Rhys Williams’ Top Albums of 2022
As I get older and the genre of heavy metal continues to grow exponentially, I find myself unable to keep my finger on the pulse of the genre like I used to be able to. Back five-to-ten years ago I could formulate an opinion as to whether “black ‘n roll” or “war metal” had been bullish that year to my mind, but now between my life moving in new directions and the ongoing Balkanization of metal subgenres, I just don’t feel I could do that justice. I must also realize my own biases at play: as my music consumption has become most associated with commutes and gym-time, thus have my metal preferences evolved accordingly. If I don’t have any atmospheric black metal on this list, it’s not out of a distaste for that sub sub genre, but rather because trebly tremolo riffing and hypnotic slow blasts are less conducive to bench pressing than chromatic chugging slam riffage. Still, I love creativity and idiosyncrasy in my music, as well as a good sense of humor, so rest assured that this year’s top choices aren’t all brute force. With these caveats in mind, here are the albums (EPs, LPs, what-have-you) that made me go “fuck, that’s good shit!” in this year Anno Satanas 2022.
20. Curta’n Wall – Crocodile Moat!!!!!!! (Grime Stone Records, USA)
19. Coscradh – Nahanagan Stadial (Invictus Productions, IR)
18. Immolation– Acts of God (Nuclear Blast, USA)
17. Effluence - Liquefied (P2 Records, USA)
16. Tribal Gaze – The Nine Choirs (Maggot Stomp, USA)
15. Imprecation – In Nomine Diaboli (Dark Descent Records, USA)
14. Undeath – It’s Time…To Rise From The Grave (Prosthetic Records, USA)
13. Zous – No Ground To Give (Closed Casket Activities, USA)
12. Troglodyte – The Hierarchical Ecological Succession: Welcome to the Food Chain (Self-Released, USA)
11. Crowbar– Zero and Below (MNRK Heavy, USA)
“Old-School Death Metal” is a term that I understood but always felt was unsatisfying. It’s more of a distinction of band age than of sound, and yet bands of that particular age all do happen to sound very similar. New Jersey’s Trog play death metal that is decidedly “old school,” but not of the old school as it is often understood. They hew more closely to the putrid ancestral forms of Impetigo, Demilich, and Repulsion than to the standard Florida or Sweden re-hash that is endemic to “OSDM”, with a vocal approach as sickening as Lord Gore and a rhythm section that is less of a crush and more like a lathe, bloodily sanding the skin off of your face. It’s timeless death metal at the platonic ideal of the subgenre, and well worth many repeat listens.
Bonginator are a funny band, but they sure as hell ain’t a joke band! With their debut release, these genteel Massholes have taken a similar tack to Cannabis Corpse in wedding a punning stoner aesthetic to top-notch musicianship. You’d be hard-pressed to find heavier slams this year, and the production will absolutely eat you alive, such is the reverb and presence to it. However, Bonginator take a more chill approach to slam than their contemporaries, and offer not gruesome tales of torture and sadism but what is essentially an 80s action movie in an alternate universe when weed has always been legal. Sounds bonkers as hell, but it absolutely works, whether or not you’re a fan of the green shit or 100% nailed to the X. Plus, this album has one of the most simplistically clever song titles ever: the laconic but pointed “War, On Drugs.” Brilliant!
Larry Wang is a metal original, the kind of deranged genius who can’t help but be noticed due to his larger-than-life personality and idiosyncratic approach to his music. Most well-known as the vocalist of Taiwanese slam hitters Fatuous Rump, Wang has also been diligently churning out releases as Gorepot since 2011. While indisputably a slam project, Gorepot has over the years set itself apart from the rest of the pack with a sort of absurdist humor approach to the genre. Its song titles are hilarious non-sequiturs (my personal favorite on this one is “She Yelled ‘I’m So Wet, Give It to Me Now!’ But I’m Keeping The Umbrella”), samples are pulled from random Youtube videos and other memes, and the elements of the music itself are often taken ludicrously far beyond the top, be it a kick drum programmed to thousands of BPM or vocals that make you think of an African Bullfrog trying to sing the bridge of “Bohemian Rhapsody”. Yet somehow it all works, like if Mitch Hedburg or Tim and Eric got really into both anime and brutal slamming death metal. You’ll laugh, you’ll mosh, you’ll bang your head, good times all around!
Tzompantli, the brainchild of Xibalba’s Bigg O))) which has since expanded to members of Teeth and other projects, have been a top death/doom act since their cavernous 2019 debut, Tlamanalli. However, on their latest offering Tlazcaltiliztli, Bigg O))), g-Bone, and Erol Ulug have taken the Mesoamerican death/doom game at least six levels up with an album that is equal parts death and doom and all parts heavy. It reminds me of the slow Morbid Angel songs, a constant churn that uses groove as a blunt force object, only this time the production is as good as the most recent Xibalba records. Tzompantli grasps the finer aspects of “pure death/doom” songwriting, with a focus on singular riffs meant to be nodded to in ritualistic entrancement rather than outright funeral doom or blasty death. The result is an album that sounds like being slowly but surely dragged through a dangerously humid jungle to the steps of a bloodstained pyramid, there to become a statistic for the sun’s glory. It’s great to see high-quality debuts get even better follow-ups, and if the ongoing success of Xibalba is any indication, Tlazcaltiliztli is neither the last nor greatest sacrifice for the skull-rack!
