Best Of 2021 – Last Rites Combined Staff Top 25

Is it the human compulsion to list that truly sets us apart from the rest of the animal kingdom? Until someone comes across a crudely scratched out “Top 20 Most Embarrassing Things Heard During Morning Grooming: 2021” from a chimpanzee colony somewhere around Cameroon, I’d say that is a very distinct possibility. Related: I’m guessing Dr. Zaius would rank Bingo’s “You know what? Zebra manure makes a great mousse for fussy hair” faux pas in his top three, but let’s keep the focus on us humans moving forward.

By and large, we humans very much enjoy organization, itemization, and (perhaps most importantly) controlling things, so even if you’re one of those humbugs who groans whenever you see #listseason floating around social media hovels, you probably still do it, even if it’s subconscious and tucked deep within the recesses of your impressively terrific brain.

For our part, we Last Riters have always been very pro-list: We rank things weekly behind the scenes, we gather ‘round the hearthstone and share most every Best Of list once they begin rumbling down the conveyor this time of year, and we clearly enjoy joining said festivities for the entire month of December, which includes stacking our extremely magnificent lists next to peer lists whilst clamoring “Look what those arseholes listed as their number one!” IT’S ALL IN GOOD FUN, he shouted while listing his top ten favorite insults to hurl while perusing lists of yearly Best Of lists.

Hey, the new Carcass is Decibel’s favorite album of the year. This is a little less surprising when you consider / recall the fact that Surgical Steel was their favorite back in 2013—clearly there are some big Carcass fans amidst the Decibel crew, and I’m guessing you agree that such an allegiance is very sensible because NEWS FLASH: Carcass is a very fucking terrific band. However, as you’re about to witness for yourself, Torn Arteries did not even crack the LR top 25 this year. Surgical Steel, however, topped out at our #2 in 2013, beaten only by a very mighty return to the game by Quebec’s Gorguts. Life is a wild carnival, ain’t it?

Let’s quickly salute the strength of nostalgia.

Nostalgia: Powerful enough to pull an individual from the wonders of California livin’ back to, I dunno, Buffalo in the autumn of their life simply because the latter city managed to establish an inexplicable magnet amidst an ideal childhood. Welcome back to winter, sucker!

Nostalgia: Mighty enough to dress up a good album into something several shades above splendid because the band in question provided a significant enough impact early on to establish an inexplicable magnet amidst, say, a person’s carefree teenage years? Oh, absolutely possible. Welcome back to the top spot, snuggly friend!

You looked at our number one already, yes? Of course you did. And you’re perhaps thinking one or two (or twenty) things right about now: 1) Wow, these guys are older than a Golden Corral menu, and 2) Nostalgia: Woof, what a drug.

Yes, you’re probably right. And perhaps age + nostalgia has as much to do with Decibel’s #1 as it does ours, just as it might play into the equation for most any collective that publishes similar lists in the coming weeks. Point being: It’s a wonderful thing, that sentimentality we attach to our favorite bands and their continued output. That sort of thing forever gilds the heart, brings us together in celebration, and even goes so far as to introduce new like-minded nerds into the fold. Those are nice things that are worthy of embracing.

Likely the biggest difference between Decibel’s choice for #1 and ours, beyond the obvious stylistic disparity, is the truth that people won’t roll their eyes or get mad about Decibel’s pick. Even if you consider yourself a fan of the band and don’t count Torn Arteries as some arbitrary “Top 25 album of the year,” it’s not likely that you think Carcass did wrong with their latest release. Our #1, though? Well, that particular record ruffled feathers outside and within the band’s (admittedly larger and more established) fanbase.

What then makes our #1 so… #1-ish? Outside of a number of factors detailed above and covered in detail in our review, the clearest answer is this: It’s an album every single active member of Last Rites voted for, which, come to think of it, could very well be a first under the Metalreview / Last Rites banner. That, my friends, is as good a reason as any.

Plus, just look at that bonkers stack of companions joining the festivities in 2021. The full spectrum is in attendance, from trad to tech to prog to power to doom to death to black to multiple mutations of most all of them—we remain a versatile crew whose taste is as diverse as metal itself, and we still love highlighting the champions every year.

We would like to offer an extremely heartfelt THANK YOU to each and every individual who continues to read our work out there, particularly those who go the extra mile to throw us a few bucks now and again—you guys are very literally the best, and we sincerely hope that 2022 finds some flipping way to allow us all an opportunity to (*gasp*) actually congregate again to celebrate our shared appreciation for this wonderfully wild and eccentric end of the music spectrum.

Now, as our dear friend Chuck Billy has proven himself very fond of saying, Into the pit!



