Join the Kvlt: Espi’s AOTY 2022

By: Espi Kvlt

Espi is here to once again bring you my favorite black metal albums of 2022! Cutting these down was harder than I expected. I didn’t realize how many favorites I had until I had to start throwing them out like my children. But like last year, I narrowed it down to my top 15 favorites, with some little extra surprises at the end. Without further ado, here’s the black metal albums that blew me away and managed to make it through the full year without writing transphobic manifestos or comparing people who dislike AI art to literal Nazis (and hopefully it stays that way for all of them.)

15. Vampyric MassMalignant Transference

Coming in hot and blasting is the debut album from Canadian raw black metallers Vampyric Mass. Obviously, between the band’s name and that cover, your favorite little vampy over here needed in on this immediately. It’s gnarly and raw and its got screaming that can only be described as – well – vampiric. This isn’t just raw vampyric black metal, though. It provides extra oomph with sections of dungeon synth that literally sound like background music from Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust. Striking that perfect balance between horror and erotic, gothic romance that all vampyric tales need, this scratches a certain itch I’m constantly looking for but am rarely unable to find. Incredible first album from these guys, and I can’t wait to see where else they go with this project. 

14. Μνήμα – Disciples of Excremental Liturgies

If you liked my last pick, you’re gonna love this even more. Μνήμα has been a go-to Raw with a capital R black metal band I’ve gone to ever since the release of their demo, Possessed Templars. This is the kinda lo-fi music that scares me if I listen to it with headphones in while I’m sitting in the dark. And it just keeps getting better with each release. The vocals may sound chaotic but comparing them now to where they were when that demo came out is night and day. These banshee cries have reached a precision that inspires me, a torturous sound that I can only dream to one day be able to emulate. This sounds like someone is being tortured to death, and I, ironically, live for it. This is the band’s first and only full-length despite dropping EPs constantly, including a couple after this came out, and it’s that fiery passion for their work that makes me love them even more. They are truly solidifying themselves as a classic raw black metal band that we’ll be talking about ten years from now. Especially those vocals. God, those vocals.

13. Sorry… – Innocence. Love. Sadness.

I’d already solidified my list when Sorry… came out of nowhere and said “hold up a minute.” Masters of DSBM despite only being on the scene since 2019, they return with their second full-length to provide something surprisingly new and different. While I’d describe their other albums as traditional DSBM and mean it as a compliment, this album experiments by providing more blackgazey, uplifting sounds and instead of the classic depressive shriek, most of the vocals on this album are actually spoken word, with one song even being sung partly with clean vocals. This deviation from the norm perked my ears up as I had gone in expecting a very particular sound and had come out of it realizing this band can do more than meets the eye. While I thoroughly enjoyed All that died was my innocence, Sorry… have elevated their sound and though they had just barely missed the cut on this list before, they made it in last minute. I cannot wait to see what new surprises they have in store, and I can see them following a similar direction to my favorite DSBM band in the entire world with the number one album on this very list (no spoilers).

12. Predatory Light – Death and the Twilight Hours

Despite being only four tracks long, each one of those tracks is a thunderous triumph of epic proportions – even the two six minute songs feel as epic as the longer ones do. A frequent problem with a song that’s 10+ minutes is that it feels 10+ minutes and I just end up skipping to the next one because I’m kinda over it. That is not the case on this album. Each song feels equally long and by that I mean they could’ve added a few minutes and it’d still be just as captivating and enjoyable. The first time I listened to this thing I said “that’s it?” but it does allow for a frequent relisten due to how enjoyable it is and how fast-paced and fun the tracks are. The guitar in particular stands out on this album. Each little riff is given the space to truly be heard, even with filthy vocals blasting from behind it. And by the third song, it was all I could focus on, especially when the sick solo came in. If nothing else, you’ll probably love the guitar work on this thing, though I imagine if you appreciate black metal in any capacity, you’ll love this.

11. Kvaen – The Great Below

I’ll admit that at first, this album didn’t grip me in the same way Kvaen’s debut had. It was good black metal, but it was missing something to really make it stand out in mind. That’s when I got to the song that most people have been discussing when reviewing this album: “In Silence.” It really does feel like the true heart of what Kvaen’s all about – the entrée whereas the couple tracks before it were appetizers to get you into the atmosphere in order to appreciate this fully. The composition on the song is masterful and takes you through multiple different phases and emotions, but what’s especially great is the solo in the middle of it leading it into a thundering cry of “every day is a battle I must fight alone.” This is the kind of music you listen to when you’re prepping to climb Mt. Everest. From there, the sexy solos, speed metal jams, and danceable riffs just keep coming. What initially felt like your run-of-the-mill black metal album quickly proved me wrong. This is an album I could watch a full live performance of and have the time of my life. I challenge anyone to not headbang while listening to it.

