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Articles : Top 11 Times in 2015 Sam Maher Thought An Album Was Pretty Good—You Won’t Believe #3!

By on January 18, 2016

All marketers know that this is the most important line of the article because it shows up on social media. So don’t waste it with something irrelevant!…

So, now that I have clickbaited you into coming to this abortion of a marketing exercise masquerading as something you might be interested in reading, I would like to personally welcome you to, where our lack of journalistic integrity is matched only by our contempt for the English language. (This is not to be confused with, which is, of course, the pinnacle of musical journalistic integrity) [editors note: damn straight!].

Today I shall be presenting you with my 11 favourite albums of 2015, whilst trying to distract you with links to other articles and ads for some product that your Mum looked up on your computer once. Why 11 albums, you might ask? Because all marketers know that listicles are most engaging when they contain odd numbers of items. How do we know that? Some advertising exec said it once. That is, it’s an obvious fact.

In addition to the use of words like “listicle”, I almost further displayed my blatant disregard for the English language by titling this article “Top 11 Times Sam Maher Couldn’t Even”, but I assumed that my readers would be intelligent enough to feel insulted by a modal verb without a contextual referent, not to mention the intellectual indolence that comes with robotically parroting internet phrases as a way of expressing emotion.

Then again, I just wrote a 72-word sentence, so who gives a clickhole what I think. Let’s just talk about some music.


11. James Norbert Ivanyi – The Matter Circumvention

My initial impression of this album was that it sounded like the musical equivalent of film noir; it has that certain greasy haze more commonly associated with monochrome Americans nursing bruised consciences under street-corner lamps and a cloud of tobacco smoke. Feeling rather proud of myself for coming up with such a creative impression, I was quickly horrified to discover that the album actually has a song called “Noir”. Given that I clearly have the originality of the average Tumblr usr, I’m just going to leave you in the more capable hands of solo artist Orson Welles James Ivanyi and you can go make up your own mind.

Recommended track: Thumb Tack

10. Tangled Thoughts of Leaving – Yield to Despair

I first saw this band advertised as a “post-metal/doom-jazz” outfit and naturally thought what most people would—that the band probably consists of nothing but breakdowns, elbow cobweb tattoos, and overinflated egos. This was, thankfully, one time where I was horrendously (and happily) wrong; I discovered, upon watching the band live, that they absolutely live up to their proffered description. Rather than take your breath away, this is music that will make you forget how to breathe altogether. It will bombard you with nonsensical piano melodies and crushing dissonance, but you will be too busy being atmospherically suffocated to even notice.

Recommended track: Downbeat

large49679. Lonely Robot – Please Come Home

Despite starting this list with two instrumental albums, if there is to be a theme to this year’s top albums, it would surely be “dat voice tho”. This is an expression used by people will the spelling ability of a dyslexic baboon with Tourette syndrome to express a sentiment such as “well that is a mighty fine set of pipes, my dear” or “fuck oath, he’s better than Farnsy”. And the first set of such magnificent pipes is found on this album by British solo artist John Mitchell. I was initially attracted to this album by the absolutely gorgeous guitar work, but it has remained on repeat thanks to the truly heartfelt vocal performances, primarily from Mitchell himself. He’s the voice, try to understand it.

Recommended track: Humans Being (which also wins this year’s award for cleverest song name)

a1727343719_168. David Maxim Micic – Eco (and Ego)

And speaking of European solo guitarists with amazing (guest) vocals, composer extraordinaire David Maxim Micic is back. Normally artists that release two albums in one year are focusing way too hard on the wrong half of the quality/quantity balance, but that could not be further from the case here. Eco and Ego are the perfect antidote to the exercises in instrumental masturbation that are the usual result of guitarists’ solo albums. With composition that ranges from atmospheric electronica to hard-hitting prog metal to bewildering “vocal solos”, this is the sort of creative writing that the world really needs to see more often.

Recommended track: Satellite

Cover207. Leprous – The Congregation

To everyone who knows me or is connected to me on social media: you have all utterly failed me by not bringing this band to my attention before this year. Shame on you all. I know the band’s sound is a bit hard to depict, but all you had to say was “menacingly dark” and “holy shit that guy can sing” and I’d at least be curious. I know I’m not normally a fan of somewhat thin production aesthetics, but I’m totally ok with it when it makes a voice as massive as Einar Solberg’s all the more powerful. Throw in some off-kilter rhythm work and some fairly unhappy-sounding synths to go with such melodic vocal work and you have a recipe for prog success (and friendship failures).

