As the virtuous musketeers of Dark Angel once pronounced, “We Have Arrived”—the tenth and final installment of our 100 Essential Albums of the 2010s is here, and with it comes all the goodness associated with conclusion and the villainy that walks hand-in-hand with “WHERE THE HELL IS ALBUM X or ALBUM Y.” Truth of the matter, assuming you to be metal fans of sound judgement and mind, most every album you’re thinking about right now that ultimately ended up neglected in these volumes was probably considered by at least one member of Last Rites. We are a ragtag crew with diverse appetites, so you’ll have to trust us when we mention that a number of records were championed with great force that didn’t end up making the cut. That’s honestly part of the fun of decade compilations such as these: the extremely polite discourse* that occurs behind the scenes as a consequence of tallying the final votes.
Will we look back on this list in five years and still feel the same about all the entries? Heavens, no. I mean, of course we will! Probably. Yes, there’s a good chance we will feel the same. Then again… * *
* * we would like to re-do all the decade lists we’ve done prior to the 2010s
Time is fun, funny and capricious that way—something that passed under the radar mostly unnoticed can suddenly reveal itself to be a treasure years down the line, and that’s a beautiful thing. Without question, however, the 100 albums we’ve highlighted in this decade list all mean a great deal to the collective Last Rites team at this frozen moment in time, and their presence draws a pretty clear picture of who we are as a site today: old-school without being too stodgy or singleminded about it, and very appreciative and accepting of progression and variety. These are good traits for a metal site to have, and we will continue to operate under these straightforward guidelines as we move into the future.
That being said, we still have one wee chance to win your grace if any glaring omissions still stick in your craw after perusing the final ten. Next week we’ll really REALLY be finished following a stack of mulligans that participating crew members will offer up as a last ditch effort to save face. We each get one mulligan only, so take a guess as to how difficult that decision was to make. WOE IS US.
Also, we’ll be publishing a handy summary of the results for the sake of tidiness, which is probably something we should have done with previous decade lists as well.
Right, that’s it. Hope you fine folks have enjoyed catching up with the 2010s as much as we have. With a little luck, the population will last long enough for us to consider the next decade list as well. Will Last Rites still be here? Will we change our name again? WILL THE INTERNET STILL EXIST?
Ei! Ei! Oh!! In we go…
NILE – VILE NILOTIC RITES
It is probably too soon to be calling Nile’s Vile Nilotic Rites a “best of the decade.” Especially considering the decade included What Should Not Be Unearthed. But it IS fair to say that Nile’s 2019 output is so great that both At the Gates of Sethu and What Should Not Be Unearthed don’t quite shine like Rites. Why? Rites captures the fire of the aughts for Nile in a way that caught me off guard.
Maybe it’s the new blood in the string department. Maybe it’s Karl Sanders’ feeling like he had something to prove. Maybe it’s just the alignment of the spheres. But Vile Nilotic Rites is a fresh sounding, ferociously executed monster of an album. It pushes the legacy into the new millennium with so much verve and focus it sounds like a debut.
