Top Ten Of 2022: Dave Bowes
I’ll admit that I didn’t have high hopes going into 2022. It was coming off the back of a year that was musically (to me, at least) a bit meh and a shitshow in every other respect, but while the world continues to go downhill, the last twelve months have actually been a non-stop delight for lovers of heavy and weird sounds.
Gigs started up again, meaning I got my yearly Acid Mothers Temple fix and finally caught Wardruna and Emma Ruth Rundle live, and every month I seemed to discover a new artist, delved into a genre I’d never heard of or been surprised by someone I’d long given up on.
With that in mind, this list could have been a lot longer, but this is what you’re getting. So go on, check out something new, head to a local show if you’re bored and keep on supporting the bands that you love.
10. Zeal & Ardor ‘Zeal & Ardor’
Manuel Gagneux’s fusion of spiritual and black metal was an exciting prospect from the outset, but with each new release, Zeal & Ardor have extended their scope even farther, bulldozing barriers as they go. Their third full-length was the most diverse release yet, concise and eclectic but carrying a clear message of defiance and strength that resonates harder today than ever before. Golden Liar and Bow bring Gagneux’s distinct brand of infernal blues to the fore while I Caught You and Run are so sharp and acid-edged that they feel able to draw blood just by listening to them. It’s a jarring listen at times yet every cut feels so inspired and utterly unique, the work of a band still finding their sound but inexplicably nailing every stop along the way.
9. Blut Aus Nord ‘Disharmonium – Undreamable Abysses’
For me, Blut Aus Nord have always been at their most effective when they were being uncategorisable, floating at metal’s outer reaches and exploring territory that few others could envision; perhaps this is why Disharmonium – Undreamable Abysses is such a brilliant work. It’s an odd, nebulous record that takes its Lovecraftian influences and embraces the cosmic madness that lies at their heart. Riffs don’t bludgeon, they coil and squeeze round the throat; guitars growl and mewl like crawling chaos itself; drums come in waves of furious cacophony and then slink bank into emptiness. It’s an atmosphere so bizarre that it has to be experienced at least once.
Label: Debemur Morti Productions
8. Celeste ‘Assassine(s)’
Celeste’s jump from long-time home Denovali to the biggish leagues with Nuclear Blast was an odd but still welcome bit of news. The result is an album that doesn’t diminish their extremity or the raw emotion that underpins their sound, but instead polishes and streamlines it. Every track here hits that sweet spot where ferocity meets melody and leaves you uncontrollably nodding or headbanging along, depending on how loud you’re playing it at the time. It can never decide if it wants to be a hardcore album for metalheads or a black metal record for the punk kids and instead just goes ‘fuck it’ and nails both.
Label: Nuclear Blast
7. Chat Pile ‘God’s Country’
I can’t remember the last time there was as much hype for a debut album, but Chat Pile managed to meet the expectations and crush them like roaches. A seething, ugly slab of noise-rock, it’s made all the more uncomfortable by Raygun Busch’s vocals, if you can call them that. Unfiltered and quite brilliant, switching up a detached monotone with a maddened, ranting howl that will be all too familiar to anyone who’s read the news or looked out the window in the past year, it’s a desperate lashing out at the absurdity and horror that surrounds all of us on a daily basis. Maybe that’s why I found this record affecting me in a way that few other have in a long time.
Label: The Flenser
6. Boris ‘W’
I’m not entirely sure why I feel so protective over Boris’ first release of 2022, but there’s something here that resonates with me. It’s an odd, dreamy collection that feels less like a cohesive album and more a bunch of snapshots of a band coming down from one of the most aggressive records to date. A loose gathering of noise-addled shoegaze, throbbing dub experiments and, as always, a couple of moments of juddering, bowel-loosening sludge that sound like the ghost of Absolutego coming back to haunt the shit out of your speakers, W will never shift the mighty Pink from most fans’ top spots, but as an exercise in gorgeous weirdness, it’s perfect.
Label: Sacred Bones Records
5. BlackLab ‘In A Bizarre Dream’
Part of me feels like I had been waiting for this record since the first time I spun Abyss. That record was a game-changer to me, and its successor does everything right in capturing that same trippy, astronomically heavy vibe, while mixing it up in ways that I didn’t see coming but I can totally get behind. The groovy Crows, Sparrows And Cats is an obvious highlight, Laetitia Sadler’s dulcet, distant voice seemingly the only thing needed to perfect BlackLab’s sound, but there isn’t a single riff throughout these forty-five minutes that doesn’t scream ‘rock & roll’ from the top of the highest mountain. The only drawback is that now I have to wait for album four.
