Angry Metal Guy’s Top 10(ish) of 2022

AMGAnother year has reached its close and Angry Metal Guy is still standing—both the metal review site and the man. For the blog, things are the best they’ve ever been—at least if you believe our statistics. During 2022, we received at least one page view from every country in the world.1 Furthermore, we received blog-best 13,728,845 page views, which included 2,610,308 unique visitors.2 While, of course, statistics can be difficult to measure online, the consistent story since I started AMG in 2009 has been growth. We published 730 new posts and each viewer averaged 5.6 posts. And since we haven’t monetized the website at all, we’re still a bunch of volunteers doing this for love, pride, or out of sheer stubbornness.

Why does any of this matter, then? Well, I think it matters because our dedication to high quality, long form reviews has continued to pay dividends for the music we love, as—to paraphrase one band—not only is the comment section here active and fun to be involved in, but our readers continue to show up and buy music. I cannot begin to express the depth of my pride that this is what we know to be true about Yes, we may have a reputation for being too hard on bands—a reputation that certain members of the staff have been single-handedly working to counter this year, I might add—but when it comes right down to it, when I hear from bands it’s because we led to their single biggest spike in sales from Bandcamp. One band this year told me that our review was the reason they sold any vinyl at all. Time and again, AMG writers point readers at quality music. And time and again, you—the readers—put your money down to support the hard-working bands and labels in the scene. For that, I am deeply grateful. I can’t ask for anything more than a deeply engaged group of readers and writers who are working to promote excellent music that we love.

I want to, of course, thank all the writers who put in their blood, sweat, and tears here at AMG. I, especially, want to thank everyone who applied to write at AMG—you should know that we will be bringing in more n00bs—and to the group that’s already gotten in here, I’ve been pretty pleased with your work (if not your taste). It astounds me every time we do this just how many people want to write at and who are willing to put up with a difficult n00b period in order to do it. I am a person with exacting standards, but I always aim—first and foremost—at quality. And we have netted some excellent writers, people who I am proud to have on board and who make me proud to be the ringleader of this “pugnacious group of cretins.” Without a dedicated group of writers, as well as Steel Druhm, Madam X, Doc Grier, Holden4.5e, Doc Wvrm and Sentynel, it would be tough to make things work around here and I love you all. So, thank you for your hard work and dedication to this cozy little ‘blog’ while I’ve been off slaying other windmills.

Here’s to 2023, which I’m approaching with a lot more optimism than I had expected. May this be another year of success for, our wonderful staff, and to you, the readers. And may it be the year that I get back on track, for real.

#(ish): Darkest Era // Wither on the Vine [September 30, 2022 via Candlelight Records] — One way that I can tell that 2022 was a good year for metal is that Darkest Era is an #(ish) despite probably deserving to be higher on this list. And while I’m not quite in love with it as Steel Druhm, it’s hard to believe this album isn’t getting even more love around here than it is. The songs are tight, hooky, and engaging—a strange description for your average doom metal record. Krum’s3 vocals are evocative, powerful and beautiful—and, incidentally, remind me way more of King Goat‘s next level vocals than I’d recalled from earlier albums. That’s a recipe for a truly glorious return from an underrated (and missed) band. Wither on the Vine has all the makings of an album that I’m going to be listening to for a long time.

#(ish): White Ward // False Light [June 17, 2022 via Debemur Morti Productions] — It’s been a very long time since anything resembling White Ward has graced one of my end of year lists. On its face, Ukraine’s poster boy for “experimental/post-black metal” doesn’t seem like the kind of thing that would exactly light a fire under my Angry Metal Ass. Songs pushing into the 13-minute range. Long, overly wet atmospheric parts. And worst of all, the enemy of good metal taste—the saxophone—featured prominently. And yet False Light is an album that wears a, presumably double-breasted and pin-striped, Perdition City-style noir suit while devastating the unsuspecting listener with some of the most engaging and blistering black metal riffs I’ve heard in years. False Light is adventurous, it’s interesting, it’s idiosyncratic, and it’s—even at a too-damned-long 66 minutes—mesmerizing.

