(Long-time NCS contributor Wil Cifer weighs in here with his picks for the favorite Top 20 metal albums of the year.)
Making end of the year lists for me is more than just creating content, it is a celebration of the music that helped me make it through another year. I pound these out for a variety of blogs I write for but this one is close to my heart as it celebrates one of my favorite genres of music… metal. Of course I am always pushing metal to the forefront no matter who I write for, but some publications pigeonhole me as the goth guy or the punk dude, which are both genres I am into and their influence crosses over into some of the albums listed below, but with this list my sole focus is metal.
I am always thankful for Islander for giving me a voice here as my tastes often fall on the fringes of what is normally covered here. My tastes were shaped by growing up listening to Iron Maiden, Ozzy and King Diamond, along with my fetish for post-punk and goth that Cvlt Nation is normally my platform to discuss, though when it comes to metal I normally gravitate to sonically darker and dynamically melodic sounds. .
This year I tightened my definition of metal for this particular list. There might be a few hardcore-leaning albums on here, but they are metallic enough to satisfy the scrutiny of my jaded ears. In doing this I sacrifice albums I was partial to such as the new ones from Messa and Hangman’s Chair, but you can find me giving them praises in other corners of the internet. Similar can be said of albums by bands gracing many other lists on many other blogs . Bands like Chat Pile, Callous Daoboys, Dead Cross, Brutus, KEN Mode, and City of Caterpillar. All made wonderful albums I enjoyed, but they are all noise rock, post-hardcore and screamo, once again not belonging on a METAL list. However if you are into those genres, I highly recommend all of those artists.
This year I have reviewed just over 300 METAL albums released this year. Heard maybe a hundred more that labels sent to me and I deleted rather than continue listening to as they did not appeal to me and a better investment of my time might be placed in listening to something I enjoy. The albums that earned their place on this year’s list are the top 5 percent of those. Metal album’s make up 30 percent of the total albums I reviewed as I ingest 1080 new albums a year. That comes out to around three a day, some days more, some days less. Half of those are post-punk / darkwave, then the other half indie rock, punk and select pop and country.
These stats matter when you consider the finite time I have to listen to music in the course of my day. For an album to earn a coveted spot in regular rotation of my iPod means they earned my attention by writing songs that stand out in the cluttered market of music being pumped out. Half the joy I get from doing what I do shifting through all of this is to find those albums that reignite the spark I got as a kid after saving up to buy an album I read about in Metal Blade Magazine, and pressing play on my Walkman to have it light a fire inside me.
So here are the top 20 metal albums of 2022 that lit that fire inside of me . They are ranked by quality as defined by earning repeat listens. Perhaps you will find a few who light that fire in you. Happy Head Banging.
20- Amon Acid – “Cosmogony”
This England-based band takes space rock in a more metallic direction. Owing more of their roots to Hawkwind than Sabbath, the weighty lumber of their riffs is more ominous than what other psychedelic bands in this sonic zip code are summoning up. They do not just drone, but invoke exotic middle eastern melodies that slither through your synapses.
19- Hexis – “Aeternum”
Denmark’s titans of blackened hardcore return to punish you with dense confrontational sounds woven into a convincing atmosphere that simmers with danger. There are explosive elements of other genres such as grind-core, but the prevailing mood is the gnashing of teeth. These guys normally use their instruments to beat your ears into submission. This time they have expanded the bounds of their musicianship to present this sadism in a more refined manner.
18- Age of Apocalypse – “Grim Wisdom”
This metallic hardcore band feels like a lost treasure from the mid ’90s that I somehow overlooked. They recapture the thrashing attack that bands like Only Living Witness and Life of Agony once colored with a unique shade of melancholy back in the day. They have all the breakdowns and mosh-triggering riffs you could want combined with a powerfully impassioned croon.
17- Mother of Graves – “Where the Shadows Adorn”
Did not expect the best death doom album of the year to come out of Indiana. The death doom bandwagon was beginning to get tiresome, since I already own all the Paradise Lost albums. These guys wisely lean more in a doom direction, but keep their levels of aggression at a healthy roar while writing some damn fine songs with a woeful ambience that is tangible, as it drapes the proceedings in a cozy veil of misery.
