Our countdown of the 25 best metal albums of 2015 has reached its midpoint (here’s Part 1; here’s Part 2). Let’s get to it!

15. Stearica, Fertile
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Stearica are an instrumental trio from Italy; Fertile is their first album in seven years, save for a collaboration with Acid Mothers Temple in 2010. The album features several guest appearances; multi-instrumentalist Colin Stetson plays flute, French horn, tenor and bass saxophones on “Shāh Māt,” and two vocalists are heard on other tracks. “Amreeka” features Scott McCloud of Girls Against Boys, and Ryan Patterson of Coliseum appears on “Nur.” The music is a moody, postpunk-derived throb with ultra-heavy bass and intricate, clicking-into-place rhythms that recall Battles. There’s not a whole lot of screaming guitar, but the energy is decidedly metallic; even at its mellowest, artiest moments, this is not music designed to relax the listener.

14. Ad Nauseam, Nihil Quam Vacuitas Ordinatum Est
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Italian death metal band Ad Nauseam’s debut is a blurry wall of noise, dense and dissonant, not unlike Portal, Gorguts or Ulcerate, but the way it blends death metal and doom may also please fans of Incantation. And there’s more going on here than pure metal, particularly in the album’s later stretches. On tracks like “The Black Veil of Original Flaw” and epic closer “Superimposing Mere Will and Sheer Need,” elements of modern classical music appear, as piano and violin add even more nerve-jangling atmosphere. Nihil Quam… is an unrelenting album, to be sure, but it’s also exhilarating to hear this kind of density, compositional confidence, and sonic surprise in a genre that frequently falls back on proven strategies.

13. Napalm Death, Apex Predator – Easy Meat
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Napalm Death‘s 15th studio album opens with a spoken/chanted/ranted monologue over tribal beats reminiscent of early Swans, or even Einstürzende Neubauten. Barney Greenway groans his lyrics, while Mitch Harris screeches in a voice that sounds like a fucking Dalek; it’s enough to give you chills. The next track, “Smash a Single Digit,” is blindingly fast, though; the guitars have an edge like a polished-steel bandsaw blade. The most adventurous song is “Hierarchies,” which features layered clean vocals and a short but quite shredtastic guitar solo. Apex Predator – Easy Meat brings back some of the exploratory sounds of albums like Words From The Exit Wound or Inside The Torn Apart), while retaining the intensity of more recent work. On every replay, new subtleties reveal themselves.

12. Tau Cross, Tau Cross
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This semi-all-star postpunk/metal project is a collaboration between Amebix bassist/vocalist Rob “The Baron” Miller and Voivod drummer Michel “Away” Langevin, plus guitarists Andy Lefton and Jon Misery. It sounds like a more down-to-earth Killing Joke, with tribal rhythms, roaring guitars, rumbling/dubby bass, and incantatory lyrics full of a sort of back-to-the-land English pagan mysticism. The songs have the kind of raw, protean power that more polished, technically skilled musicians can’t quite manage – like, if you asked the members of Dream Theater to cover the songs from the StoogesFun House, the result would be nightmarish. Tau Cross could do the job, though. In some ways, this is a perfect audio companion to Paul Kingsnorth’s amazing novel The Wake, but it’s also a great soundtrack to running in circles in the back yard, shirtless and waving a torch.

11. Motörhead, Bad Magic
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Motörhead‘s latest album is a return to aggression following 2013’s relatively staid Aftershock. It opens with the thrashing “Victory Or Die,” followed by the equally cranked-up “Thunder & Lightning.” But “Fire Storm Hotel” features a bluesy riff full of swagger and swing, and “The Devil” has a low-slung rumble reminiscent of early ’90s albums like March Ör Die and Bastards, plus a guest guitar solo from, of all people, Brian May of Queen. There’s a ballad, “Till The End,” but Lemmy’s fuzzed-out bass saves it from tedium. It all ends with a cover of “Sympathy For The Devil” that shouldn’t work, but it’s solid and gritty, Lemmy‘s growled delivery recalling “Orgasmatron” more than the Rolling Stones. Bad Magic is as good as 21st Century Motörhead gets.

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