2022 was another great year for metal. Here are Heavy Music HQ’s picks for 2022’s best metal albums.
40 Watt Sun – Perfect Light (Svart)
Autopsy – Morbidity Triumphant (Peaceville)
Candlemass – Sweet Evil Sun (Napalm)
Clutch – Sunrise On Slaughter Beach (Weathermaker)
Dream Unending – Song Of Salvation (20 Buck Spin)
Goatwhore – Angels Hung From The Arches Of Heaven (Metal Blade)
In The Woods… – Diversum (Soulseller)
Machine Head – Of Kingdom And Crown (Nuclear Blast)
Moths – Space Force (Self)
Municipal Waste – Electrified Brain (Nuclear Blast)
Psycroptic – Divine Council (EVP)
Satan – Earth Infernal (Metal Blade)
Seventh Wonder – The Testament (Frontiers)
Wiegedood – There’s Always Blood At The End Of The Road (Century Media)
Wormrot – Hiss (Earache)
25. Darkher – The Buried Storm (Prophecy)
Way back in 2016, Realms, the debut release from doom rock goddess Darkher, was my top album of the year. So it is with no small amount of anticipation that I was waiting for The Buried Storm to arrive. And after six years, Jayn Maiven does not disappoint. The Buried Storm is an unearthly joy to listen to, a clinic in combining delicate folk overtures with foreboding doom.
Maiven writes, plays, and produces nearly everything here, with longtime collaborator Christopher Smith taking care of drums, and the songs run the gamut from haunting, ethereal folk-rock to modern doom. Darkher concentrate on atmosphere and mood in the arrangements to convey a sense of oncoming darkness, and do so with stunning effectiveness. Maiven’s voice has been compared to Chelsea Wolfe and Loreena McKennitt, and those comparisons are still accurate. Combine a stunning voice with apocalyptic, cinematic songs and you get one of the year’s strongest doom albums.
24. Amorphis – Halo (Atomic Fire)
Finnish legends Amorphis are back with Halo, their fourteenth album and the final chapter in a trilogy that includes the stellar Under The Red Cloud and Queen Of Time. The band continue with their trademark style, adroitly mixing death metal heaviness with power metal, symphonic metal, folk elements, and progressive tendencies and in the process showing us why they continue to be the preeminent melodic death metal band on the planet.
While overall the heaviness of the band might be dialed down a bit here, the material on Halo is no less engaging. Amorphis have mastered the art of crafting melodic earworms that seem a lot heavier than they are due to Tomi Jousten’s harsh vocals, but musically this is a very accessible album. Many bands that have been around this long have begun their slow slide into mediocrity, but more than three decades into an undeniably legendary career Amorphis show no signs of slowing down, once again releasing an amazing album.
23. Midnight – Let There Be Witchery (Metal Blade)
Cleveland masked miscreants Midnight return with a another slab of sleaze in Let There Be Witchery. Midnight’s musical style is the perfect fit for their vulgar concepts. This is no candle-and-rose-petals romance music. It’s better suited for alley-way romps behind stinky garbage dumpsters. Their black ‘n’ roll style is a collection of influences including punk, heavy metal, NWOBHM, black metal and speed metal. Athenar certainly had his fill of Venom when developing his rugged voice.
Midnight are a throwback band in so many ways, but the group does manage to put their own imprint on Let There Be Witchery. Their lyrical and physical imagery certainly separates the group. It’s a fun black metal album that recalls the old days when heavy metal was something fun to not be taken so seriously as black metal of today often is. Also, they have excellent execution and strong songwriting chops.
22. The Halo Effect – Days Of The Lost (Nuclear Blast)
For Swedish melodic death metal devotees, the prospect of a collective comprised entirely of former In Flames members creating new music reminiscent of that group’s early years was incredibly enticing. However, on their debut full-length Days Of The Lost, The Halo Effect live up to the hype. This is Gothenburg metal writ large; there’s no one better qualified to craft a record of this ilk.
As the commanding opening one-two of “Shadowminds” and the infectious title track emphasize, there’s a memorable hook lurking around every corner, and nearly every one of the ten cuts packs its own identity. The melodic, riff-driven style is bolstered by modern production values. Standouts among the non-single tracks include symphonic-laced “Gateways”, which straddles melancholy and intensity; Mikael Stanne’s soulful clean vocals on “In Broken Trust”; and the downright catchy “A Truth Worth Lying For.” While an obvious acknowledgement of the members’ roots, this LP proves a sub-genre that has often felt stale in recent years can still sound fresh and vital in 2022.
