Hey, I’m Westin and this is my Albums of the Year list. If you don’t know me I am extremely annoying on Twitter. And when I’m not busy doing that, I’m listening to music and writing reviews for this blog. 2022 was yet another year in the passage of so called time, which I have begun to question – is time even real? The answer is no, and so here I am yet again.
2022 has been, like 2021 and 2020 before it, another mindblowing year for music. I truly believe that we are living through a renaissance in the underground and alternative music culture, which is a small silver lining to all the horrible shit going on around us. What follows are my absolute favourite records of 2022, the ones I’ve spent the most time with, the projects I keep hearing in my head at night, the recordings I connected with and cried to, the albums that stayed with me most and reminded me once again of the artistic spirit that lives inside all of us.
22. Ataraxy – The Last Mirror (Me Saco Un Ojo Records)
Death/doom metal from Spain
The thing that immediately stands out about The Last Mirror is the production – there is a cavernous quality that really opens up a lot of space and gives everything room to breathe in a way I’d associate more with funeral doom than a death metal band. The mix work is truly another instrument on this album – Javi‘s growls feel like they’re coming from deep within a cave hiding an altar of death as depicted on the cover, but they aren’t guttural, as he instead performs more of a breathy chest scream/growl, reminiscent of Chuck Schuldiner‘s rasp, while the guitars and drums occupy multiple layers of sound while still sitting within their own pockets, which really brings a feeling of doom to the forefront. Death metal is front and center on The Last Mirror, but the band knows when to slow things down to the pace of a zombie crawling along the floor before kicking it higher at the perfect moment. This lends Ataraxy, a Spanish band, to feel like they’re kindred souls to Autopsy more than the British Peaceville bands, albeit with far more appreciation for atmosphere and emotional tension. The guitars are crunchy, low and pulsing; while the lead guitar work takes the upper register to properly encapsulate a feeling of isolation and depth. This is a quartet of musicians who’ve been doing this over a decade at this point, which means they know exactly how they want to sound and they’ve learned to execute on it very well.
21. We Are Magonia – Triangle Unicode (Self-released)
Dark synthwave from France
The epically retro and dark cinematic soundscapes popularized by Carpenter Brut and Perturbator are, by this point in time, nothing new and In many ways have fallen out of favour across the broader array of heavy synth music. But they’re so finely crafted that seminal works from both in the early 2010’s are still lauded as genre defining. We Are Magonia seek to revisit the old arcade machines and shake loose some fantastic tunes that dare to say they think they can join these titans and craft something on that level. I fully believe they’ve achieved that with this newest LP from the French trio, as Triangle Unicode highlights that the musicians behind this project have a clear love affair with a certain sound yet retain the artistic maturity to engage with it, to stretch it instead of simply recreating facsimiles of the aural landmarks that inspired them. The album will sound familiar to anyone who has listened to other albums in this vein, but there is more going on. Other subgenres of electronic add little flourishes and add wonderful new textures to scratch your ears and tickle your mind. Make no mistake, Triangle Unicode is absolutely in conversation with Carpenter Brut, but it’s not a one sided fan fiction lost in the abyss of forgotten chat rooms. Magonia think they can take it further – this is not in any sense an attempt at making something musically progressive, but instead going to 11 and breaking past the old limits. The aforementioned outside influences, what sounds to me like bits of dubstep or synthesized strings, the noticeably heavier tone of pulses and beats and even the inclusion of modern sounding bass drops, are not the dominant sound, but their presence gives credit to Magonia in crafting a sound that remembers the real living world that is evolving around us outside the neon haze of an 80s that never existed except within a desire to recreate memories of an absent ghost.
