Sentynel and Twelve’s Top Ten(ish) of 2022


Sentynel

I was going to start with “oof, what a year,” but by now, it would be notable if we had a quiet year. Alas, we get yet another one plagued by endless spiraling crises. Most notable for a music blog, though: Covid restrictions are gone, as the world is too busy focusing on this year’s crises instead.1 But hey, live music is back! Being at gigs again has been fantastic. Particular highlights: ArcTanGent was wonderful, and the Villagers of Ioannina City‘s high-energy London gig this summer was amazing. Meanwhile, at AMG, there have been some, ahem, ups and downs, but it’s been a good year. The new intake of writers isn’t awful, the existing staff is acceptable, some of the things people have reviewed have been tolerable, and you, the readers, continue to show up and complain. And I met my list buddy and can confirm that he is both very tall and very Canadian.2

I feel like my inconsistent and capricious listening habits have bitten particularly hard this year, or maybe it just wasn’t a great year for some of the stuff I like. Either way, it’s resulted in a somewhat atypical list for me. Wow, is there a lot of prog on this, even by my standards. I also seem to have decided I like power metal again for the first time since Apex came out. And there’s no folk! None! Nor any real crossover from heavier genres. (Remember last year I liked Archspire and appeared, very briefly, to have some metal cred? That was a good year.) Still, I’m happy with this list—all the entries deserve to be there, and I’ve really enjoyed a lot of music. I was also absolutely blown away by my top pick, which is always a nice feeling.


#ish. Disillusion // Ayam – I’ll admit I don’t see quite as much in this record as my esteemed colleagues, but then, everyone describes it as a grower, and I’ve only had a bit of time with it so far. Either way, it’s a great piece of music in a post-Opeth progressive death metal world. Highlights like “Am Abgrund” and “From the Embers” are fantastic, and the band’s talent is undeniable.

#10. The Offering // Seeing the Elephant – I was surprised by the hate this album got in the comment section. Their last one—which I also really enjoyed—got a much more positive reaction. A little more musically consistent, but still very clearly the same Offering, Seeing the Elephant is once again A Bit Much in all the right ways. Furious, contemplative, melodic, rhythmic, often all on top of each other, it’s hard to imagine anybody else playing something like this without it being a disaster. In The Offering’s hands, it’s the opposite.

#9. Threshold // Dividing Lines – I’ve appreciated Threshold’s poppy, uplifting melodic prog for quite a while. This is somehow the first of three bands appearing on this list that I first discovered from a 2012 AMG review. Glynn Morgan’s return to fronting the band is top-notch, and this record is more manageable than the 80-minute Legends of the Shires. The songs are super catchy, with “Hall of Echoes” a strong SotY contender and others not far behind. Dividing Lines really nails Threshold’s style, and it’s amazing that a band older than me still sounds so interesting.

#8. Charlie Griffiths // Tiktaalika – Despite some trepidation around solo projects, I was and remain pleasantly surprised by Tiktaalika. Neither an ego project nor a simple rehash of Haken’s work, it’s a confident, interesting prog piece that branches out in different directions from its parent band. The expected guitar wizardry sets up great work by the crew of guest vocalists, displaying Griffiths’ strength as a composer, as well as a musician. I’ve returned to it regularly since reviewing it. I do wish it was on Bandcamp, though.3

#7. Seven Kingdoms // Zenith – The next of the 2012 AMG discoveries. The Fire is Mine was one of my favorites from those early days. Since then, Seven Kingdoms have got less serious, more fun, more catchy, and picked up some tips from Unleash the Archers along the way. From the rousing “Universal Terrestrial” to the unabashedly silly hair metal anthem “Love Dagger,” the band is clearly just having a blast, dropping killer songs and singalong choruses as they go, and it’s infectious.

#6. Oceans of Slumber // Starlight and Ash – The ever divisive, ever risky pivot away from metal strikes Oceans of Slumber, and… it’s gone brilliantly. I adore Cammie Gilbert’s vocals, but the past couple of releases haven’t grabbed me. This, on the other hand, has. Starlight and Ash is shorter and punchier than previous records with no filler. Fully embracing the smoky southern gothic sound suits the band perfectly. Gilbert sounds fantastic whether she’s paired with a lonely piano or the rare distorted guitar riffs. The songs are top-notch, and they do a great job of the “House of the Rising Sun” cover to boot.

