Greetings and felicitations, children of technology!
We soldier forward, we denizens of the heavy metal sphere, and that means it’s time to reveal albums 21-30 on our 100 Essential Albums of the 2010s.
As we often say around LR HQ, “In with the old, in with the new.” That means you can expect us to include bands that have been active for 45 years just as readily as we’d offer up bands that feature members who weren’t even born when those classic bands first decided to don their metal gear. Hey, as long as an old dog can still manage all the tricks as well as or better than the rest, no? Bearing this in mind, you will probably notice that Volume 3 goes heavy on bands that have put in their dues; five of the ten records offered below were produced by groups that have been active for 25 years or more. We hope you’ll agree this detail does not necessarily equate to less fire.
Also worthy of note this week: Bandcamp has decided to waive their revenue share of all sales TODAY (midnight to midnight Pacific Time) in an effort to put as much money into the artists’ pockets as possible during these challenging times. We have linked all the albums we’ve covered so far to their bandcamp pages (where applicable), so there’s really no better time than the present to give these great artists a little extra love when touring is suddenly not an option. It’s also obviously a great time to finally clear out that wishlist you’ve allowed to pile up to rafters. Tip o’ the hat to the folks at Bandcamp for (once again) doing something positive for our community.
Right… Into the pit! Stay well and stay heavy.
INCANTATION – VANQUISH IN VENGEANCE
If the past decade of the genre’s history is any guide, there is room aplenty for theatrics, progression, experimentation, and generally precious fussing-about in death metal. As if all the more explicitly to serve as a bulwark against such itinerant malarkey, however, Incantation’s masterful ninth album Vanquish in Vengeance stomped into frame with all the subtlety of a handshake with an oncoming freight train. Incantation’s devotion to death metal’s foundational nastiness has never wavered, yet on Vanquish these beautiful dirtbags recaptured the sort of hellfire gleam not truly felt since Diabolical Conquest on a set of fierce and grisly tunes that seemed to survey the landscape of lumbering, cavernous death metal hopefuls and say, “That’s cute.”
“Progeny of Tyranny” wrings a grime-caked boogie out of a sinuous pinch-riff maelstrom, “Profound Loathing” is a towering doom horror, and the closer “Legion of Dis” is perhaps one of the most cripplingly heavy things the band has ever done, a strikingly experimental calamity of feedback, reverb, and inescapable dread. The most remarkable thing, though, is that even though the triad of Vanquish, Dirges of Elysium, and Profane Nexus clearly seem like a leveling up, it’s also not clear that Incantation has ever particularly changed their core mission: to tunnel straight to the heaving, pulpy mass at the heart of death metal and make a cathedral there of riff and stone and bile. We who come to worship need but keep the faith. [DAN OBSTKRIEG]
HAMMERS OF MISFORTUNE – DEAD REVOLUTION
If any band on the planet deserves all the superlatives, it’s Hammers of Misfortune. Thing is, this San Francisco heavy metal troupe has been so insanely and consistently great that even the shiniest words just kind of… miss the point. For 2016’s Dead Revolution, our own Dan Obstkrieg made the compelling argument that, while bands like Hammers of Misfortune deserve words of high praise, they deserve a thoughtful consideration of why they deserve those words even more. No little blurb can ever get at just what makes Dead Revolution so incomparably wonderful, but it’s surely fair to notice that two things about this record explain a lot of it: uniqueness and timelessness.
Hammers of Misfortune could be and has been described as progressive metal, folk metal, doom metal, power metal, thrash, and traditional metal, and, in the case of their seventh album, all of these are technically correct and none of them is accurate, because Dead Revolution is all of these and none, a whole to exceed the sum of its parts. This is important, because each variation on heavy metal and rock within this record (and there are so many) brings with it a sense of some place in time and together they span the course of metal’s development. What you get then is killer riffs and dueling leads that sound like all heavy metal ever and no other band but Hammers; brand new keyboard melodies and harmonies bathed in a 50-year-distant light; vocal lines that reach back decades and break new ground in the same breath. Indeed, there are reflections throughout Dead Revolution of old timey greatness (Thin Lizzy, Queen, Iron Maiden), flashing in this place or that, but always with the sense, not that Hammers is doing something like another band, but of that band’s spirit, a little like catching a glimpse of your dad in your brother’s smile.
