Compliments and congratulations on enduring, fellow bubble beings!
The 100 Essential Albums of the 2010s is pulling into stop #4 this week. CAN YOU HANDLE THE PRESSURE? We’re certain you can, because this is nothing compared to treating everything that comes into your home as if it were up Mitch McConnell’s rear before landing on your doorstep. And yes, that includes the new refrigerator.
The ten albums represented this week once again run the stylistic gamut: prog, black, doom, trad, speed, grind, goth and… Well, the jury’s still out on one of them. We also have our first potential “Hey, That Ain’t a Metal Album” designation landing this week, which is always justification for partying like it’s 1999. You remember 1999: yon epoch when humans could actually grind on one another without anxiety spiraling like a demon typhoon. We’ll get there again, friends. In the meantime…
Stay safe, smart, distant and hopeful.
INTO THE FOURTH DIMENSION!
ARCH / MATHEOS – SYMPATHETIC RESONANCE
Fans of John Arch have learned to be patient, appreciative and content when it comes to new material that features his wonderful and unique voice. When the Twist of Fate EP dropped in 2003 after seventeen years of radio silence, we were thrilled and hopeful for a bountiful future, and then gratified that we’d at least received an additional 28-minutes of the Arch / Matheos partnership (alongside Joey Vera and Mike Portnoy… BOING) in what appeared to be no more than a special one-off. Then, eight years later, Sympathetic Resonance dropped into our laps, sporting three songs Matheos had originally written for Fates Warning (the opening “Neurotically Wired,” “Midnight Serenade” and “Stained Glass Sky”) in parallel with three additional cuts crafted exclusively for the release once John Arch agreed to take part.
To say the record was a surprise and received as a triumph is an understatement of dramatic proportions, as Sympathetic Resonance bridges the years between the mid 80s and the duo’s rebonding in the modern age in a way that almost made it seem as if the two had never severed their connection in the first place. This is precisely what we all imagined present era Fates Warning would sound like if John Arch had never, ahem, “left,” and the only true reason it gets the nod over the equally towering Winter Ethereal from last year is by virtue of it happening first; primogeniture lives on in the hallowed halls of Last Rites. [CAPTAIN]
PANOPTICON – KENTUCKY
Black metal is a subgenre that conveys a sense of place like no other. Sure, you can hear bands that invoke their scene or the studio where they originated, but certain black metal conjures a physical location perfectly. From the frozen mountains of Scandinavia to the forests of the Pacific Northwest to the… Coal mines of Kentucky? For all the proliferation of European folk instruments in pagan black metal, it’s honestly surprising that more bands have not adopted the folk instruments of Appalachia and the southern United States. Learn to embrace the twang of bluegrass vocals (or skip to any track with “Breakdown” in the name), and you’ll notice that the string players can absolutely shred.
Austin L. Lunn, Panopticon’s sole member, wrote Kentucky as a tribute to his home at the time, with a focus on the struggles of coal miners against greedy owners and apathetic politicians. The album mixes caustic black metal with banjo, dobro, and other traditional instruments in long original songs, re-imaginings of traditional folk and protest songs, and samples of coal miner interviews and contentious meetings between labor and company leaders. It’s a masterfully composed album that highlights the plight of laborers and the environment that is destroyed by greed and indifference. Kentucky remains a unique and powerful statement of rage, perfectly suited for the Appalachian Mountains that birthed it. [FETUSGHOST]
GRIDLINK – LONGHENA
For the most part, grindcore is a visceral experience. It’s about rage, aggression, pure speed and energy and volume. Japanese / American supergroup Gridlink was certainly no exception to that maxim—they possess all of the above qualities in abundance—but they also added to them an emotional weight beyond pure spite, and they balanced it neatly against experimental tendencies that pushed all three of their too-short full-lengths several steps outside the limiting parameters of the style. Longhena would prove to the band’s swansong, the band splitting apart as a casualty of a brain injury that rendered guitarist Takafumi Matsubara unable to play without serious physical rehabilitation.
But, hey, if you’re going to put an end to one of the most distinctive grindcore outfits of the past few decades, Longhena is a grand way to do it. It’s the culmination of Gridlink’s arc, a beautifully violent combination of Bryan Fajardo’s blastbeating, Jon Chang’s pained shrieks, and Matsubara’s and Steve Procopio’s twisting and dissonant riffs, the pair of them winding into and around each other like coiling snakes, taking turns and jumps into areas rarely explored within grindcore’s confines.
