Alexandre Mougel’s Top Albums of 2022
Here we are; it’s that time of the year again. And I am, again, pondering this question: what makes a good year-end list? Except this time I’m getting it to Invisible Oranges, i.e. a blog I have looked up to ever since I started writing about music. So it better be good.
Should it be a performative exercise where I can display my superior connoisseur tastes, including a mix of well-established but respected bands and edgy underground basement-dwelling acts?
Should it reflect what I have listened to the most over the year, in which case I should look upon my streaming stats - which would most likely trap perfectly innocent, blood-thirsty metalheads into unexpected ventures in the catchy realm of kid’s bedtime music?
Truth is, I am generally incapable of articulating actual criteria for myself, between the albums I spun over and over, the ones I dearly connect to on a personal level, the ones I think have the most potential to become milestones in their field. And of course a linear ranking like this one is bound to change a million times from January to January anyway.
So I decided not to tell myself that my list “better be good”; it should just be relevant to me, at this point in time. The following list is thus my current answer to this question: which albums do I want to talk about the most?
20. Devil’s Witches – In All Her Forms (Majestic Mountain Records, United Kingdom)
19. Drowse – Wane Into It (Sore Ear Collective, USA)
18. Lili Refrain – Mana (Subsound Records, Italy)
17. Dälek – Precipice (Ipecac Recordings, USA)
16. Blut Aus Nord – Disharmonium (Debemur Morti, France)
15. Vile Haint – Sacrificial Baptism in Murky Waters (Moonlight Cypress Archetypes, USA)
14. Ashenspire – Hostile Architecture (Aural Music, Scotland)
13. King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard – Ice, Death, Planets, Lungs, Mushroom and Lava (KGLW, Australia)
12. Chat Pile – God’s Country (The Flenser, USA)
11. Cloud Rat – Threshold (Artoffact Records, USA)
Yes, Christian Death are still here releasing stuff, and I cannot believe how many people I had to tell this new album even existed. It seems to me that Christian Death are perceived as one of those legendary bands whose apex of glory has passed, and who can only release harmless albums - at best - by now. I cannot disagree more.
While this album is by no means perfect and has some weak moments like the underwhelming finale "Who Am I", it also displays an impressive mastery over their style and has an impertinent number of killer songs : the sensuous and uplifting "Blood Moon", the sententious "Elegant Sleeping", "The Warning" almost venturing to indus rock territory, the malevolent goth prophecy of the title song, and above all the magnificent sing-along tune "Beautiful" that has been dwelling in my head since the first time I heard it.
Christian Death did not die with the departure of Rozz; they stay fully relevant in 2022, maturing and twisting their established brand of sophisticated Death Rock with heavier riffs.
Few bands manage to remain both underdogs and cult for as long as the Melvins did. Whatever you pick up in their extended discography will be excellent, and by now they seem to compose catchy and interesting stuff so effortlessly it must be enraging to anyone able to hold a guitar upright. Luckily that’s not my case, so I can just blissfully enjoy the show.
And by golly is this Bad Moon Rising good, even by Melvins standards. The opener "Mr Dog is Totally Right" will immediately strike at heart any prog weeb with its “Lark’s Tongue in Aspic, pt 7” base riff, but anyone will stay for these grungy, sludgy melodic riffs in layers and narrative rhythms reminding of Thou.
This is one album I listen to on infinite repeat ; it’s relatively short and compact but all you need to hear is there. It’s got the riffs, it’s got the grooves, it’s got stoner, alt, noise, grunge all together, and everything flows without question. It is pure rock’n’roll as 2022 goes.
I mean sure, Cave In are great, but Bad Moon Rising is my go-to, feel-good-riffs album of the year.
Sumac did it again; for the third time the experimental Sludge/Post-Metal veterans teamed up with the musical mad scientist Keiji Haino to summon a new sonic hecatoncheir. It feels vain and pointless to do a written review of it, short as it might be. Just tune out from anything else and listen to this cybernetic monstrosity of twangling cables wired into flesh, muscle-and-bone gears clutching impossible movement.
It was a cold, foggy autumn evening in Transylvania. Bela Lugosi was enjoying solitude in his tastefully decorated 13th-century estate. He started jamming on his organ… And then the speed he’d taken 10 minutes ago started to kick in.
Similarly to Lamp of Murmuur - although with a different sound - Bad Manor take on a raw vampyric aesthetic that has been used so many times it can easily come off as corny and goofy, but they manage to take it very seriously to luscious gothic grandeur, and to absolute madness. Lots of synth, howls, pitch-perfect foggy production, ominous church bells, absolutely ravishing guitar energy and furious drumming; this is the spookiest and craziest black metal I have heard in a while. These gentlefolks mean business, and not just during the Halloween season.
La mort de Louis XVI : c’est moi. L’assassinat de Sadi Carnot, c’est moi. Henri VI c’est moi. Ravaillac ? C’est moi. Ravachol, c’est moi ! Le Casario c’est moi.
Le régicide, le parricide, le fliquicide, toujours moi. Moi je veux avoir une exécution publique. Et des funérailles nationales !
We should know it by now ; the anonymous anarchist collective Non Serviam do not fuck around.
Anyone who’s ever tried to describe their style has probably cited some common vectors like Black Metal, Indus, Noise, Grindcore, Sludge, Aphex Twin or Venetian Snares, but it matters not. They define a new genre on its own, less because they use any aspect of extreme music as they please than because regardless of the sound and techniques used, they express intent.
Examinez nos crimes […] Vous trouverez un encaisseur, des flics, le sous-chef de la sûreté, quelques bourgeois. Mais pas un ouvrier. Pas un crève-la-faim.
