Written by Westin
We’re halfway through another year of global society collapsing all around us, good job making it this far. So far 2022 is shaping up to be just as impactful in music as the past two years have been, with a much stronger consolidation of artists releasing some of their best work in a tighter time frame than usual. Things have slowed down somewhat, and there’s less of a density going forward as many bands try to resume touring, so I haven’t encountered the sheer volume of the 2020-21 period but there’s still tons of great music by fantastic artists that I really enjoy.
My list is not going to have any sort of ranking or bend towards “this is the best music of the year so far” because I don’t think I can speak on any of that when we have six months left and there’s so much to catch up on – instead, I want to use this to promote some sick records that I think could use more eyeballs on them. This means there won’t be any Rolo Tomassi or Undeath or the like here, because even though I love those groups they have gotten a ton of attention that they rightly deserve already, and I want to give some love to seven acts you might not be aware of.
Ataraxy – The Last Mirror (Me Saco un Ojo Records)
One of many great heavy releases this year, The Last Mirror is an enjoyable doom-y death metal slug fest. Intro pair “Presages” and “The Bell That Constantly Sounds” flow together nicely and hit some very good peaks of glacial riffing and powerful kicks that are as reminiscent of 90’s death/doom bands like Autopsy as some of the lighter, more atmospheric sections are of traditional doom bands. Following that is “Decline” which kicks off at a punchy death metal gallop that still finds room for moments of dark clarity. One of the greatest strengths of this record shows that Ataraxy are experienced enough to show restraint, blending modern death/doom with more classic doom elements that give a breath of variety to the tracks, which continue this pattern through the record while slowly adding small flourishes. The band knows when passages do not need to be massively down-tuned or full of blast beats to maximize the weight of their music. I also have to shout out the production on the record because the guitar tone, drums and brighter guitar sections all sound really great.
Bob Vylan – Bob Vylan Presents the Price of Life (Ghost Theatre)
Identity and experience are central to Bob Vylan as artists, and that’s very forward in Bob Vylan Presents… – their music and lyrics are as shaped by being black and British as they are by their politics and range of musical influence and artistic interests. You can find UK grime, hip-hop, reggae, noise rock, industrial, hardcore, alternative and even more throughout this album, drawing incredibly from a diverse range both in genre but also other artists. Frontman Bobby Vylan has great flow and is able to switch easily to a frantic hardcore delivery or an industrial dirty delivery, as exemplified by “Big Man.” Followup track “Take That” is a superb rave-adjacent number that is impossible not to groove to while Bobby rips through scathing lyrics about the British government and culture. Money, food, opportunity, are all themes here ultimately connecting back to the title as a focus on the “price” of everything, and what it costs to live in our world through our various identities and the different costs we incur because of it. The instrumentation on this album is as varied as genre influence, with drummer Bobbie Vylan, guitars both by Bobby and guests, synths, horns and others, highlighting that Vylan are looking at the full scope of music to create powerful art that connects, inspires and is also fucking great to lose it to. You can feel the love the duo have for their music and how that extends to a love for other human beings and a desire to heal and create stronger connections through destruction and de-construction.
daddy’s boy – GREAT NEWS!
If I had to describe daddy’s boy in a word, I’d call them “inevitable.” Tracks like “eddie says” and “new york city jort authority” bring much of the expected hardcore aggression from the Chicago 4-piece, but between the slightly buried vocals of singer Jes Skolnik (you might recognize them as a writer and editor at Bandcamp) combining his snarky wit with the pulsing and driving rhythm section, daddy’s boy is going to get where they’re going, but they know they don’t always need to sprint. “superspreaders” is a wonderful example about cops and anti-maskers (lots of overlap) where the guitars scratches in and out over the restless bass and builds with the drums to powerful moments that feel like punches with more weight than a lot of “heavy hardcore” that has become the face of hardcore. Skolnik’s vocals throughout the album are in parallel with the other instruments, which makes his somewhat atonal shouting feel more like another fan in a crowd trying to reach out to you than a grandstanding hardcore frontman screaming down in your face from on stage. The very centered production, combined with the control and intentionality behind daddy’s boy reminds me more of eighties hardcore and the queercore movement, where many bands still had a musical connection to punk rock and the idea that less is more. daddy’s boy remembers to have fun while the world crashes around us.
