Time continues its dogged and completely unstoppable advance and so we find ourselves in the middle of yet another year. At this point, writing about how grim things seem to be is redundant. Just go back to my summaries of the previous years, multiply anything you find there by about a factor of five, and you’ve got where you’re at now. What is different though, once again, is the way we’re doing things at Heavy Blog and I’ve got to tell you – it’s been an absolute boon so far. Sure, we might be posting a bit less overall but spreading out the content again has really allowed me, and others on staff and the editorial board, to go back to writing as something we enjoy rather than as a chore to be carried out.
This post, which we’ve done for at least eight years now and perhaps more (the blog has now been around for so long that it’s an effort to dig all the way back into its past), is a great example. There’s a lot of heavy lifting and coordinating that goes into one of these posts and it was much easier to get it done this time around. It’s simply more fun to focus on one post at a time, and have plenty of space to bounce back from each post, than it is to have an entire host of them descend on you. Who knew? But, of course, this introduction is not just about the different formats for musical blogs, although that is an interesting and worthwhile subject, but rather just another way to talk about the subject with which I opened it: the inexorable march of time.
The simple fact is, my friends, that we have to keep going. And to keep going means to keep changing; the only perfect, still, and eternal is death. As long as we are alive, we are touched by chaos (cue the genetically engineered crusaders); whether we’d like it or not, to be alive is to constantly change. Our body teaches us that lesson before our minds process it, usually. But whether we listen or not, that change will keep coming at us, cerebrally, socially, politically, biologically. You name it. Funnily enough, this is also true for the changes we need to make in the things that stay the same. That is, if you don’t consciously think about the coping mechanisms, daily lacunae, resting spots, bonfires, what have you which you use to recharge and refresh, they’ll start to become less effective. How we stop changes just as much as how we keep going does.
Or, at least, it ought to. It’s honestly an incredibly difficult to master skill and one which, you guessed it, constantly changes. So, do me a favor: use this post not just as a means to look back on (another) excellent year for metal and its associated sub-genres. Use it also as a pit-stop to look back on the year that has started to die and ask yourself: what did I need? Did I get it? What do I need now? How can I get get it? What will I need soon? How can I prepare? Do me a favor and take this post as an excuse to think about yourself, to love yourself, to give yourself the attention you so deserve. Because you do. We all do.
Happy 2022 zenith. It’s all down/up hill from here, depending on how you look at it. Don’t stop. We can’t afford to.
Allegaeon – Damnum
If you’ve read Death’s Door at all this year, Allegaeon’s Damnum showing up on this list should come as no surprise. While Heavy Blog’s staff has never been particularly shy in lavishing praise on this Colorado progressive death metal outfit, Damnum succeeded in doing something that many of the band’s previous records failed to fully achieve: Create an utterly cohesive and stellar record that wows in songwriting economy and ambition as much as it does in technical wizardry. Damnum is the band’s most cohesive, memorable, and thoroughly excellent record by a country mile, and in our minds creates another immovable block in the edifice of excellence that Allegaeon have been constructing for well over a decade now.
Where Allegaeon’s music has often been criticized for sometimes feeling like a shock and awe display of instrumental pyrotechnics for its own sake, Damnum rewrites the entire narrative for the band, displaying their maturity as songwriters front and center. From the opening notes of “Bastards of the Earth” to the beautiful transitions of “Into Embers”, Allegaeon are at the absolute top of their collective songwriting game, churning out memorable melodic passages and riffs that are not only insanely cohesive, but are among the catchiest and most entertaining the band have yet created. But those who love Allegaeon as the masterful musicians they are first and foremost, there’s still plenty to love in Damnum, primarily during a batshit insane solo section during “Of Beasts and Worms”. Riley McShane’s continued maturation as a vocalist only further complements the band’s overall growth, with beautiful clean vocal sections adding distinct, unique flavor to the entire package. In all, Damnum is an absolutely incredible release that further cements Allegaeon as one of the best in the business.
Artificial Brain – Artificial Brain
New York’s premiere brutal and avant garde death metal institution Artificial Brain have outdone themselves time and time again. Not only is their self-titled third full length their best, but it’s making waves outside of the pocket of usual death metal weirdos to a wider recognition as the year’s token death metal masterpiece, like Ad Nauseam, Ulcerate, and Blood Incantation in the years before them. They’re certainly in good like-minded company.
These forebears of dissonant death metal are also doing great work in challenging what that relatively new development even is. As dense, brutal, and challenging as Artificial Brain is, I think anyone would have a difficult time arguing that this record is anything but melodic. In fact, it’s almost intensely and strangely so. Artificial Brain are so big brained that they moved deeper into weirder territory and wrapped back around to writing their most melodic music to date. Geniuses.
