First of all, forgive the self-indulgence. These words could be inscribed atop any list, any review, any critique; yet they beg to be uttered. After all, it’s a fundamental rule in critical writing: don’t use passive language, don’t use first person. It’s an urge I so fervently fight to suppress, yet always find myself giving into–especially this time of year. It reveals an embarrassingly personal bias, and god forbid there be any sort of human connection or vulnerability.
Well, I say fuck god. Rules were made to be broken. This is rock ‘n’ roll, not a master’s thesis. Best I can offer here are the things I heard a little louder than everything else while journeying through the year. Hell, I have the privilege of writing with folks whose breadth of knowledge extends so deeply into genres I could, only on my best of days, stumble over an explanation of and I still feel like I haven’t heard enough. This year maybe more so than years prior–I almost feel guilty, selfishly stuck in my ways. And I wouldn’t–I couldn’t–change it for the world. This is where I was in 2022, and these are the releases I clung to that struck flint to steel and lit a spark under my ass.
Now that the “skip to the list” folks have skipped to the list, I’d like to thank you for taking the time to read the words. It is both empowering and humbling to know anyone cares what I have to think–I don’t believe for a second that any one album album or list of albums can define a year. So often the truly essential works reveal their importance over time–you have to let go of the outside and reflect inwards.
Sure, there are albums in the list that may become “back-pocket” albums, ones that require a blowing of dust before being returned to the platter–but that’s part of the fun and why I make lists in the first place. Should I lose all memory of this year save for a scant twenty albums, these are the twenty (and five EP’s) I’d cling to most to remember where I was coming from in 2022. Of course it’s personal. It’s always been personal.
I: Born To Walk Against The Wind
20. Northmoon – Shadowlord – My Soft Vision In Blood
Had Shadowlord come out about ten years ago, I have a feeling Northmoon would be a household name in black metal circles. Not a bad first impression from a debut! The Austrian band have a real knack for tapping into the more melodic veins of the Finnish style, complete with the spiteful aggression. It’s a bit of a meat-and-potatoes style, but the exceptional songwriting and keen variation made for countless rewarding returns.
19. Satan – Earth Infernal
While Satan’s six studio album isn’t rating quite as high on my list as 2018’s Cruel Magic, please do not take this for any sort of drop in quality–just sort of the way the list worked out this year. Not only are they one of the best of the Old Guard of heavy metal, they’re simply one of the best traditional heavy metal bands, past or present, period. Earth Infernal is a delightful testament to their continued legacy, packed with brilliant, infectious licks and thoughtful, creative songwriting.
18. Stangarigel – Na Severe Srdca
That Slovakian touch that the camp behind Malokarpatan, Krolok, and Remmirath have been honing over now decades is all over Stangarigel. Na Severe Srdca is a rich and immersive take on black metal tinged with folkish magic and melody that revel fresh secrets in every traversal through its moonlit, enchanted wood.
17. Wiegedood – There’s Always Blood At The End Of The Road
Coming off a trilogy has to be challenging, and Wiegedood confronted it by doubling down. The album kicks out of the gates with rabid, boiling bloodlust and continues to turn up the heat across nine tracks of unsettling, disturbing aggression and fiery, smoldering rage. As sure as there’s always money in the banana stand, there’s always blood at the end of the road–and Wiegedood are setting the whole goddamn thing ablaze.
16. Wandelaars – Verbroken
Epic, sweeping raw black metal that feels like an ancient dream. Dutch artist Robbert van Rumund crafts a masterful, patient work; Verbroken is perfect for getting lost in nostalgia on those grey, dreary days where the earth feels still. He’s had quite a year, his release under the Faceless Entity moniker is equally worth a listen for a more looming take on raw black/doom–an equally rewarding slow burn.
15. Ares Kingdom – In Darkness At Last
Sure, there are zero to none references to the the First World War in In Darkness At Last, but that doesn’t keep images of crudely gasmasked soldiers storming the trenches from coming to mind. Something about Ares Kingdom feels at home in the chaotic evolution of war–there are both iron clad hooves of the calvary and the pummeling diesel smoke of crude tanks present in their death thrashing portrayal of Hell. Riffs reign like shells erupting in the fog of war–all become cannon fodder for the hellish massacre.
14. The Otolith – Folium Limina
Doom metal for closing the eyes and finding peaceful serenity between the heavy-as-sin guitar, haunting twin violins, and bluesy croon of the vocals. Folium Limina feels of a funeral procession on a spring day, the warm rain pattering on matching black umbrellas, the solemn faces in somber black attire gathered to pay final respects juxtaposed by the season of hope and life.
