Kep’s Mid-year Top 10 Albums, 2022

Written by Kep

Six months of 2022 are down for the count and lots of great metal has already hit our ears. Below are my top 10 album of the first half of the year, plus 6 honorable mentions and a couple releases I recommend highly that don’t quite fit within confines of this list. Let’s dive in!

First up, the honorable mentions (in no particular order):

Left to right, top to bottom:

  • Messa Close
  • Helpless Caged in Gold
  • UndeathIt’s Time…to Rise from the Grave
  • SwampbornBeyond Ratio
  • Immolation Acts of God
  • OriginChaosmos

And now, two albums that deserve a massive shout for being amazing, but that don’t quite fit on the list: Spider God‘s Black Renditions and Coheed and Cambria‘s Vaxis – Act II: A Window of the Waking Mind.

Black Renditions is a delightful collection of pop covers by the UK black metal phenomenon, and it’s literally the greatest thing I’ve ever heard. Alas, as a covers album it didn’t feel appropriate to stick it in the top 10, but you should absolutely listen to it several times. Coheed and Cambria‘s new album Vaxis II is extremely strong, good enough that I’d probably slot it in third overall in their ten-release studio discography. If you dig amazing space opera rock with fantastic hooks and stellar songwriting, don’t miss it; it’s only missing from the top ten because I’m keeping the list to metal bands only.

And now for the top 10!

10) Kardashev – Liminal Rite  
Favorite track: “Compost Grave-Song”

Look, we knew that any new Kardashev release was going to be two things: full of emotional depth and extremely beautiful. Those two descriptors ring true of Liminal Rite, a tragic story-based concept album about a man descending in despondency through his bad memories. It’s as mature as songwriting and subject matter gets, and it’s handled with an appropriately delicate balance of heart wrenching cleans vs. wounded beast roars, gorgeous crystal-tones vs. massive distorted chugs, and palpable anger, fear, and sadness in equal measure. It’s lengthy, and not quite a masterpiece (eliminate the spoken word sections and we’re getting closer), but it’s ambitious as hell and impressively executed.

9) Inanna – Void of Unending Depths 
Favorite track: “Among Subaqueous Spectres”

Inanna, a 22-year-old Chilean outfit, somehow just entered into my consciousness this year for the first time (Void is their first record in ten years, don’t be too hard on me). This album was hyped to spectacular heights on my Twitter feed, and when I finally got to hear it I was blown away by how well it lived up to that hype. Progressive and cerebral with riffs that churn and slash and batter and sing in equal measure, it dares to be philosophical and to push brutality to an inward focus while also delivering sweeping masterpiece songs that feel very broad in scope. What a damn entry point for me into their catalogue. 

8) Suppression – The Sorrow of Soul Through Flesh 
Favorite track: “Self-Eaten Alive”

Two Chilean death metal bands in the first three entries on the list here, and while both are fantastic records I prefer the less polished, more bludgeoning stylings of Suppression, so they get the higher spot. These riffs are BEEFY, baby. The production is fantastic and highlights that deliciously slinky fretless bass without every taking away from the substantial presence of the other instruments. This record also has some of my favorite solos of the year so far, with guitarist Daniel Poblete putting on an “excellent riffs, even better solos” clinic. I feel like I notice something new and awesome every time I spin this one again. 

7) Inexorum – Equinox Vigil
Favorite track: “Secret Language”

The first two Inexorum albums were great, and I thoroughly enjoyed them both, but Equinox Vigil floored me. I listened to it twice in a row right off the bat, a rarity for me on release days. Their brand of nature-revering yet emotionally intimate black metal is one that connects well with the times we live in, conveying the complexity of hopelessness and anger and frustration juxtaposed against a desire to make better the space around you and a belief that victory is possible. The heavy/trad metal influences that shine in the heartfelt guitar lines of this record have a way of uplifting, and each time the listen leaves me feeling like I’ve left it a little higher in the climb than I came in. It’s inspiring and connects to the heart. 

