Best of 2022: D. Morris’s List

Best of 2022

2022: The Year I came back… to writing about music that is. When the year started, I had no plans to write about anything and now I’m writing for Nine Circles. It feels good to write about music again, especially heavy music. Putting together a best of list felt like cramming for an exam, especially since I just started here. There’s excellent albums, not on here, that I purposefully left off because my fellow Nine Circles writers would mention or because they were similar to albums I simply loved more. Here are 15 heavy (and heavy adjacent) albums I loved in 2022 in alphabetical order.

Ashenspire – Hostile Architecture

Few metal albums appealed to all areas of my musical interests like the latest release from Glasgow’s Ashenspire, Hostile Architecture. Basically any genre with the word post in it, and I’m a fan. Apparently so are Ashenspire. They take 90s Midwestern variations of post rock and post punk, think Gastr Del Sol and Big Black, and adapt it for metal. There’s Steve Albini style ranting about late stage capitalism over mutating riffs that zig and zag. The weird time signatures letting the band oscillate between quiet saxophone solos to righteous guitar cacophony. It’s post metal calling for post capitalism.

Asunojokei- Island

Blackgaze lives y’all! It didn’t die, it just went to Japan. Asunojokei revive the sound made famous by Deafheaven on Sunbather. Asunojokei drench every track on Island with a tidal wave of black metal reverb. Because they’re Japanese, there’s an obvious J-Rock influence on the band’s sound. The songs here have a soaring quality full of guitar heroics and hooks. It’s a blackgaze album that begs you to sing along even if you don’t know Japanese.

Björk – fossora

Age certainly has not mellowed Björk. If anything, it’s only made her weirder. Only Iceland’s favorite daughter could write an album asking for understanding that’s also about fungus. Like Björk’s best work, her music and lyrics conjure powerful images. This time it’s of dark spaces, spores, and uncontrolled growth. This might be her most unique sounding album since Medúlla’s reworkimg of the human voice. On fossora, she combines strings and woodwinds with pulsating and throbbing electronics to create mood and atmosphere. At the center is her magnificent voice, a tool she uses to both plead for understanding between people and condemn the world we live. 

Black Dresses – Forget Your Own Face

After breaking up for a variety of reasons in 2020, Black Dresses returned this year with another collection of industrial noise pop. Thank god. This album only lasts for 20 minutes but Ada Rook and Devi McCallion make the most of it. The vocals shout, and roar while industrial, glitchy sounds rip things up, hastily tape ‘em back together, and then obliterate it all completely. Hopefully, this is a rebirth and not a one off thing.

BorisW + fade

Japanese metal titans Boris spent their 30th anniversary louder than ever. They released three albums over the course of the year. This would be remarkable on its own but these albums were all excellent. Even if they’ve been together for thirty years, Boris have no intention of coasting on their legacy.

W saw Boris finally release a full on shoegaze album. This isn’t a totally surprising move for the band. On their landmark album Pink, they played a little with that genre and also on covers of My Bloody Valentine’s “Sometimes” and Wham!’s “Last Christmas.” W though is a full on leap into that sound and Boris are at their best experimenting with all noises on the heavier end of audio. Their take on that noisy, feedback drenched genre is of course heavy. Still guitarist Wata gets to explore the atmosphere here in ways she normally doesn’t.

fade meanwhile was a return to exploring the sounds that made them famous. fade sees the band go back to the sound of tar thick sludge that made their reputation. It’s 60 minutes of sprawling, droning noise. That the band brought back the lowercase branding, a label the band used for weirder, more experimental albums, serves both as a reminder of their early work and this is a band unafraid to be heavy.  If it recalls anything by the band it’s their masterpiece Amplifier Worship or their The Thing Which Solomon Overlooked series. Like the other albums released in this anniversary year, it’s a celebration of what makes Boris great. 

Burial – Antidawn

Halfway through the opener “Strange Neighbourhoods,” a detached voice says “I’m not okay.” It’s a mood that sustains through this whole album. I debated whether to put this electronic album on a list of heavy albums. Heavy though is a state of mind and not just a particular sound. Like his best work, Antidawn is a sonic séance. His ghostly electronics tweak and shift so that voices breakthrough to our world. They bring the weight of their lives with them but can only communicate in short sentences. This album just haunts you. 

