Best Of 2017 – Michael ‘Captain’ Wuensch: Wise, Handsome, Dead!

Killed by death!

No, this is not the ghost of me creating these words.

Wait…

Am I… Am I dead? Can you guys see me?

What am I saying, of course you can’t see me. I’m over here and you’re all over there, connected only through the grace and glorious will of the world wide web. Anyway, just to be safe, I’ll attempt to pass through this wall over here.

Nope, definitely not a ghost.

“Killed by death” is the easiest way I can think to summarize my year with the heavy stuff, because death metal is what ended up occupying the lion’s share of my heavy metal listening in 2017. To be honest, I could make things a lot more straightforward by listing twenty merry death metal records that properly gutted, field dressed, and mounted my regal pate upon an impressive plaque designated for the hallowed halls at Last Rites, but that would be unreasonable and unfair. I enjoy lots of different metal styles, and off-shoots independent of our more deathly branch delivered big this year and also deserve the attention an apparently still living version of me is capable of dishing out. Consequently, take a look at this redonk list of coulda shoulda woulda death metal that ended up left behind:

Immolation – Atonement
Necrot – Blood Offerings
Phrenelith – Desolate Endscape
Broken Hope – Mutilated and Assimilated
Incantation – Profane Nexus
Acephalix – Decreation
Cannibal Corpse – Red Before Black
Morbid Angel – Kingdoms Disdained
Ingurgitating Oblivion – Vision Wallows in Symphonies of Light
Contaminated – Final Man
Daemusinem – Thy Ungodly Defiance
Impetuous Ritual – Blight Upon Martyred Sentience
Necrovorous – Plains of Decay
Skelethal – Of the Depths…
Undergang – Misantropologi

I really enjoyed all the above records at various points during the year, but the death metal that managed to make the cut below was loved even more.

And as far as death’s concerned—actual death—I suppose being killed by it doesn’t really seem like such a bad way to go out, especially considering the alternatives. In the spirit of the season, here are my Top 5 Ways To Die That Would Be Far Worse Than Just Being Killed By Death:

5. Watching ten minutes of a Jeff Dunham set.
4. Eating a brownie and then suddenly realizing it was a brick of glowing plutonium.
3. Being run over by Paul Reiser driving a maroon PT Cruiser with wood paneling.
2. Getting struck by lightning directly after surviving a bear mauling at a zoo in front of hundreds of people.
1. Being tickled to death by Dave Navarro.

Thanks for sticking with me for another year. And thanks to all the great bands who continue to punish our ears in new and old and miserable and wonderful ways. I look forward to jumping into 2018 with both arms swinging.

If you squeeze my lizard, I’ll… Well, I’ll probably tell you to stop squeezing my lizard, because people’s personal space is their own, you hosebag.

HONORABLE MENTIONS

20. Spectral Voice – Eroded Corridors of Unbeing

• Look beyond the record levels of underground hype and Blood Incan-relation auto-loving that went down and you’ll discover the best of the cavernous bunch. A+tmosphere.
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19. Legionnaire – Dawn of Genesis

• Yeah, the vocals sound a bit like a drunk uncle who’s doomed to sleep one off face-down in the front yard, but Legionnaire delivered one of 2017’s most infectious traditional metal stompers that’s strong from start to Finnish.
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18. Battle Dagorath – II—Frozen Light of Eternal Darkness

• In a world where atmospheric black metal has become overrun by pickle-headed minstrels with weeping hearts tattooed on their sleeves, Battle Dagorath deliver an hour and twenty minutes of frozen, hypnotic black metal that’s, you know, actually wonderfully atmospheric.
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17. Friendship – Hatred

• Look, I don’t care if you want to call it sludgecore, hardcore, grindcore or cuddlecore, Japan’s Friendship delivered one of 2017’s most brutal beat-downs. Whatevercore, just gimme morecore like thiscore.
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16. Godflesh – Post Self

• This year’s award for “Album Most Likely To Have Landed On More Lists Had It Come Out A Little Sooner” goes to Godflesh. JB & GC: more of this crushing atmosphere, please.
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15. Tomb Mold – Primordial Malignity

• Most Accurate Album Cover alert! Most Accurate Album Cover alert! Most Accurate Album Cover alert!
Look At That Goddamn Album Cover, Folks