#(ish): Amorphis // Halo [February 11, 2022 via Atomic Fire Records] — Halo is not Queen of Time. Yet, I can’t help but continue to reiterate the thought that I ended my review of Amorphis’ 75th studio album on: I’m not sure we even know what to do with the kind of fecundity and consistency that Amorphis has shown over the years. With songs like “On the Dark Waters,” “When the Gods Come,” and “War,” however, Halo shows itself to be loaded with the same kind of excellent songwriting and solid material that has made the band one of metal premiere’s acts for 30 years. Stop and appreciate metal’s best second act while you sit and listen to Halo; it doesn’t get so much better than this.

#10: Sigh // Shiki [August 26, 2022 via Peaceville Records] — Ten years after I gave In Somniphobia a 5.0, Sigh continues to be one of the best bands in metal. Shiki, which I’m told is a heart-wrenching and honest example of the band’s frontman coping with his fear of death, does what Sigh has always done best: it combines a classic black metal—by which I mean Venom—with an idiosyncratic orchestral vision and a compelling compositional voice that belongs only to Sigh. In the band’s discography, Shiki stands out with its direct songwriting and tracks without a lot of frills (or jazz breakdowns). Yet, these Japanese veteran black metallers know how to write good songs; the album teems with razor hooks and haunting melodies. And when they do break out traditional Japanese instruments to complement symphonic elements (“Satsui – Geshi No Ato,” for example), Shiki shines. Due to a promo snafu, we missed a review of Shiki here at Angry Metal Guy, but I’m glad to see just how much attention the album been getting in spite of that. There’s no doubt in my mind that Shiki was one of the best albums of the year. I just wish I’d gotten to it sooner.

#9: An Abstract Illusion // Woe [September 9, 2022 via Willowtip] — I approached An Abstract Illusion skeptically. I had heard the band described as “atmospheric black metal” and it had a slow, atmospheric opening. Fortunately, it turns out that if you replace all the mindless repetition in atmospheric black metal with infectious, technical riffs, atmospheric black metal stops sucking! Because no matter what you call it,4 Woe is impressive. The record sports compositions that never sit still; at times brutal, and other times fragile, and often reminiscent of many of the most interesting developments in extreme metal in the 2000s. Yet, despite Woe hat-tipping its influences liberally—like Cynic on “The Behemoth That Lies Asleep” or Opeth on… well, pretty much the rest of the album—nothing about Woe feels derivative. Instead, Woe seethes with an intensity that few of its ilk manage. And while ‘depressive,’ neither is it overtly self-indulgent,5 Woe has gravitas. And finally, rather than ‘atmosphere’ robbing the album of intensity, Woe feels like a muzzled beast struggling at its chains to break free. This is an impressive record that I struggle to turn off once I press play. It would certainly be higher on the list if I had gotten it earlier in the year.

Cover art for Trollfest - Flamingo Overlord!#8: Trollfest // Flamingo Overlord [May 27, 2022 via Napalm Records] — “If Finntroll, Korpiklaani, and Diablo Swing Orchestra had an awkward Norwegian cousin with a drinking problem, that would be Trollfest.” Yes, my friends, that is my full-throated endorsement. Metal takes itself way too fucking seriously and Trollfest is here to remind us that this here heavy metal music that we all love can be so much fun. You don’t need to sit around crying in your beer while listening to Very Serious Music™ by people who can’t self-edit. Flamingo Overlord will help turn your drunken cry fests into drunken dance fests instead! From the opening strains of sure-to-be-kvlt-dance-hit “Dance Like a Pink Flamingo” to I-can-only-assume-this-was-a-sommarplåga “Piña Colada,”6 Flamingo Overlord regales the listener with ridiculous hooks, idiosyncratic instrumentation, and Trollfest’s best “huumpa and the beast” rendition. If this record were a tasty alcoholic beverage it would be made of pineapple juice, coconut milk, and rum.

#7: Blind Guardian // The God Machine [September 2, 2022 via Nuclear Blast Records] — As much as I love Blind Guardian, I have a strange relationship with the band. I wasn’t sure I was going to enjoy The God Machine and then I was genuinely surprised at how much I liked it. And then, once I’d had some time to think about it, I was genuinely surprised that other people didn’t like The God Machine as much as I do! The record is one of those “return to form” albums that everyone’s always drooling over. Those “the best BG since Nightfall in Middle-Earth” blurbs were just writing themselves. But the thing is, The God Machine deserves better than that. After years of experimenting with their sound, the huge orchestras, the ridiculous album lengths, and the concept albums that no one understands but the band, The God Machine is just Blind Guardian doing what they’ve always been the best at: writing honest power/thrash with few(er) bells and whistles (than their later career would’ve had you believe they were capable of). In the end, The God Machine is laden with riffs and some of the most memorable songs they’ve written in decades. If you haven’t given this album a real shot, I suggest you come back to it, because it’s one of the best of the year.

