I'll say right out front that yes, Graves of the Archangels is better, but it was released in 2008 so this'll have to do. Either way, the gap in quality between the two is razor thin. I think it's worth noting that many, many bands in modern death metal are tagged as "Incantation/Immolation worship", but nobody ever really discusses how odd such a thing even is in the first place. Incantation and Immolation are two great bands and mix very well, but on their own they're deceptively very different. Incantation is all about Autopsy styled crawling filth, with every menacing fast part being complemented with disgusting, abhorrent slime wrought on by rancid dirges of doom. Immolation is, by contrast, a much more technically demanding band of maximalists. They're equally filthy, but they're much more chaotic and over the top, paradoxically smashing three hooks together while reveling in a gnarled dissonance and a drum performance that sounds like somebody trying to play their entire kit at once. Of all the bands to strike gold blending these two approaches, I'd say almost nobody comes closer to perfection than Dead Congregation (with a close runner up being Cruciamentum, who will most assuredly earn an honorable mention at the end of this marathon, spoilers by the way). These Greeks lean a little further on the Incantation side, but they carry so much hellfire with them that no tracks ever invoke deja vu. Promulgation of the Fall is fucking nasty, and there are few bands in the current zeitgeist of death metal that are as vicious as Dead Congregation. This is a mold infestation that bites back, and also grows dripping tendrils and uses them to hurl you down a flight of stairs. The album's only flaw is also its greatest strength. Just like Hour of Penance and Tyranny earlier on this list, it's clear that I love an album that doesn't have standout tracks specifically because it works so well as one cohesive unit. I guess if there's any one track I find myself going back to the most, it's "Immaculate Poison", but even then I can't tell you why it's any better than "Nigredo" or "Only Ashes Remain". Every minute is a chaotic whirlwind of malice, and that's all you should need from this type of music.
I liked Manifest Decimation when it was new, but it didn't really stick with me all that much and I certainly didn't see the band becoming a vanguard for the next wave of thrash metal. After Nightmare Logic rolled around, I had fully quaffed the Kool-Aid and bought into what Power Trip was selling. If you want to view the evolution of metal as a series of cycles, then I'd say the initial boom of rethrash got where it did by revisiting classics from Exodus and Kreator, but whatever scene Power Trip is fronting is much meaner, more devastating, and infused with an attitude that feels like death metal and hardcore made peace but avoided breakdowns. If Exodus got their vicarious day in the sun because of Municipal Waste, then Power Trip is doing the same for Demolition Hammer (who coincidentally also reformed around this time and somehow still fucking rule). Nightmare Logic is just... I dunno man fuckin' violent. I usually avoid preview tracks before an album's release, but I broke and took a peep at "Executioner's Tax" early on, and as soon as it was done I knew something special was brewing. Vektor was the band that truly showed everybody that you could play exceptional thrash metal without being a throwback act, but for my money, Power Trip is the band that showed you could push the genre forward without tripping over your dick and out-clevering yourself into a mess of unconnected masturbatory nonsense. This is exactly what made Sadus so fucking good early on, it's all the vicious nastiness that lurked underneath thrash as a whole with the mask torn off and pushed to the forefront, twitching and writhing in a congealed mass of pulsating organs. Nightmare Logic sounds very organic in this way, like there wasn't one second where the band sat back and focus tested what they were doing to find a way to appeal to as many people as possible. They just took a bunch of peyote and cranked Tapping the Vein at full volume before they headbanged themselves into a coma, and immediately upon waking they sprinted to the recording studio to record every twisted idea they had in their last moments of consciousness. Thrash has been a dead genre forever now, but Power Trip are the Reanimators and they are going to continue dominating the landscape for the foreseeable future, and I can't wait for the wave of kids influenced by this album to bring some fresh air into the rotten crypt.
