Remember bars? Man, that sure was fun sitting in a dimly lit hole-in-the-wall and knocking back a few while discussing sports, politics and work. If only we could teeter on an uncertain bar stool again right this very minute and talk to a kindly bartender about 2am tamales. Most of us might not even complain about the Hawaiian-shirted douche who just put “Arms Wide Open” on the juke.
Remember sports? Sliders, stolen bases, 9th inning heroics, three-pointers, buzzer beaters, posterized dunks, hat-tricks, 50 saves in one game, and cramming 911 wings into your yapper while moaning about the coach pulling your favorite player in favor of someone who’s clearly unworthy of their gillion dollar salary?
Remember dating? Remember gyms? Remember school? Remember sitting inside a restaurant? Remember flipping through LPs at a record store? Remember getting blown away by an opening act and shaking a band member’s hand and thanking them for having such great merch? REMEMBER ACTUALLY TOUCHING OTHER HUMANS.
Like our cousins the chimps, human beings are inherently social, so it’s all too easy for us to get caught up in the gloom that is our newfound lack of communal luxuries. But humans are also extremely versatile and connected to the pursuit of enlightenment, so maybe—just maybe—we can spend a chunk of our required isolation looking at this grievous circumstance from an angle that ultimately reveals a game-changing gratitude for things we took for granted as little as two months ago. It would be wonderful to (hopefully) come out of the tunnel with a little more compassion and appreciation for the human connection. Or hey, let’s get really fucking wild and equalize things more, so that the have-nots and have-too-much’s find some common ground, and the human heart can grow three sizes that day without the worry of it being a medical condition that only a small handful can actually afford to address. This has the potential for going well beyond politics and religion and ideology into a humankind sphere where we realize the population has been given a very stern “go to your room” from our Mother, and if we don’t put a more concerted effort into getting the ENTIRE train back on track, said Mother will wipe the slate totally clean in favor of yet another relaunch. And really, at this point, maybe that’s what we deserve.
But, yeah, there are parts of the Himalayas that are visible to people for the first time in three decades—how can a person’s brain not perceive that as a sign and an utterly bizarre advantage that’s somehow managed to scrape its way to the surface amidst very dark days. Adapt, learn, grow, UPHOLD or get the fuck out and get ready to feed the worms. If you can’t trust the government to do the right thing in times of crisis—and no, you most certainly cannot—start by doing so in your own backyard.
That’s clearly a sidetrack no one asked for or needed from a metal site, but strange times often dictate strange measures, and Last Rites is generally impressed with strange measures and strange brews and strange people and strange riffs and strange horizons and strange magic and strange loops and Perfect Strangers (the album AND the show.) Here’s a clip of Leslie Nielsen on a morning show that you also didn’t ask for today:
And oh! Hey! It’s time for Volume 6 of our 100 Essential Albums of the 2010s! Have you been enjoying the adventure so far? All yays and very little nays? Hip hop hooray, hey, ho, hey, ho, hey, ho…
There’s a lot percolating on the burners this week: progressive death, epic black, epic doom, young folks pledging fealty to traditional ways, not-so-young folks still upholding traditional ways, plus a trombone or two. What?!? TROMBONES?? Embrace the strange!
Here’s the look back for the stragglers in the house:
If you’re here in the U.S. and would like to help your fellow human, please consider the following five donation points in the coming week(s):
- Direct Relief [an organization that provides masks, gloves and isolation gowns to health care organizations]
- Donors Choose [an organization that gets teachers the supplies they sorely need to give to students who are trying to learn from home]
- First Book [an organization that gets books to children in need]
- Meals On Wheels [an organization that’s getting food delivered to seniors in need]
- The CDC Foundation [directly support the Centers for Disease Control]
Okay, that’s it. Stay home, stay healthy, and stay heavy!
