Best of 2022: Chris’s List

Best of 2022

We’re going to keep the intro brief on this one. Year after year I struggle to find the words to open this post, where I ostensibly count down my favorite 25 metal albums of the year. Typically the first thing I do is check out the previous year’s entry…read and see if the themes are still relevant, if there’s anything I want to refine or emphasize for the current year. And for the first time, I didn’t find anything worth changing. Yes…I may have finally nailed it with my 2021 Best Of introduction.

By now you’ve (hopefully) read my post talking about nine albums that didn’t make my but could have, and my 15 Honorable Mentions and how the very concept of an honorable mention seems to contradict itself when the music is so good. I would usually say that was all prelude to this, but that’s a lie. You know, and now I do as well. In the end, all we can do is recount the things we love, and hope it inspires something in you.

So if you will, a request: go back and read that intro to 2021. And then check out the albums listed below for this year. Don’t worry about rankings, don’t worry about omissions. Just check out the music, and let it hopefully inspire something in you.

All of these albums did that for me.

The Inner Circle

My Top 25 Albums of 2022, Part I: Albums 25-11

25. Inexorum – Equinox Vigil: The third album by Carl Skildum, now partnered with Matthew Kirkwold finds the perfect balance between the icy melodic black metal of debut Lore of the Lakes and the more anthemic metal of 2020’s excellent Moonlit Navigation. The guitars walk a tight rope between frigid and heroic with Skildum providing some serious solos, and Kirkwold wields the moments of clean, anthemic vocals with a surgeon’s precision. The songs find the perfect moments to switch tones, as the ending of mid-album track “Secret Language” shows. But the real proof is in the way the opening riff of “Creation Myth” or the layers of awesome on the title track can lift you up and away from the world, coasting on the back of majestic, windswept metal. Ian’s review is here, my mid-year piece covering it is here.

24. Pharmacist – Flourishing Extremities on Unspoiled Mental Grounds: What if early Carcass by way of Japan (kinda), but with the guitar work of later Carcass? Flourishing Extremities… might only be the second full length by the duo, but in their short existence Pharmacist have chalked up two EPs, six splits, and a few singles to boot. That’s practically a lifetime in grindcore age. The music here is outstanding, with meaty, almost progressive song arrangements (with one brief interlude, every track sits in the seven minute range) that boast dozens upon dozens of tasty riffs, killer solos, and the kind of guttural sewer rasp you want from this music. Song titles? Take your pic; right now I’m partial to opener “Accelerating Suppurating” and the title track, but everything here rages like a festering wound. More can be found in my mid-year report.

23. Falls of Rauros – Key to a Vanishing Future: Now THIS is how you sequence an album. It’s not enough that Maine’s Falls of Rauros have evolved with each record, honing their songwriting to embrace their wide array of influences better and better on each release; no, they have to open with the stunning “Clarity” containing perhaps the best opening breakdown riff of the year, and then close with the gorgeous and epic “Poverty Hymn”. Key to a Vanishing Future is the band at their apex, a stunning metal record I can’t stop listening to. Makes sense it was an AOTM, was on my mid-year list, and was also glowingly reviewed by Ian. Oh, and Buke interviewed Jordon back in April, so yeah….the site collectively loves this album.

22. Mares of Thrace – The Exile: It may have taken 10 years for Mares of Thrace to return to shore, but The Exile shows the time was well spent. Opener “Onward, Ever Onward” has a roiling, propulsive sway to its riffs, and vocalist/guitarist/artist Thérèse Lanz projects a weary, wary authority with every rasp of her voice. When the breakdown kicks in it’s equal parts frightening and alluring – I still can’t quite wrap my head around the fact this is a duo. Casey Rogers handles bass and drum duties, and his rhythm complements Lanz’s attack perfectly. This is exquisitely crafted heavy, brooding metal at its finest, and it’s stuck with me since adding it to my mid-year report.

