2015 in Metal

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No one can deny that 2015 was a lottery winner for new releases. With bands like Blind Guardian, Ensiferum, Nightwish, Apocalyptica, Kamelot, Helloween, Disturbed, Soilwork, Steven Wilson, Amorphis, Leaves’ Eyes, Iron Maiden, Children of Bodom, and so many more, there was bound to be some fantastic material in there. What was more surprising is that so many of those bands put out absolutely fantastic albums. Truly, 2015 was a goldmine, and picking the winners for this year was no easy task!

 

BEST ALBUM
nightwish endless forms most beautifulAW: This was, to no one’s surprise, a really tough choice this year. As mentioned, 2015 had a lot of incredible albums, including One Man Army, Endless Forms Most Beautiful, Shadowmaker, Haven, Under the Red Cloud, and so much more. In the end, it was a tough choice between Endless Forms Most Beautiful and Under the Red Cloud because they’re so different, but so great in their own way. I chose the Nightwish, however, because the scope and depth of that album was really mind-blowing. For many people out there, perhaps they didn’t really get or connect to the album as well as others did, but at least for me, a person who has a deep history with nature, the universe, the unknown, and so on, this album bordered on life-changing, so that is why it wins this category.

steven wilson hand cannot eraseVK: Although 2015 was a great year for music, this is an easy choice for me: prog genius Steven Wilson’s Hand. Cannot. Erase. is a 10/10 record and hands down my album of the year. I simply can’t think of anything that could be improved on, because the songwriting, musicianship, production, and the flow of the album are all top-notch. Hand. Cannot. Erase. might be the most varied release in Wilson’s CV, and the concept of the record (inspired by the case of Joyce Carol Vincent) must be the most emotionally charged he’s ever penned. Recommended to fans of all kinds of music!

kamelot havenLL: Even with all personal affection to bands and albums left aside, it would be a close tie for me between three or even more albums, for various reasons. Actually, the number of near-perfect or even perfect albums, in my books, was quite mind-blowing this year, from Amorphis to Entwine, and from Mokoma to Nightwish. But if I count in the personal relationships with said albums to pick just one above everything else, I will grant the title to Kamelot’s Haven. Alike Endless Forms Most Beautiful, it has both grandeur and certain kind of humbleness, and most of all it is an album that lives up to its name. And while musically it contains everything I’ve loved in Kamelot pre- and post- The Black Halo, with one of most gorgeous and heartfelt vocal performances in the history of this band, I chose Haven for its gentle touch with everything humane in this world. But rather than life-changing, I’d call it faith-restoring.

 

BEST SONG
AW: Again, for the first time in years, this was actually extraordinarily difficult for me to pick… perhaps even more so than Best Album. After all, just because an album as a whole is the best doesn’t mean it has the best song. This was again a tossup between Endless Forms Most Beautiful and Under the Red Cloud as my final contenders were “Alpenglow” and “Death of a King.” Again, Nightwish takes the award though, because while “Death of a King” is one of the most inspired songs I’ve heard from Amorphis in ages, “Alpenglow” touches on a more personal note, linking back to the things I mentioned above.

VK: Steven Wilson hit the jackpot with “Routine” – its melancholy grips you and doesn’t let go, but there are also ominous moments and a (somewhat) light ending. Guthrie Govan’s solo is full of soul, and Ninet Tayeb’s vocals add an extra layer of emotion. This has got to be the best song Wilson has written since Porcupine Tree’s “Anesthetize” from 2007.

LL: If it was tough to pick the best album, it’s completely impossible to pick the best song. To me, it depends solely on the mood, so I will need to skip choosing the absolute best.

 

BEST FOLK ALBUM
Amorphis Under the Red CloudAW: I was quite surprised to find that for the first time in years, Korpiklaani actually put out an album that could have contended for this place. However, the key words here are “could have.” As much as I did enjoy Noita, there was a more obvious pick. I’m not talking about One Man Army by Ensiferum either, though it was my first nomination earlier in the year. Amorphis still counts as a folk band in most circles, so naturally Under the Red Cloud takes this category. It needed a solid win somewhere, even if it wasn’t Best Album, but here it was no contest.

Amorphis Under the Red CloudVK: I’ve never been a fan of full-blown folk metal, but Amorphis has been heavily influenced by folk throughout its career, and Under the Red Cloud is no exception in that regard. Therefore this is a no-brainer, especially considering how strong the album is. I seriously think this record will be remembered as a milestone of Amorphis’ career in the future!

Amorphis Under the Red CloudLL: For some reason, most folk albums didn’t really hit the spot for me during past year, which was a bit of a surprise, considering how much I enjoy folk. From aforementioned albums, One Man Army only raised a tiny “meh” reaction, Noita came and went, but then Amorphis’ Under The Red Cloud saved this category for me as well. It was a pure joy to discover they had, much like Kamelot, blended in the best things from both Joutsen-era and the iconic early recordings, and sound fresher than ever while maintaining their touch to folklore. Pure win on all fronts.

