(Gonzo returns with his first 2022 end-of-month group of recommended new releases.)
With the craze of Listmania 2021 now in our rearview mirrors and January already on its way out, this edition of my monthly roundup took me by complete surprise for a few reasons:
- The unstoppable storm of amazing music we saw in ’21 has not slowed down a single bit
- January by itself has blindsided me with a slew of unexpectedly awesome new releases
- I was going to do a “things I wish I included in my top 20 of ‘21” post, but the above reasons compelled me to change my plans.
I could’ve made this post way longer, but in the interests of not droning on into a rambling ocean of incoherent enthusiasm, here are five albums that should be on your radar as we jump into a new year of metal.
Confess, Revenge at all Costs
It’s important to remember sometimes that metal, like any other form of artistic expression, can find itself in the crosshairs of censorship. The two founding members of Iran’s Confess know that better than most.
The members, Nikan Khosravi and Arash Ilkhani, were jailed in Iran in 2015 for the crime of expressing “anti-religious and anti-regime sentiments” in their music, which the Iranian government deemed blasphemous. Long story short, they both fled the country upon posting bail and were granted asylum in Norway. They live there now, and shortly after that, they were joined by two other Norwegian musicians to ensure Confess could continue as a band.
The new album Revenge at all Costs is a blistering metallic tribute to Khosravi and Ilkhani’s time in Iranian jail, with songs that describe the harrowing affair with every bit of vitriol you’d expect. It ends up sounding like Stampin’ Ground and Hatebreed in their earlier days, with songs that burst with aggression and anti-establishment rhetoric.
Instru-metal outfit Toundra have churned out a brilliant piece of post-metal goodness with Hex, their seventh album – and somehow the first I’ve heard of this band at all.
I’m not sure how I’ve managed to miss these guys for this long, but when I first heard the “El Odio” (“the hate”) three-piece set that kicks off Hex, I immediately realized they deserved my time. Imagine if Explosions in the Sky turned up the intensity and started to sound more like Russian Circles and you’ll get the drift of what these Spaniards are going for.
Outstanding musicianship, a prevalent command of atmosphere, and fantastic songwriting make Hex one of my favorite recent discoveries, new year or not.
Deadscape, Of the Deepest Shade
I’d love to know where the members of Bulgaria’s Deadscape learned to play, because their “neoclassical with Arch Enemy vocals” approach to their debut album is just as unique as it is captivating.
The waltz-like tempos of a lot of the songs on Of the Deepest Shade hint that even though this band hasn’t been around long, this isn’t their first rodeo. After the instrumental opener “To Ashes,” “Forsaken” kicks in with its jackhammer riffs and Mirela Kaneva’s vicious snarl, and the album tips its hand to the rest of the layered melodeath you’re about to be treated to.
Much care is taken with the arrangements of each song, especially “Stillborn” with its dizzying leads and “In Desolate Silence,” where the aforementioned waltz feel works exceedingly well. This is a meticulously written debut that practically bristles with confident swagger and might be my favorite album of the new year so far. (Not a very bold statement at the end of January but I’m working with what I got here.)
Ereb Altor, Vargtimman
Epic Viking metal crew Ereb Altor have been at this whole metal racket since 2003 and have released one of the finest entries in their catalog with Vargtimman.
With vocals that shift from an epic (and clean) forlorn cry to a gut-wrenching demonic roar, Vargtimman unfolds gloriously through its eight tracks of blackened Viking majesty. Lyrically, the themes vacillate between Norse mythology and nature, but Ereb Altor shows a resolute poise where things could easily enter cheesy territory. In fact, I’m surprised at how many influences the band incorporate into their music, from Bathory to Wintersun to Enslaved. Hell, there’s even a pagan-metal sounding whisper/spoken word part in the title track that immediately made me think of Heilung.
I’m still unpacking a lot of this album, but repeat listens are so far not doing anything to dissuade me from yelling about how amazing it is.
Worship, Many Masters
California’s Worship scratch a particular itch that I didn’t know needed scratching.
Blending elements of everything from Converge to Neurosis and even Sunn O))), this EP is a great sampling of what this lesser-known-but-still-fucking-awesome sludge/post-metal act is all about. They can churn out a bowel-clearing down-tuned riff just as easily as they can whip things into a blast beat. The vocals bring to mind some of what Jake Bannon does so well, especially on “Mercy.”
I’d even go so far as to say if you loved Converge’s more recent output, you’d be hard-pressed not to take a liking to the four tracks on Many Masters. It’s a no-bullshit listen that hits like a slow-moving freight train and carries every ounce of its weight exceptionally well.
Like what you heard? Or just want to judge my playlist-creation skills? Either way, have at it – my Best-of 2022 Spotify playlist is already almost 30 songs deep. Give it a follow if you’re so inclined.