(At last, the end is upon us. Not the end of our year-end LISTMANIA series (we’re bringing more lists next week), but the end of DGR‘s annual countdown, featuring his Top 10 albums of the year, and a couple of EPs too.)
The final day of the year-end list always has a mixed trove of emotions coming along with it. There’s the relief of finally being able to shut the book on a year – though generally that’s become less and less true as the years have gone on, there’s always something you’ll spot during the holidays that came out two days beforehand – and the greater relief in finally being able to cast this collected musical works out into the wild.
The second one is far more exciting for me because even though it’s just a fifty-album list – and I reiterate, with some surprisingly painful cuts this year, even on stuff I reviewed and enjoyed – there’s knowing that many people may find something in that pile that they’d previously overlooked or just hadn’t gotten a chance to get around to yet. I draw a lot of joy out of knowing that people found music that way – I imagine many people who’re prone to recommending music do – because it makes me feel like even though I’m basically in a ten-foot space clear across the world, I’ve improved someone’s life somewhere in the world incrementally. Even when its a forty-minute long endless blastbeat with someone yelling about the annihilation of the world over the top of it.
This final ten probably won’t shock a lot of you, and looking at it, there’s quite a few bands that’ve been mainstays within my lists over the years. Positions have changed and there’s a couple of new additions, but much like Andy‘s personal top ten, I have my few that I couldn’t help but constantly be drawn into throughout 2022.
10 – Exocrine – The Hybrid Suns
Exocrine took the top spot in my year-end list in the year 2020 with their album Maelstrom. The French tech-death group’s penchant for speed is near unmatched and Maelstrom was perfectly suited to leap into the battle that has become the tech-death nuclear arms race over the past decade. The album had a strange dynamic to it for sure, with two songs up front that felt like disconnected singles from the rest of the album – good enough, but not great – and then six songs that were fucking non-stop in both intensity, tempo, and technical proficiency.
The other songs also worked very hard to be part of the album’s overarching theme, which meant that you would get unexpected interludes in songs, trumpet solos, and keyboard work to keep things interesting while the band attempted to set land-speed records on their chosen instruments. To this day, “Wall Of Water”, “Orbital Station”, and “Starvation Project” are constantly plays for me, if I’m not just letting the band’s whole discography run by me since – let’s be real here – the Molten Giant album is also great and “Hayato” and the titular “Molten Giant” song both rule as well.
So, if there was any person primed to rocket out of their chair and into the ceiling upon the release of a new Exocrine album, it was your favorite dork right here. Luckily, I haven’t had to purchase any oversized wall patches yet in order to fix a hole left over my chair but I’ve still enjoyed The Hybrid Suns plenty since its release in the middle of June 2022.
The Hybrid Suns is an amazing release that I have listened to a lot this year, but I would argue this is also an incredibly Exocrine-styled album and one that is making a lot of effort to try and not just be the album prior to it again. Exocrine fall into what they do best on this album and, surprisingly enough, have an album on their hands that sounds like a continuation of Molten Giant more than Maelstrom. But at the same time, they have an album that dynamically still plays out a shit ton like Maelstrom did.
My first few runs through this disc were like listening to recordings of a tornado ripping up farmland, but once I had acclimated to the constant destruction I began to notice just how much The Hybrid Suns shares with its immediate predecessor as well, including the sense that the first two songs are divorced from the rest of the proceeedings and the next six are where the full conceptual work that is The Hybrid Suns comes into play. Funny too, given that the opening song is the title track.
But, b really didn’t settle with me until the pairing of “Horns” and “Watchtower” at tracks three and four. Its at that point that The Hybrid Suns fully jumps into batshit mode and becomes immensely enjoyable instead of just brutally impressive. Exocrine still break things up with unexpected instrumentation, including some surprise acoustic guitar, but they’re a lot less out of left field than Maelstrom ever got. The Hybrid Suns surprises more on the strength of its high-speed songs than any synthesis of unexpected music. You have to keep in mind that there’s a four-minute song on The Hybrid Suns just called “Blast”, so we can’t act like Exocrine don’t know the exact crowd they’re playing to.
I’m not joking when I say its also one of the better tracks on The Hybrid Suns as well.
So, while The Hybrid Suns didn’t quite surprise as much as its older brother Maelstrom did, it was still such a head exploder I couldn’t help but include it in my top ten. I’d be a fool to act like this one didn’t get a lot of listening this year. Exocrine‘s taste for rapid-fire music is unparalleled and The Hybrid Suns is strong enough that I’ll still be keeping a close eye on the group to see just how much they’re aiming to kick everyone’s face in the next time a release comes around.
