This is Vol. 2 of our annual mid-year wrap-up, compiling our hand-selected best of the records we somehow neglected to cover during the first half of 2022. You should’ve already read Part 1, but if you’ve been slacking on your reading like apparently we were slacking on covering all the great records of this year, then you can read it here. Stay tuned tomorrow for Vol. 3!
ZERO HOUR ‒ AGENDA 21
released May 13; Frontiers
I did not expect to be gifted a Zero Hour album in 2022. Fourteen long years passed since the band’s last release, the excellent Dark Deceiver, and there did not appear to be much happening behind the scenes. Yet Zero Hour now makes its glorious return with its seventh album and a revamped line featuring Andreas Bomqvist (bass, Seventh Wonder), Roel van Helden (drums, Powerwolf), original vocalist Erik Rosvold, and of course Jasun Tipton on guitars. Undeserving as it may be, 2022 needed Agenda 21.
Rosvold’s reappearance alone should reassure most, but rest assured that Zero Hour does not miss a beat with Agenda 21. Though Tipton clearly approached the songwriting here differently—it is less dense than the more challenging Dark Deceiver—it still feels very much like a signature epically chuggy and noodly twist-filled adventure. Tipton is every bit the showman and Zero Hour remains heavy prog. But there are just a few more meditative moments than one might otherwise expect from the band.
Album opener “Democide” rather conveniently exemplifies this shift to a more spacious sound. Seemingly comprised of several acts, some busier than others, the song is carried as much by Rosvold’s vocal hooks as Tipton’s always impressive riffs. And when those riffs reach a fever pitch shortly before the six-minute mark, the band switches gears and Rosvold is given the spotlight during a particularly smooth break in action. That dynamic is fairly representative of the record as a whole.
Rich and rewarding, Agenda 21 and its charms reveal themselves much like the albums’ predecessors—with time. Though it is a shorter window, it is no less demanding of your attention. But those well versed in Zero Hour know that half the fun is getting deep in the weeds. That challenge felt oddly comforting. [CHRIS C]
CRYSTALLINE EXHAUSTION & PSYCHAGOGUE
Crystalline Exhaustion self-released January 28; CD and cassette from P2
Psychagogue self-released June 17; CD from Hathenter
Krallice has had an interesting pandemic. 2020’s Mass Cathexis came out nearly three years after its predecessor, which for Krallice is basically the timespan of the Triassic Period. With it came some slight shifts in their sound, with Colin Marston taking up keyboards in addition to his usual guitar, which helped amplify their cosmic vibes. Last year’s Demonic Wealth felt both progressive for them with the addition of even more synths, and regressive in its by-Krallice-standards lo-fi approach (drums that were recorded on a smartphone).
It seems that just messing around with keyboards and production techniques wasn’t enough, because on both of their 2022 albums so far (it’s only July, after all), they’ve decided to swap around their instruments. Marston stays on keys but drops guitar altogether, while Mick Barr and Nicholas McMaster swap guitar and bass jobs. Neither Crystalline Exhaustion nor Psychagogue maintains that relatively necro vibe from Demonic Wealth, but both continue to indulge the band’s Vangelis side, resulting in even more material that could jokingly be called “Lurker of Krallice.” It’s a touch less techy than much of their past material, but whether that is the result of instrument changes or they changed instruments as a way to arrive at this destination is unknown. And it’s not like they’re suddenly playing minimalist music; one does not simply take the skronk out of Krallice.
Crystalline Exhaustion came first in January, and let’s just take a minute to appreciate the band Krallice releasing an album called CRYSTALLINE EXHAUSTION considering their older album lengths and riff style. Potential in-jokes aside, the record doesn’t just use the synths to create a wider space than much of their more claustrophobic material, but often sees the guitars more opened up and delivering riffs that are more typically black metal. The keys also sometimes do little pings and pongs, which add to the shades of 90s dungeony synths. Therein lies the contrast that Krallice has achieved here. By still writing largely in a fairly busy and non-linear fashion, any “hypnotic black metal” vibes that may be hinted at by the keys tend to still get occasionally whipped up into a Krallice frenzy, if an admittedly far less busy frenzy than the past. It’s at different times imaginatively escapist, deeply unsettling, dizzying, and relaxing—during the title track alone you might not know whether to hide or hug, depending on the moment, all while staying within the bounds of truly atmospheric black metal.
