I could pretend that there’s some overarching theme that unites the best metal albums of 2022, but I’d just be kidding myself — and you. The only thing many of these records have in common is how different they are. They feature bursts of blinding speed and riffs that sprawl out like chasms, lyrics about zombies and demons and ones that tackle the horrors of harsh reality, moments of grotesque ugliness and passages of breathtaking beauty. And they come from bands formed in the past few years and veterans with decades-long discographies. But they do share one key trait: Like all the best metal of any year, they seize your full attention — with volume, density, technicality, theatrics and/or sheer ass-kicking power — and reward it handsomely.
Before I count down my choices, a quick note on what’s not included here. I heard a ton of great heavy releases in 2022 that even though I may have mentioned them in a prior Blast Rites rundown, just didn’t feel enough like metal to me to merit inclusion here. Chances are, if you’re a fan of the genre, you welcome in the best of its stylistic cousins — all manner of intense, riff-centric rock and punk. If that’s the case, then I strongly urge you to get your ears on Gospel’s The Loser (sci-fi screamo), Fleshwater’s We’re Not Here to Be Loved (hardcore heft meets alt-rock hooks), Drug Church’s Hygiene (more expertly crafted grunge-punk), Soul Glo’s Diaspora Problems (gloriously hyperactive protest-core) and Bleed’s Somebody’s Closer (a self-released 2021 EP, reissued this year through 20 Buck Spin, that plays like a fan-fic collab between Helmet circa Aftertaste and White Pony–era Deftones). Another high recommendation goes to Perfect Light, the latest from 40 Watt Sun, a band that started off playing a form of melodic doom metal but is now a vehicle for bandleader Patrick Walker’s chamber-style singer-songwriter fare.
And now, Blast Rites’ top 10 metal albums of 2022 (plus one extra: more on that later!), counted down from 10 to 1, followed by a quick survey of runner-up titles that very nearly made the cut.
10. Escuela Grind, Memory Theater
A few power chords, a ripple of feedback and then, bam, you’re in the thick of “Cliffhanger,” a maelstrom-like standout from one of the year’s most witheringly intense yet righteously life-affirming albums. “Taking advantage of my need to build a bridge,” vocalist Katerina Economou seethes, before repurposing Grandmaster Flash and the Furious 5’s immortal proclamation of “Don’t push me ‘cause I’m close to the edge” as a battle cry against, in her words, “people that try to play both sides of the fence, play devil’s advocate and drag you down with them.” The New England grindcore band’s materials are familiar ones — blast beats, bellows and breakdowns — but the conviction shared by Economou, guitarist-bassist Kris Morash and drummer Jesse Fuentes explodes out of the speakers on their second LP, captured in marvelously gritty fidelity by elite metal/punk producer (and Converge guitarist) Kurt Ballou. For sheer galvanizing rage, no other heavy album this year matched Memory Theater.
9. Anal Stabwound, Reality Drips Into the Mouth of Indifference
The subgenre inelegantly known as technical brutal death metal is an especially forbidding zone, inhabited by some of the most virtuosic and inventive bands on earth. So the idea that one 17-year-old kid, operating out of his parents’ house in Connecticut, could single-handedly write and record an album that ranks with recent efforts by established giants in the field like Germany’s Defeated Sanity and Spain’s Wormed, seems just a tad far-fetched. But that’s just what young Nikhil Talwalkar has done with Reality Drips Into the Mouth of Indifference, the second release from his cheerfully named solo project Anal Stabwound. Those outrageously fast blast beats? All him. Those brain-scrambling riffs? All him. That gross inhuman gurgling topping it all off? Yep, him too. It’s not just the extremity and maximalism on display here that impress; it’s the way every tiny detail is so perfectly plotted: the whiplash freeze-frame rests early in “Fracture Into Infinite Geneses,” each punctuated by a tiny cymbal plink; the proggy bass interlude in “A Twitching in the Clouds” that sounds like Jaco Pastorius reincarnated as a multi-brained alien; the breathless and writhingly outlandish yet somehow wildly catchy entirety of 90-second instrumental “Premonition II.” It would take years to properly savor the inspired madness on display here; I suspect by that time, Talwalkar will have made five or six more albums at least this impressive.
