Rotten to the Core // Best of 2022

Rotten to the Core's Best of 2022, featuring The Callous Daoboys, Chat Pile, Get the Shot, and more.

2 years ago

It's been a hell of a year. We had months that felt like they were totally dedicated to the release of multiple showstoppers in a single subgenre. We've had a resurgence of mathcore and cybergrind as deathcore and metalcore start to fall by the wayside. There are so many voices yearning to be heard, so many fears and dreams and frustrations set to some of the heaviest, most extreme compositions. Here you'll find our personal favorites of the year, aggregated and alphabetized in an unranked show of force that spans each and every corner of the core world we cover.

We love you. Fuck the police. Death to America. On to 2023.

-Calder Dougherty

Birds in Row - Gris Klein

Gris Klein is a triumph of modern post-hardcore that doesn’t forget its hardcore punk roots. For their third full-length, in which they impressively continue to improve on each subsequent release, the France-based Birds in Row explores an interesting comparison between depression and being color-blind. In an interview they allude to that with depression, certain “colors” in life stop being visible, and “that just because you don’t see the colors doesn’t mean they don’t exist, and you still have to speak to them.” As you can expect, this is an album soaked in melancholy, frustration and rage, yet it’s pulled off with an almost arrogant confidence that creates a compelling dynamic. And damn is it compelling, no album captivated and had me coming back to it quite like this did. Between the Touche Amore style emotionally charged vocals brimming with abject disdain for the world combined with some unique instrumentation for the genre, Gris Klein is both familiar and comforting, yet fresh and original.  

Instrumentally, Birds go to some pretty creative spaces here. Evidently during the pandemic their guitarist got really into trying out different guitar effects pedals which is fully on display. From guitar tones that sound like synthy laser guns, to fun uses of delay and arpeggiation in album standout “Rodin”, it’s both unpredictable and down-right fun. There’s plenty of melodic moments as well, and song-structuring drawing from emo and post-rock. They even slow it down for some newer Pianos Become The Teeth indie-emo vibe in the first half of “Trompe L”oeil” which eventually builds into something closer to Glassing. How they piece everything together though is where this really shines. Gris Klein has probably the best song-transitions I heard this year, while also paying fine detail to the song-ordering, making the album feel like one continuous movement that's hard to not listen to from start to finish. Fresh off a tour with Cult of Luna and Caspian, and some sort of split with Coilguns in the works - these Birds are an unstoppable force right now

-Trent Bos

Black Matter Device - AUTONOMOUS WEAPONS

Five years after the dissolution of The Dillinger Escape Plan, we’re in the midst of an unlikely mathcore renaissance that has been bountiful beyond imagination, spearheaded in part by the ongoing advocacy and support of Mathcore Index and its affiliated label Dark Trail Records. Black Matter Device’s AUTONOMOUS WEAPONS was one of 2022’s earliest highlights way back in April, and its kaleidoscopic bouquet of genre is to die for; bratty white-belt false grind, short bursts of blistering powerviolence, and jagged passages of noise rock litter the landscape of this colorful and abrasive record. This is mathgrind executed at the highest level, sitting comfortably in a playlist somewhere between Knoll and Converge, and most assuredly weirder than either.  

-Jimmy Rowe

The Callous Daoboys - Celebrity Therapist

I want my ice cream
I want my MTV
Don’t want any “All The Small Things”
I want my Callous Daoboys!!!

So begins “Star Baby”, the not-very-tongue-in-cheek finale to my personal (and a few other Heavy Bloggers as well) Album of the Year, Celebrity Therapist by Atlanta mathcore pioneers The Callous Daoboys. When I first reviewed this album, it was with the blushing, clumsy demeanor of a fanperson off their meds. I was incoherent with praise, none of which came from a place of objectivity or serious critique. After a few more months with Celebrity Therapist, I can circle back and confirm with total certainty the following: Huffing paint thinner makes you invincible, all scientists are demons, and chiropractors think there are ghosts in your body. Also that The Callous Daoboys are the face of the entire next generation of underground, weirdo, DIY music, taking the blueprint laid by some old escape plan and charting a course to the stars to fight God themselves. This album is everything. Welcome to the future.