21. Immolation – Acts Of God (Nuclear Blast)
New York death metal legends Immolation return with their eleventh studio album, Acts Of God. It follows the highly acclaimed Atonement, released five years ago. Time certainly played a role in making Acts Of God a quality release. One thing about Immolation, if you’re a fan, you come to know what to expect, and the group always deliver. While there are subtle nuances that separate each album including this one, Immolation stick to their style. That style is one that embraces complexity. While they often go for the throat with spread forward speed, one can be certain tempo change will come.
One aspect of Immolation albums that the group pull off extremely well is playing dark harmonies and melodies. These melodies aren’t the kind that where you skip down the sidewalk under a clear blue sky. No, their harmonies and melodies are creepy and ominous. Consistency is the name of the game with Acts Of God. Clocking in at nearly an hour’s length with 15 tracks seems ambitious for a death metal album, but each song moves smoothly and the album never gets tiresome.
20. Messa – Close (Svart)
We love to force sub-genres on metal bands, but if there is one band that defies pigeonholing it is Italy’s Messa. Their third album Close further reinforces this fact. Messa blend doom, psych, occult, blues, jazz, black metal, discordant noise, and most everything else under the sun to create a unique and uniquely breathtaking concoction.
Although they have evolved continuously from one album to the next, one thing is still certain: it is impossible to turn off Close once you start listening. The band continues to refine its songwriting, and with the amazing Sara nailing every vocal line, we are mesmerized from start to finish. Close is 65 minutes long, but with killer tracks such as the raging/ethereal “Dark Horse” and the Mediterranean-tinged “Pilgrim,” it sure flies by. One of the year’s must-own releases.
19. Dawnwalker – House Of Sand (Room 312)
On their fourth full-length House Of Sand, Dawnwalker’s brand of post metal is nicely developed and the songs are given proper room to breathe. The arrangements are lush and full of life. They don’t sound like Opeth, but they are a good comparison point because of the amount of dynamics present.
Songs like “False Doors” are wondrous to behold and capture your attention. The atmosphere is strong and will give you goosebumps. Some of the stronger moments are present near the beginning of the disc. Despite this, the band is able to carve out a nice image for themselves. The album is decidedly serene, able to have its effect upon the mood of the listener without pummeling them. The overall atmosphere of the album is strong and wins out over any inconsistencies. Dawnwalker have discovered a winning formula with House Of Sand.
18. Dead Cross – II (Ipecac)
Five years after their debut, the experimental troupe Dead Cross return with their sophomore effort II. Fronted by Mike Patton (Faith No More/Fantomas), the band’s lineup also includes guitarist Mike Crain (Retox), bassist Justin Pearson (Deaf Club) and drummer Dave Lombardo (Slayer, Fantomas, Mr. Bungle). It was a challenging recording process, with Crain going through cancer treatment while they were tracking.
Dead Cross explore a variety of styles, from the catchy hardcore of “Animal Espionage” to the lightning fast yet complex thrash of “Heart Reformer.” “Reign Of Error” is Slayer-esque, a furious thrash number blazing by in less than two minutes. Pearson handles lead vocals on “Christian Missile Crisis” and provides backing vocals for several other songs. Lyrically there are certainly serious topics, but also a lot of humor. II is an eclectic album with great musicianship and a unique sound.
17. Evergrey – A Heartless Portrait (The Orphean Testament) (Napalm)
Swedish progressive/power metal veterans Evergrey issued Escape Of The Phoenix last year. While historically the band has gone two to three years between albums, the pandemic pause in touring gave them the opportunity to begin writing sooner. The result is A Heartless Portrait (The Orphean Testament), the band’s thirteenth studio album.
The short gap between records did not hamper the quality at all. Evergrey are able to alternate between mellow, brooding moments and heavier metal parts, and this time around they amped up the heaviness. There are a lot of catchy songs such as “Call Out The Dark,” and the band used fan participation on “Save Us” and “Midwinter Calls.” Tom S. Englund’s passionate vocals along with well-written and diverse songs make for another outstanding Evergrey album.
16. MWWB – The Harvest (New Heavy Sounds)
After issuing three full-lengths as Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard, the UK sludge/doom band has slimmed down the band name to MWWB. The release of their latest album The Harvest was delayed a year due to the severe Covid-related stroke suffered by guitarist Dave Davies.
