Every year is a good year for music. I'm addicted to the stuff, and the more albums you discover, the more there are, so writing these lists and capturing all the nuances of feeling the world's artists explored in 2022 is an exercise in building on sand.

That said, a lot of things stuck out to me this year. Many artists channeled their pent-up feelings of the pandemic into really concentrated doses of emotion. The year began with some thundering black metal releases, and the summer saw an embarrassment of grindcore riches from the Rust Belt to Southeast Asia. There's more where that came from—I've spoken to numerous bands who are still sitting on releases as labels get through their COVID backlogs—and as live music has returned, artists are back to collaborating, improvising, and refocusing. It's been really exciting to see it play out on stage so far. Hopefully the various viruses remain manageable into 2023.

I admittedly left quite a few great albums on the cutting room floor with this list. Consider it a partial survey of the things I listened to the most in 2022 through a subjective lens of artistic daring. Each of the following twenty albums takes exciting risks without sacrificing beguiling—and in some cases, downright catchy—songcraft. Read on for the details.


Honorable Mentions:

20. Wesenwille – III: The Great Light Above (Independent, Netherlands)
19. Wake – Thought Form Descent (Independent, Canada, my review)
18. The Range – Mercury (Domino, USA)
17. Reeking Aura – Blood and Bonemeal (Profound Lore, USA)
16. Mico – Zigurat (Total Dissonance Worship, Colombia)
15. Dream Unending – Song of Salvation (20 Buck Spin, USA)
14. Ashenspire – Hostile Architecture (Code666, Scotland)
13. Cloud Rat – Threshold (Artoffact, USA)
12. Krallice – Psychagogue (Independent, USA)
11. Mo'ynoq – A Place for Ash (Independent, USA)


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    Krvvla – X

    (Brucia Records, Belarus)

    Way back in early February, when the senseless war in Ukraine was but a twinkle in Putin's eye, Krvvla released one of the year's bleakest albums, seeming to anticipate the dark cloud that would soon envelop Eastern Europe. X is concise for a full-length, but not a second of it serves anything other than conjuring some of the most wrathful black metal of the young decade, as Ted Nubel covered. X sees the Belarusian four-piece add vocals for the first time. Emerging from their instrumental chrysalis, Krvvla has given voice to the particularly potent strain of nihilism infecting that part of the world.

    Listen here.

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    Petrale – Vrh

    (Independent, Croatia)

    Petrale holds the title of my favorite Metal Archives "Lyrical themes" section: "Manifestations of the devil in a rural Mediterranean Catholic area." Vrh certainly sounds like a manifestation of the devil, with its squalls of guitar and skin-crawling vocal delivery. This black metal solo project has a timeless evil to it, evoking both time-honored genre tropes and avant-garde twists while seeming to sneer at both.

    Then comes Petrale's cover of Croatian funk artist Dino Dvornik's "Jače Manijače." Like a humorous intermission in a passion play, this goofy moment works almost like reverse psychology, rendering the writhing black metal on either side even more sinister. Who ever said the Devil doesn't have a sense of humor?

    Listen here.

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    Vital Spirit – Still As the Night, Cold As the Wind

    (Vendetta Records, Canada)

    What I've jokingly called "settler colonialismcore" in black metal has seen a lot of growth in recent years, but the year's best in the category to my ears came from Canada's Vital Spirit. Like the sunny cover art, the short song lengths and catchy riffs belie a reckoning with the darker side of Canada's colonial history. Vital Spirit succeeds in having it both ways, maintaining a depth and sorrow while unleashing bangers like "The Long Walk." It's an emotive record with balanced mixing, cohesive structure and a powerful narrative at its core—this is the musical equivalent of a Cormac McCarthy novel with the added benefit of being enjoyable to revisit (don't @ me).

    Listen here

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    Inanna – Void of Unending Depths

    (Memento Mori, Chile)

    I got to talk to Inanna about their latest release, Void of Unending Depths, earlier this year. While doubling down on my earlier assessment that this is 2022's best death metal release, I'll add that it's one of the best metal records overall for its sophistication and, if you'll pardon me, depth. "Cabo de Hornos" in particular, is an aural voyage through the Tierra del Fuego that reaches some hair-raising peaks of riffage. Inanna are blazing their own trail in the far reaches of melodic death metal. The Chileans have been around for more than a decade, and their experience and confidence in assembling such a sheer volume of ideas into something that manages to be graceful is a musical feat.

