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Columnus Metallicus: The Best Heavy Metal Of 2022
Kez Whelan , December 5th, 2022 10:17

tQ's metal specialist Kez Whelan selects his top twenty albums of 2022, and reflects on the last 12 months in heavy music


It may have increasingly felt like civilisation was crumbling away in 2022, but at least metal has continued to go from strength to strength. The new wave of old school death metal has continued to blossom, with the likes of Undeath, Acephalix, Golgothan Remains, Sedimentum and Innumerable Forms keeping heads banging for days, but most of the following list errs on the side of bands that really felt like they were charting out fresh paths through metal’s mossy undergrowth.

For a genre that can often thrive on audience participation, the return of live music has been a blessing and a joy this year. It seems like full album live sets are making a comeback too; I caught Venom Inc. racing through all of Black Metal at Bloodstock, Emma Ruth Rundle performing Engine Of Hell right before Pallbearer doing all of Sorrow And Extinction at ArcTanGent, and of course Converge, At The Gates, Godflesh and Pig Destroyer doing Jane Doe, Slaughter Of The Soul, Streetcleaner and Prowler In The Yard (respectively) to an absolutely rammed arena at the triumphantly revamped Damnation Festival.

It’s heartening to see the response afforded to these special one off sets; not only because it’s good to be back witnessing live music, but also because it’s emphatic proof that the concept of the album isn’t going anywhere in the public consciousness, despite whatever the latest tedious think-piece about waning attention spans might tell you – but, given you’ve voluntarily delved into a list of the best 20 metal albums of 2022, you probably already knew that, didn’t you?

20. Häxenzijrkell – Urgrund
(Amor Fati)

Following their intriguing 2020 debut, this German duo’s sound has grown into something truly unique, slowing raw black metal riffs down to a leaden drone and achieving a curiously psychedelic effect in the process. Replace Urfaust’s gin obsession with a passion for heavy opiates and lock them in a dank, candle-lit cellar for several months and the result would probably sound a lot like this.

19. Chat Pile – God’s Country
(The Flenser)

After a handful of interesting EPs, Oklahoma’s Chat Pile served up one of the most arresting and unique noise rock records I’ve heard in a long time this year, bringing an oppressively Godflesh-ian sensibility to the genre. The ranting, confrontational noise rock frontman is pretty much a cliché in itself in 2022, but Raygun Busch assumes the role with a genuinely subversive vulnerability, making songs like the disarmingly blunt ‘Why’ and nine-minute aural panic attack ‘grimacesmokingweed.jpeg’ all the more gripping.

18. Orthodox – Proceed

With original guitarist Ricardo Jimenez Gómez back in their ranks, Spanish avant-doom outfit Orthodox turned in one of their heaviest, most immediate albums yet, marrying Ricardo’s thick, Melvins-esque riffs with the looser, jazzier rhythms the band have been toying with in recent years. This feels like a full summation of all the different styles Orthodox have experimented with throughout their career, wrapped up in one succinct, supremely heavy 40-minute package.

17. Fatalist - Untitled

This Leeds quartet quietly released one of the year’s most powerful black metal records back in May, a taut 38-minute opus that feels much longer. As aggressive as it is hypnotic, there’s a real emotional and conceptual weight to the three lengthy, Weakling-esque epics that comprise Untitled, with a bleak yet strangely dreamlike atmosphere that helps them stand out from other post-black metal acts. Keep an eye on this band!

16. Tzompantli - Tlazcaltiliztli
(20 Buck Spin)

Xibalba guitarist Brian Ortiz’s Tzompantli project seemed to come out of the gate already fully realised on their 2019 demo, but this debut full-length is even heavier, expertly fusing cavernous death/doom with flutes, teponaztli drums and death whistles. Aside from the exotic instrumentation and Ortiz’s distinctively crushing riffing style, what really helps this stand out from other recent death/doom releases is the scorched, acrid atmosphere it exudes; this isn’t just more Disembowelment worship, Tlazcaltiliztli has a personality all of its own.

