Ted Nubel’s Top Albums of 2022
I'm happy to be closing out our year-end listmania for 2022, at least for the individual side. Primarily, I'm happy because importing these fucking things is an enormous pain in the ass. If you've had to deal with cludgy WordPress plugins before (is there any other kind?), I'm sure you know my suffering. If not, imagine trying to fill out a form that actively hates you and wants you to fail.
Like last year, I built my favorites out of what I listened to the most, although sometimes that meant revisiting things I left in the dust in the beginning of the year. Some of these albums I could have sworn came out in 2021, but no - that's just how much shit has happened and how many albums have come out this year. Even at 20 albums, there's a crazy amount of good stuff that I'm not mentioning here, but fortunately the rest of our writers have you covered. I strongly suggest checking out every list and not just waiting for our list-of-lists, which'll go up next week along with, hopefully, a lengthy catchup post for Upcoming Metal Releases, as well as some other content we couldn't wedge in this week alongside all these lists.
20. Ruby the Hatchet – Fear is a Cruel Master (Magnetic Eye, USA)
19. Clutch – Sunrise on Slaughter Beach (Weathermaker Music, USA)
18. Cauchemar – Rosa Mystica (Temple of Mystery, Canada)
17. Negative Plane – The Pact (Invictus Productions, USA)
16. The Spirit – Of Clarity and Galactic Structures (AOP Records, Germany)
15. Early Moods – Early Moods (RidingEasy, USA)
14. Witch Blade – Månsken (Dying Victims, Sweden)
13. Gudsforladt – Friendship, Love and War (Night of the Palemoon, USA)
12. Bones – Vomit (Disorder Recordings, USA)
11. Sumerlands – Dreamkiller (Relapse, USA)
Mashing up dungeon synth with black metal has already been proven out, so why not dungeon synth doom metal? That core theme proves to be the basis of a stellar record, which comes to glorious lo-fi fruition through Cultic's obvious love of dark fantasy and lethal riffs. Doom metal and death metal remain core throughout, but it's decked out with spooky intros, interludes, and synth overdubs. Perhaps the most dungeon synth aspect is its overall atmosphere, which strikes a balance between being raw and mystical.
I really, really hate that this ended up being a posthumous album, but I couldn't have hoped for a better sendoff regardless. Wagner, whose voice defined Trouble's classic doom catalog, remains singularly soulful and straight-up doomed on this record. Perhaps no other vocalist captured the essence of doom metal as it came to be defined as Wagner did, and even this year, with this release, there's really no one else I'd hold above him. An all-star cast of guest musicians fills out the rest of the record with loving care, delivering heavy royal might to enthrone Wagner's majesty.
If their last record Tide Turns Eternal helped open the path to a new world of atmospheric doom/death metal, then Song of Salvation builds a glittering castle in these dreary lands. While the duo's songwriting shares much in common with hallmarks of the genre at a high level, it's their incredibly intricate instrumentation and attention to detail that makes Song of Salvation so impressive. Each bitter moment of self reflection or faint glimmer of hope comes pristinely crafted: like stone walls erected in misty valleys, the band's titanic riffs become so much more in the soundscapes they're set in.
The most common thing that leaves me cold on "throwback" heavy metal is a complete, utter lack of catchiness. Like, yeah, part of capturing the magic of the 1980s is getting accurate guitar and drum tones, but it's all for naught if you can't figure out how to write a chorus. Well, Luzifer knows how to write choruses, and they also know how to back them up with slick songwriting and excellent organ use. Iron Shackles has no shortage of riffs or vintage charm, but it doesn't take any shortcuts when it comes to making sure these songs burn their way into your brain. Part of it is interesting melodies, and part of it is an unusually adept command of rhythm, but realistically making metal 'catchy' in a non-grating way is a mysterious art best left undisturbed. Anyway, just take a cursory listen to the title track and try not singing the chorus back to yourself later on.
Yellow Eyes guitarists Will and Sam Skarstad take their talents into the realm of, shall we say, gothic blackened post-punk, with Blaze Bateh of Bambara on drums. However you choose to exactly define Black Fellflower Stream, Sunrise Patriot Motion's debut album carries over the surreal otherworldliness of Yellow Eyes, but focuses it into a horribly intriguing concept album. A man in a field believes he can reach oil, and we observe his quest through cryptic lyrics screamed out amidst sparkling, gothic darkness. The Skarstads create hallucinatory swaths of sound, often preferring the bass to drive motifs forward around their swirling insanity, leaving us listeners at the center of a growing storm of delusion.
