Well, how goes the isolation? Crawling out of your skin yet? Brain beginning to turn on you yet? Has the home office basically become the place you watch Star Trek: The Next Generation and King Diamond videos? Even beginning to miss that pud you always used to see in line at the coffee shop? Jealous of the freedom pigeons and squirrels still have? Here are five things you can do RIGHT NOW to help occupy your mind as you eat another bowl of Raisin Bran for dinner while trying to remember what day it is:
- Get up extra early and destroy the 1000-piece puzzle your significant other has been working on for the last week. Don’t forget to set up the spy cam!
- Attempt to convince everyone at the next company Zoom meeting that you’ve taken Jeff Dunham as your spiritual advisor, and then launch into a series of wildly inappropriate and unfunny jokes with a puppet made of soiled underwear.
- Wage a totally baseless and intricate war on one of your next door neighbors. Be sure to stuff unseemly propaganda in all the surrounding neighborhood mailboxes, and don’t forget to perfect the art of the drone egg drop.
- Learn to play the Theremin by setting it up in the kids’ bedroom and only practicing in the middle of the night.
- Jerry-rig the mailbox so it plays Defeated Sanity’s “Verses of Deformity” every time someone opens it.
(And speaking of Defeated Sanity, they released a new song TODAY. Have you checked it out yet?)
That’s pretty much all the help we can offer this week. Well, apart from delivering VOLUME 9 of our 100 Essential Albums of the 2010s right to your doorstep! We’re barreling toward home after finally rounding third, so there’s only one chance left if we still haven’t hit a couple (a few? A TON??) of your favorites. Please forgive us.
And again, here’s the crib sheet of what’s been covered so far:
PHARAOH – BURY THE LIGHT
I joined the former manifestation of Last Rites, MetalReview, in November of 2005, and one of my fondest early memories of those initial months was the synchronous thrill that rippled through the crew and forum members when Pharaoh first dropped their colossal sophomore effort The Longest Night in February of 2006. I was still fairly new to enjoying metal in this capacity—through the internet and only with people I’d never met face-to-face—and it was amazing to witness a connection over an album from people coming into metal from so many different vantage points. Pharaoh has always been that sort of band, really: unmistakably shaped by the more aggressive form of U.S. power metal that eventually led to the bouncier Euro style, but with enough of a modern edge that virtually anyone with a basic love of melodic heavy metal might be considered demented for not finding something to love about them. Yes, Pharaoh is a power metal band, but they’re the sort of power metal band that power metal devotees love kicking into the faces of louts who claim to hate all power metal.
The talent level behind each Pharaoh player is significant, so singling out any one individual as the principal breadwinner is a mostly ineffectual endeavor. However, few would argue that this horse would likely be put to pasture if the mountainous voice of Tim Aymar (ex-Control Denied) weren’t attached, and certainly if guitarist Matt Johnsen suddenly decided to hang up that axe. That being said, the beauty of Bury the Light lies in its capacity to push even further into progressive realms, giving drummer Chris Black (Aktor, High Spirits, ex-Dawnbringer) and bassist Chris Kerns (ex-Dawnbringer) a little more room to shuffle and an additional splash of the production spotlight. It works beautifully, as the more winding and far-reaching songs such as “The Year of the Blizzard” (that Rush riff!) and the wonderful “Graveyard of Empires” give the listener a chance to recognize that every one of these fellows is responsible for the greatness of the record. And make no mistake, Bury the Light is absolutely great, almost by virtue of simply being designed by this remarkable band.
Also: please, please, PLEASE give us another record to chew on before it comes time for us to compile our next decade list. [CAPTAIN]
EVOKEN – ATRA MORS
There are many adjectives one can use to describe funeral doom—sorrowful, heavy, slow (duh), hopeless, grief-stricken, bleak—but sometimes it is the utter barrenness, the nakedness of the style that unites many of its best bands. Evoken’s fifth album Atra Mors embraced this nakedness both in its quietest moments (the loneliness of its single picked notes) and in its heaviest. No matter how gargantuan this record becomes in its heft—and make no mistake about it, this record is HEAVY—each element still makes sure that the intended emotion is clear as day. Be it the gothic moroseness of “Descent into Chaotic Dream,” the gauntlet of despair and ultimate redemption in “An Extrinsic Divide,” or the terror of the title track, Evoken wants nothing getting in the way of their meaning.
