Scholar of the First Sin: Hera’s Best of 2022 — The Outliers (Honorable Mentions)

Best of 2022

EOY list season is upon us, which means that many will be scrambling to put together lists that are both cohesive and, objectively, correct. Although I knew that 2022 might not be able to compete with 2021’s sheer musical quantity, 2022 had more quality releases. It’s gotten to the point where I now have an entire separate list of albums just to catch up with.

It’s also one of the many reasons why I have decided to expand the honorable mentions list, as I found myself with 28 albums that I had enjoyed but didn’t know what to do with them. After somewhat coming to terms with the 20 I want to officially present in my planned EOY list, I decided that these eight deserved some words from me, as I, once again, have a lot to say.

It’s time to touch the painting sitting in Anor Londo.

Out in the Painted World

As mentioned in my honorable mentions list last year (context), albums that don’t make it on the main EOY list end up as part of the honorable mentions, where they can find a home together in the Painted World. Given the overall range of music listed here, I am not surprised by some of the albums that ended up here, but I am baffled that I didn’t get to spend as much time with these albums as I should have. Sometimes you must pick your albums, grit your teeth, and bear it.

Let’s see what ended up on the cutting room floor!

8. Tómarúm — Ash in Realms of Stone Icons

tómarúm - ash in realms of stone icons

Ash in Realms of Stone Icons came out of nowhere, and I had three different people tell me that I was going to love this album when I got to it. It was described to me as progressive death with a black metal twist, and I did eventually listen to the album — only to immediately forget about it afterwards. Now that I am revisiting it, there is something refreshing about an album that defies genre conventions, especially when something of this caliber goes from zero to 100 in a matter of minutes. The compositions and instrumentation are top-notch, the production is clean, and everything about this album is incredibly cohesive and streamlined. This is what happens when you take everything that you have — your lyrics, your musicianship, your life experience — and you incorporate it into something beautiful but haunting. Tómarúm is a band that managed to pull off the impossible — take both the atmospheric leanings of black metal and the pacing of progressive death, and make into something profound, extensive, and, most of all, incredibly poignant. Given the album’s subject matter, it might be a difficult listen for a first timer, but I promise you that the music itself is a work of art, and every single note pulls at your heartstrings. This album is an example of what Wilderun could have done on Epigone, and it’s a shame that I didn’t give Ash in Realms of Stone Icons the attention it deserved.

7. The Halo Effect — Days of the Lost

The Halo Effect - Days of the Lost

As anyone who knows me knows, I fucking love melodeath, so I am always up to see what’s going on with that genre. Imagine my surprise when I heard that former members of In Flames created a band with Mikael Stanne of Dark Tranquillity that would follow the Gothenburg melodeath sound. Initially, I was very excited: Moment was at the forefront of my mind (as it usually is), and I have a soft spot for In Flames, even if some of their previous albums weren’t as good as they should be. However, just like Tómarúm, I gave Days of the Lost a few listens and then promptly forgot about it. Listening to the album now brings me such joy, as I get to experience this album again with the clear memory and focus that I know I am going to enjoy it. How can I not? While Days of the Lost sounds like a Gothenburg melodeth album, with the classic-sounding riffs and its unique flair, Mikael Stanne is the true shining star of the album, his vocals adding emotional beats and weight to what otherwise would be a blip on my musical radar. The production is also fantastic; you know a lot of care went into the mastering and mixing, because you hear absolutely everything. My only issue with this album is that there are moments where it sounds like it could have been part of the Dark Tranquility canon, but, hey, Moments was fantastic and I can’t complain.

6. Imperial Triumphant — Spirit Of Ecstasy

Imperial Triumphant - Spirit of Ecstasy

Although we talked about Spirit Of Ecstasy as part of our Album of the Month podcast episode, I can sum up my initial experience with this album as decadent, gritty, and absolutely terrifying. There’s something rotten in the state of New York, and Imperial Triumphant is not afraid to show us just how wild, chaotic, and corrupt things are. Amid this, however, there is something beautiful about the chaos that this album presents us, something extremely liberating that lets you sit within its soundscape for awhile. While I was personally not sold on this album on a first listen, I found myself becoming more and more invested within the intricacies of its sound. From its free jazz aesthetics to its dissonant black metal tones, Spirit Of Ecstasy is not afraid to change their sound on a whim. The music sticks to you like spilled wine on carpet — it’s difficult to get it out of your head once it sinks its claws into you. Things may not be well, but at least you are still having a great time. However, this all pales in comparison to seeing Imperial Triumphant live: the energy during their set crackles and it feels like you are about to join a secret fraternity where the main initiation rite is to fully leave your expectations outside the door. Seeing them live is what made Spirit Of Ecstasy stick in my mind, and I am now fully into whatever madness this band will come up with next.

5. Sadist — Firescorched

Sadist - Firescorched

You would think that, because I reviewed this album back in May (context), I would have included it on the main list proper. However, given the amount of music I have listened to this year, something was bound to fall through the tracks, and Firescorched was one of those casualties. It’s almost funny to realize that Firescorched’s music has been haunting me for the better part of six months, where sonic flashes of song segments would play in my brain, and I couldn’t remember where I first picked up the memory. Now, there is something incredibly manic about this album that makes you want to stay until the end, where maybe the album’s highly chaotic and technical nature may exhibit restraint. However, even at their most straight-forward death metal sound, Firescorched doesn’t do any of that. There are these quiet, somber moments that feel out of place, only for the listener to realize that they are just a vehicle for the next bassline to kick in, changing the melody once again. I found myself always wondering what would be the next thing that Sadist would bring to the forefront, as each song is and continues to be a tapestry of musicians who clearly know what they are doing. Equal parts heavy experimentation and technical mastery, Firescorched is a wonderful record that showcases new life for the band, and I am excited to see where this takes them.