21. Dead Register – Alive: Holy crap I love this album. I went on a huge Joy Division kick this year, diving into their live shows with some great bootlegs (seriously, Joy Division live is a completely different experience from their classic pair of studio efforts) and when I reviewed Alive back in May I compared the post-everything attack of M. Chvasta and wife Avril Che to the feeling I got listening to Joy Division live. Chvasta has one of my favorite voices in music right now, and on tracks like “Let Me In” he can wield it with a sinewy invitation that is perfect for the dark, foreboding nature of the music. Complementing the duo is Randy Garcia on drums, and the way he stands out while also supporting everything melodic Chvasta and Che lay down is the secret sauce of Alive, truly a fantastic album more people need to be crowing about.

20. Humanotone – A Flourishing Fall in a Grain of Sand: It’s getting increasingly rare when a new artist hits me hard enough I keep digging into their music, but Humanotone did that for me this year. Essentially a one-man unit operating out of Chile, he’s putting out some of the best stoner metal this side of the horizon. Lots of solos overlapping with fuzzed out sonic bliss riffs: check out “Ephemeral” for a good taste (and some great keyboard work as well). Jorge Cisternas in addition to being skilled in pretty much all instruments has that perfect, high tenor voice that is essential to the sound. Lacking fuzzy bass with wah pedals in your life? A Flourishing Fall in a Grain of Sand might just be what you need. You can read more about Humanotone and other great stoner rock in my post covering the genre earlier this year.

19. Earthless – Night Parade of One Hundred Demons: It looks like the concise, vocal rock that turned Black Heaven into my #1 album of 2018 may have been a one-time event, but that hasn’t stopped Earthless from getting in my End of Year list. Night Parade of One Hundred Demons is a return to the lengthy instrumental exercises of the band’s past, and it reinforces the notion that Isaiah Mitchell is one of the greatest guitarists on the planet right now. The 40-minute title track is split into two parts, and it has not stopped revealing new quirks and subtleties since I grabbed it back in January. Rather than sounding thin, the trio format of Mitchell, Mario Rubalcaba and Mike Eginton make this music sound enormous, a testament to what three guys can do when they are in perfect sync with each other. This was also on my post covering stoner and psych in 2022.

18. Blind Guardian – The God Machine: This may be sacrilege, considering their early classic output, but I’ll say it anyway: The God Machine is my favorite Blind Guardian album. It has all the epic melodies and killer guitar work coupled with Hansi’s unique vocal delivery, but the production (credited to the band and Charlie Bauerfeind) is thick and modern, perfectly reflecting the more aggressive, heavy songs. Opener “Deliver Us From Evil” is a blistering metal number that doesn’t let up, with “Damnation” and “Secrets of the American Gods” following in sharp succession. The second half of the album is equally lethal, with “Architects of Doom” bringing the speed and balancing against the epic and signature Blind Guardian slow track “Let It Be No More” before diving headfirst in bedlam with late winner “Blood of the Elves”. Not a weak track to be found, this is destined (for me) to be Blind Guardian’s benchmark, not only for themselves, but for anyone trying their hand at power/speed metal.

17. Aenaon – Mnemosyne: What to do while we all wait for Enslaved to drop their latest early next year? I know a lot of folks are crowing about the new White Ward, but they’re crazy: if you’re looking for something that parallels the progressive black metal Enslaved have been mining for the last few decades, look no further than Aenaon. Mnemosyne traffics in the same dense layers of progressive metal clothed in the funeral shroud of black metal, and injects some serious melody into its arrangements and lead breaks. Is there sax? Yes, there’s sax. It’s used judiciously and works beautifully when couched against quieter moments, such as the break in the middle of “Psyche”. The clean vocals harmonize in a way that suggest choirs without being overwrought. Aenaon never forget they’re a metal band. Come for the extremity, stay for the prog…and the sax solo in “Cartesian Eye” because dammit it works like gangbusters.

