In terms of my output to this blog, this past year felt like a 2021 redux. Not only did I devote an embarrassing amount of time digging through my video game backlog (Elden Ring is 100% deserving of all the praise it’s received) but I also traveled quite a bit more than usual to play more dodgeball while my body can still handle it. Yes…dodgeball. No…it’s (mostly) not like the movie. This double whammy left me with virtually no energy to write reviews. I can’t promise 2023 will see any fewer video games or less dodgeball but I’ll do my damndest to prioritize throwing together some more writing for around these parts. That all being said, 2022 had plenty of gems that are worth checking out!
15. Live Burial - Curse of the Forlorn
Old school death metal worship can be very hit or miss but the latest from UK’s Live Burial is a hit. Curse of the Forlorn churns out the tried and true formula of perpetual barraging from the guitars and drums all on top of guttural growls and shrieks. Also by reveling in lower production values, the album has an echoey quality about it; One that plays rather well with the whole aesthetic. The guitar riffs are full of energy and speed but the aforementioned echoey nature of everything all feeds into a bleak, dismal aura that permeates the whole album. While it’s a death metal album through and through, Curse of the Forlorn carries the emotionally oppressive weight of a funeral doom album. This is a great “misery loves company” type of album on a rainy day.
14. Porcupine Tree - CLOSURE/CONTINUATION
Steven Wilson stayed plenty busy during Porcupine Tree’s 13 year hiatus but actually getting a new Porcupine Tree album this year was a good thing. Truth be told, this one is very heavily influenced by Durf and myself having caught Porcupine Tree live when they came through Chicago a few months ago but seeing their latest album performed live brought another dimension to it. CLOSURE/CONTINUATION won’t eclipse your gold-standards of Porcupine Tree’s discography but there are plenty of their trademark moments of serene melancholy and well paced bursts of technical flourish that make this album well worth your time.
13. Altars - Ascetic Reflection
The first release from Australia’s Altars in nine years, Ascetic Reflection dishes out death metal in a visceral fashion that also carries a familiar dissonance. Guitars storm by with a gritty, crunchy tone while the bellowing vocals add in a new level of deepness to the mix. Bringing to mind the likes of Gorguts, sudden solo-like flurries of high pitched notes from the guitars break up the compositions in interesting ways. At times it feels chaotic but the more you take it in the more it eventually resonates as a controlled chaos. Ascetic Reflection unravels in many unpredictable ways but there’s also plenty of bite to it that anchors the whole album.
12. Nite - Voices of the Kronian Moon
Pairing the harmonized guitar riffage of traditional heavy metal with grizzled vocals, the sophomore album from San Francisco's Nite gives us something that is simultaneously familiar and refreshing. Each track that passes by on Voices of the Kronian Moon features straightforward but effective melodic hooks that will not fail to implant themselves in your head. The most intriguing part of this classic metal worship album, however, comes from the vocals. The echoing, raspy snarls going by gives the impression you’re hearing Nachtmystium in an entirely different context. All the elements at play here are familiar but, when all heard together, it creates an interesting mix that is undeniably fun to bob your head to.
11. The Halo Effect - Days of the Lost
This is the “comfort food” entry of my list. Comprised of former In Flames members, the debut from Sweden’s Halo Effect hits all the classic tenets of melodic death metal. Each track is filled with so many riffs effortlessly building into melodic choruses that you’ll forget whether you’re listening to Spotify or your local rock radio station. The In Flames itch is one I haven’t thought I’ve needed scratched in a long time but Days of the Lost scratches it until it bleeds.
10. Animals As Leaders - Parrhesia
We know the formula. We know the level of musicianship to expect. But does this stop us from checking out each new Animals As Leaders album? Absolutely not. Admittedly, the past couple of their albums didn’t have me coming back to them like their first two. Parrhesia, however, is a breath of fresh air. The djent stylings are still very much in place (and very much accentuated) but there are numerous shock and awe moments that remind us this is Tosin Abasi’s world and we’re all just living in it. It’s been a hot minute since Animals As Leaders were the new kids on the block but listening to Parrhesia was like hearing them for the first time again.
9. Pyrithe - Monuments to Impermanence
This album is just pure chaos. From barrages of unfiltered, distorted noise to moments of slowed down, sublime ambience, Pyrithe’s debut full-length album goes to the extremes in every direction. But don’t get this confused with throwing everything against the wall to see what sticks. While it’s sludge at its core, Monuments to Impermanence takes a little of everything and blends it all together in unusually captivating ways. Neurosis would be an easy comparison to draw when hearing the more thunderous sections but this album goes so much further than that. It’s a listening experience where every twist and turn is as unpredictable as the last, making it experimental in every sense of the word.
8. Mizmor, Thou - Myopia
If a smothering doom experience is what you seek, look no further than this collaboration from two rather well-versed parties on the subject. From beginning to end, Myopia is as heavy hitting as it is somber. Each track rains down a plethora of crusty guitar distortion that reverberates heavily alongside equally as rugged vocal shrieks. It’s an oppressively gloomy atmosphere that defines this album but it’s impossible to not get sucked in by it. Many passages of softer guitar notes break up the more abrasive moments but they still manage to form a great deal of tension. While Myopia won’t overwhelm your senses by playing as many notes on average as the other entries on this list, the tradeoff is that every crash of the drum, strike of each guitar chord, and every vocal scream will shake you right to your core.
