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A little later than usual, here’s our Q4 mixtape for 2015, kicking off the new year with a pick of some of the best music released in the final three months of last year. Some of the below mentioned artists featured as part of our year-end staff and user features, and the individual tracks can be heard below the track title or, if you’d prefer, most can be found on the Spotify playlist below. Featuring everything from the wandering post-punk of Cindy Lee to the proggy space jam of Yuri Gagarin to Reket at the forefront of Estonian rap, we hope you enjoy. –Dave

Cindy Lee – “Last Train’s Come And Gone”
Act of Tenderness
Listen if you like: Women, Viet Cong, Zola Jesus, Metal Machine Music

One of the great clichés in music criticism is to mark down a song by saying that it simply “doesn’t go anywhere”. Now, there is no apparent navigational sense to “Last Train’s Come and Gone”, one of the (many) standout tracks from former Women guitarist/singer Patrick Flegel’s eerie new album Act of Tenderness, but that hasn’t stopped it from becoming one of the most profound songs I’ve heard this year. The number arrives subsumed within a thick syrupy murk, with Flegel casting off individual guitar notes that unfurl in the crushing gloom before slowly spinning off into the abyss; I’ve struggled to come up with a better description for it here but somehow the stenotype of my mind keeps settling on the phrase “wind chime from hell”. Eventually though, Flegel’s quivering falsetto starts to spill over the spindly guitar notes – “Can you hear me? / Set me free…” is the first line to properly register – and I find myself typing the words “like a despondent soul calling out from its spirit tablet”, which is roughly the point when I realize that it’ll take some serious genius to both create and properly appraise a song that insists on being as resolutely heartbroken as this. –Irving

Intronaut – “Digital Gerrymandering”
The Direction of Last Things
Listen if you like: Baroness, Cloudkicker, Isis

On The Direction of Last Things, Intronaut have once more combined brutal, dissonant riffs backed up by growls with clean, blissful melodies. Their previous affair, Habitual Levitations focused more on the latter, so there’s an audible upgrade in the intricate interplay between the guitars, leading to some of the most gorgeous results in the band’s career as of yet. Also, Devin Townsend’s crystal clear mixing pushed the riffs up front where needed and let the moody segments bloom too. “Digital Gerrymandering” is the centerpiece that benefited most, starting as a jarring epic with dual guitar tapping and stop-start rhythms, before shattering into several progressive passages each more interesting and complex than the other. Also, the vocals are some of the most beautiful in their catalog, as Timnick and Dunable sound more discerning than ever, lamenting about how helpless have we become in the information age. This is hands down one of the most addictive songs out this year. –Raul Stanciu

Gazpacho – “Molok Rising”
Molok
Listen if you like: The Pineapple Thief, Tim Bowness, Steven Wilson

In the last few years, Gazpacho have grown into a very distinct, unpredictable band. Combining several influences that range from progressive territory, atmospheric new age, pop leanings to folklore music spanning millennia (from the stone age ritual reenactments to traditional Hungarian music), these Norwegians seem to have endless tricks up their sleeves. Their latest adventure, Molok, follows a man who seeks to answer to humanity’s biggest question: does God exist? After studying all religions, he realizes nobody can give a straight answer, so that could mean nobody watches over us and we’re left to our own devices. As a result, he creates the eponymous machine (named after the biblical demon into whose jaws children were sacrificed) that would prove the universe is mechanic and every result of a past event is a cause of the next (remember Fringe?). To complement for this heavy story, the music is just as moody and downright strange at times. Even with all the beautiful melodies, an uneasy, detached atmosphere dominates throughout. “Molok Rising”, the brooding finale, shares some sparse arrangements driven by keyboards and percussion that reproduce the earliest songs from ancient rituals (experiments helmed alongside archaeologist Gjermund Kolltveit). Meanwhile, the vocals have a predominant sarcastic tone, predicting the impending doom. The haunting slide leads and deep bass lines create an uncomfortable vibe that culminates with the sound of church bells, bleak synths and the voice of Molok. As the machine calculates the position of every electron in space at the dawn of the solstice, it destroys the universe. It takes a while to digest the album along with the concept, but it’s well worth the patience. –-Raul Stanciu

