Daniel Barkasi Best of 2022Sunday, 5th February 2023
It’s been some time since I’ve done an end of year list, and it feels great to be back at it. This past year was one of transition. The cloud of COVID still lingered, while at the same time, many aspects of life began getting back to a semblance of “normal.”
Tours started up again, and it felt so good to get back to live music. There were many memorable shows, including the return of ProgPower USA, which was a phenomenal celebration of music. As someone who loves to travel, it was equally great to get back to getting outside of the borders of the home state a few times and getting to see a lot of friends and family for the first time in a few years. Some trips had to be postponed or canceled, however, serving as a reminder that we’re not quite all the way back yet. Having a lot of travel planned for 2023, including a few great tours coming around, shows there’s a lot to look forward to.
The best part of the year, of course, was spending another spin around the globe with my incredible wife and our almost literal zoo of pets. They’re all dear to us, and being able to work at home now, it’s great to be able to have many fuzzy co-workers (Hiroki pictured).
The past year was an impressive one for music. The number of new albums that yours truly took in was surprising by the end – totaling to 570 (yes, I keep a spreadsheet to keep track, because I’m a geek for that kind of thing). With that quantity in mind, there was thankfully a ton of quality releases to enjoy. So much so that putting together this list was a painstaking process, with many albums that would have ranked very highly in a leaner year missing out completely.
The number of releases seems to go up every year, of which a lot of it can be attributed to the sheer amount of bands out there. Many of these bands are younger ones who don’t have many releases in their catalog – many of which put out their first full-lengths. Makes a scene veteran such as myself feel good about the present and the future of our favorite music.
Without further ado, let us begin.
15. Vorga – Striving Toward Oblivion (Transcending Obscurity Records)
Vorga showed a lot of promise on their debut EP Radiant Gloom back in 2019, and the wait for their first full album proved worthwhile. Riffy, melodic black metal at its finest is what you’ll find here, with a bleak deep space theme that brings a vibe as cold as the far reaches of the cosmos. The guitar lead on “Starless Sky” sucks you into the void immediately, and the momentum doesn’t cease.
14. Moonshade – As We Set the Skies Ablaze (Independent)
For fans of melodic death metal who especially enjoy delectable melodies and infectious riffage, look no further than Moonshade. Hailing from Portugal, their sophomore offering provides something for every persuasion of the classic sound crafted in early 90s Sweden, with their own unique touch. Moonshade is a band on the rise, and As We Set the Skies Ablaze may stand as a landmark album.
13. Tómarúm – Ash in Realms of Stone Icons (Prosthetic Records)
The brilliance of Atlanta’s Tómarúm cannot be understated, with this album coming out of seemingly nowhere. This is a debut that veteran artists would tag as their magnum opus. Stylistically, they’re a tough one to pin down, even with the leniency given to progressive black metal – sometimes ambient and melodic; other times crunchy and soul crushing. Ash in the Realms of Stone Icons is a sonic journey in songwriting prowess that is not to be ignored.
12. Hath – All That Was Promised (Willowtip Records)
Progressive death metal is relatively open-ended, and with that there’s a lot of directions bands of this ilk can go. Hath have taken all of the best elements of pure death metal (massive guitar tone, brutality), the dreary atmosphere of black metal, and formulated something gargantuan. Everything that was built with 2019’s Of Rot and Ruin has been tightened, refined, and done so on a grandiose scale. Enjoy the pummeling.
11. SpiritWorld – Deathwestern (Century Media Records)
Coming into the year, SprirtWorld was not a band that this writer had come across before. Deathwestern scratched a previously undetected itch that this outlaw of a record quickly remedied. A death/thrash combo, with a dosage of metallic hardcore, and a whole lot of fury and attitude is what to expect. The chaotic execution of this combination makes this record golden. Give this a go, and you’ll get hooked faster than the draw of an old fashioned gunslinger.
10. The Halo Effect – Days of the Lost (Nuclear Blast)
Anybody who knows this writer’s undying love of old school melodic death metal will not be surprised in the least at the inclusion of The Halo Effect’s debut. With the musicians involved in this project being integral to this sound existing in the first place, the expectations were set incredibly high – and they hit the mark beautifully. This is a throwback to that early 90s Göteborg sound that hits all the right marks – ferocious, beautiful, and overflowing with melody. The masters have done it again, showing that the heart of melodic death metal continues to beat strong.
9. Gaerea – Mirage (Season of Mist)
Combine uncompromising black metal vigor with a mammoth post-metal sensitivity, and you have Gaerea at their base. What brings them to the stratosphere is how their music draws you in and never lets go. This is intense stuff, folks. Mirage is the latest example of this band consistently bringing it up a few notches, resulting in their most commanding album thus far.
8. Arctora – The Storm is Over (WormHoleDeath)
To say this album came right out of nowhere is the understatement of the year. For the uninitiated, Arctora are a melodic death/black metal hybrid that take some melancholy of early Insomnium, the frostiness of Thulcandra, along with a pinch of thrash, and viola – you have Arctora in a nutshell. Listen for yourselves – there’s something about this band’s incredible maturity and creativity that’s impressive and intriguing. The Storm is Over is overflowing with melody, memorable riffs, and emotional somberness. These ears can’t get enough, and will be eagerly following Arctora going forward.
