I don’t take naming a top record of the year lightly at all. I’m no one, really. So, this is not an ego thing. I just take very seriously the record I name my favorite of the year because I’m honored to hear so many albums every calendar year, that saying one of them moved me the most means a lot. In this case, it’s a matter of two things: The music a band makes sending me somewhere most don’t, and the alignment with my own loss and profound sadness in a way that fuels the will to move on and live again, as hard as that may be. I’ve always been thankful that Cave In makes music that connects to me, but I never have felt it as hard as I did this year with “Heavy Pendulum.”
Many people know the story of Cave In, the long-running, impossible to truly classify band that tore into the world on the wings of fire-breathing, wildly influential debut “Until Your Heart Stops” and has changed colors and sounds throughout the past two decades. The death of bassist Caleb Scofield in 2018 seemed, at the time, to be the potential end of the band, and their 2019 record “Final Transmission” appeared to verify their final days. But the fires were still burning, their love and respect for Scofield forever flowing, and they decided to carry on, create again, and they returned with the amazing “Heavy Pendulum.” This album is a triumph on every level. The remaining members of the band—guitarists/vocalists Stephen Brodsky and Adam McGrath, drummer John-Robert Conners—united with longtime ally Nate Newton (Converge, Doomriders) to take bass and added vocal duties and turned on the lava flow, delivering a mammoth 14-track double album that melted us to the ground. It’s a huge, heavy, infectious, energetic record that not only pays proper homage to Scofield but pushes the band onto a new course with the future open and exciting, the possibilities endless.
“New Reality” is a killer opener, the perfect way to prepare you for what’s ahead with big riffs chugging, catchiness surrounding you and Brodsky calling, “New reality, never knew would be, dawning on me.” The soloing scorches toward the end, and the final moments leave you in the dust. “Blood Spiller” makes the perfect next step, the second half of a 1-2 punch that smokes and smashes, the chorus of, “Fresh kill or the killer, you can choose only one,” digging into you. The band mashes heavily, the guitars get spacious, and Newton gets in on the action, howling, “Watch it run!” “Floating Skulls” keeps the heat on high, Brodsky’s singing often taking on a James Hetfield feel as he barks away. “Careless Offering” is another destroyer, pummeling and bleeding as Brodsky warns, “Someday we’ll be coming for the blood on your hands,” a vow that is repeated several times. The guitars take off into the stratosphere, and Newton’s wails punish again, the track chugging off into the stars.
“Amaranthine” is a track that lyrically was built from Scofield, so he’s very much a part of this record. Fittingly Newton takes the bulk of the vocals here, paying homage to the man whose shoes he’s filling, doing so with rage and passion. “We make peace with our sins, raise our shields to the sun,” Brodsky sings over the chorus, the energy flowing through the entire band, the guitars blazing, and everything ending in fittingly strange colors. “Reckoning” is a rare political statement by the band, and it hits hard, McGrath jabbing, “You swore on your bible with pages worn and distressed, how about a revival without getting too complex,” his voice taking on an uncharacteristic but pretty cool twang. Closer “Wavering Angel” is the longest song, a 12:09 cut that feels quite uncharacteristic coming from Cave In. It’s quiet, delicate, and pained, Brodsky quivering, “Have you ever held somebody too close? Took ‘em like a drug, then you overdose,” his hurt dripping. The track remains solemn and lightly storming, Brodsky calling, “Heavy, heavy wet weather, twisting, turn to the never,” as the pace begins to pick up, and eventually the heaviness lands. The guitars do battle, the melodies increase and cascade, and the emotional high and hypnotic haze reach their apex, slowly fading into vapor.
I also got to see the band in August for the first time in nearly 20 years. It was an emotional lift. It was a healing night. It was the alignment with blood and spirit that art you love and the creators who made it can connect with you and heal you. “Heavy Pendulum” is not just my favorite record of the year. It’s a collection of songs that will live with me and heal me until I disappear, and I’ll live in gratitude and adulation until the end of my days. (May 20)
Heavy metal records that haunt your bones and make you question your sanity are some of my favorites. I want to feel fear, strange tidings, and odd tales no one ever heard before and have been buried in time. The story unraveled on “The Knocking, Or the Story of the Sound That Preceded Their Disappearance,” the bizarre debut album from Colorado-based black metal force Doldrum that delivers folklore one might find stashed away in an abandoned tunnel, its authors long since deceased and forgotten, their stories dead with them. And that’s before even discussing the music that is progressively jabbing, ghostly, and battered with ancient evil and strange melodies created by these three forces—vocalist Rat Deveaux, guitarist/bassist Jimmy Oh-My-Back, drummer The Terrific Doon McKinnon, names taken from old prospectors.
Opener “The Knocking” begins our tale of these three explorers heading on a mission into the hollow earth, and when Deveaux howls, “Are you a man who knocks at the doorways of the earth? Are you a spirit of air or mud or salt?” it marks one of the most exciting, imagination-robbing moments of the entire year. This song alone convinced me Doldrum was going to be meaningful to me, and there were four more songs! “The Visitor” follows with glorious guitars welling and making your brain surge. It has a proggy feel to it that rewires your system, and when Devereaux wails, “I am the knocking that breaks apart thy soul, I am the spirit of mud and salt and bone,” it undoes me mentally. In the best possible way. It’s a dagger to the center of what I want heavy metal to be and feel. It just nails it perfectly.
“The Offering” plays in different stratospheres, feeling daring, exciting, and fluid, a track that can dance within your visions. If you partake in the mother’s leaf while experiencing this song (or this entire record), it unlocks realms in your brain into which this music taps. It’s like being on the same damned excursion with the prospectors three. Closer “The Disappearance” is the mythology devouring our characters whole, pouring into damnation. The grim epitaph of, “Chasm yawns, rope is snapped, the mine drifts on and on, and deeper they’re drug, blinded faces pale and drawn,” is the nightmare come to and end, a life expunged. It’s also the end of a black metal record that refuses to conform, won’t adhere to customs, and opens that cavity into the earth for all who follows. (May 27)
The arrival of the Otolith and their spellbinding debut record “Folium Lumina” both brought a powerful new presence into our lives and helped soothe wounds of loss. They emerged from the ashes of the fallen SubRosa, a band we loved dearly, and restored the same kind of energy we were missing with a little something more added. Four fifths of that band—violinist/lead vocalist Sarah Pendleton, violinist/vocalist Kim Cordray, drummer/percussionist Andy Patterson, and guitarist/vocalist Levi Hanna (he was in SubRosa from 2014-2017)—form the core of the Otolith along with bassist/vocalist Matt Brotherton, and they continue to operate in that atmospheric doom headspace that gets a little dirtier and sometimes more psychedelic on an excellent six-track debut that takes on a new life with every listen. If you’re skeptical, don’t be. It’s not a SubRosa record, nor should it be since it’s a whole new being. But there’s enough of that factor to reconnect the canals to your heart and so much more that goes beyond any hopes and expectations that you know you’re dealing with a new animal entirely. An exciting one that sends you on a different path to your dreams.
