Having only just joined the 9C crew around the end of November, I was hit with the sudden realization that I needed to get an EOY list together very soon. My top two slots were pretty much locked in, but the remainder needed a lot of work. I certainly haven’t had the time to craft the most immaculate Best Of list, but I’m still pretty happy with how it turned out. I wouldn’t have expected two EPs to make this list, and I’m glad that my top two slots are bands totally new to me in 2022. There’s a lot of material from last year I never had the opportunity to check out, but that’s what “Things I Missed” lists are for right?
9. Daeva – Through Sheer Will and Black Magic
If there’s one major metal subgenre that I have next to zero interest in at this point, it would be thrash. Too many bands fall into the category of “Hey, remember that riff from the 80s? No, the shitty one.” A band has to really be special for them to pique my interest at all. Thankfully Daeva did that with their debut full-length by making music that sounds pure fucking evil. Just look at that album cover, there’s nothing more fitting for this demented blackened thrash assault. The nonstop intensity of this album reminds me of the first time I heard Morbid Saint’s Spectrum of Death as a teenager — I believe the riff wizardry and face-melting solos of Through Sheer Will and Black Magic will similarly keep the necks of young metal fans sore for years to come.
Check out Ian’s review here and Buke’s interview here.
8. Grima – Frostbitten
After hearing Grima get progressively better with every album since their debut, 2021’s Rotten Garden was a bit of a step down for me. The twin brothers had abandoned some of their folk elements and epic buildups in favor of more bog-standard songwriting; thankfully Frostbitten is very much a return to form. Not many atmoblack metal bands have Grima’s sense of groove, and the tension built by knowing when not to play during a riff is one of the band’s most potent traits. Combined with wintry synths, impeccable melodicism, and the all-powerful bayan accordion, the result is one of the finest bands in recent atmospheric black metal. Now that winter is in full swing for the northern hemisphere there’s no better time for Grima to take you on a trip to the Siberian taiga.
7. Krallice – Crystalline Exhaustion
I’ve merely dipped my toes into Krallice’s expansive discography, but Crystalline Exhaustion is definitely the most up my alley of everything I’ve heard thus far. Frigid cold atmosphere courtesy of Colin Marston’s departure from guitar in favor of keyboards is the defining feature of this album (along with Mick Barr and Nicholas McMaster switching their historical roles of guitar and bass respectively), but that doesn’t mean it’s very removed from what Krallice are known for. This is still a highly technical and chaotic album, yet the band give themselves a little more time to breathe which really aids in feeling improvisational. The 14-minute closing title track with its keys-only intro, cascading trem-picked melodies, and precise tempo changes courtesy of Lev Weinstein’s stellar drumming is worth the price of admission alone. A mere five months later Krallice followed up with Psychagogue, retaining the instrument changes while continuing in this style — I really hope they continue in this direction with whatever might be planned for 2023.
6. Dream Unending – Song of Salvation
There’s not much else to say about Song of Salvation that wasn’t already said in our November Album of the Month podcast; Dream Unending have transcended what it means to be a death doom/funeral doom band. Lush 12-string guitars, expansive and emotional solos, crushing riffs that don’t sacrifice their atmosphere for heaviness, this album is a beautiful piece of art to behold. Metal may be a vast majority of the music I listen to but the non-metal portions on this album, “Unrequited” in particular, are probably my favorite parts. If more bands can continue in this vein of “atmospheric post-death doom” then the heavy music world will be all the better for it.
Check out Vincent’s review here.
5. Inexorum – Equinox Vigil
Black metal’s thematic origins may lie in darkness, death, and hatred, but there’s no reason for that past to dictate the black metal of the present. Inexorum continue their crusade of positivity with Equinox Vigil, their most well-written and produced effort thus far. Triumphant without feeling martial, this album is an ode to the human spirit. Soaring leads and headbanger riffs on top of a melodic backbone prove that black metal in 2022 can be FUN without leaving the boundaries of the genre. Here you will find no-filler songwriting, where every transition to and from blast beats or clean vocals is exactly where it should be. Inexorum describe themselves as “melodic black metal for everyone,” and that about sums it up. If taking the infectious energy of the classic heavy metal we grew up with and fixing it through an extreme lens sounds appealing, there will be something on Equinox Vigil for you.