9 – Strigoi – Viscera
The whiplash we’re about to receive in the distance between two releases would best be described as monumental as we traverse the world from one of the fastest bands in this subsection to one of the slowest bands on this list as a whole. Which is not a descriptor I would have initially ascribed to Strigoi, but like all things in life we eventually find our way back to the start.
Strigoi‘s debut album Abandon All Faith – which I also wrote about – picked up the baton right where Greg Mackintosh‘s project Vallenfyre had left it. Pairing up with musician Chris Casket, the first Strigoi album would get a little boost in the bass area of the band but also get much gloomier and add a little electronic/industrial flair to the whole affair. Still, oppressively death metal with a taste for d-beat but, in differentiating itself from Vallenfyre‘s three albums prior to it, Strigoi absorbed a lot more into its overall sound than its older brother had.
Abandon All Faith is a great disc but definitely has a tendency to reach very, very far and sometimes stumbles before it realizes just how far its arm is extended. That’s what made the group’s signing to Season Of Mist interesting because truly with so many ideas running through the Strigoi world, what was a followup going to sound like? There were so many possibilities but even then the one element I thought would likely not return in force, given just how fast and heavy the project prior to this had gotten, returns with fury. Viscera is the most doomed-out death metal that the collective of projects in the Greg Mackintosh orbit has put out in some time. It is dark, gloomy, and oppressive, just the way we like it.
There’s a sense of corodding atmosphere within Viscera as it slowly lumbers across the landscape. It’s amazing given that a decent number of the songs on Viscera are actually of the shorter length – four of them in the two to three minute range, a few others around four – yet the lasting impression of Viscera is that it is this slow crawl through a desolate hellscape. Every drum hit on this album strikes like thunder and the constant echo in the production casts Strigoi as if they were playing from the cavernous depths, which only makes one wonder just how loud it is down where they’re at compared to where we as listeners are standing for the forty-six minutes they ask of us.
Songs like “Hollow” and “Byzantine Tragedy” are clear standouts here, but we’d be remiss not to tell you to just start at “United In Viscera” and see how far you get, or where you notice that the band have actually changed songs versus letting that bleak atmosphere wash over you. There were times where a song like “King Of All Terror” would just whip past, crack a skull open, and vanish into the ether beofre I would realize it had happened and by then I was already tumbling into “An Ocean Of Blood” and “Napalm Frost” following it.
The abyss haunts the fringes of Viscera and is moving ever closer in here, so if it seems like there are shadows playing on your vision while listening to this album, rest assured, you weren’t the only one. We mentioned it before but it’s stunning how by looping back to the empty and miserable worlds that were such an early point of the Vallenfyre sound, Strigoi has managed to make a monster of its own this year and it would be a shame to let it crawl past you now.
8 – An Abstract Illusion – Woe
Again, the sudden genre shift strikes, though we do keep up with the penchant for long songs for the next couple of entries.
An Abstract Illusion‘s Woe was part of the September onslaught I’ve mentioned a few times throughout the 2022 archive and it won me over quickly. It’s clear from the outset that Woe is not an album willing to compromise on its overall vision. Even though it’s not likely the case, the gap between releases for An Abstract Illusion could’ve made for an easy explanation as to how the band have managed to fit so much and so many interesting things within just seven songs on only their second album. You’d think at seven songs and nearly an hour’s worth of time, you’d be looking at – like Strigoi just above them here – a doom-flavored and atmospherics-heavy band, but instead what you get are progressive death metal group that flurry through so many genres on their sophomore album that trying to describe it is often like trying to pick out a specific piece of clothing from a running tumble dryer.
An Abstract Illusion make use of a lot of prog-death staples, as well as melodic death metal guitar playing, modernized djent workings, synthesizers, jazz instrumentation, post-metal… the list is tremendous, but what it results in is a cinematic near-hour’s worth of music that it is goddamned difficult to not be entranced by. It’s not shocking that it has ranked on quite a few lists around these here parts already and seems to be making tremendous inroads across the rest of the metal community as well. It is worth the praise.The elevator pitch for Woe sounds like coked-up madness and the only thing we can really suggest here is just letting the album wash over you, especially if you’re a fan of the pieces that bands like Persefone have drawn for themselves on recent releases.