Another way to say it is that John Cobbett’s compositions are those of a legitimate auteur, arranged in such a way as to celebrate Heavy Metal and its most beloved heroes and yet always add up to Hammers of Misfortune and nothing else. Cobbett makes this happen with songwriting acumen that shines through the listener’s experience of it, the feelings it elicits, rather than, say, the fleeting awe inspired by some technical gimmickry. Now, Dead Revolution’s tricks are abundant, to be sure, but they’re executed with such skill and grace that it all feels as natural and effortless, but also as organically energetic and soulful, as the best straightforward rock-and-roll song.
Dead Revolution is unique and timeless, comparable only in sheer quality to the other albums in the Hammers of Misfortune catalog, and yet retains the singular and indelible mark of its creators, cementing it among the very best heavy metal albums of the last ten years. Final testament to the quality of the band that made it? Dead Revolution isn’t even the best record they’ve made. [LONE WATIE]
WORMED – KRIGHSU
If the slammier corner of the brutal death metal landscape is pushing extremity one way, the terrorcosmic tech of Spain’s Wormed is surely pushing it in another no less heavy, but far weirder direction. There is just simply no band that is doing what they’re doing quite like they’re doing it, and third full length Krighsu upped the ante for their industrial-level precision, bonkers heft (at under 35 minutes, this thing has the density of a neutron star), irresistible riffiness, and just outright coolness. The riffs twitch, groove, expand, dredge the depths of gas giants, and pummel like the early heavy bombardment. The vocals sound either like a sewer transmission from a supermassive black hole or a demon trying to communicate through the cosmic microwave background (or both). The drumming—from the late, great Guillermo Calero—is perhaps the most impressive aspect, with every blast, off-beat snare tap, clattering ride cymbal tap, and rapid double-kick pattern showing not just impressive skill, but a true sense for providing depth to the songs.
Krighsu goes from headbanging, bounce-twitch whiplashing and unabashedly danceable brutech to slightly proggy and atmospheric vortexes of horror the likes of which most bands of this ilk never dream up. No one combines the vast horrors of space with the punishment of death metal quite like Wormed. Spaghettification never sounded so damn fun. [ZACH DUVALL]
AGALLOCH – MARROW OF THE SPIRIT
The impact of America’s atmospheric black metal act Agalloch cannot be understated either in this decade or in the pantheon of the global genre. While their earlier works, i.e. Ashes Against the Grain and The Mantle, dominate Agalloch’s legacy, Marrow of the Spirit is a later-career album that deserves equal consideration for its long-form composition, balanced vocal approach, raw-but-pristine production and its undeniable connection to the land upon which it was composed. Despite the label change for their fourth LP, Marrow of the Spirit continued Agalloch’s dominant approach to pagan black metal. Even changing drummers from Chris Greene to Aesop Dekker seemed to be in stride. Without this album, other albums—even those contained within this decade list—may not have come to fruition. “The Watcher’s Monolith” layers acoustic and electric guitars over tribal-sounding drums enhancing the connection to earth, while neatly plucked guitars represent humans trudging through thick, snowy forests. The balance of vocals on “Black Lake Niðstång” calls to mind a Pacific Northwest version of the Dead Marshes, as the dead and the Niðstång converse. That extensive track is followed perfectly by “Ghost of Midwinters Fires,” using delay pedals and an extremely patient introductory crescendo to bring the album to an emotional climax. The album shows balance, restraint and an experienced touch for nature-themed black metal that few have been able to rival since. [MANNY-O-WAR]
LEPROUS – MALINA
You, refined and tasteful reader, are free to debate the metalness of Malina. You should also double check the intros and see if we actually promised you the most essential metal albums of the decade (ok fine, we did). You could bring up Leprous’ role as Ihsahn’s backing band but realize that doesn’t apply here. And then, of course, you should shut up and put Malina into your ears. There are many albums on this damn-near-perfect* list that will demand immediate listening, but Malina is a journey like no other. Let Einar Solberg’s soaring, angelic voice take you through the veil. Sure, there are crunchy guitars and complex rhythms, but while these beautiful songs are progressive rock, Malina is a very essential part of any metalhead’s collection. We know in part because of its inclusion at number five of our 2017 combined staff list. It remains a gorgeous, triumphant, emotional work. Seriously. Stop what you’re doing and put on Malina.
