Last Rites Top 25 of 2016

Combined Staff List

posted on 12/2016   By: Last Rites

[D.A. Trampier's "The Treasure Hunters" from The Monster Manual, 1977]

Every year we get hundreds of thousands of letters from all over the world asking how we manage to compile our annual Last Rites Combined Staff Top 25 List. It’s no easy task, we’ll have you know. First of all, in the months leading up to this event (there are eleven months before December to deal with. ELEVEN), each crew member is charged with the task of sifting through thousands of the highest of the highly anticipated offerings from countless hordes, alchemists, units, one-man entities, cults, kvlts, experimentalists, explorers, juggernauts, sects, haters ov humanity, and “bands” in an effort to reveal which warriors truly deserve to rise to the ranks of the exalted few. Following this, we all gather at a dilapidated amusement park with the names of our prized shoats scrawled onto sanctified parchments and commence boarding a strange roller coaster that ultimately teleports the whole gang to a parallel universe where a tiny old man assigns the attributes of various character classes that range from barbarian to cleric to each OH I’M ACTUALLY THINKING ABOUT THE INTRO TO THE DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS CARTOON.

In truth, we mostly get our drank on and argue about it on the internet until we get something concrete to nail to the village doors. But it’s a private area of the internet where no one else can see us argue, so we’re being very parental about our squabbling. So, no Dungeons & Dragons, unfortunately. There is a lot of magic involved, though. At least I think it’s magic. Could also be severe dehydration. Or those weird cookies the intern from Oranssipazuzustan brought in.

It’s worth noting that planet Earth’s devious scheme to compel its inhabitants to question the authority of voting in 2016 seems to have worked its pesky tendrils into Last Rites HQ harder than usual. There was an even louder collective “Who the what?” howled to the cosmos when this year's final list came across our desks. Despite being a lousy year (any year where you lose Lemmy, Bowie and Prince is automatically lousy, no matter what other good managed to eke through), there was enough great music from each of metal's sub-genres to ensure a more vigorous singularity across individual lists. Because of this, smaller correlations between crew members had a greater impact, which also means you'll see a nice bit of variety once we start posting our personal picks next week.

Also worth noting, Devin Townsend deserves a special tip of the cap for driving the most divisive wedge between friends I’ve ever seen from a metal artist. There is very little middle ground when it comes to this guy, so you either get the addicts who vault him to the clouds and talk about him in the same shmoopy way you might address a puppy (“Awww, look! Devy’s got a Santa hat on!”), or you get the soreheads who make statements like “they sound like the house band for the Mormon church.” Anyway, good art and smart artists polarize the public, so his place amidst anyone's favorites is warranted during any year he elects to release an album.

Enough of the prattling. Last year, Tau Cross ran home with the prize, which wasn’t so much a prize as it was, well, absolutely nothing. Bragging rights associated with being very highly regarded by a group of individuals who spend a large amount of their free time lamenting over the fact that Tony Martin-fronted Black Sabbath remains terribly under-rated. Who will take the illustrious #1 spot this year? We're about to find out.

[MICHAEL WUENSCH]


 

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25. Helcaraxë – The Last Battle

"Red Dragon was a monster, appropriately enough, but the addition of further emphasis upon Helcaraxe’s already mighty mastery of the epic pushes The Last Battle in a slightly different direction, even more fantastic than that which came before and every bit as metallic. At $5 for the digital files on the ol’ Bandcamp, The Last Battle is a must-buy." [ANDREW EDMUNDS]

Released: Independent, August 30th
Last Rites review
Bandcamp

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24. Asphyx – Incoming Death

"The goal perseveres to crush, and it does so with the continued cooperation of the modern, well-groomed mix/mastering work of Dan Swäno and Unisound Studios. Some might argue for a dirtier, less “crunchy” approach, but a production such as this embiggens the punch of the heftier numbers, of which there are plenty. If the heft of a song like “Forerunners of the Apocalypse” doesn’t flatten your honker, you probably shouldn’t have taken that left turn at Albuquerque and landed in the damn neighborhood in the first place." [MICHAEL WUENSCH]

Released: Century Media, September 30th
Last Rites review
Samples

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23. Inverloch – Distance | Collapsed

"Distance | Collapsed is a seamless mixture of death and doom metal with a sound that moves away a bit from classic early diSEMBOWELMENT and toward that of, maybe, latter day Evoken. Riffs, and more riffs trodden down with a glacial pace are the name of the game, but Inverloch picks it up here and there with a gallop. Take Evoken, toss in some Incantation, and you’re in the ballpark. Add some atmospherics as a garnish, and serve." [DAVE SCHALEK]