-Calder Dougherty

Cave InHeavy Pendulum

That Cave In came back at all following the death of bassist Caleb Scofield is pretty remarkable. That they were able to return while also delivering one of the best albums of their storied career is almost unfathomable. Heavy Pendulum is the closest the Bostonian boundary-pushers have gotten to replicating the sound and success of classic prog rock opus Jupiter (2000), with its spacy blend of Mastodon style sludge metal and introspective Alice In Chains-esque alt rock. At the same time, the album contains perhaps the most direct and immediate collection of songs Cave In have put their name to outside of Antenna (2003). It never gets quite as abrasive as their early, metalcore material, or as unhinged as albums like Perfect Pitch Black (2005) or – and especially – White Silence (2011). I still maintain that album as the apex of Cave In’s creative career, from which Heavy Pendulum couldn’t be further away in style. In terms of quality, however, it sits comfortably alongside both White Silence and Jupiter as a landmark release from one of the most creative and consistent acts to ever come out of hardcore – even if their actual sound doesn’t really have much to do with the genre anymore.

-Joshua Bulleid

Chat Pile - God’s Country

If you haven’t heard of Chat Pile yet, well, props for that cause most of us are too terminally online anyway. Arguably the breakout artist of the year along with Soul Glo, the Oklahoma-based dissonant, sludgy noise rock group have hit on a primal expression of the worst of America. Anti-capitalist, leftist lyricism is by no means a new thing in this scene, but rarely have we seen it this confronting and direct. The delivery of that message however is essential to how powerful it actually comes across, and this is where they succeed in strides. It’s undeniably loud and oppressive, but just as unhinged and misanthropic. The manic vocal phrasing paces unpredictably along with the discordant grooves that have a distinctly mechanical and urban feel. It’s cold, and uncomfortable, like living outside. Why do people have to live outside?

Just to rile some people up, I have to mention the nu-metal influence. It’s a hot take, but there’s an argument to be made that this is a nu-metal album. Bassist Stin has gone on record stating Korn is his favourite band, and you’re in denial if you don’t think the main riff from “Tropical Beaches, Inc.'' isn't straight out of Korn’s debut. Stin adds: “That was very conscious when we were writing. We joked around saying, like, ‘Let’s do some Jesus Lizard shit, but with Korn riffs!’ Yeah, deal with it. God’s Country maybe isn’t going to appeal to the average modern metalcore listener, and that’s okay. But if you’re someone looking to fill in the void left from D**ghters, or are open to anything experimental involving noise rock, hardcore, sludge and challenging the boundaries of heavy music, Chat Pile have got you covered.


Cloud Rat - Threshold

2022 might not have been a particularly prolific year for grindcore, but what we did get is absolutely incredible. Michigan’s Cloud Rat has been a growing favorite in these quarters and have been enjoying steady critical acclaim since their 2010 self-titled debut and eventual breakout (if such a thing exists in this context) Qliphoth in 2015. As unlikely as it may seem, with thirteen years and five full lengths, Cloud Rat are at their very best on Threshold.

With their darkwave and dreampop influences taken to their final conclusion and exercised for their Do Not Let Me Off The Cliff EP in 2019, it is nice to hear Cloud Rat return to form, coincidentally rising to the occasion and matching the energy set by their contemporaries Wormrot months earlier on Hiss (which, by the way, just narrowly missed the staff headcount for inclusion in this list – you can find it represented in our collective genre-agnostic Top 50, though). Threshold takes the similar three-piece bass-less grind formula that’s appropriately caustic, yet emotionally resonant and grooving, often dipping into screamo for intense melodic infusion. The more the record spins, the wilder it becomes, with melodic angular riffing and synth pads beginning to roll in across the second half, with tracks like “Kaleidoscope” and “Corset” serving as highlights. With replay value through the roof, Threshold might just be our collective favorite grindcore record of 2022.


Electric CallboyTekkno

In what has to be one of the biggest turnaround in the history of heavy music, crunkcore has-beens Electric Callboy showed up this year with one of the most energetic and enjoyable metalcore albums of the modern era. As ridiculous as it all is, there’s a real understanding of hardcore electronic music and Eurobeat shown on Tekkno and it’s one that’s reinvigorated not only the band themselves but a large swathe of the metalcore listenership as well. Along with this probably being my most-listened to album of the year, I managed to catch Electric Callboy live twice in the space of one week this year when they came down under for the Good Things festival and I was shocked, both times at the massive response the band inspired. The first was at a sold-out sideshow full of people dressed up in ironic workout gear screaming every word. At the festival itself you couldn’t get anywhere near the second stage in the lead up to their set, while for more revered and established bands like Soulfly and Sleeping With Sirens on after them, you could practically walk right up to the front and the set itself inspired a noticeably larger reaction from the crowd as The Amity Affliction (who delivered a surprisingly solid set) were capable of mustering on the main stage moments after. Like it or not, people are responding to this band, and Tekkno proves they’re more than just one-hit wonders.