It’s hard telling where Artificial Brain will end up now that longtime vocalist Will Smith (not that one) is out of the fold. Part of their charm was how absurd his vocals were against their twisted style of cosmic death metal horror, and that’s certainly still the case with their self-titled album. But as long as we keep getting toilet sounds over disturbing, forward-thinking death metal, we’ll be alright.
Astronoid – Radiant Bloom
2022 has proven to be a crucial identity-defining moment for this Boston-area quartet. You may be thinking “I mean… these guys felt like they emerged fully-formed on their debut full length,” but I don’t know. I loved Air when it dropped in 2016, and in large part I still do, but in retrospect it feels more like a culmination than an introduction. Astronoid had already been around for nearly a half-decade at that point, a studio brainchild of vocalist/guitarist Brett Boland, and to some extent Air sounds like a group of guys executing one guy’s ideas. The results are mostly great, mind you, but there was a bit of concern on my behalf that it might not be a sustainable model.
2019’s self-titled album was met with some skepticism, and understandably so, but upon deeper inspection it’s not hard to figure out what the issue with that record is. What is it that makes Astronoid so compelling? Of course, a part of it is the manner in which thrashy guitars are paired with dreamy, clean vocals in a way that makes sense, but what facilitates the success of that idea on Air is Matt St. Jean’s propulsive drumming. It’s the anchor that keeps everything grounded and the thread that ties it all together. If you look at the liner notes for the self-titled album on Bandcamp, you’ll see that St. Jean didn’t actually perform on the record, and that it was Boland who handled the drums. With that context in mind, and to use an appropriately Boston-themed reference, Astronoid’s self-titled LP is kind of like the Patriots with Mac Jones. Yeah, it’s not the best you’ve seen them look, but considering how they did it without an essential piece of the puzzle, it’s still pretty damn good. And in this analogy Brett Boland has to not only play the Mac Jones role, but also be the Bill Belichek, no easy feat to pull off. Despite the shake-up in band dynamics, “I Wish I Was There While The Sun Set” may be my favorite Astronoid song to date, so there’s that at the very least.
In many ways Radiant Bloom feels like a first for the band. It’s their first album as a fixed quartet (in addition to St. Jean’s absence from the self-titled album, there was also the issue of third guitarist Mike DeMellia transitioning out of the band prior to the release). It’s also the first time they’ve sounded like a proper collective, as opposed to a group of musicians filling out Boland’s concepts. He may still be the primary songwriter, but there’s something about Radiant Bloom – it’s largely intangible, but the record feels like their most cohesive work to date. I get the sense that it’s at least in part the result of all the performers having seats at the table in ways they maybe haven’t on previous releases. Air seemed like one man’s PhD after years of individual work, and it remains a pretty brilliant thesis. But Radiant Bloom represents what Astronoid needed to become if they were to make a consistent impression as opposed to a single emphatic statement.
Our own Jimmy Rowe said in his review of Radiant Bloom: “At the risk of being dismissive to a band that’s never missed, if you’ve heard one Astronoid song, you’ve heard them all.” He’s not wrong, and he’s also clearly not intending that as a criticism, so in that spirit I agree with him entirely. Yes, Astronoid works off of a pretty distinct formula, but goddamn that formula is about as directly up my alley as a band could get. In a way, Radiant Bloom feels like one fluid 46 minute track, and were I to declare that about, say, the new Dear Hunter record (I’m not, but if I were) it would probably be a criticism. But here I think that quality plays perfectly in Astronoid’s favor. If their goal is to create an immersive experience that transforms metal styles typically associated with aggression into something dreamy and bright, they’ve certainly achieved it on Radiant Bloom. It’s a case in which maintaining a steady formula track-by-track actually plays to the strengths of the band and serves the overall presentation. I’ll be thrilled to step into this unique, shimmering, noisy, gorgeous world of theirs time and again.
Black Country, New Road – Ants From Up There
Black Country, New Road have come a very long way in a very short amount of time. Along with bands like black midi, BCNR are on a stratospheric trajectory in the indie rock scene with barely any musical output to justify their rise to prominence. That may sound like a jab, but historically some of the most influential indie rock-adjacent acts have followed a similar trajectory. Interpol built its entire career on its debut masterpiece Turn On the Bright Lights, and Arcade Fire’s debut almost instantly became one of the most lauded records of the 21st Century. There are dozens of examples over the past twenty years highlighting instant success for indie rock bands, but BCNR are in a relatively unique position in that their first two records were released within a year of one another and were each universally acclaimed. They’re also one of the first bands to reach this level of stature to lose one of their most unique and powerful contributors. As soon as it exploded, the band’s future may have already imploded. But if that’s the case, we’ll always have Ants From Up There to set souls alight.