7. Fallujah - Empyrean
For whatever reason, Fallujah is a band I never understood the hype for in the past. I tried and tried but nothing ever stuck for me. Empyrean sticks. This is tech-death metal that knows when to not be overly wanky and obnoxious. Imagine Obscura if they weren’t quite so Obscura-y. There is still plenty of technical prowess about this album but the guitars, in particular, take more liberties in stretching out melodies that soar behind the vocals. I try to avoid using the term “ethereal” like the plague given how overused it is, but like the title of the album suggests, these moments are exactly that. It’s an odd mix but Empyrean strikes the perfect balance between fragility and heaviness.
6. Fit For an Autopsy - Oh What the Future Holds
Anything deathcore or deathcore-adjacent I tend to be leery of but I saw enough rumblings about Oh What the Future Holds to give it a chance. What impressed me the most about this album, and what keeps me coming back to it, is how all of the band’s elements maintain a balanced flow where nothing overstays its welcome. The vocals are guttural but never too pig-squealy, the guitars showcase plenty of chugga-chugga breakdowns but all of which are bookended by more intricate riffs that keep things more interesting, and small bits of ambience are sprinkled in to keep the album as a whole well paced. For all of those who poo-poo deathcore (like I typically do), this will be a pleasant surprise.
5. Hath - All That Was Promised
As opposed to the filthier types of death metal where everything is buried in a mucky mix, Hath opts for better production that allows all the elements of the band to shine through. The constant crashing of the drums, the powerful growls of the vocals adding extra oomph to the bass, and the chunky nature of the guitar rhythms all come together to form a solid death metal base. What sets All That Was Promised apart, however, is its attention to compositional detail. It would be a bit of a stretch to label Hath “progressive” but there are usages of acoustic guitars and slower-paced build-ups that go a bit above and beyond the death metal status quo that, as a result, create an extremely captivating flow and ambience throughout the entirety of the album. It may be surprising to hear all the moving pieces at play in All That Was Promised but they’re all discernible enough that your ears will bask in their cohesion.
4. Dreadnought - The Endless
While their past efforts have carved a very specific niche for themselves, Dreadnought’s latest stays within the progressive doom metal sphere but pivots in different directions you might not necessarily expect. Instead of juxtaposing jazzy, saxophone-laden interludes with chunky guitar riffs, The Endless leans more heavily into harmonized vocal rhythms set against grandiose walls of distortion. It’s a deeply introspective album that is easily the band’s most mature to date. It may not be “progressive” in the way you would expect it to be but there are guaranteed to be plenty of moments that will impress you regardless.
3. Gevurah - Gehinnom
It’s been six long years since the full length debut from Canadian black metallers Gevurah but Gehinnom doesn’t miss a step. As the genre has evolved, the “fuck religion”/”let’s burn churches” origins of black metal have been explored so much now that they’ve lost their edge. At this point in time, it’s approaches like Gevurah’s brand of metaphysical interpretations of Luciferianism that provoke more reactions like “damn, that’s evil.” Each track goes by with a methodical, ritualistic pace. Accompanied by crashing drums and gravelly vocal howls, guitars swirl and drone by with a menacing tone. Gehinnom is steadfast in its assault and employs moments of immense power that separate it from the rest of the pack.
Favorite Tracks : “At the Orient of Eden”, “Gloria in Excelsis Deo, Et IRA Ad Homines in Terra”
2. White Ward - False Light
The black metal + saxophone formula for Ukraine’s White Ward continues to be one of the most unique sounds around. With the tranquil smoothness of the saxophone naturally blending in with the abrasiveness of black metal, False Light picks up right where their last release, 2019’s Love Exchange Failure, left off. What’s different this time around, though, is how the band takes this formula and further perfects it. False Light reflects White Ward maturing as a band right before your eyes (ears?). The screams are extra grating, the riffs hit extra hard, and the in-betweens are all the more transfixing. White Ward is operating on a high level. Take notice, folks.
1. Blackbraid - Blackbraid I
From the Adirondack Mountains emerges a solo Native American black metal project that is hopefully here to stay for quite some time. Composed and performed by Sgah'gahsowáh, Blackbraid serves up a familiar but strikingly earnest brand of black metal. Compositionally, this album is straightforward but is executed so well that the lifeblood of this album becomes instantly apparent. From the first note of the cold, menacing guitars to the relentless pounding of the drums, Blackbraid I crafts a soundscape full of animosity and grandeur. This soundscape is perfectly matched by the lyrical theme of a forest tainted by war but one that is also imbued with a mighty ancestral wisdom. What one can only assume are traditional Native American wind instruments further drives this theme home. Hearing nature-centric black metal isn’t anything new but hearing it from a Native American perspective is one that isn’t heard nearly enough. It doesn’t rewrite the black metal playbook but Blackbraid’s debut boasts an intensity that elevates it to its own level.