Get the ShotMerciless Destruction

I don’t think there was an album in 2022 whose cover more perfectly captured its contents than Merciless Destruction. What we’ve got there is some kind of scythe-wielding, four-armed tentacle monster that’s covered in candles for some reason, riding a three-headed bear-dragon or some shit, that appears to be so full of fire its burning from the inside out, standing atop a pile of bodies as it bears down upon a field of impaled, crucified and otherwise tortured human sacrifices. Get the Shot present their music as though you’re one of the sacrifices, but when listening to it, you are that tentacled demon lord and the internally combusting bear dragon is yours to command! This is the sound of a band who seemingly spent the entirety of their COVID lockdown(s) watching slasher movies and listening to death metal …which, same, honestly. What sets the Quebecois crew apart from mere mortals like you and I is that they came storming out of the pandemic with all that restless, pent up energy and directed it toward delivering one of the most ferocious and genuinely destructive hardcore records ever committed to record.


Fit For An Autopsy - Oh What The Future Holds

Exactly one year ago, we received a deluge of high-quality, genre-ending deathcore releases from the likes of Enterprise Earth, Worm Shepherd, and Shadow of Intent. Unluckily for them, they all chose to release their albums the same day as Fit For An Autopsy, thus shooting themselves squarely in the foot and relegating those albums to the annals of history.

Oh What The Future Holds is not only Fit’s finest work to date, it’s a barrier-smashing opus outlining the past, present, and future of deathcore should it ever want to evolve out of its current stasis. The blueprint has been laid. To find the way out of the pigeonhole and into the ears of a wider audience is simple: beat Gojira at their own game, sprinkle in your own world-endingly beefy breakdowns, and stay the course thematically in talking about climate apocalypse and society’s indifference to it. Easy, right? Fit For An Autopsy certainly make it seem so, and we’ll likely spend the next few years hearing every other -core band attempt to do the same.


God Alone. - ETC

Everyone likes noise rock allofasudden, and its representation in this column spiked heavily in 2022 thanks to the likes of KEN Mode and Chat Pile, among others. Ireland’s God Alone. are among those ranks, and while their new record ETC isn’t entirely (exclusively?) a noise rock record – or at least in a traditional let’s-rip-off-The-Jesus-Lizard kind of way – when we talk about the genre’s hypnotic groove-oriented riffing bordering on sludge, this record has that in spades. Not just that, but there’s a healthy dose of math rock and dance punk here to liven up the space with some truly hip-shaking 5/4. Think The Fall Of Troy melancholic instead of hyperactive and inattentive. Disco beats, gang vocals, twinkly angular guitars, growling basslines, and fluid keyboards make ETC a texturally diverse listen with consistent aesthetic and immaculate vibes.


Gospel - The Loser

In a year of great comebacks from bands in the larger -core scene alone (City of Caterpillar, Dr. Acula, The Sawtooth Grin, etc.), none shined as bright as Gospel with their reunion album, The Loser. Gospel’s debut The Moon is A Dead World arrived during the peak of the 00’s screamo scene and was critically praised for its unique prog rock fusion. But then they disappeared, for a good 17 years. Fortunately for Gospel, they’ve returned to a screamo/skramz scene that has evolved, and is still thriving in underground pockets of most cities with a combination of 30-somethings still collecting Orchid vinyl, and younger fans not afraid to bring new things to the genre. The Loser not only brings new things of its own, but is enough of an ode to their 2000s sound that it shouldn’t isolate that older generation.

The now middle-aged 4-piece bring some more grizzled vocals this time around, and lyrics that hint at struggling with the rapid passage of time. I feel that. The vocal delivery takes on a form of manic rambling full of anxious energy, yet still has that bearing-your-heart-out sort of passion that this genre is known for. But behind all this is an absolutely bonkers display of '70s laser show prog, led by one of the best keyboard performances of the year. The strong use of a synth-organ transports you back to King Crimson and Yes, and the rhythm section does an incredible job at matching the virtuosity without letting things go off the rails. While this is arguably more of a prog album than post-hardcore or screamo, it’s far from prog for prog’s sake. The strong songwriting full of bursts of loudness and dips into post-rock territory should be enough of a bridge for the latter to latch on to what they’ve got going here, which quite frankly is bordering on a masterpiece.


