Welcome all, to another view into my listening mind. As usual, I will surely regret the ordering of these items within the fortnight. Or maybe I won’t, because this is just a snapshot, and it would be pretty boring if we didn’t sometimes revisit and reevaluate art. Or worse, if we thought there was a true right and wrong to these things. Besides, anyone who puts too much credence into such album orderings (of their own, of another human, or of a set of humans) should probably lighten up. So now that I’ve thrown the whole process right under the school bus, here’s a crapload of music I loved in 2022. Hopefully you’ll find something new for your earballs to enjoy, starting with these unlisted goodies:
Now to that damnable listing!
FIRST OFF, PRECIOUS ITEM
20. Darkthrone – Astral Fortress
Astral Fortress seems like the culmination of everything Darkthrone has been trying to do since Arctic Thunder, not to mention a huge bounce back after the relative weakness of last year’s Eternal Hails (………). The doom, grit, subtle remnants of black metal, and trad riffing all combine in a killer, surprisingly deep, and undeniably cozy example of the veteran duo’s old metal.
19. Mortuous – Upon Desolation
It was a banner year for death metal of myriad sub-styles. For Mortuous, that style is molten. It hits a big spot when blasting and rapidly rumbling, but Upon Desolation really digs its hooks in when offering either a nasty, mid-paced Autopsy trudge or going full doom/death at the speed of a slow, inexorable lava flow. At times it’s like Incantation caught the My Dying Bride sadness, straight down to the strings.
18. Daeva – Through Sheer Will and Black Magic
From my review: “Through Sheer Will and Black Magic is a wickedly fun slab of blackened thrash that is as loaded with details as it is lacking in pretension. Like the best bands playing this stuff, Daeva manages to play controlled chaos without sounding under control, but rather animalistic and murderous in their intent, as it should be.”
17. Species – To Find Deliverance
There’s been a bounty of techy thrash to enjoy in recent years, and Poland’s Species is another great act to add to those rankings. The jazzy bass, progressive song structures, and generally clinical class of the musicianship bring the brains, while the biting, attitude-infused vocals, slick leads, and twitchy, stop-start riffs and rhythms provide the fun.
16. Antigama – Whiteout
Antigama has slowly grown from a really great, robotic/sci-fi disciple of Napalm Death into a beastly force, and Whiteout might be their greatest achievement. It’s certainly the heaviest thing they’ve ever released, as if their entire goal was to out-brutalize Time Waits for No Slave in about two-thirds of the running time. Grindcore gets faster, punkier, and more political, but it’s rarely as leveling as Whiteout.
15. Stangarigel – Na severe srdca
Do I love Na severe srdca because a certain moment reminds me of the Final Fantasy VI soundtrack as much as the full album calls back to things like Bergtatt and Vikingligr Veldi? Quite possibly. That’s the beautiful mysteriousness of music, that a little melody can cross platforms, continents, and decades to bring a smile. Another huge win for the ever-expanding Malokarpatan family.
14. Static Abyss – Labyrinth of Veins
Autopsy fans were pigs in shit this year with both a great new record from the full band and this surprise from half of the band. Chris Reifert is joined by new Autopsy bassist Greg Wilkinson on a gleefully gross and hefty slab of doomy horror death. As with Autopsy, Static Abyss is bonkers fun without sacrificing any of that putrid, rotting, corrupt, filthy, disgusting, nasty, vile, repugnant, slimy atmosphere. “Mandatory Cannibalism” might be the best death metal song title of the year.
13. Meshuggah – Immutable
From my review: “Immutable is ludicrously heavy, enthusiastically weird, mind-warping, and just outright cool. Plus, despite it being their longest offering at nearly 67 minutes and definitely meandering in a couple spots, it carries one of their clearer arcs outside of Catch Thirtythree.”
Immutable might not even place in the top half of my Meshuggah rankings if I did such a thing (we all know I do such a thing), and yet here it is. From the swell and explosion of “Broken Cog” and solo in “Kaleidoscope” to the lengthy and monstrous instrumental “They Move Below,” this is another win on this band’s peerless plateau. Meshuggah forever. (But not Meshuggah 4/4-ever.)
