(Today our Denver-based writer Gonzo wades into the annual LISTMANIA froth with the first installment of a two-part list of his Top 20 albums of 2022.)
As I write this, it’s -10F outside and I’m still thawing the icicles that formed in my beard on the walk to get coffee. The holidays are upon us, yes, and that means getting a much-needed week off from my day job that seems occasionally hellbent on sapping my energy and grinding it into a fine pink mist.
But I am resistant to such aggressions. Anything’s possible with the right amount of determination and caffeine.
So, with the year quickly winding down to a close, one of my favorite times of the year for music is upon us: Listmania, happening on these very pages.
I don’t think I need to elucidate any further thoughts on any of that – by now, you know what we’re all about. Here are my top 20 album picks from 2022.
20. Inanimate Existence, The Masquerade
There seemed to be an ocean of quality tech-death releases that surfaced this year, and to me, a lot of it seemed to blend together in spite of the level of musicianship involved. Finding one such album that stood out from the pack was a struggle.
California’s Inanimate Existence unleashed a record that really did it for me, though. The Masquerade is a perfect symmetry of brutality, melody, and technicality, filled with just as many moody slower moments as it does weapons-grade sonic assaults. Just a brilliant record for anyone searching for a tech death record that stands among the year’s most memorable releases.
19. Desolate Shrine, Fires of the Dying World
Oh, Finland. You never disappoint.
Desolate Shrine has to be my favorite heavy discovery from that country this year. Fires of the Dying World is urgent, ferocious, and immersive. From the first devastating opening notes of “Echoes in the Halls of Vanity,” the guitar tone of this record forces you to immediately put down what you’re doing and surrender to it. There’s barely a moment of respite to be found here, and the band uses every second of its fury to craft one of the most blisteringly heavy releases you’re likely to hear from any corner of the world this year.
18. Behold! The Monolith, From the Fathomless Deep
This was one of the best years for heavy riffs in recent memory, and this record from Behold! The Monolith had some of the top contributions to that category.
From the Fathomless Deep is a Lovecraftian horror of a record that sounds like 16 jamming with Conan: sludgy riffs that make you feel like your internal organs are being pulled apart, with doomy tempos that take their time in doing so. It’s the soundtrack to what you’d hear if you hit the bong one time too many and hallucinated a cosmic horror descending from the clouds on a stormy day.
In other words, highly recommended, bong in hand or not.
17. Credic, Vermillion Oceans
These Germans describe themselves as “the Gothenburg melodeath sound being run through the Stranger Things universe,” and that’s probably a better summary of Vermillion Oceans than I could come up with myself.
Newcomers Credic may wear their influences on their sleeves, but that doesn’t mean they’re derivative by any means. Vermillion Oceans contains just as many searing riffs and smart arrangements as the bands they revere, but their self-described “Stranger Things” twist is where the magic really lives here. Brooding with atmosphere and dripping with ironclad heaviness, Vermillion Oceans was a record I found myself going back to many, many times since its April release.
16. Absent in Body, Plague God
With a pedigree like this “supergroup” or side project or whatever you want to classify it as, it would’ve been a colossal disappointment if the debut from Absent in Body was not included here.
This is one such instance, though, where you should believe the hype. Featuring members from Sepultura, Neurosis, and Amenra, the band clearly had a vision for what they wanted their collective talents to merge into from the start. Absent in Body takes the best of those three bands (but primarily the latter two) and channels the dark creativity into something truly menacing. Plague God’s cover art tells the story – a dark, atmospheric experience that makes you feel like you’re trapped at the bottom of the ocean with Cthulhu lurking somewhere in the darkness. It’s uneasy, unsettling, and brilliantly arranged.
15. Meshuggah, Immutable
Perhaps one of the only big-name albums that really kicked my ass this year, the indefatigable Meshuggah returned to form in the most glorious of ways in 2022.
Immutable is one of the band’s most inspired and cohesive records to date. From start to finish, the band’s technical precision strikes with the fury of a thousand suns – Fredrik Thordendal’s virtuoso-level solos atop Tomas Hakke’s perfect drumming and Jens Kidman’s telltale roars haven’t sounded this good since ObZen. But the band doesn’t try to emulate any previous work, and they shouldn’t have to. Songs like “The Abysmal Eye,” “Light the Shortening Fuse,” and especially “Ligature Marks” have very few fucking peers in the “shred” category.
14. Disillusion, Ayam
This band’s last album also made my top 20 in 2019 (and that feels like a lifetime ago now), but Ayam might even eclipse The Liberation in the annals of their accomplishments.
I love bands that fuse genres into a well-crafted blur. Disillusion has always managed to do that well, blending the best of prog, thrash, and death metal into a sound that’s truly unique. This is one of those records that may have songs that err on the longer side, but renders time obsolete. The intricate tapestry that is opening track “Am Abgrund” is like a mini-album on its own, and then you’ve got seven more tracks that are just as incredible. Buckle up for this one, because just as soon as you’re sure you know where it’s going, you’re wrong.
13. Devin Townsend, Lightwork
While it might be fair to refer to Townsend’s newest exercise in self-actualization as “metal adjacent” more than true “metal” in its purest form, it’s still music I really dig, whatever it is.
I’ll be the first to admit that Lightwork might not be the “heavy Devy” we all know from the glory days of Deconstruction or even Physicist. I think it’s safe to assume those days are mostly behind Mr. Townsend, which has obviously drawn a polarizing mix of reactions. Some might even bristle at my inclusion of this album into this list, and that’s fair enough. 2019’s Empath was greeted the same way, even though I felt like it was an otherwise fascinating record that may have created its own genre.
Lightwork is content to be much more reserved than Empath (and to be fair, most other music is.) But the real art in Lightwork comes from its subtlety; the kind of nuance you’d have to devote more than a few listens to really perceive it. “Call of the Void” seems like a more free-flowing take on whatever “indie rock” is, while “Dimensions” dips back into the wild mind of Townsend in a more familiar way. The most memorable parts of the record, though, are found in the second disc (B-sides?), where Devin seems to loosen up the songwriting and just be himself, in all his authentic weirdness.
12. Allegaeon, DAMNUM
These Colorado wizards always find a way to outdo themselves, and DAMNUM keeps that trend running strong.
Devastatingly heavy and still memorably melodic, DAMNUM blasts its way through 12 tracks of staggering musicianship and songwriting. It deftly shifts from classically inspired interludes to world-devouring destruction at a moment’s notice. Exhibit A: “Of Beasts and Worms.” Most of the time, this music doesn’t even sound like it was written by human beings – it’s more like a cybernetically enhanced entity that still maintains its humanity under a Terminator-like disguise.
Halfway through the album, “To Carry My Grief Through Torpor and Silence” hits, and if the album stopped right after that, DAMNUM would arguably still be one of the year’s best metal records. The fact that you get a whopping eight more songs of sheer devastation after that point is a pure joy to blast as loudly as possible.
11. Darkened, The Black Winter
My list to this point is making me realize 2022 was one hell of a year for melodeath.
The Black Winter is the second album from these Swedes, and it’s one of those rare cases of the sequel far exceeding its predecessor. Filled with nasty riffs that cause your head to unconsciously nod along throughout, Darkened have been clearly drinking the Gothenburg Kool-Aid to start their mornings. The songwriting has taken their craft to the next level, as songs like “Blood” and “Fearful Quandary” scratch that catchy riff itch to a very satisfying extent. The Black Winter is an exercise in heaviness that you’ll be going back to long after the dark months have ended.
is there 10 missing ?
Wow what a great taste in music!
Where’s the rest?