 

BEST FEMALE-FRONTED ALBUM
nightwish endless forms most beautifulAW: In this category, I think it was pretty much a given that Nightwish would win, but I was extremely surprised when King of Kings by Leaves’ Eyes swept me off my feet. Their last few albums have done nothing but disappoint, so while I had my fingers crossed that this album would be great, I didn’t expect anything of it. Ultimately, I think it’s one of Leaves’ Eyes best to date. I am, in fact, so impressed with it that I’m sorely tempted to call this a tie, but ultimately I think that Endless Forms Most Beautiful is so nearly flawless that it will win simply because the concept is much more vast.

Avatarium the girl with the raven maskVK: I really enjoyed Every Open Eye by the Scottish synth pop trio CHVRCHES, but out of the rock/metal realm I have to go with The Girl with the Raven Mask by Avatarium. I’d enjoyed their self-debut, but the new album is a lot more varied, as demonstrated by songs like the fast-paced title track and the jazzy “The Master Thief.” Jennie-Ann Smith’s voice has a lot of power and personality, as well as a bluesy quality that sets her apart from her peers.

nightwish endless forms most beautifulLL: No surprises from me here, Endless Forms Most Beautiful takes this title easily. This has been said a thousand times already and I will say it yet again; Floor Jansen is the best thing that has ever happened to Nightwish. Not only this, but also the wonderful choice of lyrical theme for the album makes it a true gem in my books. While it’s true that at this point of career even a band like Nightwish doesn’t really re-invent itself, the way the band breathes new life, joy, and power into their music is no less than astonishing.

 

BEST FOLK/VIKING SONG
AW: This one was brainless. If “Death of a King” didn’t win best song, it certainly sweeps this category, no question. To tell the truth, “Two of Spades” by Ensiferum was my original choice for this category, but since that song really and truly doesn’t quite fit the folk/Viking category (as more of a spaghetti western/disco metal song in truth), so Amorphis takes it.

VK: The purest folk metal song on Under the Red Cloud is “Tree of Ages,” but if any Amorphis song is fair game, then I’ll pick the brilliant album closer “White Night,” which I already praised in my album review. In fact, the song sounds even better now that there’s some snow outside! Now if only Amorphis could play it live with someone handling the female vocals in the verses…

LL: I’m with Amy and Ville in this one, as well, and go with Amorphis. It was close to a tie between “Death of a King” and “Tree of Ages,” and the latter wins it by a flute’s length. While it’d be a nice and rather folky song by itself, Chrigel Glanzmann’s additional flute parts make it just that much better, and folkier! Basically, it’s quite close to everything I’d want in a folk metal song.

 

MOST EPIC SONG
AW: This was a bit of a trickier category this year, because while there were many great songs, could I consider a lot of them epic? “Descendants, Defiants, Domination” by Ensiferum is certainly epic, but isn’t as good as its Heathen Throne predecessors. “Shadowmaker” by Apocalyptica is certainly dynamic, but is it truly epic? No, this one is going to go to “The Greatest Show on Earth” by Nightwish, if we really take into account the meaning of the word epic. The span of the song is so immense that nothing else that came out this year can really touch on it (even if I wish they’d stop playing it live already).

However, before I give this award strictly to Nightwish, I want to give a special mention to Iron Maiden for “Empire of the Clouds.” I was very tempted to call this a tie because the ballad is pretty epic, but I realized there is a more fitting category for this song, which you’ll find out soon enough.

VK: I have to go with the title-track of Condition Hüman by Queensrÿche. Although it’s “only” 8 minutes long, it’s quite a journey from its clean guitar intro to the dissonant ending. Todd La Torre’s soaring vocals, the majestic guitar leads, and the use of choir towards the end ensure that this is the most ambitious and grand piece of music by Queensrÿche in over 20 years.

LL: There’s not much competition for Nightwish in this category from my part. “The Greatest Show on Earth” is both lengthy and epic in the very meaning of the word, yet at least I can’t get bored of it, no matter how many times I’ve heard it. My honorary mention goes to Swallow the Sun’s massive triple album Songs from the North I, II & III; if there was no Nightwish’s input to this category, nearly any song out of this doom mammoth could take the place with ease.

 

BEST SLOW SONG
AW: This was one of the trickier categories again. Apocalyptica had a heartbreaker with “Hole in My Soul,” but Bring Me the Horizon did quite well with “Follow You.” Ultimately, though BMtH is a catchier and perhaps more fun band to listen to, I think the quality of the musical construction in “Hole in My Soul” is better, so Apocalyptica takes this one.

VK: Since slow songs don’t necessarily have to be ballads, I’ll go to the other extreme and pick “Beneath Broken Earth” by Paradise Lost. With this crushing death/doom dirge PL remind us that they’re still just as good – if not better – at the genre as their disciples. The combination of Nick Holmes’ growls and Greg Mackintosh’s wailing guitar never gets old!

LL: My pick is, without hesitation, Kamelot’s “Under Grey Skies.” In all its gentle waltzing beauty, it might as well be the best ballad the band has ever made. When speaking of a collective with tunes such as “Abandoned,” “Don’t You Cry,” “On the Coldest Winter Night,” and so forth, not to mention all the stunning duets in the past, it is a bold statement to make, but I stand wholeheartedly behind it. Oh, to the hell with it – I raise it among the most beautiful ballads in melodic metal in this decade. The melody, the lyrics, Troy Donockley’s pipes, Tommy Karevik’s and Charlotte Wessel’s voices… just give it a spin or a few. And put your hands down, vote’s over.

