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Kvlt Kolvmn // Best of 2022

The end of days (365 of them, to be exact) is upon us. Black metal is our soundtrack. Despair our swan song. It’s Kvlt Kolvmn’s 2022 round-up, baby.

11 days ago

The end of days (365 of them, to be exact) is upon us. Black metal is our soundtrack. Despair our swan song. It’s Kvlt Kolvmn’s 2022 round-up, baby. Let the ice ensconce your embittered soult, the abyss awaits, etc.

Black metal absolutely slapped last year. Far from presenting a downturn from COVID-blasted 2020 and 2021, we received instead a glut of projects that present some of the most interesting, varied, and vital music the genre has produced over the past several years. As you’ll see in our list below, there may not be a genre in the metal world that presented as wide a range of sonic diversity and high quality. Elements of thrash, progressive metal, the avant-garde, and Townsend-esque wildness all made appearances in a stirring blend of unique and powerful black metal that provided us with limitless hours of enjoyment. We are stoked to share our favorites with you.

In similar fashion to Death’s Door, we present our list of favorites as a compilation of our individual top 15 lists and unadorned by numeric placement. Every one of these albums made their mark on us as a collective, and we’d love to hear your perspectives on the year that was 2022. What were your favorite black metal releases? Leave us a note in the comments.

Can’t wait for another year with you all. Stay healthy. Stay safe. Stay frosty.

-Jonathan Adams

Best of the Year

Ashenspire - Hostile Architecture

It may be simply by virtue that Scottish avant garde black metal band Ashenspire received top billing both here and over at the broader Top 50 column in our 2022 retrospective content, but it’s more of a happy accident. Ashenspire’s buzzworthy new record Hostile Architecture is one of three records that consistently appeared across all of our lists (shoutouts to Krallice and Autonesis below), but if we took further deliberation and crowned a single record the top prize, Hostile Architecture is the record that I’d bet real money on coming out on top.

Ashenspire follows in the lineage of the more theatrical black metal bands out there, particularly A Forest of Stars, where the vocal style is more evocative of a carnival barker or a Victorian man on his soapbox, shouting down about the failures of society. Hostile Architecture is an overtly leftist album, as if the title weren’t a clue, with themes related to poverty, homelessness, and income inequality. Brutal poetry performed with exhaustive emotion and backed by some of the most moving and stimulating black metal heard in years, imbued by an intoxicating blend of brutal prog and chamber music. It’s the soundtrack of the world on fire, late capitalism choking the life out of whatever’s left. Which, turns out, is right fucking now.

-Jimmy Rowe

Asunojokei - Island

I don’t know if the problem is me (it probably is) but there’s a subset of albums that get a sort of underground appeal that I seem to have an allergic reaction to. I think it’s mostly when an album is hailed out of context, as if it’s doing something completely original (which no piece of art has ever done, since art is produced in context). However, some albums are so damn excellent that I force myself to power through this (somewhat unjustified aversion) and listen to them anyway. Asunojokei’s Island is one of them.

Composed of exactly the elements that seem to make RYM users go absolutely ballistic for post-black (sad, shoegaze-y influenced segments, blast-beat laden heavy sections, and vociferous, ragged vocals), Island is one hundred percent deserving of the hype it has received. Beyond the fact that it ticks all of those boxes, it is “simply” a well-crafted, written, and executed post-black metal album, taking all of those genre tropes and make them its own by dedicating passion and thought to the process. If you’ve avoided this album because of its internet fame or the places where it has been heralded, I have come to force you to check it out; do what I did and look past the hype and you will find an album that’s worth every second of your time, far beyond the clout it will generate you. And if you’re still hesitant, just listen to the bass on the opening track “Heavenward”; I’m certain it will capture your heart, alongside the rest of the excellent music, as it did mine.

-Eden Kupermintz

Autonoesis - Moon of Foul Magics

I haven’t listened to many “evil” sounding albums this year (though there were some that were absolute highlights of my listening at large) but Moon of Foul Magics is perhaps the best one of those that I did hear. It draws that “evil” sound from its absolute dedication to early black metal sounds; that sort of thrash-y hum on the guitar tones that turns whatever this band plays into an ice-cold dagger, stabbing at the heart of creation. It also helps that Autonoesis aren’t at all afraid of incorporating actual thrash metal and death metal into their sound, creating an album that’s both vicious and expansive.

