Best of 2022: Dan K.’s Favorite Heavy Stuff

Best of 2022

Woohoo! I actually recognize some of the albums in that picture!

Yyyyyyep, I’m still here, y’all. And hey! I actually made a good amount of time for heavy stuff this year. I think the phrase “heavy stuff” is pretty key, here. Not all of the stuff on my entry* will be “metal,” per se. Is that in keeping with the site’s general aesthetics? Perhaps not. Do I care? Also, perhaps not.

* It’s not a ranking. You know how I feel about rankings.

For, uh… almost as long as this site has existed, if we’re being honest… I’ve been putting together these end-of-year recaps and kinda struggling for things to say in any of them. I mean… I love the team we’ve got here at Nine Circles. I like metal (I think). I’m neutral on making-sure-I-listen-to-all-the-important-albums-in-a-given-year. Most of the time, I don’t like justifying my opinions on said albums. And of course, I fucking hate ranked lists.**

** Now you really know how I feel about rankings.

So, where does that leave me? And why do I keep bothering with these kinds of posts?

It’s weird. This year, I really shouldn’t have had time for much metal. I started a new job — and then another new job, later in the year. I lost my dad after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease. I got married. My brother got married. All that is… not exactly conducive to staying up on the tuneage!

So, okay: by most people’s standards, I definitely did not stay up on the tuneage. I definitely didn’t listen to all the important albums this year. As I hinted at above, I recognize… uh, four? …of the albums in our collage. My esteemed Nine Circles colleagues — just pick one! — have all probably forgotten more metal albums than I even listened to this year. (But still, I probably forgot more of what I listened to than they did, so yeah, I can hang.)

And that’s okay! Because here’s the thing: in 2022, I had more heavy albums do more for me as a listener than I’ve had in several years. There were more albums that I actively wanted to return to, more albums that stuck with me — more albums that, just… I dunno, made me feel stuff! — than there’ve been for me since…I finished nursing school? Maybe longer? And this was across all genres, too. Even ones I thought I’d given up on, or didn’t traditionally favor in the first place. I had to do something to single them out, so here we are.

But again… [clears throat] FUUUUUUUUCK RANKINGS.

Phew, I feel better. So instead, I’ve attempted [occasionally successfully] to organize my highlights into categories, which I present to you now. (The selections will be in bold, in case that’s not immediately obvious.) Leggo!

Part 1: Power Metal

Blind Guardian - The God Machine

Blind Guardian will never not be a Top 10 metal band ever for me, across all subgenres. They’re just so consistently fucking good. Over their near-40-year career (!!!), they’ve barely ever sniffed a “floor” in quality — and even when they have done so, it still manages to eclipse most bands’ ceilings.

But speaking of ceilings… holy hell, The God Machine, you guys. I genuinely didn’t think the band still had an album like this in the tank. It’s speedier and more aggressive than they’ve been in, uh… nearly 30 years… but also, critically, doesn’t feel like a creative regression. Think of it more as a swinging of the pendulum away from their symphonic exploits and back toward their earliest roots.

And that’s just one power metal album. There were fully SEVERAL albums across the genre that scratched a particular itch for me this year. What about the fantastical Dwarven adventure that was Wind Rose‘s Warfront? Or the steady time-keeping of Hammer King‘s, erm… Kingdemonium? We had an absolutely triumphant return from Seven Kingdoms and a pretty good one from Ironflame, even if… okay, the latter definitely dropped off a bit from last time out. On the topic of bands-whose-singers-are-kinda-dead-ringers-for-Bruce-Dickinson, we also got an EP from Dark Forest that — fingers crossed — appears to have righted the ship for the band on the production side of things? Maybe?

(Apparently, genre heavyweights HammerFall and Stratovarius released albums this year, too. I did not listen to them, sadly — see how they’re not in bold, guys? — but based on those bands’ reputations, you can certainly bet that they were, uh… albums.)

For all of the jokes I used to crack at power metal’s expense, it’s honestly become one of my go-to genres over the last few years. More and more, I look at the world and find myself wanting to escape from it. And more often than not, power metal’s given me a way to do so — often with both catchy tunes and stellar musicianship in tow. To my ears, 2022 felt like a particularly good year for the genre, and I can’t wait to see what 2023 has in store for it. (If you feel the same, keep an eye on this space; Comrade Voss and I might be working on something pertinent.)


Part 2: Death Metal

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

Sometimes, power metal didn’t quite scratch the itch I needed it to, though. Sometimes, I felt like I just needed to bathe in pure filth and stomp around like a fire giant. (My first Elden Ring reference of this post, but probably definitely not my last.)

When I felt that kinda way, I needed death metal. And fortunately, 2022 had plenty of that, too.

Let’s start with Undeath. The Rochester quintet returned with album No. 2, It’s Time… to Rise from the Grave, in April, and… okay, here’s where I betray the “secret” that I don’t keep up on stuff as much as I used to: at the time, I thought they were a completely new band. I’d missed 2020’s Lesions of a Different Kind altogether — and I’m pretty sure we never covered it here on the site.

So, like, imagine you’re me: you hear an album this tight, this polished in its decay — this fucking excellent — from a band, and thinking the band behind it is brand new. It’d blow your goddamned mind, would it not? Well, it did mine. And I never got over it — not even after learning I was mistaken and the entire crux of my Undeath belief system was foundationally flawed. That’s how good this fucking thing is. [interview]

But new (or “new”) bands aside, death metal’s old guard took plenty of meaty, bloodstained bites out of 2022. Autopsy returned with gale force on Morbidity Triumphant, their first full-length in seven years. Bloodbath [review] rubbed me in the rightest of ways with Survival of the Sickest. And then… [deep breath] there was Immolation. Acts of God further confirmed one thing: when it comes to the sound of, uh… dying in the most punishing and oppressive ways possible… the Yonkers legends do it better than anyone.

