Week EIGHT of our extensive journey into the 100 Essential Albums of the 2010s has arrived. As our forgotten friends Brass Construction once contemplated, can you see the light? All will be revealed if you run to the light. Do it now! All of Last Rites’ darkest secrets shall be exposed! Andrew Edmunds is actually Dave Grohl! Zach Duvall thinks Cliff Burton is overrated! Manny wears sneakers in the pool! Captain wears jorts and watches Felicity over and over! Ryan lives in his car / CD player! Dan is deathly afraid of ladders! Madman is Howard the Duck’s spirit guide! Jeremy Morse is a vegan! Megan’s natural hair colour is fleshtone! Lonewatie cannot be trusted on his own at MDF! Craig trims the crust from his Vegemite sandwiches! Juho is responsible for the crash of the S.S. Minnow! Chris Sessions once bested Odin in a staring contest! Fetusghost is an undercover cop!!
Whew! Yeah, best to simply avoid the light at all costs and remain right here in natural world where your Last Rites buds hammer out mightily verbose lists like idiot savants (with an emphasis on the idiot.)
Related: it’s a pretty big release day for heavy metal; probably the biggest of the year to date. If you’re a part of our snuggly little tribe, chances are pretty high that you grabbed (or plan to grab) something, because most every base is covered. Here’s a slice of 12:
- Cirith Ungol – Forever Black [Metal Blade]
- Katatonia – City Burials [Peaceville]
- Elder – Omens [Armageddon (US) Stickman (EU)]
- Ulcerate – Stare Into Death and Be Still [Debemur Morti Productions]
- Dark Forest – Oak, Ash & Thorn [Cruz del Sur]
- Total Fucking Destruction – …To Be Alive at the End of the World [Translation Lost]
- Anubis Gate – Covered in Colours [Nightmare]
- Auroch – Stolen Angelic Tongues EP [20 Buck Spin]
- Sölicitör – Spectral Devastation [Gates of Hell]
- Terrestrial Hospice – Indian Summer Brought Mushroom Clouds [Helter Skelter]
- Warbringer – Weapons of Tomorrow [Napalm]
- The Wizar’d – Subterranean Exile [Cruz del Sur]
So, yeah—if you have the means, please go buy something! The scene ain’t nothin’ if we don’t support it, and bands and labels definitely need our support right now.
Right… Back to the list! Similar to the wide spectrum of April 24th releases listed above, Volume 8 covers a hell of a lot of bases, so we expect absolutely zero guff for our choices. Have your favorites found their way to the spotlight yet? If not, there’s only two more chances left for us to win your favor! Gasp!
Tenno Heika Banzai!
ARGUS – BOLDLY STRIDE THE DOOMED
At the crossroads of epic doom and traditional heavy metals sits Pennsylvania’s Argus, perpetual Last Rites favorites because they’re quite simply one of the strongest American metal bands of the past few decades. For this one, guitarists Erik Johnson and Jason Mucio weave Maiden-y harmonies around Candlemass-y riffs, balancing the galloping drive against the lumbering trudge, sometimes celebratory and mostly forlorn. Vocalist Butch Balich possesses one of the finest sets of pipes in modern metal, his voice powerful and somber as it soars, never reaching into the stratospheric head-voice heights of most trad-metallers, keeping the whole of Argus’ work striding boldly in that beautiful gloomy doom below.
All individual greatnesses aside, Boldly Stride The Doomed succeeds primarily by virtue of being an absolutely killer collection of monstrous metal tunes, with crushers in “A Curse On The World” or the historical epic “Durendal,” the latter of which is especially tasty with a vast array of Murray-Smith-styled guitar leads.