10. Abhoria – Abhoria

Self-named debuts are a bold move. You gotta really believe in the strength of your band to have the courage to say, “This is who we are and what we’re about” right from the jump. While it can sometimes be risky, Abhoria certainly makes it work. This, like Kvaen’s previously mentioned album, is speedy black metal. You can hear the ferocity with which that drummer is using their feet, and it makes you want to move your own. Instead of being indistinguishable screams, the vocalist chooses a more death metal approach to their black metal vocal style, making it both interesting and allowing us to understand the lyrics, which, as most of you probably know, is often difficult to do in black metal. The death metally twinges are unsurprising given, as I mentioned in our February wrap-up, the member of the band, Walthrax, is a former member of an anarchist, animal liberation death metal band named Catheter. Switching tonally between hints of Darkthrone, Satyricon, and even Cattle Decapitation, this album has managed to take just enough elements of death metal to not be blackened death metal and remain a certainly black metal record, which makes it stand out as something unique, interesting, and exciting.

9. Ruohtta – Sielunsoahti

Ruohtta first got my attention with their second EP, Reetessä, in which they dissected colonialism from a Swedish Sámi viewpoint (and using the Sámi language), one that is rarely seen in black metal (at least not outright) despite the prevalence of the genre in Scandinavia. I also greatly enjoyed their debut full-length, Gutna, but it just barely missed the cut on last year’s AOTY list through no fault of their own. There were just so many great records last year. But with this second offering, Ruohtta has taken on their own definitive sound that edged out my other considerations for this year’s list. There has been a frequent lo-fi sound to this band, and as you can tell from my list so far, I’m a big fan of raw black metal. But the last album just didn’t quite hit in the same way this one does. I think there’s a difference between sounding raw and sounding raw in a way that is extremely purposeful, and Ruohtta has figured out that line and found a way to navigate it with Sielunsoahti that provides the band with their own voice that can only be heard in relation to this band. They have such a distinct message that is rarely heard in the black metal world, and it’s time. Listen to this album, absorb what its saying, and use the strength from it to motivate you to fight colonialism in any way you can. And while you’re doing that, you can also enjoy these thundering riffs, the demonic vocals, and a drum’s cymbal that is so unique in its usage it sounds like its own instrument.

8. Inexorum – Equinox Vigil

Inexorum takes what made their last couple albums special and amps it up to 11. Using a blend of a traditional black metal sound mixed with more melodic parts, especially in sections featuring guitar solos that blew me away, this take on nature-focused black metal lends itself to feeling optimistic despite how melancholy and dire the situation around our narrator is. With frequent lines about dying as the beautiful stars shine above them, this record is a solid reminder that death is as much a part of nature as everything else, and it can be as romantic and hopeful as a sunset. I listened to it frequently while taking long walks near the river, and when I’d see two swans swimming side by side, it’d be a stark reminder that even something as gorgeous as them will one day perish, but when they do, something new will be created from their energy and memories, and isn’t that amazing? Despite being here because it’s sick and made me think a lot, it’s also here because it had stand-out moments of classic heavy metal vibes and even hints of power metal in some parts. I could never tell where it was going next, and each surprise made me go “oh!” in glee. This thing is exciting, masterful, and full of wisdom if you take the time to really listen.

7. Darkthrone – Astral Fortress

Look, it’s Darkthrone. It’s amazing. I was actually advised to not put this on my list to give space for more underground acts, and as much as I wanted to take that advice, I couldn’t do it. They were on my list last year and they are again this year because no one does it like them. The first black metal band I ever heard still manages to put out record after record – some black metal, some punk, some hiking metal punk – and every single one brings a massive smile to my face. Every single one takes me on a different journey, and the ride is never boring or trite. Astral Fortress, like their previous record Eternal Hails……, has a solid mix of soft, doomy passages and chaotic black metal energy that, while not quite as strong as their last effort, is still a great ride. Also, I got to hear Nocturno Culto sing “a lot of foot-kissing.” Honestly, that’s all I really needed from this. 10/10.

