Dr. A.N. Grier’s Top Ten(ish) of 2022

What a wild ride 2022 has been. We all sat back and watched as the economy crashed, gas prices rose, and we felt the dread of waking up without a job. Like so many (including many of you, no doubt), those uncertainties hit the Grier mansion in June. As the year began, the anxiety of the tech layoffs soared out of control. Like other tech industries, ours made a massive cut in February and March—decimating (x50) of my team. We knew it was coming, but who it would target was unclear. “We are stable now,” they said. “We can’t promise more cuts, but not this year,” they promised. Fast forward to June, when I attempted to log in to my computer one sunny morning. No such luck. As I attempt to reach out to IT, I receive the news—I lost my job. Bewilderment, confusion, frustration, and sadness hit me as I put down my headphones and picked up the bottle. Joining the throng of others on LinkedIn, I scrambled to find a new job. Thankfully, a contract gig fell in my lap a month later, and I settled in to erase the pain placed on my friends and me.

Six weeks later, as I continue to hear of ex-colleagues jumping ship for calmer waters, I receive a message. They made a mistake and want me back. Not only that but to lead what’s left of the team they destroyed. As one would expect, I ignored it—even thinking, “fuck off”. After a couple of days of consideration, I realized 1) this current job bored me—siloing me off into my own world without guidance—and 2) there’s so much more I can do for that team. So, after some negotiation, I took the plunge. Over two months now, upper management finally allows me the freedom to adjust processes and rebuild morale. With it came long hours, exhausting weekends, sleepless nights, and creative—yet brain-numbing—strategy. But it’s been great.

All that to say, my review numbers are low this year compared to previous ones. At times, listening to anything became a chore. I’d find myself driving with the radio off and working at my desk with no headphones. Even AMG, my outlet for over eight years, became the extra work I didn’t have the energy to do. But, even with that and my dislike for nearly everything the other writers reviewed, it’s been a solid year for metal. As with every era of this site, newbies rolled in and—overly excited because they haven’t achieved burnout just yet—overrated everything they touched. As the legacy of 4.0ldeneye persists, everyone’s scores skyrocketed. As their lists emerge for consumption, they’ll surely be overlapping—each writer masturbating over solid 2.0-2.5 releases. With no one to count on, there’s only me to provide a list of unique and truly remarkable albums in this, the Season of Lists. I will not go the way of the wankers. I will stand firm and ensure the mighty falsettos continue their metal reign.

(ish) Khold // Svartsyn – It’s been a good year for black metal. And nothing makes me happier than seeing a band I once respected come back into the fold and drop a bomb. Being busy with Sarke and Tulus, I feared the members of Khold might never bring a new album to light. Eight years since their unremarkable Til Endes, I figured this Norwegian foursome had moved on for good. So, you can understand my surprise when I discovered Svartsyn in the promo sump. Rife with everything I’ve ever loved about Khold, Svartsyn is a proper comeback for the masses. The vocals are as old and strong as they were on the band’s Masterpiss of Pain debut. The guitars are rich with life, delivering chuggy grooves, painfully slow trods, and black ‘n’ roll kickassery. And that bass. What can I say about the bass? Where many bands push it to the back or use it only the emphasize guitar strokes and drum kicks, Khold gives it a deserving voice. And boy, does it deliver. So, rock out with “Skarpretter” and stomp your feet to “I Demonens Bok” this holiday season. Let’s see how long those lights stay colorful before going black.

#10. Belphegor // The Devils – Like another band on this list, Belphegor are truly kings of their domain. Since the early ’90s, they’ve released good and great albums—but never bad ones. And, unlike so many other black metal outfits these days, these Austrians stay trve to the only deity worth mentioning: Satan. While others explore Odinism, frighten themselves with the Necronomicon, conjure and (try to) control demons with the Ars Diabolica, or meddle in National Socialism, Belphegor continues to explore what founded the genre in the first place. What the band did differently on The Devils is push beyond that comfortability they’ve protected for years. The Devils charges forward without fear or reservation into melodic passages, clean vocals, female chants, and symphonic atmospheres—all while maintaining the viciousness so familiar to their sound. Nothing is ever truly beautiful and safe as all these layers and elements unravel. Employing Obscura’s David Diepold on the drums was a masterstroke. When the drums hit, they hit hard, and the guitars have no choice but to join the vortex. Some will argue my score and place it higher on the list than yours truly. But there’s no doubt that The Devils is a killer album that finds the band full of exciting surprises.

#9. Them // Fear City – Yep, Grier did it. He put Them into a numbered slot on his end-of-the-year list. For the ridiculousness of the vocals, the cheese ball lyrics, and the “let’s make The Warriors a rock opera” attitude, Fear City is the most fun I had all year. Sure, it helps that vocalist Troy Norr not only sounds like King Diamond but was part of a King Diamond tribute band. Those facts aside, Fear City is genuinely a Them record and not a falsetto-screaming copycat. Though the album’s story is far from original, it’s tweaked ever so slightly that it fits the band. It follows our protagonist (if you can call him that) from Hemmersmoor to New York City, where to hunts down his nemesis’ kin. The album takes you through a NY club (“Retro 54”) to the 191st Street tunnel (“191st Street”) and across the Hell Gate Bridge (“The Crossing of Hellgate Bridge”) to find his prey. But nothing goes as planned when KK meets his target in “The Deconsecrated House of Sin.” KK might not have achieved his goals, but the band surely did. Fear City is a fun story-centered adventure with old-school licks, fast-running bass work, and some of the most addictive choruses in the band’s history.

