In 2022 we finally got regular touring back, which means there were plenty of shows to see, but the prevailing feeling seems to be that the year wasn’t as fruitful in regards to new albums being released and that is an opinion I definitely share. We definitely got quite a few great albums, but it seems many bands that released them have had better releases in the past, while the great albums just weren’t extremely outstanding like some have been in the past few years. Nevertheless, lots of digging has been done and here are my top 20 metal albums from 2022. As always, if words and letters scare you, here’s a link to the Best of 2022 playlist with over three hours of the best new material from this year: click here
We’re starting this list with some Swedish foresty folk metal. There hasn’t really been any releases from the big folk metal bands this year, which meant there’s space for the slightly less known bands to step up and fill that space. Grimner has been underappreciated in the scene for a while and with their new album “Urfader” they took a step forward and mixed it a lot better than in their earlier work where their signature flute was at times a bit jarring. This album is still quite playful in the usual Grimner way, but there’s definitely some musical maturity to it, which perhaps sacrifices some catchiness but does make for a better album in general. Finally, I do also really like the image of the Urfader on the album art as a conglomeration of man and mountain.
Songs to hear: “Västerled,” “Ur Vågorna,” “Glöd”
19. Kreator – Hate Über Alles
At the start of the year I’d never have thought Kreator would be on my list, but then I got the chance to review this album and they’re actually the only band on this list who I’ve seen perform live this year in a show where they overshined Lamb of God, partly in thanks to material from the latest release. Of course, as a 40-year old thrash metal band they’re not discovering anything new, but it’s undeniable that this album is very energetic and a nice summation of what thrash metal is about. Mille Petrozza still sounds great and maintains his energy and he was joined on the album by the German vocalist Sofia Portanet on the song “Midnight Sun.”
Songs to hear: “Hate Über Alles,” “Killer of Jesus,” “Midnight Sun”
18. Belphegor – The Devils
“The wrath of Satan has no mercy!” The opening line from the newest Belphegor album is actually the perfect descriptor of their music and imagery. The Austrian blackened death metal outfit is known more for their fantastic live shows than their studio material, but “The Devils” proves they’re not foreign to making some genuinely really decent material as well. With the somewhat ritualistic take on extreme metal this album manages to entrance, although not for long due to their lyrics, which are sometimes on the edge of tasteful even for this genre of music. If there’s anyone that should be pushing the boundaries it’s definitely Belphegor though, and “The Devils” does that really well.
Songs to hear: “The Devils,” “Blackest Sabbath 1997”
17. Bloodbath – Survival of the Sickest
The text on this album art was clearly made in MS Paint and took roughly 34 seconds, and as hilarious as it is looking at it once you actually listen to this album you find out that Bloodbath luckily paid much more attention to the music than the album cover. While there’s nothing revolutionary here “Survival of the Sickest” just has that typical old school metal sounds that’s by now virtually timeless and with the all-star line up that includes Nick Holmes (Paradise Lost) and Jonas Renkse (Katatonia) they probably just write good albums by mistake. Along with that the album also features numerous guest appearances, including Barney Greenway (Napalm Death). This album proves that, although death metal is evolving much like the other subgenres the old school sound is still around and not going anywhere.
Songs to hear: “Zombie Inferno,” “Putrefying Corpse,” “Born Infernal”
16. Månegarm – Ynglingaättens Öde
The Swedes seem to be quite underappreciated given their recent releases, which have all been pretty high quality. “Ynglingaättens Öde” doesn’t stray from their usual viking metal style, but they did bring in a substantial amount of guest appearances to this album with Jonne Järvelä (Korpiklaani), Robse Dahn (ex-Equillibrium) and Pär Hulkoff (Hulkoff, Raubtier) all appearing on “Stridsgalten.” Furthermore, the vocalist Erik Grawsiö has brought in his daughter to perform some very lovely guest vocals on what is probably the best song of the album, “En snara av guld” and Ellinor Videfors joins on “Hågkomst av ett liv.” Overall, this album does drop off slightly in the latter half and it’s a bit short, but it is still a really solid and enjoyable release.
