(Today Denver-based NCS writer Gonzo presents the second half of his 2022 year-end list, counting down to the Album of the Year spot. If you missed the first Part, it’s here.)
Ah yes, here’s where we get to the good stuff.
Musically speaking, 2022 surprised me in several ways. It seems like every year just before I put this list together, there’s always the proverbial October surprise – that is, one or more albums that surface in late fall that are so damn good they upend my plans for the top 20 I was just about to write. This year, I planned for it, anticipating some absolute bangers that dropped in October and November, and those anticipations quickly bubbled into a reality that well exceeded what I was hoping for.
All told, it’s a good problem to have. Here’s where we get to my top 10 picks of the year.
10. Sumerlands, Dreamkiller
The pure nostalgia brought about by listening to Sumerlands’ latest and greatest output is unrivaled. Through and through, this thing wears its influences on its sleeves, deftly channeling every bit of the glory days of No More Tears-era Ozzy Osbourne and Holy Diver–era Dio into one cohesive, satisfying listen.
“Twilight Points the Way” gets things off to a gallop, with new vocalist Brendan Radigan showing off some truly impressive pipes. “Edge of the Knife” hooks you with a memorable chorus and injects some arena-rock flavor into the mix. It could’ve easily been a cheesy record that leans more towards late-stage Ratt than anything else, but with Dreamkiller, Sumerlands balances old-school nostalgia with new-school sensibilities into a record that doesn’t have an ounce of extra fat on it.
09. Nechochwen, Kanawha Black
Indigenous metal had a banner year, with this album being the most exciting of what I heard of it (and yes, even though Blackbraid’s newest effort didn’t quite crack this list, it came damn close.)
West Virginia’s Nechochwen have hit their creative peak with Kanawha Black, a ferocious modern-day black metal masterpiece that takes listeners on a journey into another time. Or, at least, a journey into a different perspective. The eponymous classically trained guitarist, who has Cherokee roots, isn’t afraid to weave in a generous portion of his heritage into the mix here, with results that are nothing short of glorious. The fretwork on “The Murky Deep” is glorious, as is the unfettered white-hot rage that makes “Generations of War” one of my top songs of the year. Definitely an essential listening experience from this year, and one I’ll be returning to several times long after we usher in ’23.
08. Parasite Inc., Cyan Night Dreams
For years, these German gentlemen have been flying under everyone’s radar, and I still have no idea how they’ve been so criminally overlooked.
With a precision-damage staccato riff onslaught that runs side-by-side with an industrial underbelly, Parasite Inc. have a sound that isn’t easy to pull off. Their thunderous riffs hit like the Terminator punching a hole through a biker’s torso, but the riffs and production value bring an organic feel to a soundscape that would’ve been otherwise devoid of life forms. “I Am,” “First Born,” and especially “In False Light” showcase the fine-tuned bombast that the band have spent the last several years refining, and by the time “When All is Said” appropriately rounds things off, you’ll want this fucker on repeat for the indefinite future – even as bleak as this band makes it sound like.
07. Brutus, Unison Life
No matter what year it is, there’s always that “grow on you” record that gets subtly better and better with each listen. For me, this Belgian post-metal unit claimed that crown in 2022 with Unison Life.
Equally dreamy and ethereal as it is bleak and crushing, Brutus have crafted an audial gem. This record pulsates with raw emotion from start to finish, with vocalist/drummer Stefanie Mannaerts giving a bravura performance on both the kit and the pipes. The melodic hook of “Victoria” is downright infectious, and the urgency of the vocal performance in “What Have We Done” is quite compelling. It’s part of what makes Unison Life so damn addicting. I recommend not kicking this habit anytime soon.
06. Hypermass, Empyrean
Riffs, riffs, riffs. As I’ve yelled about in my previous post, this was the year of heavy riffs. The best one in recent memory, I’d venture. So what better time for a band like Norway’s Hypermass to come out of nowhere and drop the absolute beast that is Empyrean?
Imagine Power Trip writing songs with Soilwork and you’ll get a sense of what Hypermass is all about. Leadoff track “Hivemind” (after the brief 2-minute intro of “The Constant”) delivers some of the most unhinged riffing this side of Gothenburg; complete with the requisite amount of “UURGH” for good measure. If your blood isn’t absolutely pumping after the first minute of this album, check your pulse.
To round things off, “Null and Void” and “Behind the Leviathan” slow the tempos down a little, but offer no respite from the constant barrage of weapons-grade guitars that threaten to rip a hole through your speakers by the time this thing is over and done.
05. The Halo Effect, Days of the Lost
File another one under the “believe the hype” category.