14. Dodecahedron – Kwintessens

• Avant-garde black metal that somehow manages to sound like the mind of a Sherlock Holmes arch enemy from Masterpiece Theatre.
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13. Anatomia – Cranial Obsession

• You no like skull. You no like skull, so you flatten skull. You no like skull, so you flatten skull with heavy sound. Heavy sound flatten skull until dead. You dead.
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12. Squalus – The Great Fish…

• “Now… The enormous amount of tissue loss prevents any detailed analysis. However, the attacking squalus must be considerably larger than any normal squalus found in these waters.”
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11. Enslaved – E

• One of the things I’ll most remember about 2017 is that this was the year when (really) modern Enslaved finally started clicking for me. I listened to a lot of modern Enslaved this year, and album number fourteen worked its way into the equation perfectly.
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TOP TEN OF 2017 – AKA: THE TOP TENNEST OF ALL THE TOP TENS

10. Hell – Hell

Hell is other people, right? Sarte, you ol’ rascal; Hell is everything, you dummy! Hell is Earth, Hell is for heroes, Hell is traffic, and Hell is waiting in line for Star Wars tickets and suddenly realizing you have to take a wicked whiz. And yes, other people are also Hell, as evidenced by any line at a coffee shop. I think Bon Scott probably said it best when he yelped “Hell ain’t a bad place to be,” though, because Hell will have all the music most of us want to hear. No one believes Saint Peter will be all cool about you cranking this damned Hell record from your fourth story cloud while he has to work all day checking names in a book that’s heavier than ten elephants sitting on a daisy, right? To Hell with you and you and you, and take this album with you. 

An exceedingly brainy fellow recently referred to this version of Hell as, “Heavier than the 12” meatball parm’ from Lucifer’s Cosmic Subs sitting in God’s stomach at 2am.” Judgeth ye for thineself, though, and get ready for the eternal plunge into the infernal depths forEVERRRRRRRRRR. And soon!

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9. Argus – From Fields of Fire

As our very own Andrew Edmunds has likely stated on numerous occasions over the years, “Argus? I hardly even know us!” Actually, I do know us; Last Rites has been a friend to Pennsylvania’s Argus since day one, thanks to their enduring knack for galloping into our hearts with ridiculously infectious traditional metal spiced with epic doom.

If you’re looking for one of those litmus test bands to evaluate the validity of nearly any metal fan’s trustworthiness, crank a record like From Fields of Fire—if that toe don’t start tapping, and if that head don’t start bobbing, something’s not passing the smell test. Plus, Argus always manages to bring the thunder, but album number four 360-dunks crushing despair, too. That closing 1-2-3 punch delivers some of the most scrumptiously suffering 17 minutes of 2017.

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8. Sorcerer – The Crowning of the Fire King

What’s (hopefully) interesting about having this record land so high on my list is the fact that I agree with our own Jeremy Morse’s conclusion that a fair bit of the riffs sound like rehashed modern Candlemass. I mean, clearly, the entire Sorcerer approach is modeled after their more prominent cousins, even reaching back to the first Sorcerer demo from 1989. But truthfully, despite crushing it at MDF this year, C-mass ain’t exactly tearing it up in terms of new material, and what little they have produced—2016’s Death Thy Lover EP—doesn’t really feel like top-shelf yield. Conversely, outside of the fairly idle anchor of a second song, “Ship of Doom,” The Crowning of the Fire King absolutely SLAYS from every conceivable epic angle. Anders Engberg has the best voice in the game, period, and the lead guitar work bolting throughout the entirety of this record is, as Mr. Morse wisely stated in his review, “bordering on ridiculous.” If you don’t find yourself moved to the point of physically lifting off the ground and soaring through the air by the close of “Abandoned by the Gods,” you may not actually have a living heart inside your chest.

Absolutely infuckingvigorating.

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7. Leprous – Malina

Malina first hit about four months ago and was admired enough by the LR elite to land the #5 spot on our combined staff list, yet none of us managed to write a word about it until now. The following explanation of that unfortunate event is all I have to offer: As the years pass and humans grow less and less capable of exhibiting patience, the window of time considered acceptable for covering new releases continues to shrink—and by God, some records take months to fully unravel. Basically, LR missed the “sweet spot” for giving Malina timely coverage. It’s that, or we’re just lazy pieces of garbage.