12. Sigh – Shiki
The legendary Sigh has long been a pinnacle of consistency in terms of quality, but when they manage to surprise they find that extra level. Shiki is an almost shockingly aggressive album for this stage of their career, with Mirai Kawashima giving one of his most charismatic and manic vocal performances. This record is the type of infectious, big music that metalheads think should be filling up arenas because we’re often too obsessed to realize how weird it all is. And hot damn, the leads!
11. Immolation – Acts of God
From my review: “At times it seems like these songs are designed around getting to the solo, but that might just be a reflection of how well Immolation shapes a song climax around a lead, not to mention the fire behind these sessions. As a band they seem capable of growing out of any single element into something larger until it becomes some preposterously intense vortex of blasts, dissonant riffs, and death growls.” Is it their best album in a while? Yes! Maybe! Who cares! It rules.
TIME FOR SOMETHING INCREDIBLE
10. HEAVING EARTH – DARKNESS OF GOD
Czechia’s Heaving Earth made one of the year’s great leaps on Darkness of God, their third full length, graduating from a very good Immolation disciple (speaking of those Yonkers greats) to a band really moving death metal in new directions. The Immo influence remains, obviously, along with some of Ulcerate’s slipperier take on the style, but it’s combined with a prog songwriting complexity, some Necrophagist-style tech, and an ludicrous level of detail. It’s rare for death metal to be so meticulously crafted and still seem like a playground for the immensely talented musicians putting it all together. Although in fairness, the soloing rarely feels like it’s meant to rock your socks off. Rather, it carries that Bob Vigna seriousness of purpose, and even the bass soloing has a kind of space age malevolence to it. Darkness of God is an intense, spiraling, dissonant, tension-driven beast of a record that is just undeniably cool for every second of its run time, and one that fans of any style of death metal would be loath to miss.
9. BORIS – HEAVY ROCKS
From my review: “…that energy is just undeniable. Most tunes sparkle like a livewire, with Atsuo shifting between rolling heft and d-beat drive, Wata’s and Takeshi’s riffs moving between everything from trad metal (“Ruins”) and straightforward punk to layered, psyched out passages and even hints of surf rock (“Cramper”). The vocals ‒ mostly delivered by Atsuo and Takeshi ‒ also run a full gamut, from their typically punky singing to gang shouts and even near-death growls on the pulsating and industrial “Ghostly Imagination,” a tune that also offers a big dip into HEAVY doom at one point. “Question 1” likewise offers a crucial change of pace in the middle, offering a lush shoegaze passage between bookends of aggressive but melodic and hooky metal.”
The Heavy Rocks mode of Boris has certainly expanded quite a bit since the first entry a full 20 years ago, but what never changes are the traits put right there in the title. The latest (which is one of three new 2022 Boris albums) sees the band working at the height of their powers, proving again why they are such an institution and why, no matter their mode, they’re a towering rock and roll force.
8. BLIND GUARDIAN – THE GOD MACHINE
The seven years since Beyond the Red Mirror is the longest gap between proper Blind Guardian albums, a span that saw Hansi Kürsch and André Olbrich finally completing their Twilight Orchestra project. Perhaps pushing the orchestral element of Blind Guardian to its fullest extent left the band with extra unrealized heft, as The God Machine contains their fastest, most direct, and most intense material since about the first half of the 90s. And it’s all the better for it too, offering a constantly killer set of anthemic, riff-loaded tracks that are each as memorable as the next. It’s all that bombastic, rollicking, classic Blind Guardian, but filtered through some of the extra sheen and flourishes they adopted in all the years since. I challenge you to find a better heavy metal earworm in 2022 than the chorus of “Secrets of the American Gods,” or a better case of The Masters Doing Masterful Things than The God Machine. This one caused instant smiles all around the LR HQ watercooler.