The above Arcade Fire name drop is intentional when viewing the musical influences sprinkled throughout Ants. Particularly in “Chaos Space Marine”, full dollops of Neon Bible can be clearly tasted. There are also hints of a twee sensibility in tracks like “Concorde” that feel pulled directly from the discographies of Dirty Projectors or The New Pornographers. Not bad influences to have overall, but it’s clear that Ants shares more direct lineage with bands that came before. But just when it feels like we’ve heard this before, tracks like “Bread Song” and “Haldern” enter softly into the picture, filled with enough passion, simple creativity, and emotion to fill an entire record from a less talented and invested band. They’re both utterly beautiful statements that separate BCNR from their contemporaries and show the stunning artistic vision this band is capable of executing. It’s moments like this, which are replete throughout the record, that ensure that BCNR’s legacy is here to stay, regardless of their future configuration. Here’s hoping they never lose sight of what makes them truly special.
Cave In – Heavy Pendulum
I’ll admit, I shied away from 2017’s Final Transmission until earlier this year because personally, I wasn’t ready to hear the last of Cave In. I didn’t want to accept that their likely demise was reality, but I eventually …succumbed… and spent some time with it. It was a bittersweet experience, the loss of bassist Caleb Schofield hangs heavily about the record, but I grew to appreciate it as a celebration of life and a worthwhile hurrah, even if it doesn’t really stack up against their previous works. So, when word got around that the Boston legends were working on new material, it felt like the page was officially turning to a new chapter of Cave In. I don’t want to speak for everyone, but I felt relieved that the Cave In legacy could continue, even if it were “flawed” or different. I also felt overjoyed, I mean, let’s not complicate things, a new record from Cave In is fucking wonderful news.
At this point though, we’re far from news. At this point, it’s established this is a fucking wonderful Cave In album. Heavy Pendulum feels like the kind of note this band could go out on (fingers crossed they don’t). It’s an all-encompassing, almost retrospective look at the progression of their (and even some of their side projects’) sounds. You can hear it in the Jupiter-ian “Searchers of Hell,” the Perfect Pitch Black-ified “Floating Skulls,” or the thundering “Nightmare Eyes,” which would be just at home on 2011’s White Silence.
Yeah, Brodsky’s still got stronger hooks than just about anyone in extreme music, like extreme music’s Paul McCartney, seemingly magnifying every catchy tune on Heavy Pendulum until it’s the biggest, best version of itself. The addition of Nate Newton on bass is about as predictable and no-brainer as it gets, too, he has some really great vocal contributions, too. For as familiar and obvious as this all reads, tracks like the grungy “Reckoning” or the epic closer hint at the spark they’ve carried on every record. I don’t think it’s really fair to call Heavy Pendulum a “comeback” record, but it kinda is, at least it feels that way for me. One of the greatest bands of this generation? No doubt. One of the best albums in their catalog? Well, yeah! What more could you want?
Coheed and Cambria – Vaxis – Act II: A Window of the Waking Mind
If I, and many other long-time fans had forgotten how much fun Coheed and Cambria can be, it’s only because they had too. Whatever you think of their individual quality, the self-serious Unheavenly Creatures (2018) and self-reflective The Colour Before the Sun (2015) are hardly the most instantaneous and elating of records. Given its position as the second part in a proposed five-part story suite (not to mention the uninspired Ender’s Game style artwork), it seemed like expectations and excitement were at an all-time low in the modern prog legend’s otherwise lauded history. Rather than another pretentious and overlong prog odyssey, however, what listeners were greeted with in the second Vaxis record is a (relatively) concise collection of pop rock bangers, that still manage to explore and execute upon a wide variety of often unexpected styles and influences.
From the earnest, emo-tinged opening of “Beautiful Losers”, to the stadium rock showboating of “Shoulders”, the classic pop punk of “Comatose” and the upbeat electro pop of “A Disappearing Act”, to the autotuned, almost AOR-leanings of “Love Murder One”, the Boba Fett by way of Flo Rida braggadocio of “Bad Man” and the Rush-worthy prog rock excess of its final movements, A Window of the Waking Mind is an eclectic experience, staggering in both the breadth of its ambition and the consistency with which it manages to channel each of its eclectic influences into succinct and immediately memorable compositions that demand to be listened to over and over (and over) again. Whether A Window of the Waking Mind is the best record of 2020 remains to be seen, but it’s easily one of the most enjoyable albums of the year so far.
Cult of Luna – The Long Road North
Swedish Post-metal icons Cult of Luna are an institution at this point in their career; at nine full-lengths and nearly 25-years deep, this progressive collective has shown no signs of slowing down as they continue to drop career-and-genre-defining records. Even last year’s EP The Raging River felt as significant and as substantial as an album, at just under 40 minutes in length. The creative well must run deep, because almost exactly a year later, Cult of Luna dropped The Long Road North, which sees the band being as vital and creative as ever.
