Luke Jackson’s Top Albums of 2022
The most fun thing about following music closely is having your expectations constantly confounded: the long awaited album that was terrible, the life changing Sunday night show you nearly didn’t go to, the black metal band somehow made up of nice people–so often it’s the surprise that leaps in front of your headlights en route to the next Big Thing that ends up telling the story of your musical year.
With that in mind it’s a pleasure to see so much of the unexpected in the list below: a band that’s still in high school, a singer songwriter embracing their inner stadium goth, and a pair of black metal siblings trading tremolo in for synthesized grandeur. Among these sit a healthy dose of debuts, a videogame soundtrack, and a couple of big break outs that you already have in six vinyl colors for some reason.
A moment too to thank the heroic efforts of so many who were able to get shows safely up and running this year, in which highlights included Lamp of Murmuur in a tiny bar in Tilburg, making it to St. Vitus finally for a Demilich show, and dancing cautiously as Aaron Turner shouted PHARAOH OVERLORD repeatedly at Supersonic festival here in the UK–all unimaginable 18 months ago, all completely joyful in the present.
A few outliers miss the list on technicalities–Worm’s blueNOTHING is not strictly speaking an album, a characteristic shared by half of the brilliant and ever evolving releases coming out of Grime Stone Records, but now know to check them out. All that remains is to investigate below and fill in your 2022 gaps, then place your bet on which week in December Trhä is going to drop the year’s best album, thus invalidating everyone here at Invisible Oranges' fine work.
20. Véhémence – Ordalies (Antiq Records, France)
19. Inexorum – Equinox Vigil (Gilead Media, USA)
18. Autonoesis – Moon of Foul Magics (Independent, USA)
17. CANDY – Heaven Is Here (Relapse Records, USA)
16. Kill Alters – Armed to the Teeth L.M.O.M.M (Hausu Mountain, USA)
15. Wailin’ Storms – The Silver Snake Unfolds (Gilead Media, USA)
14. Vermin Womb – Retaliation (Closed Casket Activities, USA)
13. JK Flesh – Sewer Bait (Pressure Records, USA)
12. Thou, Gewgawly I – Norco Original Soundtrack (Sacred Bones, USAs)
11. Calderum – Mystical Fortress of Iberian Lands (Death Prayer Records, Spain)
Imagine trying to fit a whole iced bun into your mouth and bite it–this is what Cryptae sound like: death metal this alarmingly heavy shouldn’t be this fun, it shouldn’t be this chewy! The Dead Neanderthals/Heavy Natural affiliated act have been quietly productive over their lifespan, releasing consecutive works in the last four years, and the songs on Capsule feel assured and punchy, a result of their collaborative maturity. Over the course of the album you too will be chewed up, rolled around, spat out, before immediately rejoining the queue to this spit slicked bouncy castle for one more go.
For the nu gloom heads. Sophia Allison’s project Soccer Mommy has been producing wry sad pop anthems since 2016, but on her third album proper Sometimes, Forever she dials up both the amplification of her arrangements, and the destructive tendencies of the songs that live within them. The result is an album of enormous goth tinged ear worms, with the distinctly non metal advantage of featuring lyrics that speak to grounded relationships, mundane existence, and boredom, all while remaining as instantly memorable and deeply melancholy as her earlier work.
Is anyone at this stage not on board for the death prog revolution? It is as delightful as it is surprising that this stuff just works, and that the pageantry around it is a huge part of the fun. The successes of Dream Unending are less surprising if we consider that the band is led by members of Tomb Mold and Sumerlands–working with an incredible roster of talent to create an album of extreme musical theater in Song of Salvation. Those guests provide alternate voices and play their own persistent roles in the story, alongside synth and keys work elsewhere. The grandest, boldest musical experiment of the year, buy this record so we get the full band tour this album deserves.
Released relatively soon after Baazlvaat’s 2021 breakout The Higher Power, An Old Forgotten Text seemed to slither out into the world somewhat unnoticed, so we’re here to correct that. Taking the mead hall production of The Higher Power, their black metal is still laced with references to Celtic and Irish folk music, as well as '60s pop psychedelia, but An Old Forgotten Text expands the range of traditional instruments used throughout, and at key junctures adds clean vocals that sit completely at ease within the world Baazlvaat have created. It remains worth mentioning that the band's two members are still in high school, not because of some notion of a correlation between age and capability, but because of how exciting it is to stumble across such brilliant creative minds with such a long road ahead of them, and wonder what they might make next.
