Friends. It’s time. The end of year bonanza. Let's go.
What a year 2022 was for we lovers of death metal at Heavy Blog. Hundreds of records spun, dozens of them gracing the annals of this column, and an incalculable amount of hours spent discussing and dissecting each. What a time to be alive. From veteran bands releasing some of the best music of their careers to newcomers swinging for the fences to shockingly fantastic results, pretty much every facet of the death metal world had something fantastic to offer this year. As is tradition, we're covering our favorites below.
This edition of our traditional end of year Death’s Door column includes 15 of our favorite records that we heard last year. It’s an unranked collection of our amalgamated best of the year lists to avoid too much repetition (because we figured you’d probably not want to read four versions of “Fallujah is awesome”). We hope you enjoy, and thanks for joining us on another wild trip ‘round the sun.
Death metal forever.
Aeviterne - The Ailing Facade
Dissonant death metal has been oozing out of its microgenre status with big albums like The Ailing Facade the past few years, and I’m thrilled to see it. While there are quite a few fine purveyors of the ecstatic, extreme stylings of dissodeath – many of whom also released wonderful albums this year (Altars, Devenial Verdict, Dysgnostic, Spectrum Xenomorph, etc.) – Aeviterne’s The Ailing Facade reigns supreme as one of the nastiest, deepest, most soul-grating releases of 2022.
Much of dissodeath’s appeal relies on its eponymous dissonance, creating nauseating textures through caustic atonality and angular riffs to wrench your guts in a knot and make your breath catch in your throat. Aeviterne’s command of such umbral atmosphere seems second nature, and indeed plays second fiddle to the hypnotic, primal rhythms they conjure to lead you through their own suffocating aura. Layers of incessant hammering underscore The Ailing Facade, the drums being the only instrument you can actually grasp for safe haven among the swirling abyss much of the time for fear of the guitars and bass chomping at you out of the murk of the mix. That’s how good dissodeath should be; capable of inducing a trancelike state of mesmerism while remaining dangerous to your cochlea without proper guidance, and Aeviterne has this quality in spades.
Allegaeon - Damnum
I’ve written at length about this record, so I won’t beat around the bush: Damnum is Allegaeon’s best record and it’s not close. In every facet I can think of Damnum elevates the band’s already technically wondrous interpretation of death metal into something smoother, more polished, more focused, and nuanced. The departure of Riley from the band, announced a few months ago, is a huge bummer as his contributions to the band and his assistance in getting their sound to this place are undeniable. But as a final statement from this iteration of the band it’s hard to think it could have been any more perfect. The acoustic meanderings opening “Bastards of the Earth” melting into blackened tremolo chaos, the utterly spellbinding vocal cleans and guitar solos in “Of Beasts and Worms”, the chuggy technicality of “Vermin” and the blistering finale “Only Loss” stand among the greatest moments in the band’s storied discography, and whichever sonic direction they press into next, we’ll always have the brilliant Damnum to serve as an eternal career apex.
An Abstract Illusion - Woe
It took a few listens for me to fully comprehend how special Woe is. An Abstract Illusion is a band that has been on the radar for a hot minute, but their sophomore record showed such strident progression in songwriting and execution that it would be impossible not to include them in our year end coverage. It’s rare that I use the word “beautiful” to describe a death metal record, but that’s exactly what we got in Woe: A gorgeous, tempestuous, deeply melodic and righteously heavy collection of tracks that are without questions among the finest death metal released this year.
One of the principal strengths of An Abstract Illusion is sonic balance. Vestiges of Opeth’s latter career synth emphasis peek out from behind bursts of Obscura-esque technicality and an operatic grandeur reminiscent of Ne Obliviscaris. It’s a truly mesmerizing package of sounds easily exemplified in tracks like “Slaves” and “Tear Down This Holy Mountain”, but within their obvious influences lies a bleeding, beating heart that feels completely unique to An Abstract Illusion. Rather than feeling like a retread of established sounds, the band often take listeners down jazzy, glitchy, deeply atmospheric soundscapes that add a layer of wondrous variety and pace-moderating gravity (“Blomsterkrans” being a wonderful example). All of this culminates in a record that’s various, intense, and delightfully unpredictable.
If you have yet to give this record a listen and found any enjoyment in records from bands like First Fragment or Septicflesh, I could not encourage you strongly enough to give Woe a spin. A truly exceptional work.
Anal Stabwound - Reality Drips Into the Mouth of Indifference
It’s rare to find a solo project as punishing and progressive as Anal Stabwound, and even more surprising to realize the talent behind this dizzying brutal death metal project is still a teenager. But Connecticut-based multi-instrumentalist Nikhil Talwalker has created his own vein of Defeated Sanity worship that weaves together brutal and technical death metal in astounding ways in his second full-length album, Reality Drips Into the Mouth of Indifference.