This year, I feel like I've been exposed more than usual to the completely wild shit that people believe. From stock cult conspiracies to the full extent of January 6th and election denialism, I mean, there's a followership out there for whatever fucking idea you can grammatically string together. A man who "died for a taste" striving to retrieve oil by hand from a random field feels depressingly realistic, which makes the events of Black Fellflower Stream and the protagonist's slowly-realized undoing hit home with a realness I really wasn't expecting amidst the bizarre gothic trappings.
Similar to Dream Unending, Nite returned with a sophomore album that took their previously-lauded entry into a genre hybrid space and leveled it up even further. In this case, that hybrid space is black/heavy metal, which often just becomes shorthand for black metal that takes a break from blast beats here and there. On Darkness Silence Mirror Flame, the California-based band boldly defined a sound where heavy metal was key, but it oozed black metal from every pore. As opposed to similar bands like Tribulation, however, Nite's approach is more directly driven by classic heavy metal: they're not afraid to mention their Iron Maiden influence, and there's a distinct lack of pretense. At its core, Nite is heavy metal–us listeners should remember that.
Voices of the Kronian Moon shows a capacity to evolve that I simply wasn't expecting, which is a big part of why it made my list. While the album sounds plenty like its predecessor, it comes with a well-deserved sense of confidence and even higher aspirations. Without moving away from a firm grounding in being metal, Nite took what worked and made it bigger and better. Melodic leads and riffs coalesce indulgently with Van Labrakis' gravelly growls, all delivered within upbeat rockers that never stick around too long.
WolloW could, technically, be considered a gimmick album. The "gimmick," though, is that the second half of the album is the first half reversed, and the insane amount of detail that went into making sure both halves kick ass easily vanquishes any gimmick accusations for me. Consider it a concept album in the truest sense: can one make an album that plays the same forward and backward, and not suck?
Indeed, if there was anyone who would want to answer that question, it would be The Mountain King, who previously released The Smell of Stars and Vomit, a more by-the-book concept album about an astronaut fusing with his spacesuit in deep, uncharted space. WolloW takes a lot of notes from the atmospheric doom seen there, but in keeping with its theme, makes everything way druggier and cloudier. The album takes a lot of musical cues from floaty post-rock, actually, with musing clean guitar and strings working excellently both forward and backwards. As the album flips over past the halfway mark, I found myself constantly amazed by what I'd technically already heard playing out in a completely different way. This was constructed in both directions at once, and beyond just being an immersive, groovy trip, it's something of an architectural marvel for me.
I am, admittedly, a massive sucker for dark, rich heavy metal (and I blame Diamond Head for this), so Sonja's debut album was right up my alley. Beyond finding a goth-tinged angle on heavy metal that doesn't get immediately old, Loud Arriver feels sexy in a sort of oblique, candlelight-and-suggestive-shadows way (though much more direct lyrically!) that fits perfectly with their fusion of gothic rock and metal and manages to feel authentic, not campy or crude. It creates an atmosphere that nothing else this year even vaguely came close to, and I am extremely interested in where they go next.
Especially since their hype only seems to be growing, I'm pretty sure I could literally not survive a Mindforce show. New Lords is fucking packed with energy from start to finish, and even accounting for the excellent production job, the band's live shows are assuredly orders of magnitude more intense. The band's riffs pick the highest-energy bits from all over the crossover spectrum, combining sick melodic licks with utter beatdowns of the most ignorant variety, fusing it together with infectious lyrics and killer drumming. Ten songs, 17 minutes–all hail the New Lords.
Fun fact - we stopped doing monthly release roundups a while ago, and a big part of that was that every month, when I sat down to write the intro, I realized that things (personally, nationally, globally) were absolutely worse than the month before, and I had no idea what to say. It became harder and harder to confront that reality (and, admittedly, to muster the troops to send in their picks). I think that general sentiment–of not wanting to face the current state of things–is partially why I like God's Country. It is, in some ways, a cathartic release. Hell yeah, shit sucks. Here's a completely deranged diorama of everything that sucks, and at the end of it a drug-addicted fast-food mascot comes into your room.
Raygun Busch's screamed lyrics absolutely sell it, for me: from bizarre fragments like "WHAT'S HE BUILDING?!" and "HAMMERS AND GREASE!" (all caps seems appropriate) to half-mumbled confessions and spoken-word diatribes, Busch's delivery takes Chat Pile from simply crunchy noise-rocking-sludge to a fascinating breakdown of American failings. The riffs are comfortingly dense, though. They rumble along with a singularity of purpose that keeps the constantly-derailing train screaming forward, yard after yard, as fucked-up sounding drums keep the beat.
Nothing here is good, and nothing is beautiful. There's no pretense of maintaining a middle ground or finding a silver living. It is simply, to steal a Busch-ism from "Why," a fucking tragedy.