The nakedness may apply to both the record’s emotion and sound, but that does not mean that both are not also incredibly deep. It’s a testament to every lumbering doom riff, keyboard texture, haggard growl, wailing lead, and isolated clean passage that the whole becomes so much more than the sum of its parts, even if there are several passages when just one or two parts are being played. It shimmers and expands as it contrasts and crushes; it offers beauty and warmth as it closes the path to hope. Atra Mors is barren and naked, to be sure, but like all great funeral doom, it hides its complexities in plain sight, daring the listener to unravel them. [ZACH DUVALL]
FUCK THE FACTS – DIE MISERABLE
Fuck the Facts spends exactly 31 seconds fucking around with a soft buildup, and the rest of Die Miserable’s 35 minutes ripping your face off. Take “Lifeless,” which starts by giving knives to giant radioactive spiders (for to be stabbing your stupid face with) and ending with a just massively, pickscrapingly groovy riff.
Centerpiece “Census Blank” grabs you by the throat and demands that you disrespect your surroundings, hard. It thrashes a circle pit and then stomps drunkenly and furiously before staggering backwards, fist aloft in triumphant celebration. All across metaldom, there are many perfect songs for the pit, and this is one of ‘em. Then, after a soft outro and calmly introduced “Alone,” Die Miserable races right back to the pit with razorblades a-spinnin’. Fuck the Facts embraces the balance that properly deployed dynamics creates, making them twice as lethal when the heavy hits.
Despite all the precision, Die Miserable still sounds like these rabid Canadians are completely unhinged, with a Cheshire Cat smile as they twist and dart about. While the band has always been Topon Das’ baby, the full band’s sound, and especially Mel Mongeon’s vicious vocals and artwork, have helped elevate the band to one of grindcore’s elite. They never shy from violent grind attacks, but they also have that je ne sais quoi in the songwriting that adds a layer of musicality and the aforementioned balance. Thinking person’s grindcore, if you will.
There’s even a touch of the soulful clean guitar in closer “95” that made “False Hope” from 2015’s Desire Will Rot such a banger. Fuck the Facts have roughly a bajillion splits, EPs and comps, but start with the essential full lengths like Die Miserable, and get with the damn program. [FETUSGHOST]
• Released: October 11, 2011
• Label: Relapse Records
• Killing cut: “Census Blank”
SANCTUARY – THE YEAR THE SUN DIED
Sanctuary’s reunion was an unexpected one. Vocalist Warrel Dane had spent the previous two decades guiding Nevermore through seven stellar outings, that band’s blend of power and thrash and progressive metals not too far distant from Sanctuary’s similar sound, or at least, the logical progression onward from it. After a falling out with Nevermore guitarist Jeff Loomis and drummer Van Williams, Dane and bassist Jim Sheppard re-activated their earlier outfit, and the transition back proved to be as seamless as the one forward, the one from Sanctuary to Nevermore in the early 90s.
Differences remain, of course: Sanctuary guitarists Lenny Rutledge and Brad Hull aren’t Loomis-level shredders, so that seven-string-slinging element of Nevermore’s sound is absent, and the progressive angles are scaled back to fit Sanctuary’s slightly more straightforward USPM attack. Still, overall, the blend of moody power / traditional and cerebral thrash that characterized Into The Mirror Black was as good in 2014 as it was in 1990, all painted in dazzling multicolor with the dramatic tones of Dane’s voice, a little older and less stratospheric now but still godly.
Tragically, this reunion would be short-lived, as Warrel Dane died of a heart attack in December of 2017. Sanctuary soldiers on, now with Witherfall wailer James Michael on vocals, and live, at least, he’s doing a fine job — 2020 should see the band’s first release without Dane, so we’ll know then if the in-studio legacy of greatness continues. At least, back then, in The Year The Sun Died, Sanctuary proved themselves once again as strong as ever. [ANDREW EDMUNDS]
SOLSTICE – WHITE HORSE HILL
There’s no getting around the fact that being a Solstice fan can be a frustrating experience. Guitarist / leader Rich Walker is a self-avowed perfectionist and, more than likely, a bit of a pain in the ass. This has resulted in Solstice having a revolving door line-up and precious little recorded material to show for an almost thirty-year career. White Horse Hill—the follow-up to 1998’s epic doom classic, New Dark Age—is only the band’s third full-length album, and their first in twenty years. But you know what? It was worth the friggin’ wait. Solstice really does have something special to offer the metal world… When they eventually get around to it. Rich Walker’s gift for melodic guitar lines is almost peerless, and he can make a melody sound solemn, wistful and triumphant all at the same time. While melody has always been a crucial component of Solstice’s music, it is brought even more to the fore on White Horse Hill.
Walker no longer claims the doom tag for the band, preferring instead to call the band epic heavy metal, and that is certainly fitting for White Horse Hill. However, though the band is less riff-focused than in the past, the songs here are still built around a robust frame of heavy guitars. Furthermore, while Solstice has had some good singers, most of them have been a little too soft. With the addition of Paul Kearns, however, Solstice finally had (surprise: he’s since left the band) a singer with the power and versatility to match its music.
