Holdeneye’s Top Ten(ish) of 2022

New year, new me. While Eyegor served me well these last couple of years, I’ve decided it is time for an avatar update. I’ve been rocking a majestic mustache in real life for a while now, and it deserves to be displayed in all of its glory. This image hearkens back to my original form, reconnects me to my name, and shows how deadly serious I am about enjoying the absolute hell out of 2023. If you don’t like this new me, tell it to the stache, ’cause the rest of the face ain’t listening.

This Listurnalia finds me feeling exponentially better than I was this time last year. I came into 2022 with the goal of achieving balance across all facets of my life, and while I still have a long way to go, I’ve made some huge strides. The biggest change came when I decided to leave the fire station that I’d been assigned to for a decade. Those ten years will always be the highlight of my career, and I miss working with the phenomenal people that I had the privilege to serve with there. But I don’t miss the inundation of traumatic sights, sounds, smells, and personal threats that comes with working in an area known for its violent crime and extreme drug abuse. It took me months to wind down from the adrenaline high of such a fast-paced work environment, but I’m finally feeling the balance settling in. I’m eating better, sleeping better, drinking less, and my family life has improved immensely. I’m just glad I made the switch now, while I still have some years to salvage with my kids. My goal is to keep this balance train rolling down the tracks into next year. Necessary changes can be hard and scary, but if we have the courage to make them, the results can be incredible.

I’d once again like to thank everyone who keeps this site running—AMG, Madam X, and Sentynel. Steel Druhm earns my VIP trophy for the year. He not only writes and edits reviews, sorts promos, and schedules posts, he also manages a host of finicky writers and deals with countless crises throughout the year. The AMG backchannels started the year in a bit of a rough patch, and he handled it with grace and dignity. In general, we can all be thankful to him that this site even exists on a daily basis. Thanks to my co-editor and co-lover Dr. A. N. Grier for doing about 99% of our shared editing work this List Season. I owe you a smooch, Big Guy! To my fellow writers and loyal readers, I love you all, even though you always make me cry when I like an album too much. I try to remember that it’s not my fault you guys can’t actually enjoy anything. On that note, I hope you can enjoy this holiday season, but if you can’t, at least try to enjoy Listurnalia 2022!

#ish. Becoming the Archetype // Children of the Great Extinction – The Ghost of Christ-core Past visited me this year and convinced me that the future of one of my all-time favorite bands is bright. After a decade’s silence, Becoming the Archetype dropped a new album out of nowhere, and the results were powerful. These guys have never made the same album twice, and their track record of experimentation continues on Children of the Great Extinction, a record that recalls their best moments while adding previously unseen elements to the mix. I was nervous that I might have been blinded by nostalgia when I originally scored this one, but I’ve returned often in the intervening months and have found that my love for the record has only grown stronger. Sample: “The Remnant”

#10. Ironflame // Where Madness Dwells – My favorite traditional heavy metal album of the year, Where Madness Dwells beat out Satan himself to win the crown. Ironflame was a returning favorite, with their previous album, Blood Red Victory, barely missing out on my 2020 Top Ten(ish), so my expectations were very high. Fortunately, Where Madness Dwells met and exceeded all of those expectations, and its brief package of metal anthems has been a major part of my 2022 soundtrack. I loved this record so much that I purchased a mighty banner of its artwork to hang in my garage gym, its musclebound hero inspiring me to push myself harder if a giant serpent should happen to sap my motivation. Sample: “Under the Spell”

#9. Hell Fire // Reckoning – 2022 was a great year for thrash, and Hell Fire’s Reckoning is just one of a few genre representatives on this list. By far the most quintessentially ‘thrash’ album here, I stated in the review that these San Franciscans offer “the sound of a modern Bay Area band capturing 40-year-old lightning in a bottle and channeling that energy into something authentic and relevant for today.” Wow, that’s pretty good writing, if say so myself. Reckoning offers authentic heavy/speed/thrash metal intensity mixed with intelligent songwriting chops, and the result is a new record that feels delightfully old. Sample: “Medieval Cowboys”

