I normally struggle to come up with a top 10 list each year; given how much music I listen to on a regular basis, whittling all my favourites down to such a small list is a serious challenge. This year, I simply could not operate within these constraints, so you’re getting a list of 21 certified bangers (as the kids allegedly say).
The only real competition for the top slot this year was the next album on the list, otherwise Allegaeon stand head and shoulders above the rest. Damnum is a exceptional deathcore record in a year jampacked with strong efforts from across the genre. The blend of melody and precise aggression give the album an unmatched dynamic range, and “Called Home” is my favourite track of the year.
Lorna Shore, Pain Remains
Another fantastic deathcore record, eschewing the melodic dalliances of the above mentioned Allegaeon, Lorna Shore have crafted the heaviest thing I’ve heard in my life — and by a wide margin. Vocalist Will Ramos sounds like a god damn demonic goblin, while the instrumentals pummel the listener with lightspeed riffing and chunky breakdowns galore. Who knew a cake made entirely out of frosting could be so satisfying?
Worm Shepherd, Ritual Hymns
The whole list isn’t deathcore, I swear. Now, onto this cool new deathcore band I found… Worm Shepherd are actually the reason I dove into a genre I had previously ignored — I assumed everyone still sounded like Asking Alexandria and I don’t even listen to them. The title track to Ritual Hymns changed my mind entirely, with its brooding symphonic intro and cartoonish aggression. Extreme metal is inherently ridiculous, it’s great to see bands leaning even further into it like this — and with such compelling results!
Danger Mouse x Black Thought, Cheat Codes
Coming out of nowhere, one of the best rap records of the year sees Danger Mouse lend his production skills to Black Thought‘s seemingly endless stockpile of bars. I have a few minor issues with the mixing on the record, the vocals are sometimes a little low and the volume levels in general vary more than they should. Basically, I wish it was slightly easier to hear this album, that’s my only problem. The guest features are all excellent, and Black Thought provides a regular reminder why he’s such a highly regarded MC, just in case anyone forgot.
Showing more refinement and nuance with each release, Saor‘s blend of black and Celtic metal remains as potent as ever. The album’s long instrumental runs and concise, 41-minute running time rewards and command multiple listens, respectively. Long-time fans will feel right at home while Origins also serves as a perfect entry point to band.
Falls of Rauros, Key to a Vanishing Future
One of America’s premiere modern black metal bands continue their string of quality releases. Key to a Vanishing Future features the folk-infused black metal Falls of Rauros are well known for, while the material on this record is a lot shorter with the sprawling jams reined in quite a bit. The songwriting remains excellent, and the production — specifically the thick, resonant bass — has never been better.
Denzel Curry, Melt My Eyez See Your Future
Ever since dropping the masterpiece that is Imperial, in 2016, Denzel Curry has been on a roll, releasing 3 previous albums that all made their respective year’s Album of the Year lists. The streak remains intact, as Melt My Eyez See Your Future is Curry’s most varied and personal effort to date. Production is on point and Denzel Curry continues to mature as an emcee and storyteller.
Hath, All That Was Promised
This record has been featured on a lot of metal lists, and with good reason. Hath burst onto the scene with a smoldering, blackened death metal album with some understated technical cops. The drums on “Lithaeopedic” initially caught my ear, but the entire record is an riff-fueled journey well worth undertaking. All That Was Promised absolutely delivers.
Extinction AD, Culture of Violence
Thrash metal is a genre I don’t listen to nearly enough, and I am extremely thankful to the lads in Extinction AD for providing a remedy to this serious problem. Culture of Violence is a punchy collection of 10 absolute bangers; if you can spend the albums full 38 minute running time successfully fighting the urge to headbang then … I don’t know, that sounds like a terrible way to live — maybe see a doctor about that. Every track on this album is packed full of catchy riffs and sing-a-long worthy choruses.
Owls Woods Graves, Secret Spies of the Horned Patrician
A side-project of members of Poland’s Mgła, this project is a blackened amalgam of punk and metal. The record is permeated by a sense of fun that one would not associate with a dour, misanthropic outfit like Mgła. This very much feels like a bunch of guys walking into a rehearsal space and recording the whole album in one take. And I mean that in a good way; nothing feels overthought or laboured, these are some talented musicians paying homage to a variety of underground niches and it sounds like they’re having a blast doing it.
Polyphia, Remember That You Will Die
This ground-breaking instrumental band truly came into their own in 2022, melting the collective minds of guitarists worldwide and even securing a guest feature from Steve Vai. Remember That You Will Die is so far ahead of its time, it’s going to take at least a decade to fully appreciate the record.