#5. Mares of Thrace // The Exile – Thanks to Huck for finding this sleeper hit. Thirty-five minutes of banging baritone guitar riffs hit like a brick. Between the hardcore-y vocals and doom/sludge/prog instrumentation, Mares of Thrace are hard to categorize, but whatever genre they are, they’re great. I’ve been spinning this record all year and love it every time. There’s an awesome driving energy to it, and the five-year pandemic-interrupted process of making the album has sapped none of it. There isn’t a wasted moment, nor a riff that doesn’t immediately stick in my head.

#4. Lathe // Tongue of Silver – Some albums are shoe-ins for the aggregate list. Some target a niche so tailor-made for you, you hadn’t realized you occupy it. Obviously, I love post-metal. But I also have a thing for the instrumental space bluegrass found on the soundtracks to Firefly or Hardspace: Shipbreaker (which is one of my most listened-to records this year…). Lathe somehow cross these two over and make it work. Bluegrass melodies drift through a post-metal soundscape in a gorgeously crushing ode to post-industrial inner America. I didn’t expect this to land so high up the list. But it’s absolutely my thing, I’ve heard nothing else like it, and it’s brilliant.

#3. Aeternam // Heir of the Rising SunAeternam has gone from strength to strength since Moongod—the third of the set of early AMG favorites. This is their best yet, and what an album. Their blend of melodeath, symphonic, and Arabic music sounds more confident and more effortless than ever. Achraf Loudiy’s vocals are a particular standout this time around. The story flows from a rare example of a really effective spoken word intro through to an appropriately epic closing track, with nary a note out of place on the way. Indeed, I thought this would be my AotY for some time, jostling for position with the next entry on this list.

#2. Fellowship // The Saberlight Chronicles – Oh no, it’s the Disney metal! Unlike The Offering, I was not at all surprised by the comment section for this one, but fortunately, I’m too busy rewatching Moana to care. Yes, it’s incredibly, unrelentingly bright. But if you can find it in your heart to admit that not everything needs to be all minor key all the time, the songwriting and performances on this record are absolutely stellar. Every time I listen to this record, I come away with at least 50% of it stuck in my head simultaneously. Lyrically, even the “Disney metal” pejorative is a strength, in that it’s more a character study than a chest-thumping battle anthem. There’s a shallowness, a saccharineness to most attempts at the less gritty end of the genre, which is absent here; it’s fun and positive without needing to be lightweight. There’s life in the old power metal yet.

#1. The Otolith // Folium Limina – Oh man. I knew from the first listen that this was my AotY. Every time I press play, I lose track of what I was supposed to be doing as it sucks me in. Every element of it is something I love. String-heavy, beautiful, and at times crushing, it recalls the cinematic feel of Nordic Giants, the ritual atmosphere of Esben and the Witch’s fantastic Older Terrors, the string instruments of Musk Ox, and adds thunderous doom riffs. Though the last two tracks are the best, to say that does a disservice to the rest of the album. Each track is brilliant in its own right as well as a necessary part of the build-up to the end. But what an ending. The use of the Great Dictator speech in “Bone Dust,” half-swamped under furious instrumentation, plays better than it has any right to. And the melody that comes in four minutes into the final track, “Dispirit,” is the year’s greatest individual musical moment; I honestly nearly cried the first time I heard it. It’s always risky to predict the long-term impact of an album—especially one that only came out two months ago—but this is the most effusive I’ve ever been in one of these writeups. Absolutely phenomenal.

Honorable Mentions

  • Muse // Will of the People – I’ve not really liked any Muse album since the incredible Origin of Symmetry/Absolution/Black Holes and Revelations run. This is fun, recalling the BH&R era, with highlights including the Ghostly “You Make Me Feel Like It’s Halloween” and the silly-but-hard-to-disagree-with closer “We’re All Fucking Fucked.”
  • Kardashev // Liminal Rite – Beautiful and moving. For whatever reason, I haven’t connected with it emotionally to the same depth as certain other writers. But it’s still a very impressive piece of music.
  • Cult of Luna // The Long Road North – “An Offering to the Wild” is a SotY contender, and the rest is no slouch either. The Long Road North is a bit longer than I’d like, as with many CoL albums, which is probably why this isn’t higher up my list. But it’s damn good nonetheless.
  • Master Boot Record // Personal Computer – Not a dramatic upheaval in MBR’s sound, but commendable progression and, as ever for MBR, great music. I’m also really looking forward to their upcoming European tour with live drums.

Album-So-Un-Metal-I-Would-Be-Fired-If-It-Were-on-My-Actual-List o’ the Year

  • First Aid Kit // Palomino – Okay, yeah, so this is pretty out there for this audience. Fortunately, we’ve already established this post is a metal-cred-free zone. I’ve loved the Söderberg sisters’ harmony vocals, folk/country songs, and frequently dark lyrics since I heard “The Lion’s Roar.” Palomino embraces more pop influences, but it’s the same First Aid Kit. Just because it sounds cheerful doesn’t mean it is cheerful, and the writing is as sharp as ever.

