Best of 2022: Chris’s Honorable Mentions

Best of 2022

I’ve been thinking about Honorable Mentions lately. We differentiate them from our main lists, but in the grand scheme of things every album we call out on the site is an honorable mention: there’s something about the music, about the power the chords and melodies hold over us that warrants notice, that deserves a voice to amplify the message to a wider, often preoccupied world. In a time when we too often use the tools of social media and the internet to confront, to argue, to parrot – even in the name of awareness – toxic behavior, I find myself moving steadily inward, barricading myself from the noise and burying my head in the sonic pulse of drums, guitar, bass, and vocals both sung and shouted, screamed and pitched in ways that insulate me from the static of the world.

But the music, dumbass! It calls for notice, deserves it. And like 2020 and 2021 this is just the start of a conversation, not the end. So once again: 15 records in alphabetical order. Any other day, any other minute from the time I write this it can change. Does that make it any less valid?

Does it matter if I got you to – even for a moment – consider the virtues of these fantastic records?

You decide. In the meantime, let’s do this.

The Outer Circle

Honorable Mentions

an abstract illusion - woe

One album in and I’m already questioning myself. 2022 is probably going to be the year where there’s no significant different between this and my final list. Because I’ve probably listened to Woe, the second full length from An Abstract Illusion more than anything else in the last month. Progressive metal that doesn’t fall into tech death territory, instead embracing classic mid-period Opeth and bringing to mind more recent bands like Iapetus in their ability to assimilate a breadth of influences without losing the thread of cohesion. Come for mammoth opening track “Slaves” and stay for easily one of the best progressive metal albums of the year.

birth - born

It’s an open secret my heart lies with 70s prog rock and Birth, born from the ashes of the excellent band Astra, eschew anything remotely metal. Instead they handily tip their cap to bands like Yes, Hawkwind, and Pink Floyd with their debut Born. There are plenty of pastoral King Crimson leanings on tracks like “Descending Us,” washing over you with languid synth and organ passages, but when the rock arrives, it doth come in great meaty chunks: check out the opening title track and the jazz rock space journeys of “Cosmic Tears” for a taste. I readily admit this isn’t for everyone (part of why I’m not including it on my final list) but if you’re a fan of the above bands and you like your music to wander into astral pockets of wonder, this should be a stop on your next liftoff.

Hey, anyone else excited about the forthcoming Haken, especially after their new single “The Alphabet of Me” launched? Folks needing a fix of similar music to hold them over are probably already aware of Tiktaalika, the solo debut from Haken guitarist Charlie Griffiths. For the rest of you: get on this. Wall to wall guitar heroics that down’t overshadow the man’s skill in actually constructing solid songs. Come for the bludgeoning riff exercises of “Crawl Walk Run” and “Dead in the Water” with its bass reminiscent of Tool being eaten by Messhugah; stay for the way Griffiths weaves progressive melodies that feel like Cynic in their more killer moments. One of the best albums that got slept on this year – if you like your guitar technical and propulsive I can guarantee Tiktaalika will serve you well.

friends of hell

I guess cleaning out that promo pile back in March was a good idea, huh? Friends of Hell have crafted a huge, majestic slab of classic doom metal in the vein of bands like Saint Vitus, Candlemass and Cathedral, and I can’t get enough off it. I’d also toss in Reverend Bizarre as a big influence, but that’s a no-brainer considering the royal Albert Witchfinder himself takes on vocal duties. There’s nothing funeral to be found on debut Friends of Hell: this is a veritable stomp-fest of crunchy guitars, pounding drums, and occult-laden lyrics. It’s all calculated to throw your ass back to the glory days of the genre, something Rise Above Records founder Lee Dorian knows a little something about. “Shadow of the Impaler” is the single, but right now I’m addicted to the stone clubbing of “Into My Coffin” and “Evil They Call Us” which just tells you there are at least three killer songs on this record. But believe me when I say the whole album casts a deadly rock and roll spell that’s way better than my corny description can convey.

