Surging Forth from the Underground: Truest Underground Metal Albums of 2015
Year-End Top 5
Quality and variety abounds among metal albums released in 2015. True underground metal has always been plentiful, but this year’s releases evidenced a true culmination of the rising tide of great metal acts over the last decade.
It’s clear that the pool of new and talented bands has only been growing year by year, while established favorites have been releasing some of the greatest work of their entire careers. More attention than ever has been diverted away from the popular pablum as eager converts to the cult of heavy metal look deeper to see what’s really going on in the genre. Strap on your bullet belt and get ready to slap a new back patch onto your kutte, because if you like your music loud and heavy, you’re going to love our top underground metal picks of 2015.
The Other Side of Darkness
Deathblow = Kreator + Destruction + Sodom
Let’s start things off with what is probably the best death metal band ever to grace the salty stages of Salt Lake City. In case you’ve been hiding out in an abandoned fallout shelter for the last seven years, Deathblow put on a raucous live set every time they play, and they’ve got some serious cred in the SLC metal scene.
The Other Side of Darkness collects five of the newest tracks they’ve been using to stir up mosh pits at venues across the valley. Holger unleashes riffs that bathe the crowd in the fetid viscera of old-school death-thrash, while Paul Lachica and Dan Alexander launch their two-pronged rhythmic assault.
Though these guys have spent much of 2015 trying out a cast of new guitarists, every show they’ve played thus far has slain the one before it in terms of sheer energy and intensity, with their performance on Day Two of Fall of Zion standing atop the corpse-pile. Whether or not you’ve seen them before, keep your eyes peeled for Deathblow’s show schedule in 2016. This is one live act you can’t afford to miss.
10. Sulphur Aeon
Gateway to the Antisphere
Sulphur Aeon = Immolation + early Morbid Angel + Vader
Writhing like the sinister tentacles of an elder god, Sulphur Aeon‘s tumultuous death metal portends an awakening of the dwellers beyond the stars in their dire obeisance to the Great Old Ones. One minute, Gateway to the Antisphere grinds you to dust with its churning riff vortex, only to unveil the stellar majesty of Azathoth and his yawning portals of profane hunger.
This musical tribute to the brain-warping mythos of the beyond takes a bold step toward the gate opened by the stunning Swallowed by the Ocean’s Tide, lurking at the threshold of true Lovecraftian madness.
While plenty of bands have toyed with the necronomic forces of cosmic evil, few of them have peered beyond the veil to glimpse the mammoth power of the ancient ones with the mind-shattering clarity of Sulphur Aeon. Beware itheir seductive whorl, a death metal so pure in its viciousness and gleaming with alien allure as to escape the very powers of description.
09. Magic Circle
20 Buck Spin
Magic Circle = Trouble + Pentagram + Witchfinder General
When Magic Circle dropped their self-titled debut, it caused some serious ripples among the heavy metal faithful. This gang of Bostonian hardcore veterans ripped out one of the greatest doom metal releases in recent memory, as if throwing down the gauntlet to the stagnant doom metal scene to remember the teachings of Witchfinder General and Pentagram.
Following an album with that kind of impact, Journey Blind arrived to some pretty doughty expectations. This underground metal album is a straight-up rock n’ roll romp that takes no prisoners and makes no excuses about what it is.
Chris Corry‘s gritty, groovy riffs raise the tattered flag of rock beside the dusty banner of doom metal. Meanwhile, Brendan Radigan blows me away yet again with his passionate and unmistakable vocal style. The spirit of true metal lives on in the bold vitality of Magic Circle, and Journey Blind is yet another manifestation of their ferocious sincerity.
08. Death Karma
The History of Death and Burial Rituals Part 1
Death Karma = Cult of Fire + Horrendous + Varathron
While 2015 seems to have been a banner year for top-tier death metal albums, Death Karma’s The History of Death and Burial Rituals Part 1 sticks out in my mind like no other. Savage, chaotic death metal combines with pitiless black metal intonations in a whirl of madness and melody that threatens to overtake one’s sanity.
The pure strangeness of this release would be reason enough for it to rank among my favorite releases of 2015, but it’s backed up by some seriously incredible musicianship. Infernal Vlad plays everything but the drums, and his insane vision for this underground metal album can be heard infecting every song, giving the neurotic vacillations of each instrument a weird coherence to a central, orchestrating force.