Elder - Innate Passage

Elder – Innate Passage

As I wrote in my review for this album, Innate Passage is another excellent exploration of seventies hard rock sounds and textures by Elder. Their consistent excellence might be easy to take for granted. Yet excellence is excellence. Elder use Innate Passage to once again take listeners on a sonic journey. It’s not about the length but what you experience on the trip.

Escuela Grind – Memory Theater

I joked on Twitter “2022; The Year I remembered I love grindcore” but it really was. There’s nothing quite as invigorating as listening to people play heavy metal at light speed. Escuela Grind’s Memory Theater is the album I returned to the most for that genre. There’s the speed and ferocity one expects from this subgenre but Escuela Grind are unafraid to slow down and lay out the riffs. It’s the kind of album that if you’ve been away from this genre invites you to dive back into it.

Gonemage – Handheld Demise

My immediate reaction listening to this was “I want to play this game.” Garry Berets creates whole worlds with every Gonemage release and Handheld Demise is no exception. The album sounds like you’re playing a dark fantasy dungeon crawler. Only it’s got a soundtrack full of 8-bit black metal riffs. If this album doesn’t make you want to level up in a dungeon for hours on end, I don’t know what else will.

KEN Mode – Null

With every album, KEN Mode just get better. Null sounds like the culmination of the transformation they started with Entrench. Null ramps up the abrasion from Entrench and noise rock of Success and Loved. The addition of multi-instrumentalist Kathryn Kerr only expands KEN Mode’s already impressive abilities. Blasts of saxophone and abrasive electronics get rolled into the band’s noisy repertoire. It’s a band releasing a lot of pent up rage and being in total command of their abilities to do so.

Liturgy – As The Blood of God Bursts The Veins of Time

I’ll never forget the image of  Ravenna Hunt-Hendrix in front of Matthew Barney and Brandon Stousy’s countdown clock on Inauguration Day. Set up as an installation, the clock documented the eventual end of Trump’s turn in office. As the clock wound down to Joe Biden’s inauguration. Hunt-Hendrix’s tiny frame, caught up in January winds, just shredded away. The image of a trans woman just howling on their guitar to signal the end of four chaotic years was a cathartic thing for me. Hunt-Hendrix’s Liturgy will release their follow up to the excellent Origin of the Alimonies, 93696, in March of next year. Until then Ravenna dropped this EP as a prelude. Listening to this also feels cathartic. If that performance was a death throe, this sounds like a birth. These songs might possibly the most traditional sounding piece of metal the band has released. There’s still the occasional untraditional touch here and there. Hunt-Hendrix howls and shreds almost turning Liturgy into thrash band. If this indicates the direction of the next album, I’m here for it.

Nadja – Labyrinthine

Are Nadja the most consistently great doom metal band right now? Labyrinthine makes a good argument that Aidan Baker and Leah Buckareff’s long running and prolific band could be. Like Elder, they’re so consistently good to great it’s easy to take what they do for granted. Labyrinthine, their latest long player, lumbers and crashes like the Minotaur in the labyrinth. It’s doom metal that actually sounds menacing and scary. 

Scarcity – Aveilut

A black metal album that sounded like no other this year. Aveilut is a five part composition, each “song” simply has a number for a title, from composer/multi-instrumentalist Brendon Randall-Myers. Joined by Pyrrhon vocalist Doug Moore, the two craft a reaction to the last two years. Aveilut is a howl of both pain and rage. It mourns the immense loss of life but screams at it too. Few albums capture that juxtaposition of this era like this does.

Sigh - Shiki

Sigh- Shiki

2022 was a great year for Asian based metal bands and Japanese ones in particular. Of them all, Sigh’s Shiki just towers above every one else. No one makes metal like Sigh does and no one else made a metal album this year like Shiki. Shiki evokes the grandeur  (and nastiness) of To Mega Therion and Into The Pandemonium-era Celtic Frost without it feeling slavish. There’s fast riffs and heavy drums. Sigh also remember Celtic Frost as the band that did a cover “Mexican Radio”. They’re unafraid to also incorporate moody prog sounds, electronic distortions, and traditional Japanese instruments into these songs. Calling this adventurous barely feels adequate. Every song feels like a laying down of the gauntlet, a dare for other metal bands to stay heavy but also get weird.

Dan M.

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