This is the final installment 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 Parts 1 and 2, 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 Vol. 1 here and Vol. 2 here. On a rare serious note, thanks to you all for reading: We can’t do this without you, and it’s been a fun year so far (musically, at least… in almost every other way, well… we’ll discuss all that later). Hang in there, friends — and thank you again.
AUTHOR & PUNISHER ‒ KRÜLLER
released Feb 11; Relapse
Friends, here is where I must admit freely (for the first and surely only time) to being a no-account doofus: after falling in love with Tristan Shone’s Author & Punisher project around the time of Drone Machines and following his progress raptly over the next several years, I lost track after 2015’s Melk en Honig. Based on the absurd strength of Krüller, his seventh full-length album (and second for Relapse), I will be sure to catch up on what I’ve missed. The easy focus with A&P’s massive, industrial doom/drone music has always been the hand-crafted machines that Shone builds in order to make his music. Unfortunately, though, that angle has the downside of underplaying the real strength of Shone’s songwriting and musical vision.
Krüller is a fantastically moody album, stomping and stumbling around at a dejected and doomed snail’s pace, but shot through with heavy, wistful synths that make it possible to envision a hulking mechanical giant traipsing through Vangelis’s Blade Runner soundtrack. Shone builds his songs around big, upfront riffs that are enveloped by layers of bone-rattling percussion, but equally impressive on this album is the array of vocal styles, from a stentorian bellow to a reserved croon, and from an acidic snarl to a high, impassioned scream.
“Incinerator” makes excellent use of its unsettlingly quiet moments to heighten the drama when the hammer really comes down, and the breakcore programming on “Blacksmith” adds an unpredictable element to the mix. The most melodic songs on the album, such as “Maiden Star” and “Drone Carrying Dread,” sound like a thrilling synthesis of Devin Townsend circa Accelerated Evolution and Godflesh. “Centurion” bounces like a slow-motion Front Line Assembly, and the rendition of Portishead’s “Glorybox” is an absolutely phenomenal way to do a cover song: keep the skeleton of the song easily recognizable but transform it so thoroughly that it becomes possible to imagine that it never existed in any other way.
I may have missed the last few rotations of Shone’s gravitational orbit, but let’s commit together to sit for a while and bask in the gleaming, obsidian majesty of Krüller, shall we? [DAN OBSTKRIEG]
NO/MAS ‒ CONSUME/DENY/REPENT
released April 29; Closed Casket Activities
Somewhere back in the Dark Ages, when chain-walleted JNCO-clad mallrats roamed the suburbs and ironic chugga-chug cover of 80s pop tunes filled the air, “groove” became a bad word. A tragic turn of events, really, because when applied properly, groove is just one wonderful aspect of the all-encompassing force that brings us together. Witness heads banging in perfect tandem to such disparate-yet-not-dissimilar distant cousins like the undeniable swing of “Walk” or the mid-song slam in “Pierced From Within” and you’ll see what I mean. Get into the groove, and prove your love to each other, to yourself, to the music, to the gods of rhythm and riff.
Like their northern neighbors in Misery Index, DC’s No/Mas mines a mixture heavy on groove, a mash-up of death/grind and hardcore punk that swings hard and hits harder. It’s a potent and explosive combination, and Consume / Deny / Repent wields it damned near perfectly. Expanding on the groundwork laid by 2018’s Raíz Del Mal or 2019’s Last Laugh, this latest effort is a little more refined, a little less raw than those, but very much in the same wheelhouse — Taylor Young’s production gives the band a skilled balance between ferocity and sheen. At fifteen songs in 21 minutes, Consume / Deny / Repent doesn’t waste time on frivolity — from the carving skronk and chunky beatdown of “Exile” to the blasting drive of “Ciego” and the almost-blackened icy vibes that crop up in “Hypothermia,” this is a grade-A crushgroove death/grind monster, all the way.