“Madagascar – Famadihana” chills the spine with a chanting choir that pierces through the inferno of blast beats and distortion, while the sinister dissonance of “India – Towers of Silence” gleams with an audible malice. If you’re in the mood for some delirious death metal, Death Karma will slake your thirst for the weird and macabre.
Atom By Atom
Satan = Angel Witch + Iron Maiden + Diamond Head
Over the last few years, plenty of heavy metal bands have reunited to relive their late-’80s heyday. Few of these releases have proven any more than a mere novelty, but Satan are a major exception to this trend.
Atom By Atom might actually be better than the band’s classic catalog. Every song is an absolute banger, with “The Devil’s Infantry” leading the charge alongside “Ruination,” and it’s clear that these guys are having way too much fun writing and performing their new material.
Throughout the album, you can just hear the band’s playful, at times experimental, approach paying off time and again. The band shows a distinct prowess in their genre, weaving manic, frenetic melodies into mature NWOBHM riffcraft. The result is nothing less than an unforgettable release, forging Satan’s eternal throne in the halls of heavy metal mastery.
Horrendous = Pestilence + At The Gates + early Dark Tranquility
Anyone who says Anareta isn’t as good as last year’s Ecdysis is completely missing the point. Anareta, though it may not have the incisive emotional panache of its predecessor, ventures deeper into the vast new frontiers of death metal that Horrendous have only just begun to explore.
If nothing else, this underground metal album shows just how much room there is to experiment and explore, even in this most venerable and respected genre. That aside, Anareta utterly rips.
Each song has a familiar lugubrious melodic sense to it, but the album overall feels far more mature and intentional than the meandering Ecdysis. “Siderea” vaunts with an almost operatic doom-death bombast, while “Acolytes” surges with unrelenting vigor and intensity. While I have no doubt that Ecdysis will inspire its share of imitators and acolytes, Anareta is the album that will show a new generation of death metal faithful just how deep the rabbit hole goes.
Aria of Vernal Tombs
20 Buck Spin
Obsequiae = Summoning + early Rotting Christ + Aquilus
Rarely do I get the chance to call an album “exquisite,” but Obsequiae have created one of the most elegant and delicate underground metal albums I’ve ever heard. Aria of Vernal Tombs takes the musical and instrumental structure of early Rotting Christ–style black metal and sifts it through the melodic motifs of medievalist neoclassical music.
Twin guitars pluck out divergent, harmonious melodies, evoking a bardic lilt and swing through each song that, despite its evident beauty, nevertheless carries a heavy and powerful rhythm. Harp-plucked interludes induce a somber, subdued emotional state, and often serve to introduce the melodic theme of the songs that follow them, proving that Tanner Anderson‘s distorted guitar passages translate seamlessly to the harps that gave birth to the medieval melodies Obsequiae are so obviously inspired by. Aria of Vernal Tombs is an exquisite piece of music, the kind of album that, even after countless listens, still yields up new treasures to the patient ear.
04. Macabre Omen
Gods of War—At War
Macabre Omen = Bathory + Kawir + Varathron
Alexandros knows his way around a triumphant riff, and he brings his full arsenal to bear on his first full-length album in just over a decade. Gods of War—At War summons forth a grim heroism in the midst of its chaotic black metal soundscapes, as though heralding the arrival of Achilles or Leonidas in the midst of a heated battle. It’s precisely that sense of awe and hard-set determination which elevates Macabre Omen to new heights on this record.
By juxtaposing elements of musical chaos and melodic triumph, Alexandros embeds the theme of heroism into the very musical character of each song. Though there is a clear Hellenic black metal sound on this record, there are times when it vaunts to the heroic heights of Bathory, and though none can truly claim to dwell in the same empyrean realm as mighty Quorthon, Macabre Omen deserve their share of praise for crafting such a magnificent piece of epic black metal. Perhaps one track title says it better than I ever could—“Hellenes do not Fight like Heroes, Heroes Fight like Hellenes.”
The Revenant King
Visigoth = Sinister Realm + Manilla Road + Omen
Raising their banners to the cold winds of destiny, Visigoth ride forth with their debut full-length, The Revenant King. Heavy riffs rumble forth from the guitars of Jamison Palmer and Leeland Campana while Jake Rogers weaves his vocal spell with all the force and charisma of a live performance. Matt Brotherton‘s bass grooves give the album its deep, heavy tone, and Mikey T.‘s rock-solid drumming pushes the pace ever faster.