“Imagine if the overly horned-up kid from Biology class who drew disturbingly detailed cocks on the cover of his textbook between Slayer and Beherit logos got really into progressive/jam music, read a lot of esoteric literature, and formed an improv-heavy black metal band in Canada and somehow made it really fucking good and all work together while experimenting with alternative states of consciousness, and you’d be somewhere in the neighborhood of this record. It’s almost humiliating just how intimidating the album is: Antediluvian are channeling the essence of divine chaos, and it’s a mind-bending, sacrilegious, and perverted journey that is somehow reverent and masterfully crafted at the same time. It holds nothing sacred — not even itself — in its attempt to mock the entirety of creation and beyond.” [RYAN TYSINGER]

Last Rites review
The Divine Punishment at Bandcamp


“Diskord has achieved a fairly remarkable balancing act on this album. If you imagine looking at a pointillist painting from the exact middle-distance, where you can see the shapes dissolving into individual points, but also perceive the whole, unbroken image, that’s what Diskord does on the album. Each song is a tightly composed puzzle, even as individual elements sometimes veer into a near-ecstasy of overload…

This is one of those albums where it’s just as easy to find yourself thrown bodily around the room as it is to sit quietly and get lost in all of its perpendicular intricacies. Its technicality has far more in common with the tech-thrash or early progressive death metal of the late 80s and early 90s than anything particularly modern, in that rather than keeping mechanistic, unrelenting pace, the songs are loose and natural even while the band taps out frantically precise half-measures and blink-and-you’ll-miss-them transitions.” [DAN OBSTKRIEG]

Last Rites review
Degenerations at Bandcamp


If you’re the kind of heavy metal fan that relishes these end-of-year lists for the hidden gems, then this is the entry for you. Papangu is a band you’ve likely never heard of and that’s okay, because they’re from Brazil, Holoceno is their debut album, and it was self-released. Hell, only the most sophisticated and spicy Last Rites contributors voted for it.

Papangu plays a kind of progressive metal that strikes that oh-so-elusive balance between the Prog and the Metal. The heavy metal side of things draws primarily from the peripheral doom pools, to include stoner and sludge, especially early Mastodon, but also drifts into a weird, psychedelic, almost black metal at times, a la Oranssi Pazuzu. The prog side channels the ghosts of King Crimson and Magma, which of course means guitars and drums and keys and synthesizers and saxophone and zeuhl delivered in the band’s native brand of Portuguese. It’s a lot to digest, even on paper, and that’s exactly why Holoceno is so great: Papangu balances metal and prog, song-writing and experimentation, convention and avant-garde so expertly and conveys it all with such passion that it feels as familiar as it does strange and dangerous. [LONE WATIE]

Holoceno at Bandcamp


It would be easy enough to say that the latest album from Turkey’s long-running Cenotaph brings the kind of greasy, hyper-blasting, absurdly heavy, and unrelenting brutality that only exists in a particular corner of the death metal world, but they go even farther than that. Parts of Precognition to Eradicate exist in that extremely niche corner of the already very niche brutal death style that nearly achieves a kind of artistic abstraction. It’s so brutal it almost exists outside the world of rock music, but smartly balances that aspect with another characteristic: extreme SASS. Cenotaph pummels you into a kind of hypnotized pulp before snapping you back to reality with lines cheekier than a snappy dress down from RuPaul. Really, go ahead and get to the 1:45 moment of “Anomalous Necrotic Breed” and tell me you don’t feel a little embarrassed even though you’re sitting alone in your home office right now. Or how about the pinch harmonic / bass slap combos in the title track? Cenotaph injects innately inhuman music with so much personality in the hooky moments just by ignoring all proper instrumental etiquette, and it rules.

This smartass touch is what separates them a bit from a band like Devourment (the true kings of death metal so preposterously brutal it’s almost high art), and what really elevates Precognition to Eradicate to elite status. Even the bass playing is surly, all slappy and twing-twonging your good intentions into oblivion while the guitars, drums, and vocals do a kind of malfunctioning jackhammer routine. The record is technical but never truly tech and groovy and neck-wrecking but rarely full on slam; again, it’s balanced. Oh, and The Slow Parts? Rubbery and thoroughly demented. Just give “Recombinant Extraterrestrial New Form” a spin for that side of things.

