re going to like it. On a serious level though, this album is getting such a high spot on my list because they’re still making a name for themselves. This album shows an evolution in sound for a relatively young band. They deserve high praise for the risks they took with this album, because the reward seems to be one of the most solid metal releases of the last five years. Whatever they do next is sure to be just as groundbreaking and illustrative as “Monarchy” was and is.
1. Periphery- Juggernaut: Alpha
So here we are at the end of the line. Those who have read the entire two part list undoubtedly knew this was coming, I said as much in the closing lines of part one. Periphery really did create a piece of musical genius when they released the two part “Juggernaut” record. But what makes “Alpha” stand out so drastically from “Omega?” They’re very similar, and one completes the story arc of the other. The answer is really simple: I just could not stop jamming “Alpha.” On January 27th of 2015, both albums dropped, and for the rest of the year, no matter what else came out and which bands I discovered or started jamming, there was one album I routinely came back to, and it was “Juggernaut: Alpha.” The album just rips your face off, beginning straight away with “A Black Minute.” Tracks four and five are called appropriately entitled “The Event” and “The Scourge,” and it’s within these two tracks that the album really takes off to a completely different level than anything else going on in music right now. I want to take a moment to talk about vocalist Spencer Sotelo. The man is a ferocious beast, both lyrically and vocally. I’ve never had a vocalist give me such beautiful chills running up and down my spine as I have with Spencer’s talent. That golden larynx of his must have been forged by the gods themselves. Just listen to his range during the climax of the song “Alpha” or perhaps his transitions from singing to screaming in “Four Lights.” He’s the cherry on top of the hot fudge sundae that is Periphery. Maybe you’re not a Peripheral, maybe you think Spencer’s vocals are winey, and you think Misha Monsoor and the boys are just guitar-sturbators, and in your mind there are better albums to have been released in 2015. You’re entitled to this opinion, this is America after all. But you’re willingly ignoring musical history going on right under your nose. Periphery is an all time great band, who released an all time great record that just so happened to have a sequel that’s almost as badass. Don’t snooze on greatness, you’ll miss out.
Well there you have it- my not-so-humble opinion on the top of albums of the last year. I’m excited for the musical releases coming up for 2016. It’s already shaping up to be a great year in music, once again. I’m already jamming an album that could go coast-to-coast and be the best release of the next year. But you’ll have to wait for next year’s list to see who it is. Until next time, dear readers!