It’s that time of year again, when us music bloggers write our end-of-year lists of the albums that have impressed us over the past twelve months.
Usual caveats apply, of course, there are no doubt plenty of superb albums from 2015 I have yet to hear, and won’t be on my radar screen until I see them on other people’s end-of-year lists. Which, in a nutshell, is really the whole point of these things. I still think lists compiled by committees for general music publications are largely a waste of time. But this is not one of those lists.
There are 25 in my list this year, and here’s part one, going from 25 down to 18. They’re not in any particular order, consider them all 18-equal.
Caligula’s Horse – Bloom
State of the art twin-guitar prog-metal from Australia, filled with serpentine riffs, memorable vocal melodies and some spectacular soloing. It combines the dynamics of mid-period Opeth with the modern jazz-metal experimentation of Haken and Maschine with the atmospherics of Riverside, while managing to avoid sounding remotely derivaive.
Kamchatka – A Long Road Made of Gold
The Swedish power-trio deliver some classy blues-based hard rock. There’s an emphasis on tight arrangements, with punchy songs and short but effective blasts of shredding lead guitar, with a superb production that makes it sound as though the band are playing in your living room.
Muse – Drones
Teignmouth’s finest take a step back from the Queen-with-kitchen-sinks approach of their last couple of albums in favour of something of stripped-down guitar-driven power trio approach of their early albums. But when you’ve got Mutt Lange of AC/DC fame as producer, “stripped-down” is still a relative thing. There’s still a big expansive sounds that goes from hard rock boogie to a nod to spaghetti western soundtracks. This is still a Muse album, after all.
Pope Francis – Wake Up
Not many people would have put “The Pope releases bonkers prog-rock album” in their musical predictions for 2015. One of the years strangest releases mixes excepts from sermons with a blend of traditional church music and progressive rock with a nod to world music. The combination of spoken word with big minor-key choral crescendos and the occasional blast of full-on rock guitar is worth a listen for anyone who appreciates things like Mostly Autumn’s “The Gap Is Too Wide”. It certainly makes evangelical protestant worship music look tame by comparison.
Praying Mantis – Legacy
The tenth album by one-time NWOBHM heroes is polished twin-guitar hard rock, more AOR than metal, with echoes of Uriah Heep and Journey. Remarkable in its consistency, there is no filler and every track has something to like about it. Just occasionally it skirts on the edge of cheese, but most of the time this is a classy piece of work.
Queensrÿche – Condition: Hüman
With new vocalist Todd Le Torre the prog-metal pioneers recover some of their mojo, with a record that evokes the spirit of the 1980s heyday, with soaring vocals and razor-sharp riffs. It doesn’t quite reach the heights of their peerless 80s masterpieces, but it’s still the best thing they’ve done for many years, and certainly blows Geoff Tate’s lacklustre album “The Key” clean out of the water.
Secrets of the Sky – Pathway
This Californian band brew up a monstrous wall of sound. With no choruses or solos the songs take the form of dense soundscapes of layered guitars, doom-laden drums and washes of keys. With evil-sounding growls for the heavy parts and clean vocals for the reflective, atmospheric moments, the end result is an intense and in places very heavy record where even the lighter parts can sound truly menacing.
Spock’s Beard – The Oblivion Particle
Their twelfth album has verything we’ve come to expect from a Spock’s Beard record; swirling Mellotron and Hammond organ, blasts of hard rock guitar, rich layered vocal harmonies, and a strong sense of melody. Spock’s Beard again succeed by having one foot in the past and one in the present; creating a delightfully retro sound with a modern sensibility.