March is always a sleeper month. It’s not just because we usually take February off (since January is when we post our end of year content) but also because the industry “wakes up” from the winter freeze. February already starts picking up but then March arrives and people smell spring in the air and the flurry of releases beings in earnest. As a result, it is one of the busiest months when you write for the blog; there are so many albums to include in cover. And, more often than not, Editors’ Picks becomes ground zero for this sort of deluge.
I mean, just look at the below post! You have releases from classic bands that still manage to ignite passion (Amorphis, Immolation), you have old/new-comers breaking through the odd silence surrounding them once again (WAIT), blog favorites returning to form (Persefone) and even an excellent (really excellent) release from one of our own editors (we broke the weather). And that’s just in the “main” section; scroll on down to Further Reading, where you’ll find even more excellent releases. That’s March for you: excellent music abounds wherever you might look. So, let’s get started. There’s a lot to get through.
Amorphis – Halo (prog metal)
Amorphis is an absolute anomaly. Not only in the world of metal, but in music generally. Formed in Finland in 1990, the band have released 14 full length albums and a veritable host of EPs, compilations, and splits to almost universal acclaim. Along with an elite group of long-standing bands like Immolation and Katatonia, Amorphis have never released a bad album. In fact, it could be argued that every single record they’ve dropped falls somewhere along the quite good to absolute classic spectrum. Sure, Far from the Sun has its fair share of detractors, but even that record is replete with the band’s classic fantastic musicianship, relatively creative songwriting, and enough riffs to satisfy most rock and metal aficionados. They’re one of the few old school surefire purveyors of quality left in the extreme music world, which makes reviewing their new releases a bit difficult (at least for me).
After so many years of writing incredible music, a band reaches a point where the only albums one can compare them to is their own. With a vast body of work behind them, it’s nearly impossible to view their 14th studio record Halo in any other comparable context. As the final installment of an immensely popular trilogy of records, Halo also has the unenviable task of not only being compared to the rest of the band’s work, but also within the context of the particular sequence of albums it thematically closes. Under the Red Cloud and Queen of Time are both thoroughly excellent records in their own right, so saying expectations were high for Halo would be an incredible understatement. Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of Amorphis’ latest is that it meets those lofty expectations and then some.
Two words will undoubtedly come to mind for most listeners when listening to Halo: catchy and accessible. While the signature Amorphis progressivism remains, from the opening riff of “Northwards” it’s clear that Amorphis are here to maximize the most instantly enjoyable aspects of their music. It aggravates me to think that those words may seem like an insult to this gem of a record. To the absolute contrary, Halo exudes an energy and technical confidence that is as vibrant and direct as anything found in the band’s extensive discography. I’m hard pressed to think of a sequence of tracks they’ve strung together that provides as many immediately memorable riffs or choruses. The central riff of “On the Dark Waters” is fun as hell, and will stick to your ribs with a meaty thickness that lasts well beyond initial spins. It’s this emphasis on memorable structures and catchiness that allow Halo to seep into the subconscious quicker than most Amorphis records, and constitutes one of the record’s principal strengths.
While masterful songwriters, one would be remiss to skip out on applauding the quality of musicianship here. Holopainen and Koivusaari’s guitar work is simply fantastic throughout, while the rhythm section (particularly drummer Jan Rechberger) is both immensely interesting and appropriately nuanced. As is the custom, Tomi Joutsen’s vocal performance steals the show, demonstrating a vocal range and alacrity in his cleans and harshes that is unmatched in the genre. “The Moon” is a delightful showcase of Joutsen’s incredible talents, vacillating between styles with an enviable ease and passion. On a technical front the production must be lauded as well, with Jens Bogren’s ear for detail and Tony Lindgren’s pitch perfect master combining to create a lush and punchy sonic experience.
But as is always the case with Amorphis, it’s the songwriting itself that qualifies for the highest praise. While I’ve mentioned above the immediacy present in Halo’s compositional structures, it would be inaccurate in my estimation to label any of these tracks as simple. The variation of style, tone, and tempo throughout the record becomes increasingly more discernible through repeat listens. “Seven Roads Come Together” is a blistering example of the band’s continued ability to build progressive soundscapes that are diverse and deeply epic in scope, melding synth-heavy rock and progressive metal elements into a delightfully cohesive whole. The same could be said for the album’s title track, which maintains a forward-thinking aesthetic while presenting plenty of opportunities to bang your head. It’s a blending of sounds that only a band with this much talent and water under the bridge could balance with this level of consistency, and Halo is a shining example of masterclass songwriting on full display.