This is also what makes Moon of Foul Magics so listenable. Sure, many of the tracks are long and the album itself clocks in at over an hour, but there’s just so much happening, and with such variety, that you find yourself going back again and again simply to try and absorb at all. Whether you’re looking for killer riffs, blistering solos, expansive soundscapes, or just metal that makes you want to do mischief, Moon of Foul Magics has something for you. It is one of the more viciously “unleashed” albums of 2022 and a true showcase of what black metal does when it augments, and is in turn augmented by, other sub-genres of metal.

-EK

Blut Aus Nord - Disharmonium - Undreamable Abysses

There are few bands more legendary and thoroughly unpredictable in the world of black metal than Blut Aus Nord. With multiple thematic series of records under their ever expanding belt, there are few sounds and textures in this musical space that the band haven’t touched. Disharmonium, the band’s 14th record, finds them expanding on one of the most dark, atmospheric, and strange sonic excursions they’ve ever embarked upon to date. A spiritual sequel to 2019’s Hallucinogen, the band’s latest finds them in a darker and more aggressive state of mind while maintaining that album’s nightmarish and woozy atmospheric sensibilities. The instrumentation is as crisp and menacing as ever, while the songwriting feels tighter and perhaps a tad more refined. This record displays Blut Aus Nord at their most malevolent and eldritch, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Top to bottom another banger from the French black metal masters.

-JA

Christian Cosentino - High Rising Times

What was I expecting from High Rising Times? It’s a valid question, since 2021’s Lawn by Christian Cosentino was probably my favorite discovery of that year. You don’t really expect a project like this to follow up with another album so soon and Lawn, as good as it was, definitely felt exploratory. So, before I hit play on High Rising Times, I had many questions: do I want this to be more or less polished? Do I expect Lawn II, or am I looking forward to hearing Cosentino maintain his forward momentum and going to new places? What would lead me to be disappointed by this album? And so on.

Luckily, I got an album that dodged all of these questions and managed to do something truly unique by both reiterating on Lawn and taking the Cosentino unique sound forwards. It’s both more polished, in the “objective” levels of its production, but less so, in the sheer amount of noise and volume that are present. And, lastly, it exceeded my wildest expectations by pulling this off, creating an album that challenged what I thought I understood about this project. If you’ve read this far and are intrigued, it’s really quite hard for me to describe what you’re about to listen to: it’s like black metal but bright but not saccharine. It’s like Devin Townsend exploding into an oil-painting. It’s electronic but warm, neutral but opinionated, majestic yet intimate. It’s a challenging piece of music that stretches what black metal can, and should, do to its absolute limits without being overtly “experimental”. Anyway, listen to this album, please.

-EK

Doldrum - The Knocking, or The Story of the Sound that Preceded Their Disappearance

Seems like every year there’s a record that drops from a band I’ve never heard of that absolutely destroys. It’s a particularly jarring scenario when that band is from the city where you reside. I’d not listened to a single note of music from Denver’s latest black metal sensation Doldrum before finding their debut full-length while looking for new tunes, and thank the algorithm gods for bestowing upon me such an undeserved gift. The Knocking is an instant progressive black metal classic, and a record that I’ve returned to with relish many times over the past few months. The songwriting is appropriately vast without expanding too far into repetitive oblivion, and the performances across the board are stellar (especially in monumental tracks like “The Abduction” and “The Disappearance”). But one of the record’s defining traits is its truly fantastic production, ably constructed by Elzer. It’s a future classic that I cannot recommend highly enough to those who like a little progressiveness in their black metal. Essential listening.

-JA

Falls of Rauros - Key to a Vanishing Future

My first exposure to Portland, Maine’s Falls of Rauros came in the form of a split with Panopticon two years after the latter act’s breakout 2012 classic Kentucky. Falls of Rauros could do worse than to find themselves with such an incredible co-sign, and in the years since, they’ve grown to become a clear frontrunner for the mantle that Agalloch left behind from their rocky dissolution. Key to a Vanishing Future sees the band making their strongest case yet, with its majestic and fantastical blend of progressive and post rock, folk, and melodic black metal. Somehow, they manage to reach those heights with a sense of subtlety and devoid of pretension; this corner of black metal can feel a bit cold and academic at times (Agalloch were certainly guilty of it, for better or worse), but Falls of Rauros finds a nice balance, with Key to a Vanishing Future standing firm with songwriting and aesthetic that doesn’t look down upon its listener.