8. Goatwhore, Angels Hung From the Arches of Heaven
Scores of metal bands have scribbled down some satanic lyrics, slapped some pentagrams and demons on their album covers, and called it a day, but precious few acts have ever been able to back up their blasphemous trappings with a sound that feels truly infernal. It’s time to welcome Goatwhore to those ranks. These New Orleans heathens have been honing their particular brand of evil for a quarter century now, but it’s with this eighth LP that they finally seemed to live up to the brazen nastiness of their moniker. Angels Hung From the Arches of Heaven cherry-picks the best bits from various subgenres — the guttural intensity of death metal, the trilling majesty of black metal — and assembles them into songs that feel almost regal in their hateful conviction. A lot of the credit here goes to guitarist Sammy Duet, whose riffs snarl and gnash but also glint like light off a sacrificial dagger. Vocalist Louis Benjamin Falgoust II moves skillfully from screech to bellow, turning songs like the title track and “The Bestowal of Abomination” into hellish anthems, bringing damned souls to life.
7. Ozzy Osbourne, Patient Number 9
Let’s be real: No one in Ozzy Osbourne’s position needs to be putting out new music. We doubt that fans showing up to his upcoming No More Tours 2 dates would leave disappointed if the Prince of Darkness treated them to a set of greatest hits drawn from his solo and Sabbath catalogs. But something (or, ahem, someone?) keeps sending him back to the studio, and whatever the cause, the recent results are impressive. A lot of the credit here goes to pop super-producer Andrew Watt, who clearly has a deep understanding of Ozzy’s many strengths, and who best to cast alongside the singer in order to bring them out. So on Patient Number 9, an even stronger album than 2020’s solid, Watt-helmed Ordinary Man, we hear the iconic frontman digging into Sabbathian doom à la “The Wizard” alongside Tony Iommi himself on “Degradation Rules,” darkly psychedelic power balladry on the title track and the genuinely affecting “God Only Knows,” Ultimate Sin–style brooding on “Dead and Gone” and upbeat, hook-packed riff rock with an assist from former solo bandmate Zakk Wylde on “Parasite.” The album suffers a bit from overly processed production, but the songwriting — a collaborative effort among Watt, Ozzy, Kelly Clarkson and Camila Cabello collaborator Ali Tamposi, and the various guests, including Metallica’s Robert Trujillo, Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Chad Smith and Foo Fighters’ late, great Taylor Hawkins — is almost shockingly strong, making this record an unexpected treat for any Ozzy fan past or present.
6. Undeath, Live…From the Grave
You’ll find Undeath’s second LP, It’s Time…to Rise From the Grave on a lot of year-end metal lists, and with good reason: It’s a record that lives up to the immense promise the young Rochester outfit showed on its early demos and 2020’s excellent Lesions of a Different Kind. As detailed in November’s column, though, the Undeath release I can’t stop spinning is a companion live album that showed up without warning last month. Not only does Live…From the Grave feature extraordinarily good sound, perfectly preserving the band’s choice blend of steamrolling heaviness and crafty technicality, it also captures a key element of the Undeath experience: Their commitment to keeping the music dead serious while cultivating an aura of good, dumb fun. “I wanna see you throwin’ some fuckin’ ass out there,” frontman Alexander Jones orders the crowd before the band kicks into a flattening version of new-album standout “Necrobionics.” (“Dance, baby, dance!” he adds in the song’s opening seconds.) There’s something about the combination of his goofy exhortations and the air-tight performances here of fresh selections like “Rise From the Grave” and “Human Chandelier” (Jones: “Every fuckin’ head bangin’!”), as well as the already-classic Lesions title track, that makes you want to test out your living room’s makeshift mosh-pit capabilities in advance of the next Undeath live gig in your town.
5. Voivod, Synchro Anarchy
It’s one thing for a band to successfully replace a beloved frontman (see: AC/DC and Black Sabbath, both of whom pulled it off at the dawn of the ‘80s). But it’s arguably an even trickier task to replace an integral composer, the member whose sonic sensibility defined the group from the beginning. Voivod seemed to be operating on borrowed time circa 2006, when the Québécois metal institution released the first of two albums featuring guitar recorded by chief songwriter Denis “Piggy” D’Amour before his death in ’05. But thanks to an incredible feat of sustained channeling from replacement guitarist Daniel “Chewy” Mongrain, the band is currently putting out its strongest material in three decades. The Wake, from 2018, felt like a continuation of the proggy late-‘80s era that made Voivod a household name in the international metal underground; Synchro Anarchy, though, is something even more impressive, a seamless synthesis of the wonky cyborg thrash heard on albums like Dimension Hatröss with the more streamlined material heard later on efforts such as The Outer Limits. Songs like “Paranormalium,” “Planet Eaters” and “Quest for Nothing” both celebrate the totality of Voivod’s past and make a strong case that they’re in the midst of a new golden age.
