Some years in metal are ruled by a few key events; others by the birth and rapid proliferation of a new musical idea.
A tricky bugger by any sane reckoning, 2015 was a year when everything seemed to be happening at once and metal remained in an excited but unpredictable state of flux.
Fortunately, some things are as certain in metal as death and taxes are in life. Iron Maiden dominated our thoughts in 2015, not just because they returned with an extraordinary new album, The Book Of Souls, but because the journey they underwent to reach that point was so emotionally powerful. Bruce Dickinson’s battle with cancer, his subsequent recovery, and the sheer, irresistible positive force of the man himself gave us yet more reasons to love this band, perhaps more than any other.
That said, metal’s old guard are now marching through virgin territory, wherein no one really knows how long Maiden or a rejuvenated Judas Priest or, given Lemmy’s ongoing health problems, a more vulnerable Motörhead can keep treading the boards and making us deaf. But they’re all still out there, making new albums and flying the flag for an old-school spirit that many of us will miss when it’s gone. With that in mind, this year’s most sobering revelation was that Black Sabbath are to finally call it quits after next year’s run of live shows, in part due to the legendary Tony Iommi’s own health problems. Whether original drummer Bill Ward is invited to the party or not, this really is the end for the band that effectively invented our entire genre back in the late 60s. Those gigs will rule. Bring a hankie.
It wasn’t just metal’s living legends that fought the good fight in 2015. These were turbulent times for many of our biggest names. Asking Alexandria and Bullet For My Valentine shed long-term members – vocalist Danny Worsnop and bassist Jay James respectively – but both bands weathered the storm with ease, with AA’s new frontman Denis Stoff getting a thumbs-up from most and new Bullet album Venom being widely hailed as their best since their debut. Meanwhile, thrash pioneers Megadeth and Slayer refreshed themselves with positive results. Dave Mustaine’s crew underwent yet another reshuffle, with Angra guitarist Kiko Loureiro and Lamb Of God drummer Chris Adler slotting neatly into a lineup that, rumour has it, has just recorded one of their best albums in a long time. We await its arrival in late January with heads poised to commence immediate banging. Slayer came back with a vengeance, too. They invented a new word, Repentless, and with the spirit of Jeff Hanneman raging in their veins, they used it to name a new album that showcased the band’s current lineup and which sounded, well, like fucking Slayer.
In keeping with this spirit of fresh blood and renewed purpose, Slipknot finally admitted that their members were bassist Alessandro Venturella and drummer Jay Weinberg. We all knew that already, obviously, but, y’know, cheers anyway.
At the other end of the bonhomie scale, perhaps the most acrimonious parting of ways happened in Norway, as black metal diehards Immortal fractured into two rival camps. Frontman Abbath will now operate under his own name and there’s an album on the way, while the all-new Immortal have similar plans. Having spent a rather brilliant afternoon in London with Abbath, Metal Hammer can confirm that black metal remains the best fun you can have while terrifying tourists. Over in the US, Five Finger Death Punch briefly looked like the next band to fall apart before our eyes when they noisily imploded onstage in Memphis in May. Within days, however, the Vegas quintet were a united front once more, and new album Got Your Six was a suitably direct riposte to the gossips and doubters.
Speaking of which, 2015 was another of those years when no one said anything nice to anyone else online. At all. Bickering between Warped Tour boss Kevin Lyman and Slayer’s Kerry King over the perceived failure of the annual Mayhem Festival tour was just one of the not-terribly-dignified exchanges witnessed. People can and will argue about any old shit, won’t they? We would prefer to focus on the fact that Metal Hammer’s favourite new friend from 2015 is Dr Matt Taylor – Rosetta mission astrophysicist and heavy metal diehard, who hopped aboard HMS Hammer at this year’s Golden Gods to mosh to Napalm Death. What a guy.
But you can’t argue with the fact that 2015 was a year of resounding comebacks. It began with the arrival of the best Marilyn Manson album in well over a decade, The Pale Emperor. If the lovable old goon isn’t back to his very best form, his new songs and greatly improved live performances provided a timely reminder that no one does it quite like the God Of Fuck. Other welcome returnees included a resurgent Disturbed, metalcore mavens Atreyu and the UK’s own While She Sleeps, who put throat surgery and missed deadlines behind them to come back fighting with the widely lauded Brainwashed and some incendiary gigs. Even Rammstein broke their silence to announce a return to action next year, including a headlining slot at Download that promises, at the very least, to set our eyebrows on fire. Oh, and Tool didn’t release an album once again, although Maynard James Keenan’s Puscifer did manage to squeeze one out for us.
Festival season was a winner, whether you went for Slipknot and Kiss at Download – and saw the secret appearance from Babymetal/Dragonforce – Trivium and Within Temptation at Bloodstock, or any number of equally brilliant bands at any number of equally brilliant smaller events across the entire UK and beyond.
In 2015, there were supergroups that didn’t suck: the visceral punk of Teenage Time Killers, the epic modern metal of Metal Allegiance and the good-time blues metal of Motor Sister were all worthy, while Killer Be Killed made their live debut, at Soundwave. We also had an eruption of bands hellbent on taking the piss out of metal from the inside: from the Ned Flanders lunacy of Okilly Dokilly and the metalcore mockery of ChuggaBoom to the return of the legendary Hatebeak and the rise and rise of Evil Scarecrow, who added Download to their list of conquered festivals, metal’s ability to laugh at its own excesses and insanities continues to inspire magnificent silliness.
Metal is also thirsty work, which may explain why Motörhead, Metallica, Iron Maiden, AC/DC, Cannibal Corpse, Behemoth and Slayer produced new beers. Cheers! On that note, let’s drink to the 30th anniversaries of Megadeth’s Killing Is My Business and Maiden’s Live After Death, 20th birthdays for Down’s NOLA and Fear Factory’s Demanufacture, and 15 years on the clock for Linkin Park’s Hybrid Theory and Limp Bizkit’s nu metal classic Chocolate Starfish And The Hot Dog Flavored Water.
We must also raise a toast to those we lost in 2015. Acting god and born-again metalhead Sir Christopher Lee passed away in June at the age of 93. There’ll never be another like him, or indeed like fantasy author Terry Pratchett who left us in March. Hats are also doffed to the memories of ex-Obituary/Gorgoroth bassist Frank Watkins, After The Burial guitarist Justin Lowe, Bolt Thrower drummer Martin Kearns and Twisted Sister/Adrenaline Mob drummer A.J. Pero, all sadly and prematurely gone. And of course our community was shocked to the core when the Eagles Of Death Metal concert was one of the sites targeted by gunmen on that fateful November night in Paris. Words cannot convey our sadness, and those lost will never, ever be forgotten.
Despite the tragedies, this has been another vibrant year full of amazing heavy music, and we have no reason to believe that 2016 will be any different. If the planets align, we should get new stuff from Metallica, Avenged Sevenfold, Anthrax, Megadeth, Gojira, Killswitch Engage and Korn… and, if we’re being honest, probably not Tool. But you never know. Bring it on!
READ THE NEXT PAGE OF OUR REVIEW OF 2015 HERE…