Odds are it’ll be another twenty years before we see a new Solstice record, but at least we have this masterful opus to tide us over. [JEREMY MORSE]
PAGAN ALTAR – THE ROOM OF SHADOWS
As I grow older, I find myself believing more and more in magic. There’s an inherent magical aspect to the human experience and in the bonds we create with others over the sharing of emotion—be it joy, frustration, anger, grief, success, love, hatred, or hope. Sure, emotions can be viewed through the lens of science as chemical responses in the brain, but when seen through a lens of magic they become a powerful force that can bind, repel, create or destroy. When viewing humanity through the looking glass of magic, art becomes a ritual. The channeling of emotion through metaphor and sensory stimuli via a medium of choice becomes a transference of energy—in essence, a spell cast on its recipient. In this analogy, Pagan Altar can be viewed as a coven of spellcasters centered around the bond between principle members Terry and Alan Jones, the father / son heart of the band. The emotive transference performed by Pagan Altar since their early days has always been reinforced by the commitment to their overall vision, be it in the music, atmosphere, or now-legendary stage performances.
While The Room Of Shadows, on its own merit, requires absolutely no context to be placed on this list—the band’s brand of (what we now refer to as) doom metal is simply enchanting. Originally recorded for release under the title Never Quite Dead, the album was initially scrapped, only to be resurrected and repurposed by Alan Jones after the tragic passing of patriarch and lead vocalist Terry Jones in 2015. The final product in itself becomes a reflection from beyond: the immortalizing of Terry’s captivating storytelling. The Room Of Shadows sounds like a wizened old man speaking from beyond the unknown through the music as reflected through Pagan Altar’s spirit of occult, mysterious music and lyrical themes. Through this lens, “The Portrait Of Dorian Gray” becomes a retrospective that examines life choices and how they shape the person you become; “Danse Macabre” transcends into an acceptance of the inevitable closing that we all must eventually come to terms with; the particularly breathtaking title track reflects on the relationship between innocence and fear; and “The Ripper” morphs into a despondent, questioning outlook on those who thrive on the suffering of others, tinged with sorrow or even pity from someone who has come to accept what is truly important in this life.
Everything on The Room Of Shadows works towards a singular ultimate goal: to transfer thought and emotion through music. Every detail and each musical choice further cements the legacy of the senior Jones; it is a sincere tribute to his memory and legacy for those who felt the passion behind his work. Each musician on the album is playing with heart, and the spell—forever captured in the immortal medium of recording—is an undeniable success, thanks to the talent and passion exerted throughout.
It may be the final bookend in the history Pagan Altar, but The Room Of Shadows evokes a sense of comfort and acceptance, and the wisdom of Jones lives within the album. It is a sincere and pure work of magic—truly something worth believing in. [RYAN TYSINGER]
SUBROSA – MORE CONSTANT THAN THE GODS
In hindsight, I wonder if the world wasn’t quite ready for Utah’s SubRosa. It seems a silly thing to say, given the increasingly widespread acclaim the band received across its four full-length albums, but in reflecting on much of the breathless (if infinitely well-deserved) praise, it seems like too many writers (myself likely included) were eager to stand SubRosa up as a band without parallel, wholly new, formed from nothing but the fever-strike of inspiration. In its well-intentioned way, that angle minimizes the clear lines of influence that may have formed some of SubRosa’s DNA – from the spacious and warmly fuzzed stoner doom of Sleep and Acid King to the artsier heaviness of The Gault and Grayceon—and in so doing, undercuts the very thing that makes SubRosa truly essential: their craft.
When any knucklehead with a couple effects pedals and a stack of Orange cabs can summon a passable doom rumble, bands like SubRosa deserve all the more admiration for how they took a number of common pieces and stitched them together into a truly otherworldly whole. Although their songs nearly always follow the course of titanically weighty riffs, they also had the ability to paint separate and fully realized worlds through the texture of violins, the spare poetry of lyrics, the ragged punk intensity of the vocal delivery, and an unwavering commitment to finding some dark gleam of hope in the most harrowing of sounds and themes.
Although each of the three albums SubRosa released in the 2010s could easily have made this list, More Constant than the Gods earns the spot because of its deadly focus, its uncanny fluidity, and its ability to sculpt the sharpest contrast between passages of hushed anticipation, keening beauty, and fuck-thunderingly heavy eruptions. “Cosey Mo” is the urgent, driving anthem, nearly as close as SubRosa ever got to a pop song, while “Fat of the Ram” unspools its crushing heaviness with righteous, almost disgusted indignation. Album opener “The Usher” addresses its lyrics directly to Death with remarkably poetic directness, while the crescendo that includes the album’s title in its words crests into one of the most wrenching moments in this brilliant career.