13. Blind Guardian – The God Machine
Blind Guardian have successfully conquered the Power Metal Story Mode and are having a fucking blast with the endgame content. The God Machine is Blind Guardian going back and playing fan-favorite levels with max stats, max power-ups, and max fun.
12. Darkthrone – Astral Fortress
Admittedly I love how neatly Astral Fortress fits into the ongoing Darkthrone story–the wisened, old-goat doom bred from a hard drag through the mud cautiously raising its eyes once again to the stars. Even separating myself from my love for the band as best as I can, the album feels like a couple of greasy, mildly stoned mechanics taking a break from trying to fix a crashed UFO in their garage to pound a beer and hammer out some tunes–and shit starts getting a little on the Repo Man side of things (just less of The Plugz and more Celtic Frost).
11. Ateiggär – Tyrannemord
Ateiggär’s retelling of the assassination of of Byzantine emperor Leo V The Armenian draws wisely from across black metal’s history to not only weave their story, but fully immerse themselves in it. Bombastic timpani thunder behind a smoldering pace that leaves plenty of room of the melodies to breathe; the inspired use of the choir (the legions of rabid Leo V fans know what I’m getting at here) still sends shivers down my spine. The storytelling is worked so well into the mood of the music, both tinged with a sheen of mysticism and depth, begging repeat listens to unlock its mysteries.
II: Born To Hear My Name
10. SIGH – SHIKI
It is interesting to note Sigh’s proximity to Darkthrone’s entry here–both of the same era and tied to the same scene (and now same label), both with very independent goals from their peers. Sure, the two could not be more opposite in terms of how they transcribe the black arts–one working to totally deconstruct and the other diving headfirst into experimentation. Different paths, but they both walk them with the same commitment.
What is most curious is how both bands, in their own way, are reflecting on their own lives from an autumnal perspective on their 2022 albums. Darkthrone cloaks it a little more, but there’s certainly that “old goat wisdom” all over Astral Fortress, which concluded with a callback to their Soulside Journey debut. For Sigh, such reflection is the premise of Shiki, and the music reflects this. It is, of course, unmistakably Sigh, but it sounds like Sigh trying to just be Sigh. Like Darkthrone, certain albums of theirs reveal the arc of their musical pursuits, but Shiki feels very reflective of the band itself over time. It’s still got plenty of the unexpected twists in the music, but it never feels weird just to be weird, ya know? That magic of Sigh is in full force, and coupled with the best drum performance of the year, Sigh deliver atop their already expected greatness.
(I don’t know what they’re putting in Cialis these days, but with Sigh, Darkthrone, and Blind Guardian all releasing late-career albums that find ways to tap so fervantly into youthful exuberance with the wisdom of age, it’s doing something right.)
9. WORMROT – HISS
From the second they leap from the quiet waters, Wormrot deliver a single graceful killing strike across the thirty-three minute runtime of Hiss. That violent slashing of the throat slices through arteries of grind, thrash, and hardcore, cleanly cutting across tendons of death and black metal, splitting the flesh as the band throw any influence into the proverbial grinder. The adrenaline rush of the drums, the frantic panic and terror in the vocals pump like blood spawn across the soundscape. The precision of the strike itself is perhaps the most appealing part of the record–it’s a surgically executed waltz with violence before Wormrot lurk back into the still night waters.
It is easy to forget how truly complex taking a life can be, and just how much really happens between the two parties in that all-too brief moment–and Hiss savors every bit of the kill.
8. AUTONOESIS – MOON OF FOUL MAGICS
Autonoesis returned this year with a surprise release of their sophomore full length. Moon Of Foul Magics took the raw, natural musicianship and songwriting found on Autonoesis and refined it, adding greater depth and creativity to the songwriting and overall pacing. The music itself, at a well–balanced nexus between black, death, and thrash metals–feels even more free to indulge in stretching its technical and progressive legs without ever coming close to wearing out its welcome. Moon‘s sixty-six minute runtime operates in a wormhole, a vacuum of riffing and shredding where time becomes irrelevant and only riffs matter.
7. THE CHASM – THE SCARS OF A LOST REFLECTIVE SHADOW
The Chasm is the most cursed band in heavy metal. Label issues. Proper distribution and press, or lack thereof. An ever-evolving lineup has been a double-edged sword. There have been a lot of outside voices that have played a crucial hand in shaping the history of the The Chasm, but make no mistake: the heart and soul of the band beats between guitarist/vocalist Daniel Corchado and drummer Antonio León.