Featuring a who’s-who of the Swedish extreme metal scene, including ex-In Flames axe man Jesper Stromblad and current Dark Tranquillity vocalist Mikael Stanne, The Halo Effect is more than the sum of its parts. This, their debut album, is everything I love about melodic death metal contained in 10 songs.
I won’t sit here and try to compare this to the glory days of In Flames, because I don’t think that’s a fair comparison to make anymore. The Halo Effect are content to blaze their own path without repackaging what made records like Lunar Strain and Whoracle so fucking great. Don’t misread that, though – the influence is most certainly there, but the songwriting is more mature, more robust, and more adventurous throughout Days of the Lost. Stanne sounds every bit as confident and precise as he always has in his vocal delivery, while the rhythm section shows why its members are so prolific as well. Sharp riffs, shout-along choruses, and a wholly – dare I say – fun vibe is what makes Days of the Lost such a goddamn joy to listen to.
04. Elder, Innate Passage
According to my list to this point, Germany had one hell of a year for heavy music.
And I say this while knowing full well that Elder’s last record, Omens, was my #1 album of 2020. That album got me through some truly dark times; not the least of which was that fucking pandemic that resulted in the largest swath of humanity to ever collectively stare at a wall in recorded history.
But enough about that – Innate Passage picks up right where Omens left off, channeling every bit of psychedelic glory and ethereal wonder as its predecessor did. At one point, probably during the 50th time I heard the sublime wonder that is “Coalescence”, I just started to think what a privilege it is to hear the collective consciousness of Elder kick into full steam again. They’re masterful songwriters, no doubt some of the most skilled in the scene these days, and the fact that Innate Passage only has five songs and I still can’t get enough of it should pretty much tell the story here. Put your headphones on, grab a seat (or lay down and stare a wall like it’s 2020 again) and let this record take you wherever it’s taking you.
03. Somali Yacht Club, The Space
Ukrainian music certainly emerged in 2022, for obvious reasons, as a universal symbol of hope and resistance. This Ukraine trio have pumped enough hypnotic wonder into The Space to make it stand on its own without that otherwise bleak backdrop, however.
The Space is not unlike Elder’s aforementioned output in that it just takes you somewhere. It won’t be the heaviest thing you’ve heard this year, to be sure, but let that take nothing away from the engrossing wonder that this music sets forth. It’s a post-everything kind of record, channeling bits of ISIS and even Tool or Wheel (the proggy one) at times, relying on drone-like melody to hook you in. When it finally does crescendo and descend into its heavier moments, this Ukrainian trio shows that a minimalist approach can often defy the odds – not unlike the resolve Ukraine itself has so bravely shown this year.
02. Spiritworld, DEATHWESTERN
God fucking damn, this is a fun record.
I made the critical error of missing out on last year’s Pagan Rhythms by this expertly skilled Vegas outfit. And when I say “missed out,” I mean I heard it well after my 2021 Listmania writeup was in the books, foregoing my chance to rank it about as high as I’d rank DEATHWESTERN, if we’re being honest.
Man, those fucking riffs. I haven’t had this much fun with a riff-infused concoction like this since the first time I heard Power Trip’s Nightmare Logic. Songs like “U L C E R,” “Relic of Damnation,” and “Committee of Buzzards” paint a vast portrait of a harsh, hostile world that’s overrun by zombies in a spaghetti Western universe – except instead of the ominous country/folk leanings that would normally make up that world’s soundtrack, you get these fucking riffs.
In short, DEATHWESTERN is the most fun I had listening to metal in 2022. It’s a wild, raucous ride that demands your undivided attention. Hell, it does everything short of physically grabbing you by the neck.
01. An Abstract Illusion, Woe
While other albums are content to follow a theme, a motif, if you will – Sweden’s An Abstract Illusion would rather keep you engaged in ways that few bands can match.
There’s nothing simple or one-dimensional about any of Woe. It’s a thoroughly developed monster of a record that boasts unapologetically long and involved song lengths, extremely complex arrangements, and a degree of ferocious heaviness that, when firing on all cylinders, is purely formidable. It’s the same kind of “almost-too-complex-but-somehow-still-very-listenable” brand that Archspire nailed last year with Bleed the Future, but…. Different?
What I’m trying to say, I suppose, is that Woe shattered any expectations I had for it, pounded them into powder, snorted said powder, and laughed in my unworthy little face about it. If “Tear Down This Holy Mountain” and “In the Heavens Above, You Will Become a Monster” aren’t some of the most iconic musical moments of 2022, I haven’t been doing this whole “write about music” thing the right way. The massive body of work these three Swedes have crafted is a study in how to utterly shred in ways that others will be following and mimicking for a long, long time. Just an essential listen.