I had this enormous amount of words set to open this thing but opted for… not that. We’ve all lived through another year so there’s no need to reiterate. Instead, I’ll say that 2022 was great for me. It’ll be one of those years I’ll look back on as one that changed things for the better and I’ll have extremely fond memories of it for reasons I can’t mention here. But, I’ll also look back on it as a tremendous year for metal. And it doesn’t matter what strain you dig as pretty much all of it had a banner year. I know it seems like we’re a broken record saying that every year, but 2022 was damn strong. If you don’t feel the same, please rewind and revisit and get back to me. Otherwise, welcome to all the things that made a huge difference for me throughout the year and what was my 2022 soundtrack, what made the biggest impact…whatever, you get the idea. This list of 18…, wait…you ask “why 18?” Well, branding of course. We’re Nine Circles so you’ll get my top 9 and my 9 honorable mentions… and a few special mentions. 9C, as it was. So, let’s do it…
Before we get to the picks; this is my list. This is NOT the end all be all best of 2022. And anyone doing these lists that says theirs is the end all be all best is full of shit. These lists are subjective to the writer but not the reader. There is hope you’ll find something that will become a favorite, something you might have forgotten about, or discover something new and shiny. And that’s about all there is to say about that. Simple, right?
Right. Anyway, I listened to a lot of metal this year. And I do mean a lot. Through all that, the albums below really hit home and continually stand as my most played and most loved. Could I have included 25, 50, or 75? Absolutely. But, I always thrive on the hard road and whittling my favorites down to 18 is/was friggin’ HARD. So, even though I know you’ve already perused my picks, here they are. Enjoy…
“There is plenty of room for nuance and subtlety in black metal, but the hammer leaves no room for interpretation.” As a rule, I keep promo speak / band member’s words at a guarded distance but after spending nearly every waking moment with this thing since our promo landed and then fulfilling the complete experience with the vinyl edition from NoEvDia splayed on the floor with gatefold wide open, I can honestly say: they nailed it this time, promo / band speak becomes reality. Whereas Söngvar elds og óreiðu was a statement of how brutally harsh black metal can be and follow up Algleymi benefitted from a shot in the arm of brawny heavy metal and the type of dense atmosphere that some of the best death metal does so well, Með hamri represents a perfect culmination of these two benchmark albums as well as makes a stark statement of supremacy in a seemingly neverending pursuit for this band to produce the best there is. Misþyrming make no bones about the fact that they make black metal how they feel it should sound and for what they feel is missing in the genre, and with the strychnine violence of the title track and subsequent heavy metal left hook of “Með harmi” this mission statement is realized and done to grizzled perfection. The one, two punch of “Engin miskunn” and “Engin vorkunn” are, yet again, a yin and yang situation full of crusty rage, melancholic melodies, and unbridled anger. As much of a perfect culmination this album is, it’s yet its own entity in the band’s discography. Sure, this IS the same band and many of their signature hallmarks are there, but their unfettered determination is the loudest it’s ever been. The triumphantly atmospheric bridge of “Blóðhefnd” makes for a stellar intro to closer “Aftaka” which at nearly ten minutes in length, is a statement unto itself ushering in nearly everything they’ve ever done and making it even more furious and hauntingly cinematic even. Listening to this thing play out is like watching a movie that keeps tensions taut from the opening scene to the kill shot at the end or running through the killing fields with the Devil steps behind and knowing that in the end he always wins, but the experience is a rush of epic proportions. THIS is what I wanted from every supposed “all in” black metal album of 2022 and leave it to Misþyrming to release this almost as the year’s clock strikes midnight and to very little, if any, fanfare. Do not miss this hulking beast of an album.
On Mirage, I’m almost certain Gaerea were sitting around and said “fuck it, we’re going to make the most epic atmospheric black metal album ever.” And without knowing it, they made the best album of their career as well. Don’t get me wrong, Unsettling Whispers and Limbo were no slouches by any stretch of the imagination but neither of those captured lightning in the bottle like Mirage has. It’s their focus and attention to detail this time out that really pulls this one away from the pack; the immediate tension then gradual release on my favorite track of the year by any band, “Laude,” the moment “Memoir” explodes after 2:30 of a stunningly beautiful opener, the anthemic and stadium ready bombast of “Deluge,” and the moody and volcanic black metal eruption in “Arson” all combine in this amalgam of hope and tragedy, wickedness and glory, pain and pleasure… and there’s still the rest of the tracks to mention, but you get the point. It doesn’t hurt that the production and mix here is the best of any metal album, or hell, any album period throughout all of 2022; every instrument and vocal note is crystal clear and hits you right in the ears with the perfect levels. The band absolutely succeeded, from my point of view, in making the most epic and sonically pleasing atmospheric black metal album of the year, hands down. To sum up Mirage in one word, I’d have to go with superlative.