#6: De Profundis // The Corruption of Virtue [October 7, 2022 via Transcending Obscurity Records] — De Profundis is finally getting their due. And it’s about fucking time. I’ve, of course, been screaming about these guys since at least 2015, and I’m happy to see that they continue to release albums that make me look like I am really smart and have great taste. Case in point, The Corruption of Virtue, which demonstrates again the power of the riff in death metal. I’m not sure this record is better than its predecessor—which my fellow writers unsurprisingly ignored in 2018 due to a bad case of groupthink—but it’s still one of the very best things you’re going to hear this year. If you like your death metal to have that old school Florida feel with a healthy dose of the best Sweden has to offer and—wait for it—fretless bass produced in a way different than German bands do it, then The Corruption of Virtue is the death metal record for you.7

#5: Star One // Revel in Time [February 18, 2022 via InsideOut Music] — Arjen Anthony Lucassen’s Star One is potentially my least favorite of Lucassen’s many projects. I vaguely recall reading somewhere that it’s supposed to be one of his heaviest projects, but I was never particularly fond of the first two albums. Additionally, Revel in Time didn’t live up to the kinds of epic conceptual potential of Ayreon, Guilt Machine, or even The Gentle Storm. I mean, it’s basically just a movie review blog set to music. And yet, like so many of the best albums I’ve reviewed over the years, Revel in Time just wouldn’t stop cropping up all year. Every couple weeks when I was groping for something to listen to, I would just pop in Revel in Time—and that’s just never stopped. The strength, as always, comes from Arjen’s keen ear and compositional chops, which are complemented by his ability to always find exactly the right voice for the job.8 From Brittney Slayes’ fantastic performance on opener “Fate of Man” to the joyous prog stylings of Michael Mills and Ross Jennings on “Prescient,” to the epic crowning achievement of “Lost Children of the Universe” that closes the album out—Revel in Time is fun, well-written, and a joyous celebration of heavy metal and middling science fiction movies. The man is a nerd after my own heart.

#4: Disillusion // Ayam [November 4, 2022 via Prophecy Productions] — Disillusion’s Ayam is an album that does what the best Opethian progressive death metal bands have done since the early 2000s.9 Rather playing a kind of death metal that focuses on the technicality of the music, Ayam is an album that hits the listener right in the feels—what Peter Lindgren once described as “death metal with feeling.” Because of that approach, however, Ayam takes time to reveal its secrets. At first blush, the record is promising, but it’s not hooky or overtly brilliant. Instead, it takes time and great performances, with a narrative structure that makes the album increasingly intoxicating as it winds on. It’s the third, fourth and fifth listens that lock one in to its subtleties. And once the album opens up—like reading the sociology of Pierre Bourdieu—it’s difficult to set it down. The band’s vision—its combination of chunky death metal with a groggy soft side that reminds me so much of late Riverside—is subtle; but it’s evocative and beautiful. Ayam is a triumph; but it’s a subtle one.

#3: Wilderun // Epigone [January 18, 2022 via Century Media Records] — Another enormous, impressive progressive death metal album in the particular idiom of Wilderun, Epigone is ambitious, grand, and fearless. Furthermore, it is a distinctive evolution of the band’s sound, leaning away from the melodious folkiness of previous releases and, instead, making a run at the borders of dissonance—like an obscure Russian modernist composer (Vilderunsky)—with a wild, untamed feel. Epigone is something clearly unique; something which is clearly not a pale imitation of something greater. What surprises me is the extent to which Epigone has become strangely divisive within the walls of this hallowed institution. At times, it feels like it has little to do with the band’s unique and beautiful vision for progressive death metal. Yet, after having listened to this for over a year, Epigone stands tall—a monument to that unique vision. This record exists—as does my admiration for it—unapologetically and it deserves the earnest consideration of everyone at the end of this year.10