 

MOST CHILLING SONG
AW: Here is where we find out where Iron Maiden went. I originally wanted to give this to “Shadowmaker” by Apocalyptica for being so dynamic, however, Apocalyptica lost it once The Book of Souls came out and I heard “Empire of the Clouds.” The piano in this track is so mysterious and almost creepy that it gives me actual chills each time I listen to it. It’s by far the best ballad Maiden has done probably since “Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” The tragic story is beautifully told, and it swept this category, no contest.

VK: “Routine” by Steven Wilson definitely fits this category, but I might as well name “Cirice” by Ghost. I’d always thought of them as a gimmicky band because of their image, but after hearing this song on the radio multiple times this year I finally had to hop on the Ghost train and check out their music. Never judge a book by its cover! “Cirice” is the perfect combination of creepy atmosphere and melodies that get stuck in your head.

LL: I have to go with “Pohja on nähty” by Mokoma on this one. All of Elävien kirjoihin is one hell of a ride, both emotionally and musically speaking – never have I heard any band take on depression and other mental illnesses with such an honest, truthful, and excruciating touch, despite it being a fairly common topic in metal, all-in-all. While most of the album roams in the depths, “Pohja on nähty” turns a cathartic gaze back into light; the title itself translates as “the bottom is seen,” and after watching gig after gig crowd shouting those three words at the top of their lungs, I believe I’m not alone with this pick.

 

BEST FUN-TIME SONG
AW: This is a category that I think has been missing from the awards for a while and needed to be created at long last. Every year there seems to be one song that is just an audio cocktail of good times, and Ensiferum undoubtedly gets that with “Two of Spades.” All of the disco fun, the oldschool Finnish guest vocalist, and just… everything. This is the kind of song you put on a party playlist to get the night started.

Special mention here goes to Turmion Kätilöt for “Kirottujen karnevaalit,” because that is also a high energy ball of disco fun-times and it came really close to beating Enska out for this award!

VK: I can’t say I listen to a lot of music with humor, but CMX’s “Hyperborea” kicks off with a hard rock riff that even frontman A.W. Yrjänä described as “silly” in an interview. Though this song isn’t a joke number by any means, it makes me smile every time I hear it, and it’s also a great way to open a show.

LL: I was tempted to pick something from Turmion Kätilöt, but then I remembered how much fun I’ve had with Santa Cruz and their self-titled album all year. The whole album is made of good vibes, but this award goes to “My Remedy” – you only need to listen to the intro with Archie Cruz demanding you to get your ass off your goddamn seat, and BOOM, instant party! This one’s a firestarter, all day, every day.

 

BEST COVER SONG
AW: Dang it, Alice Cooper, when are you going to release your covers album? I’ve been waiting for a few years now! This was a tossup again between Ensiferum and Children of Bodom, both bands who are known for having fun covers. I was really amused by Bodom’s cover of “Dangerzone” by Kenny Loggins, but because I love the coordinated backing vocals in their cover of the Blues Brothers’ “Rawhide,” Ensiferum gets this one. It adapted better to the genre as well, I feel.

VK: I have to cheat a little bit and pick “The Sound of Muzak/So Called Friend” from Gavin Harrison’s album Cheating the Polygraph, which consists of big band renditions of his main band Porcupine Tree’s material. I was slightly skeptical before listening to the release, but the arrangements are extremely well done. This medley is a prime example – you can recognize the melodies and the structures of the songs, but the instrumentation makes them sound totally different and almost like new pieces of music.

LL: Heck, I already thought I had nothing to add into this category, but then I remembered Amorphis’ and Children of Bodom’s wonderful idea of covering each other. There’s so many ways you can go wrong with covers, but these versions of “Every Time I Die” and “Black Winter Day” are nothing short of awesome. While they do sound a tad bit like the originals, they have the twists and characteristics of each band, and honor the original songs in the best possible way.

 

BEST SOLO/RIFF
AW: “Two of Spades” again. Just, yes. So catchy, so fun, so excellent. I enjoy it thoroughly, and I could still probably listen to it on repeat all day, months after it was released.

VK: As a guitarist and keyboard player myself I can be a little picky when it comes to riffs and solos, but I think Riverside’s Love, Fear and the Time Machine shines in both categories. The guitar solo in “Under the Pillow” rocks, but has a lot of feel to it, while the opening riff of “Saturate Me” is surprisingly hummable despite its quirky rhythm.

LL: When I started to think of something to put into this category, I was surprised to find my head completely blank. For real, woman, a year full of awesome music yet you can’t say there’s a riff or a solo that’d top everything? And, of course, right then and there, I had the riff from “Sinne missä aamu sarastaa” by Mokoma playing in my head. If there’s one riff that’ll survive the black holes inside my sieve-like brain, it has to be a good one. Thanks, brain.