20. Krilloan – Emperor Rising (Scarlet Records)
Power metal from Sweden
Krilloan come out the gates swinging extremely hard on their first full length, opening with the blitz of “Prince of Caledor”, a track so full of great guitar work, hooks, satisfying layered/chorus vocals, that it’s designed to grab you immediately and never let go. This is as pure traditional speed leaning power metal as it gets, and these Swedes clearly worships at the church of German power titans like Blind Guardian, and as such will never be the record to convince the power metal haters, but it’s so straight forward and humbly executed that it does not feel like tired throwback. Their energy is enjoyable, and each song just feels like a warm embrace of an old friend you’ve never met.This is a band who knows exactly what they want and execute on it, without pushing it into the realm of parody. At 37 minutes, and song lengths averaging barely over 4 minutes, Emperor Rising smartly comes nowhere close to overstaying its welcome and leaves me wanting more each time. The instrumental track “Return to Melnibone” functions as an interlude between LP sides, giving a helpful rest from the charging warriors of metal. This is a passionate, fun and well-crafted first foray into a well-worn sound that shows Krilloan have it within them to become a staple of great meat and potatoes power metal, because not every band has to reinvent things. Sometimes more of a good thing is just more of a good thing, and this album is great.
19. Autonoesis – Moon of Foul Magics (Self-released)
Black/thrash metal from Canada
Autonoesis is a bit of a darling of certain black metal underground circles, and this second LP from the anonymous Canadian band demonstrates why. Playing an intriguing mix of black metal, thrash, and death metal (in descending order of dominance), Autonoesis does not tread into the realm of Venom/Motorhead worship that many other bands combining these things do. I love the “sex drugs and rock n roll” vibe from these “party” bands, but Autonoesis (I promise I’ll stop saying their name after this) instead opt to ask “why not combine Teutonic thrash with actual black metal”, and it’s such a compelling answer. Many times songs will fully segment into pure black metal or pure thrash before recombining in a glorious assault, all while filled with truly authentic and committed stylistic choices appropriate to the moment. But the lead guitars on Moon of Foul Magics are next level – the title track is a perfect example as whoever is on lead takes us to absolutely transcendent heights with some genuinely beautifully melodic playing on an unexpectedly bright solo, and then the song kicks back in to a black/thrash pummeling that reminds us of the sheer range this band is capable of. The entire package is executed flawlessly, and Moon of Foul Magics is chock full of so many fantastic ideas that despite over an hour of runtime, the album feels complete and everything feels necessary. This is not a concept album, as far as I can tell, but it is an Experience such that the band has crafted a uniquely specific identity for themselves. I’m certain if they had signed to a major label and become ‘the next big thing’ they would already have hordes of cheap imitators trying very hard to badly mimick what Autonoesis (snuck another one in there for ya) do better than anyone else – be themselves, artistically, sonically. You need to keep an eye on them.
18. Asunojokei – Island (Self-released)
Blackgaze/post-hardcore/indie rock from Japan
Japanese indie rock, post-hardcore, and blackgaze come together in an unexpected way on Island. Asunojokei’s second record is an absolute highlight of the ways established genres can evolve in totally new ways when they reach outside the limitations of traditionally Western geocultural environments. Chords are bright, screams are almost sung, and harshness and beauty coalesce, dancing in swirls round one another in mixed textures that shouldn’t belong but nestle into one another seamlessly. The wrought screeches of vocalist Nuno carry a depth to them, ensuring their slicing pain cuts right to your heart. Everything is earnest about Island, its emotional tone completely avoiding any sense of sentimentality or shallow angst that could flatten what is accomplished. Opening track “Heavenward” features a section with blastbeats and a ceaseless black metal tremolo alongside Nuno’s pained shrieks, but rather than feel evil and oppressive, the bright tones and open soundscape create a gorgeously lush melancholy that to me seems more reminiscent and full of longing, and more vibrant for it, before the song finishes on a simple open acoustic chord. Like the stunning anime-style cover art, Asunojokei are not even slightly concerned with convention, instead opting for an authenticity of emotion that hits heavier than a lot of traditional extreme metal. The Japanese indie rock vibe, the punk edge and energy both bring a sense of life to Island that ensures it does not feel isolating or lonely in its embrace of black metal, but instead bring each other to life.