#8. Eruption // Tellurian Rupture – While I regret the opening paragraph of this review—and the subsequent therapy recommendations—I don’t regret loving this record. Nearly five years since Cloaks of Oblivion, Eruption returns with a thrashtastic monster. Combining elements from Forbidden and Metal Church with vocals akin to Warrel Dane and Stu Block, there’s no way I could stay away. While Cloaks saw the band improve on all fronts, it’s got nothing on Tellurian Rupture. This new release finds this Slovenian quintet snapping the chains and emerging from the reservations that held them back on Cloaks. The result is a record that is both unhinged and on the straight-and-narrow. The first-pumping chorus of “Aegeon’s Wrath” will have you screaming the Kraken’s name in vain. And the cannot-listen-to-one-without-the-other duo of “Praise the Serpent Queen” and “Gone With the Floods” will have you suffocating in Iced Earth-esque aggression that’ll send you to bed with choruses pounding in your brain. Not only has Eruption released one of my favorite thrash albums of the year, but Tellurian Rupture’s mix and master might also be my favorite.

#7. Alex Nunziati // Il Mangiatore di Peccati – OK, hold up for one fucking second. Let me try, for the second fucking time, to explain why I like Il Mangiatore di Peccati. It’s not because Alex Nunziati is a creative mastermind, he’s been in various Italian goth outfits, or he necessarily created that ill-fated genre. It’s not because his solo band is a continuation of all he created or even a compilation of it. What I like about Il Mangiatore di Peccati is that it sounds nothing like Nunziati. Do you seriously think I sit around listening to Lord Vampyr? Pull your heads out of your asses. Il Mangiatore di Peccati is 150% nothing like Nunziati’s previous work. And, for that, he has the biggest balls in the world to pull it off. And I have to give him props for that. Also, no album I’ve ever encountered has transported me into a creepy Thomas Ligotti short story like Il Mangiatore di Peccati. Be mad at me all you want, but if you were to try it, you’d understand the mood he’s trying to create. Then maybe—just maybe—you’d realize the guitar tone, vocals, and circusy elements are intentional. Plus, it was my birthday. Fucking selfish assholes.

#6. Midnight // Let There Be Witchery – I’d like to take this opportunity to get something off my chest. If you find Midnight boring, you’re a fucking idiot. I recently saw Midnight and Mercyful Fate sandwich Kreator like they were tuna salad on the stage. Like their stage performance, Midnight writes records as if they’re in your living room playing an exciting setlist just for you. It’s always a party of burning swords, stale beer, and the scent of grave dirt when this black/thrash trio releases a record. Resurrecting the blackened slop of Venom and infusing it with clay from the tomb of Hellhammer, you know everything they do is gonna be disgusting. But it ain’t all filth and ripping guitar solos. Unlike previous releases, Let There Be Witchery is a tight record from beginning to end. With ten concise tracks, this new record focuses on bringing out the best in each. You can find the patience necessary to craft songs like the Motörhead beauty of “In Sinful Secrecy,” the old-school sliminess of “Nocturnal Molestation,” and the crushing headbangability of “More Torment.” While the band has never released a bad record, Let There Be Witchery climbs the rung.

#5. Darkher // The Buried Storm – Few album covers convey what lies ahead as Darkher artwork does. Like a ghost washed up from a self-inflicted tragedy at sea, she finds herself forever trapped on this lonely beach. And that’s precisely how The Buried Storm makes me feel. While I’d be happy to give greats like Darkher and Messa the honor of turning me onto this depressing, soundtrack-like music, I can’t. If it wasn’t for the masterful scores from the genius duo of Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, I might never have come around to Darkher. If it weren’t for the music of films like The Road, The Proposition, and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, The Buried Storm would not be here. While there are obvious differences between Darkher and the talents of Cave and Ellis, the mood of the three is the same. While many listeners like to dissect The Buried Storm, arguing over and selecting the best tracks on the record, I cannot. To single out one or any of these tracks is a detriment to its whole. That might be a problem for some, but it isn’t for me. Like the vast desert—home to drought, pain and danger—the only way to understand it is to accept it all. That’s the way of The Buried Storm.

#4. Black Cross Hotel // Hex – Like others, supergroup Black Cross Hotel is not anywhere near my wheelhouse. But to deny its genius would be a travesty. While you won’t find anything that separates it from the Ministrys and Killing Jokes of the world, its simplicity makes it great. Combining influences from these bands, Black Cross Hotel stands out of the crowd with Stabbing Westward guitar work and the unique yet satisfying vocals of Dee DeEmme. While the vocals march along with chugging riffs, the haunting keyboard work matches the album’s sinisterness. Hex sends you back in time to the glory days of horror movies. The theme around ’80s horror flicks infects each song with spooky moments from classics like Halloween, Halloween II, The Fog, The Thing, and Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors. And to release the album around Halloween 2022 was a stroke of genius. A consistent flow from song to song keeps the terror honest and the thirty-eight-minute runtime effortless. Being a debut, Hex shows promise for this one-of-a-kind band.