 

BEST INSTRUMENTAL
AW: I miss the days when Apocalyptica won this category, truly, but I didn’t particularly like any of their instrumentals this year (or on their last album, for that matter). This was one of the few categories this year that didn’t have a lot of contenders, naturally because I don’t include adapted versions of existing songs (otherwise I’d give this entire category to the instrumental adaptation of Haven by Kamelot). In the end it goes to “The Eyes of Sharbat Gula,” by Nightwish, which only came in third place for Most Chilling Song, but still beats out all of Apocalyptica’s uninspired business.

VK: Another award to Steven Wilson, this time for “Regret #9.” Though guitarist Guthrie Govan’s and keyboardist Adam Holzman’s solos are the focal point of the song, it’s also got fierce drum fills by Marco Minnemann, and the chord progression is really cool.

LL: It has been a dry year on the instrumental front for me. The title track from Haven and “I Am Legion” by Cain’s Offering dominated this category nearly whole year long, and even though both are fairly decent, luckily in the end it was all Swallow the Sun’s game with “The Womb of Winter.” From the haunting piano to howling wolves and wind, it truly pays homage to icy starlight and endless fields of snow in its eerie beauty.

 

BIGGEST POSITIVE SURPRISE
leaves' eyes king of kingsAW: This is a bit of a subjective category, because it depends entirely on me and what I know. As I mentioned up in Best Female-Fronted Album, Leaves’ Eyes blew me out of the water a bit with King of Kings, and after disappointing me for so many years following Njord, I really wanted to give them this award for the incredible comeback. This was an album I had braced myself for, expecting to be disappointed, and it was truly great.

entwine chaotic nationHowever, I will have to confess that this one gets a tie! No matter how impressed I was with King of Kings, there is just no way that I can ignore Chaotic Nation by Entwine! This was a band I had always seen as gothy/teenagery, so when they came back with this really fresh, mature-sounding album, I was blown right out of the water. I tip my hat to you guys!

Amorphis Under the Red CloudVK: Amorphis takes this one with Under the Red Cloud, because I didn’t expect them to release such a fresh album at this point in their career. The previous two records were alright, and Circle (2013) was a step in the right direction, but I feel like working with Jens Bogren has re-energized the band and brought the best out of them.

 

LL: Speaking of comebacks, I’ll dedicate this one to all the excellent ones we’ve seen this year. Cain’s Offering, Diablo, and Entwine, just to mention a few, all released good or even magnificent albums after years of hiatus. Aside of that, I marvel the aforementioned trend of veteran bands proving to be better than ever right now, and I hope it will continue.

 

BEST NEW DISCOVERY
AW: This is a toss-up between Arion and Shiraz Lane. Now, if we’re being technical about it, Arion is the winner, as they’ve got a really great sound and we’ve done some interviews with them that do nothing but increase our fondness for them. On the other hand, Arion’s been around a bit longer. Since Santa Cruz won this one last year, I’m not going to let Shiraz Lane go unmentioned. They’re similar to Santa Cruz, yet different, and I really enjoyed their gig at Tuska in the same way I enjoyed Santa Cruz’ last year. So, a tie it is!

VK: I discover loads of music every year, but the majority of these bands aren’t that young. If we only count the newcomers, I have to give it to Lucifer, who supported Paradise Lost and played the best set of the night in my humble opinion. Their debut album didn’t disappoint, either.

LL: I nearly thought I’d have to pass this one, having stumbled upon both Arion and Santa Cruz on 2014, but by the end of the year things got quite exciting when former Machine Men vocalist Antony Parviainen announced his new band, Psychework. I have no regrets whatsoever to use a pun as lame as this, but in all honesty, what’s not to get psyched about in this?

 

BIGGEST WHATEVER
Helloween My God-Given RightAW: Always a category with many contenders, this one got taken by Helloween’s My God-Given Right. Helloween is perhaps one of the most consistently hit-or-miss bands in my library, so to get a mediocre album was neither a massive shock nor a huge disappointment, and thus sits them perfectly in this category. It wasn’t a bad album by any means, but it wasn’t anything special either.

 

the man-eating tree absence of lightVK: I guess this goes to In the Absence of Light by The Man-Eating Tree. There’s nothing really wrong with the songs, but I feel indifferent about Antti Kumpulainen’s vocals. Maybe this album would’ve received more spins from me if Tuomas Tuominen was still singing, because I miss his unique voice.

ensiferum one man armyLL: I’ll go against the tide and name Ensiferum’s One Man Army here. My expectations towards their albums dropped significantly with Unsung Heroes, so it wasn’t much of a surprise they didn’t manage to impress me this time. To be honest, I originally expected Stratovarius to fill this category, but even if Eternal wasn’t a life-changing experience, it was surprisingly good enough to avoid the title.

 

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT
soilwork the ride majesticAW: You might ask what the difference between Biggest Whatever and Biggest Disappointment may be. I suppose the real deciding factor here is, did I have expectations from the album? Did I like the band? Do they usually put out good music? As I said, My God-Given Right had so much potential in it, but ultimately ran a bit dry, but so did their last album, and they’ve had some pretty epic stinkers in the past, so that’s not exactly abnormal for Helloween. However, the last several albums from Soilwork have been really fantastic, so to see The Ride Majestic fall so flat was an actual disappointment, hence why they win the award for this category.

barren earth on lonely towersVK: Just like The Man-Eating Tree, Barren Earth released an album with a new vocalist in 2015. However, in their case I feel the opposite way: I prefer Jón Aldará’s dramatic clean singing and Mikael Åkerfeldt-esque growls to his predecessor Mikko Kotamäki’s vocals, but sadly On Lonely Towers didn’t really click with me, and none of the songs had the same impact on me as the highlights of the band’s first two efforts. The record feels a little unbalanced, but hopefully Barren Earth will get back on track with the next one.

