Mick’s Highlights of 2015

This year has been really awkward.  Last year I managed to make a full top 50 list, this year I struggled to find 10! Well, when everything around is quite mediocre the really good stuff rises to the top and that makes for a more definite list.  Same rule as I always have for these lists and yes I only have one rule.  It’s all dependant on how much I enjoyed the album… No other criteria just that. If I really enjoyed it then it’s on this list!  So let’s not waste any more time here are my top 10 albums of 2015.

  1. Artist: Kadavar   Album: Berlin

Released: 21st August 2015 via Nuclear Blast Records

I will admit that I’m a sucker for some good old fashioned riff-rock and Kadavar certainly scratched my itch with Berlin. It has some great riffs and weird lyrics that don’t really make any sense upon first listen but have a deep meaning once you really open your mind and feel the music. I was really impressed with the overall sound of the album, all 70’s style groove with a modern twist, just a shining example of their really inventive writing. Also some praise for Simon Bouteloup, being that this was his first time recording a full length Kadavar album, he really does a splendid job in making some interesting and fun bass grooves. From start to finish, the album just feels right to listen to. I really would recommend this to anyone in seek of some great riff-rock and I look forward to whatever comes next from them. It’s not a bad number 10 for this list I suppose.

  1. Artist: Lancer   Album: Second Storm

Released: 10th April 2015 via Despotz Records

I didn’t actually realise how much I really enjoyed this album.  After about 90 or so playthroughs this has just ended up being a real comfort to me this year.  This is a really well crafted album with some astonishingly good solos and a really familiar yet invigorating sound. Lancer have shot up in my estimation.  Really, Second Storm is something that you may want to to check out.

Link to the review: https://valkyrianmusic.com/2015/05/25/lancer-second-storm/   

  1. Artist: Monster Magnet   Album: Cobras and Fire (The Mastermind Redux)

Released: 2nd October 2015 via Napalm Records

If you read my review of this album you will know that I was initially intrigued by the very concept. However, this album has only gone up in my opinion the more I’ve listened to it.  I haven’t had this much fun analysing an album since Sonata Arctica, with all of the fantastic lyrical skills of Dave Wyndorf. I just want to spend a day inside his mind, just to see how it works because this album is just one weird concept.  Firstly they “reimagine” Last Patrol, and now they have remade Mastermind with Cobras and Fire. How did Monster Magnet take an album that sounds like that and turn it into this?  I said this in my review and I’ll say it again.  If you’re interested in songwriting then get yourself a copy of Cobras and Fire and while you’re at it get the original Mastermind as well! Link to the review: https://valkyrianmusic.com/2015/11/22/monster-magnet-cobras-and-fire-the-mastermind-redux/

  1. Artist: The Gentle Storm   Album: The Diary

Released: 23rd March 2015 via Inside Out Music

What do you get when you take two of the most talented songwriters in metal stick them together and get the to make an album.  Well, it sounds like The Diary by The Gentle Storm. Anneke Van Giersbergen and Arjen Lucassen have produced, what I believe to be, one of the very best progressive metal albums ever (coming from someone who’s not that into prog-metal, and knows very little about the genre). I love the concept in itself of having two versions of the album, one in folk arrangements and one with metal. It sounds great either way you listen to it. The whole thing is very grandiose and captivating.  Also I found the central story of the album quite emotional and impactful. Anneke’s voice perfectly complements the musical arrangements that Arjen provides and every song is a delight to listen to.  If you missed this one, do yourself a favour and buy it now.

  1. Artist: Gloryhammer   Album: Space 1992: Rise of the Chaos Wizards

Released: 25th September 2015 via Napalm Records

Well, you definitely couldn’t get any sillier in the world of metal this year.  Well there may have been something that I just didn’t get around to. Anyway, in all honesty my opinion hasn’t changed much since my review so go read that.  This is just a fun record with some fun concepts and themes and the band go all the way with it!  Very enjoyable.