*The algorithms of our moon rock sorcery machine can be cruel to personal favorites. The machine is NEVER WRONG. [FETUSGHOST]
• Released: August 25, 2017
• Label: InsideOut Music
• Killing cut: “From the Flame”
IRON MAIDEN – THE FINAL FRONTIER
After three albums in the re-Bruce era, Iron Maiden certainly had little to prove at the turn of the last decade. Nevertheless, in the wake of the passable but almost interminably plodding A Matter of Life and Death, there was some reason to wonder if a bucket dipped in the well of fiery inspiration had begun to come up a bit leaky. But as it ever was and ever shall be, anyone foolish enough to doubt The Greatest Heavy Metal Band Of All-Time is kindly invited to sit their gentle bits upon a cactus. Although superficially following a similar pattern to Brave New World and Dance of Death by opening with the more stoutly pugnacious rockers before moving into more elaborately progressive fare, The Final Frontier stands on its own for just how brilliantly it opens up in its back half, seemingly gathering fervent momentum the whole way through.
Of course there are moments that touch on all of Maiden’s storied career, like how “The Alchemist” sounds almost ripped from the Number of the Beast / Piece of Mind-era, or how “Coming Home” is an older, sadder, but even more deeply resonant reflection of “Wasted Years.” The album is brighter in tone than AMoLaD (though hardly a difficult feat), and each of the six sounds almost as palpably rejuvenated as on BNW ten years prior. Although the album is astoundingly strong throughout, the closing trio of songs is as utterly bulletproof as they come, from “The Talisman” (which is this particular shlub’s dark horse nominee for best post-80s Maiden track) and “The Man Who Would Be King” to the outrageously affecting closer “When the Wild Wind Blows” (which is easily the best Steve Harris solo writing credit since at least “The Sign of the Cross”). An impeccable late-career masterpiece. [DAN OBSTKRIEG]
UNLEASH THE ARCHERS – APEX
One thing that power metal is supposed to be about is having a whole bunch of fun. And ‘fun’ is one thing that Unleash the Archers certainly got right on Apex. While their previous efforts were lightly plagued by an overabundance of harsh vocals, those took a major back seat to the power cannon-like pipes of Brittney Slayes on Apex. There was hardly a thing that Apex didn’t do right. From blistering battle songs such as “The Matriarch” to the acoustic-fueled “Earth and Ashes,” the album carries a pace and enthusiasm not often found in an art form often riddled with pessimism and insecurity. And the guitar solos are just [fire emoji]. These boys can equally drop melodic solos or just flat out smoke, and I don’t mean cigarettes or vaping or whatever stupid thing the tobacco industry invents to trick you into smoking by the time this is published. Of course, that’s not to be outdone by Nikko Whitworth’s bass work, which is given ample room to spread its wings at various times on the album when it’s not lock-step with the brilliant drumming of Scott Buchanan. This album is simply a massive effort that will forever cement the legacy of Unleash the Archers and buy them a lifetime pass should any of them decide to join the Dave Matthews Band for a tour down under. [MANNY-O-WAR]
DECEASED – SURREAL OVERDOSE
There are scant few bands in any genre, let alone in heavy metal, that embody the concept of “fun” as well as Virginia’s Deceased. Led by King Fowley through thirty five years now, these death / thrash veterans turn their beautifully ugly music into something downright gleeful and guaranteed to put a smile on the face of all but the most misanthropic of metalheads.