As they have put it themselves in interviews, even if the band’s highly political background shapes the lyrics and composition process, no need to relate to or understand the French lyrics to connect to the music. But always keep in mind that what you are listening to, is the expression of people who fight. People who get actually, legally and physically hurt defying real-life authority. Their music is intent and purpose. It is wrath, and struggle.
Nous on a rien à voir avec des gens comme vous.
Nous, on vous dit merde.
We Are Nothing But Your Krill is their best album to date, and in my opinion, a musical milestone. It is galvanizing and intense, and depicts suffering with such strength I have tried several times to detach myself from it, but I kept coming back. Beautiful and destructive as a toxic relationship.
While many albums rose and fell across the merciless ladder of my musical preferences, Crystalline Exhaustion has remained on top ever since it came out in January. I may be a Krallice weeb (as any insufferable self-proclaimed connoisseur should be) but Crystalline Exhaustion is a whole new level for a band already praised many times for their technicity.
It unleashes the powerful and tortuous riffs one can expect from Krallice, but puts synths up front to build up eerie atmospheres, continuing what started with the already fascinating Demonic Wealth. Although this time with the full range of Marston’s recording and mastering capabilities, meaning a much cleaner and wider sound. From the epic opener "Frost" to the cold but grandiose album finale, Crystalline Exhaustion is a glacial, metaphysical space trip through dimensions of melancholy.
Fifteen years in, and Krallice still remain leagues above anyone else in the USBM universe.
Speaking of albums I personally connect to, this one by Allsiah is special for reasons that are completely off the artists’ original intents; I put my kids to bed with his music. The beautiful Drone stories that Maxim tells alone with his guitar and amps are powerful and evocative. The intense and memorable layered riffs carry out feelings of wholeness, of human struggles and joys and I can’t think of a better thing to give to the little ones, to reassure them while not dumbing things down emotionally.
One could humbly say Allsiah is basically one dude with his guitars, playing atmospheric Black Metal very, very slowly. But more than that, he is a refreshing voice in Drone as he’s neither pushing 30-minute-long monotone riffs, nor grounding his guitar work on a rhythm section inducing repetitiveness; his compositions are readable yet always going forward, progressing in patterns and layers. Allsiah’s songs are stories you want to hear, by an absolute delight of a person.
Swiss multi-instrumentalist Reto Mäder is no newcomer to the experimental music and metal scenes as his many projects, among which Ural Umbo and Sum of R, already gained a well-deserved respect. But the latest album marks a whole new formula for this shape-shifting project with the addition of vocalist Marko Neuman and drummer Jukka Rämänen, both from Finnish psychedelic juggernauts Dark Buddha Rising, as permanent band members - a consequence of one of these marvelous Roadburn commissioned collaborations.
The result is the catchiest, scariest and most forward-thinking album to date in the loosely defined realm of Drone / Doom Metal: Psychedelic Kraut Doom. I was hooked the second I heard these laid-back bass mantras and the many voices of Neuman effortlessly going from almost androgynous chants to deep growls, all escalating to ocean-wide thunderous roars. The vocals and moods are out of this world, the whole album is a ritualistic journey through anguish, fury, personality disorders and psychedelia. Probably the most cruelly underrated release of the year, so do yourself a favor and go fix that.
[Editor's Note: Full title is The Knocking, or the Sound that Preceded Their Disapperance, which is a little too long for our list template.]
The Haunting, and The Knocking. Two albums from bands who probably have nothing to do with one another and yet tick an unusual set of common checkboxes: weird, slightly de-saturated guitar tones building vibrant “garage Black Metal” riffs, forward slappy bass, utterly possessed vocals and super dooper spooky vibes.
But as Bad Manor deliver delightfully gothic-horror oriented Black Metal, Doldrum went down a different route, choosing the path of fireside American horror folk stories. Uniting members of Gallows (US Raw Black Metal) and Erraunt (haunting and dreamy Black Metal), Doldrum took almost everyone by surprise with their first demo in 2020 and now with this absolute gem of grit and mischief. There is not one single stale moment in the album, the grooves and rhythms are impossible and the riffs are frantic and nasty as hell.
To put it in a few words: Voivod Buens Ende with Primus energy, as delivered by Cobalt. Absolutely fantastic.
I usually end up my yearly lists on a Black Metal album that helps me channel all sorts of negative stuff about adulthood ; you know, inner demons, depression and whatnot. But not this year.
Book of Sand is special among Black Metal, with this latest album more than ever. Its mastermind DCRF is of that kind of discreet artists, always operating on his own terms and outside of any “scene” even if his works have been influential at times, most noticeably on the RABM movement. His 13-year-long career is marked with an overall will to interpret and render Black Metal in unusual ways, making use of microtonal techniques, Southeast Asian Gamelan music, occult blues, old Americana folk, cold wave and garage rock. And for his forward-thinking approach and refusal to be tied to any fixed canvas, I see Book of Sand as one of the best examples of Black Metal, now in 2022.
Seven Candles for an Empty Altar has fascinated me ever since I got it; it definitely is Black Metal, but in a way that will startle Black Metal fans. Its narration goes without warning from very calm but unsettling moments into apocalyptic meltdowns of saturated synth works and thick riffs. This album might not be the easiest listen to most but it was to me - oh well, here I am posing as an edgy elitist, how about that - as it has this very special set of feelings, not hidden behind, but wholly encoded in the weird free-jazz shit, nasty riffs, noise walls and bizarre howls: feelings of kindness, resilience, and hope.