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Friday, January 8, 2016

Toby's Top Ten of 2015

Having been little more than a part time contributor to the mighty Heavy Planet for quite some time now, I find it a lot of fun to check back in with you good people now and again, particularly when it comes to sharing my favorite records from each passing year.  To be sure, 2015 was one of the best years for heavy music in recent memory and trying to pick and choose ten albums out of everything I dug this year was a near impossible task.  With that said, I did my best to keep up with those records that seemed to stick with me the most.  It's worth stating however that music, as with all art, is highly subjective, and because of that, you'll likely find my "best of" list differs from many of my peers…and that is of course, just fine.  In fact, it's a very good thing because it means we're all collectively shedding light on even more great music for you all to pollute your ears with if you haven't done so already.  So with all of that said, I hope you enjoy my favorite albums of 2015, maybe find something new that you hadn't heard before, and I look forward to sharing more great tunes with you in 2016 and beyond.

10) Kings Destroy - Self-Titled

I've always been of the mindset that when a band decides to "self title" an album, particularly one that isn't their debut, it hints at that album being definitive of their sound…their vision…and most importantly, what it is that they're all about.  Upon hearing the first track "Smokey Robinson" on Kings Destroy's eponymous third record, I knew that to be true in this case as well.  This isn't the first time that this Brooklyn alt-doom four piece has graced one of my year end lists, as I was a big fan of their 2013 record A Time for Hunting as well, and said as much right here.  But the growth that they've shown from that album to this one is substantial, and for that reason, Kings Destroy earned a well deserved place amongst my favorite albums of 2015.  

09) Valkyrie - Shadows

Valkyrie are a band that have been around for a decade plus in one form or another, churning out a doom-laden hybrid of classic heavy metal and psychedelic rock.  On their latest record Shadows, a flurry of dual guitar harmonies meld seamlessly with a pummeling rhythm section that carries these seven tracks through a multitude of tempos and paces.  Come for the virtuoso performances, but stay for the bone rattling heaviness.  Shadows remained on repeat for me in 2015, and while picking a favorite on this one isn't easy, go ahead and check out "Wintry Plains" for a sample.  I promise, you'll dig this shit.  

08) Weedpecker - II

I was unfamiliar with Polish desert rockers Weedpecker prior to hearing their aptly titled sophomore record II.  My God man, this album is beautiful.  Tracks like "Fat Karma" and "Nothingness" feature soothing grooves intertwined with heavy layers of fuzz and vocals that just barely manage to break through the haze.  The band deftly constrains their heaviness with flourishes of subtlety and nuance that belies the beast within and when Weedpecker truly lets loose, they are devastating.  Give a listen to "The Vibe" as the band transfixes you by way of a delicate jam and then buries you with their heavy groove.  Weedpecker's II was easily one of the best records of 2015 and this band is firmly on my radar going forward. 

07)  Refused - Freedom

Seems like I always manage to stick an album in my "best of" list that may or may not belong on a stoner/doom blog and this year that album would be the return of hardcore punk legends Refused.  Nobody…and I mean nobody…is more pissed off than these four Swedes and you'll know what I mean as soon as you fire up the album opening "Elektra" with it's frantic, yet memorable hook and pulverizing vocals.  On subsequent tracks, the band goes from the freaky funk of "Old Friends/New War" to the devastatingly heavy "Dawkins Christ", to the wickedly fun "War on the Palaces" replete with horns and a sing-a-long chorus of "let's carry the dead."  Whether you were a fan of Refused's genre defining, now classic The Shape of Punk to Come or if this is the first time you're hearing about them, I encourage you to give Freedom a listen.  This is the most fun you'll have being pissed off since that time you kicked your little brother's ass for spying on you and your lady friend back in high school.