4. High Castle Teleorkestra — The Egg That Never Opened

An album originally recommended to me by our own Zyklonius, The Egg That Never Opened is what I imagine most science fiction to sound like: a mix of the familiar and the strange, where things are known but they also feel opaque and out of reach. Based on the book Free Radio Albemuth, The Egg That Never Opened invites the listener to come to the last speakeasy in the universe and enjoy their time there. Combining elements of jazz, swing, folk music, death metal, guitar ballads, and surf rock, this album hit a particular part of my brain and made me sit in its expansive soundscape for the better part of a few hours. Although it can be a difficult album to get through, the need to know what happens next in its soundscape is what kept me rooted during my various listens. What ultimately captivated me most was how incredibly lush and catchy its orchestration was, even when things became extremely complex, and I was wondering whether I was listening to song segments rather than actual songs. It also heavily reminded me of the soundtrack for Transistor, as some of this music could play in the background during one of the many boss fights that you encounter in the game. The music is warm, complex, and delightful, and if you happen to like music that sounds like it could be played in a jukebox, then The Egg That Never Opened is the album for you.

3. Leander Kills — Vérkeringő

I have a lot of thoughts about Vérkeringő, so strap in. As one of the main inspirations behind a little playlist I baptized as “The Hungarian Depression Pit”, it saddens me to put Leander Kills here, as they have consistently ranked high two years in a row. However, despite this being a delight to listen to, Vérkeringő feels weaker than both Luxusnyomor and IV. It’s obvious that the band clearly knows how to make great music, but I do have issues with this album. One such issue is that half of the album’s tracklist were released as singles, which could lead to listening fatigue. I understand that having these singles means raising interest in your new album, but it can also spoil the fun of diving into a new album for the first time. Another issue I have is that this is the third mainline album in the span of three years, starting from Luxusnyomor. I felt that this was unnecessary, as Leander and co. can take the time to write a new album — there is no need to write and release music faster than most people can consume. Finally, this album was released in early December, at a time when most writers are starting to put a semblance of a list together. Now, this doesn’t mean that Vérkeringő is a bad album; objectively, this album has enough hooks, catchy melodies, and riffs, and Leander’s vocals are, once again, the stuff of dreams. In fact, one of the album’s shining moments is “Örökzöld”, a ballad that hits straight in the heart. I do not understand Hungarian at all, but I understand that the song is a heavy one. Despite my lukewarm reception, I still think Vérkeringő is a strong album in Leander Kills’ discography, and I am sure this album will continue to grow on me as time passes.

2. Depresszió — Vissza a Földre

Another inspiration behind “The Hungarian Depression Pit”, Depresszió is a band I have loved for a decade. Their latest album, Vissza a Földre, is one of those albums that screams comfort. I have always known them as a consistent, reliable band that makes fantastic modern metal music, and this is no exception. Vissza a Földre ticks all the boxes for an album that is just fun, especially given the album’s pacing. Hell, even their ballads sound like something you hear at a party, and you just want to raise the volume higher so you can feel it vibrate in your body. I love this album, and I would have placed in it my actual EOY list, but I also feel the need to savor this album. Unlike the previous entry on this list, where I want to take it apart and then reconstruct it, Vissza a Földre is a solid foray into the band’s mature years, as they allowed themselves to take the time to make music instead of just putting out another album for fun. I also appreciate that Depresszió does not take themselves seriously. Sure, their music sounds serious — again, the language barrier — but it doesn’t mean that it can’t be fun. Vissza a Földre is a great example of modern metal, one that can be found if someone decides to cross (metaphorical) international borders to see what else is out there. After all, who said that metal had to be sung in English?

1. FERN — Intersubjective

Like another album on this list, I wrote a review about FERN’s Intersubjective back in September (context), whose musical details kept me enamored and rooted on the spot. However, what pushed me to come back to this album now was seeing The Ocean earlier in the month and seeing Paul Seidel sing “Holocene” live. Somewhere in the back of my memory, something clicked in my brain and I had a feeling that Paul had pulled something out of “Holocene” that went into the main melodic line of one of Intersubjective’s highlights, “Hyperreal”. Considering that “Holocene” was a song that Paul co-wrote and then sung on, with a heavy emphasis on synths and electronics, it almost felt like Paul could go into that song at any time, and I was struck with a heavy sense of déjà vu and information overload. With that thought aside, listening to Intersubjective with a fresh perspective is quite the experience. The album is hypnotic and bleak, the heavy electronica slowly digging itself deeper and deeper into your skin. You are reminded that while Paul may pull from a lot of influences, the music is entirely his own. It’s seductive, poignant, and heavily focused on the details, asking you to become as intimate with a piece of music as you possibly can. For someone who enjoys the small details and the inherent intimacy that records build over time, I wish I had spent more time with this album. I wish I had spent more time digging through its details, pulling the metaphorical string to other sonic connections that keeps my brain occupied. Regardless of this, I am excited to see where FERN goes next, especially if the next is just as detail-oriented and just as compelling as Intersubjective

And that concludes my Honorable Mentions list for 2022! While there will be a finalized EOY list coming soon, there is still a lot to sift through, especially since I have no idea where some of those albums will end up. In the meantime, go experience those eight wayward souls in full — I am sure there is something in the pile that you will find interesting.

Hasta la proxima!


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