Yes, mas. Mas mas, por favor. ¡Mas! ¡Mas! ¡Mas! [ANDREW EDMUNDS]
OU ‒ ONE
released May 6; InsideOut
The lede for most of what’s written about OU, including this blurb, will mention that the band is from Beijing, China. Well, of course, right? It’s a sensational bit of info and interesting even at deeper levels. The backstory seems to be pretty sparse: just that drummer and founder, Anthony Vanacore, is a NYC native and current expatriate living in Beijing, where he is very active in music and music education. He recruited some friends and players he’d shared gigs with to explore new avenues of progressive heavy and the result is One, released by Inside Out Music on May 6.
One is strange and diverse and dynamic and absolutely fantastic, a modern prog metal album that eschews the stereotypes and expected tropes associated with that label, even while capitalizing on its strengths. Common references include Devin Townsend, Radiohead, and The Gathering and those are certainly fair and accurate enough, but they’re inadequate. OU’s music also reflects that quintessentially modern prog metal at the intersection of Voyager and Haken, Animals As Leaders and Leprous, all of it both familiar and fresh. The musicianship is extraordinarily strong, sharp, and tight. The songwriting is superb. Ranging from pure prog metal to ambient experimentation, as those references suggest, the experience ultimately strikes a satisfying balance between structure and creative elaboration, the kinds of songs that tickle the artistic intellect without overtaxing it and adds up to everything a fan of modern prog metal could want.
And then there’s the wild card: vocalist Lynn Wu. OU’s musicians and their songs are top notch, and Lynn still stands out as the clear defining strength. She runs a fantastic range of tone and power, painting every song with an array of mesmerizing light textures, gossamer to vigorous and radiant. Lynn takes great songs and elevates them to the upper echelon.
OU’s circumstances are certainly novel, but don’t mistake them for mere novelty. This band is for real and, if (likely tenuous) circumstances allow, we’ll be hearing a whole lot more of them. [LONE WATIE]
BLACK DEATH CULT ‒ DIASPORA
released April 1; Profound Lore
There is a strange, decrepit heart that beats at the heart of Canada’s black metal. Something psychedelic, otherworldly, pulses through its veins. There is a certain lucidity in the violence and brutality that traces its roots to the likes of Blasphemy that reverberates thought the northwestern continent. It’s an understanding of the intensity and brutality of death from the most primitive angle as well as the more cerebral, contemplative understanding of mood that come together to craft what is some of the more wholly realized of the metals black in the modern age.
Take, for example, the latest from Black Death Cult. A doomier “side project” (though I hate to use that term, especially in this context) of Antediluvian’s Haasiophis (also of Canadian black metal royalty Revenge/Conqueror, A.M.S.G., and Gloria Diaboli). While the band’s debut, Devil’s Paradise, seemed a bit over-reaching, it falls into context with its successor, Diaspora. The death/doom-meets-psychedelia-meets-black-metal-occultism of the debut feels just as well-rounded on Diaspora, but the songwriting is noticeably more impactful. From the confident repetition of the riff in opener “Neon Cross” to the blasphemous bile beneath the vilely whispered incantations of “Knights Of The Headless Order,” Black Death Cult feel as though they are focusing in on but one of the many themes touched on with their debut without sacrificing a bit of the intense psychedelia they found along the way. If anything, the sheer weight of the riffs combined with the oddly symphonic (think Into The Pandemonium) elements of closer “The Fractal Conspiracy” is a testament to just how well this band balances the primal urges for something grooving, rocking, and occultly bizarre in the heart of heavy metal; All doing so while leaning heavily into its primal, bloodthirsty desires, primitive ritualism and aspirations to tap into something exciting that utilizes core tropes without ever dipping its toes into the mundane. If that meeting of Deep Purple organ to chaotically bluesy guitar solo over an entrenched groove at the jamming climax of the song/album doesn’t spark something, then, well fuck: I don’t know how else I can help ya. [RYAN TYSINGER]
SOLDAT HANS ‒ ANTHAUPT
released April 22; Wolves And Vibrancy
Every year, I inevitably fall in love with an album that I must debate whether to include in a list like this because it’s heavy but maybe not enough to “truly” be metal. In fact, Metal Archives refuses to list them and we all know that if you ain’t in the archives, you ain’t no real metal band. (Just kidding; their rules are nonsense and great bands get left out all the time.) But, really, the ones that straddle those lines and experiment with genre or expectation are often the most interesting, right?