17. Sumerlands – Dreamkiller (Relapse Records)
Heavy metal/arena rock from the US
Sumerlands is another band in the New Wave of Traditional Heavy Metal, one who captured many ears with their self-titled debut six years ago. Dreamkiller is a major upgrade on that debut, carrying an energy and sense of artistic intent that demands you take it seriously. Obviously influence by classic 80’s mainstream bands like Whitesnake but this demonstrates an even deeper appreciation for hooky songwriting techniques that mirror some of the contemporaneously popular and nebulously categorized AOR bands, but unlike AOR, Sumerlands doesn’t suck. Absolutely crystal clear production that perfectly recaptures the sound of the 80’s via the flawlessness of modern digitization techniques that actual bands from the time could only dream of, this album is one hit song after another. Every song on this album, from “Heavens Above”, to the title track, to “Edge of the Knife” could have been radio hits four decades ago, but they’re made with the benefit of time and the ability to look back critically at how much of those old songs are now unbearable. Instead we get all of the cream rising to the top, and only get to enjoy the best parts of that musical era rocking out without any of the sleaze, gimmick or lazy commercialism. This album is a love letter to arena rocking choruses, soaring vocals, shredding guitar and stupid amounts of reverb. The only crime Sumerlands committed is not being a different band further up this list, or they’d be the definitive NWOTHM album of the year.
16. Freak Genes – Hologram (Feel It Records)
Synthpunk from the UK
Synthpunk is a bit of a weird genre. Technically predating the wider spread of traditional punk thanks to legendary band Suicide, this particular subgenre didn’t itself go many places until the late 70s and early 80s, when traditional punk was starting to wane and synthesizer technology was advancing rapidly. Freak Genes are a very modern band, but they’re also a synthpunk band, which carries so much historical baggage that they also find themselves necessarily in conversation with all of the old bands and music. Too aggressive and abrasive for post punk, too synthetic contemplative, and danceable to be satisfying for fans who demand the increasing extremity of hardcore, Hologram knows it’s for a particular audience. Opening with angular punk guitars, the title track and first proper song shifts towards repetitive chanting of “You are just a hologram” over synth pulses. Following track “DNA” starts with similar synths and waffles between dance track and snarky missive. The bass is groovy, the Devo appreciation is front facing and yet everything feels like it’s a band looking forward by going back, wondering what stones were left unturned in the growing fan divide over the direction of punk music.
15. Tzompantli – Tlazcaltiliztli (20 Buck Spin)
Death/doom metal with folk and hardcore influence from the US
Tzompantli is the newest project from Brian Ortiz, guitarist for California based deathcore/hardcore band Xibalba, and like that project, Tzompantli is interested in the dearth of Mesoamerican pre-colonial history and heritage. Ortiz brings his experience with beatdowns and breakdowns to death metal in a way that feels surprisingly fresh considering that it’s a relatively simple formula. This is American style death/doom made even heavier with the crushing weight of hardcore to bottom out the doom riffs and the intense energy of it to punch up the death metal. Session musician Mateotl Gonzalez plays a multitude of traditional instruments, including drums, death whistle, shakers and more that lend a very slight folk influence to this album, further setting a specific tone apart from other similar bands, though I do wish the folk influences were more present and heavily utilized. This is a newer project so I’d love to hear more in the future to really see the full evolutionary meeting between beatdown, death/doom and Mesoamerican folk.
14. Bob Vylan – Bob Vylan Presents: The Price of Life (Ghost Theater)
Grime/punk rock from the UK
UK grime punk project Bob Vylan, consisting not at all confusingly of emcee Bobby Vylan and drummer Bobbie Vylan. Combining punk, UK grime (a British style of hiphop), and bits of industrial, Bob Vylan take an aggressive yet cleverly funny mallet to the foundation of British culture and capital. How can you not love hip hop that contains the lines “Dog eat dog world, but the dogs have gone mad / Trees bear no fruit and the veg has gone bad / Underwater movements, I’m not talking Krusty Krab / I’m Spongebob at the bank, put the money in the bag” in the same song as joking about digging up Margaret Thatcher to grill her about the ongoing food crises and then breaking into Downing street to overthrow the government and eat the rich. Bobby is an emcee with a great sense for turned phrase and word play, and the gall to burn every target in his sight, whether it’s the collapsing British economy that always turns to murderous austerity, Elvis’ racist culture vulture career success, or the inaccessibility of veganism and healthier lifestyles through both cultural resistance and ever tightening wages that leave the poor to suffer the consequence of shrinking choices and autonomy.