Woe is of the class of release I’ve described as being part of a journey and this is one of the times when I truly mean it. Every time you think you’ve settled into Woe‘s general way of doing things, An Abstract Illusion are more than willing to throw you a curveball. I’m still taken aback whenever I’m listening to Woe and hit the quieter spoken-word section of “Blomsterkrans” after the angular, soaring, mechanical riffwork and meditative piano of the song “Prosperity” just before it.
Song five of seven being the midpoint of an album has provided many a strange feeling but that is how An Abstract Illusion flow through the album. Every song on Woe segues into one another, either by intention or simply the way moments within this album are ephemeral enough that they seem to flit into and out of existence. It’s not so much that the songs are long but that each has a multitude of constructed movements within, and that breathing point five songs in is the first time where you can really decompress from just how much An Abstract Illusion have thrown your way for a half hour – and how much they will throw you afterward, given that the next two songs comprise twenty-three minutes of Woe‘s run time.
A song like “In The Heavens Above, You Will Become A Monster” is worthy enough of being an EP on its own. Closer “This Torment Has No End, Only New Beginnings” – a wonderfully bleak song title if there ever was one – leaves such a lasting impression upon hitting its final notes that it’s hard not to imagine Woe winning people over based on those last two songs alone. Woe aspires to be so much more than just a collection of incredible music. That it manages to do so makes it one of the best album this year.
HEY! WHILE I HAVE YOUR ATTENTION! HERE’S AN EP WORTHY OF YOUR TIME
Wheel – Rumination
Finnish/English combo Wheel have been posted about a few times throughout the years on this site so you’d have to figure that the release of a new EP entitled Rumination upon signing to InsideOut would be an exciting one. The progressive rock act have never been shy about their influences and have always been much heavier than you would’ve initially figured. Rumination continues that journey after the quieter approach that their album Resident Human took, with opener “Blood Drinker” built around a gigantic chorus and a massive chugging guitar riff, whereas “Synchronise” is much quieter and more acoustic. The two are tied together by closer “Impervious”, which covers a surprising amount of ground within four and a half minutes.
The Rumination EP has been a constant listen for me, in between my chosen auditory abuse sessions, and one that if you’re seeking something different among the suffocating block of music I’ve built here, I would highly recommend.
7 – Gaerea – Mirage
You really had to wonder just how long it would be before you saw the dripping gold hood of Portugal’s Gaerea pop up. I think if you’re a seasoned metal list reader you probably would’ve seen this one coming long enough ahead of time that you could’ve relocated planets to get out of its impact zone. Score two for Season Of Mist this year and score hell I don’t even know for the September landslide of music.
We’ve been on the beat with Gaerea for a long time and watching them evolve into the force of nature that they are now has been incredible. The one-two punch of Unsettling Whispers and the massive Limbo landed them on a lot of people’s radar, so to say that Mirage was primed to explode is putting it politely. Mirage was an album that simply needed to refine on their sound just a bit so that it wasn’t just Limbo II and the band was going to be gigantic.
The sense of anxiety and desperation that runs through the Gaerea‘s music is almost unmatched and the panicked way that much of Limbo was delivered felt like the band proving to the world they were going to be a force within the wider black metal movement. It was so objective-oriented in that way that it could at times be absolutely overwhelming, but considering how raw and intense the band portray themselves as being, you have to figure the ‘being overwhelmed’ by Limbo was the point.
Our own review does a damn good job exploring those points as well, coming to the same general idea that I did with Mirage, which was that Gaerea have proven themselves already and are now challenging the listener to hang on for dear life with them. It’s wild that this album is only a scant few moments longer – unless you have the digibook bonus track, then it’s closer to ten with the addition of “Dormant” – than its immediate predecessor. Mirage is a whirlwind tour through music as catharsis over the course of eight (or nine) songs.
Put bluntly, Mirage is a lot to take on in one go. Gaerea start the events off having long since launched the starting line. You get a very brief moment of quiet during the opening strains of “Memoir” but over eight-and-a-half minutes it’s easy to imagine that up until the closing moments of “Deluge” two songs later the band have just had the RPMs on this machine maxed the whole time. It’s no wonder that the early, fiery – literally with the music video – single “Salve” is within that opening blast of music.
Gaerea lay the groundwork and define much of Mirage in the opening near-twenty minutes of music and from there you’ll have a pretty good idea if you want to continue the tour of panicked desperation and anxious howling that has become the band’s persona. Mirage ebbs and flows from there, with a few meditative moments spread out in each song so that it’s not entirely dragging you under the surface for fifty-minutes, but there’s hardly anything that could be considered peaceful here. The moments of quiet are a beautiful respite, but just as quickly set ablaze by the next wailing outburst from the band.