Released by brutal death metal tastemakers New Standard Elite, Reality Drips Into the Mouth of Indifference channels caveman aggression to almost avante-garde levels of songwriting. Talwalker takes guitar riffs into angular, borderline jazzy off-kilter tempos that assault the listener in increasingly creative ways. It makes for a highly jagged, yet groovy sound that grips the audience from the first note until the last…though it might take a second to realize Anal Stabwound is done with you. Brutal death fans will find endless joy in the uneven appearance of classic palm-muted riffs that just hit, just as technical and even progressive metal enthusiasts will be caught in Talwalker’s impressive songwriting. Far from delivering on a singular artistic vision, Anal Stabwound is a new vision for what brutal death metal can be.
Artificial Brain - Artificial Brain
Dissonant death metal may be seeing a surge in talented new bands breaking onto the scene, but Artificial Brain has been setting the standard brain-melting, spine-chilling abrasiveness for over a decade. Since their 2011 debut single, the New York-based quartet has consistently delivered crushing, innovative death metal that captures terror of space.
Their namesake 2022 album is the third and final installment of a series started with Labyrinth Constellation in 2014. Descending into ever-deeper layers of madness, Artificial Brain once again proves that this band has mastered both style and substance. Lyricist and vocalist Will Smith (also of Afterbirth fame) drags listeners into the depths of this sci-fi epic with furious gurgles, pushed onward by a cutting guitar attack. Almost miraculously, considering how damn good Labyrinth Constellation and Infrared Horizon are, Artificial Brain have outdone themselves in sheer density. Ethereal black metal moments leave us frozen in terror, only to be jolted by a cinematic screech of seemingly alien origin. The dark heart of Artificial Brain is still the same, bludgeoning the audience with punishing guitars and abrupt shifts that are more startling than any sci-fi movie. But an ambitious concept executed with Artificial Brain’s signature precision delivers a dissonant death metal experience that’s out of this world.
Cosmic Putrefaction - Crepuscular Dirge for the Blessed Ones
Italian multi-instrumentalist Gabriele Gramaglia gained immediate acclaim and a cult following of sorts in 2019 upon release of At the Threshold of the Greatest Chasm, the debut album from his one-man death metal project Cosmic Putrefaction, through renowned extreme metal arthouse label I, Voidhanger, but when he doubled down just a year later with the even more celebrated The Horizons Towards Which Splendour Withers, itementing the act as a must-watch in an increasingly weirdening corner of the death metal scene where acts like Blood Incantation are pushing boundaries. Now on the project’s third full-length, Gramaglia is even more untethered and engaging on Crepuscular Dirge for the Blessed Ones, a masterwork of atmospheric, technical, and progressive death.
Crepuscular Dirge sees Gramaglia at his most indulgent; not to the extremes of acts like Wormed or the aforementioned Blood Incantation, no, but the way he layers earth-rending death metal riffage with ethereal guitar leads and prismatic synthesizers is very much in keeping with the type of galaxy-brained and esoteric death metal those two acts sell in their own distinct ways. There’s a grandiosity to this record that is earned and no moment is wasted on middling ideas, so if blastbeats and organs in zero gravity sound like a good time to you, get in here.
Epitaphe - II
Death-doom hasn’t really been my genre in years. There’s something about the hybrid which doesn’t really work for me, unless the musicians in question possess two qualities: one, they understand that length does not excuse waste and two, they are extremely good at not only those two sub-genres together but at molding the mix of them into a third thing. Epitaphe answer both of those conditions and then some, which is quite a feat when you consider that II is not only over an hour long but also that vast parts of it are dedicated to quieter, more folksy guitar melodies.
In actuality, these more extended passages are what makes the album work so well, creating the musical “legend” from which the rest of the album draws. They become building blocks, not only recurring on their own right but also repeating throughout the heavier segments in little nods and touches that the band expertly weave into their riffs. “Celestial” is probably the best result of this on the album; the opening segments of the album pop up again in several key places but mostly in the “backing” guitar riffs. These are like the foundational colors of the album’s cover art, the greens and blues of it. Not as dramatic as the oranges, yellows, and deep greens of the fire and the tree, these colors (and by association, the underlying riffs of the music) are what gives the full piece its presence and staying power.
Suffice it to say that there is a lot to dig into with II. Beyond “just” the run-time, the fact that so much of the album’s musical callbacks and more interesting structure lie “beneath” the main music means that there’s some excavation to be done. There’s a lot of orientation to be accomplished, as you build internal maps for finding your way around this massive release. But charting its valleys and peaks is an effort well worth your time if you’re looking for your death metal to be as majestic and impactful as its more doom-y brethren in metal.
