It’s almost the end of 2022 and I’m writing from London where it is -2 degrees outside. Soaring energy costs means heating needs to be conserved. There is the threat of nuclear war and Ghost seems to be considered as having the best album and song of the year (particularly if you are a Metalhammer reader). Deeply troubling times.
How did we get here? What the hell happened in 2022?
How can one put such a manic year like this into context… Well, let’s start at the beginning. With hope. In January 2022, COVID-19 restrictions were slowly falling away and humanity was beginning to return to life as normal. This meant tours were back!!!. YES!!! Festivals were back – YES!! And this brings me to Highlight 1 of 2022
Highlight 1: Festivals
Not only did 2022 see festivals come back, but they came back EPICALLY. Hellfest 2022 must have been the greatest assemblage of big name metal in history with six stages jam-packed over seven days with the best metal bands in the world? Yes, please. The only way to do it justice is to look at the actual lineup picture itself:
If you didn’t spend at least two minutes digesting that lineup – stop. Look over it again. I bet you missed at least one of your favourite bands there. I can’t imagine there will ever be such a group of names again. The likes of Wacken, Metaldays, Download, Graspop and Summer Breeze all returned triumphantly. Then came the Download 2023 announcement. Two nights of Metallica plus Slipknot. Yes!!!! Ecstasy abounded when it came to festival news in 2022.
Ok – so the festivals were great, and gigs are back (more on that later) – what about the albums of 2022? On paper the year started full of anticipation. New Slipknot, Lamb of God, Megadeth, Rammstein, Korn, Ghost, Machine Head. In the end we even got a new Metallica track.
Somehow, all that anticipation didn’t quite match the reality. Slipknot’s “The End, So Far” felt a big let-down after “We Are Not Your Kind.” Metallica’s new track “Lux Aeterna” felt mediocre and would have been ignored had it been released by any band other than Metallica. The Korn, Machine Head and Lamb of God releases were decent records but none really set the world alight – maybe because some of their previous albums were just so much better and they suffered by comparison.
“The Sick, the Dying…and the Dead!” by Megadeth was a classy album (nice touch getting Ice-T in to sing on “Night stalkers”). Rammstein’s “Zeit” was a very good album indeed with “Dicke Titten” by far and away the best music video of the year. However, overall big names let us down. That’s my first lowlight of 2022
Lowlight 1: big names didn’t come to the party.
But, there was good news – 2022 saw a heap of innovative bands release really strong albums.
Highlight 2: fresh sounds invade
After years of being an internet celebrity, Bloodywood released their first album and one of my albums of the year – “Rakshak.” Bloodywood blends traditional Indian folk music and nu-metal and over the last four or so years have gathered millions of hits on their channel. Much was expected of “Rakshak” and I’m pleased to say it delivered with “Dana dan” being one of my favourite tracks this year.
Zeal and Ardor: 2022 was the breakout year for this innovative Swiss-American band blending spiritual bluegrass and black metal. They had great shows at Graspop, Hellfest and Archtangent festivals this year and their 2022 self-titled album was in my top 10 albums for the year. Their track “Death to the Holy ” combined some seriously epic riffage, with gigantic drums, piano and spoken word.
I could keep going about the number of successful fresh sounding albums out there. Neo-pagans Heilung released “Drif” and the excellent Wilderun released “Epigone.” In Japan, those purveyors of 70s Motown black metal, Sigh released “Shiki” and Spiritbox released a new EP – “Rotoscope.” I really hope this freshness goes forward into 2023.
Lowlight 2: Economics smashes tours
Ignoring music for a second – 2022 has been a difficult time with energy issues, inflation and unemployment ravaging large parts of the globe. Punters have found it harder to justify spending cash on gig tickets and merch when food and electricity costs have been soaring. And sadly this, coupled with lingering COVID uncertainty, has impacted on tours.
In the UK, this situation has been exacerbated with Brexit bringing in additional red tape for bands trying to tour. The story of symphonic metal band Imperial Age probably sums up the situation best. After four cancelled tours to the UK, they tried a fifth time in October 2022. Only for that tour to be postponed again due to visa delays. Imperial Age were not alone, Moonspell and Skald have also cancelled tours and gigs to the UK. Meshuggah also cancelled parts of its European tour this year.
The situation got worse – Anthrax: “Sadly due to ongoing logistical issues and 2022 costs that are out of our control, we have no other option but to cancel the European leg of our upcoming 2022 tour.” Then Ministry cancelled its entire European tour citing economic reasons.
It’s a difficult situation for touring bands. The huge costs incurred on a tour are extremely difficult to recoup even in buoyant times with good crowds – so one can see why a band like Ministry would cancel a tour. At the same time, a band cancellation has knock-on impacts for other events. Damnation festival in the UK had to find another headliner after Ministry pulled out and that’s not ideal for the festival or the fans.
Highlight 3: overcoming challenges
There’s no doubt 2022 has in some ways sucked, and sucked quite badly. But even the tour cancellations have had positive impacts. Less well known bands have had the opportunity to play bigger stages and showcase their material.
Communities have pulled together to survive. In London for example, the London Metal Coalition has been formed, a group of 30+ bands working together to support each other, put on good shows and share ideas and information. I can only see things like this being good for music.
And then there are the real triumphs. Dave Mustaine, a year after being diagnosed with throat cancer, was back playing gigs with Megadeth (not to mention releasing the excellent “The Sick, the Dying…and the Dead!”). Floor Jansen of Nightwish overcame breast cancer and has since been gigging live with Nightwish. Ozzy Osbourne conquered old age, senility, and being Ozzy Osbourne, to release “Patient Number 9” – in the process getting a stream of Grammy nominations. These achievements (even Ozzy’s) should serve as an inspiration for all of us to keep going when times are tough.
Maybe in the end this triumph against the odds is the real story of 2022. The godfathers of Finnish metal, Stratovarius, maybe summed up 2022 best in their latest release (and a very classy album) “Survive.” The album refers to a broken world, with songs like “World on Fire,” “Broken” and “Survive,” At the of 2022, let us be happy we have made it, we have survived.
Here is to a 2023 full of hope and new music/tours/festivals!