“Sing No Coda” opens the record elegantly and urgently, birds cawing as the strings rise, the branches slowly budding. Pendleton’s vocals are compelling and sweltering, the power gusts as every element comes to life, breathing a familiar but new energy. Everything swoons and then jars, the cello eases into the room, and then things get thicker as the storming comes down harder now, your adrenaline working to keep you safe and alive. Burly power connects, the doomy waters rise, and wordless calls echo off into the distance. “Andromeda’s Wing” feels instantly psychedelic but then the charges bend and break, sludge collects in veins, and vicious howls drive daggers into the earth.
“Bone Dust” dawns with sounds rumbling, the hint of something profound on the horizon, and that promise later is kept. The band takes time to build the ambiance, feeling crackles and jolts going through your body, heartfelt vocals working on your emotions and making you breathe deeply. The playing continues to darken and seems to be setting the stage for something, that being the Charlie Chaplin anti-fascist speech from the 1940 movie “The Great Dictator,” a scene that this world needs now more than ever. The record grows deep within us with every listen, and having the Otolith in our world creates a quaking presence that devastates us mind, body, and spirit. Welcome and welcome back. (Oct. 21)
At long last, Come to Grief finally delivered their debut full-length “When the World Dies,” building off the stellar reputation their previous incarnation Grief built decades ago in as scathing manner possible. The bad news? The world sucks, and you are immersed into the gut of that reality on this smoking, slaughtering record. But look, the music is what matters here, and of course they deliver the goods, and it’s nasty and derisive, and you won’t feel any better about the planet or its people when it’s over. Building off the smoldering ashes Grief left behind, this band—vocalist/guitarist Jonathan Hebert, lead guitarist/backing vocalist Terrenza Savastano (from the original Grief), bassist Jon Morse, drummer Chuck Conlon (also from Grief)—not only follows up what their original band and debut record of the same name offered the world, they push it further into psychological horrors you must face or otherwise suffer in silence.
“Our End Begins” is a slowly drubbing instrumental beginning that opens the door to the punishment ahead, and that bleeds into “Life’s Curse” that delivers crushing riffs and shrieks that dig under your fingernails. Burly hammering speeds up as the heat melts flesh, the playing takes on a bigger burden toward bruising you, and the band blasts into your chest, dragging you across the cinders. “Devastation of Souls” smothers and trashes you, bringing ominous guitars that chew away at your mind, the playing encircling dangerously. Wait. Riffs are incredible, right? This one has one of the best of the year. Period. PERIOD. Screams dice your sanity, and the viciousness finally ends when one last riff enters and splatters.
The title track is scary when it dawns, the guitars fry maddeningly, and the bass plods, your skull bouncing off each step along the way. Crushing heaviness meets up with a thickening haze, and things are allowed to cool until the temperature threatens anew, and spacious misery sinks into the ground. “Bludgeon the Soul/Returning to the Void” has noise hanging in the air before the vocals start to boil, and the pace drubs hard, slithering through broken, bloody glass. Closer “Death Can’t Come Soon Enough” hints at its despair from the title, and then you dig into this track, which hammers away with pure misery. Incredible record from doom lifers. Total pure menace. (May 20)
Records that make you sort through visions and memories are some of my favorites, and I reaped that from “Song of Salvation,” the incredible second record from death/doom duo Dream Unendingthat follows last year’s “Tide Turns Eternal.” The leap from record one to two is astonishing, and that holds even more power considering how great their debut is. The band—guitarist/bassist Derrick Vella (Outer Heaven, Tomb Mold), drummer/vocalist Justin DeTore (Sumerland, Innumerable Forms)—enters into a mystical land of frost and fog, strange transmissions, and the thorns of death and doom that feel like they stretch the lifespan of all heavy metal. They’re also joined by many noted metal luminaries to help realize their visions and create an atmosphere that stands on its own as something that’ll infect your cells and make it impossible to shake its power.
The record has epic numbers as bookends, the first being the opening title track that runs 14:05 and trickles into guitars launching and growls lurching. The murky coldness keeps getting thicker, the condensation on your limbs freezing you as mystical playing makes you see visions, and then the grisly powers open again. Dark, steamy trudging has its way, the howls penetrate your psyche, and the final minutes work to fully disorient you as it dissolves into mystery. “Secret Grief” features Phil Swanson (Hour of 13, ex-Sumerlands, myriad other bands) and Leila Abdul-Rauf on trumpet, and everything moves quietly and cleanly, giving you comfort that feels a little unsettling.
Closer “Ecstatic Reign” is the longest track, running 16:03 and trudging open, leaving muddy bootsteps behind. Growls pummel, but that aggression is encapsulated in dreamy interference, McKenna Rae’s (Phantom Divine, Revelry) gentle calls as The Implorer making the tension calm and your mind able to wander. The playing reignites later, bursts of lava blazing the night sky, a doomy pall covering the land and bringing on the cold. Max Klebanoff (also of Tomb Mold) twists his howls with DeTore’s as the pressure gets heavier, and then Richard Poe enters as The Dreamer, narrating and haunting. “The search continues, the dance lasts forever, can you hear the song that plays?” You will, and it’ll exist in your DNA forever. (Nov. 11)
10. NECHOCHWEN, “Kanawha Black” (Bindrune Recordings): Ever since they came to be, Nechochwen have brought to life in their music the Appalachian region, the areas that stretch over West Virginia (where they call home), Ohio, and Pennsylvania. That continues on their long-awaited fourth album “Kanawha Black,” the title inspired by a county in West Virginia, and the music delves into historical and anecdotal frontier and pre-American happenings, events that shaped the region where they live and long has bled into their music. But this record, their first in seven years, certainly has musical ties to what preceded it; but there are new energies and sounds, increased atmosphere, and something that jolts your insides a little harder than before. This duo—Nechochwen (guitars, vocals, flute), Pohonasin (drums, bass, hand percussion, jaw harp, vocals)—sounds as moved and inspired as ever, pouring every bit of themselves into the music and experience.
The title track opens the record, and it’s a killer, jolting with guitars and great energy, Pohonasin’s infectious singing over the chorus delivering the same power he supplies with Icarus Witch and Ironflame as he bellows, “The answers still remain unknown.” Excellent opener and one of the best tracks of the year. “The Murky Deep” begins with hearty acoustics and a gentle flow before the pace picks up, and the power bursts. “A Cure for the Winter Plagues” is rustic and crunchy before the guitars bleed in, and the clean calls pave way for the growls dive bombing. The pace keeps picking up as the song progresses, the playing gets increasingly hypnotic, and colors fill your head as the track comes to rest. “Across the Divide” is the closer, entering with acoustics dancing as the playing rushes open, the vocals swelling and paying the price. Speedy jabs and soaring leads work into an acoustic field that settles the mind, but around the next bend is another attack, spilling savage new blood into the dirt. (May 13)
9. RIPPED TO SHREDS, “劇變 (Jubian)” (Relapse): Asian-American death metal band Ripped to Shreds is having a hand in expressing more of their life experiences and has done so over their catalog, the latest of which is the blistering and earth-shaking “劇變 (Jubian),” the project’s third full-length effort. Long helmed by Andrew Lee (vocals and guitars, though he previously recorded all of the band’s material himself), he has made sure to focus the lyrical content on the cultural context of his life as a Taiwanese American and to help amplify and celebrate artists and people like him. He and the rest of the band (bumping this to a full group)—guitarist Michael Chavez, bassist Ryan, drummer Brian Do—concentrate on historical events, the experience of living as a minority in America, religious commentary, and being, as Lee says, blatantly Chinese. It’s a refreshing and much-needed perspective for heavy music, and the record is an absolute beast.
