Surely by now you’ve gotten the hint that the Last Rites collective is a fan of “Best of Lists.” Not just year-end lists, but BIG lists that yank full decades through our extremely sophisticated and bulletproof algorithmic technique that determines, beyond a shadow of a doubt, which heavy metal records represent the upper crust of our wild and sensational genre. We did it for the 80s, we did it for the 90s, and we did it for the 00s, so it only stands to reason that we’d do similarly for the 10s. And hey, guess what… You’re looking at it right this very minute. Or at least the start of it.
Other places will knock something like this out in one day with a single article. We are not those joints. The 10s Essentials will run every Friday for the next ten weeks , with each article covering ten records that will eventually add up to…… Katy there in the second row.
That’s right, Katy! Please make a selection of one sticker from the desk up front.
Good ladies and perfectly tolerable gentlemen, Last Rites proudly presents: The One Hundred Essential Albums of the 2010s!
How we did it: Eight individuals from the venerable Last Rites staff made a personal list of 100 records, divided them into four tiers of multiple degrees of greatness, and then all the lists were fed into a massive and sorcerous machine that assigned values and added further weight based on certain allowances, such as how many times a single album got a vote. Fairly straightforward, but still mystical, because our number crunching machine is made of actual moon rocks.
There were, of course, provisions:
- Only ONE album per band ultimately gets through
- NO EPs
- NO demos
- NO reissues / compilations
By the time we finally had a full list compiled at HQ, the results provoked less quarreling than initially expected. Plenty of name-calling, colorful insults and deep regrets, naturally, but no fatalities, which might actually be a first.
As for the decade itself, attempting to summarize it for an intro is a chore. Metal trends mirrored societal trends in that humans (and therefore bands) relied more on social media than ever before, which leveled the playing field enough that records with no label support were afforded equal or greater attention than those from the biggies such as Metal Blade, Nuclear Blast and Relapse simply by virtue of—gasp—“trending” on timelines and feeds. The hashtag predates the last decade, but it truly became a vital tool in the 2010s. #whowouldhavefuckingguessed
Metal also became more inclusive in the 10s, which is a wonderful thing. Not just in the way it pushed genre boundaries even further off the map, thereby securing longevity, but also as to the expanded membership and increased voices from a greater assemblage of humans. All of humankind is experiencing this blink of an existence under a single roof, so it seems reasonable (and auspicious) that all of humankind becomes increasingly involved with metal. This is a very good thing; the pool is open 24/7 to anyone with an interest in swimming—don’t forget your water wings.
Apart from that, there was an endless stack of worldly triumphs and tragedies (perhaps an advantage given to the latter, to be brutally honest) that played a hand in the development of metal over the last ten years, but for the most part, we survived. And we continue to survive. In truth, that’s one of the things humans manage to do quite well: rise to the challenge. We are far, far from perfect, we humans and we fans and purveyors of metal, but we learn to endure, endeavor to discover and ultimately triumph like no other species on this planet. Well, maybe crows have us beat at this point. And maybe elephants. Octopuses, too. Humans are managing, though, and I don’t think octopuses are streaming shows on phones way down there in the inky depths. Hey, maybe there’s something to that.
Anyway, without further ado, here are the first TEN essential albums from the 2010s… Octopus approved! [CAPTAIN]
IN SOLITUDE – SISTER
Early in their brief career, In Solitude (alongside fellow Swedes Portrait and the German band Attic) played an occult-leaning style of traditional heavy metal that rightly earned frequent comparisons to Mercyful Fate. On their third album Sister, however, In Solitude penned a drop-dead classic which somehow managed to be both more mysterious and otherworldly AND more straightforwardly hooky than their previous work. Sister is still a grim-hued metal album through and through, but stylistically—and particularly with its eerie, nervy guitar tone—it drinks deeply from the well of late ‘80s goth rock greats such as Fields of the Nephilim, The Mission (UK), and Echo and the Bunnymen’s darker work.