This is conscious hip hop born out of a simultaneous righteous fury at the authority that denies and violates, as well as a genuine love for other human beings in a way that feels compelled to act, educate and encourage. The multitude of influences both music and cultural, the personal and the grandiose, Bob Vylan’s ability to turn on a dime between harsh beatdown, thrashy punk and groovy, synthetic dance backed rap and tie it all together with the wit to make Spongebob references with full sincerity lends a feeling of modernity that makes the punch of the music even better. This is fun, this is authentic, this is radical and full of equal parts vinegar and love. The revolution must by necessity also be a party, for what is worth fighting harder for than the joy of life itself in the streets that will be turned from killers to lifesavers?
13. Ashenspire – Hostile Architecture (Code666 Records)
Progressive black/avant-garde metal from Scotland
The personal is political, and art is a reflection of the artist. This is a fundamental truth of music that many in metal refuse to grapple with, but bands like Ashenspire shove these concepts into the spotlight and say “Sit with this, acknowledge it, and grapple with it”. The Glasgow band have forged what is one of the most definitive artistic statements in the history of RABM, where the politics and art are inseparably intertwined and both stand strong in their stance. This is black metal that feels truly progressive, the nearly avant-garde song structures, jazz influence and performance poetry angle of delivery from frontman Alasdair Dunn (also the drummer in Tyrannus) opposing the stagnant decay of the world around us. Opener “The Law of Asbestos” opens with a lulling sax and drum duo before the rest of the band kicks in, slowly, like a heavy cabaret quartet. Later, Dunn jumps in, brogue forward and slightly unhinged speech-like pulpit beating, carrying the desperation of a man surrounded by suffering he cannot fight single handedly but feels compelled to if for no other reason than because he needs to.
The lyricism is poetry, utterly compelling in the despondency of living in the hellscape of late capitalism beneath a ruling class that would kill all of us to save themselves another wasted loaf of bread. How many nameless millions have died in sawmills, factories and mines, how many nameless yet die still while the world collapses around us, plague goes unchecked and the marginalized are ruthlessly crushed underfoot by both authority and the direct manifestation of stochastic cultural violence? The mountain bears all its weight at the base, yet still we starve. I leave you with the gutting closing stanza to “The Law of Asbestos”:
“Always three months to the gutter. Never three months to the peak. / Another day to grind your fingers for the simple right to eat. / Always three months to the gutter. Never three months to the crown. / Another deep breath of asbestos in a godforsaken town. / Always three months to the gutter. Never three months to the top. / Another set of fucking homeless spikes outside another empty shop. / Always three months to the gutter. Never three months to ascent. / This is not a house of amateurs. This is done with full intent.”
12. Forlesen – Black Terrain (I, Voidhanger Records)
Drone/doom metal from the US
I don’t think that I can describe my feelings on Forlesen adequately in such a short space. It’s a good thing I wrote an entire review of this album back in October, which I very much encourage you to read. I’ll leave you with my closing thoughts on the album from my review; “Forlesen are not musicians but musical story tellers, masters of tone and rhythm and control, crafting sonic journeys into deeply moving territories of unspeakable experience. This album is an expertly constructed rendition of doom and drone that highlights the members decades of combined experience belying this projects relative newness. Everything about Black Terrain comes together to create one of the most viscerally satisfying albums I have heard throughout the entire year.”
11. Ithaca – They Fear Us (Hassle Records)
Metalcore from the UK
I am a fan of metalcore. I grew up loving Miss May I, Trivium, and As I Lay Dying (RIP to me on that one) as much as my favourite thrash and death metal bands and I find no shame in that. There was a lot of good music in that scene. I have not been a fan of the trends that took over after the late 2000s/early 2010s, especially this shift towards djent and “heavy” metalcore. The UK underdogs Ithaca are vital to metalcore in that they make a return to the core sound of 2000s metalcore – straight forward thrashy yet melodic riffs, punk edge and hooks out the ass. Just listen to opener “In the Way”, it runs the gamut of every 2000’s metalcore trope imaginable, but it’s perfect and so damn good so who could complain? Djamila is a stupidly good frontwoman, she has the perfect tone to her harshes and her beautiful voice carries so much emotion when she opens up. She is one of the best vocalists you’ll hear in a modern metalcore band and I know people are going to underrate her going forward, so let me shout out now that she is incredible.