“Violent Compulsion for Conquest” furiously opens the record as the track recounts the 1931 Mudken Incident where the Japanese army staged an explosion to justify invading Manchuria. The track splatters and hammers, the speed becomes a dangerous and present factor, and some hypnotic riffs work their way into your psyche and disarm you with force. “Split Apart By Five Chariots” has mauling drums and animalistic growls as the track sprawls its tentacles, reaching for your throat and trying to choke the life out of you. “Harmonious Impiety” is a firebreather, delivering a savage attack and a tirade against people subservient to religion, the disgust palpable. Guitars launch as the pace throbs and crushes, blasting and rushing out forcefully. “Reek of Burning Freedom” is an anti-war track that also reminds of the scars that remain of the U.S. bombing campaign of North Korea during the Korean War. Closer “Scripture Containing the Supreme Internal Energy Arts That Render the Practitioner Invincible Throughout the Martial Realm” takes nearly as long to say as it does to hear as the 50-second brawler is a total and complete assault. Fuck, I love this record. (Oct. 14)
8. CHAT PILE, “God’s Country” (The Flenser): I fucking hate the hive mind. But sometimes people going wild for the same record is because it really is that good. We have that here. Oklahoma City-based noise maulers Chat Pileare living right in the middle of where so many of disenfranchised people live, and their frustration boils over onto their excellent and brain-ravaging debut full-length “God’s Country.” Living amidst a lot of hell in the Midwest, the band—vocalist Raygun Busch, guitarist Luther Manhole, bassist Stin, drummer Captain Ron (not the Kurt Russell version)—laments global capitalism and its effects on people who have no means to compete; environmental issues with our increasingly boiling planet; and the pandemic over nine tracks that are impossible to ignore. There are elements of grunge, down-tuned metal that slays, and punk chaos, and Busch’s relentless and stream-of-consciousness delivery leaves an impact that will stick with you and continually loop through your brain.
“Slaughterhouse” opens the gates on this trip with drums melting and the guitars bleeding as Busch immediately takes center stage and refuses to release your attention. “Why” is one of the most aggravated, sobering statements on homelessness that might exist in all heavy music, with Busch frustratingly wondering, “Why do people have to live outside?” before reminding we have the means as a nation to stop this. “Wicked Puppet Dance” ruptures blood vessels as feedback collects, and the bass lurches, ripping apart the remaining threads of sanity. Barked vocals and acidic playing infect and bring panic that slips away when the song ends, but it stays in your mind. “Tropical Beaches, Inc.” is flattening and heavy, the low-end thrashing feeling like the Deftones at their heaviest, while “I Don’t Care If I Burn” is an uncomfortable rant, something that would make you worry the narrator was about to do something dangerous. And then there’s closer “grimace_smoking_weed.jpeg,” an unhinged drug rant about the McDonald’s character that’ll kill your brain. It’s glorious. It never lets you think about anything else. (July 29)
7. URUSHIOL, “Pools of Green Fire” (Augur Tongues): There is very little I can say about “Pools of Green Fire,” the debut offering from Urushiol, that’ll even make any sense. This project, the creation of Yellow Eyes bassist Alexander DeMaria, is fucked up in a way we have not approached before. The label experimental death metal has been affixed by some to this album, and sure, why not? I guess in the most simplistic terms, that’s what it is. The music actually reminded me of Jeff VanderMeer’s The Southern Reach Trilogy and the defacing of nature into some warped form in Area X where you know you recognize the terrain, but it looks like something even the most deranged of dreams could not envision. This record likely isn’t best consumed by anyone on the brink of panic or by listeners easily jarred by strange and deformed melodies. This record is a task, one that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed even as I’ve tried to defend my psyche.
“Phase Lock” starts with warped chirps of distorted nature that is ravaged and twisted by some cosmic force, and then the song storms open. The guitar work is absolutely insane, sounding almost like someone rapid fire playing a theremin (it’s like that for almost the entire album), and the power is uncompromising. “Pillars of Red Smoke” delivers what can only be called cursed riffs, vocals that tangle your brain, and a relentless pace that challenges your stability. “Curved Air” bludgeons and scars, while the bass clobbers and sends jolts down your spine. Beastly howls pound you as the guitars zap and hypnotize, and the pace speeds and warps, adding to your confusion. The assault blisters as things get even more bizarre, the shrieks pelt your skull, and the noise whips into unexplored alien terrain. The title track ends the record, jabbing and lathering, instantly putting you to the test. I still can’t make heads or tails of this warped fuck of a record, and I love it unconditionally. (Feb. 13)
6. FAETOOTH, “Remnants of the Vessel” (Dune Altar): Los Angeles doom power Faetooth released their debut full-length effort “Remnants of the Vessel” at the end of October, and while I do get the bulk of every recording released each week, I didn’t get a copy of this one. In fact, I was looking at animals and chef reactions videos on TikTok (I know! I know!) while high, and I was served up a live performance from Faetooth that blew my brain out of my skull. That led me to track down their Bandcamp where I purchased “Remnants,” and it’s been in constant rotation since. The band—guitarist/vocalist Ashla Chavez Razzano, guitarist/vocalist Ari May, bassist/vocalist Jenna Garcia, drummer Rah Kanan—calls their sound “fairy doom,” and the dreamy yet blistering edge to their music could lure you into a patch of thorns. Fans into bands such as Blackwater Holylight, High Priestess, and Jex Thoth will find a ton to like on these 10 tracks and 49 minutes that are enrapturing and have no qualms about slipping a dagger into your side.
“Echolalia” starts solemnly before burly crushing lands, and the bruising starts to set. “On thy knees now, we fall with what we build,” rings out, jabbing deeply and leaving a mark that never goes away. “She Cast a Shadow” has gentle guitar tapping as the darkness enshrouds, and a dreamy haze makes your head feel light. Shrieks jar as the melodies enter your veins, slinking and dripping before brutality beckons. “Remains” dawns with a solemn pace as the singing emits pain, and the haze spreads its wings. Jolts make your teeth rattle while the dreamy essence here feels like a fever dream, whispers landing gently. “Strange Ways” starts quietly as the singing emerges and takes your hand toward damnation. “Sick outside your home, in such strange ways, invoked under the floors, the procession sways,” haunts, increasing the darkness, making the fog in front of you seem impossible to survive. Apocalyptic closer “Saturn Devouring His Son” is a standout track saved for the end. This is the longest song, running 9:31, and everything feels morbid as the words, “First the head and then the bod’, and half his blood spills down the jaw,” make it feel like the world is ending. Whatever altar Faetooth set for adoration, I will be there prostrate on the floor. (Oct. 28)
15. KONVENT, “Call Down the Sun” (Napalm): Danish blackened doom quartet Konvent faced the same hell we all did for two years, and their reaction was violence and frustration, emotions that make for ugly tension and chaos. That was poured into their powerful second record “Call Down the Sun,” a nine-track, 45-minute bruiser of an album that shows the band rising to a new, more scathing level. The isolation we have faced, the band not being able to play shows, which is their lifeblood, went into making these songs darker, more violent, more volatile. The band—vocalist Rikke Emilie List, guitarist Sara Helena Norregaard, bassist Heidi Withington Brink, drummer Julie Simonsen—lays waste to your body and mind, sounding more dangerous and frustrated, pouring all of their frustration into this destructive collection. It’ll fuck you up.