Precognition to Eradicate is 30 efficient and fatless minutes of merciless devastation and one of the best brutal death metal albums in recent memory. Treat your ears to the epitome of heavy metal rudeness. [ZACH DUVALL]

Precognition to Eradicate at Bandcamp


Soundwise, Shadow of a Fallen Star Pt. 1 comes across as a notably logical progression from the NWOBHM. Of course we all realize this is far from a new approach, and Seven Sisters admittedly won’t win any awards for novelty with this release, but holy hell have these guys found a way to put an exceedingly enjoyable fresh coat of paint on the entire package. Fallen Star is equal measures trad metal, (US) power, (classic) prog and hard rock, without being any one of those things to the point where the listener starts to wonder if one tag outweighs the other. Balance is key, for a fact, and it’s something that’s reinforced by an ideal production (engineered by vocalist / guitarist Kyle McNeil and mastered by Miro Rodenberg of Avantasia) that gives ample spotlight to all players. If you love metal that prioritizes melodiousness and traditional tenets without sounding overly dusty, Shadow of a Fallen Star Pt.1 is a blowout winner that’s sure to deliver mega-replay action. [CAPTAIN]

Shadow of a Fallen Star Pt. 1 at Bandcamp


“Admittedly, the seemingly contrasting approaches might not appeal to fans that want to be bludgeoned with little or no complication (and the near-50-minute runtime doesn’t exactly lend itself to being immediately accessible), but for the rest of us, those absolutely sick, pit-ready grooves more than serve as an adequate hook. Replicant finds great balance both between and within the dissonant and catchy/groovy sides of death metal, and anyone that has ever found themselves wondering about a hypothetical New Jersey offspring of Gorguts and Demilich ought to find a ton to love with Malignant Reality.” [ZACH DUVALL]

Last Rites review
Malignant Reality at Bandcamp


“Moral Collapse has created a debut that feels at once mechanical and human. The technicality, precision and hefty tones scream of machines bringing about the collapse of the world, but the loose and varied approach to the guitars blended with the non-traditional instruments inject a needed slab of humanity that makes Moral Collapse an undeniable monster. This isn’t just technical pomp or experimentation for the sake of showing off, but an album with well-written songs and an incredibly engaging approach to modern death metal.” [SPENCER HOTZ]

Last Rites review
Moral Collapse at Bandcamp


“It feels a bit too discourteous to claim that it’s taken multiple decades for the ultimate vision of this band to find the surface, particularly considering how strong the full Empyrium catalog remains, but there is a level of truth to such a statement. It frankly speaks to the benefits of growth, perseverance and reconnection with the past in a way that elevates the end product to a new level, and it does so without losing sight of the original objective: enchantment through melancholic inspiration. Hey, gloom is unavoidable—might as well feel good about it whenever the opportunity reveals itself.

If you’ve been a fan of the band since square one, you will find endless pathways here with the potential to leave you smitten. And if you’re new to Empyrium in 2021 and find yourself interested in taking the dive, there’s really no better launching point than Über den Sternen. Melancholy never felt so good.” [CAPTAIN]

Last Rites review
Über den Sternen at Bandcamp


It’s fairly difficult enough to walk a single balance beam with two feet, much less walk two parallel balance beams with two feet. Even more difficult is trying to walk three balance beams with three (or more) feet, especially when the beams are different heights, widths, and begin criss-crossing and intersecting like a Windows 95 screen saver. Atvm aren’t just walking the course on their debut, they’re running the balance beam maze of death between brutality, melodicism, and progressive songwriting with all eight of their collective feet. It’s as cohesive as it is diverse: Despite all the left turns, flashy yet tethered technicality, and whiplashing song exploration, the tunes themselves are instantly memorable. Try playing Famine, Putrid And Fucking Endless once, then go back to have the mind blown all over again by how much of the record gets beneath the skin. [RYAN TYSINGER]

Famine, Putrid and Fucking Endless at Bandcamp


“…This is the aural equivalent of encountering a caveman in a tuxedo who can perfectly recite from memory a 15-item specials menu made entirely of items harvested from a saber-toothed tiger he mauled to death with his bare hands a few moments earlier.

The only mental cruelty you’ll suffer is that of regret if you don’t hit play on one of the heaviest albums of the year.” [SPENCER HOTZ]

Last Rites Missing Pieces blurb
A Hill to Die Upon at Bandcamp


“Must one be a power metal fanatic in order to fully enjoy the ins and outs of a record such as The Mad King? In some regard, sure. Or at least more so than the debut, I’d confess. But then that perhaps opens the door to the following reality many of us have nudged at for years: Power metal is great for the soul, so why shouldn’t we all drink deep of its wealth? The beauty of Warrior Path circa 2021 is the truth that their brand of power is varied enough that it should net all sorts of foot traffic, whether ye be trad-minded, epic-obsessed, or crazy for all things USPM. The bottom line is that it’s just great metal that makes you feel powerful. What more could one hope for while enduring an age where negativity swirls like a demonic tornado around seemingly every bend?