Argus is a band that sounds both vintage and current, one that’s literally timeless because this blend of heavy riff and powerful melody never gets old. If you don’t like Argus, then you may not like heavy metal… [ANDREW EDMUNDS]
AZARATH – BLASPHEMERS’ MALEDICTIONS
Rotating Azarath lineups had been releasing great, vicious metal for a decade by the time Blasphemers’ Maledictions showed up in 2011, but nothing prior to this moment could quite have hinted at the absolute ferocity on hand. One reason was new member Necrosodom, who leveled up the throaty dominance of the vocals so much that the band allowed him to bellow out the intro all on his own before unleashing total hell. But the success of this record was a full band effort. Every damn element—Inferno’s relentless drumming, the perfectly raw guitar tone and gloriously forceful Polish death riffing, the feeling that the songs are pushing you closer and closer to some unseen ledge—combines to make truly one of the most punishing records in the long history of extreme metal.
Really. That is not hyperbole. The way the riffs, kicks, blasts, and vocal cadence are so perfectly synced up in a unified barrage of blackened death makes it sound like the sole voice of an unknowable beast on a murderous rampage. The somehow slithery punch of “Crushing Hammer of the Antichrist”; the constant shelling of the chorus in “The Abjection”; that moment of twitches and harmonics in “Holy Possession”… Every second is guaranteed to remove your face quicker than a direct stare into the Ark of the Covenant. [ZACH DUVALL]
MAGISTER TEMPLI – INTO DUAT
Friend, I don’t know your life. I won’t presume to know your onramp to heavy metal, nor precisely what it is about these horrible sounds that so tickles your fancy. The Norwegians in relative upstarts Magister Templi don’t know your life, either, but on their two immaculate albums of this decade past, they nevertheless saw straight through you and me and all of us with our ridiculous pretense and facade and said, “This is what you need.” And friend, goddamn but weren’t they right.
Magister Templi doesn’t quite sound like either Candlemass or Mercyful Fate, but if you imagine using a NWOBHM bowling ball to nail a 7/10 split between the two, you might be partly on the right track. Although thoroughly classicist in their interweaving of doom and straighter-ahead heavy metal, Magister Templi never once sounds like pastiche or mere wink-winking homage. These songs are coiled around Hall of Fame-level riffs that swing, swagger, and stomp all the way from Oslo down the muddy Nile, and every one of them is anchored by the impossibly charismatic voice of singer Abraxas d’Ruckus.
“Slaying Apophis” kicks out of the gate like an Iron Maiden instrumental cut, while “Osiris” sports perhaps the album’s fist-pumpingest chorus alongside a Fate-ly, chewy riff playing against relentlessly forward-leaning downbeats. “Horus the Avenger” just might be the most irrepressibly fun tune, which on an album as absurdly heart-warming as this is quite the feat. To highlight the essential oneness of heavy metal with all things, closing track “Destruction” reprises the opening track “Creation,” the universe smiles, and all are at peace. Don’t be a no-account doofus; listen to Magister Templi. [DAN OBSTKRIEG]
DEVIN TOWNSEND PROJECT – EPICLOUD
We were told that The Devin Townsend Project was going to be a quadrilogy, so in turn I figured that after releasing those four albums in less than three years, he might take some time off to rest, regroup, and recharge. But there we were, less than a year later, presented with news of a fifth album, Epicloud.
Add another to the long list of things I’ve been wrong about—but also to the shorter list of things I’m happy to have been wrong about.
