I like to define 2015 as a year in which the metal and hard rock scenes experienced both veteran acts reassert themselves and talented newcomers make their presence felt. In terms of the former, Impellitteri, W.A.S.P. and Armageddon USA made successful comebacks following extended hiatus, while Stryper, Neal Morse and Signum Regis continued their recent runs of strong performance. Latter saw exciting new groups such as Deth Enemy, Gloriam Dei and Diviner put out solid debut albums in addition to LEAH and Millennial Reign returning with high-ranking sophomore releases. Worldview and Sweet & Lynch walk a fine line between the old and new in being recently formed bands but also from featuring established and well-known musicians as part of their line-ups.
It was also a year of international appeal when factoring how albums came out of locations as diverse as Slovakia, Greece, Sweden, Finland, Germany, Australia and Brazil. It was musically every bit as diverse with a wide array of styles represented: melodic metal/hard rock, bluesy hard rock, traditional metal, glam/hair metal, power metal, progressive metal/hard rock and even melodic thrash. In a sense 2015 included a little bit of something for everyone!
Things remained busy on the re-issue front as well, with Retroactive Records re-mastering and releasing classic Bloodgood albums Rock In A Hard Place and Out Of The Darkness along with hard to find Gideon’s Army albums Rock N’ Roll For Your Soul and Grace. Best of the bunch might be the re-mixed, re-mastered and partially re-recorded Proto-Kaw third release The Wait Of Glory (on Numavox Records).
I have also received inquiries as to why it takes Angelic Warlord so long to come up with its end of the year ‘best of’ list, which traditional I put together in late February to early March. Specifically, I find it a good idea to wait a few months into the year to ensure that all relevant albums are accounted. I am always suspicious, for instance, of ‘best of’ lists that come out in December, noting that if Angelic Warlord had put out its equivalent before the end of 2015 it would be lacking strong contenders such as Deth Enemy and Enzo & The Glory Ensemble. I find it embarrassing to make a last minute addendum because I overlooked a crucial album, as happened when I had to change the Top 20 Releases Of 2014 to Top 21 due to failing to include the White Lighter self-titled debut.
Note: In late May I had to make another 'embarrassing last minute addendum' to what is now the Top 26 Albums Of 2015 due to failure to originally include the Perpetual Legacy debut A New Symphony For Him.
Looking ahead, 2016 appears to present with every bit as much promise, with potential new albums on the way from Theocracy, Narnia, Oblivion Myth and Philadelphia not to mention re-issues from Recon (Behind Enemy Lines) and Leviticus (5 CD and 1 DVD box set).
1. LEAH - Kings & Queens
A masterful melding of symphonic metal with Celtic and World Music overtones from Vancouver, British Columbia based songstress Leah McHenry. The presence of bassist Barend Courbois (Blind Guardian) and guitarist Timo Somers and drummer Sander Zoer (both Delain) helps give Kings & Queens an ‘all star’ feel. “This Present Darkness” is a strong candidate for song of the year.
2. Stryper - Fallen
Second consecutive 95% graded Angelic Warlord album from melodic metal and hard rock veterans Stryper. Fallen equals 2013 predecessor No More Hell To Pay in terms of musical consistency and continuity but exceeds it from the standpoint of heaviness. Stryper also maintains its penchant for eye catching cover art.
3. W.A.S.P. - Golgotha
Golgotha picks up musically where recent W.A.S.P. releases Dominator (2007) and Babylon (2009) leave off with its technical but accessible aligning of metal and hard rock. Lyrically, in the words of founding member and vocalist Blackie Lawless, the album was “written from the eyes of my faith, everything is (written) through that filter.” Albums title track receives my vote for the year’s best video.
4. Deth Enemy - Unmovable
Straightforward hard rock interlaced with AOR and melodic rock from debut of Queensland, Australia based act. Stellar songwriting, top-notch production and professional packaging help garner Unmovable a well-deserved top five ranking.
5. Worldview - The Chosen Few
Guitarist George Ochoa (Recon & Deliverance) joins forces with vocalist Rey Parra (Sacred Warrior) for the melodic metal with forays into the power and progressive that is the highly anticipated Worldview debut The Chosen Few. Guest performers include guitarist Oz Fox (Stryper), vocalist Les Carlsen (Bloodgood), vocalist Jimmy P. Brown (Deliverance) and guitarist Larry Farkas (Vengeance Rising, Die Happy).
6. Sweet & Lynch - Only To Rise
Another project with an ‘all star’ feel, Sweet & Lynch, as its namesake implies, features the talents of vocalist Michael Sweet (Stryper) and guitarist George Lynch (Dokken). The Only To Rise debut from the duo includes a dozen songs of catchy melodic metal and commercial hard rock.
7. Gloriam Dei - The Covenant
Finnish act delivers big doses of accessible symphonic and neo-classical power metal with leanings towards AOR and melodic rock on The Covenant. Gloriam Dei line up includes members from Wingdom (Sami Asp), Oratorio (Jarmo Happonen), Miseria (Ville Karhu) and Norman (keyboardist Johannes Häkämies.
8. Millenial Reign - Carry The Fire
Guitarist Dave Harvey (ASKA) and vocalist James Guest (Eden’s Realm) round out Millennial Reign line up on first class sophomore outing Carry The Fire. The gist is ten equally good songs within the melodic metal meets power metal segments.