Greyhaven - This Bright and Beautiful World

Longtime readers know by now I like my core southern fried, and even more if it’s sauced in progressive overtures. Greyhaven’s This Bright and Beautiful World is all that with a side of cornbread, whipping up a feast of metal-, math-, and post-hardcore that singes and satisfies like a finger of fine bourbon. Want an alt-rocky ballad to croon in the Cadillac? Try “All Candy”. How about a real pit riler? “Of Snakes and Swans” will get the room moving in seconds flat. Every Time I Die may be dead and gone, but Greyhaven are serving up the same chaotic, bluesy mayhem with a little more witchy swagger and subdued melancholy, putting them heads above the rest and becoming a fitting spiritual successor to the late Buffalo outfit in the process.


He Is Legend - Endless Hallway

Speaking of southern fried core, one of its progenitors and longtime mainstays released one of their best albums this year. He Is Legend have been active since the heyday of metalcore and its Myspaceification, charting a course through full on southern rock after departing from their white belt roots. Twenty years and a handful of albums later finds the North Carolina quartet once again reworking their sound to incorporate the djentier, mathier side of metalcore into their trademark southern swagger in tasteful, glorious ways.

Opener “The Prowler” is one of the beneficiaries of this modern facelift, rumbling in on a stuttering off-time chopper chug that warps into a banjo-pickin’ assbeater riff to slug you across the jaw and remind you that Adam Tanbouz has been writing filthy licks longer than you’ve known how to wipe your ass. You thought they were jumping on the djent train a decade too late? Remember who was at those Meshuggah shows before Periphery made them a household name and come correct.


Ithaca - They Fear Us

Ithaca’s They Fear Us is a melting pot of everything good about metalcore right now, metalcore from the past, and hopefully of the future. There's nothing groundbreaking or necessarily cutting edge about this album, it's simply an incredibly polished, (and impressively so for a sophomore release) rock solid exhibit of the fundamentals of what makes this genre great. It’s hard to start anywhere other than vocalist Djamila Boden Azzouz. Djamila's harsh vocals have dialed in that vicious snarl of a scream, but the bigger surprise is the huge growth in her clean vocals which are some of the best you can find in metalcore this year. We had a taste of these on their previous album, but damn are they dialed in here and they work perfectly with some of the poppier touches that don’t feel forced or out of place. Add on top some confronting and poignant lyrics? There's really very few boxes they're not ticking here.

As suggested, the album’s a little bit rounder on the edges with less of the metallic bite of their debut. However, start to finish there's an eclectic display of melodic leads, Misery Signals riffs and the occasional frantic mathcore shenanigans. Through an Anatomy Of article we ran earlier this year we also had the fun surprise that Phil Collins is one of their drummer's biggest influences and this comes through on some of the surprising adult contemporary moments. This variation in both instrumentation and vocals keeps the flow of the album buoyant and rocking, while never really knowing what's going to hit you next. Overall, this is a highly memorable album with hooks as fat as the breakdowns, and a range of elements that should appeal to metalcore fans from every ilk.


Knoll - Metempiric

Yeah, they’re technically grindcore, but they’re also technically death metal, and mathgrind, and a handful of other unnecessary signifiers that all ultimately fail to encompass the totality of Knoll’s suffocating genius. Their second full-length Metempiric sees the five-piece from Tennessee pulling cards from the Full of Hell and Fawn Limbs deck of destructive arts, blaring horns and doubling down on the abrasive electronics while the wall of noise that makes up their grinding assault is so heavy it collapses in on itself.

With a third LP already recorded and on the way this year, Knoll are becoming one of the most prolific bands out on the edge of extremity. The weightless machismo of hardcore has nothing on the pure virulent aggression and titanic heft heard here, and I’m almost scared to see how far they manage to push this sound on LP3.


MalevolenceMalicious Intent

Sheffield’s Malevolence have always been brimming with potential and with Malicious Intent they’ve finally come to fruition, delivering not only the best album of their career, but one of the best metalcore records of its style in recent memory. There’s been a lot of focus on the band’s move toward more melodic compositions. Sludge ballads like “Higher Place” and “The Other Side” (from their previous EP) certainly set them apart but they’ve also always been a part of their sound (see “Turn to Stone” from their 2013 debut Reign of Suffering for example). Moreover, what really elevates Malicious Intent above Malevolence’s other albums, as well as their peers, is the sheer force of its riffing. The band’s previous outings have contained their fair share of standout riffs, but on Malicious Intent they never let up. The stomp of obvious influences like Pantera and Hatebreed has always been present, but here lead guitarist Josh Baines leans more into the leaner and more tech-driven style of bands like Lamb of God or even God Forbid, which is further bolstered by the record’s crisp production. It’s one of the standout guitar performances of the year, in any genre, and one which proves this style of metalcore still has plenty to offer when it’s done this well.

