Alex Chan’s Top Albums of 2022
Earlier this year, I decided to start writing again. I had a few ideas for how I could start small and keep myself to a (mostly) consistent schedule, and I eventually arrived at the idea that would become Cheap Thrills. In the tradition of Invisible Oranges’ previous Bandcamp Vaults feature, this new column would be dedicated to underground punk and metal releases, with the new twist being a focus on albums and EPs made available as “name your price” downloads. Together, we could celebrate the bands who were so dedicated to their craft that they just wanted their music to reach as many ears as possible, regardless of how much or how little listeners were willing to pay. I pitched the idea to the editors of this fine website, and the rest was history (well, it’s only been five months, but still).
As a fairly new member of the Invisible Oranges crew, I humbly submit this year-end list for your consideration. Thanks to Jon and Ted for welcoming me on board!
These are presented in alphabetical order because ranking my top 10 albums was difficult enough! I’ve also opted to include a few non punk/metal albums in the mix–we’ll just keep this our little secret.
Auriferous Flame – The Great Mist Within (Independent, Greece)
City of Caterpillar – Mystic Sisters (Relapse, USA)
Earthless – Night Parade of One Hundred Demons (Nuclear Blast, USA)
forbidden cremme – it's very hard for me, but i'm learning> (Independent, USA)
RGRSS – A World of Concern (Life After Death, Quebec)
Ripped to Shreds – Jubian (Relapse, USA)
Romero – Turn it On! (Feel It, Australia)
Saidan – Onryō II: Her Spirit Eternal (Jems, USA)
Spider God – Fly in the Trap (Repose, UK)
As noted in Cheap Thrills #2, Conan the Barbarian isn’t the most likely inspiration for atmospheric black metal bands these days, but Stygian Ruin’s latest album is an epic sword and sorcery adventure in its own right, conjuring images of sweeping desert landscapes illuminated by a thin sliver of moon. Amid the soaring guitar riffs and stately synths, you can almost hear whispers of ancient rituals chanted by civilizations long buried beneath the shifting sands.
Friendship, Love, and War is one of the most triumphant and life-affirming recordings that I’ve heard all year, an opinion that even amazes your humble narrator due to the simple fact that this is, at the end of the day, a raw black metal album. DM, the sole member of Gudsforladt, writes that the album is about the bonds that connect us and the shared humanity at the heart of every story. His incredibly varied vocal performances and guitarwork bring the protagonist’s story to life, from the belligerent opening movement’s righteous fury and clashing metal to the sublime harmonies on “The Criminal and his Willing Sacrifice in Repentance”. Who knew that the black metal power ballad was the perfect medium for the hero’s journey?
Previously covered on the October installment of Cheap Thrills, Moon of Foul Magics is the work of an anonymous astral entity who comes bearing dark necromantical knowledge from beyond the stars. Autonoesis channels the roiling chaos of the warp and tears through defenseless systems with baleful blasts of blackened thrash riffage, leaving acoustic guitars and ghostly synth choirs swirling like accretion discs around ruined planets. Dazzlingly virtuosic and utterly spellbinding, Moon of Foul Magics is one of the best Bandcamp surprises of the year.
The first of several technical death metal albums to appear on this list, Faceless Burial’s latest LP hit me like a ton of slimy bricks stolen from a cyclopean undersea city. Witness this Australian death machine’s swirling maelstrom of mind-rending riffs that alternatively buffet and baffle the listener. Frantic fretboard acrobatics dance erratically before slamming into half-time sections that mimic the shambling gait of a Deep One risen from its subaquatic slumber. Join us At the Foothills of Deliration–Iä! Iä! Faceless Burial fhtagn!
Let’s get the obvious out of the way first: yes, the fretless bass is quite loud on this album, and as a result, The Sorrow of Soul Through Flesh can sound quite busy in spots. However, the album absolutely rips, and Suppression’s take on thrashy technical death metal builds off the work of certain Floridian bands (and their early 90s material) to deliver dizzying salvos of riffs that had me in a near-constant state of stank-face. I found myself coming back again and again, to the point where The Sorrow of Soul Through Flesh felt like a secret handshake, one full of complex twists and turns but ultimately filling me with a warm feeling of nostalgia.
