Our NYC based collaborator Mick Stingley picks up the 10 best metal albums of the year. Here’s why he chose these 10 over all others he heard in the last 12 months.

1. ENSIFERUM, “One Man Army”

(Metal Blade Records)

Finnish folk metal band Ensiferum returned at the beginning of the year with its sixth album and first in three years. One Man Army blazes out of speakers mixing charging rhythms, thrash guitar, infectious melodies and choral chanting with nuanced keyboards, acoustic breaks and clean and harsh vocals. The playing is superb and the orchestration, epic. The album is truly completed by the addition of the bonus tracks that includes a cover of “Rawhide”.

Songs like “Axe of Judgement” and ”Warrior Without A War” stand out, along with the epic “Descendants, Defiance, Domination” but the shining highlight is the haunting, galloping “Neito Pohjolan” featuring guest vocals by singer and accordionist Netta Skog, formerly of Turisas, singing in Finnish. The bonus track “Candour and Lies” is the same song, sung by clean singer Markus Toivonen. The last bonus track, “Bonus Song” is a party rock anthem… about being a bonus song. This album is phenomenal and should be listened to in its entirety.

2. FEAR FACTORY, “Genexus”

(Nuclear Blast Records)

Fear Factory is noted for its groundbreaking industrial metal sound and albums “Demanufacture” and “Obsolete”. The material Fear Factory has released since then has been polarizing, with lineup changes garnering more press than the music. Fear Factory is best when guitarist Dino Cazares and singer/lyricist Burton C. Bell tell a complete story with a full-on concept album and that album is being produced by Rhys Fulber of Front Line Assembly.

“Genexus” returns the band to the focus of man versus machine with Bell growling like Dr. Claw from “Inspector Gadget” and soaring on choruses like Bono at Red Rocks. Cazares shoots electric blasts of metal that blaze across keyboards and programming to create a dark sonic soundtrack to the day the machines become self-aware. “Dielectric” and “Protomech” may be the hits but the closing ballad, “Expiration Date” is the true highlight and should comfort the band’s new record label that Fear Factory has still got it going on. Exclusive interview with Burton C. Bell here.

3. SLAYER, “Repentless”

(Nuclear Blast Records)

When beloved guitarist and fan favorite Jeff Hanneman died it seemed like Slayer was done and the exit of drummer Dave Lombardo didn’t exactly help matters. In spite of these setbacks, guitarist Kerry King and singer/bassist Tom Araya picked up the pieces and moved on, essentially asking the fans to consider: what would Jeff want? The answer was clear and drummer Paul Bostaph – who replaced Lombardo the first time he exited and stayed with the band through “God Hates Us All” returned making the family circle a little tighter. Knowing Hanneman could never be replaced, the band called on Exodus guitarist Gary Holt to step in.

As Slayer and Exodus came up together and Hanneman and Holt were friends, everything suddenly seemed to make sense. The question was: could they do another album? The result was divisive and the album doesn’t feel cohesive, it feels more like a collection of singles recorded at different times but in the absence of Jeff that was the best way for Slayer to transition to making new music. The title song, “Piano Wire”, “You Against You” and “When The Stillness Comes” are standouts.

4. APOCALYPTICA, “Shadowmaker”

(Better Noise/Eleven Seven Music)

The Finnish quartet is comprised of three cellists and a drummer. They started out playing Metallica covers, on cellos played through Marshall amps, and as they began to create original music, used a variety of vocalists on each album. This time around they aligned with Scars on Broadway vocalist Franky Perez.

Perez is a powerful singer who brings his soulful rock rage to “House of Chains”, “Cold Blood” and “Come Back Down” while croons beautifully on ballads like “Hole In My Soul” and “Dead Man’s Eyes”. The instrumentals, as always, are outstanding; particularly “Riot Lights”.

