Don’t Panic, It’s a Distro’s Top 10 Black Metal Albums of the Year 2015

Danny Brawlins and Steve O - January 14, 2016

Usually when we do anything with Don’t Panic, It’s a Distro, we like to focus on underground DIY punk bands, mostly from the Chicago area (what up DeKalb?). However, there’s a few other genres out there that we are really fucking crazy about that we never cover. One of those genres is black metal. It’s raw, emotional, lo-fi, underground and largely DIY; most of the things we love about punk… that and we couldn’t agree on a 2015 klezmer or avant-garde jazz best of list. These albums were handpicked by both Steve O))) and myself in a very precise, quasi-logical manner. If you feel someone got robbed, or think we missed a good album, or if you just wanna talk black metal find us on Facebook or drop us a line at

10) (tie) Striborg – This Suffocating Existence

I’ll be honest, I haven’t heard much of what Striborg has been putting out as of recently which is why I was a little surprised when I first heard This Suffocating Existence. Instead of the harsh terrifying noise and pained shrieks I expect from a Striborg album, there are melodies and song structures. Don’t get me wrong, this is still a fucking harsh and terrifying album but it kinda strikes me as Striborg’s version of a pop album. Take that as you will. I don’t know about you but I love this album. If you’re new to Striborg, I’d recommend Foreboding Silence over this. If you’re new to black metal, I’d recommend a different band altogether. – Danny (Razed Soul Productions)

10) (tie) Alda – Passage

Alda are from Washington State and given their sound this should come as no surprise. They play that nature-inspired black metal similar to bands like Agalloch and Wolves in the Throne Room. There’s a lot of that atmosphere here, ranging from the cello and the acoustics to the variety of vocal performances, from your traditional black metal shrieks to your cleans a la Agalloch. If you’re into the Cascadian stuff, you’ll enjoy it. – Steve O))) (Eisenwald/Bindrune Recordings)

9) Blaze of Perdition – Near Death Revelations

Blaze of Perdition are a Polish black metal band who released their 3rd full length with Near Death Revelations. Somehow I missed getting into them until now. They’re definitely a traditional black metal band, but with that modern sound, like a weirder version of Watain. There’s a rawness, but there’s a definite sense of melody too. And, as with many of the bands who stretch black metals boundaries beyond ‘90s Norway, there’s plenty creativity and variety. – Steve O))) (Agonia Records)

8) Botanist – Hammer of Botany

What’s the most unusual instrument you could think of being used in black metal? If the answer is banjo, well you should see what Taake did a couple years ago. Or maybe the top of our list. How about a hammered dulcimer? And how about using that hammered dulcimer to play songs all about plants? That’s what Botanist does and it’s fucking brilliant. You haven’t heard anything like this before. It’s like a botany class, where every lecture has a Burzum record on in the background. – Steve O))) (Favonian)

7) Mesarthim – Isolate

Mesarthim is a new synth-heavy depressive/atmospheric/cosmic black metal band out of Australia. Over the summer, this band put out one of the best black metal albums I’ve heard in a long time. Isolate is the audial essence of floating through the cosmos pondering the meaning of life. It’s basically the album I wanted to see Midnight Odyssey put out this year. I’m excited to see what they do in the future. – Danny (self-released)

6) Iskra – Ruins

Iskra is a blackened crust band from Victoria, BC, Canada. They’re not the first band to combine black metal with crust punk but they did coin the term blackened crust. Lyrically, Iskra is a lot like the anarcho-punk bands I grew up listening to, sonically they’re a crust band with blast beats, black metal shrieks and death metal guitar riffs scattered throughout. Ruins was my introduction to Iskra, which is odd because they include former members of two bands I love; Black Kronstadt and Leper. If you’re into punk and metal, you’ll dig Ruins; if you’re into one and not the other, this probably won’t be your thing. – Danny (Yehonala Tapes)

5) Peste Noire – La Chaise-Dyable

France has some of the weirdest, and coolest, black metal around, and Peste Noire are definitely near, or at, the top of that list. Peste Noire, meaning the Black Death are predictable in the way that you know the music is going to pummel you, but with an odd, decidedly French fashion. There are melancholic, piano driven songs, with accordions (!) and there are songs with Famine’s harsh yell, and each are equally haunting. His singing voice, might be even moreso, as evidenced in “La Diable Existe” or “Quand Je Bois Du Vin,” especially if you don’t understand the French language. There aren’t many bands out there that sound like Peste Noire, and there are few that put out consistently great records. – Steve O))) (La mesnie Herlequin)