This Swiss quintet, along with a quintet of other collaborators that contribute trombone and cello among other vital additions, ply thine blessed ears with music that is at once beautiful, somber, triumphant, introspective, sad and so many other wonderful things. There’s nothing but beauty and joy in the nearly seven-minute instrumental opener, but the title track that follows hits you with a nice dose of doom right out of the gate. And it’s not until the nine-minute mark of that title track that the first harsh vocal appears. Leading up to that, however, you get hard-hitting notes backed by a trombone that recall the pomp of “Dawn Of Meggido” and singing that sounds like a cock-rock singer slowly slipping into madness alongside some passages where he sounds downright soulful.
The point is that this is a slow and dynamic experience. Much of “Speechwriter” sounds like Pink Floyd just before the shock therapy electrodes would be attached to your temples, but it still delivers some beef-and-pudding ranting before it comes to a close. “Horse Funeral” is the epitome of a slow-burn bridge to the next track that might just test your patience. Its downtrodden nature makes the segue into the beautiful opening to “Cinéaste, Cinéaste” all the more impactful, particularly with that subtle gorgeous cello work.
This is an album you won’t return to often due to its density, length, and pace, but each one of those rare visits will be deeply rewarding. [SPENCER HOTZ]
EPITAPHE ‒ II
released April 11; Aesthetic Death
Just what in the holy hell has to happen in order for an album to get noticed and covered in a timely fashion at smelly ol’ Last Rites? Everything about the sophomore effort from France’s Epitaphe screams, “PICK ME! PICK ME! I’m wild, raw, emotional, unpredictable, deadly, atmospheric, forward-thinking and beautiful, and I would look amazing on your arm as we waltz our way into the governor’s ball.” But no: zero coverage by the galumphing cretins of Last Rites. Well, from here on out, when Epitaphe speaks, they will be awarded full dais rites all to themselves with silence on the floor. Until then, however, it’s yet another shared stage with a few fistfuls of additional forgotten gems here on the Island of Misfit Toys.
So… What is Epitaphe? Well, it’s death metal. Epitaphe is a death metal band playing death metal, but it’s kind of all classic death metal rolled into one giant experimental tapestry that really grabs the eye the moment someone walks into the room. I mean, just look at that brain-bonkingly amazing album cover, provided once again by Finland’s incredible Petri Ala-Maunus—that intoxicating visual frankly does as good a job as anything in characterizing what’s in store once the listener hits play. So, similar to the stunning artwork, we get a little bit of everything nature has to offer in Epitaphe’s brand of death metal: II is thick, it’s spaced-out, it’s lush, it’s…weirdly minerally, and it’ll remind you of scores of other odd death metal bands that likewise challenge instagram’s 30 hashtag boundary.
What sets Epitaphe apart, however, is the fact that they manage the menagerie with songs that push the 20-minute mark, so everything’s drawn out a bit more, which kiiiiiind of mistakenly awards them a straight-up death / doom tag. Okay, death /doom certainly paints some corners here, particularly with reference to the overall moodiness and the way that early Peaceville sound occasionally gets worked into the picture, but a more apt descriptor is probably… Oh, Lord… Avant-garde? Sigh. I realize that’s essentially the 10¢ way of saying “it’s whatever it wants to be from one minute to the next,” but that really is the best way of attempting to describe a record like this in the most straightforward way possible. II is whatever it wants to be from one minute to the next, but it’s delivered in a way that never actually strays very far from good ol’ death metal. [CAPTAIN]