My Top 5 Hard Rock/Heavy Metal CDs of 2015
It's Been a Good Year!
2015 was a pretty good year for this old school metal nerd and obsessed CD collector. Over the past twelve months I added 83 new titles to my collection, which may be small potatoes to some folks, but it's my best haul in a number of years, beating my totals from 2014 (when I snagged an even 50 discs) and 2013 (46 discs) by a large margin. (Please don't tell my wife...)
Most of the CDs I accumulated this year were back-catalog titles that were scrounged from local thrift stores, online used-CD sellers, yard sales, and anywhere else I could find cheap discs. (Public Service Announcement: keep donating your unwanted CD collections to Goodwill, people! There are still plenty of folks like me out there who are willing to give your castoffs a loving home! Thanks!)
Therefore, this article is not intended to represent the be-all and end-all cream of the heavy metal crop for 2015. I don't have the time, the money or the attention span to keep my ear to the ground listening for the newest/hottest/most obscure underground acts anymore... so while in the past I've bought enough current-year releases to compile a Top 10 or even a Top 15, my list for 2015 is a mere Top 5, with a couple of runner-ups tacked onto the end. In other words... these are the five 2015 releases I've enjoyed the most out of what I've bought this year. Don't bother sending me hate mail saying, "Dude, your list sucks. What about (name of random band)? Where's (name of random album)?" I know I'm not "hip" and I'm not pretending to be!
Raven - EXTERMINATION (SPV Records)
The Gallagher brothers (bassist/vocalist John and guitar shredding Mark) have been making a beautiful racket together since the dawn of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal era, and they're back to business as usual on ExtermiNation, their first disc of fresh material since 2009. I only wish I hadn't been too broke to participate in the band's Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for the recording of ExtermiNation back in 2014, because I missed out on the accompanying bonus disc of cover songs (Party Killers) that was only available to project backers. (Sigh) Either way, a new album is always a reason for this long time Raven Lunatic to rejoice, and ExtermiNation is yet another choice slab of meat n' potatoes traditional metal from one of the most consistently awesome bands in the biz. ExtermiNation makes me proud to have been a Raven fan for more than 30 years now (Has it really been that long? *gulp*).
Raven, "Destroy All Monsters"
Stryper - FALLEN (Frontiers Records)
The Christian rock trailblazers have truly been a band on fire for the past several years, cranking out new material faster and touring even more frequently than they did during their '80s hey day. Stryper's last album, 2013's No More Hell to Pay, was one of the best (if not THE best) albums of their career, and the newest Fallen comes pretty close to equaling it. Since their reunion, the band has wisely scraped away the ultra-cheesy high gloss production that dogged so much of their vintage material and unleashed the "true" heavy metal band that I've always suspected was hiding inside them somewhere. Fallen earns extra kudos from me for its reverent cover of the Black Sabbath chestnut "After Forever," not only because it's my favorite Black Sabbath song, but also because Stryper knows stuff like that irritates the more uptight, Bible-thumping segment of their fan base (Ned Flanders voice: "A Black Sabbath cover? But...but they're eeeeeevil!") yet they still do it anyway.
Queensryche - CONDITION HUMAN (Century Media)
The dust has finally settled from Queensryche's acrimonious split with former lead singer/tyrannical overlord Geoff Tate so for the first time in almost 20 years, the band is in charge of its own destiny. Their 2013 self-titled disc with new vocalist Todd LaTorre was a cool spin but album #2 Condition Human totally obliterates it. This is how Queensryche is supposed to sound - confident, classy, and above all, heavy. This just may be their finest moment since the universally-worshipped Operation Mindcrime. Geoff who? Long live Todd.
