We live in strange times—said everyone, ever, right now. Like literally everyone. No one has not said this. Even the strange people contributing to said strangeness recognize these are strange times in their own strange way. Maybe that’s why I clung to my musical tried and trues this year like life rafts, my infantilized brain seeking comfort in old friends.
But that seems like a simplistic, or maybe romanticized, perspective. Fact is, Blind Guardian, Voivod, Immolation, Darkthrone, Threshold, and other, similarly familiar bands channeled their inspiration into some pretty special tunes. Though the framework and execution were familiar, the subtle but deliberate nuances in these releases were fun and sometimes unexpected reminders of what makes the artists that created them so special.
Not all of the good stuff sounded familiar, of course. In an increasingly surprising world the ability to control or filter the unfamiliar is also comforting. If music were a tub of ice cream, Wormrot and Pharmacist, for example, are hardly the flavors I am traditionally reaching for in the middle of a depressive episode. The chase was at least half the fun here—looking for something to challenge one’s regular diet inevitably requires trying the full thirty-one flavors. Though I may not have liked all of them, the act of digging through what was available and determining what it was I didn’t particularly like felt rewarding.
Not unlike 2021, and with no intention of being similar in this regard, 2022 was largely a year of gentle crate digging for me. Pretty Maids. Savatage. Dokken. Fastway. I am not sure what led me to these corners but, of all my listening adventures, the ones that led me there were the most fun. We are so blessed to have this insane catalog of music to discover and rediscover! Though they’ll never end up in a year-end list, these unexpected escapades often define much of the past 365 days for many of us. And I can’t wait to discover and rediscover more bands over the next 365 days.
So let’s get to the list …
THE GOOD STUFF
20. Chaos Frame – Entropy
Heavy, more traditional, and djent-free prog is a rarity. Even rarer from a young American band. And though “young” is stretching it for a band that’s been around for 12 years now, Entropy was only Chaos Frame’s third album. And as much as Another Life and Paths to Exile oozed chemistry, there’s something about this effort that sounds perfectly locked in. Insane riffs. Soaring vocals. Robust production. And as memorable as some of these choruses are, there’s always something new to discovery with each listen.
19. Voimaton – Profane Vestige
Look up “lumbering” in an online thesaurus and just throw all those words at Voimaton’s debut, Profane Vestige. This thing has a hypnotic heft. Crank it to 11 as the band does on “Vile” and you have me sold.
18. Pharmacist – Flourishing Extremities on Unspoiled Mental Grounds
As resident LR death / grind expert Andy E once opined, we can expect “uniformly high quality” music from Pharmacist, and the band’s second full-length is no exception. Its seven songs are notably longer and lean significantly more in the death than grind direction relative to the band’s debut, but there’s no denying that this thing absolutely rips.
17. Sonja – Loud Arriver
As LR’s resident expert on all things musical, Captain, once opined, “it’s a truly wonderful time to be at war with the sun.” And no band is waging that war quite as successfully as Sonja right now. It took me a minute to circle back to Loud Arriver, but its gothic sleaze really sunk its claws into me quick. I am already regretting not ranking Sonja’s debut higher. This one feels special.
16. Zero Hour – Agenda 21
Who knew that after fourteen years we would see a Zero Hour album in 2022? Not I. Particularly with a revamped lineup that includes members of Seventh Wonder and Powerwolf. Yet Agenda 21 is every bit the album longtime fans might expect, chockful of chug and noodly twists. And the excellent Erik Rosvold from the band’s first three albums is even back on vocals.
15. Daeva – Through Sheer Will and Black Magic
As mesmerizing as it is, Through Sheer Will and Black Magic is an invitation to whiplash. Though a touch busier, the band’s brand of black / thrash is similar enough to Aura Noir to warrant a comparison. There’s something slightly more hypnotic here that reminds me a bit of how Cascadian black metal bands hide the hypnotism in an avalanche of repeating riffs. Daeva’s execution is notably more raw, but the effect is somewhat the same. Not unlike Sonja’s Loud Arriver, this one didn’t really click with me until I circled back to it later this year—another album I’ll regret not ranking higher.
14. Charlie Griffiths – Tiktaalika
Decidedly progressive, the debut solo album from Haken guitarist Charlie Griffiths is also a few other things. Namely, it’s heavy, groovy, thrashy, and, at times, Ihsahn-like. Above all, it’s great. I am not the biggest Haken fan. So I am not sure what drew me here aside from the fun music videos and the novel concept of an album “375 million years in the making. But I am glad I found my way to this charming album, because there’s quite a bit more substance here than I would have otherwise given it credit for. Truth be told, it somehow wormed its way into being one of my more listened to releases this year. Hail Charlie Griffiths. For real.