Check out Ian’s review here.
4. Worm – Bluenothing
After taking the scene by storm with Foreverglade in 2021 and the tease of more black metal being incorporated into Worm’s death doom sound, Bluenothing was one of my most hyped albums of the year — thankfully Phantomslaughter and company did not disappoint in the slightest. The Foreverglade B-sides pick up where that album left off (while dialing the keys-heavy atmospherics up to 11), whereas the closing two tracks give us a taste of the ’90s symphonic black metal that seems to be on the gloomy Worm horizon. The shining light in the darkness of this EP is none other than new lead guitarist Wroth Septentrion, aka Phil Tougas of First Fragment, Chthe’ilist, Atramentus, and many more. Tougas may be best known for neoclassical shredding, but his leads here serve as perfect accentuation for the doom riffs. Foreverglade lead guitarist Nihilistic Manifesto even holds his own surprisingly well in a guitar duel against Septentrion in a guest appearance on closing track “Shadowside Kingdom.” Although this song’s black metal section only lasts a mere three minutes it’s some of the best material on this release, and hopefully just an inkling of what’s to come from one of extreme metal’s rising stars.
Check out Ian’s Evcharist here.
3. Nechochwen – Kanawha Black
Native American black metal really grew in the seven years since Nechochwen’s last full-length, and it was great for them to make a glorious return with Kanawha Black to show everyone how it’s done. Drawing from such a vast well of influences — pagan black metal, progressive metal, Appalachian and Indigenous folk, and classic heavy metal — this album could’ve easily been a disjointed mishmash, but Nechochwen and Pohonasin are such outstanding songwriters that everything feels fluid. The classical guitar merges perfectly with the metal riffing, and gets lots of time to shine on tracks like “The Murky Deep” and “I Can Die But Once.” There’s even a short but powerful funeral doom song with “A Cure for the Winter Plagues.” As good as all these songs are they pale in comparison to “Generations of War,” unquestionably one of my favorite songs of the year — if the blastbeats beautifully layered with acoustic guitar or the brutally heavy second half don’t transport you to long-forgotten battlefields of America’s colonial past, then nothing else will. Simply put, this is Nechochwen at the top of their game. Kanawha Black was well worth the wait.
Check out Buke’s interview here.
2. Predatory Light – Death and the Twilight Hours
The top full-length on my list, Death and the Twilight Hours could very well be switched with my #1 pick depending on how I’m feeling that day. Four twisted hymns depicting the mass slaughter of the Black Death, Predatory Light’s music exists in a fascinating twilight space; it’s not 100% black metal, but it doesn’t have many of the more traditional elements you might find in blackened heavy metal bands. The upper register harmonies that litter this album might be leads or solos in any other band, but here they’re the riffs. The absence of rhythm guitar greatly aids in the eerie feeling of this album — the bass still handles the low end, but even this instrument will join the guitars in their gnarled melodies on occasion. The equally evil and catchy opening/closing riff of final track “To Plead Like Angels” is easily my favorite of the entire year. Combined with the fantastic lyrics the result is a truly apocalyptic sound that wholly nails the themes of human sin, abandonment by God, and he who rides the pale horse inheriting the earth. Death calls you home, thy kingdom come.
Check out Vincent’s Second Circle (Kanawha Black also covered) here.