#8. Inexorum // Equinox Vigil – By far the most beautiful record I experienced all year, Equinox Vigil is a diverse journey through a majestic blackened wilderness. Its most impressive feature though is the way that it never leans too far in any one direction. Atmospheric passages and blistering melo-black combine without one overwhelming the other, and the result is a captivating listen from front to back. The guitar work here is just enchanting, and I was so happy to discover that the music lived up to the potential hinted at by the gorgeous artwork. Sample: “Dark Sky Sanctuary”

#7. The Devils of Loudun // Escaping Eternity – It’s been quite a while since a melodic death metal album has really tickled my fancy, but The Devils of Loudun had my fancy squirming all year with their neoclassical, technical take on the genre. Escaping Eternity’s symphonic keys are pervasive but never threaten to overshadow the riffs, and vocalist Vance Bratcher gives a jaw-dropping performance of screams and growls (spoiler alert: we might see him again later too). The speed at which these guys can play is incredible, but like all worthy songwriters, they know when to pull back and let things breathe for some contrast. These guys get bonus points for having one of my favorite band photos of the year. Sample: “Praise the Eternal Nightmare”

#6. Toxik // Dis MortaDis Morta isn’t just a return to form by an eighties band known for their insane take on thrash, it’s one of the best post-1999 thrash albums, period. It’s easy to listen to this record without fully grasping just how technical the riffing is, but if the Album o’ the Year was picked based on riff mastery alone, Dis Morta wins hands down. The progressive nature of the music shifts Toxik’s sound away from pure thrash and into a direction once traveled by the legendary Nevermore, and new vocalist Ron Iglesias brings an insane range to the party to boost the band’s already bonkers-level audio assault. I put this one on if I’m feeling overwhelmed by the world and need my brain to be therapeutically liquified. Sample: “Feeding Frenzy”

#5. Aethereus // LeidenLeiden was the first album I reviewed in 2022, and I knew back then that it would eventually appear on this list. These guys are from my hometown, but that has little to do with their presence here. Leiden is a technically impressive psychological journey, and the music becomes more and more ugly and dissonant as its concept’s main character descends further and further into madness. Like The Devils of Loudun above, Aethereus is fronted by Vance Bratcher, and on this record, his presence is simply gigantic. Unlike most tech-death bands, Aethereus incorporate a ton of atmosphere and breathing room into their virtuosic sound, making their style as captivating as it is mind-blowing. Leiden stayed with me all year, and it’s safe for me to say that it’s one of my favorite tech-death releases of all time. Sample: “Shrouded in Kaleidoscopic Skin”

#4. Wachenfeldt // Faustian Reawakening – I’m not going to lie, despite giving Faustian Reawakening one of my patented 4.0s™, I was initially disappointed that I didn’t feel it matched up to my 2019 Album o’ the Year, Wachenfeldt’s The Interpreter. But as the months have rolled on, I’ve felt the album’s nefarious claws pulling me back again and again, and it has become one of my most-listened-to records of 2022. Don’t get me wrong, I love Amon Amarth, but Thomas von Wachenfeldt and his eponymous blackened death metal outfit have more authentic Nordic paganism in their little fingers than the Guardians of Asgaard can muster in an entire album these days. Faustian Reawakening is crushing, haunting, and, at times, life-affirming, and I couldn’t get enough of it this year. Sample: “Halsu”

#3. In Aphelion // Moribund – The last two Necrophobic albums were incredible, with the first of them being my gateway into the blackened world, so when I saw that both of the band’s guitar players were involved in a pure black metal project, I simply had to check it out. Although I expected great things from In Aphelion based on the members’ pedigree, I wasn’t prepared for just how amazing Moribund, the project’s debut, was going to be. Sebastian Ramstedt and Johan Bergebäck are heavy metal guitar gods, and they’ve plastered Moribund with incendiary riffs and leads while Remstadt simultaneously spews venom, drawn from the world serpent itself, into the mic and straight into your ears. Moribund is easily in my top few black metal albums ever. Sample: “Let the Beast Run Wild”