With Mongrel, former members of World of Pain decided “What if we mixed classic Morrisound Florida death, like mid-period Malevolent creation or late Barnes Cannibal Corpse, with the West Coast beatdown hardcore we perfected in our last band?” The result is the apex predator of the recent trend of bands that mix tough guy hardcore and old school death metal, melding primordial aggression with technical precision for an experience not unlike getting mauled to death by an exceptionally muscular pitbull. Though Off The Leash is only three songs long, that’s all that it needs to be one of the most ridiculously aggressive releases of the year: it’s not the size of the dog in the fight, as they say. If these guys go on to do a full length, keep your ears peeled and watch your back lest you get bit!
Sometimes concept is as powerful as execution. Consider Drug Sauna, a Canuck twosome who perform the same basic form of fuzzy stoner doom as has been practiced since the Sabbathean era and perfected during the Sleep epoch. What sets Drug Sauna apart, however, are the execution and the small flourishes: firstly, as band members Deano and Cory are longtime van enthusiasts, they both tour in and also PERFORM IN their 80s Chevy Van. It looks uncomfortable as hell, to be sure, but the atmosphere and aesthetic it provides is unparalleled. In addition though, Drug Sauna tweak the little things to elevate their music above the standard stoner doom fare: note the snare sound, which is a delightfully cranked PING to make Brodequin jealous. Not also the bass tone, far harsher than Dixie’s and with more attack than Cisneros’. Top it off with my favorite album art of the year (Chevhenge? Stonechev?) and you have the best stoner doom I’ve heard in a good long while. Play it very loud on a very old sound system!
Gates to Hell thoroughly secured the “2005 Deathcore” end of the greater slam/-core spectrum this year, but Vomit Forth held sway over the “slam-ish death” niche without any doubt. This may seem a silly descriptor, but when one considers Vomit Forth in the context of such greats as Dying Fetus, Dehumanized, and Internal Bleeding, it becomes quite appropriate. Vomit Forth aren’t so much a slam band as a death metal band that slams, able to wield pocketwatch-tight musicianship with mosh riffs tougher than a leather jacket, always keeping you interested with a slick bridge or instant pit moment. The production rubs just enough grime on to give it that a deliciously slightly-muffled late ‘90s sheen, but is clear enough to make the riffs that much more memorable and the mosh parts that much more impactful. The best “chug” album of the year by far!
A Beautiful Bastion of Bilious Buncombe Bastards have Blessed us with this Brutally Brutish Bunch of Breakneck grindcore/powerviolence Bangers. Blasts, Breakdowns, Beatdowns, d-Beats, and a full-Bodied production all quickly Banish any Bashfulness aBout Bashing your Bedroom/Basement walls in a Blitzkrieg of Brilliantly Brainwashed Bandcamp Berzerker Bonhomie. Plus the “yo check this out!” on “Spicy Medallion” is so good, A+ gym PR moment for sure. You Better Bow Before these Beastly Boys lest they Boot you in the Butt!
The Louisville sluggers of Gates to Hell have come out swinging on their debut full-length, and in so doing have brought deathcore forward into the 21st century. This ain’t some over-produced boring djent nonsense but rather the best marriage of modern death metal with modern hardcore, like Frozen Soul meets Gel with slams and breakdowns interspersed throughout. It’s the sort of thing you might hear on a Myspace page in 2006, only with the updated production to do proper justice to their sound. Extremely memorable riffs (with some superbly tasteful pitch harmonics, I may add) and well-structured songs in the hardcore mold seal the deal. For full-on mosh capability, Gates to Hell were the undisputed champs of 2022!
Rarely do I hear any album anymore that I could rightfully describe as “mind-blowing,” but holy SHIT Encenathrakh have rightly blown my skull clear across the country with their latest album! Encenathrakh takes “brutal death metal” and, using liberal influences from free jazz, noise rock, and power electronics, elevates this sub-sub genre into an almost Olympian absurdity. Every piece of this record is beyond over-the-top: Weasel Walter performs deeds on drums that one would not suspect humanly possible, Paulo Paguntalan’s vocals have never been deeper or more inscrutable, and Colin Marston and Mick Barr are gods of unhinged, edge-of-your-seat hyper-theoretical guitar wizardry. The production is spot-on too: the snare PINGs to perfection and the guitar sound is both crunchy and blurry simultaneously, a feat that should be easy but is in practice very hard to pull off. To the uninitiated it may sound like an absolute mess, but it’s an absolute mess that has been deliberately written that way, which raises it up to the realm of outright genius. Good luck pronouncing the song titles or album name though; trying saying “GgorngthtgnrogG” or “Cevealakcthraaarhtckalaevec” to someone in conversation and watch their reaction. Play this album as loud as possible on the biggest, most bass-heavy speakers possible, and watch your neighbors cower in apocalyptic fear at the Great Old One newly released into the neighborhood!