When I heard that Negative Plane was releasing a new album this year, I instinctively reached for my quill, ready to sign my name in blood wherever a dotted line might present itself. The members’ side projects (particularly Funereal Presence and Ominous Resurrection) are excellent in their own right and deal in similar sorts of psychedelic, doomy black metal, but at long last, the circle is complete again with The Pact…. All of our favorite idiosyncrasies are here in full force: warped heavy metal riffs decked with chiming bells and sinuous trills; theatrical snarls that transform every lyric into an occult incantation; and, last but not least, a downright spectral amount of reverb. After 11 years, Negative Plane have lost none of their potency, and The Pact… was well worth the wait. Now, if you’ll just sign here…
I won’t mince words: Artificial Brain is one of my favorite death metal bands of the last decade, so my bias will be apparent here. What I have always loved about the band is how they manage to perfectly balance aggression with atmosphere and dissonance with melody–sometimes all at once. They’re not technical to the point of incomprehensibility, nor are they so spacey that the music fails to grab my attention. The band’s self-titled album–their third and final one with vocalist Will Smith–marks the end of the era. His inhuman, bowel-churning croaks and roars are in top form throughout, but he is not alone. A trio of guitarists maps out entire galaxies with their constellation-spanning chords and lightspeed riffing; meanwhile the rhythm section mans the massive fusion drives capable of blasting right through the fabric of space time or leading the band in a waltz across wispy nebulae. It’s a fitting sendoff for Smith that also suggests that there are plenty of systems left to explore.
I was somewhat perplexed when The Chasm released A Conscious Creation from the Isolated Domain (Phase I) back in 2017. If there was a single death metal band in the business who could be trusted to put out an amazing instrumental album, The Chasm would be that band; nonetheless, A Conscious Creation took a few spins to sink in, and even then I felt that the album started to lose my attention in the final third. Thankfully, Scars of a Lost Reflective Shadow is very much a return to form for this dynamic death metal duo. Corchado and León have spread their wings once again to explore the furthest reaches of the paranormal abysm–and the darkest depths of the soul. While the most obvious upgrade would seem to be the inclusion of Corchado’s trademark growls, the album is also impeccably composed and performed with thrilling zeal. The Chasm’s fusion of death, thrash, and progressive metal feels as fresh as ever, so it’s wild to think that the band called Scars “an unforeseen departure/detour” before the next phase. This isn’t even their final form.
Deathcult for eternity and beyond.
Like many, I discovered Chat Pile fairly late–in my case, mere months before they dropped their debut album God’s Country. Even on their first few EPs, these Oklahoma troublemakers delivered some of the most engrossing (and gross) music that I had heard all year. God’s Country blends noise rock, sludge, and nu-metal to convey the depravity of its all-American horror stories. Hitting “play” opens a Pandora’s box of unhinged vocals, burly downtuned guitar and bass, and reverb-laden electronic drums that sound like they were recorded in a stairwell. There is little hope to be found here—just nine harrowing and claustrophobic accounts of human suffering that speak to the truths we’d rather ignore.
“Things are not the same / But I have not changed”
The past 4-5 years have been great for fans of early 2000’s screamo, with a slew of heavy hitters reuniting for shows and, more recently, new albums. Compared to many of their contemporaries, Gospel seemed like the kooky prog nerds of the bunch, but that didn’t stop them from doing what most bands did during that period: release a classic album and then break up.
Over 15 years later, Gospel are back and as weird as ever. The band performing on The Loser is the same one that put out The Moon is a Dead World all those years ago, but the members of Gospel now seem content and comfortable enough to let their freak flags billow in the wind. Album opener “Bravo” tells you everything you need to know, with huge ballpark organs, ragged rambling shouts, and hyperactive drumming that makes every moment crackle with energy. This is a hardcore punk album with jazz fusion shuffles, or maybe this is a prog album for punks. No matter how you slice it, Gospel’s reunion is a blessing, and The Loser is a gift to us weirdos and misfits who have grown up to see the state of the world in 2022 and reflected that maybe we weren’t the problems after all.