I know that there's currently no metal band with more drama swirling around them than Batushka right now, what with the whole schism that lead to there being two Batushkas fighting for supremacy and spawning literal dozens of joke Batushkas shitposting out full albums to poke fun at the whole situation, but that surprisingly hasn't soured the original project one iota for me. I also know that Litourgiya has kind of fallen out of favor over the last few years, either because the mask has been so thoroughly stripped away by the lawsuit or because the hype just died down and a lot of people begrudgingly realized they overrated it when it was new and now think it was never that special in the first place. I'm not one of those people. I still love this album to pieces. I did back in 2015 and I still do in 2020. I fucking adore this style of heavily melodic black metal with heaps of ecclesiastic bombast. That salvo that kicks off "Yekteniya II" absolutely shatters my spine to this day. This is, all told, pretty simple black metal with a really slick production, with the only truly unique trick being the massive choirs that pretty much never stop oohing and aahing in the background, but it makes this whole thing sound like a blasphemous ritual with all of the glitzy magnificence of traditional Catholicism. This is no black mass in the woods at night, this is a perverted sacrifice taking place in a golden temple, led by a digusting half-man-half-abomination with a cartoonishly large hat. This is going to be a weird comparison (and one that probably explains why non-fans feel the way they do), but I like Powerwolf a lot in part because they invoke this same feeling and imagery. The difference is that Powerwolf is a cartoonish pastiche, while Batushka feels much more genuine. If you were to take the ideas that Lupus Dei and Blood of the Saints toy with and play them 100% straight, you'd probably spit out something like Litourgiya. I get why many fans of this music will be turned off by that, but like many bands on this list, that sounds like the kind of thing that was designed entirely to appeal to me and nobody else.
And now we've got the first of the patented BH Repeat. Sorry, I tend to like it when a band that I enjoy sticks to what they're good at and I'm prone to adorning them with pointless accolades more than once. It's probably both disappointing and unsurprising that I'm an avid watcher of Anthony Fantano's reviews, despite the fact that we have so little overlap in taste. When he did his massive Top 200 Albums of the Decade list a few months back, some people were confused by him excluding albums that he had rated extremely highly throughout the years, and he explained his thought process in snubbing those albums as being mostly janitorial. Simply put, it would be boring if the top 10% of the list was just completely dominated by his three favorite artists. I kept that in mind when writing this feature because my Top 50 of the 90s absolutely suffered from that problem, with like 35% of the list being occupied by seemingly only four bands. As such, I almost didn't even include Paradogma on this list purely because it's so similar to Sedition. That's also why I padded this entry out with so much meta-explanation. Sedition really is just Paradogma but slightly better, that's it, there isn't much else I can say without just repeating myself. The only real difference is that Sedition spends a little bit more time with screaming lead guitar melodies (check "Decimate the Ancestry of the Only God" for a great example) that takes the brutality and speed of Nile, the precision of mid-late era Krisiun, kicks up the tempo by like fifty notches and adds a bunch of confident Mithras-esque leads on top. This rules, and Hour of Penance's downfall into tech death wallpaper is heartbreaking because the elements that made these two albums so good are still there to this day, but the songwriting has never been more engaging and exciting than it was here. I ultimately decided to include both albums on this list because I listened to them both back to back before listening to the #51 album, and decided they were both better. Congrats, you beat my soft cap.
Both this and the followup album, Tibi et Igni, tend to be held in fairly equal regard. I actually agree, both albums completely smoke, but with the cards on the table, I'm going to throw my hat in for Welcome to the Morbid Reich taking the edge. Part of it is just how relieved I was when I first heard it since I was so let down by the previous album, Necropolis, I admit, but also because just holy shit Vader is so fucking good when they're on their game. This is a very "back to basics" album for the band. It's probably one of the only times in metal history when a band said they'd be going back to their roots and actually following through with that promise. The rerecording of "Decapitated Saints" is a bit of a giveaway, but the rest of the album really does slot in nicely with their early era. Vader was getting old by this point, already two decades into their domination of Furious Blasting Death, but somehow I can't hear a track like "Come and See My Sacrifice" or the title track without being reminded of their somewhat thrashier beginnings on The Ultimate Incantation. This is the exact kind of apocalyptic death-sprint that Vader excelled at on the first four albums, and as much as I loved the experimentation on Impressions in Blood, I can't help but find myself ripping my own throat out whenever they hearken back to what they've proven to be their strength. Piotr sounds like the vocal representation of a fucking supernova on this album, the drumming finally lived up to the furious standard that Doc set before his death, the songwriting is that phenomenal blend between unceasing brutality and unforgettable hooks again, just everything works in a way that it really hadn't since Litany eleven years prior, and that statement is made with the acknowledgment that Impressions in Blood is also one of the best albums of the previous decade. Like seriously, how can you take that basic ass galloping riff on "I Am Who Feasts Upon Your Soul" and make it sound like the end of the world? I dunno, but Vader certainly does. Vader tends to stick with what works, and Welcome to the Morbid Reich is a perfect example of why they should.