Psychagogue, which just landed in June, is notably less spaced out than its predecessor, hitting the metal and bombast (yes, bombast) right out of the gate, and overall seeming like it chose a midpoint between Demonic and Crystalline as its initial jumping-off point before… kinda going nuts. “Deliberate Fog” (quite the on-the-nose title, guys) flips the cosmic atmospheric material of Crystalline into the kinda cold, tension/resolution sweet spot you hear on Northern Silence—melodic, beautiful, and rather reserved. Elsewhere, however, Krallice gets back to their nonlinear weirdness, with a track like “Arrokoth Trireme” at different times sounding like a very strange (but danceable?) battle and at others like 80s Rush draped over techy, progressive black metal.
If Crystalline Exhaustion is as close to pure escapism as Krallice has ever delivered, Psychagogue is likely their most diverse and perplexing record to date. We’ll see what else they have planned for 2022 by, oh, about Labor Day at the latest, I figure. Maniacs. [ZACH DUVALL]
TRIAC ‒ PURE JOY – NUMB GRIEF-STRICKEN ANIMALS
released June 1; RSR
When you need a short burst of pure hostility that’s the musical equivalent of 10,000 middle fingers in the air, Triac has you covered. Pure Joy – Numb Grief-Stricken Animals may only be 16-minutes long, but it unleashes so much rage in that brief window to shatter every plate, lamp and vase in an apartment building. Despite no track surpassing two minutes, Triac manage to still create actual songs with structure rather than just hapless blasting. Take “Endless Seizure,” for example; it comes sliding in on guitar with some raucous drum rolls, unleashes a biting woozy riff at mach-10 speed, drops it into hyper-drive and pops the clutch to drop it back to a pseudo-breakdown with a glimmer of groove to end it. It will probably take your brain the same amount of time to fully think through that sentence as it will to listen to the song – that’s how quickly it all happens.
Despite a blast-them-to-bits mentality, Triac avoid being a one-trick pony by incorporating passages and elements of varied influences. You can hear a Weekend Nachos bit of sludge on the grind in “Loathsome,” hardcore roots in the mid-paced bruising of “Grief-Stricken,” a rolling rhythmic pummel in “Limping Animal,” and a squirrelly hideous take on a guitar lead that can only come from the most deranged noise-merchants on “Useless Coma.”
If those song titles didn’t convince you, please note the album closes with “Salted Slug.”
If the world has you clenching your fists right now, and it should, the Triac’s blistering attack might just be the ball of pissed off to meet your commiseration needs. [SPENCER HOTZ]
PREHISTORIA ‒ CURSED LANDS
released January 21; Independent
Not sure whether or not you’ve noticed, but the US is pretty damned good at power metal. Like, maybe even better at power metal these days compared to, I dunno, Germany. WAIT, WHAT? HOW DARE YOU. [Suffers the slings and arrows of outrageous Germans.] Okay, let’s ease back on that pedal a bit.
Veritable point of fact, though: The US has been absolutely killing it in the power metal department of late, creeping ever closer to the level managed in Yon Elden Age, back when this particular bump on the globe was churning out heavyweight after heavyweight prior to the off-shoot’s European metamorphosis at the hands of power metal’s majestic sovereigns Helloween. Welp, Indiana’s Prehistoria (yes, I said Indiana. Why do people always look so surprised when Indiana throws down for metal) is the latest cluster of hair-farming souls interested in jockeying for an ultimate power position in these here United States, and their debut EP, Cursed Lands, kicks up 20 minutes of primo power dust potent enough to knock Charlie Sheen on his ass for a solid week.