    Listen here

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    Hegemone – Voyance

    (Brucia Records, Poland)

    From the opening roar, Hegemone's Voyance is an oppressively grand record, an edifice of sheer basalt faces cloaked in poisonous vapors. Ted Nubel described it well as "simply immense," and among 2022's post-whatever releases, this one surely had the highest walls of sound. Though it's still recognizably in the same post-doom vein as other Cult of Neurosis (are we still allowed to say that?) acts, Voyance also ventures further than 2018's We Disappear. There are moments of clarity, like on "Abeyance," and even flirtations with overt rock riffage, like on "Solace," but Hegemone always manages to add another layer or reach another level beyond expectations.

    Listen here

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    Wormrot – Hiss

    (Earache, Singapore)

    Much has been said about Wormrot this year, including by this writer, so I'll keep it brief: holy shit. No grindcore record has any business being this long and still laying down such a consistent beatdown, yet multiple bands (see Narakah and Cloud Rat above) pulled that very feat off in 2022. That said, Wormrot did it best for my money. They basically sum up the genre's entire history at hyperspeed in one album, and it not only works; it rules.

    Listen here


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    Mamaleek – Diner Coffee

    (The Flenser, USA/Lebanon)

    Mamaleek's latest release feels far from the blackened experimentalism of Wait and See—instead, Diner Coffee is more of a folie aux deux reveling in madness and squalor (see Luke Jackson's interview with the band for more insights). Driven by first-person narratives—the record's subject matter has shades of Waits, or maybe even The Dan—the semi-anonymous act scrapes sounds from the margins of society to assemble a jazzy homunculus. Squawking horns and shouts that sound like they're coming through a school P.A. system unify all of it into a decadent chamber piece. Diner Coffee is a stimulating ride on a rickety basement roller coaster, making yet another thrilling ride in the amusement park of horrors that is The Flenser's catalog (see further down, as well).

    Listen here

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    Terzij de Horde – In One of These, I Am Your Enemy

    (Consouling Sounds, Netherlands)

    ICYMI, the Netherlands are a wellspring of amazing metal right now. Among the best releases in extreme music this year came from Utrecht's Terzij de Horde, as Jon Rosenthal covered back in April. In One of These, I Am Your Enemy is yet another record on this list with minimal downtime and maximum ferocity. From the pummeling opening salvo to the highest heights of the title track (they're dizzying), Terzij de Horde's vitalistic black metal is one of the best exponents of Utrecht's dynamic scene. It's been seven years since their last release, "Self," and in the intervening time, this five-piece clearly saved up enough energy for an album of devastating, calculated intensity.

    Listen here

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    Brutus – Unison Life

    (Sargent House, Belgium)

    The agony, the ecstasy: Brutus's Unison Life was one of the best releases of the year, period, and it's to my great regret that I was busy during their set at Amplifest and couldn't witness Stefanie Mannaerts' passionate simultaneous vocal delivery and precision drumming, which is itself worthy of high praise, the quality of this album notwithstanding.

    The quality in question is very high. "Victoria" is pop-rock perfection; "Chainlife" is galloping post-hardcore, and the record is a start-to-finish whirlwind of emotional immediacy. Rounded out by rich bass and expressive, metal-tinged guitar, the album's airy production elevates this suite of hook-driven songs to a transcendent level, exposing Brutus's beating heart. Everything on Unison Life is begging to be sung along to in the car at maximum volume.

    I'd like to dedicate this particular review to the late Brandon Nurick with "the biggest fuck yeah I can muster." R.I.P., buddy.

    Listen here

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    Chat Pile – God's Country

    (The Flenser, USA)

    I can't find a better encapsulation of the rot at the heart of America in 2022 than Chat Pile's God's Country. Released in the dog days of summer when it seemed like everyone was freaking the fuck out about something or other, this record is a filthy, drunken, smoke-stained vivisection of a country holding its wounds closed with duct tape, as captured by Luke Jackson.

    Visceral in every respect, God's Country feels filmic. The Oklahoma band jams everything from factory farming to family annihilation to bank robbery into the projector and sets the reel on fire mid-screening. After too many initial listens, I literally had to take a mental health break from this record, but I eventually came back to once again be battered by "HAMMERS AND GREASE!" There's nothing else like this abomination out there right now, and given the weird year 2022 has been, perhaps there never could have been anyway.

    Listen here

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