Steve Lampiris’ Top Albums of 2022
This year's theme is fun and familiar because 2022 was mentally and emotionally exhausting. Every step forward was followed by the reverse. If you charted the news of this year, it’d be one helluva seismograph reading. Thus, I was drawn to entertaining music—a riff, a melody, a drum fill, whatever—that made me smile or grin or feel joy for just a few minutes, or even a few seconds. Similarly, some of my favorites—definitely the top four—came, at least partially, from a desire for the known. In other words, music as comfort food. (Indeed, part of the reason for my number seven pick is that the project is based in my hometown of Milwaukee. Shout out to 91.7 WMSE for introducing me to it.) I regret nothing.
20. Chat Pile – God’s Country (The Flenser, USA)
19. Astronoid – Radiant Bloom (3Dot Recordings, USA)
18. Shadow of Intent – Elegy (Independent, USA)
17. Lorna Shore – Pain Remains (Century Media Records, Germany)
16. Dream Unending – Song of Salvation (20 Buck Spin, USA)
15. Municipal Waste – Electrified Brain (Nuclear Blast Records, Germany)
14. Allegaeon – DAMNUM (Metal Blade Records, USA)
13. Cave In – Heavy Pendulum (Relapse Records, USA)
12. Undeath– It’s Time . . . To Rise from the Grave (Prosthetic Records, USA)
11. The Smile – A Light For Attracting Attention (XL Recordings, England)
In which the Massachusetts quartet’s sophomore album, DIE IN THE VORTEX, sounds like lost sanity. Gnarlier and more frantic than their 2015 debut album, Exploding Paranoid Universe, DIE IN THE VORTEX is thrashy grindcore—you can call it thrash-grind and/or "maniacal riffage," as the band describes it—that, well, thrashes around without pause for 22 minutes like a caged animal on a meth binge. Few records this year felt this visceral or this feral. Vocalist Pat Rennick’s full-body shrieks sound like he’s trying to shout down the very music—vortex is the precise word for it—that the band’s playing. BRAIN FAMINE is a fitting name, because these dudes are outta their goddamn minds.
Marcin’s Jakubek’s joyful enthusiasm—for the guitar, for classical music, for metal—is infectious, as is his Classical Metal series. The fourth volume continues the series’ trend of metal guitar as dazzling shred-fest fireworks. His grin-inducing metal translations of classical pieces are as exhilarating as they are informative. You can learn proper composition and structure from these, both from the superbly-arranged originals, and from Jakubek’s updates. Of the latter, Jakubek’s playing and arrangements turn these classics into highly technical thrash and power metal. And he smartly arranges the drums such that they enhance rather than distract. The blast beats during the second half of Edvard Grieg’s “In the Hall of the Mountain King” elevate the excitement of the original, while the double kick accenting on Johannes Brahms’ “Hungarian Dance No.1” gives it a neat groove metal feel. I’m already looking forward to volume five.
On the heels of an excellent album from Cannibal Corpse, George “Corpsegrinder” Fisher decided to channel that energy into a concise and spritely death ’n roll record under his nickname. With brothers Charlie and Nick Bellmore (Kingdom of Sorrow and Dee Snider’s band), Fisher offers a collection of songs with catchy riffs and shout-along choruses. Fear not, though—violence and gore remain the lyrical bedrock for Fisher: “In a violent blaze, the slaughter continues / Silent as the grave that I must send you to.” If there is a difference here, it’s that the violence inflicted is largely based on revenge and betrayal: “Should’ve known the cost / Should’ve held your tongue / Could, if you had any honor / You displayed none.” Otherwise, there are no surprises or genre-defining songwriting, and there’s no need. Corpsegrinder is simply a half-hour of highly enjoyable death ’n roll that zooms by so quickly, you’ll wanna play it again right after it’s over. Having just typed that, I wanna hear it right now.