Det Eviga Leendet – Reverence (Mystískaos)
Sweden is not exactly my first thought when it comes to black metal, but I’m super glad to see fantastic projects from places you don’t necessarily expect them. Det Eviga Leendet (the eternal smile) is an almost completely anonymous project with Mare Cognitum’s Jacob Buczarski on vocals, with the remaining five members who only go by initials assuming instrumental duties. Jacob is vicious but canned in that glorious black metal spirit of “less production is more”, sounding cold and violent. Production is good enough that you can separate various instruments but not so much that they sound distinct, which brings the quintessential wall-of-sound approach that the genre is famous for. Second song “Visage” also finishes with a roughly minute long section where much of the band drops away and all that’s left is Buczarski screeching harshly over a single sustained guitar note, which philosophically feels a bit more in line with hardcore and children to my ears.
Some sections also lean a little harder into atmosphere and a small amount of melody such that the album is given a grander scope than a “straight” black metal album might give. There’s not much unexpected or experimental on this album but it’s so finely crafted and knows exactly the kind of music it wants to push – rawer and aggressive black metal that harkens back to the second wave while also holding onto modern stylings and appreciation for a less narrow scope – that you won’t find yourself wanting the band to do anything else. Reverance is exactly the record it wants to be and it’s all the better for it.
Maule – Maule (Gates of Hell Records)
After delivering last year’s stellar Herzel record, Gates of Hell brings us another ripper in the form of Canadian four-piece Maule. Drawing heavily from NWOBHM era bands like Maiden and Saxon but a tiny bit grittier and more streetsmart, this is a fun sub-forty minute record of pure heavy metal and speed metal that doesn’t overstay its welcome in the way these revival bands can run the risk of. Superb solos from Danny Gottardo in nearly every track bring the extra level of spicy to what is already a great recipe – Maule know how to write hooks, they write enjoyable choruses and they coat everything in a nice straightforward production that feels energetic but polished, and guitar melodies are everywhere. A lot of the songwriting and guitarwork in particular remind me of early 3 Inches of Blood – the tracks “Summoner”, “Red Sonja” and “Sword Woman” in particular are standouts that truly exemplify everything that makes the band good.
Persefone – Metanoia (Napalm Records)
Metanoia is an internal shift that arrives from penitence or a spiritual conversion. Spirituality and the ephemeral makeup of our being is core to the identity of what makes Persefone the band they are. Their focus on the spiritual does not lean towards pretentious theologian philosophy or artless preaching, but instead turns inward and excavates the beauty of our emotional connection to other people are ourselves through that spirituality. Emotion is the primary artistic value of music and to Persefone this is a spiritual experience, and on their long-awaited and well deserved major label debut six albums in, it’s warming to feel them continue to embrace the same approach they’ve had for years. Metanoia expands the textures and palate of the band by incorporating more electronic sounding synths, like in the tracks “Architecture of the I” or “Anabasis (Pt. 1)” alongside more typical symphonic crescendo, atmospheric breaths and softer piano ambience. This creates an even stronger sense of dynamic movement within Persefone’s sonic landscapes – location and movement remain powerful motifs that connect us to our experiences.
Tómarúm – Ash in Realms of Stone Icons (Prosthetic Records)
Prosthetic is definitely pushing the limits of my criteria for less exposed bands, but they also put out enough that some things tend to slip by more people. Tómarúm are absolutely a diamond in the rough – you can tell the moment Ash in Realms begins with a relatively simple intro track “Introspection I” featuring spacious acoustic guitar licks that reverberate nicely with gorgeous production before the drums and strings kick in, but the emotional momentum and space is maintained while building up to a powerful crescendo of double bass kicks, squiggly bass and beautiful lead guitar. Tómarúm have found a way to lovingly craft a combination of tech death, prog and even really strong black metal fusion that feels like I’m listening to a sound I’ve rarely, if ever, heard before. They know precisely when to have the heaviness drop out so there are simple moments where it feels like the music takes a breath before taking off again.
The band is a duo consisting of Kyle Walburn and Brandon Iacovella who trade off vocal duties and guitar, with Brandon also behind the contrabass, alongside a number of guest and session musicians contributing the bass, drums, keys and extra vocals. The vocals are definitely on the blacker side of the spectrum, closer to a piercing shriek than traditional tech gutturals, but they do still go deep end when I assume they switch up the delivery man, and the band oscillates perfectly between black metal-esque wall of sound tremolo/blast beat sections to stunningly gorgeous melodies full of open space and life. This band sounds nothing like Deafheaven, but I want to draw a comparison to the way Sunbather brought a then newfound warmth to black metal and how this band has managed to carve their own way to that similar outcome. Production is stellar for Ash in Realms of Stone Icons – it lacks the cold production of most blackened bands and leans fully into the brightness and experimental essence of prog while bringing the heavy technicality of death metal and the overwhelming rapture of black metal. I said I wouldn’t be discussing “best of” here but this is such a standout that I can’t imagine it not being one of the best albums of 2022, and when you consider that this is Tómarúm’s first full length, how can you be anything but excited to hear more from these two?