This underground metal album turned plenty of heads when it dropped early this year, and it’s no surprise why—these guys have mastered their own particular niche of melodic heavy metal, drawing from a wide array of influences from NWOBHM to Swedish heavy metal to inform a complete and unique sound in the genre. The Revenant King really should be seen as a prelude to this band’s extraordinary live set, which is pretty much essential for any Salt Lake City metal fan. Come sing the chorus to “Iron Brotherhood” and do the doom-stomp to “Mammoth Rider.” Chances are, I’ll be in the crowd with you, singing and stomping right along.
02. Manilla Road
The Blessed Curse
Manilla Road = Cirith Ungol + Ageless Wisdom
No list of top underground metal releases would be complete without the kings of underground American heavy metal themselves, the legendary Manilla Road. These regal rock n’ rollers never rest on their laurels, and The Blessed Curse signifies yet another fantastic journey into the golden horizon.
Frontman Mark Shelton wields his magic wand with the unmistakable hand of an artisan, wending his wyrd-touched guitar sorceries into a remarkable, awe-inspiring album-long performance. From start to finish, this album takes on the character of a traveler sifting through human history, venturing deep into the forgotten clay of Sumeria and emerging to cast its eyes to the stars that lie just beyond the reach of mankind.
The Blessed Curse, despite its evident maturity and patience, dances to the whims of a wild and youthful heart, questing along fierce, brutal riffs as easily as the sand-streaked winds of acoustic guitar. Shelton and crew have crafted a masterpiece in this underground metal album, and though I recognize the audacity of saying so, this is their most brilliant and breathtaking release to date. Crystal Logic made us all feel the call of adventure’s long and dusty road, but The Blessed Curse pauses along the path to look up and contemplate the infinite mysteries of the universe.
The Reaper’s Spiral
Terminus = Isen Torr + Eternal Champion + Argus
It’s difficult to truly explain what it is about Terminus that makes them worthy of my number one underground metal pick of 2015. Part of their undeniable allure comes from the sheer catchiness of their sound, which has prompted me to listen to the whole album all the way through no less than 40 times over the last three months.
It comes from somewhere between their Solstice-worshipping doom riffs played at Isen Torr tempos and their Isaac Asimov–inspired lyrics, a deep and primal place that just wants to bang its head to snappy riffs executed with razor precision and extraordinary efficiency. There is absolutely no fat and no filler anywhere in the whole 42-minute runtime, and every riff is polished to a bright mirror sheen.
This straightforwardness helps the weird epic doom influence from Argus and Atlantean Kodex to truly shine, bringing raw immediacy and intensity to every unconventional turn of melody. Gavin Coulter and Paul Duffy summon forth the full reserves of their guitar-wielding alchemy on The Reaper’s Spiral, leaving an undeniable impression with every resounding riff.
Meanwhile, James Beattie‘s gritty baritone belts out gloriously nerdy lyrics about Foundation, genetic destinies and other great sci-fi fare, bringing an extra layer of melodic force to each song. “The Encyclopedists” and “Poseidon’s Children” pummel the listener with upbeat, driving riffcraft, “Fortress Titan” disrupts what could be a classic Iron Maiden riff with a start-stop rhythm that nevertheless sounds like a high-speed battle between deep-space starship armadas.
It takes a deft hand (or 10, I suppose) to give the slow-moving politics of Foundation a rip-roaring intensity, but I feel like Terminus could be writing songs about international tariffs and the tax code and I’d still be headbanging just as hard. The fact that the lyrics touch on the psychohistorical prophecies of Hari Seldon and the legendary political maneuverings of Salvor Hardin is just the icing on this heavy metal cake.
Terminus embody the true spirit of underground metal, playing music that is wild and free while also paying due tribute to their forebears. I can’t wait to see what lies in the future for this incredibly talented band.
Underground Metal Lives On!
If you’re looking for even more metal mayhem to break in that new stereo system you bought yourself for Krampusnacht, you should check out our ’15 Top 5s:
Top 5 Black Metal Albums that were More Relevant than Deafheaven
Top 5 Extreme Metal Albums You Lost When Your Mom Cleaned The Basement
Did we miss one of your favorite underground metal releases of 2015? Let us know in the comments!
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