Surely fans will be divided over whether 2011’s Vertikal, 2016’s Mariner, or this year’s The Long Road North are the band’s best work to date, but the fact that the answer isn’t so clear-cut is a testament to Cult of Luna’s power and prowess as masters of their craft. My ADHD-addled brain hardly has the patience for records that meander over an hour in length, but The Long Road North is such a thoughtful and compelling record that it feels more like a necessary pilgrimage than a mind-numbing commute. Cult of Luna has always been a band to shoot for the stars, and they just don’t miss.
Doldrum – The Knocking, Or The Story of the Sound that Preceded Their Disappearance
At long last, the American folktale FINALLY has a black metal album! Denver’s Doldrum has woven quite the tale with this year’s release, The Knocking, Or The Story of the Sound that Preceded Their Disappearance. I was totally blown away by this album/tale. Everything about this record is designed to serve the story and set the scene. It really builds the album conceptually by making things seem like they’re in the Old West. The guitars really sold me on it since they don’t sound like your standard black metal instruments. Much like most things in the times of American folktales, they sound rickety and strained like your average prairie cabin likely was. And the rest of instruments follow suit.
While the music was what initially brought me in, I think the story the band is telling is what seals the deal and makes this an incredible release in 2022. The Knocking isn’t so much a sound as it is an entity of supernatural strength and power. It is culling the herd of the foolish and unwise, those being the human characters of the story drunk on whiskey and moonshine. It drags them deep into the open maw of the earth and watches them as they float off into death. Much of the story requires some storytelling from the listener to themselves, but it still works quite well even without it. This is a singular work in my eyes. Very few records are able to tell this kind of story even without the level of success Doldrum has achieved here. This release came quite under the radar, so no judgment if you missed it when it first came out. Now you have no excuse. Better make it quick as I hear something approaching the door.
Fit For An Autopsy – Oh What The Future Holds
New Jersey’s Fit For An Autopsy have cemented themselves as a preeminent force in extreme metal with monumental sixth studio album Oh What The Future Holds. To be completely honest, I’d already started taking this album’s greatness for granted. I reviewed an advance copy for the blog and was absolutely gobsmacked by the halfway point. I remember feeling inept, incapable of capturing the nuance of such masterfully crafted songs, hoping others would hear what I did. Each track sings like a blade unsheathed or the sear of a bullet grazing cheekbone. The nauseating acknowledgment of the finite as your breath catches and the bottom of your stomach gives way. Terror incarnate. They’d given us tastes of this greatness previously, but with Oh What The Future Holds, Will Putney and co brought the masterstrokes.
Each of its ten momentous tracks truly feels like its own separate story, sometimes exhaustingly so, incorporating an astounding array of stylistic variations from across the greater metal spectrum in the process. Each one is explored to its logical end, becoming a meditation on a theme rather than a cheap parlor trick, adding depth and flavor to an already richly complex sonic feast. It’s deathcore by root, but transcends far past any preconceived notions of genre boundaries or benchmarks, delivering a bold new vision of extreme modern metal. This album is sensational. Hopefully, it will become a touchpoint for younger bands learning how to adapt and develop their sound down the road.
Oh What The Future Holds is a triumph; the culmination of all their artistic successes and failures through five-and-some-odd albums packed into a genre-bending opus of monstrous magnitude. No one is doing it like Fit For An Autopsy right now. Give Oh What The Future Holds a listen right here.
Gospel – The Loser
How incredible is it that we have a band here who released what is widely considered one of the all-time greatest albums within its genre before breaking up and then coming back seventeen years later to drop yet another all-time classic? Brooklyn’s Gospel are almost mythic in the realm of screamo, and for good reason; their melding of influences from progressive rock and hardcore, featuring prominent use of keyboards, puts them in a league of their own, and their rebirth is inspiring.
I can’t pretend I was there in 2005 when The Moon Is A Dead World dropped, nor can I appreciate the distance between the band’s two masterpieces, but The Loser opened my eyes to the Good News of Gospel. All the theatrics of prog and the histrionics of screamo are presented without pretense or pretentiousness. Gut wrenching howls accentuate darting guitars and billowing organs; synthesizers and guitars twirl hypnotically over blastbeats; sludge-emo dirges give way to jazz breaks and/or contemplative post-rock. It’s all very messy and deeply captivating, signposted only by Sharpie on some cardboard. God, if I had discovered this band as a teenager, I would have been insufferable.
