1. Blind Guardian – Beyond The Red Mirror
The ever meticulous Germans returned in 2015 after a five-year gap since the release of their last album – the longest break in their career thus far. BEYOND THE RED MIRROR proved without a shadow of a doubt that the time away didn’t hurt; in fact, the album is the band’s best since a little release called NIGHTFALL IN MIDDLE-EARTH.
2. Stratovarius – Eternal
With their fourth post-Timo Tolkki release, the Finnish power metallians proved that they are as strong now as they ever were in the late-90’s heyday.
3. Cain’s Offering – Stormcrow
What a year for Timo Kotipelto! 2015 was arguably his best year ever professionally with his mainstay band Stratovarius coming in just above this, and the long-awaited sophomore outing from the revered Cain’s Offering living up to expectations. Anyone who says power metal is stagnating needs to take just one listen to this album to have their words shoved back in their face.
4. Nightwish – Endless Forms Most Beautiful
The Finns’ first effort with the fan-favorite Floor Jansen at the mic was everything that you could have asked for. Bombastic, powerful, and yes, overblown, Nightwish is still the best in the game.
5. Royal Hunt – XII: Devil’s Dozen
Royal Hunt may be unfairly ignored on North American shores but that hasn’t stopped Andre Andersen and the inimitable D.C. Cooper from cranking out top-flight material. DEVIL’S DOZEN proves that they are as vital as ever.
6. Kamelot – Haven
Kamelot made a big return in 2012 with SILVERTHORN, their first with then-new vocalist Tommy Karevik. HAVEN proves that was no fluke as it’s yet another immediate and memorable album.
7. Blazon Stone – No Sign Of Glory
Running Wild may not be what they once were, but if you still crave rollicking tales of heavy metal piracy, look no further than Blazon Stone. NO SIGN OF GLORY is as strong a Teutonic metal album as you’re likely to hear and contains my single favorite song of 2015: “Fire the Cannons”.
8. Helloween – My God-Given Right
Speaking of Teutonic metal, Helloween returned this year with their 15th album of new material and even as the band moves into their fourth decade (!), they show no signs of slowing down.
9. The Black Dahlia Murder – Abysmal
ABYSMAL is anything but. The Black Dahlia Murder seems to keep getting stronger, more precise, and more vicious every time they release an album. It doesn’t hurt that ABYSMAL is as razor-sharp an death metal album as you’re likely to hear.
10. Melechesh – Enki
ENKI is probably the album I was most anticipating in 2015, and Ashmedi and crew did not disappoint me. It’s perhaps true that Melechesh didn’t cover much new ground on this one, but they don’t need to as they own this particular corner of Middle Eastern mystical metal.
11. Eclipse – Armageddonize
Eclipse is probably the best hard rock band working today and the catchy, fiery anthems on ARMAGEDDONIZE prove it.
12. Iron Maiden – The Book Of Souls
On their 16th studio album, Iron Maiden somehow manage to use all of the things people complain about (repetition, long-winded song writing) and turn them to their advantage in creating yet another compelling album with depth.
13. Vanden Plas – Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld II
Speaking of compelling, Vanden Plas returned with another in a long line of spellbinding albums, proving that they remain one of the top progressive metal bands in the world.
14. DarkTribe – The Modern Age
France always seems to be the forgotten country when it comes to metal but with their thoroughly enjoyable sophomore effort, THE MODERN AGE, DarkTribe proved that they’re ready to compete with the best power metal has to offer.
15. Doomsday Outlaw – Black River
Crushing backwoods Southern metal from the U.K.? It’s as shocking as it is welcome and I definitely welcome more from Doomsday Outlaw.
16. Saxon – Battering Ram
Saxon have kept the flame burning for almost 4 decades and BATTERING RAM proves they have a lot more still in the tank. Long live the NWOBHM.
17. Act of Defiance – The Birth And The Burial
With this slab of angry, aggressive thrash, Chris Broderick and Shawn Drover show the type of metal they really want to play. This one flew a bit under the radar, but I can’t help but feel that if this was the new Megadeth album, fans would have been fawning all over it. This album grew on me the most in 2015.
18. Stryper – Fallen
Just, wow. With their previous album and now FALLEN, Stryper have released the two best albums of their controversial career.
19. Joel Hoekstra’s 13 – Dying To Live
Joel Hoekstra’s got his fleet fingers involved in a large number of projects these days, but he thankfully saved his best song writing for his fourth solo album which is jammed full of incredible & memorable tunes.
20. Hibria – Hibria
The 20th spot was a toss-up for me between this and W.A.S.P.’s excellent GOLGOTHA record, but ultimately I decided to award the placement to Hibria. These Brazilians surprised me the most this year with their most vital album since their debut more than a decade ago, capping off a great year for power metal.
Best New Band
Doomsday Outlaw – Black River
I have to go with these boozy, stomping Brits. The literally came out of nowhere in 2015 with their BLACK RIVER debut and it knocked me on my ass.
Martin Popoff – Swords & Tequila: Riot’s Classic First Decade
In which a hugely underrated band gets some deserved and loving coverage from metal’s greatest writer.
Best Live Album
Eden’s Curse – Live With The Curse
It’s unfortunate that live albums are ineligible for our Top 20 lists, because this one would have easily been in my Top 3. Eden’s Curse knocked it into the stratosphere with this huge double disc set, flawlessly offer up 20 live tracks that show how awesome this band’s song writing and performance skills are.
Immortal Guardian – Revolution Part 1
Neoclassical power metal done right, these guys have a ton of talent and I can’t wait to see where they go from here.
Dragonforce – In The Line Of Fire Live
I’m sure there were more in-depth DVDs this year, but I had the most fun with this one, by far! The entire band puts on an energetic musical display like no other group can, but the star is vocalist Marc Hudson who effortlessly steals the show.
Disappointments of the Year
I have no words. Just an indescribably huge loss for the metal community, and many of us on a deep personal level.
R.I.P. Phil Taylor
He may have been largely inactive for awhile but there’s few of us who haven’t been wowed by his original drum work and personality over the years. With both Phil and Lemmy gone, the afterlife just got a whole hell of a lot louder!
R.I.P. Frank Watkins (Obituary / Gorgoroth)
R.I.P. Martin Kearns (Bolt Thrower)
Break-up of Sister Sin…the greatest traditional metal band of the last decade sadly packs it in.
Greatest Hopes for 2016
W.A.S.P. Retrospective / Historical Set: As JP and I have said in the past, Blackie needs to get off his duff and put out the definitive historical W.A.S.P. set. This band’s history is as interesting (and sordid) as they come and it would be a fascinating listen/viewing.
New album releases: Looking forward to the likes of: Megadeth, King Diamond, Primal Fear, Dream Theater, Anthrax, Avantasia, Nordic Union, Sinbreed, and many more.