4. Sigh, Shiki
At this point, Mirai Kawashima deserves some kind of lifetime-achievement award. For 30-plus years, the vocalist, composer, multi-instrumentalist and sole consistent member of Tokyo’s Sigh has been funneling his classical training and twisted imagination into some of the most bizarre yet gripping heavy metal of our time. The band’s catalog is dotted with underground classics, from 1993’s gothic-black-metal opus Scorn Defeat (the only non-European album ever released on Deathlike Silence, the label owned by late Mayhem co-founder Euronymous) to 2001’s genre-hopping oddity Imaginary Sonicscape, but Shiki rivals them all, and maybe even surpasses them. Inspired, according to the 52-year-old Kawashima, about a gnawing fear of death that kicked in once some of his close friends started dying, the album marries Sigh’s usual surrealistic swirl of genres with lyrics reflecting on life’s fragility. Like most Sigh releases, Shiki is deeply esoteric — folding in everything from organ-driven hard-rock à la Uriah Heep to arty pastoral prog accented with saxophones, flutes, hand drums and ghostly melodic vocals — but Kawashima never loses sight of the bloodthirsty black metal that’s been at the core of the band’s sound since the beginning. The ferocious blastbeats, sinister riffs and Kawashima’s signature shrieking vocals hit even harder thanks to the weirdness that surrounds them.
3. Meshuggah, Immutable
It would be possible to put a cynical spin on the title of the ninth album by Meshuggah, a band whose sound is so consistent and unmistakable that even a longtime fan might be tempted to take the stone-faced Swedes for granted. But the contents of Immutable serve as a wake-up call: Meshuggah might not be overhauling their sound in any kind of drastic way as they approach their fourth decade, but with each record, they’re putting more and more distance between themselves and any would-be competitors for the title of modern metal’s most innovative and influential band. Plenty of tracks here (“Light the Shortening Fuse,” “God He Sees in Mirrors,” “I Am That Thirst”) spotlight the group’s patented robotic-ballet grooves, which make you feel like you’re being ground up in planet-size gears, but others add new twists to the Meshuggah saga, from “Phantoms,” which boasts a constantly shifting riff that’s as funky as it is destabilizing to “They Move Below,” a nine-and-a-half-minute instrumental that balances crystalline beauty with lumbering steel-girder riffs. Immutable they may be but Meshuggah still sound like the future.
2. Chat Pile, God’s Country
Remember what I wrote above about the year’s many great heavy albums that for whatever reason didn’t feel “metal” enough for this list? Sure, I technically could have disqualified God’s Country, the debut LP from Oklahoma City’s Chat Pile, on the same grounds. If you want to split hairs, it’s probably better described as walloping, thoroughly demented noise-rock — like some unholy combination of Scratch Acid and Psalm 69–era Ministry — than metal proper. But the album’s blunt-force riffs, maniacal intensity and convincing portrayals of stark, raving terror (“Purple man, stop coming into my room / Stop looking at things that aren’t meant for you!”) make it a must-hear for any connoisseur of extreme music, full stop. The fact that many of these horror stories are based on real-life scenarios only makes them feel that much more chilling — and that much harder to shake.
Faetooth, Remnants of the Vessel
I know, I know… ties are cheap. But this is a case where two albums are so exceptional, and in such similar ways, that including them in separate spots in the top 10 didn’t seem to make sense. And hey, even if you disagree with my logic, you still win, because both of these LPs are absolutely stunning.
There’s one musical tactic that young L.A. quartet Faetooth employ over and over on their outstanding debut: patiently building up a hushed, almost ritualistic mood through spare clean-toned riffs and dreamlike melodic vocals only to shatter it suddenly with the stygian crunch of a massive distorted riff. It’s a device at least as old as heavy metal itself, but in the right hands, it still works wonders, and the songcraft on Remnants of the Vessel is so uncannily strong — from the almost R&B-ish hook of “Echolalia” to the mournful refrain (“First the head and then the bod’/And half his blood spills down the jaw”) of “Saturn Devouring His Son” — that each dynamic shift feels like a revelation. Bands toil away across entire careers and never capture the enveloping occult atmosphere conjured by guitarists Ashla Chavez-Razzano and Ari May, bassist Jenna Garcia — who split singing and screaming duties among them — and drummer Rah Kanan; hear them now before the rest of the world catches on.
