It’s fair to say 2022 has been tough. War, floods, famine, economic crisis, oh, and an ongoing pandemic. Thankfully, it’s been a memorable one for music too – long-awaited releases from established names, others from bands I never expected to hear from again and some new (to me) stuff too. As always, music has helped me cope with everything. I found it really tough putting these in order, but here goes:
10. Clutch ‘Sunrise On Slaughter Beach’
Only two things can survive a nuclear holocaust – cockroaches and Clutch. Uncharacteristically short and to the point, this release sees the Maryland marauders on glorious form. As soon as Neil Fallon lets rip, you know you’re in safe hands and Sunrise On Slaughter Beach proves that the band have lost none of their fire, energy and wry wit.
Label: Weathermaker Music
9. Warrington Runcorn New Town Development Plan ‘Districts, Roads, Open Space’
Preston bus station may not seem a likely muse for an electro outfit, but it’s that building’s brutalist beginnings that inspired Warrington Runcorn New Town Development Plan‘s haunting anthems about optimistic but ultimately misguided 1960s urban developments. Harnessing the epic quality of Vangelis and echoing John Foxx at his most ambient, this is atmospheric driving music at its best, and deserving of the national Top 20 vinyl chart spot it earned.
Label: Castles In Space
8. Russian Circles ‘Gnosis’
I’ve long been a fan of Russian Circles epic instrumental journeys, and while always enjoyable, there was a familiar pattern forming, seven albums in. As if in reaction to this, Gnosis is a more focussed affair, transposing their familiar emotion-laden heaviness with pacey bursts of black metal, seemingly to reflect the urgency of our times.
Label: Sargent House
7. Porcupine Tree ‘Closure / Continuation’
I really didn’t expect to hear another Porcupine Tree album again. Steve Wilson had seemingly slunk off into the world of shiny pop and remixing other people’s records, then this. Sometime King Crimson skinsman Gavin Harrison is on spectacular form and the classy multi-layered production bears the Progfather’s seal proudly. This is music at its most expertly played and involved.
Label: Music For Nations
6. Envy Of None ‘Envy Of None’
I’m a huge Rush fan, so the fact that Alex Lifeson is in Envy Of None meant I had to listen. Make no mistake though, this is a world away from the late Canadian prog legends. Lifeson is happy to take a back seat and let the serene vocals of Maiah Wynne take centre stage. When he does appear, it’s effortless and effective. From electro-pop and dreamy soundscapes to jagged alt-rock, the expertise of the personnel involved shines through in this project that is contemporary and refreshing.
5. Wormrot ‘Hiss’
A year with a Wormrot release in it is always going to be a good one for extreme music, and this was one of my highlights. All the hallmarks are there – breakneck blast beats, anguished screams, guttural grunts and scalpel-sharp riffs, but Hiss sees Wormrot get a lot more progressive. Clean and gang vocals both make an appearance as does violin, and an epic atmosphere pervades throughout. There’s even a thrash riff or two!
Label: Earache Records
4. And So I Watch You From Afar ‘Jettison’
One of several instrumental choices in my Top 10 and the most intricate and uplifting. I have the deepest respect for music than can move me without the use of words and move me And So I Watch You From Afar did. Excellent musicianship, mood worth of Mogwai and split into multiple parts, so doubly appealing to a serial progger like me! Thanks to a spoken-word guest spot, it marks the second appearance of Neil Fallon in my Top 10 too.
3. Enablers ‘Some Gift’
There are few people who can conjure as vivid images with their lyrics as Pete Simonelli. It is of course poetry, delivered over a twisting, turning, sometimes beautiful, sometimes tortured musical background that compliments it perfectly. Another instant classic from Enablers and one of my 2022 highlights.
Label: Wrong Speed Records
2. Marillion ‘An Hour Before It’s Dark’
The fact that a band 40 years into its recording career can sound as good as Marillion do on An Hour Before It’s Dark is testament to their doggedness and creativity. I’ve been a fan since the dying gasps of the Fish era, and though it was the big Scot’s lyrics that captured my attention as a youngster, I’ve followed them ever since. ‘New boy’ since 1989, Steve Hogarth is far more tired than I am of trying to explain why Marillion are not the band you think they are. They prove it on this album.
1. Black Midi ‘Hellfire’
Like a bitter, drug-addled musical theatre actor jamming with Mr. Bungle and the Mahavishnu Orchestra is how I’d describe Black Midi. It’s barely scratching the surface though. Seeing their televised Glastonbury performance this year was my first exposure and led me to this album. It’s the first thing I’ve heard in years that got me genuinely excited. Gloriously crazy, musically astounding and stunningly creative, it’s a special soundscape you won’t hear the like of anywhere else.
Label: Rough Trade
I wasn’t expecting Elder’s Innate Passage to slip under the wire before the year was out, but there you go! I’ve been a fan of Elder‘s multi-layered trippy stoner experience for a while now but on Innate Passage, they seem to have distilled everything and refined their sound, while still being massively epic. The almost fifteen-minute Merged In Dreams – Ne Plus Ultra is a case in point and a real standout.
Scribed by: Simon Brotherton