“The world’s only lap steel metal band.” That’s how Sean Williamson, the guitarist behind Velocihamster, describes it on the project’s official site. Okay, sure. The whole thing, all the way down to the name, is silly, and that’s the point. It’s clear, though, that this collection of cover songs was made with earnest care. The same goes for the guest musicians selected: Dave Schoepke does an excellent Bonzo impression for Zep’s “In The Evening,” while Vincent Black banshee-howls like a champ for AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck.” Most of the artists covered here are obvious choices for a metalhead guitar-devotee—Edgar Winter Group, Motörhead—and make for a deeply amusing listen. Yet, it’s the surprising choices—Sneaker Pimps, Sarah McLachlan—that make Uncaged truly captivating: the former’s “6 Underground,” for example, shifts the original from the summer breezes of May to the thick humidity of August. Indeed, Williamson is a superb musician, and the searing metallic tone he gets out of his lap steel guitar is orgasmic. He clearly loves the guitar, and his wide array of influences—Trey, Jimmy, Angus—allows for some serious and seriously fun exploration of an instrument seemingly at odds with heavy metal. There’s an explanation section of Velocihamster’s website titled “Why,” but given how delightful(ly absurd) Uncaged is, it’s more like why not.
On Arcade Metal’s Bandcamp page (see below), the former Mors Principium Est guitarist declares that the album “is a love letter to video game soundtracks of old.” Teaming with drummer Samus Paulicelli (a.k.a. 66Samus), as well as some guest stars including Matt Heafy, Jeff Loomis, and Li-sa-X, he’s made a blithe, shred-tastic record. This is virtuosic metal without being masturbatory or exhausting. And Paulicelli rightly resists being showy, electing instead to use his fluid technicality to support the album, giving it bounce and groove.
But Arcade Metal isn’t just superb, jubilant playing. Gillion is a memorable songwriter, too. The album has actual songs—thoughtful and concise compositions—not just a bunch of guitar wankery. The melodies of “1988” and “Megadrive” are soaring and sticky. “Damn You Water Level!” effectively simulates the paranoia of your character running out of air. And “Enter The Castle” really does sound like the music from the final stage of a video game. Given the theme of Arcade Metal, it’s rather fitting that I discovered this record through a Twitch streamer and guitarist named Chainbrain, himself a lover of metal and video games. Those two really do belong together.
Sometimes the best bands (and albums) scratch an itch you didn’t know you had. Electric Callboy’s TEKKNO is one of those—specifically, the combination of deathcore and pop EDM. The darkest chocolate cake with the whitest cream frosting, as it were. These are less songs than cocaine rushes, and after hearing just a couple of ’em, you’ll feel like you could go ten rounds with Tyson in his prime. And this seemingly odd pairing works because—only because—the songs are expertly crafted with some of the ear worm-iest hooks of the year. Electric Callboy realize that what they do is dumb fun and they fully committed to it. Which is to say, this is dumb fun that knows it’s dumb. The record’s lyrics are gleefully rock-stupid and contain some of the year’s dumbest lines (e.g., “Shaky shaky, sweaty sweaty / You make my spaghetti ready / Heat up the sauce, it’s a dinner for one”) laid over insanely catchy choruses that will bounce around inside your head for days. TEKKNO is 2022’s dumbest album—the equivalent of a Michael Bay film, but intentionally moronic—so turn off your brain and turn this up.
Somehow, either pushing 50 or turning 50 hasn’t slowed down Lamb of God’s members at all. Omens is a lean and mean (and angry) 41 minutes of excellent groove metal. It offers no surprises, and it’s better for it. Guitarists Mark Morton and Willie Adler have a seemingly endless supply of snaky and catchy riffs, driven by one of the tightest rhythm sections in metal. Vocalist Randy Blythe, meanwhile, offers his best-ever vocals a quarter century into his career. He hasn’t sounded this venomous since 2004’s Ashes in the Wake. He pours seething anger all over his most bitter lyrics to date. Blythe surveys the world around him and doesn’t like what he sees: failure—as a country, as members of Earth’s ecosystem, as a species—because humans are incapable and/or unwilling of recognizing and/or heeding warning signs. Having witnessed Lamb of God rip faces at this year’s Summerfest, it’s clear they’re not gonna let up anytime soon. They’re as enraged as they’ve ever been: “[Omens] happens to have a slight more degree of pissed-offedness,” here.
