Welcome to Volume 2 of our 100 Essential Albums of the 2010s. Were you present and accounted for when Volume 1 landed last week and promptly asked to be escorted to your leader? And if so, where did you take it? Our vote goes to George “Corpsegrinder” Fisher’s house, because you know he has the grill going, a 700” flatscreen, and plenty of stuffed animals to play with. Better brush up on those Red Dead Redemption II chops, though.
The biggest heartbreak Volume 1 seemed to generate was our choice to crown Blut Aus Nord’s Memoria Vetusta III over Hallucinogen. Time will tell if folks were right about that argument, but signs point to ‘NO’ because Last Rites has literally never even once been wrong about anything ever*.
* [falls up and down an escalator for eternity while a looped laugh track plays in the background]
This week’s leap into the foray explores another mishmash of styles that bend from the steely traditional all the way to an avant-garde style of technical sorcery that sometimes sounds as if a blender was left running atop a seven-string—testament to the sheer depth our fair genre is capable of accomplishing.
Before moving forward, here’s a quick summary of the rules: Only ONE album per band ultimately gets through; NO EPs; NO demos; and NO reissues / compilations.
The game is afoot!
MIDNIGHT – SATANIC ROYALTY
Bulldozer. Tank. Venom. Motorhead. These are a few of Midnight’s favorite things…
Building from the blocks of those big four, Ohio’s scummiest speed metal trio blitzed out of the gate with their first full-length, after half a decade’s worth of splits and smaller releases, and damn, what an exhilarating ride it is. Filthy, punky, snarling speed, born of cheap beer swilled in sweaty basements, Satanic Royalty is a raucous blast of proto-blackness, all raw-edged and roughshod rock ‘n’ roll in that perfectly gnarled way, careening along perpetually on the verge of total collapse. A one-man metal machine, Athenar made the most of Midnight’s first full-length, crafting ten tunes (and a Black Ax cover) into one of the sleaziest records of the decade, and one that the band has yet to eclipse or even equal.
No, it’s not a new sound, necessarily, but goddamned if it still ain’t devilishly fun to rip this hell, just track after track of scuzz with undeniable shout-along choruses, custom built for swilling that same cheap beer in your own basement… or in someone else’s basement… or wherever, as long as you do it with your fist in the air and a smile on your face. Don’t fight it — sell your soul to Midnight. “You Can’t Stop Steel,” indeed…[ANDREW EDMUNDS]
DODECAHEDRON – DODECAHEDRON
Dodecahedron appeared fully-formed and basically leveled the status quo. Like the many-faced shape of their namesake, their debut is positively crystalline in its dissonant riffing, bonkers drumming, and truly labyrinthine compositions. The band took the more technical, dizzying aspects of Deathspell Omega and turned them into something even more horrifying and complex, as if to prove that you don’t need overt religious imagery to scare the pants off the listener.
This record is 1,000 razors all lacerating in unison; there truly isn’t a dulled edge to be heard. The riffs rarely offer anything resembling a resolution, even if there are sometimes pretty melodies just below the surface (imagine a sweet piano etude warped by ungodly technology from the darkest depths of space). The vocals are charismatic but utterly inhuman, with the late Michiel Eikenaar delivering a performance that refuses to be outshined by his virtuoso bandmates. The album finds time to rock, but just when you think you’re free to get down, a grind-like twitch brings back a level of intensity that had really never left. And intensity really is the key; this album is just colossally intense, regardless of whether its assaulting you with a barrage of blistering black metal or forcing you to endure a churning slow burn. It always has another level, another event horizon of dread. It’s almost enough to distract from the cleverness of the songwriting itself.