Hath – All That Was Promised
2019’s Of Rot And Ruin blew our collective minds, making drooling sycophants of us all as we hung on every soul-rending riff and passage of blackened majesty. It remains, at least in my mind, an inflection point in the story of modern death metal. Here was this random group from Jersey coming in hot with the best Opeth rendition we’d heard since Watershed. An oversimplification of their sound, sure, but it awoke a ravenous fanbase that had been starved for that brand of epic, melodic prog death for quite some time.
The grim, grinding flourishes that made ORAR sing are still ever-present on All That Was Promised, delivering on the mystique of some pockmarked lich siphoning vitality from all it touches. Frank Albanese’s monstrous voice (and presence) conjure visions of a jacked Italian-American Mikael Akerfeldt, which is something I think we can all appreciate. In keeping with the theme, ATWP also feels a little more Bloodbath in places, pounding away as the guitars paint broad, desolate strokes. “Kenosis” and “Lithopaedic” showcase this approach flawlessly, while tracks like “Decollation” thrum with furious, blackened glory. All That Was Promised absolutely lives up to its own promise as one of the most anticipated albums of the year, and will likely snuggle into a spot on our year end list, too. Hath continues to be one of best new outfits in all of death metal, so here’s to a long, prolific career ahead of them. We’ll be waiting to offer our own souls to the swirling maelstrom next time around.
Humanotone – A Flourishing Fall in a Grain of Sand
Some years you just get your album of the year super early. You just know, usually from the first second of music, getting that “lightning in a bottle” sensation which I’ve written so often about on the blog. This year, I felt that blatant electrocution, that bone-rattling infatuation, when I first heard Humanotone’s A Flourishing Fall in a Grain of Sand. Hailing from Chile (which should set some bells ringing, if you’ve been following our coverage of the post-rock and progressive stoner scene of that country over the past few years), Humanotone is an unbelievably ambitious and accomplished one man project.
Drawing comparison to act like Elder (probably one of the highest compliments I can give a musical project), A Flourishing Fall in a Grain of Sand is an expansive, dynamic, and incredibly textured progressive stoner album. It has emotive vocals, used in ways quite unlike the standard for the sub-genre, incredible guitar tones, moving, loud synths, and a structure that is very unique and singular. All of these elements allow the album to explore not just the fuzz and groove that are synonymous with its sub-genre but also wide-ranging influences from progressive rock and post-metal. It is a journey of an album, having often moved me to tears, screaming its lyrics, or just closing my eyes and letting the music slip away. It is, in my opinion, the best album of 2022 and certainly one of the best albums released so far.
Immolation – Acts of God
Immolation has been around since the dawn of death metal. Any list of the most influential and talented death metal bands that excludes them should be summarily discarded and publicly trashed on the interwebs. They are universal legends of the genre who have done more than enough to cement their legacy as one of the genre’s premier entities. Which is why, three decades into an unimpeachable career, the fact that Immolation is still writing deeply impressive music should come as no surprise. But given the creatively bankrupt state of many of their genre-founding peers, it’s absolutely jaw dropping. Acts of God is the band’s 11th album, and it has no right to be as good as it is. But here we sit, once again praising Immolation for unleashing on us one of the most effective and punishing death metal records of 2022. What a world.
Those familiar with Immolation won’t find a ton new here. Ross Dolan’s vocals are still demonically punishing while Rob Cigna’s riff writing is as sharp and impactful as ever. But it’s the culmination of the band’s collected talents over what’s one of the longest and most intricate albums of the band’s career that truly puts on display what makes this band so special. There isn’t a weak spot on the record, with every riff hitting with consistently excellent construction and execution, while the rhythm section pounds with a verve the band haven’t achieved in at least a decade. It’s what we know Immolation does well cranked to 11, with a sense of urgency and confidence that is so rarely seen in old guard death metal. It’s truly a sight to behold. Many will argue about the best record of the latter half of the band’s career, but it’s hard to imagine anyone discarding Acts of God as a top contender. Start to finish, it fundamentally slaps.
Knoll – Metempiric
There’s something in me that thrives on chaos. I don’t know where it comes from, but it’s in there. Sitting in a core place in my being, eating away at my self-projected paradigms of “normal”. I find that this penchant and adoration for the unpredictable and manifestly intense finds an artistic home in grindcore, with bands like Full of Hell, Pig Destroyer, and Insect Warfare filling that swirling void in my soul with enough bloody content to keep me happily sated. We can now add Knoll to that merry band of misfits, as Metempiric absolutely slaps and presses all my grind-oriented buttons.