6.  Nechochwen – Kanawha Black

The second indigenous black metal act on this list, this band’s roots are with Native Americans (specifically Aaron Carey’s Shawnee and Lenape heritage). Their first album since 2015 and fourth full-length overall since their debut in 2008, Kanawha Black was my introduction to Nechochwen, and what an introduction it was! I heard “indigenous black metal” and was excited to hear it, but what I wasn’t told was how much folk metal influence would be on it, with clean singing and acoustic guitars abound. I believe I bought the vinyl for this only a couple songs in, hooked already by the gorgeous melodies and captivating singing. What really stands out is Aaron Carey’s guitar work – both the classical elements and the electric elements are simply stellar. Every riff feels like a hook, and it all goes so well with the vocal styles, whether they be clean or extreme, that it feels like this duo is dancing in front of me to a highly choreographed and complicated number that can only be achieved when two people trust each other wholly and know that if one of them falls, the other will catch them. A master work that astounded me and took my breath away. 

5. Veilburner – VLBRNR

These guys saw my comments about self-titled records from earlier and said, “Yeah, well what about this?” Even going so far as having the first letter of each title spell out “Veilburner.” With another record that dropped just as I was already finalizing my list, Veilburner showed up to remind you why you wait until the last possible minute before being sure your album of the year list is done. Releasing nearly a full-length a year since 2014, this is a band that doesn’t stop. They don’t even slow down to release EPs in between. It’s just full-length after full-length. Last year’s Lurkers in the Capsule of Skull was so good I spend a ridiculous amount of money on that collector’s edition coffin box from Transcending Obscurity Records. Funds are much tighter this year, but as you can see, the last album didn’t quite make it to my list and this one did so I may have to find a way to scrape some change together to spend way too much money on this band’s merch again. This thing blew me the fuck away from the first song. It is so goddamn aggressive, so goddamn creepy, so goddamn wild and experimental and just fun. A lot of bands generally have an issue by the time they’re this many albums in (six!) where they sound too samey or like their heart isn’t in it as much as it used to be. That’s not remotely true with these guys. Not only is no two album going to sound the same, no two song is. Just when you think you’ve caught your footing, there will be an opera-esque lyric being sung or “Unorthodoxagon” will come on and you’ll wonder if the album ended and switched to a progressive metal album. Always keep em guessing is the motto Veilburner lives by, and god do I love it.

4. Feminizer – Feminizer

We have another debut self-titled on this list, and just like the other one, it works magnificently despite the risk. This project is all about the solo artist being trans and she’s gonna let you know about it, explicitly, whether you like it or not. Not only is it raw but it’s also DSBM, combining my two favorite things genre-wise and one of my favorite subjects theme-wise to create just an overall perfect piece of art. As a trans person myself I felt every riff, every drum beat, every lyric like it was being directly inserted into my veins. But you certainly won’t have to relate that closely to appreciate this and feel her emotions on each and every track. There are sweet piano melodies, there’s a “Girl’s Just Wanna Have Fun” cover, and there’s a haunting atmosphere present throughout. Especially harrowing is “I Still Carry Her Bones,” with a metal ass title and a metal ass sound to match. This sounds like it was directly ripped from my nightmares. And so does the Cyndi Lauper cover, which I didn’t know was possible. This was another project that shoved itself in at the last minute and screamed “I’m here!” from the rooftops. And thank god I saw it. It’s going to be one I replay over and over and over again and that I will always hold in my heart as something special. And it’s just the debut! Cannot wait to see more from this project.

3. ColdWorld – Isolation

I extensively praised this album in the full review I did of it earlier this year, and I’m here to solidify it as being in my top three of 2022, probably as a surprise to no one. I was so honored to be able to listen to one of my favorite black metal band’s music early, and I felt an intense case of imposter’s syndrome when the album popped up in my inbox, and it has not gone away since. I never thought a ColdWorld album would be able to top Autumn, but this one just might have (I am trepidations to say that for sure because I just love Autumn so goddamn much). This album feels like walking through Silent Hill, and that is perhaps the greatest compliment I could give. I feel the fog all around me, I see my dark memories in the form of monsters, I hear the ones I hurt and the ones I love calling out to me within the vocals. At points I’m afraid, at points I’m sad, at points I am sure if I just get up and keep going I can make it out of this alive. And isn’t that the point of music? To help us make it out of this alive. There isn’t much else I can say that I didn’t already say thoroughly in my review, but I’d just like to thank ColdWorld for this album and all the feelings it gave me with it. I’m relistening to these albums as I write my list and just like every other time I’ve listened to it, I’m beginning to cry. It’s impossible not to when it is able to take me to such intimate places. Thank you.

