We seem to pick up new readers every year, even as some older readers finally give up and bid us an adios, with or without middle fingers raised. So I guess it’s still worth telling people what they’re getting themselves into with this series, though it’s not worth writing a brand new preface, hence my copying of the one from last year.
This is traditionally the last part of our annual LISTMANIA extravaganza, which is why I’m beginning it today, since the other main part of the series ended today with this post. This particular series isn’t about best albums or best shorter releases, and it isn’t even about best songs. As the title says, it’s about “most infectious” songs. Some of those might be among the year’s best songs, but in every year there are stand-out songs that aren’t immediately infectious, and actually might never be. Conversely, there are some highly infectious songs every year that most people wouldn’t critically acclaim as great works of art.
The process of compiling this list is a bit bizarre, or at least very poorly planned. Let me explain:
I try to keep a running list of songs I find infectious as the year unfolds, though sometimes I let a week or two go by without adding to it, so there are gaps. On top of my own list, I added a list of all the songs recommended by readers in response to this invitation. DGR also sent me his own recommendations, and this year maybe Andy Synn will eventually add some suggestions of his own. Putting all of that together, what I have in front of me right now is a master list of 564 candidates.
What I then did was to put that master list in alphabetical order by band name, which allowed me to see how many bands and songs got repeat mentions. As usual, there was a ton of scatter this year. 58 bands had either 2 or 3 song picks on the master list. Only 10 bands had 4 or more.
I do pay attention to the bands that got repeat mentions, but the ultimate choices are my own. In other words, this list isn’t the result of a vote or any other kind of popularity contest. I do try to spread the picks around among different genres and sub-genres, because in a way it’s also intended to be a reflection on what the last year brought us, but it’s inevitable that it will reflect my own particular tastes more than anyone else’s.
Getting back to the “poorly planned” observation: If I had nothing else to do for NCS and nothing else going on with my life, I’d spend the last month of the year methodically going through that master list and compiling my final list so that it’s all nailed down and buttoned up before I start rolling it out here in the first week of January. But that never happens. Instead, I just make a start and then continue to figure things out as January rolls on. That’s why I have no idea at this point how long the list will be by the time I end it.
As for when I will end it, I will try to do that by the end of this month, and in the meantime I’ll try to post an installment every weekday, and maybe sometimes on the weekends. The list will end when I force myself to stop, and thus it won’t really be complete even then. By the way, though I will number each of the near-daily installments, the list will be unranked — because ranking presupposes that I would first have a complete and final list and then be able, somehow, to compare all the apples and oranges. The first thing isn’t a reality, and the second thing ie beyond my capabilities.
Okay, enough with the laborious introduction. Time to get started. As you’ll see, these first two picks create something of a… contrast.
WHITE WARD (Ukraine)
I decided to begin with a song by White Ward for three reasons: First, the album that includes it, False Light, was one of the best of 2022. Just at our site it ranked No. 12 on DGR‘s YE list and No. 11 on Wil Cifer‘s list, it made Andy Synn‘s list of the year’s Great Albums, and it appeared on no fewer than 18 of our readers’ year-end lists.
Second, on that master list of infectious tracks that I compiled (described above), White Ward had more song nominations than any other band — 8 of them.
And third, they are from Ukraine. I hope I don’t have to explain why that matters this year.
Among the songs that different people proposed from False Light for this list, the one named most often was “Leviathan“, and that helped me choose it, because I was hovering between that one and several others from the album. It might seem to be an odd choice, because it’s a long song and it’s often a challenge for a long track to qualify as “infectious”, but I do think this one qualifies. As Andy wrote in his review, “the phenomenal first track alone is just over thirteen minutes of moody atmosphere, gloomy ambience, seething blackened intensity and smooth, soulful saxophone, all topped off with some absolutely savage, shrieking vocals (as well as some poignant, penultimate, clean singing).” I might as well also share what I wrote about the song after I first heard it:
It’s another marvelous representation of White Ward‘s ability to interweave many seemingly disparate genre ingredients to create a wholly immersive listening experience. It jolts and batters, ominously towers and gloriously soars, vents intense vocal torment and seduces the listener with smoky saxophone melodies, drifts away into slow strummed chords and ambient mists as the setting for a sublime trumpet solo, thunders and brings in sorrowful singing, and builds toward a stunning finale.
So this is one of those instances where a song is infectious because it pulls you back, and happens to be not only infectious but also a great artistic accomplishment. A fitting pick, I think, for the first entry in this 2022 list.
TRIBAL GAZE (U.S.)
This Texas band’s 2022 album The Nine Choirs also did well for itself at our site, making both Andy‘s list of of the year’s Great Albums and his Personal Top 10 list. For those of you who haven’t yet discovered it, here’s some of what Andy wrote in his review:
From the churning chug-a-thon of “Cold Devotion”, all the way through to the crushing climax of “Worthless Offering”, The Nine Choirs hits like it’s trying to redefine what the term “heavy” means, dropping super-massive riffs and gravity-distorting grooves like they were going out of fashion (not that they ever will).
Whether the band are leaning hard into the “pure” Death Metal side of things (as on the utterly savage “With This Creature I Return”) or embracing their Metallic Hardcore roots (as they do during the stripped-down strut of “To Gather In Its Presence”), or slamming the two together as violently as possible (“Jealous Messiah”), there’s barely a moment on this album where Tribal Gaze aren’t trying their hardest to cave your skull in.
At the same time, however, the album also serves as a showcase for how much the band have tightened up their songwriting and sharpened their hooks since the release of Godless Voyage – just try to keep your head from banging to the brutish, bone-jarring rhythms and frantic eruptions of fury that make up “And How They Wept For Eternity” or the neck-wrecking nastiness of “Jungle Rituals”, I dare you – and even injected an added dash of technical flash into the mix in the shape of some twisted, cyanide-laced lead parts.
After all, it’s well established that you don’t necessarily need to build a better mousetrap to be successful, you just need to figure out how to scale it up to kill as many mice as possible. And that’s what Tribal Gaze have done here – they’ve taken an already pretty lethal sound and boosted its killing power even more.
What a ride. What a rush. What an album.
Well, I had already decided to put a song from The Nine Choirs on this list at some point, but coincidentally the album popped up as one of the few metal releases on a year-end list we published earlier today, the one from Seb Painchaud that ended the main part of our LISTMANIA series. And it happened that the one song he singled out for commentary was the one I had picked. So here’s that commentary:
Dude, it has been a long ass fucking time since any death metal has made it up in here. I blast tons of it, but it usually doesn’t have the lasting effect needed for me to revisit several times and name it list-worthy. But seriously, if that opening groove doesn’t give you stankface then your facial muscles are paralyzed and you are currently having a stroke.
These guys have really mastered the art of keeping the same guitar riff while the drums switch into that kick snare kick snare 1-2 beat that makes you do a headbang/shoulder-bop combo. You know exactly what I’m talking about.
If you play “And How They Wept For Eternity” at my funeral, I swear to god my dick will get hard one last time when the drums come back in during the second riff, in a muscle memory meets rigors mortis act of absolute filth that still falls short to paying tribute to the dank nastiness held within these songs.
While you hold that image of Seb‘s coffin erection in your mind, please enjoy my second pick for this list, “And How They Wept For Eternity”.