The Mad King… In a word: Magnificent. Please bring us more in the future.” [CAPTAIN]

Last Rites review
The Mad King at Bandcamp


“‘Genius’ is a concept laden with so much baggage that it’s almost meaningless. One of the biggest sins of its overuse, however, is that it too readily erases the painstaking work of the creative process. To call someone a genius usually turns it into something that they are rather than something that they do, and it pushes the appreciation of artistry into a sort of squishy mysticism instead of a practical reverence of the craftwork. In Vadak, Tamás Kátai has crafted yet another impeccable display of overbrimming ambition and high-wire acrobatics. This music speaks to me in more languages than I know how to process, but just like that woman perched atop a high, wild hill, it’s not about me. Pay attention to this music and to the ‘incomprehensible, endless process’ through which we are all connected, and through which, despite the profound loneliness of existence, we are each a little less alone.” [DAN OBSTKRIEG]

Last Rites review
Vadak at Bandcamp



Surely, that was your very own exclamation upon seeing Stormkeep’s phenomenal album art but that also happens to be the first line of the album. This five-piece conflagration of wizards also sports ludicrous pseudonyms such as Count Victor Wolfsblood and that level of committing to the bit truly deserves applause. While Tales of Othertime may be these Denver denizens’ debut full-length, it is immediately apparent they have been studying ancient dusty tomes of black metal magic for eons beyond the comprehension of human minds. These six powerful spells are made up of fiery tremolo riffs, vibrant drums, haunted keys of a Castlevania persuasion, snarling incantations, acoustic accouterments, and more melodies than fireworks shot off by Gandalf in The Shire.

Hit play on a song like “The Serpent’s Stone” and you’re all but guaranteed to be spellbound. [SPENCER HOTZ]

Tales of Othertime at Bandcamp


“..The record ought to elicit a whole heap of reactions from metal fans — the usual evil grins, headbangs, raised fists, and inspiration to dust off that Flying V — but the word that keeps coming to mind is enthusiasm. Steel Bearing Hand probably has so much of it that it drives their friends insane, and the record is absolutely bursting with it. So too shall you be, quite likely, because this ace album is overflowing with so many of the reasons you got into heavy metal in the first place. Unsheathe your blade, warriors, and Slay In Hell.” [ZACH DUVALL]

Last Rites review
Slay in Hell at Bandcamp


“…When it comes to pagan black metal I want Big Riffs™, and when it comes to atmospheric black metal I generally lean toward the more minimalistic direction. Rarely do the twain meet in such a way as the sophomore effort from Russia’s Grima. And again, as to never deceive you, Faire Reader, an honest confession: It took a few spins for this to open up. There was something about it that hooked the ears, but it really took an active listen for the subtitles to reveal their secrets.” [RYAN TYSINGER]

Last Rites Black, Raw, & Bleeding blurb
Rotten Garden at Bandcamp


“Most any longtime Pharaoh fan will gladly inform you that 9 years is far too long to wait for new material from this crew, but we’re also the sort to quickly admit just how lucky we are to already have four full-lengths and an EP’s worth of greatness from them—an exceptional feat in and of itself, considering how often the quality from bands has a tendency to fluctuate. And when the end product is so consistently gratifying and restorative / curative as is Pharaoh’s music, it’s only natural to worry about the day when that wellspring will eventually run dry. Luckily, we’re not there yet, and word on the street indicates that Matt Johnsen is already working on material for the next record, so hopefully it won’t take another decade for us to hear even more grade-A epic, progressive US Pharaoh Power. Sure, life and times could very well end up getting in the way of it landing sooner rather than later, but it’s probably best to not worry about that today.

Welcome back, Pharaoh. It sure is great to hear from you again.” [CAPTAIN]

Last Rites review
The Powers That Be at Bandcamp


You’d surely have been hard-pressed in recent years to find a metalhead ’round these parts who’d have guessed the new Dream Theater album would hit the ol’ Top 25 at Last Rites. Even the prog nerds would have balked at that bet. But, hey, here we are and there’s A View From The Top Of The World right there at number 9. Top 10! Dream Theater’s legacy is well earned and largely unquestioned, but the hard truth is that Petrucci and the boys hadn’t flirted with greatness in a long, long time. Some say since A Dramatic Turn Of Events but, if we’re being honest with each other, it’s been since Six Degrees Of Inner Turbulence so really we’re talking nigh on 20 years.