2. Lascar – Presence

It feels so wrong putting Lascar at number two instead of number one. The reason I say that is because I’ve long considered Lascar my favorite black metal band. I promise there’s a good reason for that, which I’ll get to once we arrive there, but for now let me just say that Lascar are never less than perfect. Every single album is a masterpiece of nature-worshipping blackgaze. Unlike a lot of blackgaze that focuses on nature as a central theme, however, Lascar isn’t afraid to maintain an aggressive edge. Many other black metal acts I listen to in a similar vein of genre and subject matter create a softer atmosphere, with more polished production, more pauses to breathe, a vocal style that isn’t quite as intense. Lascar, however, pulls no punches, and this album is no exception. Their particular brand of “nature is pissed and so am I” continues in this effort, making it stand out among all the other blackgaze that came out this year. I feel the frustration, I see the beauty (particularly in the lyrics which always make me jealous with just how incredible and poetic they are). The doom and gloom is placed solidly atop what is traditionally seen as a more peaceful category of discussion, and you will not be allowed one second to forget that for as beautiful as the woods are, they are being destroyed. For as beautiful as the oceans are, they are being polluted. For as beautiful as our planet is, it’s running out of time, and it feels like all we can do is scream.

1. Dreariness – Before We Vanish

I screamed the day this album was teased. And I do mean I screamed. Dreariness were the peak DSBM when they dropped My Mind Is Too Weak To Forget in 2013. An album I cherish so much I used it as my guide when I was learning how to do DSBM vocals. My inspiration and the album I always put on first when I want to listen to DSBM, it carries a huge place in my heart. However, Dreariness did a huge overhaul with their sound after that album, deciding instead to lean more into a post-metal direction. There were still a couple DSBM-tinted songs on their 2016 album, Fragments, but overall it was clear they were headed in a very different direction, and by the time they dropped their 2020 EP, Closer, all the extremity had been stripped away. The band I once adored was gone, which isn’t to say it was bad. It was still lovely music. But it wasn’t what had made me fall in love with them. And then, like the sun peeking through the clouds, Dreariness comes back in 2022 in a huge way. There are still some moments where it pauses to breathe, and it’s not quite as harsh as their debut, but overall it’s back to their heavy roots and screeching vocals. It’s been on repeat alongside the debut ever since, providing a whole new palette of DSBM inspiration. With tracks that go from a gentler blackgaze to full throttle Black Metal, they have managed to combine their old sound with the new elements they added along the way to create a fantastical blend of the things I loved about them to things I love about bands like Deafheaven to bring us into the new era of this band. An era I hope sticks around for a long time, because I owe so much to this band, and I’d love to owe them even more going forward.

Actual AOTY 2022

GGGOLDDD – This Shame Should Not Be Mine

Like last year, my actual album of the year isn’t a black metal record, and it simply wouldn’t be right for me to not include it on this list. Another one that I did a full review for, this album hit me like a ton of bricks. Not just because the music goes as hard as it does, but also because I could relate to it on a personal level. I wasn’t given a PR package for this album, I just wanted to write about it, so I did. Why Aren’t You Laughing? was already such a brilliant album that I listened to all the time for coping with grief, and they managed to top it with this unrivaled post-metal masterwork. Anyone who has dealt with a sexual assault will be able to feel catharsis from the lyrics on this gorgeous piece of art, and anyone who can’t relate at all will still be able to feel the emotions this album provokes through the instrumentation. Even if I had zero clue what this album was about, the music layered beneath the vocals is hair-raising. With intense synths, powerful drumming, and the use of strings that is reminiscent of a horror movie soundtrack, one wouldn’t have to understand what this album is about to Get It. This is particular true on “Invisible.” I think about those haunting strings literally all the time. In my darkest moments, those strings ring out, and then remember that this shame should not be mine, and it shall not be. I want to extend another thank you on this list, now towards a band who has gotten me through so much dark shit, both grief and now my own assault. I needed this.