2022 was packed with new music. It feels as though the industry is recovering from the constraints of lockdowns: years of pent-up creative energy is being recorded, mixed and released. This year, I went to my first live concerts since 2020, and while I loved the pivot to live-streaming during the pandemic, there’s just something about the crowd interaction and a 100dB wall of noise that is hard to replicate. Even if I was wearing a mask for the indoor shows.
As usual, I’ve curated the most high-octane tracks of the year in my 10K22 Running Mix on Apple Music. Also as usual, I like heavy music – you will need to go somewhere else for the Taylor Swift reviews, sorry Swifties.
11: Ghost – Impera
Ghost love to experiment with new directions: from their early Sabbath-inspired, doom-laced hard rock, to the more proggy Meliora, they’ve embraced the imagery of heavy metal without being restricted by its clichés and trappings. With Impera, Ghost have released a proper arena rock album that’s massive, goofy, and still has all that Satanic pope schtick we know and love. This results in songs like ‘Spillways’, which sounds like Foreigner’s ‘Cold as Ice’ blended with Van Halen; or ‘Watcher in the Sky’, Survivor’s ‘Eye of the Tiger’ repurposed for a UFO-summoning ritual. It’s silly fun and varied enough that anyone can find something to love.
10: Nightrage – Abyss Rising
I’ve been waiting for years for Nightrage to deliver an album worthy of their talents. 2019’s Wolf to Man came close – especially ‘Desensitized’, which sounds like it’s a lost cut from Clayman – but the muddy production values and lack of steam in the back half held it back. Abyss Rising is Gothenburg melodic death metal (via Thessaloniki) with all the catchy hooks, bendy chuggy riffs, and soaring solos you could ask for. Even better, this time you can actually hear all that thanks to Fredrik Nordström’s production. ‘Swallow Me’ is an early highlight, ‘9th Circle of Hell’ and ‘False Gods’ are great headbangers. Overall, there’s more fiddly noodling than a Greyhound Rescue fundraiser. I knew they had it in them.
9: King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard – Omnium Gatherum
The first of my Aussie album seletions from a band called ‘King’. If you’re unfamiliar with King Gizz, they are an alarmingly prolific psychedelic rock band: 23 albums in just over a decade, 4 this year alone! While I greatly enjoyed the trippy Ice, Death, Planets, Lungs, Mushrooms And Lava, Omnium Gatherum is their magnum opus. It opens with 18-minute jam, ‘The Dripping Tap’, before traversing everything from synth pop to classic East Coast hip hop, sludge metal and more over the course of a double album. Somehow, it’s coherent and accessible throughout, and a decent introduction to a band before you dive into the deeper cuts like Flying Microtonal Banana and Nonagon Infinity.
And yes, we now eagerly await an Omnium Gatherum album called King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard.
8: Alter Bridge – Pawns & Kings
There are two tiers of Alter Bridge albums: the god tier of Blackbird and Fortress, and then everything else they’ve ever released. AB are always a good time, but since Fortress they’ve never released an outstanding record. While I loved some songs on The Last Hero and Walk the Sky, they don’t have the same staying power as earlier albums. They are fun but formulaic: a little too safe, which is a shame when Mark Tremonti’s solo albums are far more adventurous.
Once again, Pawns & Kings – wait a minute, is that an ampersand in the title? Is this a concept album about Mr Pawns and Ms Kings opening a legal practice? – doesn’t reach the heights of Fortress, but it comes close at times. Myles Kennedy delivers a career-best vocal performance on ‘Silver Tongue’, while Tremonti brings a selection box of tasty riffs – particularly the sleazy triplet runs of ‘Sin After Sin’ and the Tool-ish back-half banger ‘Last Man Standing’.
Pawns & Kings sags in the middle with ‘Fable of the Silent Son’, which takes too long to get to the Dream Theater tribute section at the 5-minute mark. It picks up at the end: the title track is a real highlight, with soaring choruses and a balls-to-the-walls shredding second half that’s probably their best song since ‘Fortress’. If only the rest of the album had this much energy and invention! Though Alter Bridge remain pawns, they could indeed be kings.
7: Disillusion – Ayam
When I’m shortlisting my favourite music of the year, I usually check out the Metal Storm top albums list to check I haven’t missed anything. I’m glad I did because otherwise I would have missed out on this gem. Ayam is an interesting one to categorise: there’s a flavour of Enslaved in their sound, a pinch of Opeth, but there’s more to it than that.