How this one did so well with me came down to a couple of things with the main one being that Mirage feels like Gaerea don’t have anything to prove anymore, so they’re free to explore and expand into a space that they were built to fill out. They do so admirably on Mirage. You’d think, given the descriptors above, that this would be an album where I’d often take a break or two, yet – and here’s where Mirage really won me over – I never felt the need to. I wanted to continue on the journey with the band, to let this release continue to crash over me again and again, like caught in an incoming tide.
Mirage made for a fantastic addition to an immensely stacked September’s worth of music and though this may be one of the more obvious additions to a year-end list, it’s one I would still extol upon you to give a listen.
6 – Teethgrinder – Dystopia
If you haven’t gotten the sense that I have a taste for things that are overwhelming then allow me to introduce you to the grinding intensity of Teethgrinder.
It’s fair to say I love me some Teethgrinder, having included them in many a year-end extravaganza during my time at the site and even getting to sit down and properly review their album Dystopia – and entry you see right here – earlier this year. Dystopia is everything you know as Teethgrinder but cranked up to the maximum amount. I joked throughout my review of the release that Dystopia often feels like “Teethgrinder: More” during its run time but I’d also be lying to you if I said that isn’t exactly what I wanted from this particular release.
Dystopia picks up where Nihilism left off six years ago and paints a miserable picture, as things have not improved one iota in the time since. The blastbeat happy, distortion bathed, and shrill delivered intenstiy of Nihilism is continued on Dystopia and is done so with longer songs, longer samples, and equally violent outburts from the band. There is no such thing as a small explosion from the group within any particular song. Teethgrinder make no compromises with their music and are an ‘all or nothing’ style band, and that dial is set to ‘all’. Even the moments when the band are bathed in the fog-covered haze of something sludgier, when the room seems to warm up by thirty degrees despite the music going slower, things remain equally intense, since you have the sense that often the band are resting on a knife’s edge before tumbling back into another sonic battering that could leave you bruised for weeks.
The briefest picture one could provide of Dystopia is to recommend listening to a song like “Birthed By Suffering”, which is a two-minute flamethrower of a track that leaps headfirst into “Worthless” following. Those two songs alone have got to be one of the best compactings of the Teethgrinder sound out there and a great snapshot of why they continue to hold on strong here. Their music has so much energy in it that you can’t help but be enveloped. The chaotic grindcore mixes well with the group’s hardcore punk bent and the two fuse into a powerviolence monster at times. Instruments aren’t played by Teethgrinder so much as they’re ‘flung’. Dystopia may have a bit of a build to it from the opening track, but that’s why I hold on to the impression that a lot of this is every element of Teethgrinder ratcheted up to the maximum.
Much as it felt like Anaal Nathrakh were questing over the last few albums for which part of their sound next to crank up to one thousand percent, Teethgrinder use Dystopia as a weapon in much the same way. It’s longer, noisier, sludgier at times – see “Cloaked” for an example – and brutally suffocating when it wants to be. They even have a good “OOOGH” shout in the opening of “Blood Ritual”, which I will always cheer on. The closing numbers of “As I Believe The World, So It Is” and the moodier eight minutes of “Dystopia” make a fantastic final fire-bath before Teethgrinder shut the door on the album as a whole.
I’ll continue to bang the drum about Teethgrinder so long as they continue releasing music like this. I just hope that next time there isn’t a near-six-year gap between releases.
5 – Disillusion – Ayam
I’m sure I’ve said it before in my year-end mudbath here but I mean it every time whenever I apply it to a particular album. I think Disillusion’s new album Ayam is incredible. I was already on board with the band after the release of The Liberation – it found its way into the year-end list when it came out – but Ayam is a different bear entirely, and Disillusion are somehow pulling off the trick of making every album of theirs stand distinct from the one before it.
Disillusion are not the heaviest band on this list – hell just above and below this is going to make for some serious head turning – but the collection of music within Ayam is just so good that I can’t help but tell as many people as I can reach to listen to it. We reviewed this one at the start of November, and honestly, this is an album I haven’t been able to stop thinking about. I take the full journey of Ayam constantly and consistently find myself enjoying it as the prog-group pull from genres far and wide, sometimes coming off like an accidental western inspired Opeth, other times as mournful as Katatonia, and in later moments still able to stand with some of the heavier groups out there.