MORBUS CHRON – SWEVEN
Have you ever had a dream within a dream and could not wake up? Trapped in the liminal spaces of your subconscious, screaming for release? Robert Andersson has, and Morbus Chron gave the world a beautiful soundtrack to nightmares with their swan song Sweven. Andersson continues to follow his demons into the dreamworlds with new band Sweven, whose album The Eternal Resonance embraces even more of the psychedelic, progressive Swedish death metal that was so perfectly captured on 2014’s Sweven. Not every transcendent album sees its creator recapture the magic with a brand new band, but we are lucky to have both The Eternal Resonance from Andersson and two other Morbus Chron alumni forming punk / speed metal band Tøronto.
Sweven builds on Morbus Chron’s early worship of Autopsy and Death and joins a micro-genre of progressive atmospheric death metal. Bands like Tribulation, Venenum, Obliteration, and Necrovation all released similarly haunting, evocative albums in the mid-2010s. Not surprisingly, a few of those albums are on this very list. We aren’t ranking, but go ahead and try to stop me from calling Sweven the best of the bunch. The impeccable riffs, the sparse but terrifying Schuldiner-inspired vocals, the leads that appear from the ether and infect your dreams, the perfect Raul Gonzalez cover art….it all adds up to a truly essential album. [FETUSGHOST]
• Released: February 24, 2014
• Label: Century Media
• Killing cut: “Aurora in the Offing”
ACCEPT – BLOOD OF THE NATIONS
After the debacle that was Accept’s first lead singer change, the result of which was the glammy lameness of 1988’s Eat The Heat, I don’t know anyone who didn’t have at least a little trepidation at the thought of another Udo-free version of these German gods. Then along comes former TT Quick-ster Mark Tornillo to prove that all of our fears were completely, 100% unfounded. (Though, of course, he didn’t do it alone: mainstays Wolf Hoffmann and Peter Baltes deserve a large share of credit, as you’d expect, as do returning second guitar Hermann Frank and drummer Stefan Schwarzmann.)
Accept’s best album in over two decades, Blood Of The Nations comes barreling out of the gate with a kingly two-song tandem in “Beat The Bastards” and “Teutonic Terror.” Those twin towers of riffy, melodic, metallic glory aren’t at all far removed from the kind of Flying V-fueled badassery that made Accept famous nearly thirty years before, now updated for a new era, a new sound, and a new line-up. And with those two tracks, the album is just getting started: Still to come are the blistering “Locked And Loaded,” the appropriately infectious “Pandemic,” the epic “The Abyss,” the stomping title track…
Steeped in the band’s past successes while also pushing them forward, Blood Of The Nations was not only a welcome surprise, and one of the rare times when a change behind the mic actually worked out well, it’s one of the best comeback albums in metal history. [ANDREW EDMUNDS]
• Released: August 20, 2010
• Label: Nuclear Blast
• Last Rites review
• Killing cut: “Teutonic Terror”
SÓLSTAFIR – SVARTIR SANDAR
Iceland’s Sólstafir is one of those bands that’s just exceedingly difficult to categorize and even more so to describe to the uninitiated. It’s probably best to just call their music post-metal or -rock and then get to the feel of it, because it’s the immersive sensorial experience of Svartir Sandar that makes it one of the best heavy metal albums of the 2010s.
At their simplest, the sounds on Svartir Sandar are what you’d expect from a drum and bass battery, two guitars and a vocalist, and the post- tag. But the music of Sólstafir is deceptive in its simplicity, sounds assembled and arranged to surround and absorb the listener, to elicit the feeling of being enveloped and floated away. Guitars are strung low and fed through wide fields of reverb and delay to open up strummed chords and stretch out the ring of picked notes. Unexpected sounds from saxophone and piano, choral vocals and spoken word add layers between and accent at the edges.
Svartir Sandar is cold, but there’s warmth; scattered sunlight on a midwinter day. It feels like Nordic frontier seen through the lens of John Ford. A desolate panorama painted in all the variations of gray, slate blue brushed into peaks and valleys across the bands and into the corners. Lead guitar is mostly contained by the gray, a soft silver fanned from the edges, except when it’s being shot through like quicksilver over pumice stone. Vocals echo against the landscape, raw, disconsolate, yearning. There are dark clouds on the horizon, gathering slowly and then more quickly until they fill the sky, and now a rush of thunder, like floodwaters through a cracked basalt basin.