Cains Offering StormcrowLL: It was a toss-up between Biggest Whatever and Biggest Disappointment with Cain’s Offering’s sophomore album, Stormcrow. To say it was a disappointment is harsh, since it was and still is quite a nice album, but then again, it didn’t match the expectations I had for it. One can always argue whether or not the expectations were fair, but I think it’s still fair to say, that these guys are capable of far greater things. I’ve grown fond of Stormcrow over the year, but if I go by first reaction, it does land this title.

 

SADDEST FAREWELL
05.08 02 myGRAIN (38)AW: It bums me out that there’s always someone to put in here, and sadly, this year it was close to a tie. In 2015, the band I know that decided to leave us was myGRAIN. While I’ve never been a huge fan, I’ve been a casual fan for a few years and I’ve enjoyed their live performances and the occasional listen-through of their albums. The special mention goes to Roope Latvala leaving Children of Bodom. It’s such a shame to see a legend leave their band, but of course, these things happen.

VK: I can’t recall any recent line-up changes in my favorite bands, but Rush drummer/lyricist Neil Peart has strongly hinted at retiring from music, so the future of the band seems to be up in the air right now, and proper tours seem to be out of the question. Of course the band members are in their sixties, and Clockwork Angels (2012) would be a worthy swansong, but it feels like at least Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson still have a lot to say musically, and for selfish reasons I’d like to see my favorite band live at least once before it all ends. Lee has remained optimistic about the future of Rush in interviews, so we’ll see what happens…

05.08 02 myGRAIN (42)LL: I will go with myGRAIN in this as well. I think we covered pretty well the main reasons for the choice in our review from their last show in Nosturi, but in short, I will miss the occasional opportunity to let my hair down at their gigs for quite a while. It was fun while it lasted, eh?

 

BEST REPLACEMENT
AW: Arion’s choice with Lassi Vääränen is a definite winner here for me, though I have to also credit Barren Earth for Jón Aldará. Both of these guys gave jaw-dropping performances with their respective bands this year, and I was immensely impressed with both of them, in spite of, in Vääränen’s case, me being uncertain of their demo videos, and in Aldará’s case, me not being familiar with the band really at all.

I will also give out a special mention to 2014. I wasn’t aware that Angela Gossow had left Arch Enemy, nor that she had chosen Alissa White-Gluz to replace her, but had I know this, it would have made the list, at least tying with last year’s winners from Thunderstone.

VK: Jón Aldará joined Barren Earth in 2014, but no material with him was released until last January when the title-track of On Lonely Towers came out, so I guess this counts. It’s ironic that the band with the best replacement released the biggest disappointment of the year!

LL: Arion with Lassi Vääränen, definitely. While I’ll miss a bunch of things in Viljami Holopainen’s unique voice, Vääränen has proved he can pull off their repertoire live, and I bet the dude has a few more tricks up his sleeve for the future. I will also give an honorary mention to The Man-Eating Tree with Antti Kumpulainen – he came along on 2013, but the first album with him was released last spring. Unlike Ville, I found In the Absence of Light to be one of the strongest contestants for the best album of the year thanks to Mr. Kumpulainen. Although I loved Tuomas Tuominen’s one-of-a-kind sound as well, with Kumpulainen’s cleans and growls by guitarist Antti Karhu, TMET rose to match their true potential.

 

BEST COVER ART
Iron maiden the book of soulsAW: For all of the great albums out this year, I can’t say I was especially inspired by much of the artwork. Now, usually Blind Guardian is a shoe-in for best artwork, and while I like the blue cover of Beyond the Red Mirror, they aren’t going home with this award this year. I’m going to give this one to Iron Maiden for The Book of Souls because the artwork, not only on the cover but inside the book as well, is probably the best I’ve seen from them since Brave New World, or even as far back as the Derek Riggs era, and gives me hope after the real stinkers that have come since, such as the disaster that was Dance of Death.

Riverside fear love and the time machineVK: Travis Smith has created artwork for loads of metal albums over the years, and Love, Fear and the Time Machine by Riverside shows us why: as usual, he’s managed to capture the essence of the album in just one picture. The blue background brings to mind the album’s wistful melancholy, while the sunlight on the horizon seems to represent the hope that can be heard on the record as well.

Amorphis Under the Red CloudLL: Amorphis wins this one from me with ease. The artwork for Kamelot’s Haven is beautiful and fitting, Mokoma would always be a solid pick, and Swallow the Sun delighted me with gorgeous photography, but my soft spot for Finnish folklore imagery and patterns is way too big to give the honor for any other album than Under the Red Cloud. I mean, look at that thing; deep blue and royal red, adorned with gold from a midnight sun? Yes, I can and will admit this is likely the most subjective reasoning and flattery I will give here, but you can’t really deny it’s some exquisite-looking artwork.

