I feel like I say this every time, but this is one I’ve been waiting for. I remember 2015 as the year of technical death metal and caverncore for metal at large. Around this time, I also began digging deep into the various nooks and crannies of the genre. As a result, the selection for this entry is much more diverse. From supergroups to newcomers, from post-hardcore to black metal. 2015 also brought two albums into my life that made it near the top of the end of the decade list.
Sumac – The Deal
Before their improv-heavy later material, Sumac made a debut as a relatively straightforward sludge metal band. On The Deal, Aaron Turner (ex-Isis, Old Man Gloom), Brian Cook (Russian Circles) and Nick Yacyshyn (Baptists) come out with sludge that is equal parts experimentation and caveman riffs. From the noiserock section on Hollow King over the trudging Blight’s End Angel to the crushing climax of the title track, Sumac frame the core compositions with atmospheric guitar pieces that outline what was to come for the band.
Sarpanitum – Blessed Be My Brothers
Blessed Be My Brothers is the second album by british tech. death crusaders Sarpanitum. The album stirred up a storm in the underground as one of the best releases for technical metal in that year. With Leon Macey of Mithras behind the kit, Sarpanitum mete out divine punishment on the infidels of the metal underground.
The spikey and fuzzy guitartone that brings Mithras and Morbid Angel’s Heretic album to mind and in true Macey fashion the drumming is simply out of this world. A touch of melodic death metal shines through in the clearer moments. The guitars cease their bloodshed to bask in holy light, at times solemn like on I Defy For I Am Free or imbued with righteous fury on By Virtuous Reclamation. Atmospheric interludes and cinematic synthwork complete the concept and bring the historical themes of the album to life even more vividly. Forceful and numinous, Blessed Be My Brothers is a standout album in the technical death metal of the last decade.
Ad Nauseam – Nihil quam vacuitas ordinatum est
With the continued rise of Ulcerate and the return of Gorguts, imitators started cropping up left and right. While many of them inevitably fell by the wayside, some made a lasting impression. The key is to put your own spin on your influences instead of just wearing them on your sleeve. Italian Ad Nauseam understand this all too well. Nihil quam vacuitas ordinatum est is the only album the band has released under this name but it reached deep into many top lists of 2015.
Drum flurries like Ulcerate and angluar Gorguts-school riffs. The influences are unmistakable but Ad Nauseam know how to set themselves apart. The band’s DIY equipment conjures up a particularly characteristic sound. The atmosphere is dusty and desolate like a Neurosis album. Drums and bass sound satisfyingly dry and tight. The guitartone, on the other hand, carries an acidic bitterness.
The songs on Nihil… are like a bad drug trip. Spastic riffing violently jerks you around and alternates with moody doom segments. Melodic undercurrents and rhythmic flourishes are as much of a highlight as the classical additions that make brief appearances on tracks like Into the Void Eye. With more music from Ad Nauseam currently on the way, there’s no telling what this band will unleash next. In the meantime, Ad Nauseam received some further appreciation from the Vortex when Nihil… celebrated its fifth anniversary.
The Hirsch Effekt – Holon: Agnosie
“Genre-defying” is a term often thrown around but rarely is it as appropriate as with The Hirsch Effekt. This german trio emerged at the start of the last decade with the first part of their Holon trilogy, Hiberno. Since then, the band steadily refined their sound, peaking with the final part of the Holon series, Agnosie.
Describing their sound resembles an exercise in futility. At once straight from the heart but also dizzying and technical. On one side ferocious screaming more fitting for a screamo record, on the other intimate cleans and catchy hooks. The Hirsch Effekt dance through genres with ease, from indie over electronic to post-hardcore, math rock, screamo and pop. Meanwhile, the german lyrics invite to pay close attention with a twist to discover in each line that the vocal duo belts out with a level of energy and passion that is beyond the grasp of many of their peers.
Midnight Odyssey – Shards of Silver Fade
Excessively long albums and one-man black metal bands go together like nothing else. Brisbane-based Midnight Odyssey is one of the most prominent projects in that regard. After his two hour, sixteen-track debut album Funerals From the Astral Sphere, Dis Pater set his sights on an even grander sequel. After four years of toil, Shards of Silver Fade was released. Two and a half hours, no track shorter than thirteen minutes.
Usually anyone would think that no album should be this long but Shards of Silver Fade challenges that notion and emerges victoriously. Dis Pater’s brand of black metal has a sense of familiarity and nostalgia. Despite the icy expanses of the pictures he paints, the stories he tells are like the fairytale books you read as a child. The compositions on Shards… are vast oceans to immerse yourself in. Veils of ethereal synths and epic vocal arrangements build the frame for the rime-covered black metal sections. The raw guitars add an abrasive layer to the rich textures driven by the drums.
Shards of Silver Fade is a galaxy that is all yours to explore. Ancient tales found their settings amongst the stars we now traverse. Admittedly, Dis Pater’s black metal does not quite match up to his peers. But he is unmatched at channeling epic stories into expansive compositions. There is no time to get bored with Shards of Silver Fade as you will be too busy marvelling at the universe it creates.
VI – De Praestigiis Angelorum
VI hail from the prestigious parisian black metal scene and feature esteemed names such as ex-Aosoth members BST and INRVI and Merrimack drummer Blastum. De Praestigiis Angelorum is the only album the group has manifested since their founding in 2007 and it’s a statement that needs no further elaboration.
While the music is noticeably influenced by Deathspell Omega, VI decisively mold their influences into their own sound. The infernal guitars force dissonance into melodic micro-patterns that race, plunge and swell dramatically as the drumming shines with stunning interplay. Samples of the St. Lucas Passion are twisted into nightmarish atmospheric touches that flesh out the album. Through all the fervor and brutality, VI remain razorsharp and surgically precise. The performances reach an unequaled level of sophistication through the mindmelting technicality and unabated black metal barrage. The songwriting flows organically between intense sprints and triumphant climaxes and though the coherence is immaculate, no two songs are the same.
BST’s production job is situated perfectly between raw and clear-cut and recalls 666 International and Fractal Possession alike. Guitars like sheets of needles and extremely compact drums create the most satisfying black metal sound of the decade.
De Praestigiis Angelorum is an album that exceeds the sum of its parts. There’s a fire that burns in the hearts of these men and the art it forces them to create is untamed and beautiful. The mix of raw aggression, expert musicianship and thrilling songwriting is a reflection of true artistry. VI assert themselves as the strongest band in orthodox black metal and I can only hope that the band has more in store for us unworthy listeners.