Svartir Sandar is a journey, dynamic and wide-ranging across nearly 80 minutes, and so best suited for fully devoted listens. For those who like to plug in to tune out and are willing to let themselves be carried away, this is an album that offers deep and lasting reward. [LONE WATIE]
• Released: October 14, 2011
• Label: Season of Mist
• Last Rites review
• Killing cut: “Svartir Sandar”
PARADISE LOST – TRAGIC IDOL
Paradise Lost’s reestablishment as one of metal’s true greats feels long established at this point, but just back in 2012, it was less than a sure thing. They’d spent the previous few albums rediscovering the gothic metal that helped to make them giants in the 90s, but not even Faith Divides Us – Death Unites Us could have prepared fans for the outright perfection of Tragic Idol. This record reached back to the general structure of Icon and Draconian Times, but added more oomph in Gregor Mackintosh’s riffs and the overall heft, making it a throwback record that pushed just enough into the future. But most important is that Paradise Lost had finally fully rediscovered their greatest talent: writing songs that seem simple but are deceptively nuanced. Every track is a highlight, but “Fear of Impending Hell” and the title track deserve special note. Not only are they as utterly infectious as they are harrowing, they’re absolutely loaded with incredible singing from Nick Holmes, who delivers an arguably career best performance throughout.
Then there is closer “The Glorious End,” which feels so perfectly final and exhausting that it would have been a fitting end for the band’s entire career, had they chosen to split up. Thankfully, they did not, and have only kept their renewed god status since. Long may they re-reign. [ZACH DUVALL]
• Released: April 20, 2012
• Label: Century Media
• Last Rites review
• Killing cut: “Fear of Impending Hell”
SEAR BLISS – LETTERS FROM THE EDGE
Blow your… um… trombone, Gabriel. Yeah. That’s the one. Blow that trombone and herald the angel’s call. Much like Ihsahn’s After represents a shining argument that saxophone has a place in heavy metal, Letters From the Edge supports the inclusion of trombone in the historic annals of metal. But, as my colleague Dan has said, reducing them to a band that utilizes trombone equates them to a novelty band and thus does grave disservice to Sear Bliss, listeners and fans alike. Sear Bliss also made a convincing argument for beauty (and luscious keyboards) in black metal. A work to be taken as a whole, the compositions merely support the overarching landscape of acoustic, electric and pedal-manipulated instrumentation throughout. Letters From the Edge took what was something of an unknown Hungarian metal act and catapulted them to the world stage. (Well, within metal.) One small piece of that was a stellar production, but a much, much larger piece was Sear Bliss’ unrelenting ability to make tiny pivots and keep the listener’s focus and attention in tow. The album also remained squarely black metal with all the trimmings of evilness, including blasphemous lyrics delivered by a seemingly demonically possessed screaming adult.
While they have a catalog worth exploring in depth, it’s Letters From the Edge that should provide a sort of reverse entry point into their dense, coniferous forest realm. And anchor yourself tightly, for the cosmic flourishes might just tear you out of this universe and set you adrift in the vacuous hellhole of human-made trash that is outer space. [MANNY-O-WAR]
• Released: June 15, 2018
• Label: Hammerheart Records
• Last Rites Review
• Killing cut: “The Main Divide”
ATLANTEAN KODEX – THE WHITE GODDESS
Every now and again you come across the perfect taco truck in the parking lot of a Home Depot that’s putting out such a fresh and triumphant version of the goods that it makes you rethink everything you associate with the taco realm. After a few weeks of over-indulging, you begin to think about letting a few friends know about this newly discovered secret treasure trove, but you don’t exactly open the floodgates, because popularity always finds a way of spoiling the riches, and right now it almost seems like this little truck is making those perfect street tacos just for you. Word does end up getting around, though, as it always does, and soon your favorite secret slice of Eden is getting featured in local mags, and you now have to wait an extra twenty minutes to get your weekly fix. There’s a short stretch where things might get slightly uneven, in view of the fact that abrupt attention has a way of burdening the artist. But just as quick as a cricket, things settle into an extraordinary groove, because the skill is there, the people are buzzin’, and the mood is always fine as Bacchus’ wine whenever humans find their hunger sufficiently slaked. And hey, your fat ass is pleased as a puppy with two peters, because the extra cash now coming into the source has resulted in a few new items getting added to the menu. Just like that, the obscure gold mine you stumbled across years ago that you’d hoped to keep private and swaddled in your intimate arms forever has blossomed into a bonafide micro-scale legend, and despite them not knowing you from Adam, the payoff feels pretty sweet.