In case it isn’t glaringly obvious at this point, Halo is a truly fantastic and deeply enjoyable record that I recommend on the highest of terms. Every technical aspect of this record is impeccably realized, and I found not a single ounce of disappointment coursing through my veins throughout my extensive experience listening to it. Amorphis is in a place where their music can only accurately be compared to itself, and even on that lofty standard Halo shines. If you’re looking for a record that combines immediately accessible and enjoyable riffs without skimping on dazzling technical competency or a nuanced progressive approach to songwriting, your journey ends here. An absolute beast of a record that I feel confident will continue to receive heavy rotation throughout the year, and a worthy finale to a fantastic prog rock trilogy.
Cult of Luna – The Long Road North (post-metal)
Sweden’s titans of post-metal Cult of Luna have done the unthinkable; they’ve somehow managed to craft a full-length record that not only compares to their magnum opus in their 2016 Julie Christmas collaboration Mariner, but they might have gone as far as to top it. Their ninth LP The Long Road North is as epic and cinematic as its title might suggest, bolstered by contributions by saxophonist and reed-smith Colin Stetson (Hereditary) scattered throughout.
I’ve spilled my thoughts on the record plenty enough already, but The Long Road North is worthy of continuous praise. It seems that the band have been tweaking their formula over the last decade, trying to find the balance between propulsive and hypnotic progressive sludge with more restrained and contemplative ambiance and drone. This is the record where they’ve perfected the craft, striking that balance in a way that makes The Long Road North as invigorating and vital as it is thoughtful and pensive.
Those who are enamored by densely packed and intensely layered compositions will be taken by The Long Road North’s affinity for fluid and dynamic songwriting, where an eight minute track like “The Silver Arc” passes swiftly due to the song’s entrancing nature and sense of textural diversity. Tracks like “Cold Burn” and “An Offering To The Wild” make the record feel truly alive and electric, breathing and heart beating with every step. The Long Road North is a winding and scenic journey that does indeed lead to a satisfying destination. For some, that destination may be among the Best Of lists by the end of the year.
Immolation – Acts of God (death metal)
One of the most established and noble truths of metal is that midsize or larger legacy metal bands tend to stick within a well-worn, established niche and bang out a new album every few years to remind everyone they exist (and potentially give themselves a nice excuse to go on tour). Sometimes this is a bad thing and bands persist in a creatively defunct purgatorial un-life. Sometimes, however, this is really good! There are certain groups, like Nile and Cannibal Corpse, that emerge every few years and put out some new songs that, while maybe a far cry from their glory days, still get the blood flowing and the synapses firing in the way their best material did and does. Immolation are, thankfully, as much a part of this second group as any band can hope to be, and Acts of God is a fine new addition to what remains a unique and shockingly consistent discography.
A big part of what makes more Immolation such an inherently enticing thing, compared to, say, more Incantation or more Suffocation (thus completing the Ritual of the East Coast -Ations), is that there aren’t really any other bands that sound much like these guys. Since day one, guitarist and main songwriter Robert Vigna has had a unique approach to riff writing that blends short, repetitive, grim melodies with a refined approach to dissonance that lends itself well to big moments. Combined with understated but very technical drum performances from Steve Shalaty and Ross Dolan’s fumarole-spilling-sulfur vocals, their sound makes for a uniquely impressionistic and atmospheric take on death metal. It requires a bit more investment than the immediate, tactile pleasures the genre typically offers, but once you’ve bought into what Immolation have to offer, there’s not really anything else like these guys. Everything coalesces into a mood of truly Miltonian evil in a way a lot of extreme metal aims for and misses.
Nobody that has heard an Immolation record before is going to be shocked by what Acts of God brings to their discography, but it’s another solid addition from some of the straightest shooters that death metal has cultivated to date. Highly recommended to fans and newbies alike for big evil moments, crunching guitar riffs, and some sounds that will truly make you wonder why nobody has pilfered their style yet.