#2: Obsidious // Iconic [October 28, 2022 via Season of Mist Records] — Coming into 2022, I knew that Iconic was going to be released and I knew that Obsidious had been formed, but I did not really know what to expect from it.11 And it was maybe the element of surprise that has allowed me to fully embrace Iconic; which took a form that I did not expect. But the surprise was so much better than I was anticipating and it was the perfect ‘answer’ to Obscura’s new direction; because while the former doubled down on its “Gothenburg + Necrophagist” feel, Obsidious is a more unique twist on the genre. It checks all the tech boxes that I long for in my metal these days, but it also ranges out, incorporating other influences and a vocalist whose range and power complements the band’s overall sound. And yes, this is a lot more melodic and palatable than I think most of the Omniviumheads were hoping for; but that’s part of what makes it so good. Of course, the other part of what makes it so good is that Obsidious is made up of musicians who are better at their instruments than 0.01 percent of the population of the world’s musicians. The insane virtuosity, the unique approach to tech death and prog/power, and the fun, memorable songs make Ionic a serious candidate for the best Record o’ the Year in 2022.

#1: Aeternam // Heir of the Rising Sun [Self-released on September 2, 2022] — Heir of the Rising Sun was easily the best album that I listened to in 2022. Aeternam has been threatening to release the album of the year for a while now. They have consistently been releasing the kinds brilliant, orchestra-infused melodic death metal that inspires me for years, but what differentiates Heir of the Rising Sun from its predecessors is a tight narrative that carries the whole album, which is supported by the pillars of excellent composition and an unassailable, epic feel. Over time, Aeternam’s orchestrations have become an inextricable part of the band’s sound; and while death metal bands using symphonic elements is hardly new—even with a MENA flavor—Aeternam’s approach differentiates them from others in that the orchestrations feel have developed into an extricable part of the band’s sound, without taking it over; like when Fleshgod Apocalypse has been at its best. All of that—tight, smart writing and a sound that is more than the sum of its parts—makes Aeternam‘s approach unique in a scene that frequently confuses excessive song-lengths for epic composition. Aeternam has written, on the other hand, a truly epic album with an expansive, beautiful sound. They have developed into such deft songwriters and storytellers that Heir of the Rising Sun stands as an unassailable testament to both their brilliant composition and their epic ambitions.

Honorable Mentions

Imperial Circus Dead Decadence // 殯——死へ耽る想いは戮辱すら喰らい、彼方の生を愛する為に命を讃える——。ICDD feels so Japanese to me not because of the cover art or the fact that the album is in Japanese (though, those don’t hurt that feeling…). Rather, Mourning (as I’ll call it because that’s a lot easier), feels so Japanese to me because it’s just too much. So much of the culture exported from Japan feels extreme; almost baroque in its weirdness or its mashup of styles and influences, and ICDD is no exception. Yet, despite the fact that everything gets thrown at the wall here—it’s really fucking good; a veritable smörgåsbord of styles, with each style getting its moment in the sun. And that’s fun as hell to listen to.

Fellowship // The Saberlight Chronicles — This album is on the Top 10(ish) without any doubt if I hadn’t only heard of it during list season. Anyone who doesn’t love this album should probably be investigated by the House Un-American Activities Committee. The Saberlight Chronicles is like someone took the Platonic ideal form of power metal, melted it down and burned it to CD. You can’t feel sad when you’re listening to Fellowship and you can’t get “Until the Fire Dies” out of your head ever again.

Syn Ze Şase Tri // Ultiumu’ lup — A wild ride through Transylvanian forests, Ultimu’ lup reminds us all that black metal doesn’t have to be utterly devoid of editorial self-restraint. It’s got a Norwegian black metal in the ’90s vibe that feels both slightly nostalgic and also kind of fresh, because black metal took such a turn away from anything too reminiscent of Dimmu Borgir. I liked this album and I hope you did, too.

Viita // I — On my stack of shame for this year, Viita’s debut got passed to me as a promo and I promptly sat on it, listened to it a ton, but was so busy with other stuff I couldn’t get a review out in time. But needless to say, this is the debut album of one of the brains behind the brilliant—but sadly defunct—Crimfall and it’s an interesting merging of epic metal and an almost New Wave ’80s synth sound. It’s fun, it’s unique, and it presages even better things to come.