Atlantean Kodex is the taco truck, epic heavy / doom metal is the fare, and The Pnakotic Demos — The Golden Bough — The White Goddess is the chronology of the band’s rise to pinnacle greatness. Truth be told, The White Goddess is in the top five greatest epic heavy / doom tacos ever made, so its importance surpasses simply landing on a decade list such as this. If the idea of a terrifically unique, modern nod to old-school Manowar colliding with latter era Bathory gets your stomach rumbling, The White Goddess is the most ideal mealticket you could ever hope to stumble across. [CAPTAIN]
• Released: September 29, 2013
• Label: Ván Records
• Last Rites review
• Killing cut: “Sol Invictus”
MACABRE OMEN – GODS OF WAR – AT WAR
We all know that one fan: the “demos were better” or “first album only” dude with the In The Sign Of Evil tattoo on their left buttock. Hell, at times we may even be that guy. There’s something to be said for the earliest efforts of many bands, be it the charm to the lower budgets and constraints that demand creativity, or perhaps the hunger that becomes more satiated / less effective as a band finds success. Either way, Greece’s black metal scene throws that stereotype into the raging waters of the Mediterranean. While many scenes tend to have these bursts of attention and creative output, Greece has been maturing over time into its full potential. So many black metal albums could have taken this particular spot on this essentials list. In fact, and at risk of revealing a bit of behind-the-scenes info here, Kawir’s Isotheos was originally slated for this entry into the best of the decade, which is a bit of a conundrum because (and this is purely conjecture here) Gods Of War – At War would probably not be what it is without Isotheos. It speaks volumes to a specific scene that its principle bands are still feeding off one another in new and creative ways.
What seals the deal for Macabre Omen is that Gods Of War – At War takes the strong pagan elements of bands like Kawir and incorporates them so well into their own approach to epic black metal. Plus, the folky elements are intricately and seamlessly woven into the songwriting. The album is birthed from true inspiration, channeling the might of Hellenic legend as well as the loss of principle mastermind Alexandros Antoniou’s father. There’s so much pride and honor channeled into this album—it shows in its pained yet triumphant vocals, in it’s victorious riffing, and in its atmosphere that yearns for adventure.
Macabre Omen has been around since the early days of the Hellenic black metal scene, but they only release one album per decade. Gods Of War – At War made a wait such as this absolutely worth it. Undeniably Greek, undeniably legendary, and channeling the greatness of their peers, Macabre Omen solidified their potential with this sophomore release, and when someone unfamiliar with the Hellenic scene asks for a recommendation, this has become the first album I think of to hook them in. If that doesn’t deserve a spot on the best of the decade list, then I don’t know what should. [RYAN TYSINGER]
• Released: February 20, 2015
• Label: Ván Records
• Killing cut: The entire album
STARGAZER – A GREAT WORK OF AGES
It takes balls to title your album A Great Work of Ages, but Stargazer’s confidence was justified, as the trio’s second album (in fifteen years of existence) delivers on its title’s promise. The album’s style is difficult to pin down; Metal Archives describes it as avant-garde black / death metal, and that’s accurate in a way—but more accurate descriptors might include progressive, dynamic and captivating.