Stealing a block from Chris’s review because it rings true:
There are bands that ape the NWOBHM era, and there are those who breathe it. There are those who take the requisite notes about song structure, harmonized leads and banging choruses and simply emulate, and there are those who absorb the HEAVY METAL™ into every atom in their being, and via some heavy metal fission burst it back out into the ether where you can sense the building blocks but the thing before you? This is new. This, ladies and gentlemen, is bitchin‘.
Bitchin’ indeed. This thing rode my top spot for so long and honestly these top three could swap at any moment. With Nite, it’s the heavy metal AND the black metal brushstrokes feathered in with the vocals that just do it for me. It rocks, it rolls, and it sounds like the kind of heavy metal that only the most extreme practitioners could make. In other words, this isn’t just a heavy metal album made by rockers, this is the kind of heavy I could see a band like early Emperor making if they ever got the itch to do a straight up trad metal album. “Last Scorpion” soars with searing guitar solos and leads while “Heliopolis” explodes with riffs thick enough to make its own battle vest, and “The Trident” lays down some of the sickest drum work the band has ever done. And we haven’t even mentioned that GLORIOUS opener “Acheron” that rips the sky open early on then settles back into rock demon mode. Yea man, I could go on and on but you get the idea; Voices of the Kronian Moon rips, slaps, and slays all at the same time and does so with zero missteps. Even though this is not in the top slot, it’s a perfect 10 for me.
Last year, Tribal Gaze made the seventh spot on my year end list and that was with an EP. Godless Voyage had this insane tone that I couldn’t shake, in a good way of course. And now with their debut full length, that tone is still there in spades but everything else I loved about their EP is just better this time out. There’s not a wasted second in the songwriting or track placement, when they drop to slow and low doom pacing (“Cold Devotion”) it feels like an armed cavalry marching to a sure victory, the vocals sound more up front in lieu of getting lost in the mix, and yep, the tone is somehow nastier than a year ago. So, SCORE. And on pacing, they never stay content at any one speed and instead are all over the map which keeps things interesting and damn catchy. The Nine Choirs is barbaric, brutal, and relentless and is all of this very neatly and in an organized manner, not once does this thing lose footing or lose any sort of identity. This is straight up alpha death metal that’s just as happy dropping an axe in craniums as it is sitting back and having some drinks. And for that, I’m forever entwined with it.
The first time I listened to Squirm Beyond The Mortal Realm I did so on some extremely high end headphones. And because of that I was instantly hooked; the production here might sound like it was recorded in the mire of crusty pus and gelatinous ooze but under a closer microscope…stethoscope?… what these guys do with gore drenched death metal is freakin’ stunning: those wild whammy’s in “Suicide Sanctum,” the High On Fire stomp of “Meth Mansion Murders,” and the Mortician lurch of “Malignant Germination.” This thing is as greasy and grainy as watching Faces of Death on VHS tape but the payoff is much better. Now, many of you will be questioning the positions of Morbific and Autopsy in this here list and while Autopsy put out one of their best in a very long time, Morbific absolutely nailed that dirt and grime better. You can argue all you want but like I said, this is my list and Morbific are the new Lords of all things nasty as hell and what I’ve reached for when I need that itch scratched, as I do often.
Eclipse of the Dual Moons finally cements the penultimate sound of High Command and the fact that they stick to their guns of continuing their own fairytale of a story is just icing on the cake. Some may call it ballsy or some may say that kind of stuff is more for power metal. I just call it awesome because this package is wrapped tightly in a cocoon of classic Bay Area thrash and legendary NWOBHM. “Omniscient Flail Of Infamy” gives Kill ‘Em All a run for its money while the title track revels in Mercyful Fate territory. The most impressive thing here is how the band shows appreciation for the classics yet sounds incredibly fresh and vital. The more I listen to this thing the more I regret not placing it higher, but as I’ve said before, it was a very strong year. Epic, grandiose, and intense are all things High Command have achieved and I am finally fully on board.