13. Amorphis – Halo
Album opener “Northwards” is definitively Amorphis in the best possible way. It’s also exactly what I needed to hear from this band in February 2022. That trademark Amorphis swing and swagger is there but there’s also an eloquence in the keys that feels just different enough to distinguish Halo from the preceding thirteen albums. No band does this quite like Amorphis. And as long as that’s true, any album of theirs is likely to land in my top 20. There is no substitute.
12. Fer de Lance – The Hyperborean
There’s an innate attraction to the organic, imperfect sound of Fer de Lance’s full-length debut, The Hyperborean. Undoubtedly raw, even relative to their somewhat similarly raw epic heavy / doom peers in Atlantean Kodex and Scald, the band’s sound feels lived in and strangely confident given that, you know, this is a debut. Though there’s certainly a blueprint or at least an informal aesthetic to epic heavy/doom, and Fer de Lance generally operate within that framework, it seems less by strict design than a commitment to developing a killer collection of songs.
11. Stratovarius – Survive
It’s not that Stratovarius hasn’t been on an upswing. The band has been reliably quite good since 2009’s Polaris. But this year’s somewhat unusually heavy Survive felt like a statement. I was ecstatic the minute I saw the band’s first music video for “World on Fire.” Though the video left much to be desired, the music itself hinted at the degree of heavy we’d later hear throughout. Timo Kotipelto sounds as terrific as ever, of course, but Matias Kupiainen’s riffs make this a particularly noteworthy album in the Stratovarius discography. Much as I love Nemesis, Survive is easily their best since Destiny.
THE BEST STUFF
10. INANNA – VOID OF UNENDING DEPTHS
As LR’s resident Inanna expert, Ryan, once opined, Void of Unending Depths feels like the heaviest yet most balanced of the band’s three albums. There are so few bands successfully mining this sort of avant-garde death metal without losing the plot that I am still sort of stunned by their sophomore effort, 2012’s Transfigured in a Thousand Delusions. As Ryan put it, their work is challenging, but accessible. And the way that they channel that here is just immensely impressive and, more importantly, incredibly fun to listen to. The fact that they never lose sight of burying you in riffs makes the experimentation all the more appreciated.
9. THRESHOLD – DIVIDING LINES
As LR’s resident progressive metal expert, Lone Watie, once opined, Threshold has produced what might be the genre’s most consistently awesome catalog since 1988. Not once in those intervening years has Threshold ever put out a dud. Dividing Lines is no exception. This band found what worked for them long ago and through continuously renewed inspiration has released album after album of prog metal’s hookiest tunes. On songs like “Complex” and “Hall of Echoes” (god, that chorus) these guys make a difficult task like writing catchy prog songs seem incredibly easy. Dividing Lines is just another reason why I am eternally grateful for Threshold.
8. FALL OF THE IDOLS – CONTRADICTORY NOTES
As LR’s resident … oh wait, I wrote that review. Anyway, not unlike Zero Hour, Fall of the Idols surprised us all with a very much unexpected album, Contradictory Notes. The band played an outsized role in my diving headfirst into doom about seventeen odd years ago, so Fall of the Idols’ fourth full-length means quite a bit to me. Though the band experiments a bit more than I anticipated, particularly on “Wail of the Serfs,” it did click into place rather quickly. “Vicissitudes” alone is worth the price of admission.
7. IMMOLATION – ACTS OF GOD
Just as Immolation needs no introduction, no Immolation album is in any real need of explanation when ranked in a year-end list. Acts of God is, nonetheless, a particularly strong and well-crafted record. How this band manages to sound (and be) absolutely vital after all these years is kind of astounding. Yet songs such as “Apostle” and “An Act of God” make it so. As resident LR Immo expert, Zach, once opined, Acts of God manages to be the longest album of their career but feels shorter and more efficient than records like Shadows in the Light or Atonement due to the tightness of the songs.
6. KORPITULI – AS INFINITE SHADOWS OF THE NIGHTSKY
As Infinite Shadows of the Nightsky is Korpituli’s second album in as many years and is largely a continuation, or refinement, of the hypnotic, haunting, and otherwise relatively orthodox sound established on the one-man band’s debut, The Ancient Spells of the Past. As misleading as a band’s own pitch on their sound can be, Korpituli really does sound like a “humble tribute to the glorious mystical secrets of nature and the legacy of Black Metal.” The dream-like feel is as addicting as the riffs themselves which, though hardly subtle, are fully satisfying nods to the genre’s forefathers. There’s a celebratory earnestness here that I wish more bands could channel.
5. DARKTHRONE – ASTRAL FORTRESS
For as much as I enjoyed it, Eternal Hails …… was not Darkthrone’s finest hour. Whether it was a lack of familiarity with the recording studio or some other reason, the songs themselves didn’t have the staying power I had hoped for and it wasn’t for lack of trying. But I don’t want to spend another second talking about unfulfilled expectations because the follow-up, Astral Fortress, is everything Eternal Hails could have been. LR’s own Ryan perfectly highlighted why this Doomthrone release succeeds where others had perhaps slipped, all good intentions aside. There’s a flow here that feels more impactful and confident, as if Nocturno Culto and Fenriz are seeing (and playing) more eye-to-eye—completely dialed in but still leaving room for fun and even a little adventure. I appreciate this band so much.