How did this happen? Simply put: they finally took out the trash. Dream Theater fans know well the frustration of long albums filled with just so much of the best music delivered in the most engaging ways but also surrounded by and intermixed with some of the inexplicably dumbest or eye-rollingest or, worse yet, boringest shit. This band got so good at that little bait and switch, it came to be expected. And that’s precisely why A View From The Top Of The World was such an unexpectedly pleasant suprise. DT’s fifteenth (!) album is full of all the great prog metal stuff that fans have loved forever, written and executed with such a natural and honest panache that it’s impossible to resist. [LONE WATIE]

A View from the Top of the World at YouTube


“The whole damned thing is a triumph, really, but it also indulges an extremely niche off-shoot largely reserved for those with a neurotic love of noodling and an interminably adventurous appetite for proficiency, and even a portion of those folks tend to get fussy about brutal vocals. That’s precisely what makes a record like Gloire Éternelle so unique, though, and one cannot stress enough just how well balanced the prowess is here; each player flexes Bugs Bunny as Leopold-levels of musical expertise. If these sorts of things generally equate to a bonafide windfall for you, and if your brain has been known to crave upwards of 45,609,846,098,456 notes in a single 1 hour and 12 minute journey, you just stumbled on your next ticket to Shredder Shangri-la.” [CAPTAIN]

Last Rites review
Gloire Éternelle at Bandcamp


“… While its highs may not quite reach the peaks of some past songs, what album number 15 does offer is consistency in strength from start to finish and a renewed fire that has been absent from the last couple of releases. Hell, even the uncensored version of the cover offers the most over-the-top gore since The Wretched Spawn and this one could easily be viewed as the revenge sequel for the mom from that 2004 gem.

It would’ve been reasonable for Cannibal Corpse to see the source of their livelihood disappear in 2020 and decide to hang it up; if they had, their legacy would still have them standing among the greats. Instead, they persevered through the struggles of life and yet another lineup change to bring us what might just be their best album since Kill.” [SPENCER HOTZ]

Last Rites review
Violence Unimagined at Bandcamp


“There’s no denying that the proposal to unite forces from across Helloween’s full career was risky; on its own, stacking three guitarists together with a collective century of power metal experience had the potential for overload the likes of which we’ve never seen. And adding three voices to the scheme, two of which come standard with larger than life theatricality? Let’s just say the chance of heartbreak from either side of the spectrum was definitely lurking, whether it be at the behest of too many years in the rearview, resulting in a too-dim a version of the early energy, or the other end of the scale where some level of ‘Spider-Man the Musical’ disaster hits our eyes and ears. The Pumpkins United tour did the job of mitigating those fears, though. And now with Helloween, it’s clear that not only can this collective pull things off with nary a hitch from the stage, they’re equally capable of grappling in the studio sans injury, resulting in new material that’s triumphant enough to stand toe-to-toe with any other top-tier Helloween release.” [CAPTAIN]

Last Rites review
Helloween at YouTube


A question I’ve never thought of asking is “Can doom metal truly be doom without being despondent?” or, put differently, “Can doom be positive, thematically?” And even without it being asked, that’s a question that Dream Unending just answered unequivocally. Tide Turns Eternal is just that, a death / doom album that manages to be both morose and uplifting, as beautiful and hopeful as it is sad and down. Taking its cues from the mastery of the Peaceville Three — most notably from Anathema, whose influence is clear and acknowledged by Dream Unending’s two members — Tide Turns Eternal drifts through its dreamworld on chiming clean arpeggios, often discordant but never harsh, always beautiful in their darkness, offset with crunching and trudging distorted passages whose energy belies their tempo. Vocalist and drummer Justin deTore (Innumberable Forms, Sumerlands, others) employs a heavily reverbed guttural, growling poetic positivity atop the soundscapes of Derrick Vella (Tomb Mold, Outer Heaven), whose guitar weavings are outstanding, buoyed with the occasional goth-leaning keyboard pads and organ. This one was a late entry, so much so that by the time it was released, we didn’t even have time to properly rave about it, but the fact that it’s here — in our top five, no less — is testament to its power and majesty. Put simply: It’s an absolutely brilliant piece of work, and one you need to hear. [ANDREW EDMUNDS]

Tide Turns Eternal at Bandcamp


“… Foreverglade is a significant improvement by every metric, though it’s more of a vast refinement of Gloomlord’s direction more than it is any further expansion of the duo’s sound. From the production standpoint, Foreverglade hits harder, sounds sharper, and those improvements serve to retroactively showcase previously overlooked flaws in Gloomlord’s sonics, leaving that earlier record feeling as pale in comparison as the black-white-and-shocking-green cover looks against the colorful chaos of the cover. Mixed and mastered by Stephen DeAcutis, Foreverglade takes the basic framework established for Gloomlord and simply makes it sound better, though thankfully not by scraping away the gloom and grime, both of which are integral to Worm’s muck-riddled sound. The swamp is still there; now you can hear it more clearly.” [ANDREW EDMUNDS]

Last Rites review
Foreverglade at Bandcamp


“…Remember how you once daydreamed through history class and suddenly became interested in Alexander the Great after Maiden threw him in your face? Heavy metal: Loudly inspiring us to learn and explore in ways that Mrs. Pinklebottom’s Social Studies class FAILED.