16. Gaerea – Mirage: A fight has raged within the offices of Nine Circles. Just how high do you put Mirage, the third full length from Portuguese black metal collective Gaerea? Truth be told I have it too low; every time I play it I’m convinced it needs to move higher. It’s a watershed moment for the band, with all the promise on previous albums not only delivered, but improved upon in unexpected ways. Mirage is unapologetically black metal of the post, atmospheric variety, but it makes no bones about executing its style flawlessly, taking in bits from Emperor (“Salve”) and even hints of progressive metal (the full chord riffing on closer “Laude”). The DSBM influence is still readily apparent in the vocals, but it works in tandem with the more ferocious elements on the album to help Gaerea stand out from the hordes of imitators looking to claim a slice of your attention. Once again, Ian has you covered with the review.

15. Venom Prison – Erebos: I’m not shocked Venom Prison jumped to a larger label for their latest album Erebos…I’m shocked it took larger labels this long to tune into how incredible Venom Prison are. Never ones to shy away from a cause, the band knows how to put their money where their mouth is, crafting some serious death metal that straddles the melodic tendencies of a band like Arch Enemy with more aggressive, progressive fare. Vocalist Larissa Stupar exudes a righteous rage that many vocalists only dream of unleashing, and the guitar virtuosity of Ash Gray and Ben Thomas recall Carcass in their Heartwork glory days. Forget the borderline useless intro (sorry) and jump straight into the 1-2 punch of “Judges of the Underworld” and “Nemesis” (screw it: stay a little longer for the groove of “Comfort of Complicity” – you’ll thank me later) and you’ll see why so many folks are talking about Venom Prison. No surprise Ian has taken the reins of head reviewer and has you covered here.

14. Voivod – Synchro Anarchy: Others will (and have) put this much more eloquently than I, but DAMN…this was the year of Voivod. Record Store Day yielded us two highly sought after releases on vinyl: Angel Rat (which was my first ever Voivod purchase) and the metal prog masterpiece that is Nothingface. But we’re here to talk about Synchro Anarchy, the band’s fifteenth album and a return to some of the grit and dirt after the ultra prog of The Wake. When I reviewed it back in February I mentioned how the opener “Paranormalium” marries these two styles bringing the band’s entire history into sharper relief, and it only gets better from there. At this point not only has guitarist Daniel “Chewy” Mongrain fully integrated into the band after the loss of original discordant legend Denis “Piggy” D’Amour, but he’s slowly brought in his own unique style which fits the band perfectly. New bassist Dominique “Rocky” Laroche has a massive presence all over the album and amply demonstrates that Voivod are still more than capable of leading the way for forward thinking metal that no one can hope to imitate.

13. Sigh – Shiki: Four years later I’m glad to have the opportunity to unburden my deep regret: 2018’s Heir to Despair only made my Honorable Mentions list; it should have made my Best Of list. I’m not making that mistake with Shiki: if anything the loons in Sigh have only gotten weirder and proggier. And that’s how I like them: ever since discovering them back in 2005 with Gallows Gallery I’ve grown to love the way the band juxtaposes so many seemingly disparate styles, such as the woodwind break on “Kuroi Kage” or the way the vocals on “Satsui – Geshi No Auto” veer drunkenly between sing-song rapping and operatic chants, all in front of melodies that seems ripped from the more esoteric Iron Maiden catalog. Shiki continues to unfold, origami style revealing new moments I never heard on previous listens. This was an instant vinyl purchase to sit back and luxuriate in each new secret the band unfolds. Hera has more of the goods in her review here.

12. Inhuman Condition – Fearsick: If we’re talking pure death metal, this is it: Fearsick is my death metal Album of the Year. This is everything I love about the genre: meat and potato riffs, metric tons of groove, and that spark that recalls early Death without being overly slavish about it. No surprise when you consider the pedigree of Terry Butler who was not only on the severely underrated Spiritual Healing but was a founding member of Massacre and now holds down the bass position for the mighty Obituary. All of those bands’ highlights are present in Fearsick, from the deep pocket groove on tracks like “Recycled Hate” and “Caustic Vomit Reveries” and the classic Floridian sound on “The Mold Testament”. Our own Fearless Editor™ Josh penned the review for this one, and I couldn’t agree more with his words: Inhuman Condition just get it, period.