Songs to hear: “Freyrs blod,” “En snara av guld” “Stridsgalten”
15. Vanaheim – Een Verloren Verhaal
This is the band’s debut album after a very promising EP in 2017 and it’s hard to argue they don’t follow it up well. Vanaheim, at this point, has the potential to become a well-known folk metal band and really bring some resurgence into this subgenre, which hasn’t really produced any new bigger bands in recent years. “Een Verloren Verhaal” has hints of classic folk metal bands like Ensiferum, but does really well in adding depth to it in the shape of symphonics and complex, longer tracks, which result in the album having only six songs (along with four “folkestral” pieces). In terms of more recent folk metal releases this is somewhat similar to Finsterforst’s “Zerfall” and I’m very happy to see exciting things arising from the folk metal underground.
Songs to hear: “Reuzenspraak,” “Gevallen in de Nacht”
14. Virtual Symmetry – Virtual Symmetry
This Swiss band apparently really doesn’t want to get big and successful, which is clearly evidenced by them starting this album with a fucking 20-minute track called “Virtual Symmetry.” I don’t think imagination is their strong side. However, the song is a masterpiece and features loads of proggy wankery, which is very welcome in a year that had a really disappointing amount of new good prog albums. Virtual Symmetry doesn’t play prog in the traditional sense, however, but they’re instead a part of this fairly new phenomenom of power-prog bands that put together the complexity of prog metal with power metal vocals. That means that still album looks quite daunting, but it’s actually surprisingly chill and not very hard to get into. I would also like to say there’s a song in Italian on the album, which automatically added like three extra points to this release.
Songs to hear: “Virtual Symmetry,“ “My Story Unfolds,” Fantasie di Verita”
13. Visions of Atlantis – Pirates
I know what you’re thinking – a symphonic metal album? Yes! For once there’s one worth talking about, even though Visions of Atlantis are actually somewhere between symph and power metal. This album is quite a bit more than the typical female vocals with some unoriginal riffs in the background, but instead offers a fuller sound and shows an understanding of how to combine the vocals of both singers. “Pirates” is rather long at 58mins, but keeps you well engaged with energetic songs and a few gentler, inviting tracks, while it thematically actually brings some depth to the pirates theme – can we please move on from Alestorm-type bands already? Lastly, the production on this album is really solid, which it has to be in symphonic metal and thus this album is a really fun experience.
Songs to hear: “Melancholy Angel,” Master the Hurricane,” “Darkness Inside”
12. Battle Beast – Circus of Doom
The Finns have been through some difficult years after the split in the band from which Beast in Black was born, followed by the overly poppy album that just really wasn’t good at all. At first I thought “Circus of Doom” is similar, but it is actually much heavier than it’s predecessor and a lot closer to “Bringer of Pain” or “Unholy Savior,” which were both some of the best power metal albums of the 2010s. This album manages to be rather consistent throughout, without obvious weak points, but it also doesn’t feature any truly amazing tracks. It is, however, really nice to see that Battle Beast is back.
Songs to hear: “Circus of Doom,” “Where Angels Fear to Fly,” “The Lightbringer”
11. Gladenfold – Nemesis
Gladenfold is a band I’ve absolutely not heard about before someone posted them in a Facebook group and praised this album. Now, I don’t usually click on these posts, but I’m very happy I checked out “Nemesis.” The release is absolutely filled with great musicianship and the Finns pull off a sound that I’ve never really heard prior – an enchanting mix of modern, fast power metal with some melodeath and an outstanding mix of fairly typical power metal vocals and some very goblin-sounding black metal shrieking. Sadly, the entire album doesn’t quite maintain the intensity of the opening two songs, but this is definitely a must-listen for any metal aficionado and I wish more bands explored similar paths.