06) Freedom Hawk - Into Your Mind

How apropos that Freedom Hawk's latest record was released back in June, just as summer was rolling in for its annual three month stay full of sun, sand, and sweat.  These Virginia Beach natives, who also happened to grace my 2011 top ten list (here), have created another masterpiece of soulful, stoner jams that are perfect for rolling down the windows and cruising the strip on a blistering hot day.  Freedom Hawk somehow create jams that sound inherently relevant while also managing to conjure images of the 1970's rock n' roll glory days, yet never come off sounding intentionally "retro" or post-whatever-the-fuck.  I mean shit man, the first track "Blood Red Sky" sounds more Sabbath than Sabbath and the boys never look back from there.  Give a listen to the insanely catchy, head nod inducing, psychedelia of "Lost in Space" for a perfect example of the band's approach.  Taking the beach mentality of their hometown, these laid back surfer boys intertwine an undeniable heaviness with an easy going vibe to create an amalgam of heavy grooving, soulful crooning, and spacey noodling, and that's why Into Your Mind was one of the best of 2015.

05) Kadavar - Berlin

German trio Kadavar have consistently released stellar albums since coming on the scene back in 2010, but with their third record, the band really hit their stride.  Named after their home city, Berlin is loaded with tasty riffs, heavy handed drumming (I mean that in a good way), and groove for miles and miles.  I mean, have you heard "Last Living Dinosaur" for the love of God?  As with any successful music style, the retro-rock thing has become increasingly watered down over the past few years with more and more bands jumping on that bandwagon, but Kadavar manage to make the sounds of yesteryear new again.  More importantly, they craft songs that sound all their own.  Check out "Lord of the Sky," "Stolen Dreams," or "The Old Man" and just listen to the powerful vocals, the adept fretwork, and the thunder behind those beats.  Berlin may be a re-imagining of sounds from the past, but it sounds fresh in 2015 and was one of my favorite records of the year.  

04) Baroness - Purple

As I mentioned earlier, I was fairly diligent in keeping track of each album that struck a chord with me in 2015 so that I'd be prepared when it came time to put this list together.  One thing that made it a little difficult was the gnawing knowledge that Baroness wouldn't be releasing Purple until late December, around the time I'd be trying to rack and stack my top ten so that I could write this and get it out to all of you.  Now to be sure, Baroness have become one of a handful of bands (if not the band) that represents the face of this stoner/doom/sludge scene that we all know and love.  Some may disagree with that statement, but I'd argue the fact that they've been invited to play such unlikely places as Coachella and Bonnaroo or that they consistently appear on blogs like Pitchfork and Stereogum, shows that they've reached a level of success that seemingly equates to respect, even from those not typically associated with the heavier end of the musical spectrum.  The bottom line of what I'm trying to say is that this list was never going to be completed until I'd heard and absorbed the new Baroness record.  Given that the Savannah, Georgia band were making a comeback of sorts after a horrific 2012 bus accident that left them physically and mentally battered (and sparked a significant lineup change that saw them replace their bassist and drummer), I was even more interested to see what direction Purple (appropriately named after the color of bruises, according to vocalist/guitarist John Baizley) would take them.  As it turns out, my instinct to wait was spot on, because the new Baroness is easily one of the best albums of 2015.  While "Morningstar" opens the album with a heavy groove that'll be familiar to anyone who's ever listened to the band, it doesn't take long before new elements begin to appear, such as on the second track "Shock Me" which incorporates striking synths and as catchy a chorus as you'll ever hear from a band associated with sludge metal.  Subsequent songs like "Kerosene" and "If I Have to Wake Up (Would You Stop the Rain?)" further show an evolution for Baroness, one that sees them embracing the heaviness from which they came, but also evolving into a fully realized rock and roll band.  These aren't just a collection of riffs and beats to simply nod your head along to, but songs to deconstruct, to understand, and to experience.  Baroness are continuing their trajectory upward and onward and Purple was not only a mesmerizing comeback record for the band, but easily one of the best of 2015.     