Heart of a Coward – “Turmoil I: Wolves”
Deliverance
Listen if you like: The Ghost Inside, After The Burial, Throwdown

“Turmoil I: Wolves” is of the breed that will always be featured on my ipod for when I need to kickstart the day in the afternoon or in the evening. It’s the kind of track that gets you amped regardless if you listen to it for the first, or the fiftieth time, because its drive is just insane. That’s what highlights Heart of a Coward from a lot of their peers for me as well: when they go for the heavy songs, as opposed to the emotional ones that they also like to mix in (like every other modern metalcore outfit), they go flat out, and that’s what I dig about them. It’s not in the speed of the music even, which, when dissected, isn’t remarkable really; it’s about the muscle songs like “Turmoil I” have, as they piledrive into your cranium. The lyrics that accompany this drive might be meh on paper, but they as well are delivered with such power, that by the time the second chorus rolls around, you will chant “We are amidst the wolves, and we won’t back down” along in your head. Heart of a Coward won’t be everyone’s cup of music by a long shot, but it’s undeniable that there is an impressive amount of youthful energy raging on Deliverance – the kind that is a solid substitute for caffeine. –Magnus Altkula

Therapy? – “Still Hurts”
Disquiet
Listen if you like: Big Black, Prong, Clutch

North Irish heavy rock innovators Therapy? broke the mould with 1994’s Troublegum, an album steeped in self-loathing and furious, inwardly-directed anger. 14 short bursts of fiery, hardcore-infused metal portraits of a young man struggling to deal with the prison of his own thoughts, it remains one of the finest rock albums ever created. Disquiet picks up the story 20 years on, as Andy Cairns revisits to semi-autobiographical character in middle age to find that the anger and pain haven’t dimmed with the interceding years. “Still Quiet” is the opening track and, in style and substance, mirrors Troublegum‘s bone-shaking opener “Knives,” in the process challenging the notion that anger and self-hatred is the sole preserve of the young. Read my full interview with Cairns [here]. –Dave

Attribution: http://helengreenillustration.com/Time-May-Change-Me

David Bowie – “Blackstar”
Blackstar
Listen if you like: The Residents, The Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble, Jakszyk, Fripp and Collins

The public’s relationship with David Bowie simply has not prepared them for “Blackstar”, and I doubt very much that it’s prepared them for its album counterpart. But, were it permitted, I’d make the single my favorite album of 2015. It’s just that good.

“Blackstar” is a turn down a haunting road for Bowie, who opts to contort his world-renowned voice into something translucent and lingering on the track, like a restless, half-backmasked ghost driving up the slow black flames of exotic, avant-garde jazz. Over the course of its 10 minutes, the song contorts and gesticulates not unlike the movements of its apparent cultist dancers in the accompanying music video. Though the vast overtone of the song is an exotic soundscape narrated by the ethereal demon Bowie, the sinister overtone of the track takes pause around the 4 minute mark to introduce us to what could almost be seen as a classic Bowie tune – catchy and upbeat, almost twinkling, were it not for that sinister phantom answering every call of the light with a grimace from the shadows.

The peaks and valleys and transitions between the two are handled so expertly by Bowie and company on “Blackstar”, that its extraordinary length feels both brief and necessary. The weight and ominous quality of the track are simply unparalleled. The tainted animalistic qualities of the brass and woodwinds are sharp and evocative. “Blackstar” is purely flawless, and to say that it merits your listening is the understatement of the year. –Thompson D. Gerhart

Tre Watson – “Shadow Dance”
Harrier
Listen if you like: Cloudkicker, The Contortionist, Chimp Spanner

Stream:

The best is still yet to come for the young Tre Watson – a truly talented multi-instrumentalist with roots in deathcore and progressive metalcore. While a bout with depression has kept him from the music radar since 2011’s Gravestones, Tre’s late 2015 EP Harrier harnesses the darkness of that malady into a darker, more raw and vile musical endeavor.