9. The Neal Morse Band - The Grand Experiment
Neal Morse remains the king of progressive rock on full-length debut of his aptly named new group, The Neal Morse Band. Neal Morse solo project holdovers in drummer Mike Portnoy (ex Dream Theater) and bassist Randy George (Ajalon) return alongside newcomer’s guitarist Eric Gillette and keyboardist Bill Hubauer to create a true band effort.
10. Diviner - Fallen Empires
Traditional metal with a Dio era Black Sabbath vibe characterizes debut offering from one of the more promising new acts to hit the scene as of late. Diviner aptly succeeds in its goal to create metal that is “powerful, intense, deep, heavy, dark and inspired and that would sound up to date at the same time” (as taken from its press material).
11. Impellitteri - Venom
Chris Impellitteri, with reputation as one of the fastest (and best) guitarists in the world, and Rob Rock, better known as the voice of melodic metal, deliver the goods on first Impellitteri album in six years. Venom shines in featuring ten no-nonsense and heavy hitting metal pieces that touch upon speed metal territory.
12. Enzo & The Glory Ensemb.e - In The Name Of The Father
Guest appearances abound (including members from Warlord, Fates Warning & Shadow Gallery) on first solo album from Italian vocalist Enzo Donnarumma. Of note is how EATGE take medieval hymns and prayers in addition to several Psalms and re-imagines them in a more up to date (think melodic power metal) musical format.
13. Waken Eyes - Exodus
Guitarist and keyboardist Tom Frelek combines with vocalist Henrik Båth (Darkwater), bassist Mike Lepond (Symphony X) and drummer Marco Minnemann (Joe Satriani) to create progressive rock and metal ‘super group’. Albums awesome nineteen minute title track challenges for song of the year.
14. Within Silence - Gallery Of Life
Slovakia based Within Silence garners significant acclaim with European power metal of debut Gallery Of Life. The album is defined by choice songwriting, adept musicianship and refined production while making occasional forays into the progressive side of things.
15. Broken Rain - Here Comes The Pain
Slovakia strikes again with second band from the region to make the Angelic Warlord top 25 for 2015. Broken Rain pays tribute to both seventies classic hard rock and eighties melodic metal on solid first outing Here Comes The Pain.
16. Infidel Rising - The Torn Wings Of Illusion
Power and progressive metal influenced by Symphony X, Kamelot, Fates Warning and Dream Theater characterize independently released debut of Dallas-Forth worth area act. Lyrically, Infidel Rising speaks of “power, truth, hope and change”.
17. Blues Metal Trance - 1.5
Instrumental hard rock project from veteran guitarist Bill Menchen proves a welcome change of pace in light of the genres metal shred based tendencies. Musically, it brings more variety in also touching upon the blues, jam fusion, jazz nuances and even groove and funk.
18. GX Project - Raze Some Hell
Third album in four years from new band of X-Sinner vocalist and guitarist Rex Scott maintains the GX Project penchant for classic hard rock, energetic melodic metal and bluesy aesthetics. Upshot is ample doses of barbed muscle and swagger fused with streetwise heart, guts and soul.
19. Armageddon USA - Up In Flames
Second album following twenty-five year hiatus from Washington, DC based traditional metal outfit Armageddon USA (formerly Armageddon). Raven members John Gallagher (bass) and Joe Hasselvander (drums) help anchor the rhythm section. Saint and Judas Priest fans rejoice!
20. Wales Road - Wounds & Whispers
By far the best and heaviest release from Rochester, New York vocalist and guitarist Tommy Wales, Wounds & Whispers delivers a foundation of straightforward hard rock with heavy doses of blues based and melodic hard rock. Lyrically, the album represents “9 songs of healing art on audio canvas”. Cover art challenges for year’s best.
21. Signum Regis - Through The Storm & Chapter IV: The Reckoning
Have I mentioned that Slovakia has become a recent hotbed of up and coming metal and hard rock bands? Senec’s Signum Regis proves no exception with both EP and full-length releases highlighting its showy brand of melodic power metal.
22. PERPETUAL LEGACY - A New Symphony For Him - NEW
Debut full length from Brazil based act delivers the symphonic metal goods: an equal joining of orchestration, keyboards and choirs with a traditional set up of guitars, bass and drums. The soprano female vocals of Michelle Rodovalho rounds things out.
23. Reign - Reign
REIGN draws upon the past (traditional metal) and present (the power & progressive) characterized by lengthy songwriting and stark aggression on self-titled sophomore effort. Lower register male vocals and dual female harmony vocals combine with one of the genres underrated guitar heroes in Jarrod Grumblatt.
24. Thobias Wiklund - To Remember The Fallen
Debut solo release of Swedish guitarist Thobias Wiklund breaks down evenly between melodic hard rock vocal and instrumental jam-shred-fusion cuts. Highly regarded Peo Pettersson (LEVITUCUS) fronts the vocal tracks.
25. Ancient Prophecy - Pounded By Our Sins
A joining of thrash, melodic, power and traditional metal define sophomore album from Wetzler, Germany’s Ancient Prophecy. Mostly melodic female vocals converge with occasional growled male vocals.
26. Lipstick - Lipstick
Eighties melodic metal of the hair and glam variety meets Sunset Strip influenced hard rock represents Lipstick debut. Layered choruses, pop influenced catchy hooks and shred guitar solos are the result.
Article by Andrew Rockwell