Queensryche, "Arrow of Time"
Armored Saint - WIN HANDS DOWN (Metal Blade)
I've been an Armored Saint fan since the '80s so it pained me to say that their previous album, 2010's La Raza, was a total sleeping pill. Therefore it was an extremely pleasant surprise to hear these L.A. metal legends sounding so fired up again on Win Hands Down. This is easily the best material they've produced since 1991's classic Symbol of Salvation and it proves that the Saint still has plenty of gas in the tank. Vocalist John Bush hasn't sounded this good in years! I hope that Armored Saint becomes more prolific in the years to come now that Bush has cut his ties with Anthrax.
Armored Saint, "Win Hands Down"
Motörhead - BAD MAGIC (UDR)
Would this disc have made my list if Motör-mainman Lemmy Kilmister hadn't tragically passed away at year's end? Yeah, probably. If you're a Motörhead fan then you know what to expect from Bad Magic - another solid album of cranium crushing bad-assery that sounds best when played at maximum volume. Maybe it's just me, but ol' Lem sounds like he's spitting in the eye of the Grim Reaper throughout this album, in spite of how ill he must have been during its recording. Perhaps he knew on some level that Bad Magic was going to be his last record and he wanted to make sure that he went out with a bang. Bad Magic kicks ass, but in light of recent events it's also a bittersweet listening experience. R.I.P. Lem, and rest assured, your music will continue to irritate the uptight for generations to come!!
Motorhead, "Thunder & Lightning"
A few runners up...
Several other hard rock and metal acts made welcome returns this year that I enjoyed. Iron Maiden's The Book Of Souls is an ambitious, cinematic piece of work (especially the epic 18 minute closing track, "Empire of the Clouds") but its hour and a half run time (on 2 discs) made it a bit of a horse pill to digest in one sitting. Therefore I haven't given it nearly as many listens as it deserves, otherwise it might have ranked higher on my list.
Blackie Lawless' W.A.S.P. also returned with Golgotha, their first new material in five years. It's a decent enough listen, even if it's become quite obvious by now that Blackie has merely been re-heating inspiration from his own back catalog since the turn of the millennium.
David Coverdale of Whitesnake tried to talk his former Deep Purple bandmate Ritchie Blackmore into a reunion of some sort to honor late DP keyboardist Jon Lord, but when those plans fell through David took it upon himself to unleash Whitesnake's The Purple Album, in which he and his current cohorts re-recorded a fist full of classic Purple tracks and gave them a 21st century spit-shine. The results inspired me to start digging deeper into the Purple back catalog in the very near future!
Does Stryper's Michael Sweet ever sleep? A few months before his regular band unleashed Fallen, he also teamed up with former Dokken guitarist George Lynch for a side project creatively named "Sweet & Lynch," and released a cool debut album called Only To Rise. I preferred Stryper's album, but as a longtime Dokken fan boy it was nice to hear George Lynch's six string wailing again as well. Supposedly there will be a second Sweet & Lynch album in the near future; count me in.
Looking Ahead to 2016...
Two of the albums I'm looking forward to the most in 2016 are from oldschool thrash stalwarts Megadeth (Dystopia) and Anthrax (For All Kings), both of which are due before Spring and promise to start the new year off in a properly thrashin' fashion. (Sorry, I couldn't resist...!) There are also new discs from The Cult (Hidden City), Prong (X: No Absolutes) Anvil (Anvil Is Anvil) and Metal Church, to name just a few, in the pipeline for '16. I am particularly interested in hearing the new Metal Church because it will be their first studio release since 1993 to feature prodigal vocalist Mike Howe, who rejoined the M.C. fold last year. Looking further down the road, Overkill's Bobby "Blitz" Ellsworth recently said that the band had September '16 "penciled in" as a tentative date for a new release, and power metal masters Jag Panzer reportedly have something new in the works as well. Time will tell if those predictions come true.
Overall it looks like 2016 will be another good year for lovers of loud and obnoxious music. My New Year's resolution is to try and keep better track of new releases so that my "best of" list at the end of the year can be expanded to a top 10 or more. Till then, keep it heavy and remember to keep supporting the artists - by actually BUYING their music!!