Whereas the previous DTP albums each had their own musical focus, there was no such constraint here. It was more like an amalgamation of its predecessors: it’s heavy, mellow, abrasive, gentle, cacophonous, melodic, poppy, ambient, beautiful, and ugly all at once. The result was not only his best output of the decade, but possibly the most definitive of his career. Epicloud (epic and loud, get it?) runs the entire Devin gamut, putting his full genius on display while showcasing just a bit of his madness. Speaking of madness, it’s worth noting that these songs were written while he was trying to write the Ziltoid sequel (both parts, I assume). That’s like discovering plutonium by accident! [DAVE PIRTLE]
IMMOLATION – MAJESTY AND DECAY
If Immolation’s career could be said to have a low point, it would have to be its 2007 release, Shadows in the Light—an album that would be a crowning achievement for the average death metal band, but it was a bit lackluster for Immolation. This is perhaps why, of the three excellent Immolation albums eligible for this list, we chose 2010’s Majesty and Decay: because everybody loves a comeback. Majesty finds the band back to its usual inspired death metal mastery. Even though Immolation didn’t tinker with its core sound here—as the band’s trademark sullen trudge and squawking dissonance are still in full effect—the band sounds re-invigorated. The songs throughout Majesty feel more potent, grander in scope and, fittingly, in Immolation’s own twisted way, majestic. While it is safe to say that Jesus is still on Immolation’s shit list, Majesty and Decay’s lyrics address a broad swath of societal ills beyond religion, including war, greed, and environmental devastation. Though these lyrical themes are grounded in real-world problems, vocalist / bassist Ross Dolan presents them in his own uniquely brutal yet epically poetic way, rendering Majesty and Decay’s songs simultaneously topical and timeless, which is why the album feels as relevant and powerful today as it did ten year ago. [JEREMY MORSE]
PYRRHON – WHAT PASSES FOR SURVIVAL
Every time I throw this thing into my head, I walk away feeling like I was just told every ugly thing everyone who ever lived ever did. From the smashing-into-all-the-mirrors-in-the-funhouse opening pastiche to the Mr. Bungle on meth on Mr. Bungleness of “Goat Mockery Ritual” to the epically craggy roll down the stony mountainside of “The Unravelling” trilogy, whatever you think you are feeling at any given moment will become a faint recollection a second later.
But always there is the insane riff, or insane vocalization, or insane beat that gets trapped in your head, even if only for the moment, that makes you long to return to the scene of the mayhem. That’s the magic. You may not even remember WHY you want to listen again, but you do. Pyrrhon rewards your bravery with so many moments of clear, perfect metalness that you just have to step into the chaos over and over. [CHRIS SESSIONS]
MADDER MORTEM – RED IN TOOTH AND CLAW
Just what in hell ARE Madder Mortem, you might honestly ask. This confounding, beguiling, enrapturing band has been following such an idiosyncratic muse over the course of its seven albums that although their sound has shifted significantly over time, they have never once sounded like anything other than themselves. Emerging from the same fertile period in Norway that birthed fellow travelers like Beyond Dawn, In the Woods, and The 3rd and the Mortal, Madder Mortem’s music is progressive but not outré, emotional but not overwrought, dramatic but not theatrical, touched by both doom and sludge but beholden to neither.
“Impassioned” might be the best all-around descriptor, but Madder Mortem’s music is defined by bulletproof pop hooks, deft instrumental interplay, mysterious atmosphere, head-spinning dynamic shifts, and the truly extraordinary vocal talent of Agnete Kirkevaag. Album number six Red in Tooth and Claw emerged after a seven-year gap but proved that the band had been anything but idle in the interim. “Blood on the Sand” and “If I Could” make for an emotionally harrowing opening tandem, but each of these ten songs is a fully realized universe, from the twanging crush of “All the Giants are Dead” to the psychedelic lilt of “The Whole Where Your Heart Belongs” to the mathy fugue of the devastating closer “Underdogs.” In the end, it doesn’t matter just what in the hell you call Madder Mortem; what matters is that you make a space for them in your heart, because they have already made a space for you. Let’s step into that clearing together. [DAN OBSTKRIEG]
• Released: October 28, 2016
• Label: Dark Essence Records
• Killing cut: “If I Could”
SVARTIDAUDI – REVELATIONS OF THE RED SWORD
The most striking detail concerning Svartidauði’s sophomore full-length, Revelations of the Red Sword, is the fact that it sounds as if every person involved in the Icelandic black metal scene stepped into the studio to make it, yet all this ghastly pandemonium is the result of just three individuals. How can so few humans create such an impenetrable, knotty, damnable maze of deliciously grim torment? Aliens is the clear answer. Not the film series, but actual aliens that have visited the earth and implanted Cosmic Terror Microprocessor Chips in the cerebral cortexes of these fated (fortunate?) individuals.