Songs to hear: “Carnival of the Hunter,” “Chiara’s Blessing,” “Where Mountains
10. The Halo Effect – Days of the Lost
Was there ever a chance this album wasn’t going to be very good? As it’s founded by two very pivotal names in the Göteborg melodeath scene, Mikael Stanne (Dark Tranquillity) and Jesper Strömblad (ex-In Flames), that almost guaranteed quality. The slight issue, however, is that Stanne’s vocals are just extremely specific and The Halo Effect almost sounds like Dark Tranquillity 2.0. Nevertheless it’s hard to say “Days of the Lost” is an album that’s anything but excellent in its execution and offers some revitalisation to the, now classic, sound of Swedish melodeath. If we also take into account that this is a debut for the band it’s certainly very impressive and I think there’s a lot more coming from them in future years.
Songs to hear: “Shadowminds,” “Days of the Lost,” “Gateways”
9. Xaon – The Lethean
Not to brag, but I’ve been telling people for years Xaon has a lot of potential to do some very cool things, and now they’ve (more or less) made the album I wanted them to make. “The Lethean” really shows off the songwriting ability of this band and has some spectacular symphonic parts, which are much more accentuated than in their previous work. Symphonic death metal is a very delicate subgenre that really needs to be handled with precision and can take a lot of trial and error so I’m very happy the French quintet managed to find their sound and the first half of this record is basically album of the year material. Despite not quite managing to live up to its standards this is still a very good release and I’m sure Xaon will have a lot more to offer in the future.
Songs to hear: “The Hunt,” “A Golden Silence,” “In Pyrrhic Seas”
8. Oceans of Slumber – Starlight and Ash
“Starlight and Ash” is a very frustrating album. It starts incredibly and the first three songs are just amazing and absolutely album of the year material, but then it drops off. Not massively so, but this isn’t the Oceans of Slumber that made the best album of 2020 nor “The Banished Heart” before it. Still, as much as I miss some harder sounds from this album it is still very romantic and enchanting and most of it is very enjoyable and easy to listen to, I just don’t really feel most of the tracks after that brilliant beginning. The progressive elements are toned down as well with this release and the focus shifts to minimalism and soulful elements and putting the vocalist Cammie Beverly in the spotlight. I may be sounding a bit harsh right now, but “Starlight and Ash” is still a very good release and adds some softness to this list.
Songs to hear: “The Waters Rising,” Hearts of stone,” The Lighthouse”
7.Septicflesh – Modern Primitive
The Greek symphonic metallers are a band I rate extremely highly and I expected this to be one of the year’s best releases as they’ve basically done very few mistakes ever since their resurgence with “Communion” in 2008. “Modern Primitive” is an very polished album and Septicflesh have clearly defined their sound to perfection, which is sometimes actually not as much of a plus as it would seem to be as I miss some of the eccentricity that songs like “The Vampire from Nazareth” from their earlier albums have had. With Spiros Antoniou delivering one of the best growls in death metal and his brother Christos Antoniou, whose composition is universally praised, the heart of the band is very healthy and the result is continously outstanding albums that are redefining what symphonic death metal is.
Songs to hear: “Self- Eater,” “Coming Storm,” “A Desert Throne”
6. Heidra – To Hell or Kingdom Come
I’m constantly frustrated that people don’t know about Heidra despite how great the Danes actually are. “To Hell or Kingdom Come” isn’t their first great album, but it is their best one yet and represents a move towards a bit more power metally sound that they managed to mix really well with their typical melodeath base. The release is quite catchy and rather impressively has no obvious weak points, which is quite rare with smaller bands. This album is absolutely fantastic for people who are initially turned off by more extreme subgenres of metal, but would like to explore them anyway and hopefully slowly acquire the taste for melodeath, which is a subgenre that’s definitely flourishing lately.
