If you’re a fan of heavy, extreme music then 2021 was a great year for you. It certainly was for me in that regard. 2021 was perhaps the greatest year for metal that I’ve ever experienced. Some of the greatest albums I’ve ever heard came out last year, in the form of releases from Whitechapel, Slaughter to Prevail, and Every Time I Die. Somehow, 2022 is following in its predecessor’s footsteps. We’re only halfway through the year, but there have already been a number of incredible albums released. Here are my top 5 metal albums of 2022 so far.
“Malicious Intent” – Malevolence
As I mentioned, three of the best albums I’ve ever heard all came out last year. I say that not as a teenager just beginning his journey into the world of metal, but as a guy who’s nearing middle age and has been listening to heavy music basically since the womb. That’s not to say that I don’t have blind spots, however. One of those blindspots for me has been the “Hardcore” genre.
Growing up, I was pretty big into the mainstream punk scene. Especially when bands like Green Day broke onto the scene. I’m talking actual punk-era, “Dookie” Green Day, not the “American Idiot” days. But somehow as my tastes got heavier and more extreme, that didn’t ever translate to me giving hardcore the time of day. Then I checked out “Radical” last year, and I’ve penciled in Hardcore as one of my genres to make sure to give a spin.
My first exposure to Malevolence was checking out the song “On Broken Glass” on Tank the Tech’s YouTube channel. The guitars and aggression in the vocals were great, but what really hooked me was when the melodic vocals kicked in for the chorus. The voice just hit that part of me that gravitates towards uniqueness in music. I pre-ordered Malicious Intent immediately, and I’m so glad I did.
The song that really cemented Malicious Intent as a top 5 metal album of 2022 was the ballad “Higher Place”. I’m a sucker for a hard, heavy band who can pull off a slower, emotional song. And they pull it off very well here. The clean vocals fit the song to a T, and the solo is so full of emotion, which is something that seems to be harder and harder to find in today’s metal scene. This album is great front-to-back, and if you’re a punk fan and haven’t checked it out yet, you’re doing yourself a disservice. Fix that as soon as you finish reading this piece.
“Zeal & Ardor” – Zeal & Ardor
What can I say about Zeal & Ardor that hasn’t already been said? If you’re into eclectic metal – genres that shouldn’t mix, but do – then this is the band for you. Manuel Gagneux and the crew are absolute masters at blending two styles – black metal and gospel – that on the surface could not be more opposite. I don’t know how it works, but it absolutely does, and the self-titled album is a wild ride that typifies that.
The ability to seamlessly transition between soulful singing and shrill screaming is immediately captivating, and the intensity and feeling are sustained from cover to cover on the album. We’ve got a great mix of creepy lyrics, masterful storytelling, and lyrics in multiple languages. Just about everything that really appeals to my ear is covered here. It’s one of those albums that truly feels like someone went into my brain and picked out things that would appeal to me in specific.
The fact that this album only comes in at number four on my top metal albums of 2022 so far really is a testament to how strong the first half of this year has been. Don’t let the low appearance fool you, I am absolutely in love with this record. I was never a big Zeal & Ardor fan before this came out, but you can bet your ass I am now. It will be really interesting to see what they do in the years to come to follow this record.
“Erebos” – Venom Prison
Have you ever had one of those moments where you make a discovery and immediately feel embarrassed at your past self for making an assumption that turned out to be wildly inaccurate? That’s what my journey into the Death Metal genre has been. I grew up with a very specific, very narrow idea of what constituted “Death Metal”. And I knew that I didn’t like that sound, so I figured I just didn’t like the genre across the board.
Then we started up a podcast and I realized just how wrong I was. The moment that cemented it for me was stumbling upon my number three metal album of 2022: “Erebos” by Venom Prison. They’re categorized as Death Metal, but could not be further away from the sound I had in my head when I thought of the genre.