 

WORST COVER ART
apocalyptica shadowmakerAW: I think it’s unfair of me to just rifle through new albums and see which artwork I liked the least, so I’m only picking from albums I’ve listened to and/or enjoyed. Apocalyptica tends to have some weird, artsy things going on both on album covers and in their music videos that I’ve never been particularly fond of, so I’ll let Shadowmaker’s rather uninteresting cover have this award.

 

Antimatter The Judas TableVK: I think this one goes to Antimatter’s The Judas Table. I get the concept behind the cover, but its execution just looks a little ugly to my eyes, though that may have been the intention. Luckily the album itself has got some great songs to make up for it…

ensiferum one man armyLL: I will have to go with Ensiferum, again. Technique-wise the cover for One Man Army is great, but to me it looks like it’s been given a massive Hollywood-treatment. I’m not particularly picky when it comes to liking an album cover, but those kinds of things always put me off.

 

 

BEST LIVE SHOW
2015.09.19 The Theater Equation @ Luxor Theater, Rotterdam (31)AW: Like 2014, this was tough to pick because there were so many great shows in 2015, and I was at all of them. Sabaton is pretty much always a nominee. Devin Townsend is always an animal on stage. Nightwish is pretty much permanently brilliant. However, there was one show this year that made everything else look like crap by comparison. Maybe it’s a bit of an unfair call to give this to a full stage production, but damned if they didn’t deserve it. I’m referring to The Theater Equation in Rotterdam, the live performance of Ayreon’s The Human Equation. To explain why this was the best show of the year would take… another year, so instead I’ll just suggest that you check out the gig review. It was unreal!

VK: I attended a lot of memorable shows this year, but the one that had left me in awe was Steven Wilson’s performance at The Circus in Helsinki last April. It was a pleasure to watch his band perform because they’re all world-class musicians, and there was a healthy dose of humor in the interaction between them. The video projections brought the story of Hand. Cannot. Erase. to life and turned it into an audiovisual experience. The selections from Wilson’s previous solo albums also opened up to me in a whole new way, and it was wonderful to hear a few Porcupine Tree songs, because I never got to see the band live while they were still active.

Nightwish @ Ratina stadion, 2015
Nightwish @ Ratina stadion, 2015

LL: Phew, where to start… It’s been a year of amazing shows, and while I’m not too big on “big” bands and performances, it’s difficult to choose between so many great memories. I could go on and on about Arion playing in the pouring rain in Nummirock, or Eluveitie and Diablo at same festivas, not to mention myGRAIN’s last show, or the wonderful crowd at The Circus at Kamelot’s gig. But one that really gave me chills and got me jumping up and down for a good couple weeks later, and still puts a smile on my face, was Nightwish in Ratina with Sonata Arctica and Children of Bodom. I would have never thought those bands could still give me so much joy after getting quite bored of them all, but my, I’m rarely so happy to be so wrong!

 

BEST LIVE ALBUM/DVD
dtp ziltoid live at the royal albertAW: This was another no-brainer. Devin Townsend did a massive release called Ziltoid Live at the Royal Albert, which included an artbook full of photography, full CD recording, and both DVD and Blu-ray release all in one gorgeous package. The show was incredible, the production value was insane, the crowd was unbelievable, the documentary was really interesting, and all-in-all, the whole thing was wonderful.

rush r40 liveVK: On R40 Live Rush performs at a level that most bands – young or old – would kill to reach. The reverse chronological order and the changing stage setup make for an interesting show, and the setlist is full of goodies.

LL: I’ll have to admit that I didn’t watch any new live DVDs or listen new live CDs last year, so there’s no choice but to skip this one.

 

BEST MUSIC VIDEO
AW: This is usually a tough category because I often forget to watch the music videos that come out each year, and when I do, a lot of them are of pretty equal quality and it’s hard to pick between them. However, I’ve been keeping on top of it and Iron Maiden takes it with “Speed of Light” this year. Why, you may ask? Because 8-bit Eddie, that’s why.

VK: Truly great music videos are few and far between, but Steven Wilson has managed to nail them recently by working with animation artist Jess Cope. I found her take on “Routine” moving when it was shown on screen during the performance of the song in Helsinki, and hence I was happy when the video was released on YouTube so that even those not going to the live shows could see it.

LL: I’m extremely picky with music videos, and the smallest detail can ruin the whole experience, so I rarely watch any these days. Leave it to Vesa Ranta and Harri Haataja to deliver not one, but two incredibly, hauntingly beautiful videos in same fall: “Rooms and Shadows” by Swallow the Sun, and “Miðaftann” by Sólstafir. The former is as close to perfection as any video for a StS song can be, it’s eerie, it’s disturbing, and absolutely gorgeous, and the latter equally stunning in its black and white minimalism. I was so close to call it a tie, but the breathtaking ending in “Miðaftann” won this one from me.