1. Moonlight Sorcery – Piercing Through the Frozen Eternity
Stormkeep’s 2021 masterpiece Tales of Othertime set me on a quest for symphonic/melodic black metal that hit me in the same way that album did; there’s certainly a treasure trove of good music in that vein from the ’90s, but I like to see newer bands taking old influences and improving them. Just a few months later I stumbled upon the debut EP by Finnish trio Moonlight Sorcery and was completely floored by the very first song I heard, “For Thy Light Is Ice.” Twinkling keyboards? Check. Melodic riffing that still retains the necessary edge? Check. Ice cold black metal production? Check. Neoclassical-style shredding solos? That made it something else entirely. Moonlight Sorcery’s riffs are great, equally heavy and melodic (almost verging on power metal to my ears), but the guitar solos are what sends the band into the stratosphere. They delegate the flow of the music, effortlessly guiding the rest of the instrumentation through tempo and riff changes. Taking the backbone of ’90s black metal and bringing it into the modern day with raw technical and songwriting prowess, Moonlight Sorcery push forward into unknown territory with the confidence of a veteran band. Piercing Through the Frozen Eternity may only be 25 minutes long, but it’s some of the best black metal I’ve heard in years. A debut this strong (already followed up by a second EP) indicates a bright future ahead for these new leaders in nightside symphonies.
In lieu of a standard list, I wanted to highlight a few releases from three artists (two individuals and one band) who put out a tremendous amount of great material this year. I’ll admit I haven’t even listened to everything these acts put out, but what I have had the opportunity to experience so far is worth hearing.
King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard
These Australian workhorses put out not one, not three, but five full-lengths this year (three in October alone). Omnium Gatherum touches on all aspects of the Gizzverse — psychedelic rock, pop, jazz rock, stoner metal, and even a bit of hip hop. Ice, Death, Planets, Lungs, Mushrooms and Lava was my favorite release from the band this year, a jazz/prog rock jam about exactly what the title says. The last Gizz album worth mentioning is Laminated Denim, two 15-minute songs that take things more into the krautrock realm. With their persistent global touring, three-hour marathon shows, and nonstop new material, the hardest working band in rock don’t seem to be putting the brakes on anytime soon.
While he may not have released any new music from his more well-known projects Spectral Lore and Mystras, Greek musician Ayloss still kept himself extremely busy with a whopping seven albums released in 2022. Epic swords and sorcery heavy metal with Clarent Blade’s Return into Forever, “standard” (for Ayloss) black metal with Auriferous Flame’s self-titled, and experimental piano-driven atmospheric black metal with Fortress of the Pearl’s The Grove are among the best material he put out in 2022. The third in particular is unlike any other black metal I’ve ever heard, and I wish to see that style continued in the future. His non-metal releases included a fantastical dungeon synth split under the moniker Ontrothon and a Vangelis-inspired spacy synth album as A Compendium of Curiosities as well. Whatever genre Ayloss may be tackling, new material from this stalwart of the RABM scene is always worth checking out.
The last artist I want to highlight is the mysterious black metal project Trhä, a one-man project helmed by Thét Älëf, Nönvéhhklëth detna hacëntera Trha, Jôdhrhä dës Khatës, Dlhâvênklëth fëhlätharan ôdlhënamsaran Ebnan (aka Damián Ojeda of Sadness). Lo-fi black metal, synths that alternate between standard dungeon fare and what could best be described as haunted Christmas or carnival music, and conlang song titles and lyrics — the full title of the first Trhä album in 2022 is Tálcunnana dëhajma tun dejl bënatsë abcul’han dlhenisë ëlh inagat, jahadlhë adrhasha dauzglën nu dlhevusao ibajngra nava líeshtamhan ëf novejhan conetsë danëctsë kin, ëf tu dlhicadëtrhënna bë ablhundrhaba judjenan alhëtangrasë shidandlhamësë inkom (don’t bother trying to translate that) — make for a bizarre and utterly unique black metal project that I hope will continue to stay weird.
I may be the newest blood to join the team, but I’m already so glad to be among a great family of fellow heavy music fanatics. Vincent and Corey first asked me about writing for 9C years ago and I’m very happy to have finally heeded the call. 2023 is already shaping up be a fantastic year for metal, in no small part due to the fact that my favorite bands Enslaved and Panopticon will both be releasing new albums as well as touring North America (if the rumor mill is to be believed in the latter’s case). Be sure to check back in with us to see what the rest of the year brings.
Don’t be afraid to bleed, don’t be afraid to dream.