7. BEYOND MORTAL DREAMS –
ABOMINATION OF THE FLAMES
When recommending Abomination of the Flames to a friend, I described it as “Black Seeds of Vengeance, but inside a volcano.” Not that Nile’s classic sophomore album isn’t plenty molten itself, but Beyond Mortal Dreams really seem to embrace combustion (as if the title and “late stage Doom boss” album art weren’t clues). Every element of this album, from the rumbling riffs and rhythms and Azagthothian lava leads to the long doomy passages and demonic vocals, seems hellbent on, well, damning the listener. This is seriously evil death metal, but it’s not without super catchy riffs, the occasional hook, and some spryness when needed. Even the surprising injection of Cynic-ish robot vocals just sound like another underworld entity out for your soul. Infernal death metal of the highest order.
6. VALBORG – DER ALTE
From my review: “At both different times and all at once it might sound like a punk version of Triptykon, a gothic take on Godflesh, and a death metal reimagining of The Cure. Valborg might have a stripped down sound, but Der Alte is positively wild, and it ought to go without saying that despite all the violent music, creepy gothic passages, and unrelenting rhythms, it’s a helluva fun ride that will absolutely rock your socks off… …Sure, it’s downright demented, but it’s also rock and roll in all the same ways that Rocket to Russia was rock and roll. Nothing but riffs, rhythms, great vocals, and that unmistakable feeling that this is unsuitable for “proper” society. Delightfully unsuitable, barbaric, uncouth, and rude in all the best ways.”
What else could I possibly say about Valborg that I haven’t said a dozen times over the years? One of my current favorite German exports keeps at it in what is probably the best album run of their career. A colossal blast.
5. AUTONOESIS – MOON OF FOUL MAGICS
Following up an album as dense as was Autonoesis’ 2020 debut with something even more sprawling is a bold move, but Moon of Foul Magics fulfills and expands upon the colossal promise of its predecessor. The decision to start up an album full of proggy, techy extreme metal with a song that most closely resembles Black Sabbath’s “Solitude” is one clue that this record spreads out somewhat, as are the shorter, more straightforward heavy metal thunder moments (“Raise the Dead,” specifically), and the material that feels like an homage to the score of The Last of the Mohicans (“Valhöll”). But at its core this is still wickedly techy black/death/thrash with an immense scope, wowing with precision riffs, a glorious sense of melody, and timely, triumphant solos. The key term there is “wowing,” as there is nary a moment when I’m not driven to quote Butch Cassidy: “I couldn’t do that. Could you do that? Why can they do it? Who ARE those guys?” So I guess this album conjures images of Daniel Day Lewis and Paul Newman. Handsomest album of 2022!
4. HAMMERS OF MISFORTUNE – OVERTAKER
Admission: Overtaker is not what I wanted from a new Hammers of Misfortune album. I wanted that Metallica-plus-Queen-and-Maiden vibe of most of their records, but as Mick once sang, sometimes getting what you want and need are very different things. Overtaker is an absolutely nutty album. The performance of returning vocalist Jamie Myers? Borderline demented. The shift to utterly ripping thrash for the album’s foundation? Bonkers. A set of tunes that largely eschew the longer form prog opuses in favor of shorter bursts of violence? Wackadoo. There are still a lot of the typical Hammers traits ‒ regardless of the speed at which he plays, John Cobbett has one of the most recognizable riff styles in metal, Sigrid Sheie’s keys still give the album a big injection of 70s rock, and the inherent progness remains ‒ but that change in speed and aggression really results in a wild ride. The band leaves the city for the high plains of Montana and delivers the least pastoral music of their career. Positively bananas.
3. MESSA – CLOSE
I was pretty into Messa’s previous album Feast for Water, but unlike some of my pals around here, I wasn’t quite gaga. I wanted to be gaga. Well, I’m definitely gaga over Close. Is it that things are a tad more spread out? Or that supernaturally talented vocalist Sara Bianchin somehow keeps getting better? Maybe that the heavier parts are heavier, the quieter parts quieter, and the whole thing is overall more stylistically varied? That surprise grindcore song? Probably a bit of all of it, really. (Okay, it’s not the grind song, but it’s not not the grind song…) Messa’s music is true beauty, but it’s a very heavy beauty, both sonically and emotionally, a blend of hazy-hefty doom and gorgeous downtempo rock that is progressive in stature if not necessarily sound. It’s a (mostly) slow album that goes by quickly despite being over an hour long. Messa is squarely in that everything-turns-to-gold zone, seemingly at the peak of their powers but potentially just getting started. Stunning, irresistible mastery.