Dodecahedron is an unforgettable and quite frankly mind-blowing album. It would have resulted in 100 imitators if there were 100 bands in the world that could even remotely pull this stuff off. Truly progressive music, this one. [ZACH DUVALL]
• Released: January 20, 2012
• Label: Season of Mist
• Killing cut: “Vanitas”
URFAUST – THE CONSTELLATORY PRACTICE
During the period in question, Urfaust released three LPs, three live albums, nine splits, a single and one EP. That’s a lot of material for two men who seem to find a lot of enjoyment out of this thing we call life. Of those releases fitting the criteria for this list, it was The Constellatory Practice that saw the greatest votes and also bestowed the most rewards upon those who listened. Of all the genres throughout metal, it is black metal that has the most ability and promise when bending into the realm of the artistic—something Urfaust absolutely excels at. The off-kilter, haunting vocals delivered over ambient, droning instruments and atmospheric drums provide anything from an uncomfortable experience to an extremely terrifying period of your life. (If you were ever considering taking 550 times the recommended dose of LSD, this probably wouldn’t be the best moment.) At nearly an hour in length, The Constellatory Practice plays loose with both song and album structure, yet it provides an all encompassing experience of nihilistic brilliance. When metal leaves the realm of posture and enters the realm of true mental imbalance, there are few who consistently do it better than Urfaust. Their fifth LP since their formation in 2003, The Constellatory Practice is not only their best, it’s absolutely one of the best metal albums released in the past decade. [MANNY-O-WAR]
AMORPHIS – UNDER THE RED CLOUD
Imagine an unpleasant dystopian future that forces parents to choose between two equally talented and immeasurably loved children in an effort to elect one “essential” offspring best suited for the population and you will begin to understand how difficult it was for us to choose between Under the Red Cloud and Queen of Time for this list. Both creations are cut from the same cloth, and despite having unique strengths, few would argue that either stray far enough from the formula the band’s been pushing over the last decade that perhaps even 2011’s The Beginning of Times should be in the running. Something happened right around Under the Red Cloud, though. And since that’s precisely when those somethings first occurred, this record gets the teensiest edge over the 2018 release.
Something #1: Jens Bogren. This guy and his Örebro, Sweden studio (Fascination Street Studios) have breathed new life into the overall Amorphis sound. The balance between light & dark and hard & soft, all the arrangements and embellishments, and just his overall influence on the work as a whole has benefited the band immeasurably. Sure, it’s still Amorphis delivering the actual goods, but Bogren’s influence is vital for a band that appears to be filling virtually every waking minute on a grueling tour schedule.
Something #2: A return to more complex song structures that reemphasizes the band’s progressive stance, but without sacrificing the “impossible to get out of your head hook” approach they’ve spent the last decade-and-a-half perfecting.
At one point I called Under the Red Cloud the best work the band has done since Elegy. Four years later, I think it’s their best since Tales from the Thousand Lakes. [CAPTAIN]
ETERNAL CHAMPION – THE ARMOR OF IRE
Heavy metal has never died. Sure, there were times where true quality was scarce, at least on the surface. The nineties have become almost an inside joke among fans. Though, if you dip beneath the surface, there were still plenty of black and death metal bands putting out excellent albums up to and through the 2000s. Dig a little deeper and you’ll find that true, pure, unadulterated, unmolested, untampered heavy metal stayed alive. Hell, the nineties gave us The Lord Weird Slough Feg and Twisted Tower Dire, while Manilla Road reformed after a short breakup and just kept chugging out releases to those in the know at the time. True heavy metal survived all the way through the 2000s and into the 2010s, where it really began seeing a resurgence in popularity in the latter half of the decade. It’s easy to just blame this on the regressive nature of nostalgia—after all, we’ve seen both thrash and old school death metal find resurgences in the last twenty years alone. And don’t think the latest trend of progressive tinged hard rock under the banner of “proto-metal” isn’t a part of that cycle. This isn’t to devalue the works of the bands tapping into the past for inspiration. On the contrary, it shows just how expansive the genre is that bands almost forty years outside of metal’s glory days can still create inspired, affirming works without touching much outside the constraints of the time period in which they target.