The whole thing plays like a fugue state, an almost freewheeling mania that careens from one delirious dark joy to another. Pelle Åhman’s vocals are all the more powerful and charismatic for their untrained fervor, and the band is equally adept at riding taut grooves as they are stretching out into expressive solos and wonderfully complex instrumental interplay, as on the brilliant guitar lead and deliciously swaggering bass tone that picks up around the 4-minute mark of “A Buried Sun” (and is then echoed by vibraphone on the coda in a chillingly inspired touch). The beautiful tremolo guitars and punishing drum fills on the outro to “Inmost Nigredo” close the album on such a satisfying note, and round out such a nearly perfect album, that the almost uncharitable thing to do is to thank the band for splitting up before they attempted to craft a follow-up to this magical piece of work. [DAN OBSTKRIEG]
NEKROMANTHEON – RISE, VULCAN SPECTRE
Thrash cannot be half-assed. As metal styles go, thrash’s scope, aside from the work of a few talented visionaries, is pretty narrow. Hence, it requires a commitment to speed and aggression or it fails. That’s why Megadeth hasn’t put out a record worth a shit in thirty years.
Norwegian trio Nekromantheon is not a group of visionaries, but these men know how to thrash. The group’s second album, 2012’s Rise, Vulcan Spectre, comes barreling out of the gate like a pack of hungry wolves, and it doesn’t really let up. With the reverb-drenched rattle and bang of albums like Hell Awaits and Seven Churches, Rise, Vulcan Spectre certainly conjures the atmosphere of 1985, but the music’s focused brutality brings to mind some ’86 classics like Reign in Blood and Darkness Descends as well. However, all is not nostalgia and mimicry: guitarist / vocalist Arild Myren Torp’s rabid bark adds an over-the-top ferocity to some already intense proceedings; the band’s unique approach to melody seems to take most of its cues from a dental drill; and finally, the album’s Greek mythology-themed lyrics are a bit out of the ordinary, but provide fittingly bloody and violent imagery for what is one Hades of a thrash record. [JEREMY MORSE]
CALADAN BROOD – ECHOES OF BATTLE
“It sounds like Summoning.”
Yeah, no shit, Samwise.
Wait, wrong universe.
Yeah, no shit, Shortnose.
Caladan Brood—Mister Brood, if you’re nasty—didn’t come to be with plans of pushing the epic black metal canon laid down by Summoning into new environments, at least not musically. (Even though they do… Here and there… Musically.) In short, they are the Malazan interpretation of Summoning, and with that delineation comes all the card-carrying requirements of programmed drums, lo-fi keys, grandiose song structures and promotional photos featuring shadowy sorts challenging the winds of the mountains you’d expect (and hope) to find in a duo such as this, with the added benefit of a stronger dabbling in the realms of Bathory and a couple other more “traditional metal” outlets.
A change in scenery and a more plate-mailed, hammer-swinging approach to epic / high fantasy black metal aside, the biggest difference between the two bands is probably the level of manufacturing. For their part, Summoning has returned to the table with admirable consistency, and the Brooders have managed just one full-length (goddamnit) in twelve years of existence. But what a mighty release Echoes of Battle is—there’s honestly not a hitch amidst its rather prodigious 1h 11m runtime. Where the record really excels, however, is during those stolen moments where steely leads are given a bit more room to sing (which, ideally, will happen even more often on a future record), and also whenever you-know-who gets a chance to bring those heroic clean vocals to bear… Which, coincidentally, happens just often enough to perhaps make more than just a few folks believe Echoes of Battle even manages to surpass the masters. [CAPTAIN]
FATES WARNING – THEORIES OF FLIGHT
Theories of Flight surprised people, because it was in pretty stark contrast to the band’s approach for a very long time. Theories felt strong and optimistic, eyes keenly forward and shoulders squared. It seemed to reflect personal change, a focal shift reflected neatly in the album’s cover art, which shows elements of natural flight in the foreground of an astronomical schematic and a series of observational data. The idea seems to be that flight is made up of really basic movements hardly noticed in real time but that come together to cover vast distances to wondrous places. A consideration of one’s current place relative to where he’s been.
As always, this Fates Warning record is deeply personal, though its stories are told in a way that maximizes the shared space between the teller and the listener, making the songs feel both discrete and relatable. As storyteller, Ray Alder, might be at his strongest ever, empowered within the range written into these songs and even more so with the subject matter. He wrote a lot of the lyrics for Theories and it’s obvious that these words matter to him, and he’s passionate in his delivery of them.