But even now, I’m not certain which attack angle would be most appropriate for tacking words to this record. The songs are angular and weird and patently proggy, but loads of peculiar pop sensibilities—particularly regarding Einar Solberg’s lofty vocals—are there in equal force, so oftentimes it doesn’t even sound close to heavy metal. And Hell, maybe it isn’t. In the end, despite the complexity of the material at hand, the conclusion is quite straightforward: Good music is good.

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6. Krolok – Flying Above Ancient Ruins

Many years ago, I came across a food truck planted in an Oakland, CA Home Depot parking lot that dished out the best street tacos a human being could ever eat. I was very careful about sharing the knowledge of that secret Eden, because as every living creature knows, the level of magic occupying any one watering hole is directly related to just how many water buffalo end up populating the equation. Too many heads, goodbye mystical bliss. The very same formula can be applied to underground heavy metal: We’ll love the bejesus out of something until the precise moment a joint like NPR catches a whiff, then the magic dissipates faster than fog burning off a seaside cliff. With that in mind…

Nothing to see here, folks. Move along. But I’ll go ahead and leave the following definition for a word I recently made up:

Castley: [kah-suhl-ee] adjective — 1. of the nature of, or characterized by a castle or fortress. 2. how black metal should sound.

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5. Succumb – Succumb

Death metal fans have deserved Succumb since, well, the beginning of death metal. And not just because it’s a great record, which it is, but due to the cold, hard fact that everyone needs a dose of schadenfreude now and again to keep things on the level.

In this particular case, for the better part of the last several decades, untold death metal aficionados have feverishly spanked-off to outsider responses akin to, “I’d love it if it weren’t for the vocals.” Death metal fans love hearing statements like that because the unapproachable vocal element has been the calling card for this off-shoot for so damned long that fans have actually forgotten what it feels like to be on the other side of the fence. 

Now, with a record like Succumb, the hunter has become the hunted; for every positive review this record has managed to collect, twice as many representatives from the Death Metal Elite have vocalized their various agonies over how Cheri Musrasrik’s approaches her vocals. Sweet, sweet misery, and just teensy bit hilarious and overdue, considering it’s all going down within a sphere where people find John Tardy’s unearthly croak completely and spectacularly admissible. 

Yep, Succumb’s vocals are weird and pet against the grain, but that’s kind of the point. Plus, there’s the whole “endless savage riffs and crazy dag-blanged drumming destroying your face for thirty minutes” element working in this beast’s favor.

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4. Ascended Dead – Abhorrent Manifestation

Not sure what was going on in my life back when this record first dropped, but I assume I was very busy being a hero to the downtrodden and making the world a better place, so it flew right underneath my radar. Luckily, Last Rites has a reliable Finn tucked away in our ranks, and he made the following inquiry while we were enjoying a schwitz in the communal sauna: “Håf yøø hëër∂ den läätest töt mëtäl recør∂îng vøn dem bångërs Ascended Dead, yøø düm føøkeeng båstår∂?”

Never ignore a Finn, friends, because they’ll dump your ass up in Lapland with nothing but a spork and a bottle of reindeer musk, and that turf is brutal. 

Abhorrent Manifestation is fantastic because it very handily does what death metal is supposed to do: make you brutally dead. Outside of the sweetly dormant reprieve that is “Dormant Souls,” Abhorrent Manifestation represents the most vicious 37 minutes of death metal 2017 managed to dish out.

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3. Venenum – Trance of Death

You know a record is destined to land close to the top of a year end list when you still find new things to enjoy after keeping it in regular rotation for nine months. That might not seem remarkable to some, but ask any idiot dedicated to writing about music and they’ll confirm that the average weekly routine dedicated to new releases can generally be divided as follows: 75% sifting through shit, 25% attempting to swiftly assimilate the next worthy gem. And truthfully, that’s a pretty generous estimation.

Basically, the nature of the game is opposed to allowing writers the satisfaction of getting caught up in the vortex of a single record for an extended duration. We all still manage to encounter a few releases that nullify this hindrance, though, and Trance of Death is one of those records. In fact, I’m pretty sure this was the first album from 2017 that made multiple staffers wonder if it was a little early in the year to hear something this good. But Trance of Death is that good—progressive and modern, but done with a nimble touch that never forgets to keep the beast chained to actual death metal. And buddy, it just doesn’t get any better than that three-part closing epic that illustrates the album’s namesake.

