Nine Circles ov…What Didn’t Make My 2022 End of Year List…(But Could Have)

We’re back, exactly 365 days from the last time I kicked off my run of End of Year tomfoolery. And I’m not gonna lie: this year the wear of listening to and giving time, consideration, and word to so many albums is taking more than a little toll. At 40 years and counting of being obsessed with music I can still feel the flush of discovering something new, but I think I’m quicker to make the call on whether I’ll continue to listen to something or not. And I admit the pull of the nostalgic, the familiar, the comfort is stronger than it’s ever been.

That hasn’t stopped me from finding joy from a lot of records: You’re still getting altogether a list of 40 albums – my “official” Top 25 ranked list and an Honorable Mention list of 15 other albums in alphabetical order (if Decibel can list 40 than so can I). And just like in years past I’ve tacked on an additional nine albums that didn’t make my lists for various reasons, but I still love and want to put on your radar. The reasons why are fickle and unique, and time being the great equalizer means these omissions may come back to haunt me…lord knows they have in the past. That’s the great thing about lists – they’re snapshots of a moment and never written in stone. Well, maybe one list was, but these are far from commandments. They’re just more great albums to get excited about.

Once more into the breach. Forget labels. Forget hype and marketing. Take a look (better yet, take a listen) to this edition of Nine Circles ov… and see what didn’t make my list for 2022…but could have.

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With every passing day it seems the mighty Fates Warning are no more. That may have been solidified with the arrival of dueling releases from members of the band. I wish I had a nicer time with Jim Matheos and Joey Vera’s Kings of Mercia, but I was too busy having an absolute blast with A-Z, the new progressive rock outfit led by Ray Alder and Mark Wonder. Their self-titled debut isn’t super concerned with being heavy (although it definitely has its moment); it just wants to rock hard and dazzle you with virtuosic playing. I’ve missed Zonder’s unique drumming, and Alder sounds fantastic. It helps that they’ve put together a killer band with Philip Bynoe being a particular standout. Tracks like “The Machine Gunner” and “Trial By Fire” are perfect sing-along examples of Alder carrying the flame if indeed fates are no more.

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Asunojokei - Island

As the gauzy sheen of blackgaze fades from popularity I’ve come to realize just how few bands execute it in a way that is even remotely satisfying. Usually it’s when said band takes the foundations and subverts it, like adding copious amounts of math rock and even pop. Oh, hello Asunojokei! I think every single release has made my end of year roundups, and the only reason new album Island isn’t higher up on the list is due to not getting enough listens in. Playing “Chimera” as I write this I’m instantly regretful of that choice. The band is unapologetic for its pop elements while remaining extremely heavy. Also it doesn’t hurt that the production on “Island” is fantastic and not a tinny screech lacking nuance or range.

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Goatwhore - Angels Hung From The Arches Of Heaven

This is the year Goatwhore finally won me over. I’ve been trying to get on board since A Haunting Curse, but their brand of whatever bastardization of black, death, and sludge continued to elude me. In my head I like to imagine L Ben Falgoust and Sammy Duet said “Fuck it, let’s amp up the thrash elements” and the result is the profane glory of Angels Hung From the Arches of Heaven. Lyrically the band is heavy as ever, but there’s an electricity to the music, infusing more dynamics and enough chug to songs like “Ruinous Liturgy” and the title track to make me stand up and take notice.

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gospel - the loser

There’s a simple reason why The Loser, the long awaited sophomore album from Gospel isn’t on my main list and that’s because of their first album the moon is a dead world, which I became re-obsessed with this year. I won’t say that was a mistake, because that album is practically a masterpiece, but it gave short shrift to The Loser, which drops the screamo of 16 years earlier and paints a more progressive, keyboard heavy attack that loses little of its knack to rage. Opener “Bravo” is all you need to hear to understand the maturity at work and how the direction adds a weight and depth to the songs. Does it take a moment to get used to how much keyboard is here? “Deerghost” should take care of that. One of my favorite tracks this year, and the fact I just bought it on vinyl assures a permanent place in my rotation.

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Kreator has always been a little like Goatwhere for me. A band I respected but, try as I might, just could never get into, which is doubly surprising considering I’m the old thrash guy around these parts. Hate Über Alles changed that for me. Catchy as hell, every chorus is an anthem to be chanted, and I kinda love the cheesy anti-hate screed the title track lays out lyrically. Mille Petrozza continues to be a shredding powerhouse, and his solos are the icing on this modern day thrash cake. Is it enough for me to start traversing back down the catalog? Maybe, but if nothing else I will remember, remember where I come from. I will Become Immortal.

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liminal shroud - all virtues ablaze

The amount of black or black-adjacent metal on my list skyrocketed this year, and from its initial release in August I’ve had All Virtues Ablaze, the second full length from British Columbia’s Liminal Shroud on repeat. Melodic and melancholic, traditional and modern, it’s the kind of music that perfectly encapsulates the isolation and anxiety that hits me more and more often. “Hypoxic” is a killer opener, leaning on the more traditional black metal tremolo and double kick mayhem, but it’s infused with some serious atmosphere that doesn’t take the shape of pedestrian pads, synths, or an over abundance of reverb. Lyrically the album hits just as hard, and out of all the albums on this list it’s probably going to be All Virtues Ablaze I’ll regret the most not moving up to a higher spot. Good thing these lists aren’t at all binding, huh? Because I love this album.

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Revocation - Netherheaven

Only a few weeks after checking Netherheaven out for the last edition of Nine Circles ov… here we are with the latest from Revocation making the list, just edging out Immolation. Don’t get me wrong: Acts of God is fantastic and still on a steady rotation, but there’s something about the guitar work Dave Davidson is spilling all over Netherheaven that just gave this the edge. “Lessons in Occult Theft” is everything I wants from modern death metal: technicality and clarity and just the right amount of swing without diving into old school mechanics. Plus that blues metal break at the four minute mark? Sublime…

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My rule with new music and vinyl is that I have to be really sure I’m gonna keep listening to you; otherwise digital is fine (I only have so much room in the house). So it’s telling that not only do I have a beautiful copy of Origins, the latest from Saor playing on turntable as I write this, but it’s also the first Saor album strong enough to warrant purchasing a physical copy. Andy Marshall has been refining his approach to songwriting with every record, but Origins is the first time the production matched the tunes, and it’s a wonder of black metal. Maybe it’s the jump to Season of Mist, but the first time I heard “Call of the Carnyx” the hairs on the back of my neck stood up. The songs are quite a bit shorter than previous outings, but rather than feel lacking in ideas of scope it allows Marshall to really hone in on the intent of each song, and this concision results in the finest album he’s put out yet.

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sonja - loud arriver

As you’ll read when I get to my main lists, my heart was taken with the metal that I grew up with: melodic and anthemic, with those hints of the 80s hard rock and swagger tied with more modern notions. Melissa Moore leaving the toxic environment of Absu resulted one of the most enjoyable albums of 2022. Sonja sounds nothing like her earlier work, and that’s a great thing, because Loud Arriver is a nostalgic warhead, and “Nylon Nights” might be my song of the year. If I had to compare it to something, it would be to the work of Chris Black, particularly with his High Spirits project. It completely embodies an earlier time without ever being beholden to it. Lyrically Moore speaks a truth that is universal, despite any seemingly differences you might want to bring to the table. Vocally she’s a marvel, and I can’t wait to hear whatever they put out next.

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I walk way from this list like I did last year: already second guessing each entry, which is – again – why ultimately lists don’t matter.

Even when they do.

Next week the countdown start with my honorable mentions, but you all know the countdown already started, right?

Until next week, keep it heavy.


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