15. Artificial Brain - Artificial Brain
(Profound Lore)

On this third self-titled record, Long Island tech-death quintet Artificial Brain allow their impressively knotty, complex sound just enough breathing room to really emphasise their warped but curiously affecting sense of melody, without sacrificing any of the dizzying technicality or aggressive wall-of-sound approach we’ve come to associate with the band. Combine that with an organic, punchy production and evocative atmosphere, and you have the year’s most essential and extraordinary technical death metal album.

14. Messa - Close

This Italian doom quartet have always had an interesting spin on the genre, but this third opus is their most adventurous yet, incorporating Middle Eastern folk music, dusky late-night jazz and ripping blackened thrash outbursts. Remarkably, Close feels consistent and focussed throughout its lengthy run time, with sharp songwriting and Sara Bianchin’s powerhouse vocal performance firmly grounding the band’s more extravagant tendencies.

13. Mizmor & Thou - Myopia

These two bands fuse together so seamlessly on this collaboration, it’s sometimes difficult to discern where Mizmor’s harrowing black metal ends and Thou’s mournful sludge begins. Myopia felt like a true melding of minds in that sense, sitting perfectly at the nexus between each band’s sounds whilst drawing out the best in each other’s approach. From the furious blasting of opener ‘Prefect’ to the final funereal chords of hypnotic closer ‘The Root’, the two bands maintain a cohesive and engaging mood.

12. Darkthrone - Astral Fortress

They only went and did it again; just a year after delving into deliciously doomy territory with Eternal Hails……, Darkthrone explore the style even further on the mellotron addled ‘Stalagmite Necklace’ and wistful ten minute epic ‘The Sea Beneath The Seas Of The Sea’. Despite the slower pace, their black metal roots are still more than evident (there’s a strong hint of Viking period Bathory on bombastic opener ‘Caravan Of Broken Ghosts’) but, as the cover suggests, Astral Fortress is a somewhat more playful and whimsical album than its darker, more mystical predecessor.

11. Blut Aus Nord - Disharmonium – Undreamable Abysses
(Debemur Morti)

After the dizzying high of 2019’s Hallucinogen, Blut Aus Nord’s fourteenth full-length felt less like a crushing comedown and more a lapse into full-blown psychosis, adding up to one of the most feverish, nightmarish records he’s ever produced. The psychedelic vibe of its predecessor remains, but it’s put to far more disorientating use here, delivering twisted, Lovecraft-ian black metal that genuinely feels like a glimpse into some subterranean realm us mere humans were never supposed to witness.

10. Shape Of Despair - Return To The Void
(Season Of Mist)

Instead of attempting to replicate the stark misery of 2015’s Monotony Fields, Return To The Void finds this Finnish funeral doom collective broadening their melancholic sound somewhat. With a heightened sense of melody and more focal interplay between Natalie Koskinen’s haunting singing voice and Henri Koivula’s deep growls, this album is crushing and desolate enough for the funeral doom connoisseur but also dynamic and accessible enough to entice those usually wary of the genre too.

9. Unyielding Love - Flesh Of The Furnace

(Anthems Of The Undesirable)

The noisy, Full Of Hell-esque grind of this Irish quartet’s debut The Sweat Of Augury evolved into an even more confrontational beast on this second outing, transforming into more of a dissonant black/death hybrid whilst still retaining the noise and grind elements from their earlier work. Whilst Flesh Of The Furnace may not be quite as immediate, there’s a real depth to it that unfolds after multiple listens, with a genuinely sinister and otherworldly aura lurking beneath their caustic sonic assault. If the thought of a more aggressive, grinding Portal does it for you, then don’t miss this.

8. The Body & OAA - Enemy Of Love
(Thrill Jockey)

They may have teamed up with industrial techno newcomer OAA here but, ever the contrarians, The Body largely eschew the more minimal electronic approach of their last few records and return to apocalyptic sludge metal for one of their most abrasive and intense collaborations yet. OAA chops up and glitches out the duo’s bleak soundscapes here in a similar manner to their collaboration with The Haxan Cloak on 2014’s I Shall Die Here; but whereas that album leant towards a more sombre, suicidal atmosphere, Enemy Of Love instead just wants to kill you as quickly as possible.