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2. Pagan Altar – The Room of Shadows

I recently wrote a great deal of words commemorating Pagan Altar and discussing The Room of Shadows, and I’m having a hard time thinking up a better way to sum up why this remains one of 2017’s most significant releases than this: 

“It would be patently absurd to expect devotees of Pagan Altar to separate the circumstances behind this record from the laurels they’re destined to heap upon it. And really, that’s not something that warrants much grumbling; this will be the final record from the band, and this will be the last time fans will hear that unique minstrel’s voice delivering something they’ve not yet explored.

But pull The Room of Shadows from the shelf and drop it in the lap of most any person who considers themselves a fan of heavy rock that commemorates yesteryears and that person will find plenty to revel in. This is timeless music that relates cautionary tales and elements of the occult and humanity’s flaws around a perfect blend of doom and folk and roaring rock, and it’s all delivered by a band that was responsible for helping shape sub-genres that have since become ingrained throughout heavy metal. In other words, vital marrow for old and new bones alike, and an exceedingly appropriate way to close the book on one of the genre’s most genuine and remarkable underground acts.”

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1. Sanhedrin – A Funeral for the World

A Funeral for the World did not find its way into my life by way of a promotional email, and none of the other LR lunkheads acknowledged much about it beyond stating, “Sanhedrin? Is that some sort of headache medicine?” So basically, I have no clue who to thank for shining a spotlight on this record. I suppose it could have been an Oakland connection, because despite now calling New York home, vocalist/bassist Erica Stoltz once spent time in the woefully under-appreciated Bay Area band Amber Asylum. Regardless, not enough people are talking about this thing, and I remain mystified as to how a band with this much raw heavy metal energy remains unsigned and without a proper PR joint going to battle for them.

To be clear, I am equally to blame if you’ve never had the Sanhedrin pleasure, because I’ve spent the last three months spinning this record an absurd amount of times, yet the only recognition I’ve managed to throw out until this very moment was via a handful of social media shout-outs with an attached bandcamp link. Not enough.

And trust me, I’m painfully aware of the following enigma: There’s little else metal nerds love more than waiting until the very last minute to unveil some sort of “secret weapon” that everyone somehow managed to miss all year, thereby solidifying his or her final transformation into some sort of Heavy Metal Luminary. That was not the case here. At least not intentionally.

The basic facts: A Funeral for the World delivers old-school heavy metal without sounding like a mindless, dusty rip from 1985. The modern production is clear, punchy and perfectly uniform, and the music itself balances heavy-footed face-peelers and dark ’n’ doomy strutters with equal consideration. Guitarist Jeremy Sosville (Black Anvil) loads every minute with enough infectious fretwork and fiery solos to pin the tunes on your brain for days, and Stoltz is an absolute hero behind the mic, flaunting a gritty, dynamic delivery that’s sure to recall trailblazers such as Leather Leone and Doro Pesch.

A Funeral for the World is a tremendous debut—one that’s deserving of 2017’s highest crown— and Sanhedrin deserves more attention, a solid record deal, and more people excited to hear where they might take us next.

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TOP FIVE EPS OF 2017:

5. Tomb Mold – Cryptic Transmissions

• Tomb Mold: the only mold I’m happy to experience twice in one year, and the only mold I’m thrilled to cram into my ears.
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4. Hyperdontia – Abhorrence Veil

• Denmark: birthplace of King Diamond, home of fried onion sausage wagons, bastion of incredibly realistic LARP’ing, and the place for hot, face-exploding death metal in 2017. Be careful, though: Abhorrence Veil is the mating call for insanely horny bogbeasts.
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3. Fetid – Sentient Pile of Amorphous Rot

• Undoubtedly the year’s most appropriately titled release. This rot may be sentient, but all it’s really concerned about is smothering you beneath its bulbous, wobbling weight. Knuckledragalicious!
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2. Extremity – Extremely Fucking Dead

• Oh, you thought this fucker was a full-length, you fucking fuck? Wrong! 26 minutes of zero-brained death metal that wants to punt your head into a hungry bear’s cave.
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1. Chevalier – A Call to Arms

• The only thing capable of getting me to love speed metal more is if said speed metal focuses the brunt of its attention on sweet blades and sorcery. Saving throw vs. Ensorcellment enthusiastically failed on purpose!
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TOP 20 NON-METAL ALBUMS OF 2017

Hey, remember our Last Rites Combined Staff list from Friday? I said the following in the intro: “One of the topics that has repeatedly boiled to the surface amongst the crew over the course of nearly every month this year is the fact that, for a number of us, 2017 managed to be kinder to non-metal than it was to metal.”