Released: Relapse Records, March 4th
Last Rites review
Bandcamp

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22. Opeth – Sorceress

"Sorceress finds Opeth comfortably following the path that they forged on Pale Communion. It’s a fantastically arranged and produced record. It successfully pays homage to many high watermarks of the Opeth catalog, but also firmly supplants any hopes of the band returning to the death metal stylings of their earlier material that made them such a dominant force in heavy music." [EVAN THOMPSON]

Released: Moderbolaget Records, September 30th
Last Rites review
Samples

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21. Nucleus – Sentient

"Certainly, as is the case with most death metal today, Nucleus has been influenced by many of the giants of death metal, particularly those that fly the Finnish flag. But, again, they are far from a lame carbon copy. Nucleus throws a sci-fi take on the early bands, but they modify the sound with a sturdy helping of American death metal influences." [MANNY-O-WAR]

Released: Unspeakable Axe, April 15th
Last Rites review
Bandcamp

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20. Khthoniik Cerviiks – SeroLogiikal Scars

"...beneath all of the clangs and blasts and wiry dissonances and malevolent vocal bellows are catchy moments. Damn catchy moments, in fact. For example, “Biinary Epitome (Spyder’s Web)” utilizes trills to offset some particularly brutal moments, while the aforementioned “SeroLogiikal Scars (Sequence 2.0: Veiled Viiral Vektor)” is more subtle in its hook, simply freeing a tremolo line from its harmony for a brief moment, using its nakedness to glue the phrase together." [ZACH DUVALL]

Released: Iron Bonehead Productions, February 8th
Last Rites review
Bandcamp

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19. Trees of Eternity – Hour of the Nightingale

"Like so many children, the birth of the production cost the world its mother. But, even without the backstory and the emotional drain before even pressing play, Hour of the Nightingale is a harrowing work of utter beauty. Using a goth-inspired take on doom, Trees of Eternity weave compositions that are not wholly separate from their Katatonia roots. Melody, emotion and super long song arcs predominate, but it’s Aleah’s stunning vocal performance, dripping with butterscotch sweetness and syrupy emotion, that steals the show." [MANNY-O-WAR]

Released: Svart Records, November 11th
Last Rites review
Bandcamp

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18. Fates Warning – Theories of Flight

"Theories of Flight’s cover art hints that flight, like Life, is made up of basic movements hardly noticed in real time but that together carry us to wondrous places. Its songs reflect the journey, being deeply personal, discreet yet relatable, maximizing the shared space between storyteller and listener. Ray Alder wrote a lot of the lyrics for Theories and it’s obvious that these words matter to him, his performance here perhaps his strongest ever. Classic Matheos riffs and solos are brighter around the edges, vital and uplifting, dynamic scaffolding for all that evoked power. From the core, Jarzombek’s drums inject a flow of metal to gird the fresh embrace of harmonic and melodic texturing that fans that power out across the color spectrum. The effect for the listener is connection not just with the words, 'Yeah, been there before,' but with the essential emotion, 'Oh, I know how that feels!'" [LONE WATIE]

Released: InsideOut Music, July 1st
Samples

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17. Chthe'ilist – Le dernier crépuscule

"Chthe’ilist vocalist, guitarist, bassist and synthist Pat Tougas has forged a fresh world (Eil’udom) inspired by H.P. Lovecraft, and just how far he plans on weaving these realms and its principle inhabitants – the Typhodians – remains to be seen. I can tell you that the shifting moods throughout Le Dernier Crépuscule paint a fertile, horrific and compelling landscape, and Pat’s crackpot vocals serve to push the narrative off the charts." [MICHAEL WUENSCH]

Released: Profound Lore, January 29th
Last Rites review
Bandcamp

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16. Spiritus Mortis – The Year is One

"The Year Is One is loaded from top to bottom with simple, but very catchy, riffs and a slow to mid-paced tempo that anchors the sound. But it’s the soaring melodic, yet richly delivered, vocals from Sami Hynninen (Reverend Bizarre's Albert Witchfinder), who joined in 2009, that elevate the band’s sound to a higher level." [DAVE SCHALEK]

Released: Svart Records, November 11th
Last Rites review
Bandcamp

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15. Meshuggah – The Violent Sleep of Reason

"The result is an album that might as well be called “Meshuggah: Jam Room,” as if the mentality was to write a shitload of riffs and rock their socks off. Again, this is all very relative, and because being “normal” isn’t in their vocabulary, and because they’re simply better at this metal thing than 99.99 percent of all other bands in existence, The Violent Sleep of Reason still ended up being a crazily technical, rhythmically mind-boggling, and oppressively heavy album." [ZACH DUVALL]