Fallujah - Empyrean
I’ve gone on record before and I will say again that Fallujah’s Empyrean is what I’ve always wanted the band to sound like. I have extolled the vocals and the dynamic composition elsewhere on the blog before so I will use this opportunity to talk about the excellent drumming on the album instead. Andrew Baird, the man behind the kit, certainly needs no introduction but there is an added flavor to his drumming here which is really hard to get enough of.
He’s able to so easily and seamlessly transition from something like the incredibly furious blast-beats on “Radiant Ascension” to the softer and more progressive structures the track requires from him just a mere minute after. It all feels incredibly cohesive without over-playing as well, which is something that is very hard to do when drumming alongside such technical, fast, and explosive musicians. You need to have a lot of trust in the composition and in your bandmates to play this restrained and accurate when the rest of them are going off the rails on all parameters.
But Baird not only does that but also goes all out (just this once, Sifu) when it is required of him. If you’ve done some martial arts or worked out to some extent, you’ll know that that’s the hardest: going always all-out or always slow is easier than blending the two, holding back where necessary and giving it everything you have soon after. Baird does that so many times on this album and it always feel like he knows exactly where to place his sticks and where to keep quiet. I foresee his drumming being an underrated aspect of this album and that’s mostly because Empyrean is good enough to have so many things to be said in its favor. But make sure you don’t miss what Baird is doing here and what he has brought to the table for this band.
Hath - All That Was Promised
Every time I listen to All That Was Promised, the sophomore full-length from New Jersey’s resident death metal wizards Hath, I love it a little bit more. That shouldn’t be possible after this many spins, yet it still finds new ways to worm its way between my ribs and find permanent purchase in my viscera, becoming me, consuming me. I think that’s part of its enduring charm; you feel as if All That Was Promised is happening to you personally, rather than listening to an album written by a band that you are experiencing objectively. You are spirited away by their blackened, undulating lamentations as Frank Albanese’s Akerfeldtian decrees fill your mind like smoke, fogging all other thought, transporting, transfiguring. There’s a distinctly sorcerous edge to Hath’s newest offerings that was but a flicker on Of Rot and Ruin, and if this progression is to continue, I’m ready for the imminent hexing and damnation that LP3 brings.
Haunter - Discarnate Ails
The proliferation of dissodeath continued into 2022 with Austin, Texas’ Haunter and their third full-length album Discarnate Ails. Their previous effort Sacramental Death Qualia, released in 2019, was wildly ambitious and felt considerably more Opethian (you know it when you hear it), but their follow-up Discarnate Ails is a much tighter record, seeing the band play to their strengths with a focus and consistency that truly elevates their sound. I wouldn’t necessarily characterize Discarnate Ails as a simple record by any means; perhaps it’s just less convoluted?
Discarnate Ails – and its three sprawling tracks clocking in at just barely over thirty minutes in length – settles effortlessly into a dark and psychedelic progressive blackened death metal sound that fans of Ulcerate and Convulsing will find exciting and appropriately devastating. Yes, this is firmly within the lineage of bands like Deathspell Omega and Portal, but as Haunter having reissued their early material in 2020 with proceeds going to bail funds for BLM-related protests, we’re only seeing green flags here. Regardless of the band’s personal politics, Discarnate Ails is a phenomenal new addition to the ever-growing and fast-evolving field of dissonant death metal, and it has the teeth to remain relevant as a genre staple for years to come.
Immolation - Acts of God
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. No band as deep into their career as Immolation has any right to still sound this invigorating. Sitting atop the death metal pile as one of the genre’s principal purveyors of audio destruction for the past three decades, one would assume that Immolation could throw in the towel, release a few greatest hits compilations and call it a well-deserved day. Instead we get Acts of God, an upper crust album in the band’s astonishing catalog and one of the best straight-up death metal releases of the year. How fortunate we are. Truly.
Perhaps the greatest compliment that can be given to Acts of God is that if you’ve enjoyed pretty much any record in Immolation’s storied discography you will most definitely dig what the band have put on display here. As an amalgamation of all the elements that make Immolation amazing, Acts of God is the kind of record that can only be made by a band so thoroughly confident in its skills and past work that a new album that combines all of their best traits into a seamless whole comes off not as a cheap retread, but instead a glorious celebration of an aesthetic and a sound that wouldn’t exist without them. Acts of God is a miracle of a record from a band with nothing left to prove, serving on the whole as a career-spanning showcase for a group of musicians with a true, deep, and perpetual love for the genre they helped popularize. What an outstanding achievement.
Imperial Triumphant - Spirit of Ecstasy
At this point in their celebrated discography, a new Imperial Triumphant record serves as a tentpole event for the entire death metal genre within its calendar year. New York’s premiere avant garde metal act continued to revel in their tradition of excess by combining opulent jazz with discordant and chaotic dissodeath, and they’ve only gotten weirder with Mr. Bungle’s Trey Spruance at the production desk, contrary to what one might expect given their continuous upward trajectory, increasing notoriety, and the cast of characters that have shown up in liner notes over the years.