From my review, and I still feel the same:
The melodies and humid grooves are here in droves, see opener “The Mold Testament” and “King Con” for a textbook example of ‘schooling you in classic Floridian death metal.’ Ass kickers also abound in the form of “Caustic Vomit Reveries” and its no holds barred approach to speed and venom and “Recycled Hate” sounds like the equivalent to being punched in the face with barbed wire laced brass knuckles…and liking it enough to express some thanks for the violence. “Wound Collector” opens with a sick rolling riff then batters with an Obituaryesque stomp and metaphorically we’re right back in the late 80s / early 90s when death metal was, as I said before, fun and simple. Sure, there’s technicality and a great amount of skill present in every song here so don’t twist up the ‘simple and fun’ statement. The amount of pure caveman groove in this and their previous album is insane. I keep harping on this but look, I’m a fan of all things extreme and find value in tough listens, technical acrobatics, wankery for the sake of it, and forward thinking songcraft, but am a bigger fan and find sentimental solace in simpler death metal that, for lack of a better string of words, just whips ass. And this does that in spades.
Rogga Johansson and 2/3 of Inhuman Condition make some sweet ass death metal. Crypt World just has that comfortable, meat and potatoes approach that I absolutely adore in this genre. And, the sound of those guitars!! Rogga’s list of projects is insane but Ribspreader is indisputably my favorite as it rides the closest line to what I call straight forward death metal with crushing power in its teeth; “The Bone Church” relies on a simple yet damn effective riff while “Into The Morbid Pits” hits like a freight train with incredible percussive blasts and “Nocturnal Sanguinator” has one of the sickest grooves I heard from any band. I’m instantly on anything Rogga is a part of but will go completely out of my way for new Ribspreader and this album does not disappoint.
The only thing I’ll add beyond the below snip of my review is just how beautifully melodic Transcendental Violence is. It’s what drew me in and still holds my attention:
The penultimate achievements then are two fold. The first of which is opener and lead off single “Aeonic Upheaval” which is a track I would say is Vimur personified in a single song. Guitars swirl with rhythm and vigor while the drums keep a wicked tempo then later it’s a full on maelstrom of aggression that’s cold and calculating then slowly fades back into, for lack of a better term, heavy metal pacing and grandeur. The second of which is “Death Absolution” where we have a clear departure from anything they’ve done to date. It’s a full on doom jam. Yes, you read that right. Doom. The pace is slow and lumbering and the mood and atmosphere are dark and dank. Yet, through pained screams they STILL don’t lose their identity or vision here. It’s amazing how well they pull this off and how well it fits with the album as a whole. Not only that, but it shows how much the band has grown that they’re able to flip the script and still keep us entertained and hanging on every note.
The Honorable Mentions
Protector dabble in the kind of thrash that made Slayer a household name way back when. And the fact that I’d rather listen to Excessive Outburst of Depravity than Reign In Blood at this point says all you need to know. Dirty, lighting fast, hooks deeper than the one that caught Jaws, and songwriting that showcases what I believe are the cornerstones of thrash metal all make for one hell of a great album that I’m going to regret not placing higher.
11. Verberis – Adumbration of the Veiled Logos
If there was a better black and death metal pairing in 2022, nobody told Verberis. This is exactly what I look for when searching for the perfect marriage of haunting black metal and terrifying death metal, and the kind of album that ticks all the boxes of choking atmosphere yet having the capacity to kick an ass when needed.
12. Autopsy – Morbidity Triumphant
To be 35 years into a death metal career is nothing short of amazing. Even more amazing is to be that far into said career and STILL cranking out next level gore drenched material that gives me the same feels I had the first time I heard Severed Survival. From the zombiepunk of “Stab the Brain” to the doom laden “The Voracious One” to the balls out extremity of “Knife Slice, Axe Chop,” Autopsy still has it and is doing it better than most.
13. Deathwhite – Grey Everlasting
Gloomy and bummed are not terms anyone would use to describe me, ever. But, I’ll be damned if the gloomy Katatoniaesque turn that Deathwhite took on Grey Everlasting doesn’t feel like a warm blanket and a cup of spiked coffee on a dismally cold and bleak day. It’s somewhere in the sorrowful guitars, the somber vocals, and the occasional fury peppered here and there that pulled me in, hugged me tight, and hasn’t let go. It’s a stunningly beautiful album and honestly I don’t know that they’ll ever be able to top it. Every song is a winner but if you’re on the fence with this, check out “White Sleep” and tell me you don’t feel it in your bone marrow.