5. MOONSPELL, “Extinct”

(Napalm Records)

This Portuguese metal band led by singer Fernando Ribeiro has walked among the many realms of dark metal but they have always excelled when they embrace the goth darkness. “Extinct” is a mesmerizing collection of brooding, powerful goth metal (“Breathe (Until We Are No More)”; “Malignia”) and slick goth-rock. The latter comes out so prominently on “The Last of Us” it sounds like a lost track by the Sisters of Mercy. Among the many highlights is “Domina”.

6. SKINDRED, “Volume”

(Napalm Records)

Ragga-metal is how they describe themselves and the term is apt. Led by roughneck toaster Benji Webbe, the band from Newport, South Wales, creates an infectious blend of soul, reggae, dancehall toasting and ripping metal that might be best described as Shaggy singing for Korn. Of course the band is much more than that and the fusion of Webbe’s soulful voice and scatting over tight metal guitar riffs is glorious.

This band is so underrated they should sue for reparations. This year’s “Volume” is another collection of their ragga-metal blasts and should not be missed. Standouts include: “Under Attack”, “Volume”, “Sound The Siren”, “Straight Jacket” and “No Justice”.

7. MOTÖRHEAD, “Bad Magic”

(UDR Records)

Lemmy’s health issues (and recently, guitarist Phil Campbell’s) have overshadowed the music but Bad Magic is a great album. It’s certainly a Motörhead album: all the frenzied guitar and Mickey Dee’s drums are in place while Lemmy curses and growls his way through with zeal. The production is somewhat more raw and unpolished, which only works in their favor. The cover of “Sympathy For The Devil” will never replace the original but is a fun addition. Standouts include: “”Victory or Die”, “Fire Storm Hotel”, “Tell Me Who To Kill” and the latest ballad, “Till The End”.

8. CHILDREN OF BODOM, “I Worship Chaos”

(Nuclear Blast Records)
Still crazy after all these years, the ninth album from the Finnish metallers and their first without second guitarist Roope Latvala, finds the band rolling on as a four-piece. There are no surprises here: the band continues their excellent brand of melodic death n’roll, cascading leads and infectious tunes. Standouts include: “Morrigan”, “I Worship Chaos” and the ballad, “All For Nothing”.

9. DANZIG, “Skeletons”

(AFM Records)

Glenn Danzig has wanted to do a cover album like David Bowie’s “Pin Ups” and after years of talking about it he finally did it. He chose an eclectic albeit typically Danzig collection of songs both obscure, famous and surprising. For anyone who longs for a new Misfits album, “Devil’s Angels” is about as close to Misfits as you’re going to get; while his cover of Elvis’s “Let Yourself Go” is especially entertaining as Danzig channels The King. Other highlights are The Young Rascals’ “Find Somebody” and The Everly Brothers’ “Crying In The Rain”. (note: Loudwire magazine interviewed Glenn Danzig on the process of covering these songs, here).

10. IRON MAIDEN, “Book of Souls”

(Sanctuary Records Group)

The band’s sixteenth studio album is a double album, clocking in at 92 minutes. Recorded over four months in Paris at the end of 2014, Maiden wrote and recorded the album in studio to capture a spontaneous live feeling. The album polarized critics but still managed to bow at #4 on the Billboard Top 200 and land at #1 in the U.K. It was also the first time that bassist/lyricist Steve Harris did not handle the bulk of the songwriting. Many of the tracks are long, even by Maiden standards, with “Empire of the Clouds” lasting 18 minutes and 1 second.

“Speed of Light” is the most easily accessible, but what makes the album stand out is that it is not easily accessible (not unlike the underrated “A Matter of Life and Death”) and there is much to explore here. The album grows richer with each listen but needs time to be appreciated. Listen to “The Red and The Black” and “Death or Glory”.

Check out all our “top of 2015” articles here!

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About The Author

Mick Stingley
Collaborator - RREVERB

Mick Stingley is a freelance writer with a concentration in music and humor. He has been published in Esquire, The Hollywood Reporter, Rolling Stone, BillBoard, VICE, Metal Edge, Terrorizer, Dominion, KNAC.com, Men's Fitness, FHM, The Huffington Post, Hustler, Consequence of Sound and The New York Post among others. He lives with his fiancee in NYC.