“Into the Distance” dawns in murk, and it isn’t long until you’ve sustaining great bodily damage with List’s incomprehensible growls slithering toward you. “Sand Is King” revels in brutal growls and shrieks, and the band pummels you with doom hammers that very much make contact. You’re battered and trapped, the bruises increase, and the track curdles before dissolving. “Fatamorgana” enters covered in soot, and it slowly burns as the playing gets more intense. The riffs leave welts but also hypnotize in spots, group howls feel tribal and ready for the kill, and the riffs spiral and threaten. “Harena” is the 7:13-long closer, entering with drums at full power, growls drilling into vulnerable flesh. The melodies feel sorrowful in spots, even as the music is vicious and bloody, and the emotional toll is paid repeatedly. (March 11)
14. FALLS OF RAUROS, “Key to a Vanishing Future” (Gilead Media/Eisenwald): “Key to a Vanishing Future,” the latest record from Falls of Rauros, is unlike anything you’ve heard from this band before. They took on that whole concept of having to deal with a life put on us, the history that colors what happens now, and the means of accepting that and using it to make a better future for everyone. Yet there is religious and political bullshit that hold that back, a refusal to own up to why oppressed people feel the way they do, and only the ones who are willing to take on the burden and acknowledge where we’ve gone wrong are going to be true agents of change. Musically, this as diverse as Falls of Rauros ever have sounded. The band—vocalist/guitarist Aaron Charles, guitarist/vocalist/keyboard player Jordan Guerette, bassist Evan Lovely, drummer Ray Capizzo—expands far beyond black metal into deeper progressive waters and just straight-up heavy metal, and it’s a goddamn revelation. This is their best record in a collection of great ones.
“Clarity” gently opens the record, the guitars raining down like a warm spring shower, and then the scorching begins as the jaws unhinge and open. We surge into gazey flooding, punches windmill through an atmospheric gasp, and things crumble anew, the vocals stretching with the atmospheric pressure, ending abruptly. “Survival Poem” is moody and foggy, and then the power explodes, the verses raining punishment. The vocals shred as the guitars race and tangle, the pace rustles, and the leads catch fire, blazing a path into the cosmos. “Known World Narrows” dawns with cloudy bass that spits deathrock vibes and guitars soaring, and the playing moves into more sinister waters. The shrieks mar as the pace floods, the speed becomes an even greater factor, and wild cries call off into the distance. Closer “Poverty Hymn” crushes from the start, shrieks strike, and the tempo is active and surging, delivering punches. A gazey storm goes cold and sends shivers up your spine, chilling your flesh, and then the playing ignites all over, sending your brain into overdrive. This is an exciting new era for the always reliable Falls of Rauros. (March 25)
13. BLUT AUS NORD, “Disharmonium – Undreamable Abysses” (Debemur Morti): While I’m pretty sure no members of Blut Aus Nord are a part of any space program (hey, I could be wrong), I have a strange suspicion its members have visited the deepest reaches of the cosmos and have used their records to report back and deliver that energy. It takes no time at all to dig into their 14th record “Disharmonium – Undreamable Abysses” to think they’ve done some travelling beyond this rock. This seven-track, 46-minute album is one of the strangest yet most immersive of their nearly three-decade run, which is mind blowing considering the creative clip this band has been on from the start. If you’re not prepared, this thing will break your brain as this trio—guitarist/vocalist Vindsval, bassist GhÖst, drummer/keyboard player/electronics master W.D. Feld—rewire your expectations of these black metal wizards who long ago left behind convention and rules. My first listen was after some mind-altering substances, and fuck, was I not ready for this. I’ve had repeated listens in various states, and every one of them has been unique as I’ve uncovered new layers I didn’t before.
“Chants of the Deep Ones” gets the record off to a rapturing start, the melodies swirling through the cosmos, and on my first listen, this was a total adventure. Growls hiss behind the wall of chaos, riffs continue to slip into stardust, and the track slowly dissolves into your blood. “Tales of the Old Dreamer” amplifies the psychosis as it punches into smeary fire, filling your brain with strange tales unfolding before you. “Neptune’s Eye” brings warped riffs and time seemingly consumed in front of your eyes. The drums splatter as the growls emerge, and the numbing presence that gains steam increases the pressure and the imaginative hell that’s unraveling around you. Closer “The Apotheosis of the Unnamable” is miasmal goo creeping near you, the pummeling working to increase your madness. Guitars work into a thick fog, and the playing slowly chugs until psychotic spirits engulf, alien rubber proving more flexible than guessed, and the last minutes slip into a chemical spill and turn to unrecognizable elements. By the way, the band’s “Lovecraftian Echoes,” released in late September, also is excellent. (May 20)
12. MARES OF THRACE, “The Exile” (Sonic Unyon): Canadian crushers Mares of Thrace are an unabashed favorite around here, this desolate place on the internet we inhabit, and there was question in our hearts if we’d ever get a proper follow-up to their killer 2012 record “The Pilgrimage.” Yet, here we are, in 2022, and we have that record in the form of “The Exile,” a six-track bruiser that keeps faithful to the band’s sound but also adds some new twists and textures that make this arrival that much more exciting. Vocalist/guitarist Thérèse Lanz (who also happens to be an incredibly gifted artist) remains at the helm, and joining her on this leg of the mission is bassist/drummer Casey Rogers (taking the place of long-time member Stef MacKichan), and they carry on and do so with fire, precision, and emotional power. It’s almost like they never left, and this record feels like home—granted, a deranged, fully engulfed one—from the moment the first breath of music is pushed into the world. We missed this band for sure.
“Onward Ever Onward” opens confirming what no one should have doubted in that, yes, Lanz still has a bagful of snarling riffs that creeps up on you and dice your flesh. Her roars bellow as the drumming splits your veins, the tempo mashes fingers, and the mud begins to thicken at your feet, making your travels incredibly hard to complete. “Dark Harbours” is cold and eerie when it starts, the moodiness thickening like a scratchy gray storm cloud before the pace tears open. “Mortal Quarry” has some of my favorite guitar work on the entire record, its introductory riff lancing dangerously, the melodies burning your flesh. “In All Her Glory” is speedier as it strikes, taking you on a runaway mission downhill, picking up velocity and terror along the way. The vocals fire hard as the pace gets more inventive, and atmosphere allows you some breath, but you know that comfort is temporary. I love every square inch of this record, and it’s one of the things that made me the happiest in 2022. (March 25)
11. MESSA, “Close” (Svart): Italian doom force Messa fall into the category of bands who are flexing what it means to be heavy, and their last record “Feast for Water” was an explosive awakening for us as it comes to basking in their power. This year they responded with their third record “Close,” one that continues the smoky doom to which they’re devoted but also pushes into Middle Eastern and Mediterranean melodies and auras that add an intoxicating element into their music. The band—vocalist Sara, guitarist Alberto, guitarist/bassist Mark Sade, drummer Mistyr—increases its magic over 10 tracks and 65 minutes of power, with no song sounding remotely like any other. It’s a record you want to put on and let transform you as you work through each track, taking on an imaginative, smoldering experience that leaves you inebriated.