-JR

Gaerea - Mirage

Enigmatic Portuguese occultists Gaerea are the band on this list that might just have the broadest appeal to longtime Heavy Blog readers, and may serve as a pivotal act for those looking to wade into the dark and murky waters of black metal. Their breakout Mirage is sleekly produced, quite easily the record on this list with the most polished modern metal sound. Beyond that, there’s a lot here that fans of prog metal will love; the opening track “Memoir” sets the stage with twinkling Tesseract-esque guitars, followed by a muscular command of rhythm and tone that one would expect out of Gojira.

This isn’t just baby’s first black metal record, either. Fans of the now defunct Numenorean and their 2019 LP Adore will be pleased to discover a worthy companion in this expertly crafted progressive and atmospheric black metal record. I’ve also seen comparisons made online to more traditional contemporary black metal acts, including a big four-lettered name in the genre I won’t name here due to their alleged fascist connections, so with that in mind, Gaerea seem to be a better alternative anyway. Mirage is quite simply a whimsical, adventurous, and often intense record that might help you or someone you love finally develop a taste for this corner of music, as it offers an exemplary take on the genre done right.

-JR

Krallice - Crystalline Exhaustion

Crystalline Exhaustion perfectly describes how I feel after listening to Krallice and if you think that’s a criticism, you have been paying attention to what Krallice are trying to do with their music. There is something so oppressive but alluring about Krallice’s version of death metal, almost like a jouissance, a death-drive entangled pleasure, that revels in the catharsis of being punished. I’ll be honest, this sort of brutal excursion usually doesn’t work for me; I genuinely love every fifth of sixth Krallice release (yes, they release enough music for me to say this). I find that their music is usually not distinct enough for me, there’s not enough for me to latch on to. But, for whatever mysterious reason, when a release does gel with me like Crystalline Exhaustion does (or Mass Cathexis, just an additional example) there’s nothing quite like it.

After listening to Krallice, all other metal (be it black or death, as they often like to straddle the lines) sounds empty and pale in comparison, devoid of that absolutely vicious action and busy, daunting noise that a Krallice release has. It’s not exactly atmospheric black metal because it’s too present. You can’t quite put a finger on enough articulations for it to be “just” progressive. Instead, it is its own haunting, hulking sound, a deep and true manifestation of dread, transformation, and oppression. In short, it is punishing but there’s so many levels to how it punishes you that you keep coming back for more.

-EK

Krallice - Psychagogue

Given Eden’s completely accurate description above, it’s clear that we at Heavy Blog really, REALLY dug Crystalline Exhaustion. But that album’s slightly unsung 2022 sister record Psychagogue had the same impact on me that the above did for Eden. Anthemic, orchestral, chaotic yet impressively controlled, Psychagogue is the type of record that puts a band’s full flotilla of skills on display in as concise a fashion as possible. It feels a bit more direct and less atmospheric than its immediate predecessor, but damn if it doesn’t pack an emotional, visceral punch. The opening title track and “Deliberate Fog” are among my favorite tracks that Krallice has ever produced, with the record as a whole standing tall among the band’s top tier releases. While both of the band’s best records of last year got a lot of love and attention from the Heavy Blog gang, Psychagogue speaks to me as one of the best black metal releases of the year from a band that can seemingly do no wrong.

-JA

Kvaen - The Great Below

You know what’s great about black metal? Riffs. Loads and loads of sick riffs. You know who produces loads and loads of sick riffs? Kvaen. 2022 produced a grand total of zero records that riffed as hard and as successfully as the blackened thrash project’s sophomore outing The Great Below. Barely two years removed from the utterly fantastic The Funeral Pyre, The Great Below ups the ante in every measurable metric over its predecessor. Clearer production, guest appearances that enhance each track that includes them, and a crisper approach to songwriting make it a beefier, meaner record. But for all its enhancements, The Great Below deviates nary an inch from the things that make Kvaen stand out. Mainly, sick and infinitely memorable riffs. The album’s title track is my most listened to song in any genre in 2022, combining every element that makes Kvaen the unexpected firebrand in the genre that it’s become. But you can hit pretty much any track on this record and be assured a certified banger. There are no weak spots on The Great Below, and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