2. ARTIFICIAL BRAIN – ARTIFICIAL BRAIN
If there was an award for leveling up one’s game, Artificial Brain might just get it for their self-titled record. These Long Island skronklords improved every part of their sound, from a batch of riffs and motifs that always manage to shift and twist without repetition to the individual performances and overall balance of a very busy sound (a lot of credit for which obviously goes to the studio work of Finn Jansen and Colin Marston). But it’s in the songwriting and ideas departments where Artificial Brain really hits a home run. Each of these 10 songs tells a unique tale, sometimes contrasting tension in the guitars with melodious bass (“Celestial Cyst”) and at others taking the Artificial Brain sound farther into black metal terrain than ever before (“Embalmed with Magma”). There’s always some brutal smash, nutty solo, inhuman guttural, fury of blasts, or magical melodic revelation right around the corner. All the countless secrets and details really give this record a sense of excitement, and helped it get better with each of the countless listens I’ve given it since its release back in June. Nothing short of a goddamn tour de force, this one.
1. ASHENSPIRE – HOSTILE ARCHITECTURE
From my review: “…Hostile Architecture is a scathing indictment of the exploitative, exclusionary, discriminative, and otherwise destructive practices by the powers-that-be (or powers-that-would-be) in advanced capitalist (or otherwise brutal) societies, things anyone with even the slightest eye outward sees in far too great of quantities today. The lyrics range from pinpoint accusations to poignant metaphors, never indulging the kind of cheap sloganeering designed purely for crowd interaction… …It calls to mind everything from Negură Bunget to SubRosa and later Swans—at different times disorienting and captivating as it spirals up into a climax of violins, blasts, relatively simple riffs, and determined, almost preaching vocals… …So yes, the music is damn well good enough that if you really wanted to try to appreciate the record on only its instrumental and melodic terms, you could certainly try, but why would you only focus on half of the picture? Why would you, or how could you ignore the words when Dunn (and everyone else) delivers them with such resolve?”
I ask myself this question about a lot of message-forward or political music with which I fail to form a deeper connection, but with Ashenspire, the words only ever strengthened my love of their music. It helps that their messages are both incredibly important and tangentially related to my own work, and that their music is so gorgeous, diverse, and extravagant, both of which explain why I connected so much with Hostile Architecture. No record has been as much on my mind throughout the year, both musically and lyrically. That certainly describes a personal album of the year, if you ask me.
BEHOLD, SKINNY SORT!
Nothing like a good EP to introduce yourself, and a good half of my Short Stuff list this year is Hello-How-Ya-Doings from pretty new acts. Young or old, it’s all gold.
10. Sleeper Ship – The Gateway
“What if Devin Townsend, but with a splash of power metal?” seems to have been the simple question Unleash the Archers’ Andrew Saunders sought to answer with his solo project Sleeper Ship. The slick, escapist vibe, chunky/atmospheric riffs, shreddy leads, and even Saunders’ vocal style owe a lot to the Band era of Devin’s solo career, and who doesn’t need more of that?
9. Vulgar Mephitis – Vulgar Mephitis
This article has thus far had a drastic shortage of grossness, so please to be introducing yourself to the debut from Pittsburgh’s Vulgar Mephitis. Brutal, greasy, almost-but-not-quite-slamming death metal with ample guitar squeals, rhythmic twitches and trudges, and borderline “What was he thinking?” vocals. This is what comes out when you open the Ark of the Covenant.