“Suspended” begins with Fender Rhodes keys quivering and Sara’s amazing, alluring voice stretching, infecting you. Elegant power unfurls, the pace pumps, and sounds echo, eventually melting into jazzy guitars. Sara’s voice calls out again, and the playing ends in a pit of grace. “Dark Horse” is faster and more propulsive as it begins, and then things settle into a groove, working into your blood. “I only see with my eyes closed,” Sara’s voice soars as the guitars bubble and pick up, and a simple gasp she gives off sends chills down your spine. Just thinking about this song makes my blood race. “Pilgrim” runs 9:26 and starts with mystical strings and vocals floating on the wind. Things flow gently before the track breaks open, sending jolts of electricity. “Leffotrak” is a total shocker, a mauling bruiser that lives for just 44 seconds and completely bludgeons you with speed, violence, and ugly vocals that shred your sanity. It kind of doesn’t fit. But it’s so weirdly out of place, it’s perfect. “Serving Him” is the closer, a blistering, sultry track that slowly unloads and delivers a plodding stomp, Sara’s vocals floating through the carnage. By the way, the band survived a serious accident that put them on the shelf for a while, a reminder not to take them or their art for granted. (March 11)
20. CULT OF LUNA, “The Long Road North” (Metal Blade): Long-standing Swedish metal institution Cult of Luna is the perfect model of adventurous thinking as they’ve demonstrated their flexibility and refusal to settle over the past almost quarter century. That goes even further than ever on “The Long Road North,” their eighth and first full-length since 2019’s amazing “A Dawn to Fear.” The band—vocalist/guitarist Johannes Persson, guitarist/vocalist Fredrik Kihlberg, guitarist/production master Magnus Lindberg, bassist Andreas Johansson, keyboardist/vocalist Kristian Karlsson, drummer/percussionist Thomas Hedlund—used the chaos that stemmed from “Dawn” and their 2021 EP “The Raging River” and turned inward to measure personal growth and progress. It’s a mental excursion to become the humans the band strives to be, and it can work as a great tool to apply to our own lives, making sure we avoid complacency as we continue to grow.
“Cold Burn” begins plotting with chilled synth and a ramming pace, the gut-wrenching shrieks feeling particularly jarring. The track is icy and dark, trudging through the woods and collecting atmosphere, and then the keys thicken and travel, delivering an emotional heaviness you can taste. “An Offering to the Wild” is the longest track as 12:45, and it lets time for the atmosphere to build and mature, as the track unfurls its wings. At just before the five-minute mark, the roars land, and things come apart, compelling and scorching as the tension builds, while the earth rumbles below. “Into the Night” drips in feeling psychedelic, with a Floydian ambiance and force, the singing moving clean through the fuzz. The tempo works gently but forcefully, as Persson dreamily sings, “I hear you calling to me,” sending chills down your spine. “Beyond II” closes the record letting synth sheets float and woosh, the drums crumble, and weird sounds and moans intoxicate you, preparing you rest under a canopy of stars. (Feb. 11)
19. CLOUD RAT, “Threshold” (Artoffact): When you first read the word “Threshold,” the title of the latest record from Cloud Rat, any number of ideas can go through your head. But if you head straight toward a situation that has someone on the brink of sanity, having endured all they can take, then you’re moving in the right direction. The Michigan-based grindcore/punk trio—vocalist Madison Marshall, guitarist/keyboard player/sample artist Rorik Brooks, drummer Brandon Hill—has a spoil of riches that is their vast back catalog, and as time has gone on, they have incorporated many different elements into the sound, refusing to remain uniform. On “Threshold,” the band puts forth some of their most volatile, devastating content. It’s a firestormer, but it also still has plenty of interesting bends in the road that will have you holding on for dear life, and the emotion they put forth floods dangerously from their hearts.
“Aluminum Branches” opens with noise welling and Marshall’s raspy screams decimating, landing punches as the playing slashes and later mauls. “Inner Controller (Lucid Running Home)” utterly thrashes as Marshall’s vocals leave bruising, and an electronic buzz rises and torments, the speed swallowing you whole. “Cusp” fires up and steamrolls, trudging as Marshall’s vocals hang like a morbid cloud above the din, her shrieks knifing into veins as things come unglued and eventually dissolve into the earth. “Persocom” is battering as guitars tangle and spread, speed torments, and Marshall’s howls leave dents in your chest. “Porcelain Boat” is insanely aggressive, punishing as the drums become a war machine, harsh shrieks opening up once-congealing wounds that now ooze all over again. Closer “Babahaz” brings noise that hovers like a dark cloud, and then the playing jars viciously, the vocals defacing everything in its presence. Deep growls carve as the playing gets thrashier, melodies emerge that reek of black metal, and the power finally combusts. All fucking hail Cloud Rat. (Oct. 7)
18. DAEVA, “Through Sheer Will and Black Magic” (20 Buck Spin): Black thrashers Daeva have been one of the bands that makes my decades of worshipping at the altar of metal pay off, as their full-length debut “Through Sheer Will and Black Magic…” is a trip through multiple eras of the most powerful form of music on earth. Before this, we had an EP from the band—vocalist Edward Gonet, guitarist Steve Jansson, bassist Frank Chin, drummer Enrique Sagarnaga, three quarters of the awesome Crypt Sermon—so this nine-track effort held a lot of anticipatory excitement for me. Now that it’s here, it pays off that initial batch of songs and goes even further, delivering danger, madness, and filthy chaos that is informed by thrash, black metal, and even the mangiest of punk. It contains so much of the heavy metal canon but bent to their will, making something fresh and dangerous that sounds like it’s stalking you at night to drain your blood.