They seem like the type of band who aren’t setting out to strictly make a metal album, but more so that heavy metal has become a chosen medium and they’ve gotten insanely good at painting with it. The group soars high with incredible hooks in the choruses on Ayam and then are able to dispense some brutal hammerings, often within the same song. It’s no wonder that you glance at the Ayam tracklisting and see that the shortest song is deep in the four-minute range and then you’ll note that the band seem most comfortable anywhere between six and eleven.
If anything Ayam could’ve just gotten by based on the strength of “Longhope” alone. I’d recommend “Longhope” to anyone. “Longhope” is an amazing song and is likely going to be one of my songs of the year. “Longhope” is not 100% indicative of what takes place on Ayam as a whole, but it is perfectly placed on an album where you’ll already have wandered among the quiet and pensive and then seen it crash against the rocks of places heavy.
Ayam is a release much like An Abstract Illusion‘s Woe a few albums back in this year-end list. Every song is a journey and as cinematic as the band could make them, with enough peaks and valleys to keep things interesting the entire time. The last few moments of “The Brook” that closes out the album are just great, with the final quiet piano bit calling to mind the opening segments of “Am Abgrund”, right before that song becomes a spinning storm that continues into “Tormento”.
Disillusion are the counter-play sort of band; for every brutally dumb, rock chucking batch of morons that I include here because I love those styles, this band is the one that offsets those. The choices here are made with intent and everything serves a purpose here, so that Ayam becomes a much larger piece of music than just eight songs with wild song lengths. You can absolutely divorce songs from the whole – much like I did with “Longhope” – and find some incredible music, but Ayam as a whole is why it’s placed at number five on my year-end list. This is a great album.
4 – Hath – All That Was Promised
Notch another one for Willowtip in these final hours.
I wish I had some incredible story about the journeys that Hath and I have taken together but I don’t. The best I can sum it up with is that I enjoy Hath’s work, but 2019’s Of Rot And Ruin didn’t place nearly as high with me as the album that you see here did, and I think largely it’s because Of Rot And Ruin was an example of having a whole lot of potential and just not quite getting there. It promised a lot, fulfilled quite a few of the promises, but was definitely something that Hath could refine on. It’s a strong as hell first album after just one previous EP, but the thing that excited me more about Of Rot And Ruin wasn’t so much the music within it but the future music that would be coming out of Hath.
Which is why I am recommending you check out the group’s followup release in this year’s All That Was Promised, because where Of Rot And Ruin was a lot of promised potential, All That Was Promised is that potential fulfilled. Good, given that I wasn’t going to let an album name like that slide if it had come out and belly-flopped right onto concrete in front of me.
Hath build upon their initial hybridizing of the progressive death genre, molding it in ways that while recognizable – there are many moments within Hath‘s albums where they find themselves perfectly aligned with the current death metal scene – are much, much darker on All That Was Promised. That’s the main thing that made it exciting for me initially, the atmosphere of the album this time – well, that and it’s two minutes shorter. One listen to the crushingly heavy “The Million Violations” and you’ll have an idea of the beast just off the horizon of this album and the overall sense that things here are more forboding than before.
There are a few bands within my top ten who are fantastic at playing within genre-conventions and Hath are one such group. They’re part of an amorphous wave of immensely heavy, technical and progressive death metal bands that have gained a lot of steam over the past five or six years. I’ll try to avoid parroting our review too much here but Hath really seem to come into their own as a group on this album. What they take and absorb into their sound quickly becomes their own, so while you can throw darts and pick out individual elements, Hath do a good job of making them part of the larger whole.
It’s easy to see why the blackened-death monster of “Kenosis” was chosen as an opening single for the band, as it continues to build upon the foundation that “The Million Violations” laid out before it, except it starts out already at full force. There’s no build, just sudden hellfire. “Death Complex”, on the other hand, wraps its tendrils around you before slowly dragging you back into the flames of a heavier song like “Kenosis”. There is a clear apocalyptic core to Hath‘s sound on All That Was Promised and many times songs are variations upon that core.
It’s an endless parade of heavy moments that somehow managed to keep me interested for the entirety of its fifty-some-odd minutes. The headbanging gallops that are buried within the closing song “Name Them Yet Build No Monument” were something that I had gained a taste for by the end and found myself consistently looking forward to while drifting in the wreckage from song to song. I’ve racked up a good amount of plays on this one since its March release, even to the point where somehow the files for the first three songs on my mp3 player got corrupted, which I’ve never seen happen before.
All That Was Promised was the album I wanted out of Hath the first time around and now I am very interested in wherever the band choose to go to next.