8. Defect Designer – Neanderthal
My first thought about Neanderthal was that it sounded like Diskord emulating Human Remains (plus Atheist, Ripping Corpse, etc.), which made sense when it became clear that half of Defect Designer is actually in Diskord. Theirs is a twisted, sometimes grindy, sometimes very melodic, and greasily techy (fretless bass and all) brand of death metal—demented, catchy, and manic, just how you ordered.
7. Silurian – End of Ordovicia
From my review: “End of Ordovicia lives up to and surpasses any expectations created by Silurian’s associated acts [Sunless, Obsolete, Suffering Hour, and others]. This is a wild, thrilling little EP that ought to appeal to a wide swath of listeners, not to mention a massive whetter of appetites for whatever might come out of the Silurian camp next.”
6. Greyhawk – Call of the Hawk
Picking up right where the tremendous Keepers of the Flame left off, Call of the Hawk is more triumphant, fist-pumping, infectious, Feggishly theatrical, and just-epic-enough power/trad. Great melodies, killer leads, and a constant urge to drink BBQ beers while wearing enough denim to clothe a small Canadian city—what else do you need?
5. Bat Magic – Ritualia Festum in Ichor Noster
The follow-up to Bat Magic’s wicked good debut EP offers more of their killer black metal mix: harsh rawness, that spoo-OOOO-ky haunted mansion vibe, a fair amount of melody, and real chops in both musicality and composition. It shocks with its savagery before slowly revealing how classy and sophisticated it is, which is ironically the opposite order of events during an evening at Castle Dracula.
4. Moonlight Sorcery – Piercing Through the Frozen Eternity
When your melodic black metal cover is that certain shade of blue you better come correct with the frozen temps, and Finland’s Moonlight Sorcery is damn near absolute zero. Like a much faster Summoning raised on Far Away from the Sun and driven to bursts of neoclassicism, Moonlight Sorcery is positively overflowing with both an understanding of and love for this material. Captivating and gorgeous.
3. Heruvim – Shadowheart
What I wrote for our EP list: “Ever get the feeling that a band’s sound is made just for you? Ukraine’s Heruvim brings a mix of Edge of Sanity’s swaggery bigness (the chorus in the title track feels right off of The Spectral Sorrows), peak Amon Amarth’s driving force, and a Cannibal Corpse level of riff technicality. So everything ‒ from the massive growls and towering, beefy riffs to the enthusiastic double kick drums and smooth soloing ‒ speaks right to a 90s (melo)death metal heart of hearts.”
2. Worm – Bluenothing
Worm mainman Phantomslaughter cleaned house prior to this new EP, and in the tradition of the MLB trade deadline, made his strengths stronger by bringing in Phil Tougas (sorry, “Wroth Septentrion”) to shred all over the place. Bluenothing might only be 27 minutes long, but it’s probably the most diverse Worm offering yet, ranging from regal funeral doom to pummeling doom/death and even a bit of symphonic black metal on closer “Shadowside Kingdom.” Worm remains one of the coolest things currently crawling out of the Everglades.
1. Ancient Death – Sacred Vessel
I didn’t hear Sacred Vessel until about a month ago and it hit me like a ton of bricks. As with #3 on this list, Ancient Death brings that “Is this made just for ME?” vibe, combining more of that wicked Edge of Sanity bounce and bombast with both an extra touch of tech (mostly in the form of Jasmine Alexander’s fretless bass), complex song structures, and some true doom/death passages. Ancient Death possesses an almost Autopsy knack for tempo changes and timing, with riff variations and solos perfectly meeting the moments and vocalist Jerry Witunsky always understanding when to keep the growls low and when to unleash a bitter, throat-shredding scream (or even some creepy singing). This is a stupidly good debut from a band that hopefully is already working on a follow-up.
Okay, maybe not always calmness, as a few of these albums would qualify for the metal lists for some folks (heck, one did). But if the point is to highlight as much good music as possible, sometimes a guy stretches some definitions. So behold, my Occasionally Closer to Metal but Usually Farther from Metal List of “Non-Metal” Albums of 2022.