This album goes in more progressive and experimental directions than their previous releases. It works really well, with songs that are cinematic and atmospheric but still have the thick riffs MWWB are known for. There are influences of both Pink Floyd and Black Sabbath on The Harvest. Songs like the instrumental “Interstellar Wrecking” emphasize the psychedelic vibe, while tracks such as “Logic Bomb” bring doom front and center. Jessica Ball’s vocals are ethereal and dynamic, the perfect contrast to the heavy guitars. Their name is now shorter, but MWWB’s music is more expansive than ever.
15. Ghost – Impera (Loma Vista)
When they arrived on the scene with 2010’s Opus Eponymous, Ghost were a mysterious, anonymous band. That veil of secrecy has been lifted, with the band rising to the upper echelon of metal/hard rock. That continues with their fifth album Impera. It has already spawned their fourth mainstream rock number one song, “Hunter’s Moon.”
The album is packed with radio-friendly, ultra-catchy hard rock songs. You’ll be singing along to tracks like “Spillways” and “Watcher In The Sky” after only a listen or two. But Ghost always bring something new to the party on each album. “Twenties” has an orchestral beginning and a cinematic atmosphere driven by some heavy guitar riffs. If you weren’t a Ghost fan before, Impera probably won’t convert you, but those who enjoy Tobias Forge and company’s previous albums will find plenty to enjoy, with another collection of memorable songs.
14. The Otolith – Folium Limina (Blues Funeral)
SubRosa called it a day in 2019, but several members of their final lineup and some from earlier incarnations are now in The Otolith. That includes Sarah Pendleton (vocals/violin), Kim Cordray (violin), Levi Hanna (guitar/vocals) and Andy Patterson (drums). Matt Brotherton is their bassist.
Sonically their debut album Folium Limina treads a lot of the same ground as SubRosa, with violins providing a signature sound, but also moves in a new direction with more of an emphasis on folk and darkwave elements. There are still plenty of heavy doom riffs and dense atmospherics, with the long song lengths giving The Otolith ample space to shift seamlessly between styles. Those shifts make tracks like the 13 plus minute opener “Sing No Coda” compelling throughout. With their pedigree, it’s no surprise that Folium Limina is an impressive and engaging debut.
13. Parius – The Signal Heard Throughout Space (Willowtip)
Parius have gone full prog with The Signal Heard Throughout Space, an hour-long opus about a captain who searches for the source of a distress call out in space. The captain’s ship is named “Cygnus-1,” a not-too-subtle nod to Rush and the two books of “Cygnus X-1.” This is the group’s first real attempt at progressive metal, their previous releases being focused on melodic death metal.
It’s as if Parius were formed and purposed to be this iteration all along, as this is a mesmerizing release that reinvents their sound in unexpected ways. Bringing in a full-time keyboardist emphasizes this sonic transformation, as well as vocalist Louis Thierry singing for a majority of the album instead of snarling his way through like in the past (though some of that still comes out on occasion). The Signal Heard Throughout Space goes all in on prog metal.
12. Sigh – Shiki (Peaceville)
Japan’s pre-eminent purveyors of experimental black metal, Sigh, return with their twelfth full-length release, Shiki. It’s the beginning of a new four album cycle for Sigh (each album in a cycle starts with S-I-G-H letters) and the band claims the material within is some of their darkest, heaviest, and at times most psychedelic of their long career.
Despite the most certain experimental, avant-garde nature of Sigh’s style, there are so many straight-up metal moments throughout Shiki that the craziness can easily be overlooked. Killer drumming, some excellent guitar solos, and a number of perfectly set up breakdowns all lean more towards heaviness than cult, but this is still a Sigh album through and through. Through ten songs and forty-six minutes Sigh showcase the breadth of their talents while also giving us some of their heaviest moments of recent times.
11. An Abstract Illusion – Woe (Willowtip)
Woe is Swedish trio An Abstract Illusion’s second album, following their 2016 debut. At their core, the band is a progressive death metal act, but on Woe they bring so much more to the table. Adding elements of death, black, prog, electronic, and classical to an ambitious 60-minute song is a bold exercise, and thankfully they pull it off.