Ghost - Impera

Where are we with Ghost? Is the backlash still on? Do I care? Because when Impera was released earlier this year the top brass of 9C couldn’t stop listening to it (they may not admit this, but I swear it’s true). At the close of the year I still can’t stop. It starts with the Rush-inspired break in the middle of “Kaisarion” but quickly follows with “Spillways” and “Call Me Little Sunshine” and “Hunter’s Moon” and “Watcher in the Sky” and…and…it really doesn’t lose steam for me until the overt silliness of “Twenties” which I’ll admit isn’t great. But the rest of Impera is chock full of incredible hooks and earworms and has an incredibly slick and full production I can’t get enough of. It’s everything I wanted 2018’s Prequelle to be, and I’ll keep playing it until Tobias Forge gives me another album of sweet darkness to chew on.

kryptograf - the eldorado spell

Kryptograf might be my biggest discovery of the year. They’re picking up the stick laid down by Witchcraft after they morphed into whatever it is they’ve morphed into, and second album The Eldorado Spell is chock full of 70s occult rock and roll, the kind that comes in a haze of fuzz and smoke and great clean vocals. I love the mix of acoustic guitars brought into the heavy mixes, and the band manages to remember that songs have a beginning, middle, and end – you’re not going to find a lot of meandering in The Eldorado Spell‘s crips 45 minutes. What you will find in songs like “Asphodel” and “Cosmic Suicide” are head nodding (or snapping) tunes that will bring you back to the times when psychedelia and rock had a glamour and allure that when combined alchemy-like inspired millions to pick up a guitar and look in the mirror thinking, “Hey, I could start a band…” That may just be me, though…who knows?

mammoth volume - the cursed who perform the larvagod rites

I was an early supporter of Blues Funeral Recordings’ PostWax series, and the second volume has boasted some really strong albums, including Josiah, Dead Meadow, and a band I KNOW folks ’round these parts love, The Otolith. But the album I keep returning to is The Cursed Who Perform the Larvagod Rites, which charts the triumphant return of Sweden’s Mammoth Volume. Seriously, what is it with Sweden and their penchant for executing incredible stoner rock? Awesome album title aside, the return of Mammoth Volume has a load of weird little musical moments and off-kilter syncopations, best displayed in “Medieval Torture Device” which feels like if Radiohead decided to merge with Kyuss and really dig into some early Police weirdness. I mean all that in the best way.

Megadeth - The Sick The Dying and The Dead

A lot of folks may have moved on, but I haven’t: the latest from Megadeth still packs 1,000 riffs and solos that haven’t lost their lustre. Maybe it’s not cool to cheer the mainstream and the obviously well off, but the hunger on tracks like “Dogs of Chernobyl” and “We’ll Be Back” harken back to the band’s glory days, and with Dirk Verbeuren behind the kit this might be the best iteration of the band since the Rust in Peace era. I’ll continue to stand by my review and say that The Sick, The Dying…and The Dead! is the best thing Megadeth has put since Countdown to Extinction, and every time it pops up on my playlist my head starts banging along. I can’t help it, Mustaine always has me at the first spider walk riff.

Misþyrming - Meo hamri

Yeah: I have an album that was released with almost no fanfare on December 16th on my Honorable Mentions list. You know what’s even crazier? I can almost guarantee you a few others here will have it on their Best of lists. But that’s the kind of rabid fandom Misþyrming have around these parts. And I was skeptical; I had enough black metal on my lists that I thought I could leave well enough alone. But damn if Með hamri doesn’t deliver everything a modern pure black metal album should and more. It’s everything the Icelandic band’s previous records were, but with an OUTSTANDING production that brings every nuance into sharp focus. 3/4 of the 9C Top Brass ordered the vinyl as soon as it was announced, and although we’ll have to wait for February for that, I’ll bide my time listening to tracks like “Með Hamri” and “Engin Vorkunn” over and over again. The only reason this isn’t in my Top 10 is because it’s so new. Give it time – I told you these lists were essentially ephemeral, right?

nechochwen kanawha black

Hey, who put their prog in my black metal? I was just talking to my friends about albums we obsessed over (rightly or wrongly) back in the day. General consensus is there was nothing wrong and everything right with Heart of Akamon, the 2015 release from West Virginia’s Nechochwen…except that it took seven years for a proper follow up. Kanawha Black takes the duo to familiar ground…only to completely upend it for some serious prog elements. Clean vocals, acoustic passages that aren’t just some weak neo-folk elements to placate the Cascadian metal crowd…Nechochwen are gunning for some serious progressive black metal, and tracks like “The Murky Deep” with its percussive acoustic opening and the epic drive of “Visions, Dreams, and Signs” mark the return of one of the best USBM bands since the acronym was tagged.