There was a point in time not so long ago when the Vrasubatlat label was dropping incredible fuzzed out raw death, black and noise projects left right and center, with Triumvir Foul at the forefront of their community of artists (check out Utzalu, Adzalaan, and Serum Dreg). They’ve been more quiet in recent years, so it was a wonderful surprise to hear of the release of Triumvir Foul’s third and possibly final album Onslaught to Seraphim in July of this year. Have you ever tried to get into Teitanblood and found their disorder and murk just a little too impenetrable to see through? Triumvir Foul mines the same sensations, the same ‘ancient death metal’ moods, but with greater clarity, and song structures that walk a fine line between barking, headbanging menace and more convoluted, musically dense passages. Ever underrated, the songs here are the strongest they’ve recorded, hail Vrasubatlat!
There is a touch of the Mellon Collie’s to God’s Country, a sense that on this album there’s a Chat Pile for everyone, which may be one of the reasons the album and band have garnered such incredible traction this year. Desperate to prove that the band are nu metal resurgent? “Slaughterhouse” is plenty downtuned. The next big thing in noise rock? Check out that sneering chorus to “Pamela”. A new dawn in lyrical storytelling? “Anywhere” is up there with the year’s harrowing best. The brilliant thing about God’s Country is that the band’s personality is strong enough to tie it all together, to present a coherent work. And like staggering home from the bar at the end of a big night guided by memory, enthusiasm and instinct, the route they take is rarely in a straight line, and all the more compelling for it.
Do you ever fast forward to the good bits? We’re all responsible lovers of long form art here of course but look, you work hard and we’re in a recession and some days you just want to get on with it. Gudsforladt understand this, they respect your time, and one hundred percent of their album Friendship, Love and War is good bits; melodic ideas fly past your head at a rate of knots more closely associated with grindcore, but here they are set within long sweeping songs that have the runtime to revisit and develop those melodies several minutes later. It is breathless, and there is a lot of music here, a lot to internalize, but break it down into acts and dedicate some long commutes to scaling the mountain of creativity here and you’ll be rewarded with more hooks than any other black metal break out this year.
Going into 2022 all eyes were on Trhä, who had spent the year prior being both incredibly productive and showing some serious stylistic expansion, with well handled departures in sound heralding each new release (all released in elaborate tape packages that you were too slow to buy, snap). Safe to say however that few people expected the band to drop the year’s tightest stomping black metal opera, featuring the best vocal performance a young Dani Filth never recorded. The five songs on vat gëlénva!!! each exceed ten minutes and contain enough swerves, halts, shifts and musical ideas for multiple tracks. The immediate and key difference between this release and Trhä’s prior work is in the sheer white heat of its delivery, featuring few of the expansive or abstract passages the band has previously used for the sake of pace and staging. The album’s cover tells you everything you need to know: a snarling face cackling in the combustive glow of the music contained within.
Who had sicko existential sitcom on the new Mamaleek album sweepstakes? Never less than fascinating, and never ones to repeat themselves, on Diner Coffee the brothers at the center of the band and their expanding convoy of musicians delivered this mediation on laugher & the little things in life through a prism of jazz and skronk, and featuring a cast of characters who stumble into each song from stage left ready to give the listener an earful of society's ills, expressed through unrealised potential and missed opportunities. It makes for a warmly humane listen; metal remains the band’s guiding philosophy but over and over again they find new ways to express what that means to them. Cast expectations aside, leave your kick pedals at the door, and take a journey in experimentation, sadness and disquiet - what could be more metal than that?
The album that single handedly did not get this writer into Killing Joke. We are reaching a thrilling point in the Skarstad cinematic universe; not content with founding the greatest active USBM act in Yellow Eyes, brothers Will and Sam continue to take thrilling tumbles along the side roads of heavy music, first with Will’s hazy dream state black metal project Ustalost, and now in 2022 their collaboration with singer Andy Chugg: Sunrise Patriot Motion. Killing Joke do make a sensible jumping off point here, at least their crunchiest, most gothically tinged works–or instead imagine an alt rock/hardcore hybrid composed by Danny Elfman. Black Fellflower Stream stomps but it glistens too, it gnashes but it floats, black metal is certainly along for the ride but in vibe only–this is ultimately a more accessible project, and as such its success is dependent largely on songwriting over fury or technicality. That Sunrise Patriot Motion debuts with nine songs that are this strong is testament to the pedigree and talent of those involved, it feels these songs have been aged in oak and honed at shows: get in on the ground floor now before those shows start to happen. The climax of “I Search For Gasoline”, with its staccato delivery, and robotic vocoder effect, is the most thrilling minute of recorded music of 2022.