Perhaps it’s best that they didn’t try to follow it up—at least not under the Gridlink name—because, in its twenty-one minutes of emotionally exhausting pummeling and screaming, Longhena is hands down one of the most interesting and intense grindcore records ever made. [ANDREW EDMUNDS]
• Released: February 19, 2014
• Label: Selfmadegod Records
• Last Rites review
• Killing cut: Just listen to the whole damned thing, it’s only 20-minutes
SARGEIST – LET THE DEVIL IN
Sometimes music just sounds right. For example, if you wanted to hear what jazz circa 1967 sounded like, you can pop on Lee Morgan’s Cornbread and all will be right with the world. Hell, you could even eat some cornbread. It is one of the few perfect breads in existence. Similarly, if you asked me what Finnish black metal should sound like (which you should), I would tell you to put on this album. Released in 2010, Let the Devil In is a timeless work of nihilistic genius. As black metal twists and winds its way far from the second wave and through the gaze, atmospheric and ambient experiments, Sargeist are here to remind us just what good old black metal should sound like. Jagged guitars, furious drumming and vicious vocals that impart the ritualistic anger contained within form the backbone of this absolute ripper. It’s an experience—one to be accompanied by all your own rituals, be they dark candles, dark beers or perhaps dark velour running suits. Let the Devil In absolutely achieves its title, which is more of a plea than it is an order. When listened to with full attention, the dark roots of black metal reach through your rib cage and latch onto your soul, imparting all the depressing pointlessness of the universe in a beautifully violent little package. Decade lists aside, this might be the best black metal album to ever come out of Finland. And that’s saying a whole bunch.
And also, if you get the chance to see this band live, we recommend you do everything in your power to do so. They are phenomenal. [MANNY-O-WAR]
SATAN – LIFE SENTENCE
Satan released one of the best records of the NWOBHM in 1983 with Court in the Act, and then… massive flux. Everyone but vocalist Brian Ross recorded additional albums as Satan and Blind Fury, but the full magic of Court was lacking because Ross was so unique and classy in his delivery. For decades, the Court lineup remained a great what-if in metal.
So in 2013, when Life Sentence landed, it landed like ten ton gavel. Not only did this feature the entire Court in the Act lineup and pick up where that classic left off, it actually surpassed it. This new, older Satan somehow sounded more youthful a full 30 years after their last record together. There was an energy, a spryness to the band that groups half their age fail to grasp. The Tippins / Ramsey riffs are agile, even lithe, dancing over the top notch rhythm section work while Ross delivers his vocals with a charisma and dignity that would sound as home in a bar as in a parliamentary debate. Plus, the clarity. The band knew it had the goods, so it didn’t feel the need to muck up the record with too much gain or unnecessary processing. Let it breathe, and the riffs will reign.
Instead of doing the normal Returning Veteran Band thing and releasing a feel-good album that merely hinted at former glories, Satan decided to claim the crown that should have been theirs decades ago and become one of the best bands in all of traditional heavy metal. [ZACH DUVALL]
TREES OF ETERNITY – HOUR OF THE NIGHTINGALE
Released after the passing of vocalist Aleah Starbridge and completed through the combined efforts of some of doom metals biggest names, Hour of the Nightingale produced an obituary—a monolith of sorts to Aleah—that would make anyone proud. Consequently, this was probably the most emotional album released in the last decade.
It’s important to note, however, that this album would be on this list even without the backstory due to its beauty, evocativeness and timeless composition. The addition of strings makes the vocal delivery sound breathy—as if being delivered softly through an alto saxophone fitted with a #4 reed. The entire album is a serene exercise in meditation and connection through love, nature and the possibility of eternal life. There are moments of chugging doom metal softened by Aleah’s delivery, just as there are moments of serene beauty enhanced by the solidness of the rhythm section and the angelic nature of the string arrangements. There is balance across this album—primarily the balance between life and death and, worst of all, the balance between denying and accepting that death will be the fate of us all. The music wholly supports that absolutely devastating revelation so beautifully, delivering ten emotionally crushing tracks.
A timeless work of art, Hour of the Nightingale will forever stand the test of time as a testament to Aleah Stanbridge and her hopes, bravery, talent and willingness to share some of the most intimate moments a human can experience. In that way, this album is a form of medicine, albeit outside the standard rubric of the healthcare system. There are lessons to be uncovered across this album no matter who you are. And, since death will inevitably impact your life, you might as well get accustomed to finding positive ways in which to frame it. [MANNY-O-WAR]
VISIGOTH – CONQUEROR’S OATH
Visigoth’s debut, The Revenant King, was impressive. It showcased a band with all the proper tools for making great epic / traditional / power metal: dual shredding, harmonizing guitarists, and an absolute powerhouse vocalist. Yet the band displayed none of the overly melodic, sticky-sweetness that often abounds in current power metal. At over an hour long, however, The Revenant King did feel a little bloated.
