Jon Rosenthal’s Top Albums of 2022
Fuck writing this stupid introduction! All I do is whine about my passion project and you all don't need to read that. I'll keep this brief: 2022 was ok for music. Now, when I say "ok," I don't mean it in some passive aggressive way which means that "ugh, ok, I guess it was fine." It was good, but it wasn't transformative, and that doesn't need to be the measure which makes a year good or great or whatever. This doesn't mean there weren't great albums released this year, as evidenced by the list below, but the overall paradigm didn't necessarily shift. We can celebrate 2022's successes without using superlative language. Let's move away from treating everything as either amazing or terrible. Embrace nuance, look into the gray area between "great" and "terrible" and find even more music to celebrate, even if it isn't "amazing" or whatever. Anyway, here are the best albums of 2022 (see what I did there?), but first, as I only include full-length albums in the canonical "list," here is a selection of EPs and demos I very much enjoyed from the past year, listed alphabetically. Oh, also: no whining allowed. Whiners do not entry.
Agriculture – The Circle Chant (Fiadh Productions/Vita Detestabilis Records, USA)
Bergfried – Romantik I (Fiadh Productions, Austria)
Brånd – Wo Draht da Weg? (Födweg, Austria)
Erzfeynd – Muspilli (Ván Records, Germany) and Wyrm (Ritual Abuse Records, Germany)
Mortuary Drape – Wisdom-Vibration-Repent (Peaceville Records, Italy)
Mycorrhizae – Mycorrhizae (and anything else Travis does) (Independent, USA)
Nganga – De Muerte (Independent, USA)
Peace Vaults – Peace Vaults (Födweg, Austria) and Dreams Inside (Independent, Austria)
Polterwytch – 5 Curses of the Polterorgel (Grime Stone Records, USA)
Rană – Armament (Fiadh Productions/Vita Detestabilis Records, Germany)
Svrm – Червів майбутня здобич (Independent/Vendetta Records, Ukraine)
Uamh – Ràithean (Fiadh Productions, USA)
Weathered Crest – Dust Vessel (Fallow Field, Austria)
Worm – blueNOTHING (20 Buck Spin, USA/Canada)
I also need to make special shoutouts to John Darnielle of The Mountain Goats for once again crafting a wonderful album with this year's Bleed Out. Peaceville's Dark Side of the Sacred Star compilation also deserves a special mention for being the strongest black metal compilation since the '90s. Unfyros' Alpha Hunt deserved many more listens, too.
Oh, and Songs: Ohia's Live: Vanquishers is objectively the greatest live album of 2022. This particular lineup's rendition of "Tigress" made me weep. God damn.
20. Sigh – Shiki (Peaceville Records, Japan)
19. Wovenhand – Silver Sash (Glitterhouse Records, USA)
18. Gehenna – Negative Hardcore (Iron Lung Records, USA)
17. Tómarúm – Ash in Realms of Stone Icons (Prosthetic Records, USA)
16. Book of Sand – Seven Candles for an Empty Altar (Fiadh Productions, USA)
15. Final Eclipse – Interminable Darkness (Independent, USA)
14. Disillusion – Ayam (Prophecy Productions, Germany)
13. Gudsforladt – Friendship, Love and War (Independent, USA)
12. Devil Master – Ecstasies of Never Ending Night (Relapse Records, USA)
11. Blut aus Nord – Disharmonium – Undreamable Abysses (Debemur Morti Productions, France)
I've loved Nechochwen for a long time–since before Algonkian Mythos was released, even–but this is the first time I've felt a metal Nechochwen album rivals it. Kanawha Black is a powerful, resolute album, complete with this duo's most masterful instrumental and vocal performances across any of their many, many projects. Kanawha Black's truly progressive, classically-inclined take on indigenous themes presents this lore with respect and dignity. Plus, some of the Candyrat style guitar playing found on here is the best I've heard outside that label in a long time.
I mean, how could I not include this? Less than a single calendar year after Tide Turns Eternal, which made it on my previous year-end list, "dream doom" duo Dream Unending, which boasts members of Tomb Mold, Outer Heaven, and, uh, Mind Eraser (among the massive list of bands vocalist/drummer Justin de Tore is in), is back with an even more powerful album. Moving away from the more overt Serenades and Pentecost III-era Anathema influences found on their debut, the heavier darkwave vibe found on Song of Salvation results in a more unique and truly dreamy listen, complete with some wonderful guitar solos (because guitar solos are fucking cool).
Once more, Patrick Walker takes his 40 Watt Sun project in another direction. Much like the transition from The Inside Room's amplifier worship doom rock to Wider than the Sky's more overtly singer-songwriter-directed sound, Perfect Light's unplugged self is merely Walker shedding more weight from his creativity, instead distilling it to its quintessence. This is still the music which made you weep before, but without any of Walker's metal trappings left behind. Perfect Light is heavy in a tender way; both bittersweet and uplifting in its heartfelt presence.
Probably the biggest sore thumb in my list on a metal site, multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Glenn Donaldson's The Reds, Pinks & Purples (no Oxford comma!) operates in a hazy and bittersweet sphere of something I've seen referred to as "jangle pop." Kind of the culmination of everything Donaldson did before this (From thuja's [and the rest of the immortal Jewelled Antler Collective] pastoral drones to The Skygreen Leopards' folk pop), Summer at Land's End's shimmery, catchy miasma is only part of The Reds, Pinks & Purples' 2022 output, but it is certainly the strongest of many emotive and memorable releases.