Fatal Horizons, the second full length from technical thrash merchants Rhythm of Fear was the hardest album to place on my lists. This music just hits a nostalgia spot for me, and truth be told may wind up being one of my most listened to albums of 2022. When I think back to the music that made me fall in love with metal as a kid, it was the mix of technicality and mosh that Rhythm of Fear executes effortlessly here. I’m always on the lookout for forward thinking thrash indebted to the 80s but not slavish towards it, and Fatal Horizons fits the bill perfectly. Currently listening to the title track and damn if this isn’t almost exactly what I’ve had in my head since 1990 as the music I would champion forever. They say your teens are where you make your strongest musical connections and Fatal Horizons only reinforces the notion.

Satan - Earth Infernal

It’s perhaps telling how strong a year 2022 was when the follow-up to my #6 album for the best of 2018 is only an honorable mention. Don’t let that hold you back from checking out the sixth (and third since reforming) album from the UK’s NWOBHM stalwarts Satan: if anything Earth Infernal feels like the lost companion album to 2018’s Cruel Magic. Few bands have managed to keep not only the sound but the spirit of said sound alive for so many years – production improvements aside you could sit this right next to 1983’s Court in the Act and think they were released at the same time. Brian Ross’s voice hasn’t changed a bit, and songs like “Burning Portrait” show a band with just as much fire as they had almost 40 years ago.

spiritworld - deathwestern

Another late entry that took me completely by surprise, Spiritworld are slaying (pun intended) with their skewered brand of death thrash with riffs modeled very much after a certain Mr. Kerry King. Deathwestern though has a bit of a smile behind its bite: even as songs like the title track, “Relic in Damnation” and “U L C E R” lay waste with killer riffs and grooves that uh, show no mercy (thankyouverymuch) there’s a sense of fun behind the madness. Do I hear a little Slipknot in the vocal delivery? Maybe. Do I care? Not at all. This things rocks like a bastard, and I can’t get enough of it.

tómarúm - ash in realms of stone icons

Someone snuck some serious guitar heroics in my progressive death metal, and I am here for it. I never heard of Tómarúm prior to this year, but based on Ash in Realms of Stone Icons I can’t wait to dive into their debut. Yes, technical and flawlessly executed guitar work is par for the course in this kind of music, but where other band keep it to the riffs and a few sweeps, Tómarúm engage in solo after glorious solo that help to keep the lengthy tracks (anywhere from eight and a half to fifteen minutes long) from getting bogged down in meandering. I also love that the two “Introspection” pieces feel like complete compositions in themselves, and not simple segues or intros, though they serve as that, too. Ultimately, tracks like “Condemned to a Life of Grief” and “As Black Forms From Grey” are what got me into extreme metal, so cheers to Tómarúm for crafting something with so much staying power.

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

I didn’t want to put Undeath on here…I really didn’t. They got enough accolades as the #1 album over on Decibel, so they don’t need me crowing about how It’s Time…To Rise From the Grave is an absolute beast of a death metal record. There’s no deeper meanings here, no attempt to elevate the genre. This is down and dirty nasty death metal, focused on grisly death in its many forms and with an attack that recalls Obituary’s sewer stench with the massive speed of NYC bands like Suffocation. When that groove on the title track blends with the harmonized licks you can’t escape their grip. Plus that drum sound…damn. No song hits the four minute mark, but every song hits. Like a hammer smashing your face. Don’t tell Cannibal Corpse I said that.

Ok…a couple thousand words ought to be enough to prime the pumps for next week when I’ll return with my Top 25 albums for 2022. But I could easily make this list that one, and as I play “Committee of Buzzards” by Spiritworld one more time, I wouldn’t be disappointed in the slightest.

– Chris

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