11. Boris – W/Heavy Rocks (2022)/Fade: I’ve begun the inevitable descent into Boris again, but how can it be helped when the trio of Wata, Takeshi, and Atsuo released three full lengths this year, not to mention the 1985 LP from 2019 (covered here) featuring tracks written during the time of 2011’s New Album, their incredible split with Rocky and the Sweden, the gorgeous tears EP, and a slew of other archive releases? The initial head scratching with W, the companion piece to 202’s NO (turning the collection to NOW) has turned into an endlessly yielding treasure of post-ambient delight. The band’s third installment in the Heavy Rocks series (covered here) is exactly what you’d expect, a collection of high voltage rock and roll that digs into the primordial lizard brain and fries it with copious amounts of d-beats and solos. And then, out of the blue earlier this month comes Fade, a return to the massive slabs of drone the trio were known for early in their career. There is nothing Boris can’t do, and and do better than 90% of the planet. Every year brings new joys for me to crow about.

The Ninth Circle

My Top 25 Albums of 2022, Part II: Albums 10-1

sergeant thunderhoof - this sceptered veil

10. Sergeant Thunderhoof – This Sceptered Veil: I am completely unapologetic when it comes to the music I love, and the heavy progressive, psychedelic stoner hybrid that is Sergeant Thunderhoof snared me from the moment I discovered them on their split with Howling Giant, incidentally my #2 album of 2020 (yeah…this list is way more link heavy than I anticipated…sorry). This album has been covered by me twice in 2022, and nothing has changed: this is how I like my rock and roll. There’s a dark passion to opener “You’ve Stolen the Words” I can’t get enough of, and the rough and tumble riffs of “Devil’s Daughter” provides a welcome change with its nasty groove and corduroy brown guitar sound. It’s hard to pick an MVP when everyone is performing at so high a level, but I’ve got to hand it to drummer Darren Ashman and vocalist Dan Flitcroft – one holds down the pocket with thunderous percussion while the other soars above it: check out “Absolute Blue” for evidence or better yet, just put This Sceptered Veil on and let it wash over you again and again.

Cave In - Heavy Pendulum

9. Cave In – Heavy Pendulum: Did anyone know exactly what to expect when Cave In announced they were coming back with a new album, carrying on with Nate Newton on bass and roaring vocals in the tragic wake of Caleb Scofield’s passing? The second “New Reality” hit I was blown away: Heavy Pendulum is the heavy catharsis so many of us didn’t know we needed, and it reinforced just how legendary this band is. Whether he’s fronting Mutoid Man, working with his friends in Converge or just doing incredible covers for 2 Minutes to Late Night, Stephen Brodsky is one of the best frontmen alive, and his delivery through the album is a marvel. “Blood Spiller” is one of the heaviest things the band has done since their pure metalcore days, but maintains the alt-space-gaze inflections of Jupiter and beyond. Plus that bass: Newton is a primal force on this album, not replicating Scofield but instead paying homage to him by simply unleashing everything in his arsenal for the betterment of Cave In as a whole. I gladly admit to a certain level of impartiality here, as Cave In were one of the bands at the forefront of my reintroduction to metal back in the early 00s after some time away. But that doesn’t stop Heavy Pendulum from simply being a monster of a record. One for the record books, to be sure, and one covered by our review solider Ian right here.

hällas - isle of wisdom

8. Hällas – Isle of Wisdom: You’re crazy if you thought I wasn’t going to have some straight up prog on this list, you know that, right? There may have been a brief moment when Swedish band Hällas could have been considered “metal” – maybe during certain moments throughout their 2015 debut EP. But in the Year of Our Rock Lord 2022 there’s no mistaking those robust organs, keyboards, and guitar lines for anything other than vintage 70s prog. Isle of Wisdom continues and condenses the exploration of earlier albums, giving just enough of a hard rock bite to keep the denim worshippers happy. I love the entire package, from the drippy costumes to drippy keyboards and how they harmonize with with the guitars, as on “Advent of Dawn”. The song suddenly shifts into mid-70s Tull worship and I’m brought back to high school when my friend put “Hunting Girl” as the leadoff track to a mixtape I’ll forever remember the sequence to.