7. Darkane – Inhuman Spirits (Massacre Records)
It had been nine long years since the last Darkane album, and for a while, one wondered if we’d hear from them again. Thankfully, we had Inhuman Spirits drop in 2022, and it’s the best comeback of the year for this guy’s money. This is signature Darkane thrashy melodic death, done in a way only they can. Right at the first roar from Lawrence Mackrory, it’s abundantly clear that we’re hearing something special. This is near Rusted Angel quality, and with that aforementioned release being an all-time favorite, this latest ranks high. Another classic that lives up to the hype.
6. Final Light – Final Light (Red Creek Recordings)
Birthed out of a collaboration for the 2019 edition of the famed Roadburn festival, Final Light is a partnership of Perturbator and Cult of Luna’s guitarist Johannes Persson. With the world going to hell due to COVID, the pair had some more time to work on a release for the project. With one of the foremost masterminds of synthwave and one of the most accomplished purveyors of post-metal combining forces, what do we get? An intense, crushing, stirring piece of musical genius, that’s what. Truly unique and utterly memorable. Turn down the lights, indulge, and enjoy.
5. Blackbraid – Blackbraid I (Independent)
Sgah’gahsowáh’s one man black metal project has quickly gained a lot of critical acclaim, and it’s absolutely deserved. A Native American from the Adirondack Mountains, his project Blackbraid intricately intertwined powerful black metal with that of Indigenous American history and mythology, even using instruments unique to the culture. What results is an important piece of music that is equal in riveting beauty and raw emotion. The bar is indeed set high for Blackbraid, and the potential is seemingly unlimited.
4. Blut Aus Nord – Disharmonium – Undreamable Abysses (Debemur Morti Productions)
Vindsval is able to do what many have not – consistently revise and refresh your sound, with the result always being stellar. Blut Aus Nord has been at it since Ultima Thulée in 1995, and not a release has disappointed these ears. There is no album this year that envelopes the listener in darkness like Disharmonium – Undreamable Abysses does. The bleak ambiance presented is a complex one with many layers and fine details, with each listen revealing something new. The riffs are a bit grimier, the atmosphere is thick, and the overall sound is menacing. This is a grower, and when it hits (and it will), one will not forget it.
3. The Anix – Revenge (FiXT Music)
This is an artist that many of you may not be too familiar with, so here’s a synopsis: The Anix is formed as a full band in 2001, and turned into a solo project from Brandon Smith in 2018, that is best described as a synth heavy experimental electronic rock project with a unique and constantly evolving sound. His latest album, Revenge, is an eclectic mix of melancholic, futuristic rock that is a trip into a world of thickly layered and dissonant synths, poignant guitar rhythms, and an emotive vocal attack. Smith has been pumping out music at a fast clip, too, so expect more in 2023. As Revenge stands, it may be the record I played more than any other in 2022, and for good reason. Give it a spin, as it may open up a new sonic world.
2. Carpenter Brut – Leather Terror (No Quarter Prod)
No synthwave album was as equally heavy and catchy as Leather Terror, and is the album this writer probably had the most fun with this year. This is the second entry of a planned trilogy of albums that tells the story of Bret Halford, an engrossing horror slasher tale. Following up the massive Leather Teeth was no small feat, but Leather Terror ups the ante in every way. Loaded with brilliant guest vocalists, there’s a lot of different flavors on the menu. From the soaring highs of Gunship’s Alex Westaway on “The Widow Maker” and Greg Puciato’s trademark delivery on “Imaginary Fire,” to the more downtrodden aesthetic from Ulver’s Kristoffer Rygg on “…Good Night, Goodbye,” the beautifully somberness from Sylvaine’s Kathrine Shepard on “Stabat Mater,” to Tribulation’s Johannes Andersson’s bellowing roar on album closer and title track “Leather Terror.” Lest we forget the upbeat “Lipstick Masquerade,” with a hair-raising performance from Persha, culminating in this listener’s favorite track. Leather Terror is the soundtrack to the best slasher film that hasn’t been made (yet).
1. An Abstract Illusion – Woe (Willowtip Records)
To those who read my review of this album on this website, it should come as no surprise that Woe is my top album of 2022. Nothing came close in pure musicianship and songwriting brilliance. Before us is a piece of music that is a sum of all its parts, adding up to a landmark of creativity and flawless execution. An Abstract Illusion’s sophomore album can be described style-wise as progressive death metal, but it expands well beyond into black metal, post-metal, ambient and synth music, and about a dozen other styles, all put together to form something unlike these ears have experienced in quite some time. The band is receiving heaps of praise for Woe, for good reason. There’s no limit to the heights An Abstract Illusion can reach.
Continue on to page 2 for top 10 songs of the year, show of the year, label of the year, and expectations for 2023.
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