Bottom line: If you love adventurous and melodic traditional heavy metal with the added benefit of perhaps expanding your cultural perspective, Herzel’s wonderful Le dernier rempart is ready to win the day. And thanks to the wonders of the modern age, the album is a mere handful of clicks away. Take THAT, 1980s.” [CAPTAIN]

Last Rites review
Le Dernier Rempart at Bandcamp


“Taking everything into account, the peril lurking in the corners of Gegrepen door de geest der Zielsontluiking is something that’s just as tempting as the oath Mercyful Fate first cautioned us about now over three decades ago. It is the unrelenting allurement and bidding inherent to all creatures of this planet: The call of lawless nature herself. And with that summoning and full consent to her primeval ways comes a complete espousal to not only her interminable beauty and abundant endowments, but also the counterbalancing chaos that pits impossibly snuggly bunnies in the fevered jaws of wolves—the very same power that arouses humankind’s devolution into a more primitive, idolatrous state. Clearly, such themes are extremely fitting for the blackest of metal.

Not only does Gegrepen door de geest der Zielsontluiking stand as the highlight of Fluisteraar’s work to date, it is one of the most engaging and gratifying black metal records in recent memory, period. And yes, as an individual who’s fallen in and out of love with black metal all too many times dating back to its inception, I recognize and wholly embrace the weight of such a statement.” [CAPTAIN]

Last Rites review
Gegrepen door de Geest der Zielsontluiking at Bandcamp


“…Senjutsu — and point of fact, Iron Maiden circa 2015-2021 — isn’t terribly suited for the bystanders, the casual fans, or those just deciding to dip their feet into the pool. This record is best matched to the incurable freaks, of which there happen to be millions. We are the cranks who love “we’re blood brothers,’ despite the fact that it’s x 100; the screwballs who understand the significance of being a dental floss salesman from Montana; the left-of-center parents who dangle images of Eddie in various stages of adventure in front of our kids with hopes of tempting them into the game. We accept this…

…I can’t help but think that given enough time and wholehearted consideration, the energy and revelry woven into Senjutsu will eventually become one of its most valued benefits. Those moments are there—bits of Brave New World and The Final Frontier and even Piece of Mind that go beyond the boundless lead-play, even if it’s buried within songs that feel deliberately extended…

Have we moved past the version of Iron Maiden that’s perpetually raring to die with their boots on and into a variation that opts to orchestrate and survey from a battle-worn saddle on a sun-bronzed hill? As previously mentioned, if you were there for the recent Legacy of the Beast tour, you have a strong argument against that point. But even if that is what’s in store for the studio work (and by God, if anyone’s ever earned the rank of field marshal…), it’s still clearly Iron Maiden as delivered by Steve Harris, Bruce Dickinson, Dave Murray, Nicko McBrain, Adrian Smith and Janick Gers (with Rod Smallwood lurking in a foxhole), and so long as that remains true, we will be there with full hearts until the end.” [CAPTAIN]

Last Rites review
Senjutsu at YouTube

Posted by Last Rites


  1. Let me just get my readers here…

    [40 Watt Sun Plays]


    1. [Puts on Wider Than This Guy]


  2. I really appreciate how weird and personalized this list is.


  3. Fvck yes–Senjutsu at #1. Album of the year for me too. Senjutsu deepened my appreciation for Iron Maiden beyond all expectations. It also inspired me to revisit Book of Souls, which feels like the precursor to Senjutsu and is also awesome.


    1. Hell yes. I’m still not crazy about Book of Souls, but Senjutsu just flows so much better as a full work imo. Up the Irons!!


  4. Co-signed on Papangu, that album is fantastic and unique! I’ve been on another Brazilian kick this year with everything Caio Lemos does (Kaatayra, Brii, Vauruva), so thanks to Mr. Tysinger for turning me on to all that.

    As with the EP list, you nerds are missing Wharflurch again, but hopefully some fine writers will have it on their individual lists.

    And Dream Theater is worth listening to again??? I’m highly skeptical, but I’ll give it a listen just because you’re all very handsome and smart.


    1. Thanks Ghost! That newer Kaatayra at the end of the year was a nice little cherry on top, too. Kinda caught me off guard at first, but man does that man know how to deliver. Yet another notch in an increasingly impressive belt.


