2015 has been perhaps the finest year for guitar music in recent memory. The six-string is once again front and centre of the musical agenda and it never ceases to amaze how, in the right hands, an instrument that has remained relatively unchanged for 50+ years can continue to innovate.
From the light-fingered talents of Guthrie Govan to Lamb Of God's artfully heavy hammerings and Gary Clark Jr's updated take on the blues, it's been a vintage year for guitarists...
20. Hawk Eyes - Everything Is Fine
Everything Is Fine is an exhausting listen, and that’s to the credit of guitarists Stephens’ and Astick’s riffery; for every Black Album stomper (The Trap), there’s angry post-hardcore (Everything’s Fine) and Whammy-driven lead hysteria (More Than A Million).
19. Symphony X - Underworld
The musicianship here is unrelenting in its quest to bend the rules of space and time. But it’s the songs where the progmetallers excel, with tracks such as Nevermore, Without You and In My Darkest Hour exhibiting sky-scraping melodies and soaring choruses.
18. Mark Tremonti - Cauterize
With increased dynamics brought in by downbeat, brooding tracks such as Dark Trip and Fall Again, this sophomore release from one of today’s finest guitarists serves as a compelling reminder as to why Tremonti’s success could not be more well deserved.
17. Ian Thornley - Secrets
Big Wreck main man Thornley has always been melodically surprising and tonally open-minded in his various musical guises, and he’s exploring the mellow sides of his songwriting here on this debut solo album. Thornley is a gifted artist who needs to be heard by more guitar players.
16. Gary Clark Jr - The Story Of Sonny Boy Slim
Unafraid to breathe new life into the I-IV-V, songs such as Grinder and Hold On prove he has plenty of chops up his sleeve while Star and Cold Blooded introduce more gospel- and funk-fuelled jams in contrast to the hip-hop bounce of opener The Healing.
15. Iron Maiden - The Book Of Souls
The raw dynamic in Kevin Shirley’s production methods may be divisive, but in an age of Pro Tools, this sounds like a proper band.
One that also happens to be the greatest heavy metal band of all time; and they’re still giving more than most.
14. Klone - Here Comes The Sun
Bernard and Guadagnino leave space for their cleaner tones, while the grit of Yann Ligner’s voice lends an immediacy to these songs, which carry haunting moods that fans of mellower Opeth and Katatonia will appreciate. Possibly the best kept secret in France.
13. Sylosis - Dormant Heart
Josh Middleton takes his band’s thrashy signatures into murkier, sometimes slower, groove-infested riff waters on their fourth album, and the results are hugely impressive. It’s a perfect storm of metal; a union of atmosphere, tunes and technicality.
12. And So I Watch You From Afar - Heirs
For their fourth album, the (mostly) instrumental rockers present a kind of ‘best of’, covering past sonic phases as well as a host of new sounds. Their attention to detail ensures ASIWYFA remain the most exciting band in instrumental rock.
11. Jason Isbell - Something More Than Free
Reuniting with his live backing band, the 400 Unit, on record after 2013’s excellent Southeastern has resulted in classy electric slide work (check out Children Of Children’s majestic outro), but the main draw here is Isbell’s impressive songwriting. Simply, top draw Americana.
10. The Aristocrats - Tres Caballeros
There’s an all-pervading sense of fun on display here, as Guthrie Govan’s instrumental jazz-rock supergroup explore an eclectic set of influences.
Virtuoso doesn’t even come close to describing Guthrie’s out-of-this-world guitar playing, as The Aristocrats effortlessly dissect and reinvent each style.
9. Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds - Chasing Yesterday
We shouldn’t expect any real curveballs from Oasis’s chief songwriter now that he’s two decades into his rock ’n’ roll career, but this second solo album betters his first by offering something old, something new, and a deeper soul.
8. Periphery - Juggernaut Alpha & Omega
Songs such as MK Ultra, Four Lights and Graveless carry all the neck-snapping polyrhythms you’ll ever need. But it’s the moments when the Washington DC sextet step out of their comfort zone that truly inspire.
7. Wolf Alice - My Love Is Cool
Oddie’s crystalline jaguar cleans and shoegaze-worthy textures add plenty of dynamic contrast.
The band display a knack for marrying the power of early Pumpkins and Pixies with Ellie Rowsell’s Haim-esque hooks, while Giant Peach is godzilla-sized riffage.
6. The Wonder Years - No Closer To Heaven
TWY explore more post-rock textures in addition to the usual layered intricacy, anthemic choruses and Dan Campbell’s impassioned vocals.
But it’s the heavier edge here that highlights a creativity that’s made them pop-punk’s most interesting band.
5. Steven Wilson - Hand. Cannot. Erase.
Wilson’s production and composition frame an outstanding performance by Govan.
His solos are a key component; breaking through in Regret #9 and drawing out jaw-dropping expression in Ancestral and the more traditional Happy Returns/Ascendant Here On.
4. Lamb Of God - VII: Sturm Und Drang
The tones here are the finest blend of muscle and clarity they’ve dialled in, and closer collaboration between Adler and Morton has resulted in an even greater sense of detailed musicianship and engaging hooks as LOG return to the fray harder and stronger.
3. City And Colour - If I Should Go Before You
Working with his touring band, there’s a sensitive dynamic here that helps Dallas Green’s songs flow; whether around Northern Blues’ deep bass groove or bringing out his more soulful side in Killing Time’s stabbing chords.
2. Faith No More - Sol Invictus
Their idiosyncrasies are all present and correct, from tongue-in-cheek ballads (Sunny Side Up) to heavy chugging (Separation Anxiety), plus an, ahem, epic or two (Superhero).
This high-energy genre hopping allows Hudson to spread his wings, whether it’s with thrash or syncopated wah-driven funk.
1. Clutch - Psychic Warfare
It’s all here; Tim Sult’s juggernaut blues riffs, Neil Fallon’s vocal gravitas and lyrical genius, plus the godly grooves of rhythm section JP Gaster and Dan Maines.
The fevered garage rock urgency of Firebirds, Sucker For The Witch and A Quick Death In Texas set new benchmarks.