From the opener ‘Am Abgrund’ (they’re German!), you never really know where this is going. There are chuggy bits replete with blast beats, horn sections, harsh vocals, clean vocals, sweeping solos, and a lot to unpack. The first few minutes of ‘Tormento’ sound like a mix of Sylosis riffs and Katatonia vocals, and then from 2:20 it’s an orgy of chaos that would fit on a Meshuggah record.
I realise I’m just listing other bands here, but Ayam is progressive and constantly evolving in a way few albums are. If I’m honest, I probably need another year to digest it.
6: Elder – Innate Passage
5 tracks, 54 minutes – that’s right folks, it’s prog rock! Innate Passage was my introduction to Elder, and what an intro it is. Epic, beautiful soundscapes that are perfect for an afternoon’s focused work, or a road trip in a car with a much beefier sound system than mine that won’t lose the bass on a rumbling highway.
You shouldn’t judge an album by its cover, but in this case, the cover of Innate Passage suggests a complex soup of layered darkness with a core of liquid fire – and that’s what it sounds like. You’ll hear moments that evoke bands like Intronaut and Baroness, but Elder use these influences to develop a sound that draws these influences into longer, more refined compositions.
Turn down the lights, pour yourself a whisky, and forget what you were meant to be doing instead of listening to this.
5: King Stingray – King Stingray
The second Aussie group with ‘King’ in their name. King Stingray are a Yolŋu surf rock band – Yothu Yindi meets Dick Dale – and we saw them supporting Midnight Oil earlier in Canberra this year. Their debut is a mix of upbeat funk rock (‘Milkumana’), more melancholy and meditative tracks (‘Get Me Out’), and then there’s ‘Camp Dog’, a song about a camp dog. There’s a masterful blend of Yolŋu language and English vocals, didgeridoo with bass guitar, clapsticks and drums, evocative of ancient Arnhem Land and ‘modern’ Australia all at once.
King Stingray are best enjoyed from the comfort of a shaded deck on a lazy summer’s day, watching the cockatoos and lorikeets fly by while you crack open a can of Sobah.
- Get Me Out (live on Triple J)
- Camp Dog
4: An Abstract Illusion – Woe
It wouldn’t be one of my favourite music roundups without a pulverising progressive metal record, and this year Woe is me. Expect brutal blast beats, beautiful duelling guitar melodies, and barely comprehensible growling. There’s even a clarinet at the beginning of ‘Tear Down This Holy Mountain’ before it crescendos in some epic metal storytelling redolent of Ne Obliviscaris and Be’Lakor. Shredding, soaring solos, jazzy breakdowns, sweeping synths, tech death breakdowns: like the great prog metal albums, Woe accomplishes everything you could hope for in the first 15 minutes, leaving your brain to pick up the pieces. Following this centrepiece, the djenty ‘Prosperity’ is like a lavender bath.
This is the kind of music that, once you get your head around it, everything else feels bland by comparison. The sheer density and heaviness of the compositions can be overwhelming, but if you approach Woe with a curious mind and great headphones, you will be rewarded. It’s not perfect – the vocals can grate, and it’s a little long – but the rough edges give it more character.
3: Soen – Atlantis
“Soen? Didn’t they appear on last year’s list?” is perhaps not what you’re thinking right now, but you’re right! Atlantis isn’t a studio album: it’s a new live interpretation of classic tracks from Soen’s career from their beginnings to last year’s official 9th best album, Imperial, recorded with a live orchestral accompaniment. Some get the acoustic treatment, like ‘Antagonist’ and a surprising cover of Slipknot’s ‘Snuff’, while others such as ‘Lunacy’ has extra tasty layers on the musical Viennetta but retain their character.
While the original studio performances are phenomenal – Lotus is one of my favourite albums – the live arrangements take them to new places that remove explicit heaviness in favour of sumptuous textures and subtleties. ‘Savia’, from Soen’s first album Cognitive, has staccato strings that fit perfectly, and a chorus elevated from epic to heartbreaking.
It’s hard to tell if these versions are truly better, or if it’s just the novelty factor (and in the case of ‘Lascivious’, I prefer the original). Either way, it’s a delightful introduction to Soen and an unconventional new direction for one of metal’s greatest new-ish bands.