Messa are an avowed influence on Faetooth, and after hearing Close, I wouldn’t be surprised if we see an entire subgenre spring up of bands emulating this Italian outfit’s lush and enchanting sound. “Rubedo” is the track here that first grabbed me: a six-and-a-half-minute epic that suggests a dark prog outfit fronted by Heart’s Ann Wilson — and that’s before the blast beat-abetted guitar solo arrives. Messa, whose name translates to “mass” (in the religious sense), have an enormous palette at their disposal, from ominous doom to sprawling art rock accented with oud and duduk (an Armenian double-reed woodwind), but unifying it all is the brilliant chemistry shared by guitarist Alberto, bassist Marco and drummer Rocco (all go by a single name), and the arresting melodic mastery of vocalist Sara. If you’ve ever longed for an album that could reconcile Stevie Nicks at her witchiest with the sublime gloom of How the Gods Kill–era Danzig and the elaborate inventions of classic Genesis, Jethro Tull or even Steeleye Span, this is the LP of your dreams.
Each of the 10 albums excerpted below very nearly made it to the winner’s circle. Here’s a mixtape of standout tracks from the best of the rest.
Wormrot, “Voiceless Choir”
Arif Suhaimi, longtime frontman for Singaporean grindcore luminaries Wormrot, clearly wanted to save his best for last on Hiss, his fourth and final LP among their ranks. On “Voiceless Choir,” he screams, growls, whispers and shouts as the music careens from blasting to yearningly melodic to fist-in-the-air anthemic.
Sumerlands, “Edge of the Knife”
An unearthed gem from the 1986 that never was, “Edge of the Knife,” my favorite track from Dreamkiller, perfectly captured the drama and conviction of a bygone metal age.
Haunt, “Windows of Your Heart”
More retro gold: The title track to olde-metal auteur Trevor William Church’s latest LP under the Haunt banner demonstrated for the umpteenth time why he has few songwriting peers in the contemporary scene.
Krisiun, “Swords Into Flesh”
You rarely hear Krisiun’s name mentioned in discussions of the best modern death-metal bands, and that’s a major oversight: These three Brazilian brothers never phone it in, and this track from their outstanding 12th LP, Mortem Solis, shows off their precision attack at its most relentless.
Immolation, “Let the Darkness In”
Bassist-vocalist Ross Dolan and guitarist-songwriter Bob Vigna are a death-metal dream team — since uniting in the late ‘80s they’ve built up Immolation into one of the underground’s most trusted names. “Let the Darkness In” exemplifies how well Dolan’s gruff delivery still pairs with Vigna’s evil-wizard riffage on the band’s often-thrilling 11th LP, Acts of God.
Clutch, “Slaughter Beach”
This quasi title track from the latest album by Maryland’s finest is quintessential Clutch: finely honed blues-metal riffage topped by one of mic master Neil Fallon’s catchiest choruses in years.
Cloud Rat, “The Color of a Dog”
Madison Marshall achieved some of the most caustic vocal textures of the year on this masterful eruption from Cloud Rat’s dire yet subtly dreamy Threshold.
A band that regularly packs arenas has no business sounding as ferocious as Slipknot do on this standout from the impressive The End, So Far, which finds Corey Taylor spitting breathless invective over industrial-tinged thrash-meets-hardcore.
Faceless Burial, “Redivivus Through Vaticination”
No band on earth right now is coming closer to recapturing the sound and vibe of one of my favorite metal albums ever, Death’s Symbolic, than this Melbourne trio, whose new third LP, At the Foothills of Deliration, capitalizes on the immense promise of their 2020 effort Speciation. Here they assemble a series of gnarled Schuldinerian riffs into an eight-minute progressive-death-metal masterpiece.
Imperial Triumphant, “Merkurius Gilded”
It cannot go unmentioned in this space that New York’s Imperial Triumphant managed to fold a string quartet, choral vocals and intertwined solos from Kenny G and his guitar-playing son into a splendidly deranged avant-death-metal track that somehow still felt coherent. (And please, even if you follow no other lead in this entire column, make some time to watch the video above — I can pretty much guarantee you’ve never seen anything like it.)