10. Clutch – Sunrise on Slaughter Beach
Not even this Clutch superfan was too impressed by the overproduced and bloated Book of Bad Decisions, so when its follow-up proved to be lean, efficient, and surprisingly diverse, I will admit feeling more than a little relief. Sunrise is exactly the type of album that Clutch should be making at this point: no-nonsense, natural, and imbued with their uncut and immortal rock fury.
9. The Smile – A Light for Attracting Attention
No, it isn’t a new Radiohead album, but damn if it isn’t a great effort from Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood that I might end up eventually enjoying more than a few Radiohead albums (it’s definitely better than the debut and King of Limbs at a minimum). Shedding their far more famous band name seems to have liberated Yorke and Greenwood to return mostly to a rock format, but with a lot of the weirdness they embraced over the past few decades in Radiohead. They’re almost allowing themselves to have fun. Almost. (They’re probably having a blast.)
8. Scorpions – Rock Believer
From my review: “Rock Believer is the best Scorpions record in at least 30 years. It isn’t perfect, nor is it likely to suddenly vault them back to superstardom in a very different rock and music business landscape, but considering how much of their later studio output just seemed like an excuse to get back on the road, it has to be considered at least a moderate triumph.” Big cheers to Rudi, Klaus, and the gang for this gigantic grin and out-of-the-blue surprise.
7. Björk – Fossora
Has anyone done more to condition pop music fans to the avant-garde than Björk? Fossora manages to be both supremely catchy and borderline antagonistic in its rejection of conventional song forms and sounds. Like Utopia before it, this sees Björk indulging orchestral instrumentation, using clarinets, oboes, flutes, and strings in unconventional manners all over the place, sometimes over pulsating electronic beats and sometimes over songs that almost resemble chamber music. It’s all accompaniment for her voice, which here ranges from additional backing textures and almost freeform singing to her legendary roar. It’s either pop music at its weirdest or weird music at its poppiest. It’s certainly gorgeous and captivating, so ultimately it’s Björk as hell.
6. Niechęć – Unsubscribe
Niechęć is a jazz rock ensemble from Poland that plays a bonkers cool mix of slick, hip as hell 70s fusion and trippy alt/prog/post rock, calling to mind everything from Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock to Weather Report and even Goblin (and surely many others of which I’m less familiar). But their boldness and command is all their own, allowing them to shift from oddball hammering to sexy sax features to freakout guitar solos and back to calm, escapist piano tickling, sometimes all in one song. Impossibly rad stuff.
5. billy woods – Aethiopes & Church
One half of Armand Hammer, rapper billy woods, double-dipped on his deeply thoughtful but super smooth hip-hop with two new platters in 2022, one produced by Preservation (the drifty and deeply forward-thinking Aethiopes) and the other by Messiah Musik (the relatively more immediate and beat-oriented Church, credited to billy woods x Messiah Musik). Both feature a wide variety of backing instrumentation and sample sources, giving woods’ deep lyrics and subtly shifting flow a diverse and at times uneasy and almost dreamlike vibe in which to play, particularly on Aethiopes. When he isn’t scathingly offering glimpses of daily pains and joys and struggles and all the other tiny moments in the city, he seems to be carrying all of those experiences on his own shoulders, communicating an air of exhaustion that is often just beneath the surface of his voice. Regardless of the setting on both of these brilliant albums, the result is beautiful and brutal.
4. The Cult – Under the Midnight Sun
Ian Astbury, Billy Duffy, and company are now three albums into their strongest run of material since the 80s, and Under the Midnight Sun is the best of the bunch, with Astbury’s voice in particular showing no signs of age. It’s also the gothiest album they’ve done since probably Love, lush and smoky and absolutely gorgeous from the opening notes to the finish of the stunning, closing title track. It’s hardly surprising that a band whose popularity peaked during Thatcher’s reign isn’t getting much attention in 2022, but with an album this good, it’s also a damn shame.
