Colin Dempsey’s Top Albums of 2022
I’ve known since early this year that this would be painful to write. The upside of that pain is that I got to relisten to my favorite albums from the past 12 months. I didn’t need an excuse, but I’ll always take one when it’s presented to me. The downside–and the major source of said pain–is realizing how much I missed over the year or, more frighteningly, how little I listened to some albums that I was excited about before their launch. Life does that; it smothers your enthusiasm under heaps of tasks, projects, goals, and responsibilities. You get so caught up with finding time in the day to do everything that you forget why you cared so much about doing those tasks in the first place.
You can interpret getting “caught up with things” in one of two ways; there’s the optimistic angle, one which a year-end list like this promotes, wherein I catch up on the music that escaped me this year and re-acquaint myself with the albums that distinguished 2022. The other angle, wherein I was a victim of being caught up (or most accurately, being in a mess of) things, was much more common to me, in addition to the source of the pain I’d associate with this list.
Without going into too much detail, 2022 did a number on my health and led me to adopt coping mechanisms which brought along long-lasting consequences. I debated for the entire year how much I was going to disclose here about these issues, but I realized that’s not what’s relevant, nor is it how I’d like to conclude this year. I knew that revisiting certain albums would bring me back to critical periods and that those contexts influenced my relationships with said albums. It’s important to note that they possess such a staunch hold on my brain not because they were present in those contexts, but because they were of such high quality in those times. What I mean is that they’re not important because they were around when I needed a foothold; they were footholds because they were so captivating.
Take my list as a celebration of the past 12 months. Not every album on here will be metal as I cannot exclude what has been so vital for me under the pretenses of genre restrictions. I have, however, elected only to write about the records that are metal because that’s why you’re here. You’re here to read about metal. Just don’t forget that Björk released an album this year.
20. Björk – Fossora (One Little Independent Records, Iceland)
19. Gospel – The Loser (Dog Knights, USA)
18. Fell Ruin – Cast in Oil The Dressed Wrought (Death Psalm, USA)
17. The Wakedead Gathering – Parallaxiom (I, Voidhanger, USA)
16. Imperial Triumphant – Spirit of Ecstasy (Century Media, United States)
15. Daniel Avery – Ultra Truth (Mute, USA)
14. Denzel Curry – Melt My Eyez See Your Future (Loma Vista, USA)
13. Pan Daijing – Tissues (Pan, Germany)
12. Black Country, New Road – Ants From Up There (Ninja Tune, United Kingdom)
11. Otoboke Beaver – SUPER CHAMPON スーパーチャンポン
The catch with describing Immolation is that they’re much more than their parts. They’re death metal, but that doesn’t get into what makes them so energizing to listen to three decades and 11 albums into their career. They’re not repugnant like other early death metal bands, they’re not particularly modern or ground-breaking, and Acts of God puts forth as many new ideas as a Dragon Ball Z video game. However, they’re the most essential death metal band in that they’re the genre’s peak in terms of no-frills, bang for your buck, blood-in-your-spit death metal. Acts of God provides more evidence to the notion that when Ross Dolan growls about hating God then everything is right in the world, if only for a scant four minutes.
On the other end of the death metal spectrum is Critical Extravasation, an exceedingly young group who have ripped open a bag of the best preserved, sweetest smelling flora from a time when death metal and thrash were conjoined twins who’d yet to be cleaved apart from one another. Their debut Order of Decadence updates that blueprint with adventurous songwriting, becoming a genuine surprise of an album.
It’s a misnomer to praise Ultha’s fourth full-length for its atmosphere because that’d imply that it’s an atmospheric black metal album, which it is, but it doesn’t possess a grandiose nomad-in-the-forest-gazing-at-nature’s-majesty atmosphere. Ultha cultivates a sullen mood by splicing non-metal shades of gray into their pieces, whether it’s the post-punk crawl on “Haloes in Reverse,” the ambient “He knew and did not know,” or the squealing, pained saxophone that closes “Der alte Feind (Jeder Tag reißt Wunden).” The result is an overachieving record, one which comes off as fluid as it does isolating.
Toadeater’s swarming sensory overload would be plenty to stomach by itself, but the nihilism that ebbs through every track, from the dismal opening dirge on “Lowest Servant,” to the potential song of the year “Let the Darkness Swallow You,” is suffocating. Bexadde is stuffy. It’s an uncomfortable record that forces you to confront - and revel in - the individual’s insignificance through crunchy post-black metal.
The dudes behind Mo’ynoq are fun as hell. The drummer recorded his parts with a broken leg, a limb he injured while attempting a backflip on a trampoline while preparing ribs. That being said, A Place for Ash is not fun. It’s a throttling black metal slab. It contains some of the most visceral yet varied vocals of the year courtesy of three vocalists (none of whom boast broken legs). It’s an unraveling of subconscious wanderings through a punchy black metal lens.
There’s a case to be made that the best metal sounds like it could kick the shit out of you. Abduction’s fourth LP Black Blood is a testament to that statement. Its sheer density is enough to knock the wind out of you, pulling from post-metal just as much as it does modern black metal tastes. That being said, Abduction’s focus on cohesiveness, particularly in the clear divide between song sections, turns Black Blood into a dopamine release rather than a punishment.
The best way to get across how good I Am the Skel Messiah is by stating that it’s better than it is funny, and it’s hilarious. There’s an entire track dedicated to a prolonged JOI sample (I’d tell you to Google it but that’s a dangerous rabbit hole). Some of the first few lyrics on the album are, fuck my hole and break my soul. It’s all so perverted, so raunchy, yet so ear-to-ear-smile producing that you forget that it’s meant to be funny.
When was the last time a black metal song got stuck in your head? “In League with Satan,” maybe? On their debut full-length, Spider God cracked a code that nobody tried to crack but, looking back, it obviously needed to be. Every song on Fly in the Trap has a radio-ready chorus, they’re all goddam catchy, and they’re disturbing, which plays into the record’s unsettling narrative. It leaves a lasting impression both for its subject matter and how tough it is to resist restarting the title track after it ends.
Doldrum defy every expectation on their debut album. Their take on black metal diverges towards bounciness and clarity while their horror story of a concept leans into the fear of the unknown, and the requisite curiosity that requires, rather than shock value. Hell, they even defy what their demo presented, refining their production to a prickly finish. Given all that, you wouldn’t expect The Knocking, Or The Story of the Sound that Preceded Their Disappearance to sound as meaty as it does, but it’s one of the most full-bodied, foot-stomping metal releases of the year.
Can an old dog learn weird tricks? Sigh’s 12th album Shiki asserts that not only that they can, but that it’s necessary to do so. The Japanese group have always been oddballs but Shiki is a deliberate attempt to one-up themselves, drawing from progressive metal and classical and pairing it with their penchant for performative black metal. It’s also imbued with vitality, surging with Freudian Thanatos as Mirai Kawashima ruminates on aging. Of course, given that it’s a Sigh album, that meditation is a frenetic hodgepodge of fear, chanting, flutes, and arena guitar solos, but that energy captures the conflicting feelings we attach to death.