Perhaps “No Safe Harbor” has the surest measure of things, though, because it sees SubRosa sketch their inimitable darkness with just as exacting a pen despite using the tools of quiet restraint: strings, piano, dulcimer, flute, clarinet, intertwining voices. It’s one of those songs that breaks and bolsters your heart at the same time. Iron in open-heartedness, strength in vulnerability: I’m still learning how to be ready for these miraculous songs. [DAN OBSTKRIEG]
BORKNAGAR – TRUE NORTH
Is twelve weeks spent with a record enough time to consider it an essential of the decade? It admittedly feels a bit strange to offer up an album for this list that’s only made the cut by three months, but… You’ve heard the three songs that open True North, yes? As if the roaring opener “Thunderous” isn’t enough to set the table, the thoroughly rollicking “Up North” that follows all but demands to be put it into a situation that forces everyone within earshot to enjoy it just as loudly as you will absolutely crank it every single time. And the way ICS Vortex belts out the chorus to the third track, “The Fire That Burns,” and the way this particular cut suddenly bends into a quieter, proggier midpoint makes it seem very fucking reasonable that the biggest outside influence on this record was Yes. Yes the band, not the reaction. (But also YES the reaction, because we love Yes. If you don’t also love Yes, maybe you’d rather attach a “no” to this album. No the reaction, as I don’t believe there’s a band called No… Yet.)
What the twelve weeks since True North’s release has allowed us, hallelujah, is a chance to allow the songs that follow the opening three-part spectacle a little more room to set roots. And set roots they certainly do—the emotional beauty of “Wild Father’s Heart,” the wonderfully majestic and winding “Mount Rapture” (that hammond and the lead that follows is… *chef’s kiss*), and the perfectly sweeping closer “Voices” all hit nothing but net from behind the three-point line, making True North’s inclusion for this endeavor a very, very easy and extremely smart decision. [CAPTAIN]
• Released: September 27, 2019
• Label: Century Media
• Killing cut: “Up North”
VIRUS – MEMENTO COLLIDER
An album that was widely praised, heavily voted for, and then confusingly chatted about. Is it metal? Could this gem of an album actually exist within this framework? How would one even begin to categorize Virus? Elements of desert rock, noise, post punk, goth rock, avant-garde, jazz, experimental, gaze, drone and yet all of it retaining a very blackened edge. That is to say: this album almost didn’t make this list. Not because it doesn’t deserve to be squarely within the best albums of the decade but perhaps because it doesn’t squarely fall within the confines of metal.
So let its inclusion stand out as a testament to the zany inventiveness and persistence with which Memento Collider invades your psyche. For it is with supreme discomfort that these sonic ejaculations find their way into your brain hurtling past your inner-ears’ labyrinth throwing your entire emotional, spiritual balance adrift. It’s not so much that Virus will make you insane as that Virus is composed and delivered from a place of insanity. A pure conveyance from a place of darkness normally withheld for those who end up strapped to gurneys with sedatives being slammed into their veins. Full of mystique Memento Collider invites you to embrace the weird. Trust the path of experimentation and let go of that which anchors you squarely in the realm of what is socially normal. [MANNY-O-WAR]
ORANSSI PAZUZU – VALONIELU
Finland’s Oranssi Pazuzu first made their mark with a unique sound that lends itself to some pretty obvious subgenre tags and modifiers: experimental, cosmic, psychedelic, post-, black metal that very comfortably embraces classic prog rock, krautrock, and drone. But these words, as accurate as they are, only hint at the music that reflects them. Likewise, the host of influential artists burnishing those barest black metal bones, including Pink Floyd, Hawkwind, Can, and Faust, mostly give a sense of the errant spirit within the nominally defined musical shapes the band creates. And yet, there is no question that it’s Oranssi Pazuzu you’re hearing when you hear them.
With that instantly recognizable sound, Oranssi Pazuzu established themselves as a brave and innovative creative force, but then they pushed themselves away from what surely would have been a comfortable place to stay, ignoring the boundaries implied by it, reinventing themselves and regenerating their sound with each step. They looked past the simple but clever combination of ideas to a fully amalgamated experience of the band’s multifaceted identity, then away from the audacious but wandering float to the bold and purposeful exploration of ideas yet undreamt. Come 2013, they had blazed a path to Valonielu, in which they discovered a musical experience inherently rewarding beyond the mere curiosity of it. True to form, Pazuzu’s third LP is like a trip on unexpectedly potent acid: at once suffocating and liberating, alternately pulsing and empty, essentially dark and cold yet always alight, even if only by the faintest glow along creosote ridges in the blackness.
In truth, every Oranssi Pazuzu album is arguably worthy of a decade’s essentials list, but the band’s maturation on Valonielu, the realization that they could constantly change and yet retain their identity, is what makes this one the choice for their best album of the 2010s. [LONE WATIE]