2015: A Year In Metal - Introduction
Another 12 months, another time of great change in our world. From triumphant comebacks, to all-star supergroups, to tragic loss of life, we remember the highs and lows of 2015.
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.