Soen // Atlantis — Live records suck almost universally. Yet, Atlantis does things a little differently, because it’s a bit like the MTV Unplugged version of Soen. Filled with lush orchestral arrangements and some unexpected performances, Atlantis is worth hearing (and seeing).

Persefone // metanoiaPersefone and I have had a strange relationship over the years, but I am happy to say that metanoia is probably their best album. Unfortunately, I didn’t even know it had been released until a couple weeks ago. So we’ll never know if it belonged higher on this list…

Top 8(ish) Songs o’ the Year

#(ish): Star One – “Fate of Man” featuring Brittney Slayes & Michael Romeo — There were two songs on Revel in Time that rank for my end of year list, which has to be the very first time. The first, however, is the album opener and single “Fate of Man.” Between this amazing vocal performance from Brittney Slayes, a classic Michael Romeo solo, and the tight composition, I have been stuck on this song all year.

#8: Sigh – “Satsui – Geshi No Ato” – From those opening guitars, I knew that this was going to be one of those songs that I looked back on with fondness; Sigh just doing Sigh things. This track drives, it enchants, and as the vocals bark out at you, it’s hard not to bang your head. And then—again, Sigh doing Sigh things—the second half devolves into what is one of the coolest beats you’ve heard this year. Brilliant stuff from a legendary band.

#7: Wilderun – “Identifier” – It’s big, it’s beautiful, it almost feels like it should be using a slide guitar on the opening riff; it’s full of contrasts that makes me ache inside when I listen to it. And yet, as it lurches towards the end, the song becomes increasingly brutal; encapsulating perfectly the contrasts that make Wilderun who they are. I am especially fond of the orchestrations here—the choral hits with crazy chords over blast beats, the use of fluttering flutes—they give Wilderun a sound that is just genuinely unique in metal. “Identifier” is sublime and one of my favorite songs in 2022.

#6: Blind Guardian – “Violent Shadows” – This song is about Brandon Sanderson’s epic fantasy saga The Stormlight Archives and that hits me right where I live. So, with the excellent chorus, the fantastic riffing, and the feeling of being “in on the secret” because the dorks in Blind Guardian also read one of my favorite fantasy authors, it was inevitable that I was going to be in love with this song. And, c’mon, that little harmonic minor thing at the end of phrase where he says “violent shadows” in the chorus is something else. Bonus? Great solos.

#5: De Profundis – “Weaponised Rape” — Death metal gonna death metal, but I kind of famously don’t really read lyrics or pay much attention to the content at all, because… well, I don’t care. I listen to death metal because the music rules; but since most lyrics are trash that dudes are writing in the studio, I skip them. So, as I was listening to this album one day and I looked down because of one of my favorite riffs only to see that the song was called “Weaponised Rape.” After I facepalmed, I just shared other stuff that was a bit less edgy. Alas—independent of the lyrics, which I have never read—this song is one of my favorite on the album. The riffs throughout are fantastic, they’re hooky, and I keep coming back to it. So, I’m listing it. But I’m uncomfortable. I guess that’s a win for death metal.

#4: An Abstract Illusion – “Prosperty” — This is not the most technical track on the album, but goddammit I fucking love that opening bass and vocal part. Then it transitions into a Turisas á la Wilderun melody, before merging into blasts—with vocals worthy of Kvarforth’s early-career agony. Those first three minutes are part of what make Woe such a special and enticing album to listen to.

#3: Aeternam – “Where the River Bends” – If the opening vocal lines don’t make your heart explode with unbridled joy, then maybe the epic—nay, pompous—orchestrations over the blistering verse will drive you to the edge of your seat. Fast, fun, epic, and smart; this is why I fucking love Aeternam. And it’s easily one of the best things I listened to all year.

#2. Star One – “Prescient” — Give me Arjen Lucassen writing prog with Michael Mills (Toehider, Ayreon, etc.) and Ross Jennings (Haken) singing, please. One whole album of quirky, ridiculous prog like this is exactly what I need to get my life right. Why cannot I not get a full-length LP of this? Also, bonus points for a classic Arjenism: “This thing is not just pure mechanics and/or heat.” Beautiful build, incredible harmonies, ridiculous performances; this shit is right where it’s at.