Disappointment o’ the Year

  • Forlesen // Black Terrain – This is a good album, and I like it, and I’m sure its appearance here is as much a function of heightened expectations as any inherent flaws. But where Hierophant Violent felt finely tuned, with every note contributing to the whole, Black Terrain feels somewhat directionless. Lackluster sections like the black metal half of “Harrowed Earth” further bring things down. I’m glad they didn’t just try and remake HV, but I wish more of the assuredness of that album had come through here.

Song o’ the Year

  • Aeternam “Where the River Bends” – From the moment the opening choral vocal comes in, this song had me hooked. Great both in its place on the album and stood alone, it shows off the band’s every strength. Runner up: Nearly every track on The Saberlight Chronicles.


Twelve

I’ve written a couple of different versions of this intro now, and this one—the one in which I talk about the process of writing the intro, rather than anything of any real substance—is the one that seems to be sticking. Trying to look back on and sum up this past year is, I’m finding, a tremendously difficult task. I want to call it a bad year, but it wasn’t really—just busy. I lost family and gained family. I took some risks professionally and am working hard to make it worth it. New ambitions, new sources of stress. Above all else, 2022 was a year of change for me, and I have to confess to being someone who hates change, even though I know that change is good. Many recent changes in my life have been wonderful, but I still find myself, at times, struggling.

At least the music was good. In a year of significant change, I’m grateful to be able to depend on a few constants, and metal music has been a steady constant in my life for well over twelve years now.4 Similarly, the community of staff, readers, and commenters on this very site makes it a happy, dependable place that has been a bedrock for me throughout the year. To the new staff and old, thank you for your companionships and friendships; to those of you who read my articles, thank you for putting up with my bizarre persona and for trusting my oft-incorrect opinions; and to those of you who comment, your attempts at productivity are noted and appreciated. It’s a little blog on a niche corner of the Internet, but I’m very glad to have it in my life.

One more thank you before I dive into my list proper, and that’s to Sentynel, who has already written a bunch of stuff up there, and who I had the pleasure of meeting offline for the first time earlier this year. Among other things, we discussed the music we’ve enjoyed through the year, and he said a few certain things about a few certain albums that got in my head. As a result, I listened to a few certain musics on the train ride home, leading to more listening afterward, and if you’re wondering why I’m being so vague about it, it’s because my ultimate Album o’ the Year soared through the ranks on the wings of that discussion. So cheers and well met, list-buddy. Read on, and look what you made me do.


#ish. Disillusion // Ayam – Oh, to have started listening to this one earlier in the year. Ayam is a massive album; long, complex, and technical. There are layers and details and so much to work out, uncover, and enjoy. Since its release, I’ve been slowly chipping away at its density, and (ay)am enjoying every second. Ayam is a magnificent album that will undoubtedly dominate my progressive metal needs for a long time to come.

#10. Marrasmieli // Martaiden Mailta – Again these Finns make my year-end list! That’s two for two, and with good reason: Marrasmieli consistently brings their A-game to a super folky, atmospheric, powerful black metal assault. Martaiden Mailta is a gorgeous, epic symphony of black metal goodness that keeps on finding new and interesting ways to present the style.

#9. Pure Wrath // Hymn to the Woeful Hearts – Speaking of strong atmospheric black metal, Pure Wrath absolutely nailed it with Hymn to the Woeful Hearts. The album’s story is complemented by nearly everything about it, from stellar songwriting and a killer performance—so much so that it’s incredibly hard to believe almost every instrument is played by one person. Pure Wrath is phenomenal, and Hymn to the Woeful Hearts is a suitably phenomenal album.

#8. Persefone // metanoia – What an interesting album. With metanoia, Persefone offers a gift that keeps on giving. Between wild, technical assaults and slow, eerie synth work, this album has a little bit of everything. Nevertheless, it is a balanced, well-paced, and brilliant affair. It is technical, progressive, and symphonic; done well, these are unstoppable forces. To have all three done this well on a single album is a little short of amazing.

#7. Lorna Shore // Pain Remains – If you’d told me at the beginning of the year that I’d be listing a deathcore album on my year-end list, I’d have demanded a refund for your services. That’s the thing about Pain Remains though: it’s unpredictable. Lorna Shore uses symphonic elements alongside a beastly vocal performance to deliver an album that is uplifting, adventurous, and empowering, making it an easy favorite in 2022.