  5. Maybe I don’t care about Maiden anymore I haven’t listened to this album once since it came out or even wanted to maybe I’m to busy listening to the Cocteau twins and other weird crap probably need to give this more time just out of respect for the band the new Carcass destroys it in my view but I’m an idiot,


  6. Great list, fellas! Plenty of unheard albums for me to dig into. Love the diversity of choices too. Last Rites’ EOY list always highlights underground gems that are otherwise missed. Cheers for another year of great reading, btw.


    1. Cheers Craig! Been making a list (and checking it twice) of those year-end picks you’ve been dropping on Instagram. Miss ya bud!


  7. Man, I am currently listening to A Hill To Die Upon by Mental Cruelty which is a thing I never would’ve done without this list and all I have to say is….thanks?


  8. Trapped Under Rice December 12, 2021 at 9:51 am

    Great list, one of the best I’ve seen! I mean, How could one complain with a list featuring Papangu, Diskord, Dream Unending… Great job!

    However, in my eyes missing a couple MAJOR hitters this year, especially maybe the best album of the year:

    *CREATURE – Eloge De L’Ombre
    A crazy progressive black metal album which avoids pretty much every trope of any genre, while sounding compelling as f***. The songwriting is tight and enticing, and full of great and emotional surprises. It also features Baard Kolstad (Leprous/Ihsahn/etc.) on drums, which brings a very unusual and awesome flavor to the whole thing.
    Highly recommended for anyone liking their music excellent, fresh and forward-thinking. It came out in November, but is easily my most played record of 2021.

    Other albums of notice which I feel should be mentioned are:
    *Gold Spire – Gold Spire : Lounge doom-death with saxophone
    *Old Nick – Crisp Winter Dawn Of My Night Moon : this could be the culmination of their unique sound.
    *Grey Aura – Zwart Wierkant : DHG-like avant-garde with superb drumming and brass incursions. They come from the same land as Fluisteraars

    I’d be curious to know if you’ve heard any of these!


    1. Always enjoy Creature, just didn’t have as much time to dig into the new one this year. Like you said, super compelling stuff. Dug the new Old Nick but man, already a bit overstuffed with their stuff at this point.


      1. Trapped Under Rice December 13, 2021 at 6:30 pm

        The new Creature is in my eyes the best yet! And the best of the year, too.
        It goes into some uncharted and very exciting territories. Definitely worth spending some time with.

        Old Nick, I hear ya on the oversaturation. reason why I didn’t really enjoy the previous one I think. But I feel the aforementioned one does things a little different, and is just very good and fun all around.



  9. I cannot take seriously that in the entire field of albums released this year Senjutsu is the best. There were some amazing things released this year that you didn’t get anywhere close to here and yet… Senjutsu? Yeah, it’s SLIGHTLY better than Book of Souls. But as a guy who adores Maiden through A Matter of Life and Death and has gone on the record defending The X Factor, I cannot imagine what brought on this mass delusion. Can we not get ONE person in their orbit who is like “hey dudes, why not try to maybe.. I dunno, cut a few repetitions here and there?”


    1. The interesting thing about 2021 is that there didn’t seem to be any one release that caused widespread holy shitting across the board for us. More so than previous years, for certain. That has more to do with the diversity in taste behind the LR staff, though, and not the quality of the stuff that came down the chute. We agree with your sentiment that there were a lot of really good records in 2021, and that actually ended up working to Senjutsu’s advantage because it was the only one that got the nod from all of us (as pointed out in the intro), with the rest being a very motley affair that pulled from all over the spectrum. That gave Senjutsu the little extra weight necessary to win the day.

      As to what was so special about Senjutsu that everyone across the board voted for it, even those on staff I’d be comfortable referring to as “less fanatical” compared to the handful of us who readily march through the fire to defend Maiden… Probably best to leave that for the individual staffer lists in the coming weeks. I will say that Senjutsu felt quite a bit different compared to BoS in that it managed to continue hitting “now playing” discussions by staffers months after its release, and a lot of that conversation seemed centered around a marked improvement in flow from one song to the next.

      And as for us missing amazing albums we “didn’t get anywhere close to here” (massive eye-roll, by the way), I think one of our guys put it best by saying: “That’s what happens when you pick 25 out of literally hundreds of available albums.” How boring this all would be if everyone agreed. Ha.

      And hey, thanks for reading! Looking forward to seeing what you guys nail to the door.