#3. Second to Sun // Nocturnal Philosophy – If you go back through Dok Tor Grier‘s top-ten lists, you’ll find that Second to Sun shows up a lot. What’s surprising is how many times I’ve listed them in such a short amount of time. Since 2018, I’ve listed them three times, and here they are again. While prolific, Second to Sun has maintained its strength, if not grown stronger, with each release. This year, this Russian outfit tries something different. Breaking course from their classic album and song structure, Nocturnal Philosophy is a compact, five-track record that flows like a novel you can’t put down. With a songwriting structure that never fails to draw you into its dark, dissonant atmospheres, Second to Sun pushes that to its limits. From the initial gripping moments of “North Metal Legion,” the bait is set. By “Veter,” you’re fully investing in taking this meal no matter the cost. Once the title track hits you across the jaw, it’s too late—the hook is set. Your only wish will be a swift death when pulled from the water.

#2. Borealis // IllusionsBorealis is easily one of the greatest sleepers in modern metal. Never one to jump in your face—or down your throat—this quiet group always seems to come out of nowhere and leave everyone in awe. Having cemented their sound into a melodic metal combination of Evergrey and Symphony X, Borealis has umphed the symphonic elements more and more with each release. Some would argue that with each iteration, the atmospheres have become uncontrollable. To an extent, I agree. Twenty-eighteen’s The Offering saw the band focus more on the builds than on the songwriting and album fluidity. For Illusions, they brought in the mighty Vikram Shankar to write these passages and bring them in sync with the guitars, drums, and vocals. The result is nothing short of phenomenal. Taking their time to write and rewrite every song, strengthen each piece, and ensure tracks flow together like waves on the sea paid off. Illusions contains some of the band’s best riffs, choruses, and builds ever recorded. They lift you to the frothing peaks and drop you into the smooth valleys with absolute ease. The passion the album emanates proves that Illusions was a labor of love. We can now enjoy their hard-earned work as they arguably produced their greatest achievement.

#1. Kampfar // Til Klovers Takt – Make fun of their name, but Kampfar is nothing short of a remarkable band. This band has led the pagan pack for nearly thirty years, and their releases remain relevant. Not only that, but they continue to show us what else the genre has in store for us. Their career exists in two eras: when Thomas Andreassen was in the band and when he wasn’t. Being a diehard fan of the Andreassen era—with albums like Mellom Skogkledde Aaser and Kvass—it was hard to accept his departure. Instead of trying to recreate the period before, Kampfar pushed on. With the release of Profan, they cemented themselves, once again, as the leaders of the pack. Over the last few years, they injected more atmospheres, and Viking-hardened cleans into the mix. With this year’s Til Klovers Takt, the band took a step back to evaluate everything they’ve achieved. Looking to the past and present, Til Klovers Takt gathers it all and puts it into the future. From the classic sounding “Lausdans under Stjernene” to the freakishly fast “Urkraft” to the epic closer, you can’t find a better album of this style in 2022. After the release of 2015’s Profan, I didn’t think the band could top the arrangements, songwriting, and calculated tracklist. I was wrong. And good on them for proving me wrong.

Honorable Mentions

  • Autopsy // Morbidity Triumphant – I’m not much of a death metal fan, but when it comes to the filth and grotesqueness of Autopsy, I’m on board. I worship Autopsy’s entire discog, and Morbidity Triumphant joins its predecessors in vile glory.
  • Exhumed // To the DeadExhumed, like Autopsy, is the kind of death metal I adore. Where Autopsy puts me in the mood for violent slasher flicks, Exhumed pummels me into pulsating soup on the operating table. After all these years, it’s incredible that they can still do that to me.
  • Soulfly // Totem – This was an even bigger surprise for me than it was for you. After years of bashing these guys, I can honestly say I have an album of theirs I genuinely love.
  • Falls of Rauros // Key to a Vanishing Future – I know this’ll be on many a list, and it nearly made mine. Falls of Rauros remain a significant player in the atmoblack world, and Key to a Vanishing Future cements that legacy.
  • Xentrix // Seven Words – I’m not gonna lie. I gave up on Xentrix decades ago. But since their rebirth with a new vocalist in 2017, I’ve been listening. And this year’s Seven Words won’t get out of my head.

Disappointments o’ the Year

  • Abbath // Dread Reaver – What looked like a promising release instead turned out to be a one-man show with nothing more than Abbath’s guitar and voice. Who needs to hear the rest of the band, right? To add insult to injury, slap on one of the worst productions of the year, and you get the Dreaded Reaver.
  • The AMG Staff and Commenters: You’re all idiots.1

Songs o’ the Year

You can’t listen to one without the other…

  • Eruption – “Praise the Serpent Queen”

  • Eruption – “Gone With the Floods”

Show 1 footnote

  1. Can confirm. – Steel
« »