The Chasm would not be the same band had they not had to overcome miles of setbacks for every inch they’ve gained. Any ground given has been earned in blood through the band’s commitment to shaping the occult voyage through the realms of death metal that the band hammer out from album to album. The Scars Of A Lost Reflective Shadow plays like an exposed heart of the band that’s been beating beneath every piece of music they’ve touched–it’s simply Daniel and Antonio doing what they do best: grappling with this gift/curse through some seriously riff-laden metal of death, stripped of its armor and revealing a black heart forged with iron will in the fires of trial and strife.
6. BEYOND MORTAL DREAMS – ABOMINATION OF THE FLAMES
Evil-sounding death metal is awesome. Brutal-sounding death metal is awesome. Death metal that throws little surreal touches in to evoke nightmarish soundscapes is awesome. Put all three together and it’s a recipe for a real abomination (mayhap one that comes from some sort of fire?).
Beyond Mortal Dreams does exactly that on their sophomore album, Abomination Of The Flames. Hell, even the band name does a terrific job of describing their sound right there in the band name–night terrors of Old Gods. It’s so incredibly heavy, and just sounds so dark. Very little light escapes, save for moments when the flames rise in the form of tastefully seared shredding. The meat of the riffs and the heavy-handed rhythm section would be plenty to secure this album on any year-end list, but the way the little seasonings–the hallowed synths and the alien vocoder, for example–really bring the music to full flavor and make the album a rich, fully immersive experience.
5. FER DE LANCE – THE HYPERBOREAN
Chicago’s heavy metal is no stranger to the year-end pages at Last Rites. With ties to the likes of Satan’s Hallow, Midnight Dice, High Spirits, Hitter, and Smoulder, Fer de Lance was bound to get excitedly passed around the office, particularly among those of us that hold high expectations when it comes to a genre tag like epic doom.
Not only do Fer de Lance deliver the goods, they carve the name of The Hyperborean atop the mountain next to the likes of Nightfall, Hammerheart, Resound The Horn, Beyond The Crimson Horizon, New Dark Age, Will Of The Gods Is A Great Power, The White Goddess, and (perhaps the secret ingredient that really sells it) a particularly spicy dash of Hall Of The Mountain King. All prerequisite boxes are checked: big, slow riffs that hold breathe and pause hearts, reverb that feels as wide as the sky. What makes Fer de Lance shimmer in the stars, however, is how they deliver the goods with their own voice. It never feels too close to their inspirations nor their contemporaries–conversely, they never feel like they’re shying away from either as well. More than worthy of carving their mighty name into the tops of epic doom
4. INANNA – VOID OF UNENDING DEPTHS
For as much as I scream about how Chile is pumping out some of the best any genre of heavy metal has to offer these days, I’m remiss in only really getting into Inanna this year. It was a good time to do so though, as on the heels of the release of their third album, the prior two recieved excellent reissue treatments.
In the context of the band, Void Of Unending Depths feels like a balance between the raw talent of the debut and the unfiltered talent of the sophomore, striking a balance through lineup changes to deliver the band’s most realized work to date. The album practically begs for a sleek, black vinyl treatment; complete with a second etched 12″ to house the epic, unwavering force of nature of album closer “Cabo de Hornos.”
3. HAMMERS OF MISFORTUNE – OVERTAKER
Every time I listen to Overtaker it forces an image of thousands of microscopic little versions of the beast on the cover swarming all over my skin in pulsating waves synchronized by a hive mind, their little flipper/wing things tickling my skin the way the bionic hyper thrash riffs tickle my brain.
And you know what? I kinda like it.
2. TÓMARÚM – ASH IN REALMS OF STONE ICONS
A cloak enchanted with post-black metal’s plucking at the ethereal spirit blankets the supreme technical edge of Atlanta’s Tómarúm. Ash In Realms Of Stone Icons sounds as as big as the Lewandowski cover art. It doesn’t have atmosphere so much as asthenosphere; the molten lava of the fretless bass moving these monumental teutonic plates of influence across sweeping progressions sculpted from a diversely curated palette of influences (Enslaved, Borknagar, Animals As Leaders, Minenwerfer, Wolves In The Throne Room, Colors-era Between The Buried And Me, to name a few standouts).