7. Vermin Womb - Retaliation
(Closed Casket Activities)

Vermin Womb’s second full-length is perhaps the most singularly aggressive eighteen minutes of music you’ll hear this year – the trio have never really made for easy listening, but even by their standards, Retaliation is a particularly savage affair, blending searing grindcore riffs, skin-flaying blasts and one of Ethan Lee McCarthy’s most visceral vocal performances yet in a manner that makes your favourite war metal band sound about as menacing as Tiny Tim by comparison. In a ‘Crumbling World Without Joy’, this cathartic outpouring of rage seems like the only appropriate response.

6. Vacuous - Dreams Of Dysphoria
(Me Saco Un Ojo)

This London quintet’s debut contains pretty much everything I look for in a death metal record; deep, immersive atmosphere, relentless energy, twisted yet memorable songs and, most importantly, riffs so gnarly they make your skull feel like it’s caving in on itself. The weighty but extremely organic sounding production and genuinely disquieting lyrics are the icing on the cake; Dreams Of Dysphoria may not reinvent the genre, but it’s an exemplary demonstration of how to keep death metal sounding fresh and powerful in 2022.

5. Cloud Rat - Threshold

Michigan trio Cloud Rat remained at the forefront of grindcore this year with one of their tightest, meanest and riffiest albums yet. Threshold boasts one of the thickest guitar tones they’ve ever captured on tape, bolstered by a crisp, roomy drum sound that really emphasises the intense energy in these songs. Cloud Rat have got this down to a fine art now, expertly balancing moments of cathartic beauty alongside relentlessly ferocious grindcore in each of these fifteen memorable shards of noise.

4. Candelabrum - Nocturnal Trance
(Hells Headbangers)

This mysterious Portuguese solo project masterfully demonstrates how rich and detailed lo-fi black metal can be at it’s finest with this astonishingly textured third album. There’s a remarkable depth to this recording that gradually reveals itself, much like the way your vision slowly adjusts when enveloped in total darkness. As harsh and unforgiving as Nocturnal Trance is, there’s a surprisingly meditative quality to the songwriting here too, heightening the truly intoxicating effect this record has if you let it work it’s magic.

3. Autopsy - Morbidity Triumhant

There are plenty of original death metal legends still pumping out great new records, but none with the vigour and enthusiasm of Autopsy. The addition of new bassist Greg Wilkinson is the shot in the arm I didn’t even know the band needed; their last couple of mini-albums have all been great, but Morbidity Triumphant is a bona fide death metal classic that can easily stand up to the band’s more revered early work. Even in what’s been another great year for the genre, few modern death metal records sound quite as alive and vicious as this.

2. Scarcity - Aveilut
(The Flenser)

Avant-garde composer and Glenn Branca collaborator Brendon Randall-Myers’ elaborate deconstruction of black metal feels less like an academic exercise and more a full-scale reimagining of the genre, a swirling vortex of writhing guitars that reached heights most metal bands would never dare ascend to. Conceived as a flowing 45-minute composition and featuring the chilling shrieks of Pyrrhon vocalist Doug Moore, Aveilut is not only one of the most unique listening experiences of the year, but an inspiring reminder that we’re still only just scratching the surface of metal as an art form.

1. Wormrot - Hiss

Singapore grindcore trio Wormrot pulled out all the stops for their final record with long-standing vocalist Arif. Hiss delivers all the frantic, thrashy riffing and lightspeed blastbeats we’ve come to expect from the band, but also pushes their sound into some interesting new places, be it the tribal noise of ‘Pale Moonlight’, the spacious, atmospheric grooves of ‘Sea Of Disease’ or dramatic, surprisingly emotive pieces like ‘Grieve’ and stirring closer ‘Glass Shards’, bolstered by the startling violin of guest musician Myra Choo. Hiss is Wormrot’s most imaginative, consistently surprising release yet, and one of 2022’s most unique extreme metal records.