“The Architect and the Monument” sweeps in and hammers you with speed. Gonet howls, “Curses and pointed repugnancy, delivered slow and monotone,” as the playing chugs and melts, the furious heat increasing and leaning hard on your frayed nerves. “Passion Under the Hammer” has guitars jolting, the vocals scraping, and attacks coming from every angle. The temperature rises as the power gets more oppressive, the playing fades momentarily for clean guitars to trickle, and a foggy chill drives this home. “Fragmenting in Ritual Splendor” explodes with frustrated grunts and the tempo blasting, taking off and letting your blood rush through your veins. “Itch of the Bottle” clobbers right off the bat, digging into the earth and triggering lava flow, the vocals scorching and jabbing. Closer “Luciferian Return” is the longest track on here, running 7:07 and blinding as it establishes a dangerous environment. Fire rains down from the skies as the pace twists and turns, even leaning into hypnotic waters. The drums pummel, the guitars encircle, and the final moments spread fires of eternal damnation. (Oct. 14)
17. EIGHT BELLS, “Legacy of Ruin” (Prophecy Productions): The story of Eight Bells has not always been a smooth one, despite the band making some of the most compelling music in all of metal’s terrain the last decade. But a leg injury guitarist/vocalist Melynda Jackson sustained on their tour with Voivod a few years back was a big physical setback, and then the dissolution of the lineup that recorded their last record “Landless” seemed to be another massive blow. But Jackson didn’t give in. She kept searching for the right parts that she found in bassist/vocalist Matt Solis (Cormorant, Ursa) and drummer Brian Burke (No Shores, Cave Dweller), and that unit produced “Legacy of Ruin,” the band’s excellent second full-length. The progressive ambitions and melding of all types of rupturing sounds from the trio is enthralling and pummeling, and the vocals remain vital and entrancing, this time mixing gender voices and adding a different element to the mix.
“Destroyer” starts with noises swelling and Jackson and Solis merging their voices for haunting harmonies. “I am death, destruction, I am strife and struggle, I am suffering, helpless, I am hopeless, careless,” the anger and frustration flooding through. Jackson’s shrieks rip, feeling cathartic as the playing chugs and sprawls, and then things calm down as the voices float. “The Well” is the longest track, running 11:10 and starting in eerie waters, the harmonized voices chilling with guest vocalist Melynda Marie Amann entering the fray. “Nadir” dawns amid a heavy mist, setting the stage for the heaviness to crumble and adds even more pressure. “I am sure there’s no heaven, to adore is my weapon, right now is all we have,” amplifies the emotion that bleeds from every pore. “Premonition” is the 9:28-long closer that starts hypnotically and immersively, leaning into heavy stabs and violent shrieks, disrupting any sense of sanity. “Precious gift, nothing left, husk of an empire, dormant,” rattles cages as the guitars lather and the melodies build. This record makes me shake to this day. (Feb. 25)
16. ESOCTRILIHUM, “Consecration of Spiritüs Flesh” (I, Voidhanger): French black metal force Esoctrilihum, the creation of lone member Asthâghul, is one of those that has carved out a permanent section of black metal only it can inhabit, and it’s been that way from the start. They’re back with their delirious seventh record “Consecration of the Spiritüs Flesh,” easily the heaviest and most violent of the project’s eight-year run. It’s also insane Asthâghul has been so prolific over that stretch and has created such miasmal and labyrinth-creating chaos that no one ever will catch up sonically or mentally. In fact, this was the first of two records he released this year, the second being “Saopth’s” in September. “Consecration” also happens to be the shortest of the band’s run, clocking in at seven tracks and almost 41 minutes, every one of them impossibly volatile.
“Spiritüs Flesh” smears itself open as machine-gun drumming destroys, and wild howls pierce your psyche. The pace is punishing as everything comes apart, Asthâghul’s shrieks get into your bloodstream, and then things jackhammer again, strangling as everything drains out. “Thertrh” delivers igniting guitars and power that overwhelms, your mind flayed as you struggle to get a grip on reality. “Tharseîdhon” dawns in the midst of thrashy chaos and vicious shrieks that add insult to injury. Guitars stab as the drumming gets more propulsive, the force hammers, and eerie bells send devastating chills that melt you. “Sydtg” unloads with ferocity, bringing a storm that makes your path that much more unstable. The vocals mangle as melodies entrance, keys wash over, and a gothy coldness makes its presence felt. “Aath” is the closer, teasing with noise and bringing strange tidings before the playing trudges into a disarming aura. (June 17)
30. WIEGEDOOD, “There’s Always Blood at the End of the Road” (Century Media): Belgian black metal crushers Wiegedood clearly have had their share of the bullshit, and on their ultra-violent fourth record “There’s Always Blood at the End of the Road,” they make it abundantly clear they’re clean out of fucks. I mean toward society at large. As for the music, they care as much as ever as they unleash something that can be stitched along with their “De Doden Hebben Het Goed” trilogy but also stands far apart from an intensity standpoint. “FN SCAR 16” starts the record and just sucks all the air from the room with a wild howl and as maniacal pace that rambles and punishes, spiraling into the earth. “Until It Is Not” teases before it tears itself open at the chest, babbling blood and guts in your path as the playing absolutely swarms. Closer “Carousel” heats up and spreads as throat singing stings, the heaviness weighs you down, and the playing drills into the earth (Jan. 14)
29. HOREHOUND, “Collapse” (Blackseed): It’s hard to find true catharsis or a way to alleviate some of the pressure building up in your own mind, but luckily that isn’t impossible to achieve. Pittsburgh doom power Horehound aren’t here to make those problems go away, but their killer third record “Collapse” can act as a friend in arms, guiding you to see the worst of humanity but also provide you the power to work your way out of that madness. “Hiraeth” kicks off with heavy blows landed, going into darkness as Shy Kennedy’s vocals come in deeper, and sultrier than ever before. “Godful” is a beast, foreboding and stalking; “Sword on Fire” arrives amid galloping guitars and doomy steam, melting your brain; “The Rebirth” emerges with thick synth work and the tempo slowly dripping, bringing solemnity before the ground begins to rumble; “Dying Gaia” brings portentous riffs and growls that wrestle with clean singing for supremacy as Kennedy taunts, “Be! Don’t be! You’re going to die, is it today?” (May 27)
28. WHITE WARD, “False Light” (Debemur Morti): Ukrainian black metal band White Ward has seen the impacts of oppression and bloodshed firsthand, they were only too eager to visit that and other touchpoints that have ignited segments of society on their excellent third full-length “False Light.” If you’re already familiar with the band, you realize the black metal tag is merely a base as they spread beyond that to include elements of jazz, post rock, prog, and plenty of other colors. This album lyrically focuses on, to quote their bio, government-sanctioned murders, imminent environmental catastrophes, police brutality, domestic abuse, the psychic emptiness of cities, falsity of modern mainstream culture, and ill-effects of overconsumption. “Leviathan,” “Phoenix,” and “Echoes in Eternity” are classic White Ward epics, but “Salt Paradise” is a game changer as an Americana-styled track with Jay Gambit adding his gravelly, dusty voice to power this along and add even more rustic character to a highlight of this album. (June 17)