Broken up into seven acts, Woe delivers massive helpings of brutality, riffs, atmosphere, and poignancy. Piano solos are interspersed with guitar solos, some voiceovers and female clean vocals offset the main harsh vocals, and the song arrangements are impeccable. It is easy to get fully immersed in this album and have an hour of your day disappear.
10. Kreator – Hate Über Alles (Nuclear Blast)
German thrash titans Kreator show no sign of mellowing or slowing down nearly 30 years into their career. Their 15th studio album Hate Über Alles comes five years after Gods Of Violence,, though they have released EPs, splits, several live albums and a couple compilations in that time frame. It’s the first Kreator studio album for bassist Frederic Leclercq (Sinsaenum, ex-DragonForce).
Hate Über Alles begins with a brief spaghetti western influenced instrumental before the thrash kicks in. Galloping riffs and potent drums from Ventor drive the songs. This batch of tunes is excellent, with a lot of variety, first-class musicianship and a high catchiness factor. Petrozza’s biting vocals give the songs even more edge. There’s not a weak track in the bunch, with some of the highlights being the title track, the mid-paced “Crush The Tyrants” and the anthemic “Conquer And Destroy.” The biggest curveball is “Midnight Sun,” featuring a guest appearance from German pop singer Sofia Portanet, whose ethereal vocals give the heavy song a different vibe. The album closes with the six plus minute “Dying Planet,” a bit more expansive and dramatic than the typical Kreator song. It’s a strong ending to another quality album from one of thrash’s best bands.
9. Disillusion – Ayam (Prophecy)
Despite forming nearly thirty years ago, Ayam is only Disillusion’s fourth album. The German melodic/progressive death metal band’s 2019 album The Liberation stormed its way upon the scene, making its presence felt on multiple year-end lists. Now a mere three years later (the last gap in albums was 13 years) the band is back with Ayam, and they aim to show us that not a single step has been lost.
The album kicks off with one of the best songs of the year, “Am Abgrund,” and barely lets up after that. One can hear plenty of influence from Katatonia to Amorphis, but Disillusion wrap it all up in their own style – majestic, epic, emotional, and quite simply beautifully executed. Even if you don’t want to, you can’t help but stop what you’re doing and just listen to the entire album.
8. KEN Mode – NULL (Artoffact)
Canada’s hardcore/noise flagbearers KEN Mode return with fury on NULL, a thirty-five-minute exercise in catharsis. This is the band’s eighth album, and first to include collaborator Kathryn Kerr as a full-time member. She brings her multi-instrumental skills to bear throughout this post-pandemic release of emotion. NULL is a harrowing account of what the world has been through in recent years, delivered with the unbridled rage only KEN Mode are capable of.
NULL is theoretically part one of a two-part album series. The Matthewson brothers, Kerr, and Skot Hamilton unleash a wide range of fury on listeners, from the short hardcore blast of “Throw Your Phone in the River” to the more Swans-like ten-minute epic “Lost Grip” and everything in between. These eight songs dig deep into visceral emotions we’ve all had over the past two and a half years, and I’m sure even folks who don’t normally go in on this genre can relate to the songs.
7. Oceans Of Slumber – Starlight And Ash (Century Media)
Oceans Of Slumber‘s album Starlight And Ash is a nice progression from past efforts. It shows a movement from 2020’s Katatonia-inspired self-titled album to a newfound state of serenity. The album shows a new vision fully come into effect. Gentle songs like “Red Forest Roads” really show off the new sound. The musicianship on the album is of a high quality with a bolstered production job helping matters. The lyrical concept of the South’s religion comes to full fruition with this novel sound.
The band has not yet released their masterpiece, but this is about as close as one will get. The atmosphere on Starlight And Ash is captivating and makes this one of the better albums of the year. Add in some stellar performances, especially the vocals of Cammie Beverly, and you have a very memorable album. The tunes are consistently enthralling and make their mark upon you in a big way. Also included is a cover of “House of the Rising Sun” by the Animals. The music on this album is emotive and will have its effect upon the mood of the listener.
6. Imperial Triumphant – Spirit Of Ecstasy (Century Media)
After a live album last year and a studio album the year before that, the innovative New York avant-garde trio Imperial Triumphant are back with their fifth full-length Spirit Of Ecstasy. The inscrutable album shifts back and forth between jazzy prog and extreme metal. Catchy riffs devolve into chaotic sections before melody returns.