While fundamentally grind-heavy and steeped in the type of lightning speed sonic chaos the bands mentioned above specialize in, there’s a nuance to Knoll’s music that repeat listens flesh out with gory detail. Aside from the absolutely pyrotechnic vocals of Jaime Eubanks and the blistering propulsion of the rhythm section, there’s a unique set of features that Knoll brings to the table that help their music transcend the “just another grind band” collective. Firstly, horns. “Dislimned” feels like a fuzzed out spaghetti western soundtrack locked inside a jazz solo, throwing a creative splatter of paint on the monochrome full-scale audio assault surrounding it. The record also incorporates some fairly gnarly doom-laden sections that feel reminiscent of Primitive Man’s more speedy tracks, like the second half of “Tether and Swine” or intermittent pieces during “Of Troth to Atom”. It’s a noisy, varied, thoroughly unpredictable and deeply compelling sonic experiment that uniformly succeeds in achieving its goal: thorough, marrow-sapping suffering. I can’t get enough.
Messa – Close
Every Messa record is really the best Messa record. I wouldn’t be so bold as to say that Close is their best or that some other is better. Close just happens to be the most recent best release of the band, which is going to put it pretty high on all of our lists. There’s a reason for that. Everything Messa does requires close study and listening. There’s always some mystery about their music that is just out of reach to me, so I have to keep listening over and over again to even attempt to understand it. I’ve listened to Close several times this year and I’m no closer to understanding it than I was the first time I heard “Suspended,” but it’s so good that I’m not frustrated by my lack of understanding.
I love everything about what the band did on Close. It feels like a real enmeshing of musical ideas from both modern sounds and classic concepts. “Suspended” has a lot of ideas from jazz and classic rock that combine beautifully. “Dark Horse” has a beat that makes me think of more modern and up-tempo alternative rock while everything else is enveloped in the smoky haze of doom metal sounds. “Orphalese” feels like a nefarious world music track with its local folk instruments. The list goes on and on. Each song presents its own ideas while also being thematically tied together. It’s the truest form of progressive music to me in 2022, and it makes me want to do another deep dive on Messa. The mystery will draw me back in eventually, and it’ll do the same to you.
Moon Tooth – Phototroph
“Why don’t I like this band more” is a very frustrating thing to ask. When you just plainly don’t like a band, that’s easy enough. Of course, when you love them, that’s also easy. The emotions of outright attraction and repulsion are easy enough to experience and understand. But when you’re attracted to something but there’s just something missing, the feeling of lack is more subtle and hard to trace down. This was my experience with Moon Tooth, at least until Phototroph blasted my heart with joy the first I had heard it.
Turns out what I was missing from the band was a certain pop vibe and bounce to their music. It was always there, to some capacity; the band are, after all, known for their eclectic approach to a sort of progressive-rock-cum-metal spiced up with plenty of influences from poppier genres. But on Phototroph, those upbeat and ear-wormy vibes have been completely unleashed, resulting in a groovier, more immediate version of Moon Tooth’s sound. Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of complexity and interesting ideas on this album. But they are always in subservience to the powerful, buoyant energies which make Phototroph tick.
Pyrithe – Monuments to Impermanence
If only there was a snappy way to sum up the mania that takes place on Pyrithe’s debut, but Monuments to Impermanence is, for lack of a better term, quite… complicated. Not to imply there’s a learning curve to unlock the bounty of uber-crushing contents within — most readers here will know their way around a smorgasbord-y approach such as this — but Monuments is a chaotic affair that basically has my arm locked firmly in head-scratch position. With compositions that embrace moment’s notice, tone-shifting pivots and time signature fuckery, there’s a looming sense that one could get blindsided by a blue whale-sized riff or suddenly slip away into the ether.
Appropriately, the cover art featuring Caroline Harrison’s amalgamated abomination (seriously, what the FUCK is that?!) is a perfect visual summary of what Monuments to Impermanence has to offer. It’s formless, but each distinguishing bit of sludge, noise rock, post metal, or even prog rock sticks out the same way that each barnacle, fungus, jaw, or hand catches the eye. Parsing out some of the pieces from this densely layered monolith – the knotty, chunky, Grogus-y riffage (“Glioblastoma”); the Americana-tinged lurch of “Earthen Anchors” (which totally brings to mind Cobalt), the amoebic noise washes (“Heaving Roots II”); the frenzied Yautja-esque blasts (“Ekphrastic I”), or that picture-perfect prog/sludge hybrid bands like Isis and The Ocean have honed (“Ekphrastic II: Gifts of Impermanence”) – tells much of the story.
Still, it’s not until you find your bearings with Monuments that it becomes apparent this Pittsburgh group are well upon their way in carving their own niche with disregard for genre conventions and expectations – much like their sludgy neighbors in Inter Arma. There’s no telling where Pyrithe will go next, but I’ll be damned if you won’t want to be first in line to find out because Monuments is just exactly THAT kind of record.
