In a year when we sadly lost some of our most iconic artists, we were blessed with enough excellent hard rock and metal to choke big mouth Gene Simmons. It’s truly a golden age of rock and roll.
I’m not even going to get into what I think were the “best” albums of 2015. Best is subjective. These are the albums that I couldn’t get enough of, and they lived in my car CD player for weeks at a time. My top five of 2015:
1. Clutch – Psychic Warfare
The latest release from Maryland rockers Clutch is pure rock fury. Neil Fallon is the Rod Serling of rock and roll, spinning wildly imaginative tales of America’s fringe dwellers, and singing them with such passion you start to believe their surreal truth. Clutch is driven by the great groove drummer Jean-Paul Gaster, underpinned by bassist Dan Maines, and set on fire by pocket dweller Tim Sult on bluesy lead guitar. 25 years on, this blues rock band is running on all supercharged cylinders with no signs of letting off the gas. There is not a note out of place on this heavy, bluesy, kick ass record. It quickly and easily became my favorite of the year.
Clutch – X-Ray Visions
2. Marilyn Manson – The Pale Emperor
While in my mind “Antichrist Superstar” remains MM’s masterpiece of musical texture and dark thematic overtures, the Pale Emperor is a stripped down, mature and minimalist rock and roll record that is a distillation of all of Marilyn Manson’s best elements. It rocks, it grooves, it squeals and screams, it dances on clever turns of phrase as often as it drills angsty earworms into your brain. Lines like “I feel like a stranger came inside my mind and moved all my things around” make you wish you wrote them. Not a metal album, but a great one.
Marilyn Manson – Deep Six
3. Farmikos – Farmikos
The debut album from ex-Ozzy guitarist Joe Holmes and crew is nothing short of outstanding. Lead singer Robbie Locke brings Chris Cornell to mind with his raspy range, Metallica’s Rob Trujillo lends his axe to the crew, and Joe with his killer lyrics and fretwork bring this all home in one can’t miss package. Can’t wait for them to put together a touring lineup and hitting the road. Meanwhile, they’re already working on the followup to this future classic.
Farmikos – Scapegoat
4. Ghost – Meliora
I didn’t get Ghost before this, either. Okay, the costumes were cool but what else ya got? Well, then I heard the first single off this album (Pinnacle to the Pit), and they had me hooked immediately. This is a band that thrives on their theatrical live shows and tight metal riffs and grooves, and for maybe the first time, mixer Andy Wallace brought the essence of Ghost to light. The melodic, anti-metal vocals throw some people off, but it’s a nod to the Swedish band’s AOR upbringing, listening to bands like Fleetwood Mac and Kansas at the same time as Swedish heavy metal. It’s like hearing ABBA and Children of Bodom together. I did see them live, and they rock hard. They also thrive on the theatricality, but not in a pyro pot kind of way. Just taking the church of music metaphor to the nines. Definitely worth seeing.
Ghost – Cirice
5. The Devil in California – Longer Ride Down
Local San Francisco hard rockers with a debut that is world-class in scope and execution. I know most people reading this haven’t heard of The Devil in California yet, but I have a feeling you will before long. They’re the kind of band that blows away headliners when they open. Led by vocal powerhouse Tony Malson, and featuring a dual attack from guitarists Jamie Cronander and Snake (ex of Skinlab), with Matt Stewart bringing both the bottom end and the high harmonies while Eddie Colmenares lays down the driving beat. The mix of talents and experience makes them sound like they’ve been around forever, but they manage to bring both maturity and freshness to the southern rock style. Fans of Winery Dogs, Black Label Society, Down, and Motor Sister will dig these guys.
Devil in California – Black Hand
Honorable mention: Motor Sister – Ride
Relentless, unapologetic rock and roll from this superstar tribute to Jim Wilson’s Mother Superior, featuring Anthrax’ Scott Ian and wife Pearl Aday, Armored Saint’s Joey Vera, White Zombie’s John Tempesta, and Jim Wilson on vocals. Even more amazing live, this group is balls out and having the time of their lives.
Motor Sister – Beg Borrow Steal
What were your favorite albums of the year?