Released: Nuclear Blast, October 7th
Last Rites review
Samples

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14. Wormed – Krighsu

"What makes this album any different from the countless oceans of over-produced BruTech ™ drech, you ask? Vision, motherfucker, that's what. Wormed does this awesome thing where certain riffs in certain spots recall past or present riffs, which makes their songs relate to all of their other songs in some fashion. If a band like Tool or Radiohead does that, They get the cover of Rolling Stone. Why not Wormed, I ask? I already imagine Madrid shuts down at least once a day to have a parade for these guys, complete with a kid throwing a bottle of Coke at vocalist Phlegeton and him coming down off of his float to give him his Wormed jersey." [CHRIS REDAR]

Released: Season of Mist, March 18th
Last Rites review
Bandcamp

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13. Insomnium – Winter's Gate

"The one thing the album-length song almost always suffers from is moments when you feel like you have heard enough. When listening to music, perception really is reality, so anything in the experience that moves you away from enjoying yourself can kill a song, or an album for future listens. But Winter’s Gate does not, to my mind, have any of these moments. By record’s final third the listener is invested and able to simply enjoy the finale." [CHRIS SESSIONS]

Released: Century Media, September 23rd
Last Rites review
Sample

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12. ORANSSI PAZUZU – VÄRÄHTELIJÄ

"Oranssi Pazuzu are, I suppose, a jam band for the eternal void. Each song on Värähtelijä feels like an hours'-long, chemically assisted freak-out and exorcism whittled down to its purest essence, like Hawkwind or Amon Duul at their untidiest directed into some kind of order. Värähtelijä is less outwardly aggressive than Valonielu, but by jacking up the psychedelic elements of OP's sound, it maintains a level of sustained intensity that would be overbearing if the band weren't so expert at ratcheting the tension again and again, higher and higher, and finally relenting just shy of the listener's breaking point." [DAN OBSTKRIEG]

Released: Svart Records, February 26th
Last Rites review
Bandcamp

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11. ANAAL NATHRAKH – THE WHOLE OF THE LAW

"Of course, Anaal Nathrakh’s modus vivendi has always been manifestly unhinged music. Nevertheless, the ruthless discipline with which they execute that manifesto throughout The Whole of the Law marks the album distinctly apart from their recent output. “Hold Your Children Close and Pray for Oblivion” demonstrates the band’s extremes brilliantly, with some of the album’s harshest, blown-out electronic beats and Hunt’s severely unwell vocals butting up against some legitimately uplifting melodic guitar work from Kenney in the midsection." [DAN OBSTKRIEG]

Released: Metal Blade, October 28th
Last Rites review
Bandcamp

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10. DARKTHRONE – ARCTIC THUNDER

"All said and done, people will likely tromp out the old “If you love/hate modern Darkthrone…” line to either praise or condemn Arctic Thunder, and that’s an understandable stance, to a point. But what ultimately sets this record apart is the fact that it sounds more like Darkthrone being Darkthrone, as opposed to Darkthrone paying tribute to our ancestors. The good times continue to roll, and one can still have fun trying to bridge these riffs to dusty bands of times long past (and likely be wrong), but the return to harsh coldness without sacrificing a high-quality production or the band’s unique brand of revelry allows Arctic Thunder to stack very close to the top of the heap when it comes to their modern harvest." [MICHAEL WUENSCH]

Released: Peaceville, October 14th
Last Rites review
Samples

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9. INTER ARMA – PARADISE GALLOWS

"It would be easy to get lost in the minutiae of Inter Arma’s compositions and the breadth of the material on offer here. As stated previously, this a big record with a lot to digest, but there is also a lot to love. Plenty of interesting melodies, savagely complex grooves, and nuanced instrumentals await those who take the time to immerse themselves in Inter Arma’s masterpiece of modern metal. A fundamentally great heavy record with a sense of scale unlike any I have heard in recent years." [EVAN THOMPSON]

Released: Relapse Records, July 8th
Last Rites review
Bandcamp

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8. HAMMERS OF MISFORTUNE – DEAD REVOLUTION

"Although it has been a long five years since 17th Street, that interim period has seen Hammers of Misfortune's ringleader and guitarist John Cobbett release two albums of gloriously crusty psych-thrash with Vhol (albums which, on occasion, bear traces of the pre-Hammers group Unholy Cadaver). Even so, any new Hammers release should be greeted as the gift that it is, because very few bands channel everything true and righteous about traditional heavy metal into music that sounds anything but traditional." [DAN OBSTKRIEG]