Starting life as a more straight-ahead death metal outfit, over time, Deceased added a hefty component of traditional and thrash metals to that deadly mix, creating a uniquely giddy blend of razor-sharp riffage, relentless pummeling, and a host of macabre E.A. Poe-esque tales of horror and sickness. Though the stellar Supernatural Addiction remains the band’s highwater mark, both 2011’s Surreal Overdose and its successor Ghostly White showed beyond a shadow of a doubt that this band of merry metallers still had plenty of fire left in their bellies and in their instruments. From “Skin Crawling Progress” through the brilliant bashing of “Dying In Analog,” Overdose is simply nonstop kickassery from King and company, just as the gods of metal intended.
There are two kinds of metalheads: Those who love Deceased, and those who just haven’t heard them yet. [ANDREW EDMUNDS]
MOURNFUL CONGREGATION – THE BOOK OF KINGS
What makes The Book of Kings such a clear-cut choice for this list, beyond it standing as Mournful Congregation’s tallest victory, is the fact that it manages to push the subgenre into more negotiable terrain without losing touch with all the necessary bylaws that guarantee the band funeral doom status. Yes, the songs are stretched to near impossible lengths, and there are plenty of moments where the space between riffs seem wider than the sky itself, but there’s also plenty of experimentation and enough outright prettiness to make it suitable for handing off to outsiders who need a little extra embellishment in order to commit to a funereal plunge. A song like “The Bitter Veils of Solemnity,” for example, could play at your local coffee shop with nary a soul wondering what fresh hell has just taken over the speakers. Okay… the whispering throughout might be a little unsettling to some, but it’s an absurdly lovely and often lifting song with loads of meandering acoustic play that contradicts funeral doom’s generally leaden demeanor.
Also adding to the record’s supremacy is the fact that Mournful Congregation actually manage to make funeral doom sound, you know, doomy. Despite what some would have you believe, this is not always the case for bands in this particular off-shoot. Case in point: opener “The Catechism of Depression” is about as stretched and burdensome as a funeral doom song can get, and the guitar work throughout often weeps like weepiest willow on the heaviest Watching from a Distance binge. But again, just as soon as you begin to feel as if the walls are fully closing in, a suddenly sanguine riff like that which is heard 14:50 into the same song breaks free and hoists the listener above the trees for the song’s closing five minutes. Pure poetry, that.
I suppose calling a record like The Book of Kings “progressive” is a bit of a stretch, but this is about as adventurous and noodly and pretty and inclusive as funeral doom gets. An easy choice for an essential record. [CAPTAIN]
CARCASS – SURGICAL STEEL
Having pioneered both grindcore and melodic death metal, Carcass is one of the most influential bands in extreme metal. From unabashed worshipers such as General Surgery, Impaled and Exhumed, to the less blatantly influenced likes of Arsis, Anata, and even doom masters Solitude Aeturnus, Carcass has inspired legions of metal bands. Yet, with 2013’s Surgical Steel, Carcass proved that there’s nothing quite like the real thing after a seventeen year layoff. Or at least two thirds of the real thing, being absent of original drummer, Ken Owen. Jeff Walker’s snide snarl lost zero of its venom, and his gore-as-a-metaphor lyrics were as brutal as ever. Neither did Bill Steer show any rust—still proving himself to be a master of tone and technique and fully capable of pulling both sublime melody and brutally twisted riffs from his baritone-tuned Les Paul.
It’s true that those hoping the band might return to its grindcore roots were likely disappointed, though, as Surgical Steel seems in most ways like a logical successor to Heartwork without being a clone. The band has characterized Surgical Steel as its own take on thrash metal, and that’s easy to hear on tracks like “Intensive Battery Brooding” and “The Granulating Dark Satanic Mills.” But Carcass has always had its own voice, and though the band has claimed many influences over its small but wildly diverse discography, each album is uniquely Carcass, and, with the possible (probable) exception of Swansong, uniquely brilliant. Surgical Steel is no different. [JEREMY MORSE]
• Released: September 13, 2013
• Label: Nuclear Blast
• Killing cut: “The Granulating Dark Satanic Mills”