As flashy as the instrumentation gets, it serves the composition of the record every step of the way, Such service to the expression of the songs is given to every element on the record, every song flowing as effortlessly into the next as an air of morose, tortured melancholy expels from Tómarúm. As powerful, beautiful, self-reflective and, well, breathtaking as the final gasp for air.
1. VÓRTIZE – ¡Tienes Que Luchar!
For a world shrouded in black, white, and shades of grey, Vórtize hit like a blast of technicolor across a dreary landscape. A side project of Demoniac maniac Javier Ortiz, the project’s debut strikes a perfect balance of songwriting, melody, charm, speed, and nostalgia. Fans of Satan and Slough Feg should run, not walk to this for the intricate compositions and quick-as-lightning-and-twice-as-smooth melodic hooks of the guitar riffs.
The ensemble of friends recruited by Ortiz deliver heartfelt performances–sure, the production is a little scrappy, but it feels real, human, a little closer to the heart. It suits the music for a purpose beyond aesthetics.
What makes ¡Tienes Que Luchar! album of the year, besides being an absolutely delightful listen in its own right, is how much I feel connected with the moods the band shape with the music and the lyrics. It feels exactly where I feel in 2022–lost in a sick, fucked up world. It feels like everything is going to hell on a minecart ride and I’m desperately reaching for the beauty in it, trying to cling to something pure. Every day feels like a struggle to find a reason to fight, yet each dawn I still reach for the sword.
What’s truly great about the classic sword and sworcery heavy metal records isn’t the gleam of the axe or the size of the battle, it’s the reverence for the fighting spirit that makes them feel larger than life. Vórtize are ripping the armor of allegory off in the face of personal struggle, grappling to find meaning in the madness. Despite its vulnerability it feels full of the sort of foolhardy courage that inspires will in the face of hopelessness–something I felt I like desperately needed this year.
Again, I must stress: forgive the self-indulgence, but I’d be lying if I picked anything else. Vórtize gave me everything I needed to get through another day–the whistled solo, the strength and conviction in Romi’s vocal appearances, the very hooks in the melodies themselves again and again revealed themselves when I reached for strength in memory. In my world, Vórtize sweep the crown for album of the year. Drive, execution, commitment, and, above all, inspiring strength of heart. Of course it’s personal.
III: Born Of Black Wind, Fire, And Steel
5. Thunderlord – Thunderlord
One shot at glory from the late 90s surfaced for the first time in 2022, and honestly probably my most revisited EP or demo of the year. #5 in the chart, but #1 in the heart.
4. Moonlight Sorcery – Piercing Through The Frozen Eternity
Icy poems to the moon written in sky-shattering shredding.
3. Emissary – Emissary
If you were on the fence about whether or not the drumming on Chevalier’s Destiny Calls was brilliant or insane, the way Emissary fly boldly through liquid speed metal chaos with the subtly of a chemical trainwreck is a firm affirmation that both are in fact true. A heavy metal recording for those who aren’t afraid of a wet shot of nitrous, damned if the engine is tuned for it. Burn out in glory.
2. Ancient Death – Sacred Vessel
Sacred Vessel is the sound of Ancient Death finding their own little space in hell, pissing a territory somewhere between the smoldering caverns of diSEMBOWELMENT and the molten monstrosities of Finnish death metal with an atmosphere as thick as coagulated blood.
1. Wizards – Тайный Мрак Грядущих Дней / The Secret Gloom of Days to Come
Black metal using its necrotic magic to resurrect rock ‘n’ roll of the past holds a certain hypnotic charm. Wizards’ debut demo may as well be a full-length given its length and attention to detail when it comes to mixing the spirits of Blue Öyster Cult, Paul Chain, Masters Hammer, Randy Rhodes, Gonzo (yes, the Muppet), Mercyful Fate, Tangerine Dream–and you bet your ass they’re all covered in the ancient soot and graveyard dust of black metal. Pumping organs and roaring psychedelia swirl around a heart of rock that beats with eh sovereign pulse of the Real Deal. Despite its breadth of 80’s influence, it almost sounds like an early 90s band reaching for the 80s and stumbling into the fringes of the 70s, all reflected in the haze of the black mirror. As timeless as a dream.
Bias be damned, this was my year in heavy metal. Thanks to anyone who dipped in on the ride, it means the world that you were curious enough to read, listen, judge, praise, or dismiss. By all means, don’t listen to me–carve your own path.
For the love of whatever it is you hold sacred, stay true.