Nine (or so Heavily Qualified) Circles ov…2022: A Mid-Year Report

voss mid-year report 2022

Okay, so I may have only formally reviewed 11 albums by the mid point this year, but that’s one more than I was at last year, so victory! However, that doesn’t count the 30 other albums covered in earlier editions of Nine Circles ov (like the Stoner Metal one, or the promo pile one, or the non-promo pile one) or Second Circle. Not to mention my folders telling me I’ve listened to 151 metal albums so far this year. It’s scratching the surface, I know…but at least there are quantifiable metrics for you to assess whether or not I’ve met my acceptance criteria to mark this feature as Done.

And now that my work life has completely blended into this post, let’s talk about how massive 2022 has been so far. We’re once again turning this edition of Nine Circles ov… into a dozen and I’m even going to throw some bonus mentions into the mix. Are these my absolute favorites of the year? Kind of: I wanted to highlight some albums I haven’t seen a lot of coverage on as well as some definite big guns I really dig so far. So what I’m saying is, here’s a big list of stuff I love. Maybe you’ll love it, too.

aptera - you can't bury what still burns

You’re going to see a lot of more traditional heavy metal in this list, and it all starts with the killer debut full length by Aptera. Taking a healthy dose of doom and sludge and filtering it through some wicked trad metal, You Can’t Bury What Still Burns is a twisted journey highlighted by the weaving melodies of dual guitars against a truly dark and foreboding rhythm section. The vocals by Michela Albizzati (guitars) and Celia Paul (bass) fit perfectly in the mix, moving from shout to rasp to full throated roar. Opener and lead single “Voice of Thunder” should tell you all you need about what Aptera are bringing to the scene.

Cave In - Heavy Pendulum

After the tragedy of losing Caleb Scofield and the release of 2019’s Final Transmission, I was resigned to never hearing from the mighty Cave In again. So to not only get a new album in Heavy Pendulum and a revitalized lineup with the addition of Converge’s Nate Newton on bass and additional vocals was a very welcome surprise. But holy crap I was not prepared for how massively heavy and in your face this album would be. If the band released nothing other than the two singles “New Reality” and “Blood Spiller” this still would have made my list. The fact that we get another 12 songs, that they all rock with a righteous fury, and that Stephen Brodsky continues to remain one of the best vocalists in metal is all icing on the cake. Cave In had nothing left to prove, and they still came out swinging like a band tasting blood for the first time.

Falls of Rauros - Key To A Vanishing Future

There’s a reason Key To A Vanishing Future, the six full length from Portland, Maine’s Falls of Rauros was our Album of the Month in March. Vincent nails it in his write up for the album: it’s rare for a band to shake up their sound this dramatically while keep the core elements not only present but just as strong a foundation as ever. Opener “Clarity” demonstrates this beautifully, greatly expanding the sonic scope of the band without sacrificing what made them such a unique band in the first place. In some ways I can hear the kind of progression bands like Bosse-de-Nage or our next entry in this list have navigated so well, and if this is the signal to a new direction for the band I can’t wait to continue following it.

Inexorum - Equinox Vigil

Every release from Inexorum has factored into my end of year lists, and I can tell you right now 2022 won’t be any different. It certainly helps that Equinox Vigil, the third release from Carl Skildum and partner in crime Matt Kirkwold is their best yet by a country mile, and that’s saying something. The rock and anthemic metal elements have been pushed to 11 while maintaining the kind of ferocious melodic black metal that put them on the map in the first place. The title track is a sure standout, but lately I’ve been attuned to “Until There’s Nothing Left” and the fantastic shift of closer “Such Impossible Sights” – when those toms hit against the harmonized guitars I guarantee you’ll love it, too.

More people need to be talking about Mares of Thrace. Granted it’s been over a decade since their last release, but if anything that time was spent further honing an already incendiary sound. The Exile sees vocalist/guitarist/artist Thérèse Lanz backed by Casey Rogers on drums and bass and the result is a deep, dark attack of doom and sludge that injects elements of progressive rock and melodic metal that gets gnarly in its heaviness. Lanz knows her way around a riff, and the way she puts different ideas together lends itself toward songwriting of a most epic order. Start with “Onward, Ever Onward” and just work your way through the 35 minutes of this massive slab of metal and you’ll see why it’s a huge deal Mares of Thrace are back and better than ever.

nite - voices of the kronian moon

I have a feeling come December you’re going to be seeing Voices of the Kronian Moon on a lot of folks’ lists. I can guarantee it will show multiple up times on this site, and that’s because the sound Nite executes so flawlessly on their sophomore album is the sound of heavy metal in its purest form. This is the metal of denim, spikes, and torches. Of fists held aloft and heads banging in religious fervor, not afraid to revel in majestic riffs and copious melody. I raved about this one back in March when I first reviewed it, and the magic hasn’t left in the months since; if anything its appeal has intensified. The spirit of the 80s remains alive and well in tracks like “Heliopolis” and I can’t wait to just sit and listen to this again.

pharmacist - flourishing extremities on unspoiled metal grounds

My wife is a pharmacist…but that has zip to do with why I’m putting Pharmacist on this list. Someone needs to be carrying the torch for early Carcass worship, and since I’m also going to have more well-known grind on my end of year list (which explains why you’re not seeing the EXCELLENT new Napalm Death EP in this post) I wanted to bring to your discerning ear the wonder that is Flourishing Extremities On Unspoiled Mental Grounds. Japan has always been fertile ground for outrageous and amazing extreme music, and Pharmacist kill it with with technical grind that recalls the savagery of early Carcass with the precision of Nasum. Are grind songs supposed to be over quick? Because these beauties average seven minutes per song, but I promise once you hear something like “Accelerating Suppuration” you’ll understand why every second is essential on this killer record.