Link to the review: https://valkyrianmusic.com/2015/09/27/gloryhammer-space-1992-rise-of-the-chaos-wizards/

  1. Artist: Zebrahead   Album: Walk The Plank

Released: 8th October 2015 via Rude Records

In a year that has been honestly quite depressing in this country. With the UK government strangling the country itself, the rise of terrorism paranoia that came with the infamous Paris attacks and all of the flooding in the north of England. Wasn’t it really nice that we had one of the best party rock albums since Andrew WK’s – I Get Wet (at least in my opinion).  Zebrahead really shocked me this year as I wasn’t expecting the album to be so good.  I haven’t listened to Zebrahead in a long time but found my way back to them this year with Walk The Plank. This is a fantastic album that is just bursting with energy and fun.  As soon as I bought it I must have listened to it about 20 times in one day and every day since I find a reason to play at least one song off of it.  Something I haven’t done with any album in quite a while. Songs such as “Who Brings a Knife to a Gunfight?”, “Headrush”, “Keep It to Myself” and “Freak Show” are all great songs that I couldn’t get enough of and tunes I kept singing long after I turned off the album.  This was just the fun of 2015.

  1. Artist: Black Star Riders   Album: The Killer Instinct

Released: 20th February via Nuclear Blast

This is an album that has just got better and better as the year has gone by.  This was the first album that I reviewed for Valkyrian this year and I still hold the opinion that I had at the time. However, I also feel that my point of view has matured as well.  At the time of writing my review I was very much writing a first impression of the album more than an actual “review”. Now that the album has had some time to sit and I’ve had opportunities to return to it at will, rather than the pressure of writing a review, I can honestly say that this is fantastic.  I really seems like BSR have gelled and really created an album album the feels timeless.  The riffs and solos are well crafted and the music as a whole is well composed. This has really been another comfort album for me in 2015, something that I could go back back to again and again and never really get tired of it.

Link to the review: https://valkyrianmusic.com/2015/03/08/black-star-riders-the-killer-instinct-deluxe-edition/

  1. Artist: Gus G  Album: Brand New Revolution

Released: 24th July via Century Media

Yup… Pretend like you didn’t see this one coming from a mile off.  I think I’ve already said everything I wanted to say about this album in my review so just go and read that.  However, I’ll say this, Brand New Revolution is one awesome album that rewards repeated listens and it put a big smile on my face this year!

Link to the review: https://valkyrianmusic.com/2015/06/21/gus-g-brand-new-revolution/

  1. Artist: Tremonti  Album: Cauterize

Released: 4th June 2015 via Fret12 Records

If you know me on any sort of level you’ll have probably know that Mark Tremonti is one of my icons of music.  In my opinion there is not a single song-writer in the industry today that is more consistent when it comes to the quality of their releases.  Anytime this man puts his name to a record it’s almost a seal of quality (in my eyes at least), and Cauterize is no exception. The album hits you right away with stunning guitar work and amazing songwriting. Tremonti delves deep into emotional and dark issues and moves between them seamlessly with ease with songs like “Flying Monkeys”, “Tie The Noose”, “Another Heart” and “Dark Trip”. After listening to this album a hundred times and seeing the songs played live in concert, in Manchester. I can safely say that Cauterize defined my 2015 in terms of heavy rock.

  1. Artist; LiSA  Album: Launcher

Released: 4th March 2015 via Aniplex Inc.

This really has been the year of of discovery for me and by far the best discovery that I could have made this year is the Japanese singer-songwriter known as LiSA. From the moment I heard her music this year I was instantly hooked by the upbeat catchy nature and the album Launcher is really one that grabbed my imagination.  So I watch a lot of anime, and I have always been fascinated with the music that accompanies the shows. So rather than becoming a fan of the shows themselves, I hunt the music down with a passion. LiSA, has created many theme songs for many shows that I’ve enjoyed and when I heard the song “Crossing Field” for the show Sword Art Online, I wanted to know who made the song. That’s where I discovered LiSA. I found her music online and instantly bought her entire discography, there and then, and I discovered a whirlwind of interesting sounds and magical atmosphere that I have never heard before in my regular music taste.  Launcher, her most recent full length album is a delight, with songs like “Raising Hope”, “Fragile Vampire” and “L.Miranic” it all just instantly jumped out and made me smile.  Anytime I’ve been feeling down this year, I have turned to LiSA’s music. Also not to mention her three separate single releases this year would be a crime… “Rally Go Round”, “Empty Mermaid” and “ID” are all pumping tunes that get me going and just inspire me to do new things with my time.  This was not only my album of 2015 but my favourite discovery.  

I hope you enjoyed the list and I hope you keep well and have a happy 2016.  A plethora of new music is coming out this year that I’m more than excited for.  Artist like Tantric, Sick Puppies, Hatebreed, Flogging Molly, Alter Bridge, Black Stone Cherry, Avantasia and Volbeat have all confirmed new releases for next year and I simply can not wait!.

All the best

Mick Birchall

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