30 years in, Spoon are (still) as reliable as Lego. They’re simply incapable of making a bad record. For Lucifer on the Sofa, the band’s tenth long-player, the Austin quintet took a step backwards from the studio experimentalism of 2017’s Hot Thoughts by stripping down the songwriting and arrangements, and recording live in the studio. The result is a breezy 38.5 minutes of nervous energy and twinkly, in-the-pocket groove, including their best pure rock song since “Got Nuffin” (“The Hardest Cut”) and their most satisfying album closer since “Black Like Me” (the title track). The anxiety throughout matches the overall uncertainty of the world, with vocalist Britt Daniel exploring the current uneasiness that’s both inside (“World wars in my mind”) and outside of us (“I got on fine with modern living / But must I be such a citizen?”). Daniel’s raspy honk remains one of the best (and most comforting) sounds in indie rock, and he uses it for the obsessive self-reflection most of us experienced during lockdown: “And I’m chasing every thought / And I’m walking over water / Thinking about what I lost.” In 2015, I said that Spoon’s only flaw is that they’re maddeningly consistent. This is still true with Lucifer on the Sofa, and will only stop being the case when hell freezes over.
Tobias Forge was always going to be a pop star—even before he started working with pop producers—and, by extension, Ghost were always going to be arena headliners. Now, he’s finally embraced his destiny by fully giving into his pop tendencies, and IMPERA is his coronation to pop star status—just listen to the imperial opening of “Twenties,” matching the album’s theme of rising and falling empires. And much like empires, these songs are (well-)constructed with tidy arrangements: every note, every cymbal crash, every word is considered and thought out for maximum impact, with multiple hooks per song. The melodies are soaring, the solos are tasteful, and the rhythm section is machine-precise. This is a capital-E Event record. And if this doesn’t make sense, remember: Satan is supposed to be an enticing entity. He’s supposed to be inviting. So when Forge sings, “You want to guide the believer? / You and the greatest deceiver?” he may well be talking about the relationship between himself and the listener. After all, what better way into your soul than a catchy tune? Sometimes I want a slick riff, sometimes I want sleek songwriting, and sometimes I want a sing-along chorus. IMPERA has an abundance of all three, often within the same song. How’s that for well-constructed?
Dave Grohl should make more metal records. Really, it’s just this self-titled release from Dream Widow, the fictional band from the accompanying film Studio 666, and Probot’s self-titled album from 2004. And while those two records aren’t siblings—they’re closer to (distant) cousins—they are of a piece. Both are riff-centric. Both at times sound like doom metal, stoner metal, thrash, and hardcore, with Grohl stating as much about Dream Widow during a Rolling Stone interview earlier this year, and both are celebrations of metal.
While Dream Widow is fictional, it isn’t a joke (band) per se. Grohl recognizes and leans into all the usual tropes of a band whose possessed singer kills his bandmates—pentagrams, incantations, voices from hell—and he pairs these (silly) tropes with exuberant riffing and soloing throughout. Grohl (with some help from guitarist Jim Rota, and keyboardists Rami Jaffee and Oliver Roman) wrote and recorded the album with a workaholic urgency, and it’s that urgency that elevates the performances and songwriting here.
Last year, I wrote an extended piece on why I love Foo Fighters, arguing that much of their appeal is that Grohl is an “aw-shucks dork” who loves his job and “plays every show with the inexhaustible effervesce of a kid who’s suddenly plucked from the crowd, brought onstage, and given a guitar.” He’s the coolest dude in rock (and sometimes metal), and Dream Widow is simply more proof of that.