Elder - Innate Passage

7. Elder – Innate Passage: It’s a little crazy to have something release so late in the year yet impact you so soundly it reaches this high on a list of 40 albums. But as much as I love the massive retro prog of a band like Hällas, it’s bands like Elder that take that vibe and insist on a stamp of modern individuality that is impossible to resist. Innate Passage follows 2020’s Omens in almost completely abandoning the metal of their roots (dead, stirring, or otherwise) in favor of pure stoner psychedelic rock bliss. Opener “Catastasis” borrows liberally from Elder’s excellent collaboration with Kadavar, with waves of riffs overlapping each other, sometimes heavy, sometimes just awash in reverb soaked arpeggios that faintly recall Opeth’s segue sections in their own songs. As much as I love Omens, there’s a consistency in the songwriting on Innate Passage that pushes it to the top of the incredible music Elder has released to date. This was one that D. Morris claimed even though we didn’t have a promo for it, and you can read about his own love of the record here.

Zeal and Ardor - Zeal and Ardor

6. Zeal & Ardor – Zeal & Ardor: Three albums in and I’m surprised there aren’t waves of imitators trying to jump on board what Manuel Gagneux is putting out there. Maybe that’s because it’s futile to replicate the pain and rage wrapped in a history still unfolding that is the earmark of Zeal & Ardor. Gagneux’s third eponymous album is a successful marriage of the primal rage of Devil is Fine with the more progressive, art-rock elements of Stranger Fruit. When it wants to be heavy you get something like “Run” which can stand up to anything else put out in the extreme world this year. But he can also outdo Deafheaven at their own game with the startling gaze of “Emerison” which might just recall Kevin Shields more that the last MBV album did. The spirituals are still there on tracks like “Bow” and single “Death to the Holy” but they’re in service to a broader vision now as opposed to the trick that reels people in. All that and late track “Hold Your Head Low” might be one of the best examples of blending the new outlaw country into your metal and making it work. Zeal & Ardor have never been a one-trick pony; Zeal & Ardor only makes that clearer with each listen.

wormrot - hiss

5. Wormrot – Hiss: I don’t know if I’m a grindcore guy, or if I just really like Napalm Death, Carcass and…I guess Wormrot? All I know is at some point I picked up 2011’s Dirge and now whenever my Apple Music resets in the car the first song it plays is “A Dead Issue” eventually and irrevocably hooking me. 2016’s Voices was even better, but the leap taken on Hiss is incredible. Simply from a vocal perspective Arif (now sadly retired with his wife Azean, who managed the band) is working on another level, seamlessly moving from basement level growls to high pitched creams to clean chants. With only three songs breaking the the 2-minute mark and nothing over three minutes Hiss is just one precise punch to the nuts after another. But packed into those nut blows are incredible solos, thrash jams, crossover brilliance, and perhaps some of the best drumming I’ve heard on a record this year. Sad to see Arif leaving the band, but with his blessing guitarist Rasyid and drummer Vijesh are carrying on. Until the next album, I’ll just put “When Talking Fails It’s Time For Violence” on for the 100th time and grab a cup guard.

nite - voices of the kronian moon

4. Nite – Voices of the Kronian Moon: I don’t know if I can add a lot to what I already said when I reviewed Voices of the Kronian Moon back in March: this is everything that drew me to to heavy metal as a teenager aching for something with a little more weight than what the teased hair of the 80s hair/glam scene was providing (to be fair I love the 80s hair/glam scene). Eight perfectly constructed tunes, evoking the spirit but not the letter of traditional metal, building guitar lines that serve the entire composition instead of simply bridging one section to another. I love the sinister rasp of Van Labrakis’s vocals, and the dual guitar attack of Labrakis and Scott Hoffman is why the fads of extremity may come and go, but the fire known as heavy metal will never die out. Need proof? Take current 9C fave “Heliopolis” for a spin and see if we’re lying. While you’re at it, marvel at how the 37-minute runtime leaves zero room for fat, meaning the back-half Voices of the Kronian Moon is just as great as its first side.