Persefone – Metanoia (prog metal)
If there was one album I was dreading this year, it was Metanoia. You see, I usually tend to give bands more chances than just one; if an album is sub-par, it’s not enough for me to leave a band I love. And I love Persefone. I consider Spiritual Migration to be one of the best progressive albums ever made, death metal or otherwise. But Aathma was just not for me and I was intensely worried that what we’ve come to call Tall Poppy Syndrome around the blog might have infected Persefone as well. That is, that the desire to make something “mature”, something supposedly more fleshed out and “serious” than metal, would lead to a watering down of their sound into the beige sort of indie, sort of progressive, sort of ambient style that’s been going around the scene these past few years.
But Metanoia has more than dispelled my concerns. In fact, and completely unexpectedly, I find it competing with Spiritual Migration for my favorite Persefone album. You see, the band have returned to the more aggressive and uniquely explosive style of that sound but have drawn on many of the sounds and tones that Aathma tried to make its center. But here, they work incredibly as scaffolding and support for the “main” sort of sound. All you need to do is listen to “Katabasis”, the first “full” track on the album. The signature Persefone synths are back, competing as they should with the massive central riff. And that riff is as explosive as anything on Spiritual Migration and that’s saying something. But the clean vocals have a pride of place that they didn’t enjoy on previous releases and their tone is much more grandiose than ever before.
Not to mention the faintly ambient transition into the next track, “Architecture of the I”, and its immense synths which transition into this weirdly progressive and off-kilter unison. It’s Persefone alright, heavy as all hell and overwhelming, like a constant flood of noise and emotion which threatens to drown you. That’s what I’ve always loved about them. But it’s not Spiritual Migration rehashed, not a full return. Like the afore-hinted at Leprous, Persefone have managed to create a hybrid between their newer direction and the original style which made them so beloved and the end result is one of my favorite albums of the year so far.
Wait – The End of Noise (progressive death metal)
I went into this album with absolutely no context or prior knowledge, and boy am I glad I did. The first track alone, “Half Funeral”, paints shades of some of my preferred progressive acts – Cloudkicker, Textures, The Contortionist, and their ilk. Nuanced, groovy, engaging, spacious compositions that know the value of when to ride a riff and when to discard it. Of course, there’s a pretty obvious common thread among those acts: a heavy Cynic influence. Imagine my utter lack of surprise to find WAIT (an acronym for We Are In Transit) is the project of Max Phelps, a former member of Cynic and Defeated Sanity, not to mention his own project Exist, which shares WAIT guitarist Charlie Eron.
Phelps’ meandering monotone vocals over the pummeling, labyrinthine syncopations is blissfully disorienting, drawing further comparisons to acts like Uneven Structure. “I Climb Downhill” stands out among the 7 tracks, being both its shortest at 5:02 and one of its most relentless, tilting the same groove back and forth for the majority of the track and reveling in its modulations. This particular brand of tech metal wriggles into your ear and lays eggs, remaining dormant until hours later when you’re inexplicably tapping your foot in 7/4 without the foggiest clue why. It’s a pretty straightforward record all things considered, never exploring past its own self-imposed boundaries of feeling inspired-by-the-classics-but-fresh, intent on delivering high-quality prog death without pretense or distraction and excelling at it.
There is a wealth of talent and experience in the group, and I’m remaining cautiously optimistic that if and when we get a third WAIT album, it will blow the doors off the genre. Everything they’ve produced so far is good, but the specter of greatness writhes just beneath the surface, if only they can find the key to unleash it. Until then, I’m hooked, and I will happily… pass the time until that day.
we broke the weather – we broke the weather (prog rock, jazz fusion)
Whether it’s due to my own personal taste or some pleasant quirk of the universe, it seems like new music is being churned out with a Moore’s Law pace. Every year seems to have a broader, better slate of releases than the last, which is why I’ve ditched the exercise of ranking my AOTY list and simply focused on whittling it down to a a presentable number. And yet, I have found more success with the “broad” than “better” aspect, in that I end up with dozens of releases I love, but more or less equivalently. It’s been a a few years since I had a clear cut pick for my favorite one or two releases of the year. While that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, there is some charm to looking back at a small handful of albums that far and away defined any given year. After countless listens, we broke the weather’s debut is positioning itself to buck this trend with one of the best modern prog rock albums I’ve encounters.