This is another one that almost didn't even make this list at all, purely because I haven't listened to it since 2014 when it landed at #10 on that year's end of year list. I figured ya know, if it didn't have the staying power to be part of my regular rotation, it must've just been a flash in the pan. I figured it deserved another shot, and lo and behold, here it is on this list as one of the very few representatives that 2014 is even getting at all. Oathbreaker is fucking incredible, and I think the only reason I didn't listen to this every fucking week for the past half decade is because it's such a daunting listen. All of the songs are pretty long, with the shortest two being around five and a half minutes and the rest hovering closer to seven or eight, with the entire experience clocking in around an hour in length. This winds up being one of the few metal albums to use a lenghty runtime to its advantage though, as every song is an organic slow-burn that climaxes with heartbreaking beauty. "Organic" is one of the best words I can use to describe this, as everything feels like it naturally builds upon itself, assembling its own pieces very deliberately to ensure that everything fits just right. "A Blighted Hope", one of the "short" songs, still takes like three minutes for guitar distortion to even happen, and the main melody only kicks in like twenty seconds prior to that point. These songs are all buildup, but the key difference between this and many other longwinded bands is that every single buildup pays off brilliantly. This folky approach to black/death metal is actually genius and I wish more bands did it as well as Hoth did here. There's a surprising amount of jaunt to be found amidst all the hopeless misery that the album outwardly expresses, with the riffs underneath the melodies shifting from downtrodden melancholy to ferocious aggression to exuberant triumph without the main melody changing even one note. Hoth is extremely good at showing you the same scene with different lighting and eliciting entirely different moods. "Unending Power" could be easily mistaken for a long Skeletonwitch song, while "A Blighted Hope" channels the triumphant spirit of 2000s era Ensiferum, and everything in between is presented as varying shades of epic black metal with more sprinkles than any mud pie could possibly hold. The scope is enormous, the mood is both bleak and triumphant at the same time, the landscapes twist between cold harshness and warm optimism so smoothly that you probably won't even notice the transition, it's just a remarkably well written and constructed album and it deserves more praise than it ever got.
I just reviewed this a few months ago so I don't really want to go over it again all that much, because this album is so recent that my opinion has barely changed at all. If anything, I like it even more than I did previously, and I feel like my 94% score didn't accurately portray how much I adore Portent, which is a crazy statement when you think about it. False took the maximalism of Emperor and Obtained Enslavement and blended it with the drawn out minimalism of Wolves in the Throne Room and somehow managed to hit the sweet spot. This should be an incomprehensible mess, an oxymoron that resulted in a brown slush of incompatible ideas. But just like Dead Congregation up there, it turns out that these were two great tastes that taste great together. All three real songs are brutally long, each landing between 10 and 17 minutes long, but so much happens within each of them that they never become boring. These tracks are all very dense and winding with loads of ideas within them, but they're executed with so much care that they wind up being bombastic litanies of magniloquence. I haven't stopped spinning this for months now and I can see it remaining a favorite for the foreseeable future.
You all know how I feel about Black Dahlia. After seamlessly slotting into the burgeoning metalcore scene of the early 2000s despite just playing fantastically grisly At the Gates style melodic death metal and subsequently souring them on the metal underground right out of the gate, and eventually converting about half of said underground (including me) with Nocturnal in 2007. Now, to this day Nocturnal is still my favorite album of theirs, but if we were to make a distinction between "favorite" and "best", I'd actually argue that their best album is the one that converted the remaining 50% of the underground, 2013's Everblack. Despite the more flashy surface level of experimentation of Ritual, I think Everblack is much more daring and confident in the ideas they touch on. My friends and I colloquially refer to this as "the black metal one", and while that's partly facetious, it's certainly not a misrepresentation of the misanthropy and positively feral meloblack influence on tracks like "Every Rope a Noose". This isn't quite as direct as the band's usual fare, but that just means it somehow hits a nexus between immediately ear catching and a complex grower that reveals more secrets with every listen. A track like "Raped in Hatred by Vines of Thorn" is an immediately brutal and hook filled crowd pleaser, while "Phantom Limb Masturbation" is probably their most brutal, "Map of Scars" is the closest thing to a true successor to "I Will Return" we'll ever get, et cetera ad nauseam. The atmosphere is positively smothering, and this is without a doubt their darkest album to date. Obviously Black Dahlia was never a lighthearted band, and their trademark sense of humor that shows in interviews and such is never anywhere to be found on their music, but this is likely the starkest contrast in their career. Even totally forgotten "filler" tracks like "Control" and "Their Beloved Absentee" absolutely devastate me. TBDM is completely overwhelming at their best, and this is no exception. Everblack is a melodic death metal masterpiece and it earned its stripes as the album that finally gave the band the respect they always deserved entirely on the strength of how fucking good these songs are. If you still haven't converted, I don't know what to tell you. Grow up I guess.