Again, between this and Unearthed, we are really picking nits. And I am of course listening to Rites more at the moment just because it is newer and I am not used to it yet. In ten years will I feel the same? I think I will. Especially if this is the harbinger of Nile conquests to come. [CHRIS SESSIONS]
ELDER – REFLECTIONS OF A FLOATING WORLD
Elder’s been open and honest about their influences from the beginning. You can hear them clearly in the 2008 self-titled debut’s Sleep debt and in the heavy-eyed nods to Kyuss on follow-up Dead Roots Stirring. Reflections of those influences linger on the 2012 EP, but it’s clear by that point that the Boston stoner trio had begun stepping out and, by 2015’s Lore, was eager to explore new spaces with a keen third eye on vaster expanses. The unbridled enthusiasm of that adventurous spirit is evident in the warm, buoyant, energetic sounds of Lore, reaching out to embrace colorful psychedelia with a synesthetic feel for progressive technique, all of it tethered to those heaviest stoner roots and showing clearly that Elder had discovered the truest, most revelatory version of their voice. For that reason, Lore makes a compelling case that it should be Elder’s entry for this essentials list. And yet what Elder did next, on 2017’s Reflections of a Floating World, suggests a surer, wiser mettle. Founder Nick DiSalvo continued to push up against boundaries, but this time with the confidence to open up his own by letting in a wider array of instrumentation and, perhaps more importantly, new players to implement new sounds in filling out his musical vision. The presence of steel guitar, mandolin, theremin, and various other synthesizers (not all of it brand new, but certainly more prominent than ever on Reflections), meant DiSalvo had the means to further Elder’s ever-widening expanse, but his thoughtful arrangement of those elements within the band’s well-defined yet flexible framework is what resulted in commensurate depth and, ultimately, one of the richest, fullest heavy music experiences of the 2010s. [LONE WATIE]
• Released: June 2, 2017
• Label: Stickman Records / Armageddon Shop
• Killing cut: “Staving Off Truth”
INSOMNIUM – WINTER’S GATE
The one-track album: Who actually did it first within the land of the truly heavy that opts to forbid entrance to Jethro Tull? The Melvins with Lysol in 1992? Not really one track, despite what your CD might lead you to believe. In truth, it was probably Swedish extreme, um, “experimentalists” Abruptum and their 1994 release In Umbra Malitiae Ambulabo, in Aeternum in Triumpho Tenebraum, which predates the more popular pick of Edge of Sanity’s Crimson [April 1996] and Sabbat’s The Dwelling [June 1996]. Regardless of who took the plunge first and most successfully, few would argue that opting to go this particular route is a very gutsy move. Music, much like literature, is most commonly delivered in chapters, which gives the architect greater flexibility concerning shifts and turns, and it allows the consumer more room to breathe. This rings doubly true in the modern age, where, despite our fondness of doing nothing all weekend but streaming a show from season one to series finale, human attention spans have shrunk faster than a willy in the Arctic Ocean.
If you do it right, though—well, that’s a whole new ballgame altogether. And friend, Winter’s Gate does it about as right as it’s been done since 1996. At no point during this album’s stately 40-minutes does the concept ever deliver a moment of drag, and at virtually any stage along its storyline the mood is capable of bending from an apex of immaculate majesty into a pensive point of heartening respite with nary a hitch. The stark heaviness right around 7:15? Smashing. The wonderful addition of moog synth around 18:10? Fantastic. The stretched, melodic lead that floats in just before the 22-minute mark? Stunning. Triumphant, thrilling, captivating, brooding, sweeping, soaring, thundering, brilliant—you will crack the lexicon of adjectives when attempting to characterize Winter’s Gate, so it’s easiest to simply boil it down to one single descriptor in an effort to get to the point: Magnificent. Winter’s Gate is magnificent, and playing a card this strong seven albums into their career proves that Insomnium aren’t even close to reaching the twilight years. [CAPTAIN]
KRALLICE – YEARS PAST MATTER
The two Krallice albums prior to Years Past Matter showed the band increasingly spreading themselves thin; both were overlong and a touch undercooked, resulting in exhausting listens. While Years Past Matter didn’t so much reinvent the wheel—it still featured over an hour of expansive, spiraling, and technical black-ish progressive metal that felt closer in spirit to the West Coast thread than their native New York—it did show a massive return to form by both upping the riffcraft (with a touch of death metal at times) and greatly refocusing the long game nature of the songwriting with more concrete goals in mind. There might be a thoroughly dizzying path to get there, of course, as every track takes about 3,000 winding paths that intersect and weave in various ways, but even when an idea is introduced and (seemingly) quickly abandoned, it is always with a point. Typically, that idea comes up again later with greater purpose as a song is charging towards an intense and unforgettable conclusion. The album somehow stuffed in more ideas than its immediate predecessors but felt much quicker and efficient. Tight songwriting is a magical thing.
Years Past Matter reaffirmed Krallice’s status as one of the most daring and wild bands in the blackened and progressive realms. It was both the culmination of their first era and start of their second, in which they have continued to explore their particular form of blackened skronk in varying and unpredictable ways. [ZACH DUVALL]
JUDAS PRIEST – FIREPOWER
What is it they say about old dogs and new tricks? They can’t learn them? Well, why would they need to, if the old tricks still work perfectly?