The overall density here is, in a word, gigantic, with little time allotted to serenity, despite also flashing some of the prettiest guitar layering to be heard on a modern black metal record in the last decade. Controlled chaos is probably the best way to attempt to describe the album’s overarching methodology: even if guitarist Þórir Garðarsson is taking a break from piling dissonant riff after dissonant riff upon an endless parade of jarring chord progressions in favor of something truly pretty (5:30 into the opening “Sol Ascending,” for example), drummer Magnús Skúlason is very likely punishing the skins like Gene Hoglan with a bee in his ear. The result is just… Stunningly helter-skelter, but not without glimpses of gracefulness to trick your mind into believing that this blitzkrieg ride into infinite pandemonium might not be as terrifying as it actually is? Oh, but it is. Vocalist ( / bassist) Sturla Viðar roars orders from a burning pulpit, and by the time you reach the 47-minute mark, it’s pretty much too late, you poor, poor bastard. [CAPTAIN]
• Released: December 3, 2018
• Label: Ván Records
• Killing cut: “The Howling Cynocephali”
KOWLOON WALLED CITY – CONTAINER SHIPS
Kowloon Walled City is heavy. The tectonic, lumbering bass is heavy. The angular, noisily trudging riffs are heavy. The lyrics and emotional weight of the songs are heavy. Container Ships is an incredibly heavy album. Opener “The Pressure Keeps Me Alive” will squeeze your anxiety until it cries. Closer “You Don’t Have Cancer” doesn’t feel like relief at all. It plods along in defeat before dropping some of the heaviest riffs the band has ever written, made all the heavier by the relative calm that preceded them. These bookends are clear highlights, but the entire 35 minutes is an exercise in cathartic sorrow and despair.
While Kowloon Walled City has always been more on the AmRep-style rock side of the fence, they share more than enough features with their sludge metal brethren, with shorter hair but just as many black t-shirts. You can certainly listen to Container Ships in the sunlight as you enjoy life, but it will always be a dark album, bringing you back to wearier times. For the full experience, turn the lights low, pour a larger-than-usual glass of your favorite depressant, unbottle your emotions for once, and play Container Ships loudly and without interruption.
A quick word of warning before you click that review link below: know that the original writer has left the nest, and we have learned to embrace this album’s rugged perfection with the wisdom of hindsight and functioning ears. Scott Evans’ ragged but decipherable vocals convey the bleak emotions of the lyrics and fit perfectly with the music, and we’ve already covered how fantastic the final track is. Dig in, you miserable bastards. [FETUSGHOST]
ENSLAVED – RIITIIR
Not just a great album name to hear Grutle rrrrrrrrrroll on stage but it’s also an album that is among Enslaved’s best (and since we’re talking about Enslaved that means a whole lot). What does RIITIIR do so well? For starters, it contains some of their most straightforward, pleasing melodeath ever recorded. The clean vocals of Herbrand Larsen (no longer in the band) are perfectly matched to the melodious, almost doomy, guitar lines on what should be pop hits like “Death in the Eyes of Dawn” and the incomparable “Roots of the Mountain.” Equal to the composition, the production provides ample bottom end supporting and cradling these precious compositions like an alien demon baby swaddled in chain mail and wet goofer dust. RIITIIR is an ugly-face album. You will absolutely growl along in the most inappropriate of places. You will sing the melodious clean parts while showering, urinating or cooking deviled eggs for grandma’s 90th. And Enslaved doesn’t merely head down the shiny road of pop on RIITIIR. There is enough grit, muck, jarring rhythm changes and absolutely filthy vocals to satisfy the most painted of corpses. When discussing the best albums of the last decade it would be a horrific shame if this one wasn’t on your shortlist for the absolute best. [MANNY-O-WAR]