14. Goatwhore – Angels Hung From The Arches Of Heaven
I’ve linked my review of this album so you can take in my full thoughts on it, but bottom line: this is Goatwhore’s finest moment and the fact that it sits at 14 is testament to how strong 2022 was. Come for the silky slick satan spawning black magic of “The Bestowal of Abomination” and stay for the jaw dropping “Victory is the Lightning of Destruction.” Bravo.
15. Psychonaut – Violate Consensus Reality
Riff Monsters. That’s the loving term we here at 9C have dubbed Psychonaut based on the riff salad of Violate Consensus Reality. But, it’s not just the riffs. It’s the culmination of successful tension and release, crushing fury, and the best post-metal I experienced over the course of 12 months. It’s sprawling and vast but never loses sight of its own self and because of that it’s one of the most accessible yet heavy albums on this list. The delicate vocal balance surrounding all their riff wizardry really puts an exclamation mark on the whole thing. This is a case of every single detail being perfect and every single song is an ear worm. More please.
16. Obscene – From Dead Horizon… To Dead Horizon
With this being Obscene’s sophomore effort, it amazes me that I’d put them squarely in any discussion regarding death metal’s elite, yet here we are. The musicianship is astounding and the way this band attacks death metal that has one foot planted in the past and the other foot pushing the genre forward is what made this an instant favorite. “Insensate Cruelty” is the battering ram that would have made Mad Max’s job a lot easier while “Open Grave of a Forgotten Past” has daddy Schuldiner smiling upon them.
17. Werewolves – From The Cave To The Grave
Sometimes I just want an album that’s the sonic equivalent to Leatherface (original one and not the new one because, duh) in a 2 hour nothing-but-money-shots marathon. And that’s exactly what From The Cave To The Grave is. Werewolves know how to deliver blunt force trauma death metal and never let off the pedal. I’m also a sucker for well placed movie lines and they deliver on that front as well. This album is leaps and bounds better than their previous two as I believe they’ve found their true calling, which is hacking bodies for BBQ and not noodling around to fill space.
18. Psycroptic – Divine Council
Yep, Psycroptic did it. They put a tech death album on my list. Well, they didn’t…I did but they forced me into it with their brazen furiosity, killer riffs, and the best songwriting they’ve ever done. This isn’t your typical techy, smechy, noodly effort. Instead this is technical precision and catchy death metal all wrapped up into one killer album that lives and breathes inside its genre but rips a hole through its boundaries at the same time. Tech death bands take note, a new king is born.
I do have some mentions I want to get to. And they are as important as the list above so let’s do that. Shout outs are as follows: to Trocar / Fluids / Lipoma for a truly soul draining split of icky and nasty deathgoregrindstealyourlifeforce kind of stuff, to Kreator for keeping my never ending metal flame alive via Hate Über Alles, to Paul Cauthen for stoking my old school country vibe on Country Coming Down, to Megadeth for giving us the best they’ve had to offer in MANY years with “We’ll Be Back” off of The Sick, The Dying… And The Dead, to Dirty Vicar for keeping metal vintage and tough on Cursed Illumination, and to Death Metal Radio and Briggs Metal Revolution for the visuals, music, and for keeping death and extreme metal on the air waves – you guys are doing the lord’s work.
Who knows what lies ahead for this year, but from a metal perspective I’m expecting big things from a handful of bands we didn’t hear from in 2022 and I’m really hoping we get at least a handful of new bands that blow the doors off of all expectations.
Last but not least; a thank you list:
- Our amazing staff of writers and podcast MC for another great year and continuing to grow this family.
- The admin team here who are not only excellent co-workers but close friends as well.
- All the PR folk who keep us loaded down with goods to cover and lend us some truly amazing opportunities.
- All the bands that reached out direct and trusted us with their material. We do actually read every email and/or DM over socials and trust me when I say we make every effort to cover it all, even if it’s just a mention in Initial Descent.
- And YOU for coming back time and time again to see what we put to print.
With that, I’m out. If you made it this far, thank you. More lists to come so stay tuned. In the meantime, play it loud.