With songs in the 6 to 8 minute range, there’s plenty of room for experimentation and forays into a plethora of styles and genres. Numerous guests add to the variety of the album. There are some you might expect, such as Voivod vocalist Snake and guitarists Alex Skolnick (Testament) and Trey Spruance (Mr. Bungle). However, I’m guessing you wouldn’t expect Kenny G to appear on a metal album, but the legendary saxophonist lends his unmistakable sound to “Merkurius Gilded.” Spirit Of Ecstasy is a challenging listen at times, but each spin unveils something new, making it well worth the effort.
5. Wilderun – Epigone (Century Media)
Critical darlings Wilderun are back with their fourth release, Epigone. Three amazing independent releases garnered them a ton of label interest, resulting in this album being their first with Century Media. Huge fan expectations coupled with the move to a big label have never disappointed, have they? Will they here?
Luckily, not. Epigone might take a while to get going (it is alarmingly subdued for the first eight minutes) but once it does oh boy, hold on to your hats. It is far too early to say if this is the album of the year, but I’m confident in the declaration that this is the most ambitious album we’ll get from anyone. Soaring, epic, all-encompassing, full of folk influences, Opethian moments, and sprawling yet engrossing compositions, Epigone could very well be the epitome of epic progressive metal.
4. Cult Of Luna – The Long Road North (Metal Blade)
Post-metal titans Cult Of Luna return with their eighth full-length effort, The Long Road North. Expectations are suitably high; every Cult of Luna release over the past decade and beyond has been a classic. Epic-length tracks of intense sludgy post-metal may be the bulk of The Long Road North’s compositions, but there are plenty of forays down shorter roads.
The nine songs on The Long Road North clock in at a not-svelte seventy minutes, with four songs near or over the ten-minute mark, and is a dense listen that commands attention. Could it be trimmed down a bit? Sure, but that’s not Cult Of Luna’s style, and we’re better off for it. Massive in sound, epic in scope, awash in both light and dark moments, The Long Road North is a superb album.
3. Undeath – It’s Time… To Rise From The Grave (Prosthetic)
A lot of legendary death metal bands from the ’80s and ’90s are still around and remaining relevant. The newest generation of death metal bands are also making their mark. The New York state band Undeath are relatively new to the game, having formed in 2018. It’s Time… To Rise From The Grave is their second studio album.
While there’s an influence of classic death metal bands like Cannibal Corpse and Morbid Angel, Undeath bring their own style to the table. The songs are dense and destructive, powered by quality riffs and intense vocals. There’s plenty of extremity, but there are surprisingly catchy moments in tracks like “Rise From The Grave.” Shifting tempos help add variety and show Undeath’s musical proficiency. Albums like It’s Time… To Rise From The Grave show that death metal’s future is in good hands.
2. Persefone – metanoia (Napalm)
Five years ago we reviewed Persefone’s excellent fifth album, Aathma, a superb platter that made its way up to Number 4 in our year-end list. A well-deserved feat for this group of talented Andorrans, and here they are with metanoia, the much-anticipated follow-up. As with past releases, metanoia is a vast, all-encompassing epic album. It is also excellent, featuring stellar performances from all musicians and versatile vocalist Marc Martins Pia.
Persefone show why they should be at the forefront of the modern progressive metal movement. The music is cinematic in scope, painstakingly arranged and perfectly executed. The biggest surprise on this excellent album is “Consciousness (Pt. 3),” a stunning addition to the two Spiritual Migration songs.
1. Cave In – Heavy Pendulum (Relapse)
After the death of Caleb Scofield in 2018, there was speculation that 2019’s Final Transmission might be Cave In‘s last album. They decided to carry on, and there still are contributions from Scofield on Heavy Pendulum. Nate Newton (Converge, Old Man Gloom) plays bass on the album. They also worked with producer Kurt Ballou for the first time since their 1998 debut.
It features some exceptionally catchy songs such as “Floating Skulls” with mostly melodic singing along with heavier tracks like “New Reality” and “Searchers Of Hell” with a more even mix of harsh and clean vocals. Cave In slow the pace on the title track and “Blinded By The Blaze.” The lyrics for the urgent “Amaranthine” came from a lyrics notebook Scofield’s wife gave to the band. The album wraps up with the 12 minute “Wavering Angel,” which starts quietly before ramping up the intensity. At 70 minutes it’s a bit long, but Heavy Pendulum maintains interest throughout with a varied collection of memorable songs. It’s our pick for 2022’s best album.