Hello, I am one of those people. And again, it’s not like the year in metal sucked, it’s just that the year in non-metal kind of ruled, as evidenced by the fact that I’m about to expand my typical “Top 10 Non-metal Albums of the Year” into a Top 20.

20. Rata Negra – Oído absoluto

• A hell of an infectious slab of punk rock that’s as poppy as it is deathrocky—the debut full-length from Madrid, Spain’s Rata Negra does everything a record like this needs to do, and it does it in a perfectly succinct 25 minutes.
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19. Colour Haze – In Her Garden

• The band Elder reaped a good deal of deserved praise this year for Reflections of a Floating World. But as much as I dug that record, I find myself craving Colour Haze’s rockier brand of hazy psychedelia more. In Her Garden has become a go-to slam dunk when my day needs a little lift.
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18. Bicep – Bicep

• Yank the 80s version of me away from an Exodus show to warn of a pending appreciation for house music 30 years down the road and I would’ve told you to pound salt. But a record like Bicep flexes (ugh) just enough dark psychedelia to keep me interested. Bonded By Bicep!
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17. Ben Lukas Boysen & Sebastian Plano – Everything

• Hey, Prurient ain’t the only game in town that’s insane enough to release a 3hr album. What I love about Everything is that it quite literally does feel like everything—all available emotions are represented, and BLP & SP’s method of blending it all together under a modern ambient/electronic (video game) soundtrack is brilliant.
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16. Vijay Iyer Sextet – Far from Over

• Vijay Iyer remains one of contemporary jazz’s most critical players because he never shies away from big, bold, complex strokes. Far from Over is really no different, beyond the fact that he’s invited five of his friends along for the ride.
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15. The Inward Circles – And Right Lines Limit and Close All Bodies

• Richard Skelton is a treasure to anyone interested in ambient, drone and electronic music. His decision to explore death through this particular project has resulted in five releases that explore the concept inwardly and in a way that’s dark (duh), but not at all dispiriting. This release marks the perfect place to jump in with ears wide open.
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14. Kauan – Kaiho

Kaiho is the sort of record that forces you to take the foot off the pedal. Within minutes, you’re fully enveloped in a brisk mantle that cloaks a wilderness just before the rising sun splits the trees. For those of us shackled to the concrete jungle, Kauan creates the next best thing to reconnecting with the wild.
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13. Thomas Demenga – Bach: Cello Suites

• Books have been written detailing the intriguing history behind Bach’s Cello Suites. Thomas Demenga has studied them, and his second swing at the pitch finds the Swiss-born cellist upping his Baroque game and laying down two hours of rich, often brisk interpretations from the master.
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12. Steven Wilson – To the Bone

• Hey! You got your 80s pop in my Steven Wilson! Hey! You got your Steven Wilson in my 80s pop! Two great tastes that taste great together; To The Bone combines delicious 80s pop and real Steven Wilson into a blend that you’ll literally never be able to stop eating! Sorry, Steven.
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11. Gas – Narkopop

• No big deal, just a seventeen year gap between releases. Luckily, the delay was definitely worth it. Narkopop is… Well, narcotic pop, basically. But through a drifty, mellifluous lens that’s exceedingly luxurious, ambient and compulsory.
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10. Max Richter – Three Worlds: Music from Woolf Works

• Creating a score for three Virginia Woolf novels might not sound interesting, but in the hands of one of the most skilled composers of our day and you’ve got a true gem on your hands. Three Worlds blends sweeping, orchestral movements with electronic and ambient elements into a final result that’s elegant, absorbing and grand.
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9. Soror Dolorosa – Apollo

• Countless modern bands like to think they’ve got goth rock & dark wave down cold, but most of them are heavy on hype and thin on substance. Not the case for France’s Soror Dolorosa, whose blend of Fields of the Nephilim and The Mission resulted in the best damned gloomy trip back to 1988 that 2017 managed to produce.
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8. Daniel Herskedal – The Roc