Label: New Heavy Sounds
4. The Lovecraft Sextet ‘Nights Of Lust’
Despite being a fan of Jason Köhnen past works, The Lovecraft Sextet entity had managed to pass me by, but as soon as I saw the cover art, I was interested. Nights Of Lust takes Köhnen‘s usual jazz-noir blueprint and adds a splash of synthwave into the mix, drawing the listener into a world of midnight trysts, death and intrigue. It actively saps your strength as you listen, each sultry saxophone break and skittish beat further cementing the unique world that they craft with seeming ease. And though the atmosphere is definitely the main draw, there are enough brilliant hooks and strangely alluring vocal lines that Nights Of Lust excels on just about every level.
Label: Denovali Records
3. White Ward ‘False Light’
The jazz-tinged black metal of Ukrainian outfit White Ward has made some serious waves over the past few years, and rightly so. That said, False Light is easily their most ambitious record to date, with no two tracks willing to re-tread the same ground. Their grasp of dynamics and melody are on point, songs like Phoenix and Leviathan sprawling sonic odysseys that take the listener on a journey through peaks and troughs of fury and reflection, and the inclusion of smooth saxophone passages is more intelligently implemented than ever. Further bucking black metal trends by tackling subjects like environmentalism and domestic abuse, White Ward are continuing to teach the rest of Europe how this music can, and should, be done.
Label: Debemur Morti Productions
2. GGGOLDDD ‘This Shame Should Not Be Mine’
Some of my favourite albums are the ones that I need to mentally prepare myself to listen to and that was certainly the case here. An exploration of the aftermath of sexual assault, GGGOLDDD‘s This Shame Should Not Be Mine is a claustrophobic and pained album that is unflinching in how it tackles topics that even the heaviest of bands typically steer away from. Milena Eva’s voice is a true force of nature, displaying fragility and rage in the same breath, and the compositions match that same breadth of tone; synths stab and slice, flurries of tremolo rush out of abject silence and all the while Eva’s voice rises triumphant. Is it comfortable? No. Is it necessary? Yes. Is it a genuinely brilliant work of art? Undoubtedly.
Label: Artoffact Records
1. Cult Of Luna ‘The Long Road North’
I did mull over whether to give Cult Of Luna’s latest my top spot but in the end, it had to be done. Despite having always been a fan, they’ve usually stopped just short of magnificence in my eyes, but The Long Road North is the perfect summary of everything they’ve ever strove for bundled into nine songs of colossal weight, beauty and depth. It’s primal and futuristic, tender yet billowing with rage, delicate and utterly crushing, and even if the components themselves might not be anything new to fans of post-metal, it’s still hard to think of the last time it was this inspiring. With every riff and beat, it evokes images of nature at its most unforgiving, of arctic storms and monolithic rockfalls, and when a band can hit this hard after so long in the game, it’s a rare joy.
Label: Metal Blade Records | Red Creek Recordings
As if White Ward and Blut Aus Nord weren’t enough, Debemur Morti also delivered the goods with the harrowing folk-tinged black metal of Pure Wrath’s Hymn To The Woeful Hearts, Hexis’ savage Aeternum and another belter from The Lovecraft Sextet, the dark and hypnotic Miserere.
It’s also worth giving some love to Ripcord Records, not only for having one of the finest distros in the UK but also for putting out two brilliant but utterly dissimilar records. Touccan’s Full Sentimental is a nostalgic treat for lovers of post-hardcore, math-rock and oddball ‘90s emo (i.e me), while Die Sünde’s single-track EP Strega blended black and post-metal in a way that somehow managed to sound fresh after a thousand other bands had tread the same ground.
Aside from those, Carpenter Brut kept me dancing with Leather Terror, Enablers showed that they never lost it with Some Gift and The Otolith’s Folium Limina carried on the much-missed SubRosa’s tradition of making beautiful, emotional and gut-churningly heavy music. All in all, in a year that we needed some distraction, music came to the rescue in a massive way. Thanks, music.
Scribed by: Dave Bowes