Jim Matheos’ riffs are bright around the edges, vital and uplifting, a dynamic scaffolding for all that powerful emotion, frequently matching Alder’s with plenty of evocative soloing. On either side of the core riffing and the driven vocals lie the elements of Theories that together comprise its greatest, if still subtle, strength. On the one hand, Bobby Jarzombek’s drumming injects a flow of metal into these songs that creates momentum the band hadn’t embraced in a long, long time. On the other hand is a fresh embrace of harmonic and melodic texturing that takes all that power and fans it out across the color spectrum. The effect for the listener is to find connection not just with the words, “Yeah, been there before,” but with the underlying emotion, “Oh, I know how that feels!” [LONE WATIE]
• Released: July 1, 2016
• Label: Metal Blade Records
• Killing cut: “The Light and the Shade of Things”
HORRENDOUS – ANARETA
Horrendous, along with Gritty and booing Santa Claus, are all reasons to be a fan of Philly and its asshole residents. I would also put the band above the Philadelphia Orchestra for their ability to write incredible symphonic masterpieces without a single classical instrument. By the way, this list will contain a lot of necessary hyperbole, so go ahead and get used to that. These albums all deserve it, but especially Anareta and its phenomenal cover art (courtesy of Brian Smith). Damian Herring and the Brothers Knox distill the gnarliest heaviest techiest deathiest metal into a 190-proof molotov cocktail. To outshine Ecdysis only a year later speaks to the fiery urgency of these tracks, and if the power of the riff compels you, Anareta makes one of the most compelling statements of the decade.
Favorite moments abound: the disgusting “Aaaaaaauuuuugghghghgh” that introduces “The Nihilist;” the bouncing insanity of “Polaris;” the savage riffs that explode out of a beautiful acoustic intro in “Sum of All Failures;” or one of the dozens of uplifting, supercharged riffs that weave seamlessly through the album. Last Rites smartly put Anareta at number 8 of 2015’s Combined Best Of List, and having spent five years with this album, I can confidently say these songs still manage to surprise and delight. You, dearest reader, are welcome to advocate for Ecdysis (valid as a preference over Anareta, but not the best), or Idol (adventurous, but still a solid 3rd in their catalogue), or even The Chills (a fine debut, but only a taste of their potential), but it is Anareta that remains essential. [FETUSGHOST]
• Released: October 27, 2015
• Label: Dark Descent Records
• Killing cut: “Polaris”
VADER – WELCOME TO THE MORBID REICH
Vader never releases bad records, but about once a decade they put out something so extremely primal and violent that it reminds the world just how truly devastating they can be. Welcome to the Morbid Reich gleefully served this role for the twenty-teens. It combined the ruthless efficiency and relentless nature of their aughties peak (Litany) with the pummeling, death / thrash-standard-resetting goodness of their 90s peak (De Profundis), all with a tasteful touch of the symphonic sounds they had occasionally employed in the past. In other words, it did what Vader does best: laid absolute waste. From the forward blasting hammering of the title track and machine-precise flogging of “Come and See My Sacrifice” to the absolutely insane remake of “Decapitated Saints,” Welcome to the Morbid Reich is the aural equivalent of a sentient hydraulic press on PCP.
At their best, Vader always manages to simultaneously be one of metal’s heaviest, most brutal, catchy, and clinically precise bands. But those descriptors are nothing compared to their overwhelming sense of dominance, a quality that Welcome to the Morbid Reich gets across like few of their other records. [ZACH DUVALL]
BLIND GUARDIAN – BEYOND THE RED MIRROR
Few albums of the decade past hit me like this one from 2015. The impact was so great that it took me over two months to put together a review. And even then, I didn’t feel like I had done it justice. Featuring three different choirs and two 90-piece orchestras, this was easily Blind Guardian’s most ambitious effort to date (though outdone but not bested by 2019’s Twilight Orchestra project)—equal parts concept album and Broadway production that’s held up remarkably well with time (granted a relatively short window). I still get chills during the introduction to “The Ninth Wave,” fired up during “Twilight of the Gods,” and euphoric at the “Grande Parade” finale, riding all the ups-and-downs in between. It’s epic in every sense of the word.