One of the founding fathers of this beast called heavy metal, Judas Priest has guided the art form through five decades now, releasing an impressive run of classic records along the way. The Priest’s previous album, Redeemer Of Souls, was touted as a huge return to form, and stylistically, it was, even if they tried to return to all forms of their career at once, and the results were wickedly uneven.
Like every album since their reunion with scream-god Rob Halford, Redeemer was hailed as the band’s “best since Painkiller,” and maybe it was, but its reign didn’t last long, because it’s a ghostly pale in comparison to Firepower. This one is everything that one was declared to be: a true return to fiery form, the band’s undeniable best in over two decades, and most importantly, a great damned heavy metal album. It’s 100% Judas Priest classic metal, filled with driving riffs and piercing screams and epic chorus hooks and fiery solos and a crackling electricity from start to finish. Produced by Andy Sneap, Firepower sounds exactly as big and hits exactly as hard as a Judas Priest record should, through smashing tracks like “Lightning Strikes” and “Spectre” and the Sabbath-y stomp of “Children Of The Sun.”
New tricks? Ha. When you can rock like this, nearly fifty years into a first-tier career, why bother… If it ain’t broke and all… [ANDREW EDMUNDS]
SLUGDGE – ESOTERIC MALACOLOGY
“Our first duty is to have fun.” — Matt Moss, ½ the main creative force behind Slugdge, and a wonderful human with his priorities straight. He and Kev Pearson didn’t choose the Slug Life, the Slug Life chose them. It also chose The Black Dahlia Murder’s drummer, Alan Cassidy, and nimble-fingered bassist Matt “Moat” Lowe. The Ooze has excellent taste, and Mucus Metal has a standard bearer. Let Esoteric Malacology be a beacon of fun yet serious musicianship amidst the dour trve masses.
Friends, this slimy slab of progressive, technical, deathy, blackened, heavy fucking metal will put a smile on your face. Irreverent lyrics, just chock-damn-full of puns, are growled and howled and triumphantly sung. Think of the cleans from Anaal Nathrakh or Akercocke (to stick to the As in our British extreme metal rolodex), but produced by a dapper slug in an ascot. Hell, you might as well imagine the entire band as fancy gastropods, blasting and shredding away for just under an hour of essential malacological music. There are hooks all over the place, from the massive chorus of “Slave Goo World” to the hypnotic, ever rising bass of “Crop Killer” to the omnipresent bitchin’ riffage. Hail Mollusca! [FETUSGHOST]
NAPALM DEATH – APEX PREDATOR – EASY MEAT
It’s Napalm Death. The unfuckwithable Napalm Death. The decades of consistency, eternal hot streak Napalm Death. The always eloquently angry and distinctive Napalm Death. The Godfathers of Grindcore. We could (perhaps should) have selected Utilitarian. But what’s important, and undeniable, is that Napalm Death is essential. Like with a few other impossible, King Solomon baby-splitting decisions from legendary bands, there really is not a wrong answer, just a preference for one incredible album over another.
We Last (w)Riters love Napalm Death. Check out these glowing reviews, and know that time has only strengthened our feelings. Last year, Mr. Duvall dove back into their 1992 release, Utopia Banished with fanboy joy. Behind the scenes we quickly devoured their EP from February, which sadly only had one original track, but we eagerly await the potential for a new album to bring some joy to this shitty, shitty (seriously shitty) year.
Let’s all just take a moment to thank Napalm Death for being so unerringly awesome. As bold statements go, this one is no hyperbole: “Napalm Death may very well be the greatest extreme metal band of our time, perhaps of all time.” Enough said, now get to ragin’ with Napalm Death. [FETUSGHOST]
OVERKILL – IRONBOUND
Did you really think I could let this list go by without mentioning Overkill?
My Overkill fanboyism is well known, and Ironbound is yet another in a long string of reasons why. Coming off a fifteen-year flirtation with groove metal — none of which was bad, of course — Overkill re-commits fully to their thrash metal past and drops an absolute barn-burner of a record, handily their best since their first classic run ended with Horrorscope in the early 1990s.