 

MOST POTENTIAL
AW: This one goes to Shiraz Lane. Though the band hasn’t stepped out just yet to blow us away, they’re right on their way. They’ve got a tough journey ahead of them, following in the footsteps of Reckless Love and Santa Cruz, so it’ll be harder for them to break the barriers these two bands have already shattered with their fanbases. That being said, if they manage to do it (and hey, they won the Wacken contest this year), they have the potential to blow both of those bands away. Fingers crossed for their sake, and I, for one, am looking forward to hearing their upcoming album next year!

VK: At the Hollow surprised me with their unique sound while opening for Amorphis in October, and I sense a lot of potential in them, because there can never be too many bands that defy genre boundaries. They can certainly find a wide audience with the right kind of promotion, because I can see their music appealing to fans of various kinds of music.

LL: I could have gone easy and predictable with this one and just name Arion: it’s been quite a year for them, and even though there’s not yet much we’ve heard from their latest endeavors in studio, I expect a lot of good things to come from the bunch. It’s exciting to follow how they have grown even during the short course of one year, so yes, it would be a no-brainer to just give them the title – but to stir it up a little bit, I will call it a tie between the young guns and the new adventures of a few veterans in the form of Psychework. Without even one whole song out, I am more than willing to bet that this band will sweep us and everyone else off our feet in the near future. Or sweep the floor with everyone, however you like it better. But there will be sweeping. A lot of it.

 

CONCLUSION
AW: In the end, 2015 turned out to be a mind-blower music-wise. I have to throw some special mentions in here because I don’t have enough categories to fit all the songs in that were fantastic this year.

To start with, Haven by Kamelot was incredible. It’s perhaps the first album of theirs that I’ve been able to listen through start-to-finish without skipping songs, and the instrumental version was just as good as the regular version. While I don’t think it overtook albums like Endless Forms Most Beautiful or Under the Red Cloud, it was certainly one of my favorites this year and needs to get some praise somewhere.

Next, I want to give a throw-out to “Shadowmaker” by Apocalyptica. It came really close to getting Most Epic Song and Most Chilling Song, but lost out to songs that came out later in the year. Perhaps I need to make a new category called Most Dynamic Song, just so I can let them have an award for it, because damn, it’s some good work. And props to Franky Perez! If I wanted to give an award to Best Guest Vocalist, he’d likely be top of the list (with special mention to Simone Simons on King of Kings).

Entwine, as well, need a round of applause. I’m ashamed to admit that I didn’t get around to reviewing Chaotic Nation, but I wish I had. The album was perhaps one of the freshest things I’ve ever heard and one of the most clear examples I could possibly give of a band maturing and growing over the years and following a hiatus. What made it even more cool was that the interview made it clear that the album, in the making, was no fairytale. It tells a lot about the hard work that goes into making music.

Two more albums that need some recognition but didn’t fit into any of my categories are Venom by Bullet for My Valentine and That’s the Spirit by Bring Me the Horizon. If I could give the former its own category, I’d call it something like Most Empowering Album for its high energy and “fuck you” lyrics. BMtH, on the other hand, could’ve won Catchiest Album or Best Album You Can Listen Straight Through. Frankly, the latter was one of my favorite albums of the year, but when you hold up metalcore next to symphonics and orchestrations, I just don’t think you can objectively judge them the same way. Perhaps I need a Best Metalcore Album category as well. Though it’s not a genre I’m overly fond of as a whole, there was a lot of good stuff in that genre this year as well, what with Parkway Drive and We Came as Romans releasing some good material as well!

VK: 2015 was a great year for music – both the quality and quantity of music defeats 2014 easily. I don’t think I’ve ever listened to so many new albums in one year before, but there are still plenty of interesting releases that I haven’t had time to delve into yet. One band that didn’t win in any category but deserves a mention is Anekdoten – Until All the Ghosts Are Gone was my introduction to them, and I found their heavy prog sound enjoyable right from the start. If you enjoy Opeth’s latest two albums, Anekdoten might be your cup of tea.

LL: I agree, it was an exceptionally good year in music, both album and live show -wise. On album front, I noticed a few trends throughout the year; as mentioned earlier, successful comebacks was one of them, as well as numerous veteran bands releasing fresh-sounding, near-perfect or even perfect albums, which is not always a given at a certain point in a band’s career. One notable thing, on more than a couple of albums, was the balanced blend of old and new – you could hear that especially on Haven and Under the Red Cloud, but also on Nightwish’s and Entwine’s releases, just to mention a few. There was a lot of diversity and pleasant surprises, and lyric-wise the bar for 2016 is set almost unbelievably high. Can’t wait to see what’s packed for the year!

2016 Potential Nominees:
AW:
1. Wintersun – Time II (we’re still waiting!)
2. Thunderstone – unreleased (I may be a bit biased, but I already know this album is phenomenal)

To be honest, there’s not a lot that’s upcoming that I’m truly excited about for next year yet, save Thunderstone’s upcoming release, but there are plenty of big names with material in the mix that may be interesting!