6) Tzompantli – Tlazcaltiliztli
Favorite track: “Tlazcaltiliztli”

Like I said in my review back in April, this is the best death/doom album of the year so far and it’s not particularly close. It would’ve made my top 5 if it wasn’t for those Knollers. Tzompantli’s debut record is crushingly heavy and grooves stupid hard on those ponderous death riffs. It also sits in a completely unique place in the modern metal scene, where the drums, whistles, and shells of indigenous American musical traditions stand shoulder to shoulder with the guitars, drums, and growls of death/doom metal. It rules in every way, and you won’t hear anything else like it this year or in years past. 

5) Slowbleed – The Blazing Sun, a Fiery Dawn
Favorite track: “Sangre”

Listening to this thing is like taking several cold-cocks to the face in deliberate succession. It feels like they designed every single track to be as mean as possible and the result is goddamn potent. When you talk about a 50/50 death metal/hardcore split, this is exactly what you mean: killer riffs for days, breakdowns that will beat you to a pulp, filthy harsh vocals with spite in them and range to boot, and guitar tone that’s both thick and saw-toothed. It’s vicious, vicious stuff. Hell, Slowbleed even gives us a great slower-paced track with clean vocals in the back half (“Driven by Fire”), just to prove they can do even more than crush. 

4) Knoll – Metempiric 
Favorite track: “Gild of Blotted Lucre”

*Schmidt from New Girl voice* YOUTHS! Tennessee-based young’uns Knoll brought their sophomore album to the eager masses on the last release Friday of June, and I’ll be goddamned if it didn’t fuck up this top 10. Simply put, Metempiric is one of the most hellish and destructive things I’ve ever heard, coldly calculated and crafted for maximum apocalyptic impact on the ears. It’s got spiraling riffs, it’s got merciless blasts, it’s got lumbering dissonant stomps that will absolutely fuck you sideways, and a bit of everything else you could ask for from angular deathgrind. Plus, James Eubanks’ maniacal work is a strong contender for best vocal performance of the year. 

3) Vital Spirit – Still as the Night, Cold as the Wind
Favorite track: “The Long Walk”

Black metal has had the whole icy and evil thing down pat for ages, but the newer wave of acts that explore a soundscape of windswept desert and searingly intense sun with sobering subject matter behind them all seem to hit harder for me. This debut full-length from Kyle Tavares and Israel Langlais of Wormwitch is the best such example so far. There’s a mournful quality to it, contained in the little bits and pieces of old western guitar lines, presented without joy and instead with the full knowledge of the bloodshed they represent. That bloodshed propels the screaming blackened anguish around it, and it’s haunting stuff. Dig into the lyrics if you haven’t, and you’ll find you can hear the dying cries of nations in the unearthly violence they’re set to. 

2) Hath – All That Was Promised
Favorite track: “Decollation” 

The follow-up to one of 2019’s best records managed to both meet and exceed my (ridiculously high) expectations on every level. The sound on All That Was Promised is nothing short of colossal, with impeccable recording and mixing by the band’s drummer AJ Viana that makes something larger than life sound nuanced and dynamic. The songs themselves are masterclasses in riff development, constantly evolving with subtle changes and movements, mixing moments of endive reflection and meteoric heaviness into a base of monstrous blackened death. Hath’s standing at the forefront of modern metal is firmly cemented in place. 

1) Tómarúm – Ash in Realms of Stone Icons
Favorite track: “In This Empty Space” 

Tómarúm and Hath have been neck and neck for this spot since May, and I reserve the right to change my mind and flip them by the time December rolls around, but for now the Georgia-based progressive blackened boys take the crown by a nose. If you’ve heard this, their debut album, then you already know what makes it so extraordinary: majestic compositions of staggering breadth; a remarkable combination of progressive, black, and death metal elements; and killer technical performances enhancing songs that feel personal despite their epic qualities. If you haven’t heard this album, drop what you’re doing and do so.