“Shadow Dance,” to me, embodies the most melodic and emotive portions of Harrier, blending Watson’s most critical deathcore influences at the beginning of the track, relying on his progressive metal chops for the meat of the song, and melding into a softer, introspective piano as the track draws to a close. For someone speaking about a voyage of depression, the phrase “I will consider each step / And upon exit I’ll attempt to make the most of this maze” feels like it carries a great deal of emotional weight, and it’s a weight that comes across earnestly and effortlessly. The fact that Tre sings the line himself and in a clean register only adds to that effect. There are a host of technical dynamics to the track as well, but this is where the passion and pain is drawn, and though I admire the song as a whole, this is the core of why I admire it. The rest is mere accessory to the truth of the musical message. –Thompson D. Gerhart

Batushka – “Yekteniya 8” [stream]
Litourgiya
Listen if you like: Cradle of Filth, Therion.

December is a tedious month for music, in the sense that music enthusiasts are in a self-imposed rush of finalizing the notorious “year-end” list, hence the review of bookmarks, written or digital, and the enrichment of the array of album entries for the sake of completeness, is raging on. However, the latter goal is only asymptotically met, as great albums keep popping out, even during the very last days of the year. The debut Batushka album is way more than a ‘case in point’, as the Polish(?) (or Russian?) outfit has brought the Greek Orthodox mass chanting and the post-end of black metal into unholy matrimony. In times where it is often argued that everything in metal has been played/said, Litourgiya is a revelation. Hearing is unbelieving. –Voivod

The Blades – “Smalltime”
Smalltime EP

Listen if you like: Burt Bacharach, Elvis Costello, Joe Jackson

The Blades remain one of the nearly stories of Irish rock, a band whose songwriting credentials were never in doubt, but who never got the rub of the green that their critical and local acclaim warranted. While contemporaries U2 (the Blades opened for Bono & co. many times in the early ’80s) went on to become the biggest band around, Paul Cleary’s band broke up after just one record, but not without leaving crumbs like “Downmarket” to hint at what might have been. 30 years later – having reunited at a tribute concert for deceased Pogues legend Phil Chevron – the band are finally back producing original music, and “Smalltime” is arguably the best song Cleary has ever written. An elegant, trumpet and piano-driven track evocative of the Pogues’ “Rainy Night in Soho,” it’s a love song as subtle as it is manipulatively moving. Read my full interview with Cleary [here]. –Dave

Blacksmith – “Smoke Wizard” [stream]
Blacksmith
Listen if you like: Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, Diamondhead

It’s a genuine delight every time we are being aware that some musicians and outfits nominally file under a main genre, but still, they have the talent to homogeneously endorse snippets of influences from schools of sound lying in the neighborhood. Blacksmith from Australia love their NWOBHM like they really mean it, while being aware of how to match the said sound with bits of hard rock, stoner and doom metal, all wrapped up with a fuzzy sound production. With their eponymous EP, Blacksmith are offering bits of their strong potential to the table, just a few days before the end of 2015. –Voivod

Mammothwing – “Black Woman” [stream]
Morning Light
Listen if you like: Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, B.B. King

Of late, the stoner rock circuit and its satellite sub-scenes are constantly expanding in terms of new releases and/or outfits. More often than not though, the delivered output hardly stands out of the lot, as it is believed by many that it does not take much for this kind of sound, to be properly endorsed. That belief is probably the main issue for the stagnant homogenization of the scene, yet every now and then there are outfits which elaborate a lot more, outfits like Mammothwing, for instance. In a nutshell, this English power trio believes that the blues is an excellent fit to the fold, if properly slipstreamed in with the excess amount of soul it takes to do so. Indeed, the doomy blues/stoner rock of Morning Light will ease your mind and take you places, should you feel free to come on board.  –Voivod

