BEST OF 2022: 20-16

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)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/cultoflunamusic

To buy the album, go here: https://www.indiemerch.com/metalbladerecords

For more on the label, go here: https://www.metalblade.com/us/

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)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/cloudratgrind/

To buy the album, go here: https://artoffact.com/releases/threshold/

For more on the label, go here: https://artoffact.com/

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)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/daevablackthrash

To buy the album, go here: https://www.20buckspin.com/search?type=product&q=daeva

For more on the label, go here: https://www.20buckspin.com/

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)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/eightbellsband

To buy the album, go here: http://lnk.spkr.media/eightbells-legacy

For more on the label, go here: https://en.prophecy.de/

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)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/people/Esoctrilihum/100027310076900/

To buy the album, go here: http://i-voidhanger.com/shop/

For more on the label go, here: http://i-voidhanger.com/

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