Their second record with Spruance (and fifth overall), Spirit of Ecstasy, seems to have pushed Imperial Triumph to an apex, as impenetrable as ever, playing out how you might expect a Behemoth x John Zorn collaboration to sound, with bellowed roars and uneven blastbeats sandwiching improvised and clashing guitars and, often, hellish horns or strings. This time around, the band went as far as to recruit famed jazz saxophonist Kenny G for a solo over an incomprehensible swarm of metallic noise on the single “Merkurius Gilded”. Why the world didn’t make a bigger fuss over this collaboration, I’ll never know. Suffice it to say, this is a surreal and absurd record, but that’s exactly what makes Imperial Triumphant such a highly valued institution in extreme metal
Revocation - Netherheaven
Let me preface this by saying you’re not going to find better riffs anywhere else. Not elsewhere in this column, nor among the hundreds if not thousands of other bands we’ve covered this year – not anywhere. Dave Davidson is the Guitar Hero. Revocation should need no introduction, nor should Dave and his complete mastery at turning an intricate, intimidating instrument into a weapon and storytelling device all in one. Dastardly, thrashy neoclassical death metal strung together at blistering speeds is my bread and butter, and Netherheaven serves up the most diabolical feast of the year.
This is the kind of record you wish The Black Dahlia Murder wrote after Deflorate. It’s got the same sinister mischief that toes the line between complete kayfabe and parody, which is the sweet spot for any good metal record. It revels in how goofy and unserious it is while Dave shows off his inhuman ability to solo in, out of, and in between sweeps at 250 BPM straight into menacing death growls and chugs. Revocation also assembled perhaps the greatest team-up in the history of the genre by pairing the late great Trevor Strnad (RIP) of the aforementioned TBDM with living legend George “Corpsegrinder” Fisher of Cannibal Corpse on “Re-Crucified” – an absolutely degloving finale to an already skin-strippingly sharp record. One of – if not their undisputed – best.
Undeath - It's Time… To Rise from the Grave
The 90’s are back with a vengeance, and few bands are proving it more than New York’s Undeath. After setting the music world ablaze with their 2020 debut Lesions of a Different Kind, Undeath had much to prove with their follow-up, It’s Time…To Rise From the Grave.
But rise they did, with the kind of back-to-basics OSDM sound that harks back to the early days of Cannibal Corpse, Suffocation, and Morbid Angel. In a world of brain-melting, psychedelic, or plain over-the-top grotesque, Undeath is a needed reminder of when death metal was just a bunch of misfits having the time of their lives. No gimmicks, no flash. Just good old-fashioned death metal that’s extremely well done without taking itself too seriously. It’s Time…To Rise From the Grave leans into strong songwriting built around hard-hitting riffs. Every song delivers a well-constructed punch to the ear drums, inducing automatic head banging. Undeath keeps the love letter to the past eras of metal going with NWOBHM influences that keep the entire album flying along, adding personality and substance to an already catchy and endlessly fun record. There isn’t a single moment of filler or misplaced heaviness throughout It’s Time…, just a whole bunch of contagiously throwback death metal from a band celebrating the best of the genre.
Wilderun - Epigone
It’s quite funny but I think I ended up writing more about Epigone than its predecessor. It’s not that I like it more (Veil of Imagination is probably somewhere in my top 20 albums of all time) but I definitely feel like it is unfairly unsung, whereas Imagination was wildly recognized for how good it is. I’ve spoken elsewhere on why and how that might actually be fine (that is, in keeping with the album’s goal) considering what the band have named it. But I don’t think it’s a good reflection of the music and where Wilderun have taken their style after Imagination because Epigone is a more varied and intensely challenging release.
I mean, Imagination was already very progressive and intricate. But Epigone, with its darker vibes, connecting passages, and downright creepy writing at times, is even more contrastful and unique. From how it opens, slowly gathering momentum like the storm depicted on its cover art, to its drawn out closing with a four-piece epic track, Epigone is less immediately arresting than its predecessor. But there are some real gems hidden in all that confusion, like the immensely satisfying guitar/synths/bass combos on “Distraction II” (listen to that god damn bass rumble, so good) or “Passenger”’s fantastic choir/growl combos.
Whatever you looked for in Wilderun’s music, it has a slice in Epigone’s sprawling, complex darkness. I foresee spinning it alongside Imagination for years to come and not “just” because they are clearly sister-releases. It is also another fantastic release from a band who seem to have come into their own, finally crystallizing what sets them apart from the flock and creating some of the best damn progressive death metal around.