I’ll tweak the description I used when we premiered opener “Through the Wall” — imagine Colin Stetson and Casey from The Dear Hunter writing modern prog arrangements inspired by King Crimson, Pink Floyd, and Rush. Everything from jazz/fusion to math and psych/stoner to post-rock crop up throughout the album, frequently in stylistic tandem. As much as “Through the Wall” whet my appetite, the rest of the album is chock full of highlights showcasing this sonic variety in action. Sax-centric tracks like “Niceberg” “In Web” showcase the band’s brash, energetic side while the spacey math-prog vibes on “Bellwether” explores their command of the full ensemble’s instrumental prowess and chemistry. Even then, the midway point of the track erupts into a swell of heavy noise rock before settling into a Rush-meets-Yes melodic prog rock bridge. Elsewhere, “Frequency” closes things out with a fuzzy, grungy farewell, while “Rot King” pairs downright danceable rhythms with deeply cynical, snarling vocals and lyrics.
Naturally, with a name like “we broke the weather,” existential threats define the album’s lyrics, ranging from everyday depression and anxiety to grappling with global inaction on climate change. “These Old Bones” hit me the hardest in this regard, with a blunt recap of personal apathy that felt incredibly relatable: “Morning comes to let the light in/Struggling with heavy eye lids/I can’t get the balance right/I see only black and white.” The rest of the song is filled with devastating observations are shared like simple facts, such as, “I can’t get back up on my two feet again,“ “I am crawling out of my own skin again,” and “I can’t make a sound with my own voice again.”
And yet, the fact we broke the weather exists is the glimmer of hope amid our Sisyphean existence. As the band admits, “We’re just a group of 5 guys with wives, kids, and jobs who are most likely yelling into the void and are just trying to have some fun while doing so. Come join us down in the hole. It’s nice.” Isn’t that the only answer at the end of the day? Finding and creating meaning and a chaotic world? And if you’re looking for a worthy soundtrack during that pursuit, we broke the weather have crafted an album that should resonate with fans of rock, jazz, and beyond for years to come.
The Weeknd – Dawn FM (pop, r&b)
Who had The Weeknd putting out an existentialist synth-pop pandemic masterpiece on their 2022 bingo card? Maybe I should have. Abel Tesfaye has already spent the past decade dominating the space he carved out for himself as chief sensitive soul with a dark streak, culminating in his unexpected and trippy Superbowl halftime performance in 2021. And his previous album, After Hours, displayed a clear interest in exploring synth-funk and squiggly 80s new wave. But while that album, as well as previous hitmakers, had moments or stretches of strong music, Dawn FM is the first album of his that has truly captivated me front-to-back off the strength of its unifying themes and dedication to a sound that perfectly marries the best of retro dance pop and new r&b.
The closest analog to this album has got to be Daft Punk’s swansong and love letter Random Access Memories, which laid bare the artists and influences who shaped the duo’s music through their career while bringing those people into a more modern context. Given the role Oneohtrix Point Never played in production of the album, it should be no surprise that it goes in so hard on captivating synths and driving bass. The greatest trick that Dawn FM plays though is the way it’s structured to take the listener on a true journey through “purgatory,” not just thematically, but musically. The first third of the album smartly features most of the album’s most upbeat and immediately identifiable tracks, from the smooth and slinky “Gasoline,” to the bouncy lead single “Take My Breath,” and the funky basslines of “Sacrifice.” All of this follows the album opener laying the foundations of the journey for the listener and warns that the end is coming, but to first relax and simply enjoy the trip. At this point the “end” feels like a distant thing, and the listener feels safe in simply following the joyous beats.
Starting around the album’s midpoint of “Here We Go…Again” and the deep bass synth of “Best Friends” though, Tesfaye starts sprinkling in more “station breaks” and reminders from its erstwhile DJ (which Jim Carrey predictably makes a meal of) that the end is approaching and to resolve any emotional loose ends. From there the album takes a distinctive drop in energy and goes more inward, pulling out dreamy ballads “Is There Someone Else?,” “Starry Eyes,” and “Don’t Break My Heart.” Right before the latter track is another interstitial skit that, aside from its campy 3am “As Seen On TV” aesthetic, also ratchets the intensity and anxiety up, only to defuse it with a couple of the album’s coolest tracks in the boppy “I Heard You’re Married” and very new wave/War On Drugs-esque “Less Than Zero” – probably the happiest-sounding song out there about chronic depression and “negativity.”