Part 2.5: Exhumed

exhumed - to the dead

Is Exhumed death metal? Deathgrind? They’ve always kinda straddled the line, haven’t they? But regardless: they’re on some kinda run with their last few albums, and To The Dead only continues that. It’s freaking great. [interview]

Part 3: Grind

wormrot - hiss

Wormrot is the section image here because how could Wormrot *not* be the section image here? We’d waited six years for Hiss to batter our eardrums, and goddamn if the band didn’t make it worth our while. The Singapore trio (now duo, following the departure of longtime vocalist Arif) continued their career-long mission to stretch the boundaries of what grindcore can be, bringing thrash riffs, black metal influences, and even violin solos into the fold. Hiss fucking OWNS for it.

But Wormrot was far from the only grind record that got serious play from me this year. Seven years since their last full-length, Poland’s Antigama delivered one of the strongest releases of their career, full-stop, with Whiteout. Then, we were treated to the return of Pharmacist, whose knack for verbose, early-Carcass-like album and song titles is matched — and even exceeded! — by their knack for early-Carcass-like aural devastation. Wake isn’t really grind anymore, but they were at one point, and Thought Form Descent kicked ass, so hey! We’ll single them out, too. (Logic: how does it work?) [review]

I think my 180 on grind since Corey and I started Nine Circles — gulp… almost nine years ago — has been an even bigger surprise to me than my come-around to power metal. I distinctly remember being at the wheels of the blog’s Twitter account the day Longhena dropped and firing off some sort of contrarian bullshit like “boo, grindcore lame” because 2014 Dan was garbage and didn’t know shit about fuck.

But now? Give me all the grindcore. The world’s gotten more depraved and exhausting since we started this site, and there are few types of music that speak to the state of things better than the kind of explosive aggression you get within this nook of the metal world.

Part 4: “Is that even metal?”

“But,” you argue, “but Carpenter Brut would be more appropriate in your ‘Retrocution’ column!” To that, I say two things. First, ‘Retrocution’ has to still exist for me to feature stuff in it. And second, Leather Terror is heavy as fucking hell, so who cares if it’s not “metal”? While 2018’s Leather Teeth was more ostensibly a dance record with occasional metal influences, the roles feel reversed on Terror. With meaty guitars, an abrasive production style and guest spots from genre heavyweights like Greg Puciato and Kristoffer Rygg, the album plays like a love letter to metal music, through the lens of electronic music.

Another such record? Dance with the Dead‘s Driven to Madness, which saw duo Tony Kim and Justin Pointer further refine their darksynth palette into arguably their most streamlined — and successful — album to date. (Quite honestly, synthwave / darksynth in general had a freaking banner year in 2022, one that almost — almost — tempted me to resurrect ‘Retrocution’ a couple of different times. Alas…)

But then, there’s something like Moon Tooth. What do you even call Moon Tooth? Is it metal? It’s definitely not synthwave, I know that much. However you decide to classify it, though, Phototroph was a freaking GARGANTUAN album — one that even managed to convert some of my non-heavy-music-fan friends with its catchy songwriting and eargasmic guitar work. (Well wishes to Nick Lee, who had himself a rough year.) And what about Alexisonfire, who returned like a goddamn earthquake — after *thirteen years*, mind you — with Otherness, probably the album I spun the most this year. [review]

Heavy? Plenty. Metal? Who gives a fuck.

Part 5: The “Catch-Alls”

Cave In - Heavy Pendulum

This here “Catch Alls” category is where I’m highlighting my final few entries, which cover a bunch of different sounds. Each of these found itself sans genre-mates among my final selections, so rather than create a bunch of new categories — sorry, parts — for one album each, you get ’em all here!

Anyway… Cave In could have quit after Final Transmission and nobody would have blamed ’em. The 2019 album featured the last recordings of late bassist Caleb Scofield, and was released by the surviving members to honor their fallen brother. Transmission got a great deal of (entirely deserved) acclaim as a tribute to Scofield, but also held up as an album in its own right. If the band had hung it up after that, it would have been a poignant ending.

But thankfully, they didn’t. Instead, with new bassist Nate Newton in tow, the band regrouped and returned this past year with Heavy Pendulum. [review] Versatile and engaging in all the ways you’d want a Cave In record to be, Pendulum forges an unexpected, yet altogether riveting, path forward for the Massachusetts metalcore heroes.

In an entirely different direction, how about Wo Fat? I loved the hell out of The Singularity when I reviewed it earlier this year, and… surprise! I still do. Gargantuan, bluesy riffage combined with an apocarifftic theme — peep the giant mecha dinosaur on the cover for an idea — made for one of the most memorable albums in the band’s riffstory. “Hey,” you might be thinking, “these guys sound like they like riffs.” Reader, do they ever. And when you listen to Wo Fat, you’ll gain a new appreciation for them, too.

Finally, there’s Inexorum, who returned with album number three, Equinox Vigil, this past year. [review] From the first chords of exhilarating opener, “Creation Myth,” onward, mastermind Carl Skildum serves up 40-odd minutes of some of the best and most compelling melodic black metal of the year. Whether through his live work with Obsequiae or his own work with Inexorum, Skildum’s proven himself time and again to be a true adept in the genre. Long may his mastery continue.

Aaaaand hey, that’s it! Thanks for reading. May everything come up Milhouse for you and yours in 2023!

Keep it heavy,

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