But don’t let this leave you thinking that Ithaca are a one trick pony, this is not retro metalcore for the sake of it, they’re still finding their own angle. Between Djamila’s stellar range and the rest of the bands subtle-y mature ear for songwriting, there’s more going on here – this band is drawing on influences from post-metal and shoegaze in a way that to me sounds inescapably influenced by sister British –core band Rolo Tomassi. Closing track “Hold, Be Held” is a full blast, no compromise, post-gaze-ballad amalgam that is absolutely calming and lush with texture, piano, joint vocals and maturity that you would never expect from a band like this on the surface. But they’re treating the genre as an artform that can evolve and shift and find new ways of capturing the surreal emotionality in music, and I’m all the happier for it.
10. Otoboke Beaver – SUPER CHAMPON スーパーチャンポン (Damnably)
Hardcore punk from Japan
SUPER CHAMPON is an 18 track Japanese hardcore punk album that also happens to be barely 20 minutes long. Otoboke Beaver are semi legendary in the Japanese punk scene and now they get to do this full time, so to celebrate, they released what might be the best pure punk record of the year. It’s extremely brief, carrying an intensity and humour that is the perfect mix to bounce along to. Not to mention the band are extremely funny, satirizing sleazy old men, social misogyny, and the cultural racism of white men who mock their accents. SUPER CHAMPON is concentrated sonic hyperspeed that’s going to run you over and you’re gonna love it.
9. Pure Wrath – Hymn to the Woeful Hearts (Debemur Morti Productions)
Atmospheric black metal from Indonesia
In 1965, following an attempted coup within the Indonesian armed forces that left six generals dead, the Indonesian Army, under direction of general Suharto, publicly blamed the Indonesian Communist Party and began a purge of both the Party and “suspected” communists within the country. These purges eventually widened along ethnic and extra-political lines, targeting indigenous peoples, Chinese people, atheists, feminists and anyone suspected of leftist sympathies, through death squads, mass executions and nation-wide martial law. General Suharto was funded by the United States, United Kingdom and other Western superpowers as part of Cold War anti-communist policy, and in 1966 when the Indonesian Genocide finally concluded, the death toll numbered between five hundred thousand and one point two million people. Hymn to the Woeful Hearts is Ryo‘s canvas to paint the story of this bloody stain on Indonesia’s history that still leaves its marks today, through the fictive life story of a woman who witnesses her son’s torture and execution during the purge, but herself survives and lives to an old age. This is black metal made for anguish, for rage, for the unspeakable horror and pain of the connective tissue that maintains this very living history in the people who it still touches today.
8. Phobophilic – Enveloping Absurdity (Prosthetic Records)
Death metal from the US
Some people are getting tired of the OSDM thing, others are getting tired of the “we put hardcore elements in it” sound, but guess what, I’m not tired of this at all. Phobophilic have been on my radar since their Undimensioned Identities EP back in 2019 and we are finally here, the debut LP. I’m gonna come right out and say it, Enveloping Absurdity is the best pure death metal album of the year. Sorry legacy acts, apologies other relative newcomers, this is the monument to death metal in 2022. Absolutely pummeling, full of riffs and brutal gutturals, the production is also perfectly subtle, allowing everything to punch at full force without feeling overtly produced in the first place. Phobophilic have genuinely created one of the best death metal albums in recent memory and it just so happens to be their debut full length. These guys are going pla- oh what’s that, they’re already signed to Prosthetic? Okay, guess we just have to all sit back and enjoy whatever places this band is gonna take us, because I’m certain it will be equally fantastic death metal for anyone who loves death metal. They aren’t doing anything boundary pushing because they don’t need to, the record isn’t even 40 minutes long, the band can simply crank out incredible riffs and great tunes to plant their feet on.