From the introductory “The Green And Black” through fifty-seven minutes to “The SRC,” Ironbound is the sound of an Overkill re-ignited, full of even more supersonic hate and even more fast-junkie piss and vinegar. It’s the sound of a band that can’t stop and won’t stop, driven to the redline by the intensity of then-new drummer Ron Lipnicki and voiced, as always, by the supernaturally energetic Blitz Ellsworth. Ol’ Blitz is one of the metal’s most endearing and charismatic frontmen, regardless of your opinion of his gravelly searing snarl, and he’s as manic now as ever, screaming his way through the likes of “Bring Me The Night” and the title track and the relentless “In Vain.” From tip to toe, Ironbound is, simply stated and in eight words, the sound of the second coming of Overkill…
Since the turn of the millennium, no other first-wave thrashers have released anything that matches the strength of Overkill’s post-2010 run, and it all (re-)started here. Long live the Green & Black… [ANDREW EDMUNDS]
MESHUGGAH – KOLOSS
Having taken certain aspects of their sound to their logical extreme on Catch Thirtythree, it was almost anyone’s guess where Sweden’s heaviest mathematicians in Meshuggah would go from there. If obZen saw the band pulling back on some of the headiest aspects of that progression in favor of reamping the brutality, Koloss crushes with the weight of ten thousand collapsing stars while also sporting the most organic sound on a Meshuggah album since Destroy Erase Improve. Not only is Koloss a stunning monument to the endless shades of nuance in this often misunderstood band’s arsenal, and not only is it a lock for one of the most essential albums of its decade, it also might be the band’s finest hour, full-stop.
As it thwarmps in (that’s a technical term) with “I Am Colossus,” all the hallmarks of Meshuggah’s inimitable style are in place: cripplingly heavy bass, cross meters in the drums and guitars that always sound almost normal, solos that sound like a drunk bumblebee mishearing a warped big band 78 from two rooms over. Business, as they say, as usual. But what sets Koloss apart is just how focused, relentless, and unforgettable its songs are, and how it crashes and swerves through the pulpy bits of your brain like something nearly human.
By Meshuggah standards, “The Demon’s Name is Surveillance” is almost a straight-ahead, windmilling mosh piece, although whether it’s written in 3/4, a very fast 9/8, a very slow 6/8 or some other mutated meter is up to the listener who wishes to grow less and less sane and sure the closer she reaches for the core. Across the wildly engrossing 54 minutes of Koloss, the hits just keep on coming, from the roiling slow burn of “Behind the Sun” to the deadly, rubbery bounce of “Demiurge,” from the eerily spacious “Break Those Bones Whose Sinews Gave It Motion” to the frantic pounding of “The Hurt that Finds You First,” and on and on. Special mention, though, goes to “Do Not Look Down,” which is without question the funkiest, sexiest song of Meshuggah’s career, built on a dangerously destructive sinuous riff that changes shape just as soon as you think you’ve traced it. It is an utterly perfect song on a damn-near perfect album, and occasionally it makes me almost furious at just how good it is.
However bad you think Meshuggah is, you’re wrong; however good you think they are, they’re better. All hail the new flesh. [DAN OBSTKRIEG]
IHSAHN – AFTER
In my humble opinion you’d be hard pressed to find an album in the last decade, in whatever genre, that is better than this one. A true masterpiece in an unending career of soaring highs After successfully rebirthed what would be Ihsahn’s signature sound. The bright guitar tone combined with buzzsaw-like riffs and blistering lead lines lead to an exceedingly fast experience touching on experimental, progressive and theoretically jazzy song structures. With more than a few head chucks and guttural explosions thrown in After doesn’t forget to unleash the beast of black metal while simultaneously devouring your mind and soul with pure, unadulterated talent nearly unmatched in any of the sub-genres of this great cataclysm we call heavy metal. Ihsahn uses his harsh growls to frighten while his clean vocals are truly romantic inviting warm intimacy not common among metal. And yes, we can use this album as the shining example of why saxophone will forever have a home in heavy metal. More than that, Ihsahn deftly composes, produces and executes eight tracks (fifty-three minutes if you’re counting) of metal that can go up against heavy-hitters from any period in music history. Listen to this album in the mornings and in the afternoons and those evenings as the sun sinks below the horizon. Do so for the rest of your life as this timeless masterpiece will never go out of style (even if time machines are invented and people can travel backwards). There are many ways to say it but I will put it as simply as I know how: I absolutely love this album. [MANNY-O-WAR]