Rolo Tomassi – Where Myth Becomes Memory
Around a decade ago, Rolo Tomassi may have been seen as the UK’s answer to The Dillinger Escape Plan and Botch. However, over the past several years the band has marked a shift in sound towards a more post-metal and post-hardcore approach, likely alienating some old-school fans but certainly bringing on many new ones. This gradual shift saw them drop most of their youthful nintendo-core leanings towards a much darker, atmospheric and powerful mathcore sound on Grievances. Their breakout 2018 release Time Will Die And Love Will Bury Us furthered that with more artistic pop-expressions, heavier use of lead vocalist Eva Korman’s clean singing, and more accessible and less frantic writing. As such, these two albums set the bar perhaps unreasonably high for them to follow with 2022’s Where Myth Becomes Memory. How the listener receives this album will depend largely on how much you appreciate the tender, more sentimental side of Rolo Tomassi, as this occupies a greater portion of their sound than ever before, yet it’s pulled off with enough delicate precision and passion to make that shift in balance between their metalcore and increasingly post-metal-influenced heaviness feel warranted.
Where Myth Becomes Memory starts off very similar to Time Will Die… with one of the softer, poppier songs in “Almost Always”. The accessible poppiness aside, it’s the wistful, nostalgic atmospheric glow of this track that sets the tone for the rest of the album. Throughout the album much of that is also carried by minimalistic piano harmonies, borrowing from many contemporary post-rock groups to enhance the emotional weight of their crescendos. But perhaps the strongest ability they’ve tapped into over recent years is their use of dynamic shifts. The aforementioned softness of this album just further accentuates the buzz-sawing distorted riffs and Eva’s vicious screams that cut to your core. Where Myth Becomes Memory is Rolo at their most expansive, stretching themselves to their furthest extremes without neglecting who they are at their core.
Swampborn – Beyond Ratio
Saxophone is so circa 2018–19. Everyone in extreme metal is doing it these days; it’s become expected rather than experimental. What about accordions? And trumpets? Pianos? Electronics? Violins? And the flies! Oh, the glorious flies! St. Petersburg’s Swampborn bring all of this, and plenty more, together into a malevolent mix of progressive black metal that equals (and often exceeds) any other allegedly forward-thinking extreme metal act you wish to name.
While other acts of their ilk regularly move away from extreme metal in an attempt to broaden their horizons, Swampborn never lose sight of the punishing extremity that serves as their core. The unconventional instruments and passages that litter their sound are accompanied by an array of dissonant death, blistering thrash and white hot black metal that brings to mind Immortal far more readily than anything with the words “post” or “gaze” associated with them. Nor is the record particularly chaotic, exuding an impressive and unwavering command over its various elements.Swampborn might not be as big a name as Enslaved or White Ward, who provide their closest comparison so far, but, on the basis of this outing alone, they deserve to be heralded as one of the most respected names in progressive extreme metal alongside them.
Tómarúm – Ash in Realms of Stone Icons
“Lush” or “beautiful” isn’t always a word I would associate with black metal. However, I also hadn’t heard Tomarum’s latest record, Ash in Realms of Stone Icons, prior to having that thought so they really go hand in hand. Atmospheric black metal records always have the tendency to make you feel deep emotions, but there’s something altogether unique about Tomarum’s newest record. Each song feels like an epic tragedy, and that requires those extra flourishes you likely wouldn’t hear on other atmo-black albums. And those extra flourishes are what make this such a hugely important record in 2022.
As you listen to each track, you hear the piano chords and lines played in minor keys that set you up to feel this way. The addition of swirling synths further strengthen these feelings by creating the environment required to get to the heart of this record. Simulated strings bolster this environment like columns holding up a ceiling. Tomarum has really accomplished something with Ash in Realms of Stone Icons. The tragedy makes its way through the music and into your heart and head. You conjure images of falling from grace and ultimate downfall. Every chord, riff, arpeggio, and note builds this as it was intended. This is one of the fullest musical journeys I’ve experienced so far this year, and I think you all would agree.
we broke the weather – we broke the weather
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 we broke the weather’s self-titled debut, 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.
we broke the weather have crafted a perfect soundtrack for your pursuit to find and create meaning and a chaotic world. Their debut should resonate with fans of rock, jazz, and beyond for years to come.
The Weekend – Dawn FM
As someone who’s followed The Weeknd since his first three mixtapes dropped, it was kind of surreal watching him perform at Super Bowl LV. From brooding Drake-adjacent indie r&b to some of the most popular pop/r&b songs of the last decade, the upward trajectory of Abel Tesfaye’s career has been incredible. After Hours (2020) contributed significantly to the growth of his popularity and stylistic evolution, as well as the aforementioned spot on the year’s biggest stage.