7. Tómarúm – Ash in Realms of Stone Icons (Prosthetic Records)
Progressive black metal from the US
Tómarúm have something monumental on their hands with Ash in Realms of Stone Icons – they’ve created a black metal masterpiece that feels like it stands apart in the genre. The prog influences are front and center, with grandiose soundscapes constructed on the back of bright and flowing guitar work. “Condemned to a Life of Grief” is full of black metal standards – tremolo, blast beats, harsh shrieked vocals, but they’re punctuated by a sense of melody and spacious beauty thanks to this lead guitar work, alongside a production value that is very full and well rounded. You can actually hear the juicy basswork on this album, as the production gives enough space to the bottom end for the instrumentation to be audible and the tone achieved is fantastic, featuring both a fretless bass and a contrabass, and if that isn’t prog as hell, I don’t know what is. Ash has a depth and dynamic to it that feels extremely refreshing and original, with a full commitment to the artistic exploration of the entire spectrum of sound that the album is crafted in. Tómarúm have managed to recreate black metal but blend it with progressive metal in a way that completely sheds the typical black metal trappings of cold, abrasiveness and claustrophobia while still retaining the core sound that cements this record in black metal. It even has clean singing on some tracks! It is in many ways the perfect black metal record for extreme metal fans who don’t like black metal – if you love progressive and technical death metal, this is the album for you because the scope and tone align perfectly without compromising in any way such that would undermine the specific ethos and aural textures that comprise black metal as a particular sound worth engaging with.
6. tricot – 不出来 (Cutting Edge)
Math/indie rock from Japan
tricot is one of the best bands you’ve probably never heard of. This 12 year old Japanese math rock/indie rock band is now legendary in the scene – they have consistently produced some of the best alternative rock music you will hear in your life. Every single album is full of driving guitars, wonderfully jank math rock rhythms and infectious singing by frontwoman/guitaristIkkyu, covered in the glossiest candy pop coating of production. Seriously, these albums are lush, absolutely delivering mouthwatering ear candy full of textures and space and dynamics and frankly weird artistic or delivery decisions that demand multiple play-thru’s just to grasp what is even happening all the time, let alone grappling with the artistic vision. tricot is music for music obsessives by music obsessives, and in appropriate fashion have released four albums since the start of 2020 – 2020’s Makkuro, followed by 10 the same year to commemorate their 10th anniversary, then 2021’s Jodeki (meaning ‘excellent’) preceding the newest release, this one, 2022’s Fudeki (meaning ‘failure’).
Makkuro was the band’s first self-release through their own label Cutting Edge, with every subsequent record following suit, which lends itself to the title of Jodeki, to celebrate their own success and what was to become the start of multiple world tours. Fudeki appropriately mirrors last year in that it reflects the failure of these stalled world tour plans thanks to the ongoing pandemic, but also in an artistic way for the band. Every song on Fudeki is itself a sort of semi-encapsulated ‘failure’, as they’re all pieces that were ultimately rejected from previous albums before eventually finding a home on this release. Ironically, this is anything but a failure as this is one of tricot’s most experimental and forward looking albums, as it sounds as much like a tricot classic as it doesn’t. They have quickly become one of my favourite bands, not only because I love their sound and identity, but because they never cease to make albums that other bands could only ever aspire to, and they’ve now reached a King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard adjacent level of proliferation that somehow has never run out of steam. I’m in love with these women and their music, I can never get enough.
5. Soul Glo – Diaspora Problems (Epitaph)
Hardcore/hip-hop from the US
“WHOGONBEATMYASS? WHOGONBEATMYASS? WHOGONBEATMYASS?” ponders Pierce Jordan on opener “Gold Chain Punk (whogonbeatmyass?) over a great breakdown, before the song kicks back into bright punk chords before descending back into a chaotic mess of guitars, drums and Pierce‘s unintelligible shrieking. This guy is a fucking force of nature, he absolutely obliterates the mic and I can feel him up in my face just screaming his throat raw as he belts out banger after banger. I’ve never seen them live but I can tell this guy is so absolutely electric just on the disc, I am reminded of HR from the legendary DC hardcore monument Bad Brains. Guitarist Ruben Polo, bassist and programmer GG, and the most normally named drummer of all time TJ Stevenson, are also absolutely on point the entire record, delivering so much energy alongside dime-turn tempo and tone shifts that reflects their experience in keeping up with the frantic performance of Pierce. I remember first discovering Soul Glo from the hilariously wonderfully titled tape Songs to Yeet at the Sun, I have been eagerly awaiting a new record and god damn do they deliver.