Everything about this album just speaks to me. Larissa’s lyrics are aggressive and brutal, yet at times almost hauntingly beautiful. There’s a ton of variation in the vocals, something I didn’t think was possible in death metal before Blast Beats. The guitar work is some of the best I’ve heard since starting to explore the genre. There’s a ton of experimentation and genre-blending going on in “Erebos”, but it rarely feels forced or like it’s taking away from the music or the message.
There are intensely personal lyrics, politically-charged lyrics, lyrics relating to mythology. There are clean vocals in parts. Parts have proggy influences. There are even piano interludes. It’s a record where pretty much whatever you’re into, there’s going to be something for you here. Venom Prison put on a master class on how to blend myriad influences while staying true to the genre they’re in.
“The Chosen” – Enterprise Earth
If you’re over a certain age, you probably have some very specific associations that come to mind when you hear the term “deathcore”. Cringey, over-the-top lyrics. Guitars downtuned to the absurd. Breakdowns for the sake of breakdowns. And all of that is certainly present in a lot of the genre. But if there’s anything that 2021 taught us – or at least me – about this genre, in particular, is that it can be so much more. The releases from bands like Lorna Shore and Slaughter to Prevail really opened my eyes to the influences that can be brought to the genre – and the potential it can have.
This year has just furthered that trend. Where 2021 was capped by two deathcore bands, my two top metal albums of 2022 at the halfway point are also deathcore. However, these two albums have a much different bent than the Slaughter to Prevail and Whitechapel releases of 2021.
Whereas Slaughter to Prevail and Whitechapel brought a lot of different influences in – and can be argued weren’t exactly “deathcore” albums – Enterprise Earth played it much closer to the vest on “The Chosen.” And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. There’s a lot to be said for expanding influences and pushing the boundaries of a genre. But there’s also a lot to be said about being able to work within a formula and perfect your craft within those confines. I truly believe that’s what Enterprise Earth did with this album.
It’s hard, heavy, and brutal. It has all of the insane vocal talent we’ve come to expect from Dan Watson. The instruments are heavy, technical, and the backbone of their sound. The lyrics are at times inspiring, at times devastating, and at times mysterious and even haunting. While they stay largely within the confines of what we’ve come to expect from the label “deathcore”, there’s hardly anything about this album that I would consider “generic” or “boring”.
It’s a shame Dan left the band after putting out such a banger album. But his work with Mire Lore is also great, and it seems like Enterprise Earth isn’t losing any steam with his replacement.
“Oh, What the Future Holds” – Fit for an Autopsy
“Oh, What the Future Holds” is a title that sounds inspiring; almost whimsical. A title that sounds like it could be straight out of a Dr. Suess book. That is decidedly not the vibe that you get from this album, though. If anything, my top metal album of the year so far is the antithesis of that. And after all the shit that we’ve been through over the past couple of years, it’s not hard to see why a record like this would serve as a welcome catharsis.
This album is heavy. Dark. Unrelenting. It kicks you in the teeth from the jump and doesn’t give you a moment to catch your breath. It opens with a (largely) musical introduction that builds and really sets the table for what you’re getting yourself into with the rest of the record. Then “Pandora” hits and you get a glimpse of the darkness that’s to come with the rest of the record.
“Oh What the Future Holds” really taps into the darkness and despair that a lot of folks are feeling looking at the world around them. There’s a bleakness to this record that is crushing, but also deeply relatable. And the music itself is outstanding. Fit for an Autopsy really embraces the “core” element of deathcore on this record, really tapping into the hardcore influence. There are still the deep, harsh vocals and heavy breakdowns that you expect from the deathcore genre. But at the same time, the vocals definitely have a more hardcore vibe, and the breakdowns generally have more of that feel. Especially when the “four-on-the-floor” kicks in on Far From Heaven. That was the moment this album really clicked for me.
Overall, the first half of this year has been great for heavy music fans. With some truly heavy hitters coming in the second half of the year, it’s going to be a wild ride! Come back in December to see how my list of top metal albums of 2022 changes!