BECAUSE THE IDEA AMUSES ME, HERE’S A SECOND EP WORTHY OF YOUR TIME
Free.99 – Out For Blood
If you’ve been following the site for a while then you know I have a taste for anything electronics and industrial. Though the genre as a whole often fails to win me over, there are still a fair share of artists who have taken up my time in between the usual metal divergences. If you weren’t aware of this, saw the name, and hit play, I’m expecting to get pilloried in the comments over it and truthfully I couldn’t give a shit less because I really fucking like this EP. It takes everything from the meaner side of electronic music and smashes it all together into something full of massive beats, huge breakdowns, and enough digital distortion and noise that you can tell this is an EP out to commit violence.
The Out For Blood title is as fitting as you could imagine. It flies by so quick and loops so constantly that every hazy raved-out moment or manic synth line, layered vocal, or often all of them at once – because this is an album of everything at once, I imagine seeing the stems broken out on a few of these songs is a hilarious mile-high wall of different elements – just hits. Even before the closing song was added to this EP, I had already been listening to it constantly and have had hours wherein I’ve just had these same five songs over and over again blasting their way through my skull.
If you’re feeling adventurous and want something different after having had the last few entries in this year-end funeral pyre mow you over, why don’t you hit play on this one before we continue into the final musical conflagrations.
3 – Sensory Amusia – Breed Death
You know how a scant few paragraphs ago I was talking about how there are a few bands in this year-end list who are playing to genre-foundations and hewing very close to already established blueprints and just happen to be very, very, very goddamned good at it? Well allow me to introduce you to one such group, in the tech-death/deathcore experts of Sensury Amusia and their album Breed Death, which could easily fight it out as my #1 go-to default album of the year.
The crew behind Sensory Amusia are riff monsters and everything within Breed Death has such a massive groove that the fact that you can pick apart and recognize influences does nothing to detract from the overall experience. Since its release in late-May, Breed Death quickly became one of my ‘something, anything’ albums. When you achieve that ranking with me it is pretty easy to fight your way into the top albums of the year list, and Sensory Amusia managed to do that exact thing.
I’ve been listening to this one near non-stop – save for a few others – and sometimes it’s just to hear the opening intro song “Birth Through Violence”, which has a rhythm that hits, and is so sharp and… violent… after what seems to be enough music in fifty seconds that you could split it apart and fill another three songs, that you’re almost instantly ready to fight. I was trying to describe to someone not long ago that Breed Death places me in a weird position that if I were to pick my favorite songs from it, one would be the bouncing brutality of “Parasitic Alteration” and the other would be the intro song. What a wild world we live in.
Breed Death was part of a Things You May Have Missed four banger with three other solid albums, if you want another take other than my drowning in my own slobber glance at this release. Sensory Amusia are a band wherein everything is used as a bludgeoning weapon, so it makes sense that so much of Breed Death is instantly headbang worthy. I’ve mentioned before that sometimes I will have an album that even though it’s brutally heavy, becomes equivalent to a pop album for me, in that I go to it because it’s not trying to challenge me intellectually but instead is appealing to the animalistic destruction side of my brain. I groove out hard to songs like “Yersinia Pestis” and “Vulgar Thoughts Of Carnage” and enjoy the brutality of songs like the two-fer in “A Blank Canvas Of Flesh” and the titular “Breed Death”.
This is an album that has landed on here simply because it is so good at answering to genre-conventions and making use of the velocity-forward slam and chokehold style rhythm that you’re helpless to avoid getting locked into it. So yes, Sensory Amusia are not part of the DGR recommends this because it’s artistically fascinating and could likely alter someone’s worldview as to what art is part of the year-end genre sphere. Sensory Amusia are part of the DGR recommends this because you likely have some demolition work that you have to get up to as part of your day job and this could propel you through leveling a house all on its own.
2- Antigama – Whiteout
Antigama have charted a career path for themselves that seems consist of each of their releases getting wilder and wilder. Few bands pull off the sort of ‘all kinetic energy very little control’ feel of grind quite like Antigama do. They’ve become a staple of the ‘tempo change and riff change at a pin drop’ style of music. Attempting to headbang along with any one of their releases can sometimes leave you with a neck-ache that would challenge the gods in terms of pain tolerance. It’s a little like trying to hold on to a Wormed song in that way, except Antigama have long made hay of the short song style.