Songs to hear: “Retribution’s Dawn,” “Dusk,” “To Hell or Kingdom Come”
5. Baldrs Draumar – Njord
Oh, no, a pure folk album on a metal list? What blasphemy is this? Baldrs Draumar is very much part of the family and I will fight you on this, especially when they put out an album as brilliant as this. “Njord” is a somewhat sad, yet hopeful story of Frysian past and their trip to the Faroe islands. Despite this being an acoustic album I at no point miss harsher sounds or growls – which I’d argue is a hallmark of a really good album. The vocals are definitely a stand out point and fit perfectly with such music and even though the entire album is in Frysian it’s pretty simple to find yourself singing along, especially to the drinking/sex songs of the album – just be careful because one of them is about getting drunk and accidentally shagging sheep.
Songs to hear: “Thús op See,” “Skalden,” “De Lêste Fries”
4. Amorphis – Halo
The Finnish giants have released two near-perfect albums prior to “Halo” and I do have to admit this one isn’t quite as brilliant. The “problem” is that if an Amorphis album is “only” great that’s still better than what the vast majority of other bands are putting out. As with every one of their recent releases, the album just seems to get more and more enjoyable with every listen as you find intricacies of Esa Holopainen’s writing combined with the vocal god that is Tomi Joutsen. “Halo” is very solid throughout, but it really shines at the end with “My Name is Night” on which the band is joined by Petronella Nettermalm with whom the band forms one of the best songs of the year.
Songs to hear: “On the Dark Waters,” “When the Gods Came,” “My Name is Night”
3. Aeternam – Heir of the Rising Sun
I can’t overstate how enchanting the intro to this album is and how much it manages to pull the listener into this story of the Byzantine Empire. “Heir of the Rising Sun” is very much a record driven forward by the narrative of the history of this historical empire, but it’s far more than just that as it’s in fact one of the most technically and musically impressive releases in recent years. Despite that it doesn’t feel inaccessible nor is it in any way a chore to get through – the only thing it struggles with is lacking some catchiness, which means it will require a few more spins to truly be appreciated for its quality. Aeternam has never made a bad album, nor even a mediocre album, and this tradition certainly continues this year and culminates with the absolute epic song that is “The Fall of Constantinople.”
Songs to hear: “Osman’s Dream” + “Beneath the Nightfall,” “Irene,” “The Fall of Constantinople”
2. Zeal & Ardor – Zeal & Ardor
I have to admit I absolutely was not a fan of this band up until now and didn’t understand why people care so much about them. I, in fact, almost skipped this release, but decided to listen anyway and it was soon very clear this is a very different beast to their prior work. “Zeal & Ardor” is darkness, rage and violence enveloped into a beautiful mix of traditionally “black” music sprinkled with just enough black metal elements as well as some touches of industrial metal. Unlike on previous releases there really isn’t much filler material and it’s just straight up aggressiveness, even in the musically softer parts, which are mostly societally critical, yet maintain the primal feeling of the album.
Songs to hear: “Death to the Holy,” “Feed the Machine,” “Church Burns,” “Götterdämmerung” “J-M-B”
1. Kuolemanlaakso – Kuusumu
Kuolemanlaakso is typically regarded as a death/doom band, but this album is so much more. It goes from black metal to doomy softness to harrowing, haunting death growls from Mikko Kotamäki (Swallow the Sun) as well as dreamy cleans to symphonic elements. It’s hard to describe how many fantastic elements “Kuusumu” combines into a single album and does it so effortlessly as if it was the most natural thing in the world. There’s complexity and romance and horror in this release which has all the lyrics in Finnish and those focus on a global cooling that happened in 535 and resulted in a “10-year winter,” which seems like a fantastic topic to write a cold, dark album about and I’d love to know more about that story. “Kuusumu” seems to bring me new gifts each time I listen to it and that’s why it’s 2022’s album of the year.
Songs to hear: “Katkeruuden malja,” “Surusta meri suoilainen” “Pedon vastio” “Tulessakävelijä”