27. CASTRATOR, “Defiled in Oblivion” (Dark Descent): It was hilarious when sad internet dudes whined that Dark Descent was releasing “Defiled in Oblivion,” the debut full-length from Castrator, whose lineup happens to be all female. That’s never a detail we point out in coverage because we need to stop treating women who can demonstrate bloody savagery as some kind of novelty, and the band comes out stabbing on this bruiser of an album. But that’s obviously why sad dudes were crying. “Dawa of Yousafzai” starts with a clip of Malala Yousafza, and the track grinds as deadly death metal ruptures, tearing apart flesh, draining veins, and the power blows you back. “Befoul My Existence” ignites with guitars rampaging and the playing scraping flesh from the bone. “Forsaken and Deprived” lets riffs spill from the seams, the speed increasing and making the surroundings seem dangerous and unruly. The record ends with a slashing cover of the Venom classic “Countess Bathory” which they fully dominate. (July 22)
26. NARAKH, “Nemesis Cloak” (self-released): Narakah’sdebut full-length album “Nemesis Cloak” is like a microburst of grindcore madness that stomps you into the ground, your identity mostly left in question. This Pittsburgh assault unit grew out of other local crushers such as Slaves BC (now Uzkost), Meth Quarry, Acolyte, Demilitia and plenty of others, and they bring their sardonic chaos to these 18 tracks that blast by in a mere 20 minutes. It felt like a fucking cartoon trying to take notes during this thing, requiring more than one session, but who gives a damn when the music is this piledriving and fun? This is one of those records that if you look away for a second, you’ll miss some sort of madness whipping full speed at your head, and these fuckers even made me question my sanity with the Century III Chevrolet jingle at the front end of “The Uzi Crusades.” This is an awesome display that takes grindcore to a different level and splatters your guts in the street. (July 1)
25. SUMERLANDS, “Dreamkiller” (Relapse): “Dreamkiller” is the second record from Sumerlands, a band that drinks deeply from the pools of classic heavy metal from the late 1970s and early 1980s. All of that is woven into their sound, and it gets me right in the chest because it reminds me of my high school days scouring for albums after finishing my lawn work. There has been a major change with the band since their 2016 self-titled debut, that being the exit of singer Phil Swanson and the arrival of new vocalist Brendan Radigan (formerly of Magic Circle), an element that made me skeptical despite being a fan of Radigan’s work. That fear was for naught as he and the band excel on crushers such as “Twilight Points the Way” and “Heavens Above,” as good an opening one-two punch as you’ll find on any record. The title track is a classic piece of business, and closer “Death to Mercy” brings an ominous end to a record that is bound to have amazing staying power. (Sept. 16)
24. PYRITHE, “Monuments to Impermanence” (Gilead Media): “Monuments to Impermanence,” the debut mind flayer by Pittsburgh’s Pyrithe, hardly is a comedy album (the fact that real-life trash was used as percussive elements aside, which actually rules), but the band still finds the absurdity of existence in the pit of musical blackness. Trying to pinpoint the band’s sound isn’t very easy as it can change multiple times during a single passage, but sludge, doom, noise, prog, and many other elements are relevant as the band defines its own brand of heaviness. This thing plays like a mixtape of cuts you’re trying to use to expand someone’s mind into what heaviness can truly be, and it’s even more astonishing it’s all by the same band. “Glioblastoma” is an absolute motherfucker, one of the best metal tracks of the year featuring their original and now-departed vocalist Vicky Carbone; “In Praise of the Enochian Trickster” is a disorienting trip down a river of codeine-laced cough syrup; and “Ekphrastik I and II” brings the record home with the delicacy of a light tube to the face. (April 29)
23. SONJA, “Loud Arriver” (Cruz del Sur): Melissa Moore and her band Sonja are here with their awesome debut record “Loud Arriver,” a swaggering, steaming slab of gothy power that offers no apologies. Moore—she handles vocals and guitars and is joined by bassist Ben Brand and drummer Grzesiek Czapla, the lone member of the cowardly shitbags in Absu who supported her—recounts her life when she had to live as a trans woman in secret and suffered as a result. This record is chock full of revenge, sex, sleaze, anger, hurt, and one fucking banger after another. “When the Candle Burns Low…” gets things going with synth driving and Moore’s vocals sweeping in, with her voice demanding and keeping your attention. “Nylon Nights” is a killer, a track that dawns on a great riff and some lushness sitting behind the shadows. “Wanting Me Dead” has an ominous flow as vintage riffs set fires, the playing sending your heart racing. The closing title track starts with acoustics and softer tones before the pace launches, the bass thickens, and the guitars slip through the fog. Long live Moore and Sonja. (Sept. 23)
22. KEN MODE, “Null” (Artoffact): Winnipeg-based noise beasts KEN mode alsofelt the weight of the pandemic, perhaps more than some other people because their artistic outlet essentially was shut down completely. Being in a music scene and having regular activities around making music created a sense of community for the band, and losing that took a toll psychologically, creating darkness where the despair already was thick. The band eventually broke out of that and ended up on a creative tear, the first portion of that arriving with their monstrous new record “Null,” the first of a two-album arc. Sledgehammer opener “A Love Letter” snarls and writhes with Jesse Matthewson stabbing, “This untasteful place, something is broken, something is FUCKED,” one of the most memorable moments of the entire year. “But They Respect My Tactics” trounces and tangles; “Lost Grip” runs 10:02 and lurks in psychosis; and “The Desperate Search for an Enemy” wrenches as the vocals attack, the bass flattens, and the guitars carve away as Kathryn Kerr’s sax stalks menacingly. Can’t wait for installment 2. (Sept. 23)
21. ELDER, “Innate Passage” (Stickman/Armageddon Shop): Why is no one talking about this record? Is it the late release date? Because a lot of people missed one of the best prog metal records of the year with “Innate Passage,” another strong chapter from Elder. This band always has created music that provokes thought and impacts philosophically and psychologically, but their position in history enabled them to expand even further on this record. This album that stretches over five tracks and 54 minutes leans less on heaviness (though it’s still served generously) and aims for more atmosphere and immersion, drawing you deep within its core and stimulating your senses. Go listen to “Catastasis,” “Endless Return,” and “Merged In Dreams – Ne Plus Ultra” and freak out over a record that’s next fucking level. (Nov. 25)
40. HAMMERS OF MISFORTUNE, “Overtaker” (self-released): When it comes to Hammers of Misfortune, the anticipation for their albums isn’t easy because they can hit you with anything. Sure, you’re in for riffs, top-notch vocals, be it clear or harsh, and a hefty serving of dramatics. But you never can fully anticipate how it’s going to hit you. Well, on their seventh album “Overtaker,” the guessing game gets deliciously out of control as they present their most aggressive record to date, but one that still pulls in their cavalcade of progressive tricks. This album is a family reunion of sorts with Mike Scalzi and Jamie Myers back in the fold with John Cobbett and Sigrid Sheie among others, and there is gem after gem with “Dark Brennius,” “Don’t Follow the Lights,” and “Aggressive Perfection.” (Dec. 2)
39. CIRKELN, “A Song to Sorrow” (True Cult): Cirkeln, the project helmed by sole creator Våndarr, is a perfect modern example of a band that can transform what’s read on the page of a book into a full-blown adventure musically. Influenced by the works of JRR Tolkien and Michael Moorcock, the band’s music has been glorious and rich, reminding of Bathory, Celtic Frost, and so many others that helped plant black metal’s seeds. Cirkeln’s latest record “A Song to Sorrow” is a blood-rushing experience that feels like it connects Middle Ages storytelling with fire from these times, and it’s impossible not to get completely lost in this thing if you have even a modicum of imagination. (March 25)