Morokh – “Eternal Damnation” [stream]
The Unholy Masquarade
Listen if you like: Converge, Burst, Mastodon

While I’m not aware of the important 2015 releases within the realm of metallic hardcore, I happened to stumble on a handful of albums from different outfits, and for a fan that inspects the genre fondly but from a distance, I was deeply satisfied with my random yield. Graves from New Zealand issued a great debut album of tech hardcore, whereas the oddly named Swedes Fredag Den 13:E elaborated on their crust/hardcore affair, for a second time in a row. US natives Aksumite reemerged with their third album, while behind the former(?) “Iron Curtain”, Russians Moro Moro Land cemented their presence in the scene with their sophomore release. With respect to the previously mentioned releases however, the debut Morokh album (also from Russia), stands as first among equals. Somewhere in between Burst and Converge, the band showcases advanced song writing and instrumental skills and delivers an album that should resonate with more pairs of ears out there. –Voivod

Rabbit Junk – “Fffiends”
Beast EP
Listen if you like: Zardonic, Angelspit, Blue Stahli

There have been hints that Rabbit Junk could release a rave album (khm, “IDONTGIVEAFUCK”), and with the Beast EP, they have done exactly that. Throughout the years, Rabbit Junk have added tens and tens of different genres and elements into their melting pot of guitar-enhanced, hip hop-aided, industrial-drenched, modern aggro-electronica sound. It’s almost impossible anymore to highlight all of their influences in one go though (not through a lack of trying, mind you), and Beast leans heavily on the dancy side of the RB spectrum, packing explosive dancefloor bangers, and not the mainstream EDM kind. The band is really effective in this style, of course, as they are in any they set out to conquer, and I can’t imagine another rave I’d rather be at than a Rabbit Junk rave. JP Anderson has always known how to balance electronics and guitars, and nowadays he’s also doing a great job of balancing grit with glitz alongside the former. Even though lead track “Dig Dug Has a Posse” is a bit too nice for Rabbit Junk standards, everything that follows is thorny enough to keep the typical clubgoers away and leave the dancefloor to the alternative kids (“Sporecrystal” at the end is a challenge dance-wise, but solvable). When the bloodlusty bunny takes over, floorshatteringly heavy dance tunes will follow, and you will either ride the wave or be crushed by it. “Fffiends” is the least ADHD of all the tracks on Beast, but like that Heart of a Coward song I also highlighted earlier, it’s just got drive for nights and nights, which of course makes it my favorite. Plus, I have always been behind JP Anderson’s macabre sense of humour, and the whole “we could be f(r)iends…with blood on our hands…and we’ll both die young” theme of the song is totally rave-worthy. This is dance music to be dominated by and to dominate via. Succumb to it, and taste the Rabbit Junk – it’s a vivid experience. –Magnus Altkula

Robin Finck and Wordclock – “NuSTAR”
NOCT
Listen if you like: Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, Solar Fields, Wordclock

Nine Inch Nails/ex-Guns N’ Roses guitar player Robin Finck is finally branching out. With the help of Wordclock, one of the most mysterious members of those bands has released a dark ambient/drone soundtrack to a survival horror PC game, entitled NOCT. Growing musically around Trent Reznor, it’s clear the man had a significant influence on Finck, who has become a very malleable musician. Close to other OST released by NIN mastermind and Atticus Ross, but also to the droning works of his collaborator or Solar Fields among others, this album is a complex journey that captures the harrowing aspects of the game. Although it works best as a whole, there are some essential moments like ‘NuSTAR’, the epic finale to this stark journey. Somber, droning synths animate the first part of the tune while waves of white noise gradually take the forefront during the middle segment. This is a slow build to a climax that is arguably the most grandiose moment of NOCT, before closing with some sparse, nostalgic piano leads that remind us not everything has a happy ending. Much like the PC game, there are several moments where you feel some hope yet you are still trapped in a post-apocalyptic world with ghost towns, numerous dead bodies and hostile creatures lurking around. –Raul Stanciu