• Do you smell what The Roc is cookin’? It’s tuba. It’s a lot of tuba, piano, cello, viola, percussion and bass trumpet, and all with a distinct Arabic flavor. Sound peculiar? It’s not. I mean, maybe it is, if you’re not used to Mr. Tuba and all his friends sounding so irresistible.
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7. Björk – Utopia

• I’ve always appreciated Björk and her unique approach to making pop music more challenging, but none of her albums have managed to grab me quite like Utopia. These songs are eerie, otherworldly and mischievous (in a sprightly kind of way), but they never lose sight of gratifying through a very genuine hook.
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6. Ulver – The Assassination of Julius Caesar

• Either you’re down with Ulver’s poppy tribute to the Depeche Modes and Erasures of yesteryear or you’re not. Pretty simple. The truth of the matter is this: Ulver has never fully missed the mark, and The Assassination… is the best thing the band has produced in a decade.
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5. Quicksand – Interiors

• Not much compares to being blown away by a great piece of music. I was a casual fan of Quicksand’s harsher post-hardcore days, but this more muted, mellowed return to the spotlight flattened me. “Cosmonauts” is the prettiest song of the year, by a country mile.
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4. Trio Mediaeval & Arve Henriksen – Rímur

• An hour’s worth of unwinding Norwegian chants and hymns supplemented by haunting, dulcet trumpet? Sign me up, buddy. Rímur manages to sound as hoary and icy as it does modern and cozy, so it’s a perfect companion for the winter months (and beyond.)
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3. Anathema – The Optimist

• Well, judging by the general lack of enthusiasm my peers exhibited toward The Optimist, I guess I’m one of the few who held this beauty directly next to the heart all these months. FINE! I’ll take my ball and go home. It’s mine, you understand? Mine! All mine!
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2. Zeitgeber – Heteronomy

• To be honest, I’m still not quite sure what box Heteronomy fits in. It’s got a bit of a relaxed “island” feel to it, thanks to the prevailing steel drum (Caisa handpan), but it’s moody and introspective, so don’t expect a daiquiri party. Wherever it belongs, it’s more than welcome to stay as long as it wants.
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1. Slowdive – Slowdive

• Based on the amount of time I’ve spent bashing “blackgaze” over the years, one might suspect that I have a bee the size of an elephant in my bonnet regarding shoegaze. I do not. In its purest form, shoegaze is as rewarding as it is reclining, and Slowdive’s return after a two-decade pause represents the best work they’ve done to date.
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That’s a lot of material to deal with up there. Sorry about that. Sort of. I suppose most who are familiar with us would never accuse Last Rites of brevity. Our crew is comprised of music nerds, though, and when it comes time to yap about the music that leveled us for an entire year, the appetite becomes…substantial. I guess it’s a bit like walking through the aisles of a grocery store on an empty stomach.

Anyway, thanks for the eyeballs, buddies. And remember, if you love your scene, support it with your bucks!

———

Another chapter closes.

/2017

 

Posted by Captain

Last Rites Co-Owner; Senior Editor; Handsome & Interesting Man; Just get evil all the time.

  1. Sanhedrin is F******G AWESOME!!! Somebody needs to sign them and support a tour!

    Reply

  2. My Bandcamp wishlist just got a bit bigger

    Reply

    1. Excellent! Hope you found some goodies.

      Reply

  3. Thanks for sharing non-metal picks too.

    Reply

    1. It wasn’t easy trimming that particular list down to 20, to be honest. Just a really good year for non-metal.

      Reply

  4. Just caught your list! Excellent choices! The Room of Shadows is an absolutely tremendous. Good to see Legionnaire getting some love as well.

    Reply

    1. Thanks, dude! And by the way, I tried to comment on your 9C power metal list, but I think it got lost as spam. Galneryus is huge!

      Reply

  5. Erica Stoltz…holy shit. Lost Goat played at my house in the Mission a million years ago.

    Reply

    1. You should try and catch one of the two shows Erica and crew will be having in the Bay Area in January.

      Reply

      1. The Elbo Room on January 12th and First Church of the Buzzard (Oakland) January 13th.

        Reply

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