Recommended track: The Flood

Cover56. Soilwork – The Ride Majestic

For some reason I keep forgetting how good this band is. In my head they seem to get lumped in with At the Gates and In Flames, despite the fact that rather than an unhealthy obsession with skank beats, Soilwork has Dirk Verbeuren—whose phenomenal drumming is probably the highlight of the album—and rather than a pile of geriatric yelling, Soilwork has Speed, whose voice gets richer with every album. The strength of its individual members aside, the group’s overall composition has come a long way since its power-chords-and-cheesy-choruses days (even if the same cannot be said for the rest of the “Gothenberg scene”).

Recommended track: Enemies in Fidelity

unnamed15. Tesseract – Polaris

As much fun as it is to laugh at the fact that Tesseract have once again released an album with a different singer to the previous album (that’s four in a row, folks!), the return of Dan Tompkins means that we do not really have anything to complain about. Moreover, this is a Dan Tompkins at the top of his game—One is among my all-time favourite albums, but Polaris really demonstrates how much more finesse and control the singer has gained since the band’s debut. Musically, the album is pretty much everything you would expect from a Tesseract album, with atmosphere and groove oozing out the wazoo. Incidentally, make sure you see this band live when you have the chance—their performance with Caligula’s Horse in October was easily the best non-Ulcerate show to hit Sydney this year.

Recommended track: Tourniquet

4. Nightwish – Endless Forms Most Beautiful

Ok, before we start, there is something that needs to be said about all discussion of Nightwish: Tarja left the band TEN YEARS AGO, PEOPLE! Seriously, come February 2016 the band will have been together longer without Tarja than with her. Can we all just move on and talk about how good they are nowadays without reference to old singers? Good, let’s begin. Most discussion of this album has focused on new singer Floor Jansen and how kind of stupidly good she is, and rightfully so since she is ten times the singer Tarja ever was a formidable addition to the band. But I feel that it is also worth mentioning that the orchestral composition on Endless Forms Most Beautiful is easily better than when Tarja was in the band among the band’s strongest to date, a statement not made lightly.

Recommended track: The Greatest Show on Earth (a 24 minute Nightwish song? I’m in heaven…)

3. Alkaloid – The Malkuth Grimoire

The silver lining to Christian Muenzner and Hannes Grossman leaving Obscura (*sob*) was that we were promised this newfangled project called Alkaloid, also featuring members of Aborted and Dark Fortress. I was initially sceptical since, as a rule, supergroups suck harder than a black hole with emphysema. Fortunately, Alkaloid turned out to be that rare “supergroup” that actually sounds like the combination of its members; it has the absurd technicality of Obscura, the grindy ferocity of Aborted, and the creepy weirdness of Dark Fortress. This happens to be the only death metal album on my list this year, which either means that I’m getting old or that Alkaloid is a breath of fresh air in an otherwise increasingly predictable genre. I’ll let you figure it out.

Recommended track: Carbon Phrases

CALIGULAS-HORSE-CD-ART-7-29-152. Caligula’s Horse – Bloom

If the theme of this year is truly “dat voice tho” (ugh, how do illiterate baboons people write that without experiencing sudden rushes of self loathing?), then it is only fitting that these next two albums occupy the top spots. As good as Einar Solberg, Dan Tompkins, and Floor Jansen are, none of the vocal performances on this list stand up to the vocal dynamo that is Jim Grey. However, unlike some of the other great albums of this year, it is not just the vocals that are so rapturously dynamic. Bloom really is the complete package, ranging from the thunderous “Marigold” to the lullaby-like “Undergrowth”, from the ominous “Rust” to the uplifting “Turntail”. All of this accompanied by explosive guitar work that would make Rusty Cooley turn his head and a vocal performance that would make Jeff Buckley weep.

Recommended track: Marigold

a2205691748_161. Arcane – Known/Learned

Everyone has their own definition of what is and is not music, but I have long maintained that music defined by feeling, whether expressed by the composer or felt by the listener (for this reason I don’t think that most modern pop can be considered “music”). If this is indeed the case, then Arcane‘s Known/Learned is the epitome of true music and, not coincidentally, one of my favourite albums of all time, not just this year. Also featuring Jim Grey on vocals, this album features one of the most passionate, honest, and heartfelt vocal deliveries I have ever had the pleasure to enjoy. This is an album that goes straight for heartstrings (not “the feels”, you catachrestic primates), and does not let up over the course of two discs and as many hours. Regardless of whether it is majestic and soaring, soft and sorrowful, complex and quirky, or stripped back and bare, this is music at its most honest and pure.

Recommended track from Known: Keeping Stone: Sound on Fire

Recommended track from Learned: Nightingale’s Weave* Impatience and Slow Poison

*Not sure I actually want to recommend this… proceed with caution.


Sam Maher is Metal Obsession's resident prog reviewer. He only likes songs that are at least 15 minutes long, contain 4 guitar solos and can only be described with a genre that is at least six words long. He also plays guitar for Sydney-based groovy melodic progressive technical death metal band Apparitions of Null.