Enya – “Echoes in Rain”
Dark Sky Island
Listen if you like: Enigma, Clannad, Delerium

With Lemmy’s passing, I’ve started to think a lot about once-in-a-generation artists (and exclusively wear only Motörhead shirts). Lemmy sure was one, and Enya belongs to that club as well. There’s no other (that the mainstream music world knows of, at least) who manages to mix mystique with pop sensibilities quite as successfully from album to album, and while it’s common criticism that Enya just keeps releasing the same record over and over at this point, it’s a really, really good one. Besides, if she didn’t sound the way she does on Dark Sky Island, who would? There is an ethereal quality to Enya’s works that very few can touch, and listening to a track like “Echoes in Rain” is like being illuminated by an all-healing benevolent force. There’s not enough of that kind of magic in everyday life, and with her return, Enya once again opens the door for us to restock in the pantry of all things magical. Take what you can, who knows when is the next time the door will be open. –Magnus Altkula

Reket – “Võit” [stream]
Tuule Tee
Listen if you like: Chalice, Genka, raps in foreign languages

When I look back on the year 2015, I see that there were plenty of good records released in Estonia, but not many that I’d call great. Even my Estonian metal AOTY, Paean’s Scorn of Eternity, is a solid, if unremarkable, 3.5-4/5. That said, I can’t believe how much I’ve started to like the new LP Tuule Tee (translation: Way of the Wind) by Estonian rapper Reket, particularly because at first I thought it was a bit of a step down from his debut. Time opened my eyes though, making it obvious that the beats and instrumentation are objectively on a higher level this time around, and though I may not be the biggest fan of some of the more relationship-y topics scattered around the album, I am a big fan of Reket’s flow (which reminds me of another local hero Chalice a lot), overall skill with the pen, and chill disposition. That, and how Tuule Tee is an album that is varied enough to go with every mood and every weather. There are tracks on the album that are more impressive rapping-wise, but “Võit” (translation: “Win”) is the kind of lighthearted and positive track we all need for counterbalance in this dark time of the year (cue chorus chants of “winner – let’s win together,” in Estonian of course). That, and I have no idea if Tuule Tee is available in full on Spotify or not, and “Võit” is at least up on youtube. Enjoy. –Magnus Altkula





Jom
01.14.16
Apologies for the delay in getting this published. Many thanks to Dave for serving as the primary author and for doing a huge chunk of the legwork since I ran out of steam with the year-end articles and my own (forthcoming). A thank-you as well to all the staffers who contributed, as always. See you in March for Q1 2016.

Archelirion
01.14.16
I really liked that Blades track, might investigate them further. Definitely see the Elvis Constello comparison.

Jom
01.15.16
Thanks for stopping by! I was getting worried that this was going to go unrecognized.

JohnnyOnTheSpot
01.15.16
idk how spotify works but is it supposed to be missing some of the tracks from the playlist?

Jom
01.15.16
Yes -- if they're not on Spotify, then they're not on the playlist. Dave asked the writers to send me MP3s or YouTube streams as a supplement if that was the case.

JohnnyOnTheSpot
01.15.16
ah : )

Arcade
01.15.16
pos for Therapy?

Archelirion
01.15.16
That NOCT soundtrack is gorgeously atmospheric. It's so easy to get lost in it, which is great cos it's creepy as balls ;]

Voivod
01.15.16
Fantastic job everyone, as per always, I need to check that Therapy? album soon.

Pangea
01.15.16
Only heard blackstar and that one is amazing. Gonna check the rest soon

ZippaThaRippa
01.15.16
Magnus? MAGNUS ARE YOU STILL HERE?

Metalstyles
01.17.16
What's up Zippermouth, how ya doin' man?

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