3. Shaam Larein – Sticka En Kniv I Världen
Between The Cult, this album, and the top of this list, my lighter listening in 2022 was dominated by gothier vibes, and Shaam Larein’s latest record firmly belongs in the witchier side of the conversation. Vocalist Shaam Larein herself (for whom the band is named) brings a big “possessed Siouxsie Sioux” presence to Sticka En Kniv I Världen (Swedish for “stick a knife in the world”), while her backing band plays a lush, hazy blend of post-punk, death rock, and bits of doom. Sometimes the album gets extra riffy and at others it plays within a really drifty zone, but at all times the band is in tune with Shaam’s dynamic shifts and massive charisma. The swell from eerily playful to commandingly damning during “Murderer” in particular begs for ears.
2. Porcupine Tree – Closure/Continuation
Those years without Porcupine Tree quite frankly felt strange. Core members Steven Wilson, Richard Barbieri, and Gavin Harrison all stayed busy with other projects and solo works, but the full band took a nearly 13-year break from the studio. The long awaited return was worth it and more; Closure/Continuation is the sound of a band confident to write naturally without worrying about being bold or adventurous (a strong contrast to The Incident). It’s their least heavy album in over two decades, focusing more on embracing textures, the slow development and layering of melodies, and an overall sense of feeling content, even when it’s rocking with some intensity. They no longer have to prove their brilliance; they’re brilliant because they are. The result is a supremely comfortable and at times peaceful but nonetheless extremely deep prog rock record. An extremely welcome return, indeed.
1. Darkswoon – Bloom Decay
Bloom Decay makes a strong argument to be my favorite album of any style all year. Darkswoon offers a stunningly gorgeous combination of synthy, danceably pulsating dreampop, a mix of goth minimalism (The Cure variety) and touches of shoegaze in its guitars, and an absolutely entrancing vocal performance from primary songwriter Jana Cushman. Each of these nine tracks contain at least one WOW moment from Cushman, who seamlessly shifts from pained and haunted (and haunting) to uplifting and almost celebratory. Sometimes the record is dense and intense, as on the Killing Joke-esque first half of “This is a Void,” and at others it’s more expansive, as during the slow crescendo of “Twist the Knife.” Always it is beautiful and irresistible, full of meticulous music that somehow seems to emerge from the band effortlessly, and a dazzling showcase for both Darkswoon as a band and the immense talents of Cushman.
WHY IS IT ALWAYS SURPRISE ATTACK?
Two of the year’s greatest surprises saw two long-beloved artists push their sounds to a couple of their farthest (and opposite) places. Neither quite fits into the lists above, so they get this special place. After all, they’ve always commanded a special place.
Blut Aus Nord – Lovecraftian Echoes
Yes, Blut Aus Nord put out a proper new album this year in Disharmonium, and it was fine enough, but didn’t make much of a dent in my listening habits. Give me this surprise release instead, this Not New Album of past material created recently for some forum called the Order of Outer Sounds. The origin isn’t nearly as important as how it sounds, which is right back to The Work Which Transforms God mode (God Mode, for sure). This is Blut Aus Nord in their ultimately nightmarish form, weaving darkness and unknowable malevolence in a way only Vindsval has at a few points in his lengthy career. Horrifyingly awesome and awesomely horrifying.
Devin Townsend – Lightwork
Lightwork wasn’t so much a surprise in its existence ‒ Devin spent plenty of time discussing its recording and impending release ‒ but its content is a fresh new realm for the man behind the music. Devin’s lightest moments in the past, such as Ghost or Ki, felt specifically designed to achieve a certain end; very “session” type records meant to achieve a certain extreme during an experimental phase. On Lightwork, by contrast, Devin wrote a set of songs that feel familiar in their structures and melodies; songs that could be far heavier if that was where his mind was. But never before has he been so confident exploring his naturally poppy, delicate side, allowing such lightness to infiltrate his music. It’s a strong contrast to all the bombast and self indulgence of Empath, and in many ways it feels like a calm reflection of the crazier bursts of brilliance he wrote during his 20s. More than anything, it’s a warm blanket of goodness for all who might welcome it. Pure Devin.
It feels right to close things with Devin. Thank you for reading, friends. Please choose the side of love and hope. Embrace goodness and kindness.