Ingested, Ashes Lie Still
UK-based purveyors of groove-heavy death metal, Ingested, dropped a worthy follow-up to 2020’s Where Only Gods May Tread. While the band’s roster has shrunk to a three-piece, the material on Ashes Lie Still feels more mature, groovier and varied than any past efforts. Guest appearances from Sven de Caluwé (Aborted) and Matt Heafy (Trivium) complement their respective tracks perfectly.
Sweden’s demented djent masters show no signs of slowing down, and prove there is still plenty of room to innovate within their niche of polyrhythms and mechanical syncopation. Immutable is the closest the band has come to releasing anything I would classify as “melodic,” with the tracks featuring more textural sound elements than ever before. That said, it’s still heavy as a ton of bricks.
Sonja, Loud Arriver
I honestly don’t know what to even call this, as the music is a blend of traditional metal with some goth and glam rock flourishes. The vocals are drenched in reverb and quite infectious, complimenting the tight riffs and sharp songwriting. Whatever it is, I like it a lot; this is the sort of hard rock album that I want to play way too loud while I drive far too fast.
Fit For An Autopsy, Oh What The Future Holds
Blending elite-level technicality with solid deathcore fundamentals and a penchant for melody, Fit For An Autopsy crafted an album that as varied as it is devastating. The prevalence of clean vocals throughout the record is an interesting touch, further differentiating the band from their deathcore peers. There is still a heroic dose of groove and primal, harsh vocals aplenty — in case you were worried the genre had gone soft or something. Oh What The Future Holds is an impressive effort, and one that grows on me with each subsequent listen.
Emerging out of nowhere, Blackbraid drew a lot of attention on the strength of singles “Barefoot Ghost Dance on Bloodsoaked Soil,” and “The River of Time Flows Through Me”. They set expectations for this Indigenous American black metal project incredibly high. This one-man project’s debut record delivers 6 bangers — with a running time of 36 minutes –and portends good things for future releases. This is one instance where I expected a heavier folk music influence than what was delivered, but the material didn’t wont for it.
RGRSS, A World Of Concern
Hailing from Montreal, RGRSS serve up some terrifying death grind in the vein of Full of Hell. The record sounds massive, with a wall of guitars assailing the listener and bellowing vocals that could scare the paint off walls. Clocking in at 35 minutes, A World of Concern is the perfect length; a smoldering rager that includes enough progressive elements to keep things fresh without compromising an ounce of aggression.
Douce Fange, Pensees Nocturnes
If the concept of circus music with heavy black metal overtones doesn’t pique your interest… Look, I’m not going to say we can’t be friends, but you’re starting off behind the eight-ball. The band’s theme harkens back to a non-specific ‘inebriated and violent old France’. Pensees Nocturnes is easily among the most unique-sounding records I’ve heard all year, with a strong theatrical quality along with the cacophony.
Krallice, Crystalline Exhaustion
Experimental black metal outfit Krallice released their most sprawling, atmospheric effort to date. A lot of the material on Crystalline Exhaustion is written around the lush, textural synths that permeate the record, while the guitars and harsh vocals take a back seat. While not as overtly aggressive as past efforts, Krallice are as sinister and menacing as ever on this record. Ever since the band members decided to swap instruments a few releases back, they’ve been trending in a more atmospheric direction and I’ve been greatly enjoying the results.
JID, The Forever Story
Ever since he blew away the competition in the XXL Freshman class of 2018, JID has been on pretty much everyone’s radar — and with very good reason. The Forever Story continues JID‘s streak of quality releases, featuring his most personal narratives to date, backed by tight production and strong instrumentals. Whether its rapid-fire delivery or a slow creep over a deep groove, JID proves to be one of modern rap’s most deft emcees and storytellers. Hell, he even got a decent feature out of the husk known as Lil Wayne, a feat comparable to a modern day miracle.
Malignant Altar, Realms of Exquisite Morbidity
Technically this doesn’t count, as the record came out on December 10th, 2021. I’m including it anyway since releases in December get such a raw deal, since most big lists are written well in advance. Also, the band broke up so there won’t be another chance for them to earn my coveted seal of approval. There is also the most important factor: the fact that this is my list — and thus, I make the rules.
This record is, simply put, one of the best death metal efforts I have heard in years. The production is massive and crisp, despite the low tunings and guttural tones. It’s a damn shame this band broke up, because the blend of technicality and sick grooves is something the metal world needs more of. Any death metal fan who skips this record is doing themselves an incredible disservice.