Maybe the reason I can’t do it justice in this medium is because words simply won’t do. You have to hear it to appreciate it. Then you have to hear it some more. After that, you’ll actually want to listen to it—and if you don’t, well then we simply can’t be friends. This is my hill to die on, goddamnit. [DAVE PIRTLE]
BLUT AUS NORD – MEMORIA VETUSTA III: SATURNIAN POETRY
The long, twisting career of Blut Aus Nord has left many alternative takes on black metal in its wake. That wake even includes multiple trilogies. One of them, known as Memoria Vetusta, deserves particular attention. Sure, being the only album of the trilogy released in the timeframe specific to this list makes MV III seem like the obvious choice to represent the French black metal outfit. But it’s not that simple. For starters, 2019 saw Blut Aus Nord release Hallucinogen, which catapulted the band back into the elite levels of avant-garde black metal. So it was a choice with members of the crew facing off. In the end, however, it was Saturnian Poetry that took the crown as representative of the unstoppable force that is Blut Aus Nord.
Memoria Vetusta III – Saturnian Poetry came out at an interesting crossroads in Blut Aus Nord’s career. Splits and EPs aside, they had just come off the trilogy known as 777, which saw the quartet leaning heavily on electronic instrumentation and programming. The release of MV III was a welcome reminder that Blut Aus Nord were not only some of the best, but also some of the most exciting composers operating in black metal.
Here, atmosphere, furious melodies and grand, mountain-worthy compositional structure dominate the landscape, landing Blut Aus Nord squarely back into the realm for which they are primarily known. Memoria Vetusta III – Saturnian Poetry is not simply one of the greatest albums of the past decade, it’s one of the greatest albums produced by one of the greatest bands in black metal’s history. Hyperbole be damned, Blut Aus Nord are as critical as Bathory when it comes to metal’s history, and that truth is rooted in the hugeness of albums such as this. [MANNY-O-WAR]
HELL – HUMAN REMAINS
Super-pompous, super-theatrical trad metal? Yes, please. Sign me up.
The first time around, Hell was one of the also-rans of the NWOBHM, a horror-themed outfit led by guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter Dave Halliday. When their record label collapsed just before the band was to record their first album, what momentum they’d built up dissipated, and distraught by the lack of success, Halliday would tragically take his own life in 1987. And that seemed to be that…
Fast forward to the 21st century and the rest of the band decided to give it a go again, so they enlisted the aid of Halliday’s former guitar student Andy Sneap, a longtime fan who in the intervening decades had also conveniently happened to become one of metal’s most successful record producers. With the younger brother of guitarist Kev Bower installed as vocalist, Hell once again set about recording their debut record, only twenty-five-ish years late, and the results are an absolute blast of… well, super-pompous, super-theatrical trad metal, and it’s absolutely fun as…
Wait for it…
Waaaaait for it…
Also a nice treat: Those original demos are featured as a bonus disc, so you can enjoy some old Hell with your fresh one. [ANDREW EDMUNDS]
VENENUM – TRANCE OF DEATH
Even a blind squirrel finds out he has a nutsack once in a while. And that’s exactly what happened when the Last Rites staffers used their only innovation, the most rigged voting system in human history, for something good and selected Venenum’s Trance of Death as the best album of 2017. Superficially it would be easy to lump the German quartet’s debut together with the rest of the forward-thinking death metal for the true bourgeoisie elite that so elegantly spawned in the 2010s, but that is not the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help me God, because Trance of Death is also one nasty bugger. No matter how ethereal the music sometimes gets, there’s always something foul about it, almost as if it would be ready to drag you through the mud in a blink of an eye. This dichotomy and the dexterous tightrope walking between utter madness and gnostic wisdom is so palpable that it’s practically impossible to not listen to this album while it’s playing, making it one of those ultra-rare records that don’t waste even a second. And if you’re looking for that one true epic of the 2010s, look no further than the three-part title track that closes this musical Vilca ceremony gone exactly the way the ceremony master intended. [JUHO MIKKONEN]
See you next week!