Released: Metal Blade, July 22nd
Last Rites review
Bandcamp

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7. MOONSORROW – JUMALTEN AIKA

"Moonsorrow are clearly inspired by not only their musical heroes and mythical tales of yore, but by the metal music that they themselves have created. Otherwise they would have long since become bored and attempted something far more drastic. Let us all be thankful that this has never happened, because to many a fan, they offer some of the most constantly captivating and joyful experiences in music, and Jumalten Aika continues the tradition. That’s a kind of magic that you just can’t teach." [ZACH DUVALL]

Released: Century Media, April 1st
Last Rites review
Sample

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6. SUBROSA – FOR THIS WE FOUGHT THE BATTLE OF AGES

"It is a funeral bouquet, steel and blood; potted in granite. It is a confident drawing composed of sumptuous curves boldly and satisfyingly depicting the decay of a soul. It is the last sigh of a death welcome and deserved. It is funeral dirges, lovely voices, disturbing strings, dissonant harmonies, anger and pain and, above all, heavier than all the guilt in hell." [CHRIS SESSIONS]

Released: Profound Lore, August 26th
Last Rites review
Bandcamp

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5. Devin Townsend Project – Transcendence

The difference between Transcendence and the last several DTP albums is as real as it is difficult to pin down. All of them are joyous, overflowing albums, but the dominant mode on many seemed to be extroversion; they worked their magic because they led by example: “If we can be this happy, so can you.” Transcendence, by contrast, is somewhat more introverted, or at least introspective. It's no less positive or joyous because of that, but it has the feeling of a deep satisfaction that comes with learning something about oneself after long struggle and denial. Transcendence doesn’t sound like Ocean Machine, really. Or Terria. Or anything else, specifically. But it sounds like it is looking with compassion on the people who made those albums, remembering the way they felt when that was what was in their heart. It also sounds like looking with compassion on the people who made City. It also sounds, for the record, like a maximalist auteur at the absolute top of his goddamned game. Get higher. [DAN OBSTKRIEG]

Released: HevyDevy Records, September 9th
Sample

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4. Katatonia – The Fall Of Hearts

"Like most Katatonia albums, The Fall of Hearts has a sneaky depth. Even the most direct and catchy of the band’s works have treats and details hiding in plain sight, and this is no different. If anything it is even more brimming with detail and nuance than other albums. It is also as beautiful, haunting, professionally crafted, and oh-so-sweet to the ears as we have come to expect from the band, with what feels like one of the best sets of songs of their career." [ZACH DUVALL]

Released: Peaceville, May 20th
Last Rites review
Sample

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3. Blood Incantation – Starspawn

"What’s notably satisfying about Blood Incantation's brand of death metal is that they're a part of the faction that doesn't pay heed to the masks, hoods, costumes, or any of the other ancillary bullshit that so many bands seem to think adds to their appeal. Furthermore, they manage to play a form of galactic death metal that's brutal, technical, atmospheric and funereal without those tags becoming deadly-strict identifiers –– just like those young and raw death metal bands of the early 90s." [MICHAEL WUENSCH]

Released: Dark Descent, August 18th
Last Rites review
Bandcamp

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2. Vektor – Terminal Redux

"Terminal Redux is not only Vektor’s best album to date, it reveals a band that is just beginning to discover its potential. They are entering a truly progressive zone where attempting to temper any part of their crazy expression might hurt the whole. So I’ll definitely take those minor missteps, because flawed masterpiece or not, this is still a masterpiece." [ZACH DUVALL]

Released: Earache, May 6th
Last Rites review
Bandcamp

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1. Mithras – On Strange Loops

"And that is what this record is about. We all love our riffs, and we all love our grooves and speed and dynamics and textures, but Mithras writes motherfucking SONGS. Like few who can blast this brutally, Mithras never ever does so at the expense of making an emotional connection to the listener via honest-to-Mithra beautiful metal songwriting. They give us all the other components, mind you, but these are truly deep and moving compositions into which all the right ingredients are poured." [CHRIS SESSIONS]

Released: Willowtip, October 21st
Last Rites review
Bandcamp

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A sincere thanks is once again owed to all of you who remain at our side. Perhaps it goes without saying, but we appreciate any attention we can get in a world where a near limitless amount of metal-related content is at your fingertips. We’re thankful for your presence here, and that’s straight from all of our hearts. Here’s to hoping 2016 somehow managed to bring goodness into your lives, and we hope to see you all as we limp, crawl and claw our way into 2017.

As always, we’d love to see your lists as well; it’s a two-way street and we like reading ‘em as much as we enjoy compiling ‘em, so have at it in the comments below.