Pieced together amidst pandemic woes by 3/4’s of the equally underground Zephaniah, Prehistoria has arrived with the particularly noble mission to launch the listener to a faraway land that’s… Well, perfectly depicted once again by none other than Adam Burke, who’s responsible for that splendid cover artwork. The accompanying music is powerful (duh)—at times pelting your face with an aggression matched by the likes of Persuader or Noble Beast (remember them?), but also weaving bits together in a moderately more progressive manner that recalls the complexity of, say, Pagan’s Mind, or the other face of Noble Beast, the considerably underrated Chaos Frame.
You will absolutely take notice of everyone involved with the Cursed Lands EP, because all of Prehistoria’s players bring a level of knack and sophistication that begs the question, “why the fricken hell aren’t more people talking about Prehistoria?” However, please be extra prepared to have your ears blown off by a vocalist who’s equally adept at hitting pure power highs as he is at layering those same heights into something that’s really not that far off from King Diamond. I know, right? In other words, stop dickin’ around and go throw some money at Prehistoria. The CD is an absolutely outrageous FIVE BUCKS via their bandcamp! Go! Go! Go! [CAPTAIN]
NECHOCHWEN ‒ KANAWHA BLACK
released May 13; Bindrune Recordings
The first (and titular) track on Nechochwen’s fourth album, Kanawha Black, wastes precisely zero time in getting straight down to business, thumping directly into a stridently triumphant strut that soon gives way to an impassioned sprint that splits the difference between black metal and melodic death metal. Kanawha Black finds the West Virginian duo continue their streak of immersive, emotional storytelling that they began to really perfect on Heart of Akamon, exploring Nechochwen founder Aaron Carey’s own Native American heritage alongside the broader historical scope of native people’s experience with European settler incursions.
Across this richly textured and wonderfully paced album, Nechochwen radiates outward from that melodic, rustic black metal core, as on the neofolk and gentle prog touches of “I Can Die But Once” or the folky twang of “A Cure for the Winter Plagues,” which hints at Americana-infused epic doom. Even in its harsher elements, Kanawha Black is undergirded by a muscular heavy metal backbone. This makes it an excellent companion to Inexorum’s recently released Equinox Vigil, even though Nechochwen is looser and more emotive. The dual guitar section that rears its head like a downed power line at the midpoint of “Across the Divide” is a raw, delirious capstone to an album that walks through both elegance and ferocity with equanimity. A powerful vision of the many ghosts that inhabit the federation of fractured histories that we call, in a linguistic reduction that borders on hubris, America. [DAN OBSTKRIEG]
SADIST ‒ FIRESCORCHED
released May 20; Agonia
Make no mistake, Sadist is still very much Tommy Talamanca’s band. He’s handled guitars, keyboards, and songwriting since the band’s inception in 1991, as well as production and mastering on their last five albums. And Trevor Nadir’s caustic growl is at the front again, same as ever since 1996. But there has been a shake up in Sadist’s ranks, as the prog death pioneers’ most recent incarnation features new additions in bassist Jeroen Paul Thesseling of Obscura, and drummer Romain Goulon, formerly of Necrophagist and about a hundred other progressive and death metal bands. It’s Sadist’s first line-up change since their reanimation in 2005, and those names and associations ought to have all fans of technical metal sitting up in anticipation of what album number nine, Firescorched, has in store.
Now Firescorched is, in many ways, just what Sadist has been doing for over thirty years: expertly executed, otherworldly death metal, technical and progressive and layered with odd ornamentation, including the lute, chamber strings, piano and harpsichord, juxtaposing those old timey elements with modern rhythms and futuristic sounds to tell strange tales of fantasy and horror. But the theme on Firescorched — which is pretty much, uh… fire — is absolutely a metaphor as effective as it is obvious. These nine songs rip and curl through their 38+ minutes like the Balrog’s whip in the chasmic black, as frequently beautiful as it is devastating, giving as much spotlight to blistering bass and incensed percussion as to Tommy’s searing lead guitar, which is to say, fire on fire on fire. [LONE WATIE]