4) Deafheaven – New Bermuda

I knew Sunbather was going to be hard to follow up but goddamn did Deafheaven pull it off! With New Bermuda, Deafheaven brings a heavier, more metal, sound to the table while maintaining the black metal/shoegaze (is blackgaze really a thing?) style they established with Sunbather and Roads to Judah. Trve kvlt metal pvrists still won’t like this record but if you weren’t into Sunbather and have a semi-open mind; give New Bermuda a spin, you might dig it. – Danny (Anti)

3) Ghost Bath – Moonlover

Whether they are from China or North Dakota, it doesn’t really matter, because Ghost Bath have put out a fantastic sophomore record with Moonlover. Setting the stage with the calm of “The Sleeping Fields,” the storm erupts at the beginning of “Golden Number.” Part of what creates such a dark atmosphere here is the vocals being almost buried at the same level as the rest of the instruments. They don’t attract any particular attention, nor do they distract, instead creating a solid wall of noise. And Ghost Bath do such a great job alternating between the relaxation and chaos, it seems completely natural. Like the sereneness of a peaceful lake, only to switch to drowning in a real ghost bath. – Steve O))) (Northern Silence Productions)

2) Leviathan – Scar Sighted

This is a brutal fucking album. The fifth full-length from Leviathan, Scar Sighted is some of Wrest’s most potent material to date. Although not as strong as Leviathan’s debut full-length, The Tenth Sub Level of Suicide; Scar Sighted is steps and steps beyond its rather questionable predecessor, True Traitor, True Whore. With Scar Sighted, Wrest maintains razor sharp focus while experimenting and stepping out of the boundaries of conventional black metal. I almost have a hard time even calling this a black metal record. There’s a lot of death metal here, there’s a lot of ambient here, and there’s a lot of noise but the traditional black metal Leviathan sound we’ve grown familiar with is all over this record. I’m getting a Lurker of Chalice vibe here as well. Not a bad song on this album. Side note, “Wicked Fields of Calm” is a reworking of “Pondering the Wealth of the Stars” from The Speed of Darkness ep. Although I dug the lo-fi sound of “Pondering,” it really does benefit from the studio production on Scar Sighted. – Danny (Profound Lore Records)

1) Panopticon – Autumn Eternal

Oh, Panopticon. Easily one of the greatest things I’ve ever discovered on the internet. Thank you RABM. The brainchild of one genius by the name of Austin Lunn, Panopticon are one of, if not the, top black metal bands out there, in any corner of the genre. Everything they do is gold. Seriously, my least favorite of their records, Social Disservices, is ranked as poorly as fucking solid. Autumn Eternal is a perfect match to the preceding Roads to the North, as both records have that natural feel that Panopticon established on Kentucky and have been tinkering with since. While none of the records have matched the folksy feel of Kentucky, that hasn’t been the point. There’s always been a feeling of growth. Whether his lyrics are embracing Norse mythology and anarchist philosophy, a la Panopticon’s 2008 self-titled debut, or the labor history of his native Kentucky (on, duh, Kentucky), or embracing nature as he has with these latest couple records, Lunn’s lyrics are always fantastic, and always fit the music wonderfully. Autumn Eternal builds an epic image of the woods in fall, a hike through the hills with the leaves changing and falling. It’s the perfect soundtrack for October for the times you don’t want songs about Halloween. In a genre where bands can all sound similar, even the odd ones have similarities, Panopticon stand out. Lunn has a distinctive voice, using both growls and howls, and he’s even shown he has a great singing voice. For as much as Panopticon’s sound has grown, it is a recognizable sound, with Lunn just tinkering with the elements. There’s a ton of layers, there’s cutting, melodic leads, there’s the folksy strings, and the atmosphere that black metal is so adept at creating, whether it’s the raw brutality that beats you senseless or the ambiance that brings you a sense of peace. Seriously great stuff. If you’re not obsessed with Panopticon already, now’s as great a time as any to start. You don’t want to put it off any longer. – Steve O))) (Bindrune Recordings/Nordvis)

If you are unfamiliar, Panopticon is a one man anarcho atmospheric blackened folk metal band from Kentucky (yes, I realize how crazy that sounds). Over the past few years, Panopticon has released some of our all-time favorite black metal records. 2012’s Kentucky was a black/folk metal masterpiece focusing on the history of the labor movement within Kentucky’s coal mining industry. 2014’s Roads to the North was a solid follow up inspired by an exploration of the Norwegian woods. Autumn Eternal is a less folky, more technical follow up. As its title suggests, this is some solid music to listen to while walking down the street or through the woods on a crisp October night. If you are new to black metal, this would be a good album to pull you in. – Danny

Honorable mentions: Drudkh – A Furrow Cut Short, MGLA – Exercises in Futility, Myrkur – M, Sigh – Graveward, Thulcandra - Ascension Lost