03) Wildlights - Self-Titled

The duo known as Wildlights is the side project of ASG vocalist/guitarist Jason Shi and Thunderlip drummer Johnny Collins.  Now I'll admit, I'm not familiar with Thunderlip, but I dig ASG (their album Blood Drive was my favorite record of 2013), so when I heard about this one, I was immediately onboard.  Upon first firing up this self-titled debut, the similarities between this band and Shi's main gig were astounding (due in no small part I'm sure, to his distinct vocals) and it isn't immediately obvious why these songs didn't end up being on an ASG record.  Regardless, Wildlights pack ample amounts of melody and punch into these 12 tracks and I'd wager that if you aren't sold right away after hearing "Anchors" and "Rebel Smiles," then this record simply isn't for you, because that opening salvo is a perfect example of what you'll hear throughout this incredible album.  I'm always amazed when I listen to a two-piece band, at how much sound can come from only two musicians and that applies here as well.  Wildlights was by far the biggest surprise for me in 2015 as they came out of nowhere (at least for me) to knock me on my ass and I've returned again and again throughout the year to repeatedly get pummeled.      

02) Skraeckoedlan - Sagor

Unlike the previous album, which totally took me by surprise, this is one that I had been anticipating for quite some time, particularly since the debut from this Swedish band was my favorite album way back in 2011.  Four years is quite awhile between records, so my expectations were high for Sagor, which translates to "Tales" in English.  Now I've often wondered how and why Skraeckoedlan aren't a bigger name on the underground, heavy rock circuit…perhaps it's their name, which is impossible to say (and even harder to spell), or maybe it's because they sing almost exclusively in their native tongue.  Whatever the reason may be, I want you to know that if you're reading Heavy Planet, then you need to be listening to this band.  From the opening instrumental "Prolog" which flows into the massive sounds of "Gigantos" to the beautiful female guest vocals that coalesce seamlessly into the bands complex rhythms and chord progressions on "El Monstro," Sagor is an aural journey worth taking.  Listen after listen will have you uncovering yet another layer of sound, something you will have missed on previous spins of the record, and what becomes clear is that nuance and delicateness can be traits of music that is so overwhelmingly and astoundingly heavy.  Skraeckoedlan have created a followup more than worthy of their debut and it's obvious that they used every bit of those four years between albums to create what was most certainly one of the best records of 2015.        

01) We Hunt Buffalo - Living Ghosts


Truth be told, any one of my top four albums could have landed here, but Vancouver's We Hunt Buffalo take the top honors this year because quite simply, I played their record more than any other…I just couldn't get enough of Living Ghosts.  Whether it was the bluesy stomp of "Back to the River" or the stampeding drums and caterwauling screams of "Prairie Oyster," this album seemed to hit on everything that I love about heavy music.  Songs like "Fear" and "The Barrens" are weighty, not just musically, but lyrically as well and I found myself contemplating their meanings as I nodded along to their intense rhythms.  And perhaps its that deeper meaning that seemed to permeate this record that kept me returning over and over again.  Late in the album's run time, We Hunt Buffalo take a bit of a psychedelic turn with "Looking Glass" and a theme sort of appears from the haze…a theme that perhaps runs throughout the entire album…"all we are is living ghosts…waiting our turn to fly…my body is a gracious host…that one day will wave goodbye."  Goosebumps for days…album of the year.

NOTE 1: I had no idea prior to putting this list together that We Hunt Buffalo's record was also the album of the year based on reader hits to this site, but I'm happy to know I'm in good company with my selection.  Cheers all!

NOTE 2: I did not include compilations in my list, and instead focused on albums created by a single artist.  If I had decided to include compilations, the re-imagining of Jimi Hendrix' Electric Ladyland entitled Electric Ladyland [Redux] which was masterfully pulled together by Magnetic Eye Records would have certainly found a place on this list. If you haven't already done so, I encourage you to check it out.

For Consideration: Electric Ladyland [Redux] by Various Artists courtesy of Magnetic Eye Records


1 comment:

  1. (SITH)Trooper of Rise of Glory- ROG

    No Elder-Lore? ah....thanks for the list...love the picks.


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