4. BLIND GUARDIAN – THE GOD MACHINE
Blind Guardian promised and delivered a heavy album in 2022. That alone seems noteworthy, particularly after the thoroughly enjoyable but all orchestral Twilight Orchestra: Legacy of the Dark Lands. I am not sure what sort of diet Marcus Siepen has been on since 2015’s Beyond the Red Mirror but the rhythm work here is punchy and inspired. As much as I love the band, I honestly haven’t felt this engaged in a Blind Guardian record in some time. It’s not that everything since A Night at the Opera hasn’t ranged from good to great, but none of those records felt as urgent and vital as The God Machine.
3. THE CHASM – THE SCARS OF A LOST REFLECTIVE SHADOW
Yet another surprise release, The Chasm’s The Scars of a Lost Reflective Shadow hit incredibly hard from the first listen. That opening rumble of “Return of the End (The Ancient Spirit that Makes me Aware)” is really all it took. Many were reasonably curious about the form the album would take after the instrumental A Conscious Creation from the Isolated Domain – Phase I, but this “unforeseen departure / detour between Phase I and II” is every bit as hot-tempered as you could have hoped. Daniel Corchado and Antonio León are in perfect sync here and—from tone to lyrics, theme, and pacing—The Scars of a Lost Reflective Shadow feels remarkably complete.
2. VOIVOD – SYNCHRO ANARCHY
Voivod’s The Wake was a monumental release that bested the already excellent Target Earth in almost every way imaginable. So I approached Synchro Anarchy with some trepidation. I really didn’t want to set this one up for failure. Turns out, I had absolutely no reason to fear—Synchro Anarchy rules. Though The Wake had its own sense of playfulness, it was also more committed to a larger narrative or theme, whereas Synchro Anarchy feels significantly more direct, or as direct as Voivod can get while still being quite Voivodian. The devil is, as always, in the details, and there are still plenty of nooks and crannies to explore in Synchro Anarchy. “Planet Eaters” is a personal favorite.
1. WORMROT – HISS
Wormrot’s fourth full-length, Hiss, received a ton of deserved attention. But I’d be lying if I said any of that attention would be from me. Though I liked Abuse, Dirge, and Voices, Wormrot was never a band I spent any real amount of time with outside of the month or two after they released an album. Hiss felt different, though. And it’s not just Myra Choo’s violin that makes this thing feel a bit more multi-dimensional. The rage is ragier. The punch is punchier. The somber parts are just a touch more depressing. My emotions were flying all over the place listening to Hiss. And they’re not anymore together now that I’ve listened to it for the umpteenth time. Perhaps most surprising, Hiss not only inspired me to spend more time with Abuse, Dirge, and Voices—all of which I have a greater appreciation for now—but also motivated me to listen to more grind, generally, in 2022.
TOP 5 EPs OF 2022
5. Dark Forest – Ridge & Furrow
As much as I would have preferred a full-length follow-up to the superb Oak, Ash & Thorn, Ridge and Furrow is just as confident and varied a listen. Outside of less than a handful of releases, I haven’t heard a ton of traditional metal this year so I’ll take what I can get. This initially sounded slightly less Maiden-ish but they also seem to be making strides in defining their own sound so I can’t hate.
4. Prehistoria – Cursed Lands
LR’s own Captain rightfully sung the praises of Prehistoria’s Cursed Lands earlier this year. And like Captain, I am not entirely sure why this band hasn’t received more attention. Every person involved is absolutely stellar at their respective instrument—the riffs, in particular, are godly—but more importantly, songs like “Purgatoria” flat out rip.
3. Epica – The Alchemy Project
This could have been a mess of, well, epic proportions. But these collaborations with musicians from Shining, Fleshgod Apocalypse, Soilwork, Aborted, Insomnium, Uriah Heep, Seventh Wonder, Myrkur, Powerwolf, and God Dethroned are mostly hits. Some hit harder than others, but the concept was surprisingly well-executed, with Epica mostly succeeding in adopting each band’s respective sound. In fact, the God Dethroned track actually sounds the most convincing!
2. Moonlight Sorcery – Piercing Through the Frozen Eternity
Given how frequently I saw the band’s name pop up this year, the interest in Moonlight Sorcery is clearly very high. Deservedly so. Moonlight Sorcery’s brand of melodic black metal is a bit more intense and raw than most of its modern counterparts and that distinction gives Piercing Through the Frozen Eternity layers that others lack.
- Napalm Death – Resentment is Always Seismic – A Final Throw of Throes
“Narcissus” may be my favorite song this year. And, hey, because Resentment is Always Seismic is Napalm Death, the rest of these songs rule, too—even the covers! A bite-sized enjoyment of groovy death / grind sound about right.
Thanks for reading!