With Conqueror’s Oath, Visigoth eviscerated any notion of a sophomore slump by taking a “less is more” approach that paid dividends in spades. At a trim forty-three minutes, Conqueror’s Oath lacks nothing in the way of power metal bombast, but retains the lean-and-mean ferocity of the best classic heavy metal. The album’s opening track, “Steel and Silver,” is one of the most triumphant metal anthems of the century, and while it’s undoubtedly the strongest track on the album, it is hardly the only gem in the sack. “Warrior Queen” is nearly its match in sword-swinging power, and “Traitor’s Gate” isn’t far behind. “Outlive Them All” and “Blades in the Night” show Visigoth is perfectly capable of adding a little speed to its power metal, and at the other end of the spectrum, the title track is a study in stately grandeur. It’s probably too soon to call Visigoth the best active U.S. power metal band, but Pharaoh better watch its back. [JEREMY MORSE]
ALUK TODOLO – VOIX
In the course of reading these features on the most essential albums of the past decade, it may occur to you to ask exactly what defines an album as “essential.” Essential to whom, or for what? And while there is no single formula for that answer, I like to think that “essential” revolves around two distinct poles: some albums are essential because they were integral to or indicative of a widespread trend or new stylistic development, and some albums are essential precisely because they were not that. Aluk Todolo’s remarkable Voix belongs firmly to the latter camp, in that it has spawned no movements, inspired no swath of imitators, nor been surpassed or even approached. Chaos Echoes’s brilliant and unsettling 2015 album Transient might be its only true peer, but Voix is headier, heavier, and yet also more diaphanous. The truly jawdropping thing about this 43-minute single composition is that even as it touches on post-punk, krautrock, noise, black metal, and jazz in its generously omnivorous scope, it never overreaches or strikes a false chord. The French trio uses absolutely nothing other than guitar, bass, and drums, but the feverish intensity and wild abandon of their exploration explodes the limited palette into an ever-expanding prism of shapes, shadings, and colors. All these years later, and I’m still not quite sure what Voix is about, but I’m still chasing that mystery, burrowing into the labyrinth of its sound, hoping to come out on the other side changed. [DAN OBSTKRIEG]
WOODS OF YPRES – WOODS 5: SKIES & ELECTRIC LIGHT
Woods 5: Grey Skies & Electric Light is wonderfully written, impeccably played, and immaculately produced, so its inclusion among the nominees for our 10s Essentials list was all but inevitable. It made the final cut because those three fundamental factors come together to create a deeply emotional experience by exposing the profound vulnerability of its creator while inviting its observer not simply to listen, but to participate fully.
Woods of Ypres’ fourth and final album (its numerical designation recognizes the band’s demo), is heavy and melancholic with flashes of vibrant optimism intermittently laced throughout, very much reflecting the record’s descriptive subtitle. Musically, the contrast is achieved through deep, rich guitar tone and riffs that range from a lumber to a running staccato to paint a darkened backdrop for the shining blue-grey light of melody from strings and piano and ringing lead guitar.
David Gold, Woods of Ypres’ founder, provides the most distinctive and surely most personal presentation of that contrast by way of his inimitable vocals, a combination of harsh singing and deep, hypnotic cleans. His voice is magnificent, plumbing the depths of Gold’s emotional well in the most relatable way, completely free of irony. And it’s so achingly clear that the vocals ring true to Gold’s experience when cast in the poetic glow of his lyrics. The songs sung here are about one man’s struggle to find some foothold in that precarious space between accepting sadness and darkness and ultimately death, and embracing those fundamental beauties of life that resist the shadow.
The wonderfully sentimental experience of Woods 5, so personal and yet universal, is made all the more poignant by the fact of David Gold’s untimely death in December, 2011, a few months before the record’s release. It can be difficult to know just how to feel about an artist’s work after they pass, but Gold told us what he thought about that very idea through this record’s most powerful song, “Adora Vivos.”
A moment of silence / but not one moment more
The dead are to be forgotten / we are here to be adored
It seems that Gold had taken that honest look at his world—our world—and come to accept at a basic level that, even in the face of all the pain and fear and sadness, even when it’s despondency that makes the most sense, it’s hope that feels most real. [LONE WATIE]
40 WATT SUN – THE INSIDE ROOM
Music, like writing, is but a broken bridge between two minds, and in metal it’s mostly the listener’s responsibility to try to make it to the other side. With most albums each listen takes you further and further, past another obstacle, but there’s always that final leg you cannot cover, leaving an annoying distance between you and the artist. In this regard, 40 Watt Sun’s debut full-length, The Inside Room, is a unique album in all of metal, because here, for once, the music comes to you. Here, for once, the (strangely muddy) strings and drums take the backseat and give the human voice a true voice, letting your brain tune to what the fuck Patrick Walker (ex-Warning) is singing about with his iconic croon. And by the time you remember even a single so-called riff from the album, you’ve known all the lyrics for weeks. If the 2010s gave us one album to play while lying on our miserable deathbeds, then this is it. Approach with utmost respect. No, sorry, don’t approach it. Just stay where you are! [JUHO MIKKONEN]