Composing 2015’s Top 10 began with reflecting on my Top 10 of 2014 and what lessons I learned from that process. There were two that stood out: expect the unexpected, and go with my gut instinct. To that end, I’m not spending any time overthinking and re-evaluating this list. I took three days to compose this list, and it’s an honest reflection of where I stand on this year in music. Read on and enjoy!
I’ve always had a soft spot for melodic death metal that featured synths, which is why Dagoba first captured my attention in 2006 with What Hell is About. The band has stayed consistent in their style for their entire career, but on Tales of the Black Dawn, the band took a chance by cutting out some on the synth and pulling back slightly on the melody, leaning more towards a straight death metal style overall. Oh man, did that ever pay off! This is the tightest Dagoba has sounded in their entire career, hands down. Everything about this record is crisp and well-defined, and it helps to accentuate Dagoba’s strengths. Even the melodic moments, in their less-frequent intervals, are helped by the record being knitted together so well. Hopefully this is a trend and not an anomaly for Dagoba, because they would be well-served to continue in this manner going forward.
Key track: “Sorcery”
This record had all the potential in the world to be a massive flop. The band was recording as a four-piece lineup for the first time ever, while experimenting with a new recording space and returning to an older key tuning. It could have turned out awful. But just like always for Children of Bodom, everything fell into place, and the end result is an album that is simplistic, yet excellent. Bodom trimmed the fat from this record in all the right ways, minimizing guitar and keyboard trickery in favor of smoother transitions. The solos remain tasteful without falling for the trap of being overplayed. Best of all, though, is the pacing. Most of this album is very fast, and even the slower moments have the same driving intensity behind every note. All in all, in spite of all the things that could have gone wrong, Children of Bodom turned out yet another fantastic album; possibly their best since the early 2000s.
Key track: “Hold Your Tongue”
Critics of Fear Factory over the years have often resorted to the same argument for disliking their material: “All of the records since Archetype sound the same!” My response to that is simple – why deviate from a winning formula? There’s a reason why Digimortal is the only Fear Factory record that I’m not really a fan of (and really, is anyone a huge fan of that record?). Intelligent synths, crushing guitars, and Burton C. Bell’s inimitable roar are what made Fear Factory into a powerhouse band, and Genexus has all of these things in spades. New drummer Mike Heller is the unsung hero of this record, though. Unlike his two predecessors, who would often end up at the forefront of the sound with the bustle in their drumming, Heller manages to blend perfectly into the mix and remain somewhat covert, even though he’s hitting his drums with the same intensity and force. It’s a welcome change to not have the rhythm section taking all the attention on a Fear Factory record, and I hope Heller sticks around for that reason.
Key track: “Regenerate”
Being the best at your particular craft usually comes with hard work, dedication, and constant refinement of your skills to stay one step ahead of your peers. Alternatively, you can be like Blind Guardian and just naturally surpass everyone else without any effort. I don’t know how Hansi Kürsch and Co. do it, but no matter what other power metal is out at the time, Blind Guardian is able to be better than their peers each time they release a new record. Beyond the Red Mirror is no different, showing the perfect balance of power metal bombast and quieter restraint to make this concept album work. Kürsch himself provides one of the best performances of his career, displaying his full range and driving the story home with his passionate, emotional delivery. Simply put, Blind Guardian has reclaimed their throne at the top of the power metal heap.
Key track: “The Holy Grail”