Ghost

Ghost

By Greg Maki

Another year has come and gone, and in my opinion, 2015 was one of the strongest in recent memory in terms of quality hard rock and metal releases. My top 10 list includes bands on the rise, veteran acts reinventing themselves and a farewell to one of the most iconic figures in rock ‘n’ roll. I don’t expect everyone to agree with my picks, but you don’t have to. It’s my list, not yours.

1. GHOST – ‘Meliora’

For me, 2015 will go down as the year of Ghost. I was a fan of the Swedish occult rockers’ first two albums, but Meliora shot the band into the upper echelons of the world of heavy music. The disc retains the previous releases’ throwback Black-Sabbath-by-way-of-Blue-Oyster-Cult sound, while the songwriting takes a giant leap forward. A strong emphasis on huge, chunky riffs and easy-on-the-ears melodies makes this batch of tunes as memorable as the horror-movie image of Papa Emeritus III and the Nameless Ghouls. At same time, there is an elegance about Ghost lacking today not just in music but all of pop culture. All this, plus the mystery of the band members’ anonymity (for those who want to play along), adds up to an unparalleled experience, brought to near perfect life on Meliora. Favorite songs: “Cirice,” “He Is,” “Majesty”

2. TREMONTI – ‘Cauterize’

Album number two from the band led by Alter Bridge/Creed guitarist Mark Tremonti upped the speed and heaviness while retaining the hook-laden choruses of its 2012 debut release, All I Was. The guitar work is as stellar as expected, from the riffs to the solos, and Tremonti extends his vocal range to show a lot more personality. Bassist Wolfgang Van Halen makes his recording debut with the band, while drummer Garrett Whitlock unleashes a thunderous, foundation-shaking performance. Favorite songs: “Flying Monkeys,” “Cauterize,” “Dark Trip”

 

3. MARILYN MANSON – ‘The Pale Emperor’

A bit of the blues and guitarist/composer Tyler Bates helped usher Marilyn Manson into perhaps the most interesting phase of his career on his ninth studio album, The Pale Emperor. Relatively spare production places Manson’s voice up front, fitting for the songs’ confessional nature and showcasing what always has been his secret weapon–a wicked sense of humor. Favorite songs: “The Mephistopheles of Los Angeles,” “Birds of Hell Awaiting,” “Cupid Carries a Gun”

 

4. LAMB OF GOD – ‘VII: Sturm und Drang’

While vocalist Randy Blythe’s time in a Czech prison in 2012 (on a manslaughter charge for which he eventually was exonerated) directly inspired only two of the songs on Sturm und Drang, the album surely is a reflection of the turmoil and uncertainty the situation created. It’s a fiery, impassioned recording by a band given a new lease on life and unafraid to take its sound in new directions. It even includes–gasp–clean vocals. Favorite songs: “Erase This,” “512,” “Embers”

 

5. IRON MAIDEN – ‘The Book of Souls’

Many years ago, Iron Maiden reached the point where it could rest on its laurels and tour a few months of the year, playing the songs so many metalheads know so well. Instead, Maiden has done almost the opposite of that, morphing into a progressive metal band in recent years, reaching what could be the zenith of this phase of its career with the sprawling, two-disc Book of Souls. It’s a lot to take in but a rewarding experience for those who do. Favorite songs: “The Red and the Black,” “The Book of Souls,” “Empire of the Clouds”

6. WILSON – ‘Right to Rise’

Wilson has built its name and image on partying (its website is wilsonpartyanimals.com), but on its second album, the band shows another side. While not a concept album, the songs here tell the band’s story, an ode to its hometown of Detroit and the resilience of the human spirit. And oh yeah, it flat out rocks from start to finish. Favorite songs: “Windows Down,” “The Flood,” “Hang with the Devil”

 

7. TRIVIUM – ‘Silence in the Snow’

Some longtime fans probably were put off by Trivium’s shift to fully melodic vocals and simpler arrangements. But the band never has been complacent with its sound from album to album, and with The Crusade (2006) as my favorite Trivium release to date, the change was right up my alley. Favorite songs: “Silence in the Snow,” “Pull Me from the Void,” “Until the World Goes Cold”

 

8. SEPTEMBER MOURNING  – ‘Volume 1’

Onstage, September Mourning is a comic book come to life. On record, there’s only the music, and it easily holds up its side of the equation, mixing heavy guitars with dark, atmospheric electronics. It’s all a platform for September’s sweetly melodic vocals, punctuated by dramatic, bloodcurdling screams. This may be the most intriguing artist to emerge in 2015. Favorite songs: “Angels to Dust,” “Children of Fate,” “Eye of the Storm”

 

9. BULLET FOR MY VALENTINE – ‘Venom’

After stagnating a bit on its previous two releases, Bullet for My Valentine came roaring back with its fifth album, faster, heavier and tougher than ever. Matthew Tuck and Michael “Padge” Paget are an underrated guitar duo, and drummer Michael “Moose” Thomas is a force, as well. Favorite songs: “No Way Out,” “Army of Noise,” “You Want a Battle? (Here’s a War)”

 

 

10. MOTORHEAD – ‘Bad Magic’

The 22nd and final studio album by the iconic Motorhead finds the band going out in fine form. Metal, punk–genres don’t really apply here. As the man himself, the late, great Ian “Lemmy” Kilmister, always said onstage, “We are Motorhead, and we play rock ‘n’ roll.” Bad Magic shows that even at the end, Lemmy could play rock ‘n’ roll better than almost anyone. Favorite songs: “The Devil,” “Electricity,” “Sympathy for the Devil”

 

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Best Concert:

Black Label Society “Unblackened” – April 18 – Rams Head Live, Baltimore

Best Festival:

Rock on the Range

Best Interview:

Chad Nicefield and Kyle Landry of Wilson

Most Anticipated in 2016:

Dream Theater – The Astonishing – Jan. 29

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