While Eternal Champion isn’t the sole band on which the finger of scorn is pointed for the recent uptick in interest for traditional heavy metal, their debut album The Armor Of Ire certainly shoulders a sizable chunk of the glory. Or at the very least, it holds a standard against which their contemporaries have, in the four years since its release, been measured. The hardest part of reaching into the past for inspiration isn’t capturing the feel and vibe of classic heavy metal bands—there are hundreds of bands popping up every year that do a spectacular job in this department. No, the most difficult part is making it sound as immediate and relevant, yet as timeless and classic as Eternal Champion did on their debut. The galloping riffs and roided-out reverb of Jason Tarpy’s mighty bark carry the songs to victory—a battle cry for those whose hearts bleed steel. Yet there’s simultaneously an intensely personal feel to the album, adding a layer of depth to Eternal Champion that so many other bands don’t quite reach. The Armor Of Ire not only captures the images of Michael Moorcock’s multiversal hero, they translate his tone to their songs as well. He is far from the wordiest author in the realms of fantasy, and when looked at individually, his works were never too long or complex. Neither is The Armor Of Ire. Yet both Eternal Champion and Moorcock utilize their basic tools to create masterworks that stand far beyond the sum of their parts. To capture all this on a debut is a feat in its own right, and The Armor Of Ire continues to hold its magic as it reaches its fourth year since the release date. It’s the traditional heavy metal album of the decade, and it bodes well for the genre as heavy metal enters its fiftieth year of existence. [RYAN TYSINGER]
THE RUINS OF BEVERAST – EXUVIA
To say that Alexander von Meilenwald’s Ruins of Beverast thrives on atmosphere is to do great violence to the very concept of atmosphere. When von Meilenwald is firing on all cylinders, such is the overwhelming edifice of his music that it can feel like he has composed with atmosphere itself. The instrumentation, vocals, riffs, and songs are all thus merely supporting evidence in service of a thesis the listener has long since felt deep in the marrow. What’s even more impressive is the heights to which Exuvia soars after the serious career low point of Blood Vaults several years prior. On Exuvia, von Meilenwald’s music feels every bit as miraculously inventive as did the seemingly out of nowhere leap that 2004’s Unlock the Shrine represented beyond 2001’s Virus West from his previous band Nagelfar.
On Exuvia, the guitars ring with a rich, watery echo, and although the album occasionally whips up the intensity to a fever pitch, for the most part these songs are long-form demonstrations of patient, meticulous world-building through the lens of extraordinarily powerful black doom. The title track whips through perhaps the album’s most intense passage in its first five minutes but then shows an entirely different face with the resonant clean-sung passage, and “Surtur Barbaar Maritime” rests on a simple, stretched tremolo line, but twists it in all manner of shading through von Meilenwald’s tremendously diverse drum performance. To cap it all, the riff theme that emerges at the 3:57 mark (and again at 10:12) of “The Pythia’s Pale Wolves” is perhaps the most triumphant moment to emerge from the Ruins of Beverast to date. This is a rich and endlessly fascinating album that reveals new facets with every listen. [DAN OBSTKRIEG]
DARKTHRONE – CIRCLE THE WAGONS
“Oodles of fun” is not typically how one would describe a black metal album, but it certainly fits Circle the Wagons. By 2010, Darkthrone was three or four albums (depending on where you draw the line) into its expectations-be-damned-we’re doing-whatever-we-want phase, and the boys had really hit their stride. Fenriz wrote some of his best catchy punk / metal tunes, including “Those Treasures Will Never Befall You,” “I am the Working Class” and the anthemic and gloriously goofy title track.