16- Bloodclot – “Souls”
John Joseph Bloodclot is the original singer of the Cro-mags, and his manic vocal style brought a unique charm to the streetwise beatdown the hardcore band’s 1986 debut dished out. The 2022 version of John Bloodclot has not mellowed with age. In fact this is the kind of crossover album that finds the thrash metal blitz of the guitars as the prevailing force, with sparse traces of anything resembling the Cro-mags. If you are here for nostalgia this album might not be for you. If you want your face ripped off, you have come to the right album.
15- Watain – “The Agony and Ecstasy of Watain”
The fact one of my favorite metal bands only made it to number 15 should tell you the level of scrutiny I weighed these albums with. Being one of my favorite bands does not mean you get a pass, it means you are held to a higher standard. While this might not be The Lawless Darkness in terms of hooky songwriting, the fact it beat out a hundred other black metal albums that passed through my in-box is proof that the uncompromising mission to spread sonic darkness is still intact, and these guys continue to uphold their legacy.
14- Fucked Up – “Oberon”
The fact that these guys ranked one higher than Watain means they are doing something right. Each album finds them heading in more of a Celtic Frost direction. This time they wrote an album that pays tribute to “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”: There are many layers of weirdness wrapped around the four songs that make up this album. The shadowy unease that haunts this odd proggy sludge finds the band levelling up as songwriters.
13- SpiritWorld – “Deathwestern”
I read a few reviews of this one before I checked the album out and it made me wonder what fucking album those guys listened to and did they make it past the one-minute intro track? To say the western theme of the album transitions over into the sounds that unfold here is a falsehood. The whole point of this album is to take hardcore muscle and to empower Slayer-inspired thrash riffs. This creates a headbanging fury. My mantra is “ cool riffs alone does not a good song make”. These guys have all the cool riffs, but know how to arrange them into cool songs.
12-Darkthrone – “Astral Fortress”
The days of the Transylvainian Hunger are long gone.This is not another tribute to Celtic Frost or Bathory, but an expansion of their sound. It embraces a different kind of cold darkness to create black metal from. Black metal is a feeling, not just blast beats. They prove their ability to still grimly ravish you with the kind of misanthropic sounds they introduced to the world as True Norwegian Black metal. The fact that they do not remain stagnant and try new sounds impressed me, and I welcomed them stepping away from the more NWOBHM riffs in favor of a more depressing direction.
11- White Ward – “False Light”
It’s hard to not be impressed by the way this Ukrainian band balanced jazz-inflected prog with black metal. The arrangements and sounds captured here are nothing short of stunning. All too often prog is drowned in the pretense the genre is known for due to masturbatory excess when it comes to shifting time changes and guitar solos. These guys make progress and take you on a journey their peers have yet to prove themselves capable of.
10- Absent in Body – “Plague God”
This project featuring members of Sepultura, Neurosis and Amenra is a dark crushing landscape of sludge bleakness. It is the kind of oppressive heaviness that I wish the last Amenra album had delivered. The vocals carry an aggressive death metal snarl as the murky haze of the lingering riffs simmer over hellish flames stoked by the down-tuned guitars. This album grew on me when I returned to it and won me over with the primal despair these songs captured.
9- The Otolith – “Folium Limina”
Members of Subrosa have proved themselves to be a coven of witches who employed the dark arts to create one of the most original albums on this list as it goes from being crust crushing doom to spine tingling folk-inflected melodies. They set violins that ache with longing over riffs that My Dying Bride would have been lucky to have come up with. Every time I listen to this album I ask myself why there are not more hours in the day to listen to it more often.
8- Goatwhore – “Angels Hung From the Arches of Heaven”
Over the years I began to think of Goatwhore as the AC/DC of blackened death metal. They always deliver what is very much them, no more, no less, and no surprises. Then the past couple albums found them having more thrash in their attack, rather than just being an album that is more death metal than the previous one or more black metal than the death metal album released before the album before that. This time we got something that does deliver the savagery expected but with ambience and melody coloring the dark corners of more refined songwriting.