Surprisingly heartfelt black metal from somewhere in New England. Though there is a definite punk spine to Solar Cross' debut, mysterious musician The Great Stone Face's songwriting belies a tender, melodic side to his surprise debut To the Ever Gleaming Pinnacle of Timeless Mastery, one which is bolstered by a softened, hazy mix. Released by carefully curated vinyl-only label Ixiol Productions, Solar Cross was bound to be a special experience, but hearing it on vinyl for the first time was truly a treat. I've heard whispers of new releases to come from those close to this obscure, hard-to-contact band, and I have high hopes given how consistently good this album is. Though this album looks and sounds "meat and potatoes" at first, Solar Cross contains an emotive depth which is largely missed or ignored by his raw black metal peers. Oh, and don't worry about the name. It's not what you think.
Porcupine Tree's return is most welcome in the Rosenthal house (even my dad likes Steven Wilson's work). Hear me out, I've been a Porcupine Tree and Steven Wilson fan since I was, what, 14(?) and first heard "Trains," and their first record in over a decade is by far their strongest work since 2005's Deadwing. Sorely missing bassist Colin Edwin, Wilson's bass work is flashier and more in line with what one might hear on a Rush record, but this more rhythmic playing style lends itself nicely to what is ostensibly a more ambitious and matured Porcupine Tree. Wilson's songwriting and immortal percussion master Gavin Harrison's performances come from a place of nostalgia and passion, paying homage to both their favorite bands (for many of whom Wilson has done incredible studio work in the years since Porcupine Tree's initial demise) as well as their own existing body of work as Porcupine Tree. This is a wonderful reunion record, and it's a huge bummer to see the song "Never Have" missing the praise it deserves as it is by far the best Porcupine Tree song in a very long time.
I must admit that it was this album's press release's inclusion of Kvist and Obtained Enslavement which got me to check this out in the first place, but Pestilent Hex's debut, while it is a love letter to mid-'90s black metal excess, finds footing as a strong album all its own. The duo of vocalist Matti "M.M." Mäkelä (Corpsessed, Profetus, Tyranny, ex-Wormphlegm) and multi-instrumentalist Lauri "L.L." Laaksonen (Desolate Shrine, Convocation), Pestilent Hex's conceptual debut The Ashen Abhorrence weaves a tale of hauntings and terror through a lens of what is actually quite beautifully composed and stylistically perfect black metal.
So, first off, it's important to recognize your roots, and Mother of Graves' roots are… obvious. I would be remiss to not mention Katatonia's "old-logo era" and October Tide's first two albums, which left obvious marks on this Indianapolis group's historic and very European take on the more melodic side of death/doom metal. That being said, while this album does sound like other works which came before it, what sets Mother of Graves apart from the pretenders is the absolute passion with which Where the Shadows Adorn is played. From the album's weeping dual guitar leads to vocalist Brandon Howe's deep, emotive bellow, Mother of Graves brings a completely alien style to the States with a complete genre masterclass. Hopefully this spawns some cool (but unique) soundalikes–I could use more local melodic death/doom metal.
Was the wait worth it? Yes. Ten fucking years we waited for this album, and, yes, the passage of time melted away as this perfect stylistic continuation of 2011's Stained Glass Revelations–a catchy mix of heavy metal guitar heroism, spooky Italian progressive rock (otherwise known as the music behind Giallo flicks), and, of course, Italian black-and-speed metal–operates in pure extravagance as this surprise Walpurgisnacht release offers Negative Plane's densest, most adventurous, and most immediate release to date. It's hard to directly compare Negative Plane to anything which would make sense, as the canonical duo of Nameless Void and Bestial Devotion carefully crafted an idiosyncratic, energetic, and deeply occult-inspired sound over the course of years and a move from one end of the East Coast to another. Even during its lengthiest passages and songs, with two topping out at ten and sixteen minutes, The Pact…. carries both a masterful immediacy and a constant barrage of earworm melodies and riffs as this now-four-piece reclaims the throne as the best US black metal band once more.
[Note: the album's full title is The Knocking, Or The Story of the Sound that Preceded Their Disappearance but does not fit into the title space.]
How many times can I shout that this is my Album Of The Year before anyone actually listens to me? This is it, the United States' answer to the question Carl-Michael "Czral" Eide, Hugh "Skoll" Mingay, and Yusaf "Vicotnik" Parvez posed with the uneasy cliffhanger ending to 1995's Written in Waters…... Do not mistake Doldrum's devotion as a means of emulation, however, as the full-length followup to the 2020 demo of the same name is an exciting diversion from "modern USBM'"s atmosphere-forward meandering. Handing out heavy, strange grooves with a uniquely charismatic vocal presence, this Colorado and Massachusetts (where else but Salem?) trio's high concept adventure deep into the Earth's crust strikes a stellar gold vein. Oh, and this band stars none other than Erraunt visionary Oneiric, whose The Portent made the number three slot from my favorite releases of the 2010s. We will seek Great Earth!