38. BOOK OF SAND, “Seven Candles for an Empty Altar” (Fiadh Productions): Book of Sand long strayed away from the expected and even the comfortable over the course of eight full-length records that have challenged and twisted brains into mush. Yet, on the project’s ninth album “Seven Candles for an Empty Altar,” sole creator dcrf finds inventive and complicated ways to deform black metal and create an entirely different beast that almost assuredly won’t go down easily. Opener “Speak in Tongues of the Dead” is an absolute red herring for its piano-driven first half that eventually explodes into black metal fury; “Soft Sun on Silent Water” combines both horror and smooth sax in one pot; closer “A New World Waits in the Soil” is a healthy 10:36 and immediately pummels with vicious riffs and charging shrieks, the doomy ambiance encircling. (Nov. 1)
37. AURIFEROUS FLAME, “The Great Mist Within” (True Cult): Ayloss, who brought you great black metal with projects including Spectral Lore and Mystras, also embraces that icy sound that birthed a million bands, and with his new project Auriferous Flame, he pays homage to a movement, just without the shitty viewpoints and regressive politics. On “The Great Mist Within,” he spreads his black metal wings and drizzles proper amounts of melody and elegance to these tracks that turn your ribcage to dust. “Voice of the Gleaming Edge” ruptures right away with the playing storming and Ayloss’ vocals scraping fresh wounds amid a melodic surge. “Molten Gold” runs 10:39 and opens in lathering guitars and a drubbing that stings the senses. The guitars heat up and spiral into numbing hypnosis. “Ancient Corridors” is the longest track, clocking in at 10:45, and it teases in a haze as it dawns, letting your mind wander on an adventure. (July 29)
36. HOLY FAWN, “Dimensional Bleed” (Wax Bodega): Arizona’s Holy Fawn won’t rip off your head with savagery—though there are thorny bends to their music—but the weight is instead in the emotions and the heart gush. Their second record is “Dimensional Bleed,” and it’s a hefty mix of atmospheric heaviness, delicate expressions, sometimes hushed passages, and, yes, daggers you don’t see coming that pierce your chest. The band named their record after a phenomenon where multiple dimensions and timelines exist at once, and this immersive, breathtaking music can leave you gasping, sometimes holding back tears, always soaring through the atmosphere to explore other planes of existence you’ve never touched before. There are plenty of highlights on this emotional road burner, peaking on “Death Is a Relief,” “Lift Your Head,” and “True Loss,” a solemn gem that leaks red hues, the drums punching in and increasing the somber vibes as vocalist/guitarist Ryan Osterman calls, “Sometimes it feels like you’re the only one like me out there.” (Sept. 9)
35. DREADNOUGHT, “The Endless” (Profound Lore): Denver’s progressive metal dreamers Dreadnought somehow find a way to up the ante on their great fifth record “The Endless,” a collection that seems to be grinding their focus into razor sharpness. Over six sprawling tracks, the band delivers some of their most vulnerable and fascinating sounds but always with an edge that can cut you. Dreadnought also broke out of their normal lyrical mode by focusing on, in their words, a relatable character arc about the human divide of light and suffering. This is a record you need to let soak into your bones, and tracks such as “Worlds Break,” “Liminal Veil,” and “Gears of Violent Endurance” challenge you and push you deep into prog waters where adventure enthralls and pummels. (Aug. 26)
34. LUSTRE, “A Thirst for Summer Rain” (Nordvis Produktion): Late August was a fitting time for “A Thirst for Summer Rain,” the eighth full-length from ambient black metal project Lustre to land in our laps. While our thirst has mostly been quenched here, that’s not necessarily the case around the world, and whatever inspired sole mastermind Nachtzeit to create this wondrous collection, it resulted one of the dreamiest, most thought provoking of anything else in the Lustre catalog. It feels like a magical adventure you take in your brain, hoping for the cooling relief of a summer storm cloud bursting over your head. Opener “Quiescence” washes over you, the gentle plinking keys making everything feel dreamy until the center bursts. It’s one of my favorite Lustre songs ever. The other three tracks are equally immersive and seductive. (Aug. 26)
33. FORLESEN, “Black Terrain” (I, Voidhanger): “Black Terrain,” the second record from Forlesen, is an album that is not great fodder for making quick playlists, but there’s a magic to committing to an extensive adventure where you’ll feel every bump in the road. These four tracks that stretch over nearly 60 minutes require your full immersion in order to get all the nutrients packed inside, but if you sign on, you’ll find yourself on that dark sojourn, visiting murky terrain but also some exciting peaks that fill your guts with excitement. The band’s members all have experience with other forward-thinking acts including the Botanist, Lotus Thief, Maudlin of the Well, and Kayo Dot, and they pour all of their imagination, solemnity, anger, and restlessness into this incredible record. “Strega” is the 19:10 opener, a track that works through a lifetimes of emotions and experiences, feeling like a centuries-long excursion from the wounds sustained. Closer “Saturnine” runs 18:07, and the first eight minutes or so generate cosmic coldness, hovering and speaking in murmurs, exposing you to the frighteningly spacious universe. Guitars then buzz in and send shrapnel flying, the playing electrifies, and the dual voices carry you deep into space and jolt each cell. (Oct. 28)
NOTE: Originally Vital Spirit’s “Still as the Night, Cold as the Wind” was in this spot, but Kyle Tavares came out as a transphobic fuck, so they’re the fuck out of here. Wormwitch booted his ass, and Israel Langlais likely is an innocent bystander, but we are not honoring any transphobe. Fuck transphobia, and if you’re a transphobe, fuck you.
32. THOU/MIZMOR, “Myopia” (Gilead Media): Gilead Media dropped a goddamn bomb in our laps over the spring: “Myopia,” the collaborative effort combining Thou and Mizmor, almost the equivalent of Okada and Tanahashi teaming up in New Japan for the dream team to end them all. By the way, this album is available digitally right now, with physical media to follow. This eight-track, 73-minute beast is the perfect amalgamation of both bands, a true combination of each spirit into something that exists because as absolute shit as the world has been, sometimes it gives us gifts that make the misery worthwhile. Thou’s grungy doom and Mizmor’s scathing black metal live in perfect damaged harmony, and while they don’t unlock a ton of closed doors, they combine their storming energies into something that never existed before and now has left us shaken to dust. It sounds exactly how you think it does, and that fulfills all wishes with this union. (April 22)
31. INEXORUM, “Equinox Vigil” (Gilead Media): There have been plenty of amazing riff masters over metal’s rich history, and Carl Skildum has to be considered one of them. The band never submits to genre rules or expectations and instead instills their music with that power that bleeds heavily into their excellent third album “Equinox Vigil.” The band’s melodies just explode and take you with them, and the music is so goddamn catchy and energetic, you can’t help but feel revived and electric when it’s all over. Just take on the first few minutes of opener “Creation Myth” and see if your heart rate hasn’t increased noticeably. It’s so full of power, and that continues over “Dark Sky Sanctuary,” “On the Last Day,” and closer “Such Impossible Sights” that just explodes in the sky. We’re hardly a rubber stamp, but it’s safe to say if Inexorum release a record during the year, it’s going to end up in our top 40. (June 17)