I haven’t even discussed the hip hop elements of the record yet; this is an authentic hardcore record that authentically merges with hip hop in a way that feels so completely natural that it really highlights the way hardcore has been so artificially limited by certain violently toxic aspects of the culture dominated by insufferable white dudes. Track’s like “Driponomics (ft. Mother Maryrose)” and “Spiritual Levels of Gang Shit (ft. McKinley Dixon and Lojii)” strongly utilize guest deliveries to further nail down and expertly tune the hip hop love this band refuses to hide. And that is the core of Soul Glo, an unapologetically Black musical experience that refuses to allow hardcore, rock music, pop culture, to be co-opted and appropriated from their roots in Black culture, art and music. This is a statement of intent that Soul Glo are here to remind you that rock and punk history is Black history and always will be.
4. Sonja – Loud Arriver (Cruz Del Sur Music)
Heavy metal with gothic rock influences from the US
This is the best trad metal album of the year, no question. Melissa Moore kicks an unbelievable amount of ass – she’s a great frontwoman, a sick guitarist, and a supremely talented songwriter. Sonja is a testament to this, as it highlights how far a relatively simple sound can be pushed in the hands of a master. Slight goth elements touch on a tone not dissimilar to Unto Others, while the lyrics that reflect Moore’s experiences as a trans woman are fundamental to the joy and darkness contained in Loud Arriver, and part of the reason it sounds so incredible. I don’t know what else I can say that wasn’t already said better in my review of Loud Arriver, so go read that. This is born out of her; trans people are here and loudly part of metal and you can’t pretend we don’t exist anymore, because a trans woman just made one of the best albums of the year and if you try to pretend otherwise you’re a liar.
3. Wormrot – Hiss (Earache Records)
Grindcore from Singapore
Hiss is the new grindcore landmark. What Wormrot have accomplished here is nothing short of genre defining, and it’s going to influence grindcore for the next decade. The genuinely progressive approach to genre blending and boundary-pushing commitment to an artistic vision with violin and melody in a grindcore album, albeit sharp, angular and full of pain, is visionary. I reviewed Hiss back in August, which you should read because I’m very proud of that review and it’s got some of my best writing that really sheds light on why this album matters so much, because it’s a bittersweet moment: “It was announced before Hiss’s release that Arif, who founded the band, and his wife/band manager Azean, were both leaving Wormrot after 15 years. For them, the project was done, and all of the turmoil that is carried in that decision can be heard on Hiss. As it stands, no one knows what the future holds for Wormrot, if it even has a future or if this is the final cry of one of modern grindcore’s most beloved projects. Either way, Hiss stands tall as a new landmark in the ecosystem of extreme music, an emotional and musical triumph that brilliantly, beautifully transcends narrow genre definitions and ideas to reach something unseen, waiting to be washed away with the tide.”
2. Hath – All That Was Promised (Willowtip Records)
Progressive blackened death metal from the US
I’m sure you’ve heard of Hath by now – they are, in many ways, the new face of the underground, maybe at least as far as Metal Twitter is concerned. But they’ve gotten a lot of attention from fans and outlets, and it’s well deserved. This is one of the most finely crafted pieces of extreme music you’ll hear the last few years. All That Was Promised is crushing, but full of vigor and movement that gives it a depth with the best of them. “Kenosis” and “Decollation” are highlights on an album of highlights, standing tall as awe-inspiringly perfectly curated songs. “Kenosis” in particular is a standout to me for what I dare call a catchy chorus, with “The call of the red star / Set me aflame / It spoke my true name / Idolator” which has to be heard to grasp the full genius of. This is set between stunning bits of melodic progressive death metal with lyrical/vocal heights that can stand with some genuinely legendary albums, and the flirtations with aspects of black metal, like the minute finale of “Decollation” or the moments of blackened howls of cold on other tracks also add another textured layer to the finely tuned package.