2: Soilwork – Övergivenheten
It’s hard to discuss Övergivenheten without mentioning songwriter and guitarist David Andersson, who passed away earlier this year shortly after the release of this record. Since Andersson joined Soilwork and, with vocalist Bjorn Strid, co-wrote their double-album magnum opus The Living Infinite in 2013, the band has gone from strength to strength. Their sound has evolved substantially: Övergivenheten – Swedish for ‘abandonment’ – adds some new folk influences and also brings some album-oriented rock melodies a la The Night Flight Orchestra (same songwriting duo!).
You can look forward to blast beats and banjos in the title track; perhaps the earwormiest riffs in all metal with ‘Valleys of Gloam’, and ‘Vultures’; definitely the earwormiest chorus with the swaggering and sleazy ‘Death, I Hear You Calling’, and generally a wonderful time. There’s a lovely mix of heaviness and levity – except ‘Nous Sommes la Guerre’ which is too light, too long, too soon. Like most Soilwork albums1, they’re still cranking out grooves like ‘Golgata’ long after other bands have run out of ideas.
‘Harvest Spine’ wins my official Back Half Banger award with yet another amazingly catchy riff, a massive stadium-filling chorus, and a wicked solo that comes out of nowhere. Bjorn Strid has never sounded better, and he’s already the best singer in metal. They must be the most underrated band in modern metal, even though I seem to spend all my time raving about them.
Seriously! Listen to ‘On The Wings Of A Goddess Through Flaming Sheets of Rain’ – who else could write a song like that, give it that name, and pull it off? If I didn’t know better, I’d say Övergivenheten is actually Swedish for ‘exhilarating’.
Soilwork have confirmed they will continue despite the departure of David Andersson. I’m not sure where the future will take Soilwork, but I would never bet against them releasing more wonderful music in the future.
1: The Halo Effect – Days of the Lost
The Halo Effect are a heavy metal supergroup comprised of former members of In Flames (although Mikael Stanne is better known for Dark Tranquillity, he served as a session vocalist on In Flames’ debut Lunar Strain). Their inaugural release Days of the Lost is 40 minutes of full-fat, Gothenburg melodeath, so early 2000s that the only thing missing is a Macromedia Flash microsite. Needless to say, this has been my favourite album of the year since January, when they released the second single ‘Feel What I Believe’. I had a long wait for the full album to avoid burning myself out on the singles.
Of course, Days of the Lost sounds a lot like In Flames’ Colony and Clayman, but as much as the title track reminds me of ‘Embody the Invisible’, it’s more than mere homage to that classic sound. ‘Conditional’ brings in the twiddly acoustic guitars that we’ve sorely missed since Jesper Stromblad left In Flames, while ‘In Broken Trust’ and ‘A Truth Worth Lying For’ have some surprisingly nice clean choruses from Stanne.
‘Feel What I Believe’ is my favourite song of the year. It’s four minutes of fist-pumping metal mayhem with awesomely cheesy lyrics about being a teenage metalhead. Whenever I first heard the breakdown at 2:30, I felt emotional. This is it! This is why we love metal!
Days of the Lost is precisely the kind of music I fell in love with back in 1999. It’s not particularly clever or innovative, but it’s cathartic and comforting – the Star Wars action figure diorama of music.
Spyro’s Lick of the Year
Hello humans! I have returned as Split Screen’s resident licking expert to judge the tastiest licks of the year. And this year it is ‘Days of the Lost’ by The Halo Effect. Now that’s what I call a speed noodle!
Allegaeon – DAMNUM, Andy Gillian – Arcade Metal, Blind Guardian – The God Machine, Devin Townsend – Lightwork, Disturbed – Divisive, Fallujah – Empyrean, Gang of Youths – angel in realtime., Meshuggah – Immutable, Meteor – Phantom Zone, Midnight Oil – Resist, Monuments – In Stasis, Moon Tooth – Phototroph, Nite – Voices of the Cronian Moon, Queensrÿche – Digital Noise Alliance, Satyr – Totem
Amon Amarth’s The Great Heathen Army is easily their blandest album and a worrying turn. Is this really the same band who recorded ‘Mjolner, Hammer of Thor’ three years ago?
- This is where I would link to the Cast Iron episode on The Living Infinite, but it’s still in post-production… ↩