#2. High Command // Eclipse of the Dual MoonsHigh Command have proven once again that they know how to make a list-breaking impact no matter how late the hour might be; their swords, maces, axes, hammers, and flails simply won’t stop clanging, slashing, and smashing until they’ve conquered year-end list territory. But where 2019’s Beyond the Wall of Desolation just barely planted its flag upon my list for that year, Eclipse of the Dual Moons damn near took the crown in 2022, despite its late November release. These guys have so much charisma to go along with their (high) command of both thrash and classic heavy metal, and their epic storytelling just takes it all to another level. I find the combo of crossover thrash, NWoBHM, and small hints of blackened speed metal to make for an incredibly satisfying listen, and I can’t wait to open my ‘Steel’ version of the vinyl for Christmas. Thanks, Mom! Sample: “Omniscient Flail of Infamy”

#1. The Offering // Seeing the Elephant – Believe it or not, I really, really tried to not have this record in the top spot. There’s a conflict-avoidant part of my personality that doesn’t have the energy for whiny comments or inflamed outbursts. But there’s also another part of me, a part that just wants to watch the world burn. I’d honestly be happy to place any of my top 3 choices here, but as I agonized over the decision, it suddenly became no choice at all; Seeing the Elephant is by far the most unique and compelling collection of tracks I’ve heard all year. This album pisses me off, whether I whole-heartedly agree with the band’s political statements, wish they’d chosen a different way to express those statements, or when I disagree with what’s being said. But no matter where I fall on that spectrum, I’m always 100% engaged with the passion that these guys pour into their music. Ah, the music. I think The Offering hits me so hard because it gives me nostalgic links to just about every era of my heavy music development; it meets high school Holdeneye, who thought Hybrid Theory was the heaviest thing ever, but it also takes me back to the wonder of experiencing This Godless Endeavor for the first time. But The Offering go far beyond mere imitation. They’ve established a completely unique stronghold in the world of rock/metal/core. I can’t stop listening to this, and I don’t see that ending any time soon. Sample: See Below

Honorable Mentions:

  • Grand Harvest // Consummatum Est – Beautifully produced Swedish death/doom that builds upon the work of bands like Asphyx and Bolt Thrower.
  • Deava // Through Sheer Will and Black Magic – Blackened thrash metal of the highest quality, featuring members of Crypt Sermon and a former member of Vektor.
  • Judicator // The Majesty of Decay – A heartfelt power metal album that avoids a lot of the genre’s standard tropes.
  • Nightfell // Never Comes the Storm – Another winner from these masters of blackened death/doom. I just wish there was more of it.
  • Burned in Effigy // Rex Mortem – Powerful neoclassical melodeath that might sooth the mourning hearts of Black Dahlia Murder fans.
  • Venator // Echoes from the Gutter – A wild platter of high-flying classic metal with some killer cuts.
  • Miseration // Black Miracles and Dark Wonders – Epic melodic death metal featuring the monstrous voice of Christian Älvestam.
  • Wayward Dawn // All-Consuming Void – These guys might be the grooviest death metal band around. This record was made for the gym.
  • Battlegrave // Cavernous Depths – Hardcore-infused death/thrash that is as all-over-the-place as it is vicious.

Disappointment o’ the Year:

I’m probably most disappointed that I can’t use Jon Schaffer for a third year in a row, because I’ve already beaten that dead horse into glue. I’m also disappointed that I wasn’t really disappointed by anything musically this year. I had a host of returning favorites in 2022, and they all pretty much delivered in one way or another. Ashes of Ares and Amon Amarth didn’t match my expectations, but both of those records are just fine and hardly deserving of disappointment status. Here’s to a more disappointing 2023!

Song o’ the Year:

The Offering // “Flower Children” – Sorry. I just had to. A song filled with deadly grooves, beautiful segues, and oppressive atmosphere, “Flower Children” is 100% pure, unadulterated cathartic release, and the lyrics are simply lethal—I love that the band included a Manowar reference among its allusions to more well-known projects. I’ll admit that I cringed the first time I heard this song, but it quickly won me over. I know what it’s like to be completely fed up with my past and know what it feels like to want to leave it all in a pile of rubble. Ultimately, I’ve come to see the message as a challenge to be the kind of person that future generations might look to for wisdom and guidance. But to do so, I think it’s also important to look back at previous generations to learn what can be learned. Even if it’s hard to see sometimes, we can learn something from anyone. And if we completely write off opportunities to learn important lessons, even from those with whom we disagree, we might one day find future generations calling for our demise.

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