Perhaps it’s overstepping, but I genuinely believe that what Hath have accomplished on All That Was Promised puts them in the conversation with The Faceless and Gojira for keystone progressive death metal albums of the modern era. This shifting between summit and valley peaks in the lower stratosphere, scraping the tops of mountains and winking at stars before plunging to the darkest of depths where light itself is arrested and held hostage by unimaginable pressure. The dynamic nature of All That Was Promised is constantly building new crescendos within the lull space if singular breaths taken between cascading waves of riffs, blast beats and melancholic melodies, and Hath are capable of injecting this as well with hooks and memorable instrumental sections that create an impressionistic tapestry that sticks in my head and doesn’t let go.
1. Rolo Tomassi – Where Myth Becomes Memory (MNRK Heavy)
Post-hardcore/shoegaze/post-rock from the UK
Rolo Tomassi is, hands down, my second favourite band of all time. At the beginning of the year I would have simply called them a top five band, but there’s no denying now that they’re in the number two slot. I first heard them back in high school, when my girlfriend at the time showed me the music video for their song “I Love Turbulence” and I fell in love. The sheer chaos blew my mind, I literally couldn’t understand what was happening, between the dual vocalists, James Spence and his sister Eva Korman, Eva herself shifting between harsh and some of the most angelic cleans I’d ever heard, the mind numbing time changes and tempo shifts before the buildup to a manic crescendo that came crashing down on my unprepared teenaged ears. Eva Korman was deeply informative to me on a deeply personal level – I connected with her lyrics and performances, and I was enamored with her, I wanted to be her; Rolo Tomassi is the band I wish I could have made, and in many ways that ideal is something I’ve been chasing my entire life; this band has been deeply impactful on my identity. Nearly 15 years later, Rolo Tomassi have shed a lot of the chaotic mathcore elements that defined their early sound; they are not the same band, as I have shed the shell of the person I once was and yet never lived long enough to become; I am not the same person. But we’ve both been ourselves the entire time, and we have both blossomed into a fuller and richer experience that could never have been grown out of anything but the roots of ourselves. This band means more to me than I can ever properly communicate.
At the beginning of 2022, I had not been to a live concert in nearly a decade, as between college and a shifting of social circles, I lost the time and conscious desire to engage with live music for a long time. But Rolo Tomassi announced they’re be leaving the UK to headline a tour this year in support of Where Myth Becomes Memory, and amazingly, they happened to be playing only a few hours away from me, so I couldn’t pass up the opportunity. Rolo Tomassi needs to be experienced live. When they played “A Flood of Light”, I cried. This was cathartic to me in a way that I’d forgotten I needed, and it was with one of my favourite bands of all time. Every time they release a record, I promise you Rolo are going to end up on my AOTY list, and I didn’t know it yet but the performance also cemented for me my album of the year. Rolo Tomassi started out as mathcore band, worshipping at the altar of Dillinger Escape Plan, though ostensibly less heavy in the metallic way that the American Dillinger were. The punk roots were always a little more audible with Rolo.
Starting with their 2012 album Astraea, the band began incorporating a progressive approach with more lush production, ambience, an expansion of their nascent electronic elements beyond simple harsh Nintendocore-esque attacks, and underwent a metamorphosis. The band has been pushing outward and upward since, retaining the central core sound, but moving towards space rock, post-rock, shoegaze and more. “Drip” delivers pure metalcore-esque aggression, while “Cloaked” balances the heavy and the spacious, while “Closer” acts as structural, if not sonic, mid-album, gorgeously exploring texture and emotional tone through Eva’s truly divine voice and the bands deft and well-practiced hands. There are seven other songs I can’t even get to, doing more incredible work. The production is stellar, as everything is given unbelievable depth and tone, with an enormous amount of space for each pocket of sound and you can actually hear James pressing keys during (synthetic) piano arrangements. Where Myth Becomes Memory is transcendent, reaching new heights and dragging them down to eye level to revel in the daily mundane and lifelong evolution of our personhood. The person I am today is but a memory of tomorrow, and tomorrows will run out eventually, but the memory is will outlive me.