Now, if goofy is not your bag, fear not, because Ted has you covered. Nocturno Culto’s tunes, aren’t as icy-cold as the Darkthrone of yore, but the trademark grimness is in full effect, and more importantly, ol’ Teddy brings the riffs in spades. “Running for Borders” grooves so hard it practically boogies, and “Stylized Corpse” and “Black Mountain Totem” are each a treasure trove of riffs, featuring everything from thrash and NWOBHM to d-beat and doom. Circle the Wagons is definitely not the “Trve Norwegian Black Metal” Darkthrone is most famous for; to some it might even come across as a joke. But with so many bands tripping over themselves to make their own version of Transilvanian Hunger, Circle the Wagons could be seen as just as much a trend-bucking release as A Blaze in the Northern Sky and Under a Funeral Moon, just a lot more fun. [JEREMY MORSE]
BLOOD INCANTATION – HIDDEN HISTORY OF THE HUMAN RACE
In the relatively tiny world of extreme metal, Blood Incantation got a lot of damn hype last year. But then they delivered with Hidden History of the Human Race. Indeed, your humble and hype-allergic scribes here at Last Rites still managed to place this shining jewel of an album atop our Last Rites Combined Staff Top 25. Hidden History succeeds in part because of the unique and very well executed album construction: two vicious, twisting, lava gurgling slabs of death, followed by the slowly evolving interlude of “Inner Paths (To Outer Space)” that becomes a knuckle-dragging murderbot. Then Blood Incantation decides to wrap things up with eighteen minutes of even more exploratory death metal. The appropriate and awesomely-titled “Awakening From the Dream of Existence to the Multidimensional Nature of our Reality (Mirror of the Soul)” is a truly progressive take on death metal that pays homage to the genre’s greats while still forging new ground. Thirty-six minutes of death metal that manages to be both economic and expansive, and destined to outlive the buzz and backlash of the internet. Ignore the hype and just enjoy some excellent fucking death metal (EFDM) that knows what it’s about, son. [FETUSGHOST]
MOONSORROW – JUMALTEN AIKA
Folk metal, viking metal, pagan metal, each of these as a black metal modifier, and all combinations thereof. Moonsorrow’s music has been called many things and none actually gets at what Moonsorrow does. They’ve crafted a sound so thoroughly their own that it defies categorization, even as elements of that sound are familiar. Throughout their stellar career, Moonsorrow has made their version of whatever it is you’d call the intersection of folk- viking- pagan- epic-black metal better than any other band in any of the adjacent spheres. They’re so good at it that, with each new album, fans know exactly what they’re going to get and end up (at least nearly) uniformly wowed anyway.
Jumalten Aika came a full five years after Varjoina Kuljemme Kuolleiden Maassa and a relative streamlining on the heels of the band’s uber epic V: Hävitetty. Any trepidation that this circumstance inspired was quickly allayed when Jumalten Aika turned out to be… exactly what fans expected, but done better than any could have hoped for. Reflecting the old, full, deeply rooted tree on the album cover, the songs within span the life of the band with a return to rawer, more feral riffing, continued use of massive choral parts and viking chants bridging tremendous builds and catharses, and ongoing exploration of all the intricacies afforded by an array of folk instrumentation.
Most notably, the compositions are those of a band absolutely at their peak. Taken individually, the five tracks on Jumalten Aika are brilliant songs, each containing fantastic riffs, compelling melodies, and ferocious vocals from Ville Sorvali, all coursing through a wonderful landscape of towering swells and bucolic expanse. Put them all together and the result is a complete and beautifully rendered epic heavy metal album that ponders the fate of Pagan virtue and values in a modern world, roots to flowers. A quick look back at the album cover and those poor souls dangling so very high up in the branches suggests where Moonsorrow supposes we’re headed. The Age of Gods, indeed. [LONE WATIE]
GORGUTS – COLORED SANDS
Time, as it stands, has done nothing but endear Gorguts’ Colored Sands to my heart. Off kilter chord phrasing can be a treacherous endeavor at the best of times, and it can make even the purest practitioner come off as self-indulgent, but Gorguts stretches the hubris across such a masterful sonic story-scape that the strangeness serves the tale rather than over-tells it.
As with albums by Death and Cynic before them, the key to the longevity of this monster is the particular panache of the songwriter, and the ability of the rest of the band to become fully possessed by the intention of that writer. Colored Sands flows as though a single organism were moving through it, despite each player’s audacity and talent.
Repeated listens only serve to unlock new and fascinating digressions and nuances. And once the album is more or less internalized, each listen serves as both a reminder and a rediscovery which satisfies. [CHRIS SESSIONS]