-JA

Luminous Vault - Animate the Emptiness

I’ve been a major champion of this record since before it dropped, and I only become more insufferable about it as it becomes the most overlooked of the three (!!) releases last year from bassist Samuel Smith (Aeviterne / Artificial Brain). Luminous Vault is another brilliant entry into the line of avant garde black metal from 2022, and this duo – rounded out by Bloodmist’s Mario Diaz de Leon on guitars and shared vocal duties – revels in the psychedelic, folding in Godflesh-evoking drum machines and shimmering synthesizers. Sure, the familiar icy guitars and snarling vocals of black metal are present throughout the record, but the industrial beats and harmonic keys on Animate the Emptiness add a depth and weirdness that the genre needs along its experimental reaches. Between Luminous Vault’s Animate the Emptiness and Lykotonon’s Promethean Pathology making moves in 2022, it appears as though there’s a growing realm of weird electronic black metal, and I for one couldn’t be more thrilled.

-JR

Swampborn - Beyond Ratio

This is the album I most fucked up with in 2022 because the gap between how much I love it and how much I’ve written about it is immense. Perhaps because it’s a very challenging and “busy” album, which makes describing it quite hard. Or maybe it’s just the sheer amount of great music that released in 2022. But those two reasons aren’t really good excuses, since this is really one of the best black metal albums released last year and from a mostly unknown group as well. Beyond Ratio is everything a black metal should be: heavy, fast, aggressive, and expansive as all hell.

What sets this specific black metal album apart is the way that Swampborn are able to effortlessly weave in complex compositional ideas, like the introduction of electronics or the gnarly, twisted ways in which the riffs progress, alongside what feels like very simple structures. You’re never fully aware that you’re listening to something so dense, even as the dozen permutations on sounds and instruments unfolds into your ears. This ends up resulting in an album that is deceptively approachable but which holds immense replayability, as you unweave exactly what Swampborn are doing on this release (hint: a lot).

-EK

Wake - Thought Form Descent

One thing’s for sure, Canadian former grindcore aficionados Wake don’t fit evenly into one box; remnants of their early propulsive yet jagged grind remain in twitches and impulses here and there, as if they arose from violent muscle memory, but these days, the band have a broader skillset that sees them blurring the lines between atmospheric sludge, black metal, and death metal. It was a bit difficult to really find a place for Wake when it came to our end-of-year retrospectives, as we absolutely wanted them to be represented either here or over at the Death’s Door column.

Ultimately, it’s to Wake’s benefit that they refuse to be pigeonholed and sound so specific yet so broad; they could easily share the stage with Alcest, Baroness, or Gorguts and it would make perfect sense in any context. Thought Form Descent does have the requisite elements necessary for blackened credibility; darkly evocative choice of melodicism, heavy on the ambiance, and often delivered through tremolo picking and arpeggiating chords over a flurry of blasts. This is an immensely powerful record that’s sonically heavy of course, but also emotionally devastating, just how you like it.

-JR

White Ward - False Light

It was going to take a record of considerable emotional, thematic, and compositional magnitude for White Ward to be able to top their sophomore masterpiece Love Exchange Failure. The fact that they accomplished that feat is a minor miracle in and of itself, but throw in the political circumstances surrounding their home country and the record’s existence at all becomes something truly special. There were few black metal records released in 2022 that held as much emotional and thematic weight as False Light, and repeat listens only serve to further evince this reality. The songwriting, the performances, and the production are as fantastic as we’ve come to expect from the band, but there’s a level of sincerity here that feels completely unperformative. It bleeds from every note, from every tortured scream, striking a place in the soul that black metal seldom reaches. It’s the cry of a band in its rawest and most transcendent element, not giving two shits whether you are on board for the ride. It’s a heartbreakingly beautiful work of art and I couldn’t be happier that it exists. Black metal’s defining statement of last year and a record that will stand the test of time as a monument to a tortured time and place for its members and their homeland. Spellbinding stuff.

-JA

Jonathan Adams

Published 11 days ago