#1. Obsidious – “Bound by Fire” — Part of what I think is so much fun about Obsidious is the way that they have been able to balance their different sides with the kind of alacrity you wouldn’t expect to find on a debut album. But what starts out as a Gorjira as interpreted by Gorod riff, gives way to Javi Perera’s cleans, his affective range—in addition to his actual range—sets the whole song on its head. I spent hours one day trying to figure out what it reminded me of, and then it hit me. The chorus in this song reminds me of Angra‘s tracks where Rafael Bittencourt sings; he has the same kind of vocal timbre and power and it hits me exactly the same way. Top that off with a crazy, jazzy solo and breakdown and some of the catchiest tech riffing this side of Anata, and this stuff is irresistible.

Disappointments o’ the Year

The loss of Trevor Strnad. For those who know the blog, you’ll know that I have always been a big fan of The Black Dahlia Murder. That band—probably the best melodic death metal band that the USA has produced—was fronted by one of the most charismatic and interesting dudes in metal: Trevor Strnad. I’ve never really worried so much about biography, but what I can say is that Strnad was one of the nicest dudes I ever had the chance of meeting in the line of Angry Metal Duty, and he was really good for metal. It’s not often you see someone who goes so far out of his way for bands no one’s ever heard of; but one thing I’ve noticed since his death is how every single little death metal band I go to follow on Instagram was already followed by Trevor. On top of that, he was an excellent performer who carried an intensity into his performances that few can manage. Having struggled with depression and anxiety—made much worse by isolation during Covid—I recognize the pain and anxiety that he expressed in some interviews towards the end of his life. That visceral empathy makes his death far rawer for me than I have experienced with other titans of the scene who have died. Trevor Strnad will be truly missed in the metal scene.

Musical Disappointments

Michael Romeo // War of the Worlds, Pt. 2War of the Worlds, Pt. 1 was a genuine revelation and its followup was at the top of my most anticipated records of 2022. Pt. 1 felt like Symphony X of old, it featured a genuinely ground shaking performance from an impressive, unknown singer, and it was loaded with songwriting that I still love to this day. Its followup came late and didn’t wake any of the same energy in me as a listener. Partially, this may have been due to the change in the vocalist. But in a way, it felt a bit like the best ideas had been used on its predecessor. And yeah, I liked it fine at the time, but while I frequently revisited Arjen Lucassen’s Star One with frightening regularity, I never returned to War of the Worlds, Pt. 2. And when I’ve tried to listen to it for Listurnalia, I just find myself uninspired. There are few musicians in metal that I respect as much as Michael Romeo and it’s a rough turn of events for me.

Psychroptic // Divine Council — Am I the only person who was utterly dumbstruck by how Psycroptic’s 2022 release was just so unmemorable? Aside from sporting excellent artwork, I can hardly remember the album. Even reading Kronos’ review, I disagreed that he called the hooks on the record “sharp,” because I don’t think they particularly were. I was so excited to find this record in my email—unexpectedly, because: lol—and when I popped it on, it just left me cold. A few months later and I haven’t warmed up to it much at all.

Show 11 footnotes

  1. This may be due to the 14 people who somehow found our page on Google searching “sexsex” … here’s looking at you: the one person who visited AMG from the Vatican City.
  2. For comparison, 2021 had 2,037,342 unique visitors, though we published 40 more posts. And that, incidentally, was also an improvement over 2020, where we had 1.75 million unique viewers, but published roughly 150 more posts than we did in 2022.
  3. Viiiiktooooor?!
  4. Incidentally, it’s not atmospheric black metal…
  5. …förutom “Blomsterkrans”…
  6. Plåga means “torment” in Swedish; it’s a word we use to describe the most popular song of the summer.
  7. Side note: Transcending Obscurity had such a good 2022. Seriously, what a great label!
  8. Not just voices, either, one particular performance of note is Ed Warby’s drum arrangements and performances on this record are out of this world on here.
  9. I know they’ve been around since the ’90s, y’all, but this is Opeth’s playground no matter how long they’ve been doing it.
  10. I urge those of you who were gushing about An Abstract Illusion or Disillusion at the end of the year to revisit Epigone. It may pleasantly surprise you!
  11. Frankly, I was skeptical. The last time there was a mass exodus from Obscura, I liked Hannes Grossmann’s solo records better than Alkaloid.
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