There’s a kind of musical and thematic resolution that comes with this, a certain acceptance or at least resignation, that perfectly closes the loop as Carrey’s monologuing “Phantom Regret by Jim” guides the listener to their final destination. Hearing Jim Carrey purr “You gotta be Heaven to see Heaven” over spacey synths is not the mood I thought I would carry with me into year 3 of our new Covid reality, but I’ll be damned if it doesn’t soothe my weary soul every time.
An Isolated Mind – A Place We Cannot Go (avant-garde metal, progressive black metal)
Avant-garde metal project An Isolated Mind, masterminded by multi-instrumentalist Kameron Bogges, is known for setting heavy and soul-shattering emotional content to a backdrop of mind-bendingly eclectic metal with influences from prog, black metal, drone, and sludge, complete with bouts of non-traditional instrumentation and synthesizers. The 2019 debut album I’m Losing Myself was a massive sleeper hit, and this quietly released follow-up is just as heartbreaking and bizarre. A Place We Cannot Go is a grotesque Pink Floyd-ian nightmare that wallows in the dissolution of a mutually-toxic relationship; perfect for its Valentine’s Day release date.
Author & Punisher – Krüller (industrial doom)
Tristan Shone’s one-man industrial doom machine returns for what could perhaps be his best album yet. He’s imbued the A&P sound with more melodic cues from goth and new wave to create a record fans of Type O Negative and Godflesh alike will enjoy.
Black Country, New Road – Ants From Up There (indie rock, chamber rock, art-rock)
Following the explosive success of the Brits’ 2021 debut, the weight of expectations could have brought Ants From Up There all the way down to earth. And while it’s not as dynamic and unpredictable as the previous album, it is thoroughly enjoyable and at times haltingly beautiful, like if Arcade Fire’s Neon Bible collided with the uplift of yndi halda.
Blood Incantation – Timewave Zero (ambient)
When it was announced that progressive death metal darlings Blood Incantation were following up their critically lauded Hidden History of the Human Race with an ambient record, I was baffled. Obviously these influences were baked into the Blood Incantation sound, but serving up a record like this as their Century Media Records debut is a risky move, and one that I completely expected to be little more than an over-indulgent bore. I’m happy to be wrong; this record is thoroughly engaging and thoughtful, if you’re in the mood for haunting synth melodies moving in slow motion.
Dance With The Dead – Driven To Madness (synthwave, metal-synth)
Whilce Driven to Madness doesn’t innovate too much in the Dance with The Dead formula, the group continues to be one of the best sources for hard hitting, dark wielding synthwave and what more do you really want? Turn it on, turn it up, put on your sunglasses, and let’s go fight neon zombies.
Fit For An Autopsy – Oh What The Future Holds (deathcore)
New Jersey’s deathcore powerhouse Fit For An Autopsy are six albums deep into their career, with no sign of slowing down. They’re fast becoming the gold standard for not just deathcore, but the broader sound of modern metal in 2022, and Oh What The Future Holds proves it with its top-of-the-line songwriting and production.
FKA twigs – CAPRISONGS (art pop, alt R&B)
FKA twigs leads us through a kaleidoscope of mystical neon art pop, airy drill, uplifting spoken word, and intoxicating R&B on her third album, bringing along a few no-name friends like The Weeknd, Jorja Smith, and Daniel Caesar, among others. CAPRISONGS is the bittersweet, unshakeable knot of inevitability in your heart and the freedom it brings, for better or worse. A high bar for the year.
Krallice – Crystalline Exhaustion (progressive black metal)
Venerable and prolific black metal experimentalists return with a new album that’s less tangled and inwardly-focused than most of their output from the past five years, moving the focus from melodic Gordian knots towards enormous sonic spaces suffused with glimmering synthesizers and icy guitars. Icy, latticelike, and fragile, this is one of the most spellbinding records they’ve put out in several years.
The Neptune Power Federation – Le Demon De L’Amour (heavy metal, stoner rock)
Much like my other choice for this section of the post, Le Demon De L’Amour delivers exactly what you’d expect from The Neptune Power Federation, namely energetic, evocative, and catchy heavy metal. Anthemic, danceable, and contagious to an incredible degree, this album feels like it’s ushering in the summer.