2016 Albums of Interest:
AW:
1. Shiraz Lane
2. Amaranthe
3. Arch Enemy
4. Katatonia
5. Lacuna Coil – Delirium
6. Tool
7. Sonata Arctica

VK:
1. Steven Wilson – 4½
2. Dream Theater – The Astonishing
3. Dark Tranquillity
4. Katatonia
5. Marillion
6. Sonata Arctica
7. Thunderstone
8. Witherscape

 

SUMMARY
AW:
1. Best New Album: Nightwish – Endless Forms Most Beautiful
2. Best New Song: Nightwish – “Alpenglow”
3. Best Folk Album: Amorphis – Under the Red Cloud
4. Best Female-Fronted Album: Nightwish – Endless Forms Most Beautiful
5. Best Folk/Viking Song: Amorphis – “Death of a King”
6. Most Epic Song: Nightwish – “The Greatest Show on Earth”
7. Best Slow Song: Apocalyptica – “Hole in My Soul”
8. Most Chilling Song: Iron Maiden – “Empire of the Skies”
9. Best Fun-Time Song: Ensiferum – “Two of Spades”
10. Best Cover Song: Ensiferum – “Rawhide”
11. Best Solo/Riff: Ensiferum – “Two of Spades”
12. Best Instrumental: Nightwish – “The Eyes of Sharbat Gula”
13. Biggest Positive Surprise: Leaves’ Eyes – King of Kings | Entwine – Chaotic Nation
14. Best New Discovery: Arion & Shiraz Lane
15. Biggest Whatever: Helloween – My God-Given Right
16. Biggest Disappointment: Soilwork – The Ride Majestic
17. Saddest Farewell: myGRAIN (disbanded)
18. Best Replacement: Lassi Vääränen (Arion), Jón Aldará (Barren Earth)
19. Best Cover Art: Iron Maiden – The Book of Souls
20. Worst Cover Art: Apocalyptica – Shadowmaker
21. Best Live Show: The Theater Equation at Nieuwe Luxor Theater, Rotterdam
22. Best Live Album/DVD: Devin Townsend – Live at the Royal Albert
23. Best Music Video: Iron Maiden – “Speed of Light”
24. Most Potential: Shiraz Lane

VK:
1. Best New Album: Steven Wilson – Hand. Cannot. Erase.
2. Best New Song: Steven Wilson – “Routine”
3. Best Folk Album: Amorphis – Under the Red Cloud
4. Best Female-Fronted Album: Avatarium – The Girl with the Raven Mask
5. Best Folk/Viking Song: Amorphis – “White Night”
6. Most Epic Song: Queensrÿche – “Condition Hüman”
7. Best Slow Song: Paradise Lost – “Beneath Broken Earth”
8. Most Chilling Song: Ghost – “Cirice”
9. Best Fun-Time Song: CMX – “Hyperborea”
10. Best Cover Song: Gavin Harrison – “The Sound of Muzak/So Called Friend”
11. Best Solo/Riff: Riverside – “Under the Pillow”/”Saturate Me”
12. Best Instrumental: Steven Wilson – “Regret #9″
13. Biggest Positive Surprise: Amorphis – Under the Red Cloud
14. Best New Discovery: Lucifer
15. Biggest Whatever: The Man-Eating Tree – In the Absence of Light
16. Biggest Disappointment: Barren Earth – On Lonely Towers
17. Saddest Farewell: n/a
18. Best Replacement: Jón Aldará (Barren Earth)
19. Best Cover Art: Riverside – Love, Fear and the Time Machine
20. Worst Cover Art: Antimatter – The Judas Table
21. Best Live Show: Steven Wilson at The Circus, Helsinki
22. Best Live Album/DVD: Rush – R40 Live
23. Best Music Video: Steven Wilson – “Routine”
24. Most Potential: At the Hollow

LL:
1. Best New Album: Kamelot – Haven
2. Best New Song: n/a
3. Best Folk Album: Amorphis – Under the Red Cloud
4. Best Female-Fronted Album: Nightwish – Endless Forms Most Beautiful
5. Best Folk/Viking Song: Amorphis – “Tree of Ages”
6. Most Epic Song: Nightwish – “The Greatest Show on Earth”
7. Best Slow Song: Kamelot – “Under Grey Skies”
8. Most Chilling Song: Mokoma – “Pohja on nähty”
9. Best Fun-Time Song: Santa Cruz – “My Remedy”
10. Best Cover Song: Amorphis – “Every Time I Die” | Children of Bodom – “Black Winter Day”
11. Best Solo/Riff: Mokoma – “Sinne missä aamu sarastaa”
12. Best Instrumental: Swallow the Sun – “The Womb of Winter”
13. Biggest Positive Surprise: Magnificent comebacks and veteran bands at their best
14. Best New Discovery: Psychework
15. Biggest Whatever: Ensiferum – One Man Army
16. Biggest Disappointment: Cain’s Offering – Stormcrow
17. Saddest Farewell: myGRAIN (disbanded)
18. Best Replacement: Lassi Vääränen (Arion)
19. Best Cover Art: Amorphis – Under the Red Cloud
20. Worst Cover Art: Ensiferum – One Man Army
21. Best Live Show: Nightwish at Ratina Stadion, Tampere
22. Best Live Album/DVD: n/a
23. Best Music Video: Sólstafir – “Miðaftann”
24. Most Potential: Arion & Psychework

Text: Amy Wiseman, Ville Karttunen, Lene L. | Ed: Amy Wiseman

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