It’s left them plenty of room to experiment as well, amplifying the perceived insanity across each release. You’d never figure that a grind band would be one to have a science-fiction bent but across their album and EP collection there’s been more than one spaced-out synthesizer solo – though none quite as long as “Out Beyond” from The Insolent – and many conceptual explorations. Many of their EPs often feel like the album preceeding them, condensed into twenty-minute intervals, and so Depressant – which I would argue is criminally underrated – is a condensed exploration of The Insolent, albeit one veiled in the guise of a tour through a mental asylum.
Whiteout is the latest in that legendary line of pushing music to the breaking point and one that gathers so much of the Antigama sound over the years into one release that it is bursting at the seams. The effect of such an act seems to result from Antigama deciding to play it all at once and seeing just how distorted the picture on the other side comes out, perfectly fitting for the distorted font and line-blurring painting that makes up Whiteout‘s cover art.
Whiteout starts out (hacha!) simple enough, sounding like a proper grindcore tantrum done in the most chaotic way possible. “Undeterminate” and “Debt Pool” are wall-to-wall blastfests not too dissimilar to Teethgrinder above, the main difference being that Antigama are not afraid to drop into a shameless circle-pit riff at any moment to propel a song forward. “Holy Hand” is where Antigama drop into some solid d-beat and earn the near four-minute song length. And generally speaking, this is how Whiteout leaps about for the first half of its run time. It’s chaotically heavy and provides a million opportunities for the vocals of the album to come screaming in from all corners of the globe.
As a shameless grind fan I fully appreciated Antigama just playing to their strengths for the first few portions of the album. It wasn’t until the unnerving moment near the end of “Holy Hand” where things go weird that I got the idea that Antigama were going to launch into some new brand of odd for a while on Whiteout. The journey into whatever sharp, jutting cliffs Antigama planned to launch their listeners into next is half the fun, though.
I dive a hell of a lot deeper into that journey in this review, but needless to say, I had a hell of a lot of fun with Whiteout and how it was constantly de-atomizing me and reconstructing me in differing strange universes. It’s why I appreciated the saxophone freakout that happened in the album, and likewise was completely unsurprised yet totally receptive to it. I knew Antigama were going to try and catch me on the back foot but the whole of Whiteout is meant to keep you on the back foot. Songs are just fucking relentless here, and the patented build up to something, sudden stop, then launch into the next batch of screaming, still works tremendously here. Just look at the way “Unclear Conversions” builds for nearly a minute and a half before doing that exact thing.
Whiteout launched in Mid-July but has battled furiously and mightily for its spot within the top five of this year. Ranked on how much I go back to it alone, Whiteout is perfectly slotted where it is at and I will continue to be excited by whichever monster Antigama choose to craft and dispatch next.
1 – Misery Index – Complete Control
When I laid this list out initially so many days ago it was more of a shotgun blast than any official attempt at ordering it. I trawled through a few different websites in a vain attempt to remind myself what had come out this year and also just plucked albums out of my memory since I had listened to them so much already. Misery Index‘s Complete Control was part of the latter group and when it came time to actually order this list, there it was – Complete Control – sitting neatly at the bottom, which after all the formatting and writing would likely become the #1 spot.
I figured that as I shuffled things around and moved albums into the ‘bubbled’ section that I would eventually do away with, Complete Control would move. Yet, it never did, and after everything had been honed down to fifty and I came back to Misery Index‘s latest opus I had a moment, and I thought about it, before I finally settled on the idea of “what if I just didn’t?”
What if I didn’t move it? What if I were true to myself and just admitted that in spite of all these incredible albums, these amazing art pieces, these dynamic performances, that after all was said and done, Misery Index putting out one of their strongest releases since Heirs To Thievery had easily taken my top spot and become one of my most listened to albums this year anyway?
It just looked so good, sitting there atop – or in formatting purposes at the bottom – of the year-end tower. There has only been one other time a Misery Index album has taken the top spot in my year-end list and that was way back when Heirs To Thievery was released and I wasn’t working for this site then. Rituals Of Power and The Killing Gods did well, but Heirs To Thievery‘s fusion of deathgrind, hardcore, punk, and even some straightforward blasting you into the dirt like a pylon style of death metal is the album that has long defined Misery Index for me, after having already had them kind of ‘speak to me’ with the second verse of ‘Traitors’.
Hearing “You Lose!” for the first time was a revelation – and it is no wonder the song has become something of a meme since – and the album whipped by so quick that it rapidly became one of those releases where I knew every note, every drum hit, every shouted vocal. I thought that was a lightning in a bottle sort of thing and Misery Index would never achieve that again, since you can only have a ‘first’ one time.