7- Acid Witch – “Rot Among Us”
How is a death metal band dedicated to Halloween not going to be one of my favorite metal bands? It is an added bonus that they are consistent songwriters who have empowered their new album with riffs that are scary good. Most bands say their next album is going to be even heavier than their last; these guys did not say anything, they just did it. They decorate things with spooky samples and creepier ambience to satisfy the most bong-entranced ghouls.
6- Dream Unending – “Song of Salvation”
This might be the one album with which I can agree with mainstream metal journalism. This album might win the award for the best guitar playing of 2022. It’s a pristine balance of progressive exploration and soul-searching doom. The guttural growls hit in all the right spots, the dynamics are all dialed in, and it’s everything I could want from what a band like these guys do. If it’s that perfect why is it not number one? Moodwise I enjoy listening to it while sailing over the laptop as I type with wings of Delta 8, and it’s not the kind of thing that pumps me up to face the world during the rest of my day. Short version: I listened to the top five more.
5- Soulfly – “Totem”
You might be rolling your eyes at this entry and wondering how they made it to the number five spot, while Undeath was not even invited to the party. Unlike Undeath this album did not bore the hell out of me. Max has long parted with his nu-metal leaning of the ’90s, and he has admitted that Slayer influenced the writing on this album. There are no blatant tributes to Kerry King and the boys, instead we get punchy riffs that hit your ears with a great deal of power and enthusiasm. I was always more into Sepultura, so I was surprised as hell at how good this is.
4- Black Anvil -”Regenesis”
Songwriting is what elevated this album over the other black metal bands on this list. It was a tough call as Watain and Darkthrone are two of my favorite bands, but if I am going to weigh these albums on the artistic merit that makes these songs a more urgent listen, the hooky riffs and dynamic nature of the arrangements played a huge role in these guys ranking so high. They stepped up their game and it paid off in a big way. They have claimed the top spot as the best black metal coming out of America these days for sure, and proof that melody belongs in the genre.
3- (16) – “Into Dust”
The top three albums, I wrestled with the most. I had to judge them by who challenged themselves the most to keep their songwriting fresh. That is not to say this sludge band did not do that, in fact this might be their most accessible album to date, as it carries a hooky Helmet-like stomp. The catchy songs were obviously enough to put this album at the top of the heap, but do not let the hooks fool you, as it is filled with riffs mean enough to rape your mother.
2- Wormrot – “Hiss”
I used to hate grindcore. Songs under two minutes never seemed to deliver the kind of dynamics I want from music. Then came bands like Nails and Portrayal of Guilt who took grindcore and added their own perverted twist to it and I began to open up more to the concept. These guys are the perfect balance of spastic and songwriting. They hit you with a lot at once and this time with more conventional metal riffs that pump your fists like this was the ’80s. Gang vocals that owe more to punk, crooning, and fiery guitar playing wrap this up in a barbed-wire bow. Though I do accept the possibility that I am becoming more unhinged with age.
1- Decapitated – “Cancer Culture”
Why is this album number one? Was not a fan of this Polish band going into this album and that changed as they scored a flawless victory in terms of execution, dynamics, and songwriting. Most death metal just hits you with a single shade of blood-red aggression; these guys are just as angry, but attack these songs with masterful precision, which benefitted from some of the best production, and it keeps a massive ocean of shifting melodies bubbling under the relentless barrage. The first to feature Vader drummer James Stewart, who is a monstrous machine, but is not content with just bulldozing your ears; there is the perfect amount of headbanging grooves. Thematically it captures my feelings regarding the world today and provided the perfect soundtrack to my discontent.
Wormrot. Hiss. That is happening.
Solid list – caught a nice cross section. Glad to see Black Anvil on there. And Mother of Graves getting much deserved attention. Nice work!
Where is Wilderun?
Back in Boston pretending to be Opeth
+1 for Hexis sounding more refined whilst still being completely scathing, monster of an LP. Looks like I need to rectify missing Decapitated, I’ll admit to being put off by the title but have always enjoyed their stuff.
At last White Ward is on ono of this year ´ s lists! This fantastic album was criminally overlooked by most of the others.
Wow! Decapitated in the list….. their track Iconoclost with Rob Flynn absolutely loved it…