  10. I don’t say this enough, LR team, but thanks for doing what you’re doing! I look forward to reading every day. The best compliment I can think to give is that even if I’m not at all interested in the band or genre you’re covering, more often than not the writing itself is so good that it makes me want to listen to the record. You can’t ask for more than that. Looking forward to 2022!


  11. Nostalgia feels like the appropriate word for my listening in 2021, with most of the music I listened to either being a trip back through time or new material of familiar bands. Glad this site exists to keep me somewhat attached to what’s current on the metal scene.

    In terms of the 2021 music I did listen to, I really enjoyed Worm, Iron Maiden, and Pharoah, didn’t mind the new Cynic, Gojira, and Dream Theater, was somewhat ambivalent about the new PORTAL, Converge, and Genghis Tron, and was disappointed for the first time with Deafheaven.


  12. Aquilius new album should be here for sure


  13. I’ve got a sneaking suspicion that the new Apsu album is going to be overlooked and ignored due to band members shitty behavior, which is a damn shame because nothing else this year comes close to it.

    Big shoutout to Night Sobbed a Potion Diseased by Wallachian Cobwebs also


  14. Guys, this list… I LOVE YOU ALL SO MUCH! That last bit on Maiden made me cry. (YES I’M A WUSS)


  15. Great list, and thanks for all the hard work running this site over the last year. Would have liked to have seen Tentation make your best of.

    Maybe in future though, you run your lists past AMG first! In return they could borrow your Maiden Senjutsu review or anyone else’s for that matter?


  16. This is the end of year list I always look forward to the most. There’s always so much stuff that I haven’t heard yet.

    I didn’t get to really dig into as many albums as I wanted to this year, but my favorites of 2021 were:

    Cerebral Rot, ZAO, Lingua Ignota, Wolves in the Throne Room, Grave Miasma, Big Brave, Helloween, Archspire, Spectral Lore, Full of Hell, and Mare Cognitum


  17. Dear Rites Staff- Thank you. I’m old. I saw Slayer when they were an opening band. Yes, before arenas and gaming casinos, I got to see Slayer open for Venom. I really appreciate how y’all balance bands from, and new acts that honor, the glory days while keeping members from the old guard (like myself) on our toes and in the know. From Metal Review to Last Rites y’all are my go to because you save me a hellofa lot of time dredging though Bandcamp and the like. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the hunt too, but having a trusted source that takes out the guess work is also nice. Thank you, and thank you Ryan for acknowledging Eisenhand’s riotousness. 2021 wasn’t so bad.


    1. Glaube, this is such a great statement. Thank YOU for sticking with us over these many years! It really means so much to us all. Would love to see your top 10 from 2021!


  18. Alright, here’s the top 50 Norwegian metal albums of 2021 from my blog as promised. The link is for the top ten, but you can find the other listings right under the thumbnail (which I highly recommend, all the records are good-to-fantastic!) It’s also in Norwegian, so you get the extra joy of feeding our already wordy and overly complex write-ups through the chaotic and corrupting maw of google translate!



    1. Sweet! Thanks, man! Will dive into this list over the weekend. Lots of stuff I’m not familiar with at all.


      1. That’s totally what we hoped for when deciding to do this. Getting to uncover and highlight the stuff that nobody else has seemed to notice this year has been one of my greatest joys, and one of the perks of narrowing our workload down to the production of a single country! The three records I would personally recommend the most are Deception, Athar Aghanon and Agabas. Those three are extremely undervalued!


  19. Here’s my final list for no one but myself. Maybe I’ll get my shit together and start writing again in 2022.

    Wharflurch – Psychedelic Realms ov Hell
    Demoniac – So It Goes (cheating bc I can)
    Papangu – Holoceno
    Thirdface – Do It With a Smile
    Diskord – Degenerations
    Cannibal Corpse – Violence Unimagined
    Steel Bearing Hand – Slay in Hell
    Body Void – Bury Me Beneath This Rotting Earth
    Thy Catafalque – Vadak
    Portrayal of Guilt – We Are Always Alone/Chris Tucker (both albums rule, so I’m cheating again)
    Craven Idol – Forked Tongues
    Concrete Winds – Nerve Butcher
    Mare Cognitum – Solar Paroxysm
    ATVM – Famine, Putrid and Fucking Endless
    Cerebral Rot – Excretion of Mortality
    Universally Estranged – Reared Up in Spectral Predation
    Grima – Rotten Garden
    The Silver – Ward of Roses
    Siderean – Lost on Void’s Horizon
    Yautja – The Lurch (so awesome live)
    Eternity’s End – Embers of War
    Wode – Burn in Many Mirrors
    Bossk – Migration
    Wampyric Rites – The Eternal Melancholy of the Wampyre
    Stormkeep – Tales of Othertime


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