Yet upon listening to Complete Control there I was again. Excited to hear every note, excited to learn about every drum hit, every deathgrind and hardcore riff, excited for every moment there’d be a quick yell that would set off a blastbeat segment like a detonation cord.
Misery Index‘s two prior albums were expansive works, that had them journeying into conceptual EP space, embracing some melodic death metal riffing, becoming a full blown death metal group, or simply extending that ferocious reach into longer songs. Complete Control brings things back around and unleashes one of the shortest albums Misery Index have done in some time, and yet by compacting their sound and laser-targeting their latest attack on society’s ills, they have created a weapon all its own.
Trying to describe to someone that you’re looking forward to yelling out a quotation of Mark Twain at the opening of “Administer The Dagger” as Complete Control comes into view the first time is an act of lunacy. No amount of ‘No really! They put so much force behind it that you can’t help but play into the call and response of it!’ can help you. Those first few songs with “Administer The Dagger”, “The Eaters And The Eaten”, and their much beloved grind riff that dances dangerously close to “The Spectator” from Heirs To Thievery in “Complete Control” – they have one song every album that loves this thing – are just attack after attack. But truth be told, I could’ve done this all the way until “Infiltrators” before I would’ve been like ‘alright, now you can take a quick mental breather’.
Misery Index maintain the momentum for so long on Complete Control that it truly does become lobbed cinder block after lobbed cinder block. “Necessary Suffering” has the amazing moment in the chorus with the utterance of the title words where everything is so percussive that it seems like everyone is just an extension of Adam Jarvis‘ kit. “Rites Of Cruelty” is more melodic and could’ve been perfectly placed within the higher echelon of Rituals Of Power songs, and “Conspiracy Of None” has the big, chugging, high-speed guitar riff that the band are shouting over. It’s moment after moment until the traditional as hell Misery Index song in “Infiltrators”. That’s your breather right there, a solid, red-meat Misery Index song. Then you get one of the later album bangers in “Reciprocal Repulsion”. I’ve listened to that one so much that it’s easily a dark horse for being one of my most infectious songs this year.
You can tell how much I came to enjoy this album given the fact that the section I’ve been using in each selection to highlight songs so people can get a short glance at each release to decide if it’s ‘for them’, became a track-by-track rundown here. Every song on this disc hits hard and I devour everything that comes from Complete Control. It is Misery Index at their strongest and one of the few times I’ve been thankful that I didn’t have to review an album not because I didn’t think I’d like it, but because I knew from the first moment that all I wanted to do with it was enjoy it. No critical mindset, just constant one man mosh pits. In the least shocking twist in the world, here I am with Complete Control and I will fully admit that this one easily launched into my top spot since its release and has been comfortably nestled there since.
The final celebration over the grave of 2022. Brought to a close through multiple sonic immolations, violent outburts, a couple dynamic artworks, and the brutally simple playing entirely on the caveman part of the brain. This is the point where we send the pyre out and look forward to the future, which is already looking increasingly stacked.
Hell, even in a few days as of this writing there’re releases I’m looking forward to, such as a late December release for Ukrainian brutal death metal group Fleshgore and their album Carnival Of Flesh. Further down the line there have already been announcements for bands like Insomnium, …And Oceans, Turbid North, Cattle Decapitation, Gorod, Rotten Sound, Sarcoptes, Ahab, Obituary, Katatonia, and potential releases from Darkend and Patristic, as both have either posted studio footage or mentioned new music in the works, plus Distaste mentioned recording in January 2023, and maybe, finally the long-teased next album from Man Must Die will emerge.
That’s just off of memory and there are always so many more waiting in the wings to be announced and new discoveries to be had. Two-year cadences have long since been tossed out the window anyway so now its always a pleasant surprise to see that a band has managed to still be standing after the continued battering that music has taken – and continues to take with live shows being a mess – anyway.
There’s so much music on the horizon that there’s already a sky-high excitement level around here. I look forward to all of it: the expected and the surprises, I look forward to sprinting up all five stairs of the NCS tower and sounding the small kazoo we have posted a sign next to that says ‘battle horn’ about new discoveries and obscure bands you otherwise wouldn’t cross paths with, and I look forward to whatever directions metal decides to go sprinting off to next and where my music genre of choice will mutate along the way.
So until next year’s sappy as all hell shindig, I’ll be seeing you all around these parts and may 2023 treat us better than this year’s bag of garbage did.