SASAMI – Squeeze (indie pop, alt-metal)
I keep trying to find the perfect description for Squeeze, but it feels like one of those genuinely unique albums that drops each year and will stay in my rotation indefinitely. Like I said on my Release Day Roundup blurb, it sounds like alt-metal tropes spliced with the best parts of St Vincent’s self-titled and the rock-oriented highlights from Yeah Yeah Yeahs…and it actually works really, really well. Trust me, while this might sound puzzling on paper, you don’t want to let this one slip by.
Shadow of Intent – Elegy (symphonic deathcore)
Shadow of Intent’s fourth full-length was one of the big standouts on D-Day 2K22 alongside Fit For An Autopsy. Boasting features from Testament’s Chuck Billy and Whitechapel’s Phil Bozeman, the epic, exquisite assault rages through euphoric symphonies and gut-wrenching technical barrages with ardent savagery. It’s an entire amusement park packed into an hour of expertly crafted deathcore, and truly, what more could you want?
Spoon – Lucifer on the Sofa (alt-rock, indie rock)
It is not an exaggeration to say that the only reason why the Austin indie legends in Spoon didn’t land in my top spot this time around is because of the sheer quantity of top-caliber music 2022 has already brought. On their 10th album, the band sound as fresh and effortlessly cool as ever, putting out their best set of tunes since their unbeatable mid-2000s stretch.
Venom Prison – Erebos (death metal, deathcore)
UK’s Venom Prison continues their upward trajectory with a proper follow-up to 2019’s Samsara (after a detour through the band’s early history with 2020’s re-recording collection Primeval), and it’s a strikingly versatile record. The band broadens their decidedly deathgrind roots to include melodic death metal and prog. There’s shades of At The Gates, Cattle Decapitation, and early Between the Buried and Me (think Silent Circus/Alaska eras) here on Erebos if you squint just enough, and it somehow all works. Venom Prison are once again one of the most promising bands in their scene.
Wilderun – Epigone (progressive metal)
Wilderun have enjoyed a stratospheric rise to fame and notoriety perhaps only rivaled by Blood Incantation over the past few years, dropping record after record of impressive folk-influenced prog metal with an effortlessness and skill-level that defies reason. Their fourth full-length release, Epigone, is their most progressive (and possibly very best) yet. Instrumentally and compositionally the music soars, with the band sounding more confident and experimental than ever. If you’ve enjoyed anything they’ve released up to this point I feel very confident that you’ll find yourself transfixed by Epigone. Highly recommended.
Zeal & Ardor – Zeal & Ardor (experimental black metal/nu metal)
I’ve always enjoyed Zeal & Ardor’s music. Stranger Fruit was a mesmerizing (if occasionally inconsistent) record, but the project’s third and self-titled release is an entirely different beast. Replete with fantastic post-black metal sounds coupled with crunchy, bruising nu metal, it’s the most wildly varied release of the band’s short career and also in my mind their most interesting and thoroughly entertaining to date. Jump in practically anywhere and you’ll find something to love. It doesn’t fix the consistency issues with the band’s previous releases, but makes up for it by diving headlong and intentionally into stylistic wildness to blisteringly effective results.
And So I Watch You From Afar – Jettison (post-rock, math rock)
Celeste – Assassine(s) (blackened sludge, post-hardcore)
Cloakroom – Dissolution Wave (shoegaze, post-hardcore)
Endless Dive – A Brief History of a Kind Human (post-rock)
Enterprise Earth – The Chosen (nu-deathcore)
felperc – entropy (progressive post-rock)
Great American Ghost – Torture World (hardcore, metalcore)
Inhuman Nature – Under The Boot (thrash)
Nordic Giants – Symbiosis (progressive post-rock)
Pure Wrath – Hymn To The Woeful Hearts (melodic black metal)
Rolo Tomassi – Where Myth Becomes Memory (post-hardcore, mathcore)
Voivod – Synchro Anarchy (prog thrash, tech thrash)
Vorga – Striving Toward Oblivion (atmospheric black metal)
Whales Don’t Fly – The Golden Sea (prog metal, prog death)
Worm Shepherd – Ritual Hymns (blackened deathcore)