#6. Aeviterne // The Ailing Facade – Speaking of styles that don’t usually work for me, Aeviterne’s brand of dissonant, experimental death metal is not usually my thing, but the glowing review prompted me to spin a track or two and see what I was missing. Turns out The Ailing Facade is a brilliant, sprawling, harrowing work of art that feels like nothing so much as walls closing in. The subtlest traces of melody tip it over the edge—this one is powerful.

#5. Blind Guardian // The God Machine –  There’s something about Blind Guardian that is endlessly compelling. The band’s decision to take a step back from the complex grandeur that’s dominated some of their members’ recent outputs was a great one, and the result is an album of strong, catchy, and well-written power metal. The God Machine feels cohesive, exciting, and fresh, three things that a band of Blind Guardian’s age always benefit from.

#4. White Ward // False Light – Something different—that’s what False Light is, and White Ward knows exactly how to make different cool. Who would have thought black metal could benefit so much from being jazzed up a bit? But that’s exactly what White Ward does here, building dismal atmospheres, intense confrontations, and dramatic showdowns all with the power of their music. Throughout a year where change has been a constant, False Light has been a terrific companion.

#3. The Otolith // Folium Limina – I used to be a huge fan of doom metal before it all started feeling like the same old thing. Nowadays, I tend to avoid the style, except on rare occasions when someone innovates and does it well. The Otolith innovates, and they do it really well. Folium Limina is a gorgeous album for how simply it arrives and how much it says. Sparse, slow, and enduringly sad, this has been one of the most cathartic releases of the year for me.

#2. Urferd // Resan – There’s been a good amount of neofolk on my radar recently, but nothing quite like Urferd’s debut. The adventurous spirit of this album does nothing to diminish the seriousness of its story,  where nearly everything is used in just the right amount to convey the passing of days long gone. A complex, compelling, and mighty release, it needs no guitars to weigh heavy on the mind. The promo copy described it as an “odyssey”—and I am entirely compelled to agree.

#1. Fellowship // The Saberlight Chronicles – It’s been a long year, a stressful year, an uncertain year, and an uneven year. My year-end list is dominated by dark, mournful, or simply sad music. But here, midway through, comes an album unashamed of its own positivity, genuine in its storytelling, and infectious in its joy. These qualities are so important, so meaningful, and so powerful in music. This is an album that makes me feel better. This is music that helps to make me happy. And I’ll admit, I didn’t get it at first—it received a 5.0/5.0 score, and I was skeptical, even after listening to it. Then I asked myself, what exactly did I think they could improve? I still don’t really have an answer. I love The Saberlight Chronicles for exactly what it is, and it has been, in many ways, exactly what I’ve needed going into the end of 2022. Happy metal—we need more happy metal.

Honorable Mention

  • Novarupta // Carrion Movements – Creeping, dark, and hopeful, with Carrion MovementsNovarupta create a greater catharsis with two songs than most of this year’s releases could with ten. Rarely does instrumental music of such density carry so much depth, such good storytelling, or work so consistently well, but Carrion Movements succeeds on all fronts—a superb and captivating album from start to finish.

Disappointment of the Year

  • Alestorm // Seventh Rum of a Seventh RumAlestorm released their seventh album Seventh Rum of a Seventh Rum this year, an album I fully expected to grab with both hands, overrate like nobody’s business, and abscond into the sunset without regrets. But to this day, I have yet to listen—without the fun factor, what’s the point? To my immense disappointment, it is still very difficult to think of Alestorm as a fun band right now. So maybe next time.

Song of the Year

  • Ezkaton “Fey to Failure” – Throughout the year, no song has grabbed and shaken me quite as hard as Ezkaton’s “Fey to Failure.” It’s a combination of things; uncertainty over Sapozhnikov’s wellbeing plays a part for sure, as do the clear themes of anti-war and cynicism that dominate the song (and, indeed, the whole album it’s on)—especially when we think about what’s happened in Ukraine since it was written. Then there are the lyrics: “You killed enough to be forgiven” lands like a punch in the gut, delivered with aching sincerity. This is a dark, dark song, and I wouldn’t change a thing about it. Hope you’re doing well, Roman.

Show 4 footnotes

  1. Meanwhile, I got Covid for the first time, and wouldn’t recommend it. (Get your booster shots and wear a mask if you have cold symptoms, folks.)
  2. Okay, okay, also great company.
  3. Additional rant on this topic confined to footnote: If you/your label puts your music on Bandcamp, I can give you money for it! If you just put it on streaming platforms, I can give streaming platforms money for it and not you! Aaaaargh!
  4. Idiot… – Grier
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