Where a great deal of extreme metal feels rigid and almost mechanically precise, A Great Work of Ages often feels loose and free-flowing, almost as if the band is jamming. Furthermore, where guitars so often dominate the mix, A Great Work leaves plenty of room for each member to shine. Much is made of the absent bass on Metallica’s …And Justice For All, but few metal records treat the bass all that much better. A Great Work of Ages is an exception. Yet, while each member turns in an impressive individual performance, none of those performances ever devolves into self-serving wanking. Neither does the band let the album’s kaleidoscopic array of riffs, melodies, moods and tempo changes devolve into meandering riff-salad.
There is a whole lot going on with A Great Work of Ages, but at no time does it feel unfocused. Finally, and most importantly, for all its diverse ingredients, A Great Work of Ages never feels like anything less than a great heavy metal album. [JEREMY MORSE]
• Released: September 7, 2010
• Label: Profound Lore
• Last Rites review
• Killing cut: “Pypers of Psychosomatis”
CHRISTIAN MISTRESS – POSSESSION
In retrospect, it’s not clear whether Christian Mistress’s timing on Possession was fortuitous or unlucky. Although the band garnered a justifiable amount of praise for their Agony and Opium debut, the slightly more refined version of that sound on Possession landed at a time where it almost seemed natural to compare Christian Mistress either to the more occult rock-leaning sounds of bands like The Devil’s Blood, Royal Thunder, and Blood Ceremony or to the more high-octane heavy / speed approach of Enforcer, Cauldron, and Striker. In truth, Possession doesn’t quite fit either of those molds. Christian Mistress’s style is altogether grittier and suffused with a biker boogie swagger to mesh with the more power-leaning Euro trad, and yet that same swagger—backed with a serious set of swinging chops and hot licks from every player—made Possession too gnarly for anyone interested mostly in witchy women incanting over doom riffs.
Where does that leave us, eight years later? Possession remains an album of rich atmosphere and laser focus, spinning out nine tunes that speak with nearly the full vocabulary of musical movement. The riffs are brilliantly infectious, the solos confident but tightly coiled, the production loose and natural, the bass and drums overflowing with attitude, and Christine Davis’s vocals a sometimes strained rasp that shade even the roundest edges with a well-worn darkness. Possession tames much of the wilder energy of Raven, Tokyo Blade, Riot, and Tygers of Pan Tang with some of the darker (but not quite epic) flourishes of Omen or Manilla Road, but the result is wholly unique, and perhaps one of the quintessential American heavy metal “open road” albums. [DAN OBSTKRIEG]
• Released: February 28, 2012
• Label: Relapse Records
• Last Rites review
• Killing cut: “Pentagram and Crucifix”
TRIBULATION – THE FORMULAS OF DEATH
I have to admit that I didn’t expect Tribulation to release a regular-ass death metal album after The Horror, but I also didn’t expect them to be an object on a closed timelike curve that would take them all the way to the 1970s and bring them back with something like their second album. Indeed, even in the middle of the uprising of this new fancy atmospheric death metal movement, The Formulas of Death felt to me like there’s something wrong with it, because death metal has to sound like it wasn’t recorded and released before Scream Bloody Gore. But there was also something that made me want to spend time with it, so I took it on the road with me, and The Formulas of Death became my traveling companion. Together, we abused my poor Toyota Hilux Surf on the savannas of East Africa, got bored on airplanes while reciting drunken prayers to stop them wretched machines from crashing and even hung out briefly at Roadburn in 2014. A couple of years later I noticed I wasn’t living on the road anymore and that Tribulation’s third album, The Children of the Night, was released. I realized that we had both changed, again, and that we were even better friends now than we had been before. I never forget the fun, the petty arguments and the frustration we had on the road, but I also know that that’s in the past now, because a closed timelike curve is a paradox. The Formulas of Death, however, is one of the most important death metal albums of the previous decade, and a lesson on the relationship of music and the spacetime continuum. [JUHO MIKKONEN]
• Released: March 1, 2013
• Label: Invictus Productions
• Last Rites review
• Killing cut: “When the Sky is Black with Devils”
Ayy, I was at Roadburn 2014 too, Tribulation was one of the main reasons why and their set did indeed rock, thanks for reminding me, Juho.
Good call on Macabre Omen, boys.