-JB'redead - Sugar Rot

Sugar Rot is perhaps the weirdest record on this list. Heavy Blog’s always loved our whatever-core to be boundary-pushing and somewhat irreverent, but when a band invents its own genre to describe their sound, we’re quick to get on board. Buffalo three-piece’redead call their intoxicating blend of cybergrind, sasscore, and occasional bouts of hyperpop “danceviolence,” and it’s a fitting descriptor as any. Sugar Rot is the logical conclusion and ultimate realization of the early work of bands like Genghis Tron and iwrestledabearonce, back with a fucking vengeance and performed and produced better than ever. Look at the track list of songs with titles like “Oh No! I’m Trapped Inside a David Lynch Directed Cologne Commercial” and “The Everlasting Search For The Missing Ninja Turtle.” Look at that extravagant eyesore of an album cover. You kind of already know what this album sounds like, but you just haven’t set your expectations high enough. Sugar Rot represents the elevation of an entire style of extreme music. You could say that’redead is like the A24 version of bad MySpace-era false grind and nintendocore. Spring Breakers, if you will. I don’t know. Just listen to Sugar Rot.


The Sawtooth Grin - Good.

With no formal announcement, publicity campaign, or warning whatsoever, mathcore legends and Dillinger Escape Plan contemporaries The Sawtooth Grin released their sophomore album Good. after twenty years this past Halloween.  The Sawtooth Grin are poised to return to the forefront of the genre where they ought to have been these past two decades, appropriately rounded out by past and present members of The Number Twelve Looks Like You. The Sawtooth Grin always represented the grindier end of the genre, and Good. is no exception; shades of grindcore, sasscore, screamo, and avant garde metal are represented in this taut yet volatile record. Snarling vocals, scratchy guitar riffs, and precarious rhythm arrangements make up most of this LP, and the only pitfall is that it’s only about twenty minutes long. Here’s hoping that The Sawtooth Grin becomes a steady fixture in the mathcore community for years to come.


Stray From The Path - Euthanasia

I wasn't a huge Stray From The Path fan until this album. They'd always existed around the periphery of other bands I liked more and never really wrested my attention away from those acts. With Euthanasia however, they've earned my full and undivided attention with some of the most biting social commentary and bouncy pit regulating riffs of the year.

With anthems on police violence, poverty, the military, and everything that stems from the intersection of those issues, Stray have crafted a high-octane ride through groovy nu-metal inspired hardcore that fills you righteous indignation and gets your blood pounding in your ears. "III" ('cause fuck 1 2) never fails to get me riled up and bouncing off the goddamn walls. A classic in the making.


The Wind in the Trees - Architects of Light

While Celebrity Therapist deservedly ruled the mathcore airwaves for most people this year, another release drawing more from mathcore’s neighbors in grind and skramz than the TDEPs and ETIDs was at the top of my charts. The Wind In The Trees’ Architect of Light is an unrelenting barrage of frenetic heaviness that offers non-stop neck-breaking riffs and visceral brutality. A worthy follow-up to the also great and aptly named A Gift of Bricks From The Sky. The vocals in particular are more of a blackened screamo or emoviolence approach similar to Portrayal of Guilt or Crossed, with that devilish fried snarl that feels like one of the most evil things someone can do with their voice. Given the grind influence, of course the longest song is just over 3-minutes, and the 14 tracks are over and done with in under 27 minutes. But damn is it hard to find a more efficient and effective use of 27 minutes on an album this year.

While there are moments of technical wizardry, that’s not really what they’re going for here. It’s a bit like if you took the cool chaotic parts of Bless The Martyr and Kiss the Child, layered with a thick wall of grinding, blackened, sludgy screamo. Just an all around assault on the senses that only eases up to let some atmosphere breathe through once in a while, so you can peek in over the volcano before it erupts in your face again. Is this pushing the genre or this sound in a new exciting direction? Not necessarily, but it is exactly what I want from this specific brand of mathcore.  


Calder Dougherty

Published 2 years ago