Psychonaut - Violate Consensus Reality

3. Psychonaut – Violate Consensus Reality: Let me put it to you this way: Psychonaut went from a band I never heard of prior to Corey raving about the “Interbeing” single back in June to Violate Consensus Reality being my #3 album of the year. The second I put the album on I knew I was going to like it, but when that guitar break comes on 3:25 into opening track “A Storm Approaching” I knew I was doomed. Atmospheric post-metal (what else do you expect from Pelagic?) with heaping doses of classic and progressive rock buried in the firmament of the band’s sound, I was helpless against it. It doesn’t help that second track “All Your Gods Have Gone” opens with 4 completely different riffs, all of which are fantastic. The fact that this is a trio is mind-blowing; the vocals from bassist Thomas Michiels and guitarist Stefan de Graef are pitch perfect for the music, alternating between anguish and soaring desperation. Conceptually the album adheres to some pretty heady themes, arguing against the notion that, in their words, “we are all separate beings in a separate world that is dead and pointless”. The band instead strives to argue for a broader, more inclusive world. The fact that they do so via some of the best metal in ages just makes the medicine go down sweeter.

Darkthrone - Astral Fortress

2. Darkthrone – Astral Fortress: There are heady concepts and progressive, cerebral playing like Psychonaut that engage my higher faculties…and then there’s Darkthrone, who tap directly into my primal lizard brain. It may be hard to believe, but my engagement and love of this band all these many years is all about the music: THIS is the kind of riffing and song construction I hear in my head when I write music. As much as I would love to possess the technical ability to sweep my way up and down the neck, when I grab my guitar and start thinking about musical ideas head and heart connect and just pump out music that strives for the neolithic simplicity of “Caravan of Broken Ghosts”. Astral Fortress feels like ...Eternal Hails done right, beefing up the production and bringing a touch more personality to the songs. I love the use of pads to give a forlorn ambience to “Stalagmite Necklace” but that’s just the appetizer to what the dynamic duo of Fenriz and Nocturno Culto execute on mid-album epic “The Sea Beneath the Seas of the Sea” which amps up the guitar effects and brings back some of the NWPBHM influences from 2013’s The Underground Resistance to create perhaps one of their finest songs ever. I pray each album is never the final one but if, hypothetically, Astral Fortress was the band’s last bow, going out with “Eon 2” which ties back to debut Soulside Journey might be perfect. Long may my favorite metal band reign.

off! - free lsd

1. OFF! – Free LSD: My favorite thing about music is when it sneaks up on you, throttling you when you least expect it. I’m not going to try and argue that OFF! is a metal band, and I’m pretty sure Keith Morris and the rest of the band would hate the term applied to them. But there’s no escaping that OFF! is a mother-f$#@!ing heavy band, a throat-ripping fast band, and with their new album Free LSD, a band with the technical chops to pretty much do whatever they want. What they want to do is free your mind, not with funk (we’ll leave that to George Clinton and co.) but with some of the best hardcore punk since Morris denied everything with the Circle Jerks. Brutal, furious, incredibly tight and complex, it’s impossible not to listen to something like “War Above Los Angeles” and not hear the connections to what many of the bands on this list were also doing in their own unique way. And that’s the thing I love most about OFF! and Free LSD: no one else right now sounds like this. The fact that Morris, just a few years shy of 70 years old is making music this vital is astounding. Every time I go back for another listen I focus on another aspect: one time it might be the lyrics, another time it might be the way the band incorporates noise, free jazz, and other non-traditional elements to build their sonic collages. Dive in again and I may marvel at the telepathic connection between bass and drum thanks to Autry Fulbright II and Justin Brown, respectively. Or simply sit and let Dmitri Coats’s guitar wash over me. Every listen is new, every song cuts and kills in the best way.

Who the $#@! cares what genre is it?

It’s that last sentence that sticks with me the most. As another year closes, and another approaches, we find what solace, what inspiration we can, where we can. I have no idea what 2023 will bring, or how I will confront it. All I know is that music will most certainly soundtrack the moments that build and build and never end.

And once again, with hope and mourning in equal measure…

Who the $#@! cares what genre is it?


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