I feel like I summed up Gargoyle's utter dominance (qualitatively of course, they never had the popularity to match) of the thrash scene with one particular line in my review of Geshiki. This is their 17th full length album, 21st major canonical release if you count the EPs I covered (and that's with the knowledge that I skipped some big ones like Ububoe and the G-Manual series), and it's somehow their third best album. Sleeping on Gargoyle is basically a god damned crime if you're a metal fan, they were always so consistently great that it didn't matter how far into their career they were, they were always in danger of releasing their best work at any time. Similarly to how Judas Priest somehow crapped out Painkiller when the band was all in their 40s and logically should've been way past their prime, Geshiki is one of the most outwardly brutal and intense albums Gargoyle ever penned. Tracks like "Kettei", "Uzumaku Taiyou", and "Chokugeki" are fucking blistering, with Katsuji turning in one of his most manic drum performances of his career. And that's to say nothing of the heightened power/speed metal influence on rippers like "Gordian Knot" and "S.W. Power" or the heartbreakingly gorgeous and uplifting majesty of tracks like "Namida no Kachi" and "Fullcolor Answer". "Tsubasu no Kioku" also stands out for being one of the few meaningful instrumentals the band ever wrote, bringing back the string sections they used to employ back in the 90s and even featuring bass and drum solos that actually add to the brilliance of the track instead of being pointless distractions (looking at you, Manowar!). Geshiki actually features two prominent bass solos since "Enreido" (mostly a fast barnburner in the vein of "Uzumaku Taiyou") has one as well. And with everything I've said I've still managed to leave out the best song, "Mankai Oratio", a crowd-riling singalong with some of their catchiest riffs of all time. As much as I love Taburakashi from two years later, there's a part of me that wishes Geshiki was their final album. It's such a triumphant sendoff to one of the greatest bands of all time, and "triumph" really is the operative word here. I can't help but feel like I just won something whenever I listen to this. This is Future Drug pt. II and that's all I've been wanting to hear ever since Yotaro left.
I mentioned that I was going to bend my self imposed rules and add in a few non-metal albums that were undeniable favorites of mine that I figured fit close enough anyway, and this is the first of them. Protest was always much better than the metal scene gave them credit for, but again, since they're not really a metal band I feel like that's just fine, because they completely dominate whatever niche hybrid of metalcore/post-hardcore/tech-prog-wankery they occupy. Their ear for hooks amidst the total chaos of treating riffs like solos and near complete disdain for traditional riffs was always top notch, with Kezia and Fortress both standing as absolute monoliths of the previous decade that would've easily ranked if I had allowed myself the leeway when I did this feature for the last decade, but Volition felt different somehow. The story behind it is probably exactly why it wound up being so good. The band had decided to go independent for this album and decided to hold a crowdfunding campaign to finance it. Unlike Wintersun, they actually offered a ton of cool perks for donating, including the opportunity to sing on the album. Amazingly, like six or seven people hit that threshold and all but one of them absolutely decimate their parts (and hilariously enough, the only one that doesn't fit just so happens to be the bassist of Propagandhi). The whole album was a huge love letter to the fans who got them to this point and allowed this experiment to succeed, and even as a fan who couldn't donate because I was dirt poor at the time, I still feel like I'm being thanked personally in tracks like "Animal Bones" when Rody announces that they are "nothing without the thousands of voices that make the choir", with "the choir" being sung by the fans who donated before throwing back to the "we are still life" motif from "Sequoia Throne" a few albums prior. That's not even mentioning every other phenomenal track of spastic chaos like "Drumhead Trial", "A Life Embossed", and especially "Skies", potentially their best track. I've heard the band described as "Dillinger Escape Plan for Emo Kids" and while that isn't really true (there's an understated influence from old tech-thrash like Watchtower in here as well (Ron Jarzombek even has a guest appearance)) I do see why people unfamiliar with this niche would think that when they hear riffs like "Tilting at Windmills" coupled with Rody's voice. Either way, it turns out that DEP for Emos fucking rules.
And that's all for Part II! This is probably the most straightforwardly intense segment of the five, so for those of you who aren't lovers of the extreme, fear not, there's going to be a lot more melody and less hellfire coming shortly. Stay tuned!