Satan - Earth Infernal

Look: I warned you from the outset that this post was going to be heavy with metal of a more traditional sort, but can you blame me when vintage bands are putting out some of their best work almost 40 years later? Satan are having a stellar resurgence since 2013’s Life Sentence, and latest offering Earth Infernal keeps that momentum flowing. Vocalist Brian Ross hasn’t lost a goddamn step in his voice since Satan roared out of the NWOBHM gates with 1983’s Court In The Act, and the guitar duo of Steve Ramsey and Russ Tippins recall the classic parings of Downing and Tipton, Murray and Smith, and Gorham and Robertson. Front to back this is a absolute ripper of a record that can’t be missed.

sergeant thunderhoof - this sceptered veil

I wrote about Sergeant Thunderhoof for my Nine Circles ov…Stoner Metal post, and absolutely nothing has changed since then. This is what I’ve been craving from my metal right now: lots of heavy, groove-laden riffs, amazing vocal hooks, and a emphasis on rock that values the anthemic and the catchy in a way that is anything but cloying. This Sceptered Veil runs the gamut from blues powered boogies to desert stoner epics, including the bookends of opener “You’ve Stolen the Words” and the massive two-part closer “Avon & Avalon”. This is as heavy as anything else on this list based on sheer weight, and it’s scarcely left my turntable since I picked it up.

Undeath - It's Time... To Rise From The Grave

It was important to get some serious dearth metal on this list, and I struggled whether to post up the new Immolation, or the excellent offerings from Hath, Jungle Rot, Cryptic Hatred, or Suppression. In the end I had to go with It’s Time…To Rise From The Grave from Undeath. They did something I can’t quite put my finger on, but I went from not caring about the band with their previous album Lesions of A Different Kind to absolutely loving everything about the new album. The production is a little beefier, but it’s the songwriting that hooked me in this time. Far from being a Cannibal Corpse clone, Undeath revel in a very particular pocket of death metal, and their execution is perfect, from the harmonized leads to the bottom dwelling vocals and the groove FIRST! rhythm section. I’m currently on “Rise From The Grave” and I can’t get enough of how Undeath have completely converted me into a raving fan. Guess I have to go back to the previous album now…

Venom Prison-Erebos

Maybe it’s because it came out so early in the year, but shame on you if you’ve forgotten how good the latest from Venom Prison is. The leap forward made on new album Erebos is astounding: there are riffs here that recall Lamb of God as much as anything else, and when you put those crushing riffs against the powerful force that is Larissa Stupar on vocals it’s hard to see how anything else really stands a chance. Our own Ian counted the may virtues of Erebos when the album was released, and he mentioned comparisons to Arch Enemy in the guitar pyrotechnics. He’s not wrong, but as I listen to tracks like “Comfort of Complicity” and “Gorgon Sisters” again I can’t help but think that Venom Prison are running circles around their peers right now. If you missed this, shame shame shame. Bar none one of my favorite releases this year.

Zeal and Ardor - Zeal and Ardor

We’re going an even dozen with this list, and I can’t think of a better way to end it than with the eponymous third release from Zeal & Ardor. After a (very) small step back with the overly complicated and meandering Stranger Fruit, Manuel Gagneux returned with a more concise and direct album that blisters with anger and rage. The first three tracks are hands down classics, from the opening self-titled track to the raging “Run” and callback to first album “Death To The Holy”. But then “Emersion” blends shoegaze pop with the intensity of Deafheaven circa Sunbather and you know all bets are off: Gagneux is going to travel where he wants and you’re helpless to do anything but tag along. No filler, all agony and beauty in the charred remains of a fire-cleansed earth. That’s how I like my Zeal & Ardor.

This is the first time doing one of these mid-year reports I really feel like I’m not doing the year justice – there are so many more records that bear mentioning, whether it’s older bands like Voivod and Kreator putting out superb albums decades removed from their debuts, or newer stars like Saor finally checking off all the boxes and putting out their best sounding album yet. Metal adjacent bands like Ghost and Earthless are putting out songs that either immediately get your dancing or thinking, and both end results are amazing. I just got turned on to a Norwegian band called Kryptograf that nail the woozy psychedelic Sabbath doom that made me love early Witchcraft so much, and their new album The Eldorado Spell press all the right buttons.

All that and I can’t even talk about the stuff that either just came out in July like the INSANELY good new one from Wormrot or the forthcoming death metal classic from Inhuman Condition or the stoner classic in the making from a revitalized Mammoth Volume or the surprise already new release from Imperial Triumphant…will any of those make it to end of year?

You’ll just have to wait and see.

-Chris


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