Obviously tracks like “Heartless”, “Blinding Lights”, and “In Your Eyes” played a huge role, but I was most intrigued by the co-production credits from Daniel Lopatin (a.k.a. Oneohtrix Point Never). It turns out that was a preview of the duo’s much broader collaboration on Dawn FM; Lopatin went from contributing a few trademark beats on After Hours to co-producing the majority of its successor. As a result, the album furthers The Weeknd’s trajectory into ’80s pastiche with a markedly darker, artistically rich take on pop’s favorite bit of nostalgia.
Lopatin is one of the forefathers of vaporwave, and while Dawn FM is hardly an Eccojams sequel, it does bear the hypnagogic, almost haunted atmosphere that the genre is known for. As a result, Dawn FM feels like the best “album” The Weeknd has put out since his mixtape days. While he’s released excellent singles throughout his career, the full-length experience hasn’t quite landed quite as strongly as his original trilogy (though Kiss Land is still an underrated attempt at that). Sure, “Take my Breath” is a pop anthem, but the real value of Dawn FM is how it excels as a front-to-back experience.
White Ward – False Light
Given the fact that Ukraine avant garde black metal act White Ward’s previous record Love Exchange Failure was our collective album of the year in 2019 (the last time we bestowed such an honor, in fact!), it’s no surprise that their follow-up would find its way back into a list such as this. It’s undoubtedly been a difficult three years for White Ward to say the least, but through it, they’ve been able to craft a record that matches the legacy they’ve built as one of the world’s most creative and progressive acts in extreme metal.
Known for their blending of black metal, atmospheric sludge, and dark jazz, complete with saxophone flourishes and a palpable noir aesthetic, White Ward press forward, moving thematically from the dark, cold cityscapes to the solemn retreat of the countryside. With this shift comes an unlikely new wave and post-punk influence that gives a sense of brightness to False Light. Subtle gothic americana flourishes come into play here as well, with droning organs, somber acoustic guitars, and trumpets carving out real estate from the saxophones. False Light is an immersive cinematic journey comparable to modern masterpieces like The Ocean’s Pelagial and Cult of Luna’s Vertikal, and much like those records, False Light carries the weight, ambition, and potential to be one of most enduring records we’ll hear this decade.
Wilderun – Epigone
Here’s a confession for you: when this album first released, I had no idea what an “epigone” was. And, to be even more honest, I thought it was something the band had invented and thus didn’t bother to Google it. But “epigone” is a word and it means “a less distinguished follower or imitator of someone, especially an artist or philosopher.” This is a clever title for Wilderun’s 2022 on several levels. First, from a conceptual standpoint, it ties the album to Veil of Imagination because that album’s concept (which I swear I’ll get around to breaking down eventually) was all about an intellectual and philosophical master trying to break free of himself/the world he has created.
But secondly, this is also a meta reference to the place in which Epigone finds itself in Wilderun’s career: following their most successful and accomplished album. Gladly, I can say with a full heart that there’s nothing “lesser” about Epigone. It is a more subtle, understated, and complex version of the Wilderun sound (i.e. progressive death metal), to be sure. It takes more time to fully manifest itself and requires more attention from the listener. In that sense, the word “epigone” fits it. But underneath the layers of ambience, the sneaky recurring leitmotifs, and the expansive structure of its tracks, Epigone is just as good as Veil of Imagination. It is Wilderun at their most ambitious and most subtle, painting with the same wide brushes and canvases as before but with wholly different color schemes.
Zeal & Ardor – Zeal & Ardor
Around the 2018 release of their critically acclaimed debut LP Stranger Fruit, Zeal & Ardor mastermind Manuel Gagneux claimed he expected the hype to die down; explaining that the project just happened to be trendy for the time being, and would eventually stop being the draw that it is. So it may have seemed at the time, but fast forward a near half decade, an excellent politically charged EP, and tours with bands the calibre of Meshuggah, Opeth, and Mastodon — and we’re presented with a self-titled record that shows Zeal & Ardor are far from a flash in the pan.
The now-tried-and-true formula of black metal mixed with slave spirituals, blues, and gospel remains on Zeal & Ardor, with, say, an anthemic singalong tune like “Church Burns” sitting comfortably next to the unadulterated rage of “Gotterdammerung”. Add in a dash of whistled Ennio Morricone-isms on “Golden Liar” or even a bit of nu metal riffage (”I Caught You”) and it’s clear Gagneux is having the time of his life stretching the limits of his project’s brilliant underlying formula. That’s not even to mention how Gagneux’s vocal delivery remains utterly pristine throughout, with crooning falsettos to spine-chilling shrieks alike, once again demonstrating his immense range and talent as a vocalist. No matter what your musical background or tastes; if you’re here for an album that has surprises lurking around every corner, Zeal & Ardor almost certainly has something for you in its dark, smoke-filled depths.