Best of 2022 - Sam Houlden’s Picks (Cover Artwork)

Best of 2022

Sam Houlden’s Picks (2022)

Staff Picks

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times

Time doesn't seem to work the same way post-pandemic. When I was reviewing all of the records I'd listened to and enjoyed this year, there 
were some that I was certain had come out in '21 or even '20 but actually were earlier this year. And almost as many that on initial reflection I felt to be 2022 releases that I've actually just spent more time with this year but were from some time before. Maybe more concerningly, there seem to be more records released this year than it was even vaguely plausible to keep up to date with. This did mean that I, on a couple of separate periods, just got burnt out. In these periods, I ended up listening to vast numbers of podcasts, music I am nostalgic about for some reason, or classics from the 60's and 70's. I have to assume that as a result my Spotify Wrapped is going to look even more bizarre this year than ever before.

All that being said though, this process was incredibly difficult and made me revisit a lot of records that I knew I loved when I heard them but haven't spent as much time with them as I really should have done. I'm fully expecting there to be some changes to the order of the records noted here in the coming months, but I welcome that. As we career towards the end of another crazy year amid scenes of capitalism beginning to eat itself, rampant inequality, culture wars, impending climate disaster, civil unrest practically worldwide and greater, more overt corruption from the ruling classes than any time in living history, I will retreat into these records and take from them either comfort, or a revitalised sense of anger at the state of the world. I think that salvation lays within my headphones. Maybe only temporary salvation, but I'll take what I can get at this point, to be honest. 

Thanks for reading, folks

Top 20 albums of 2022

20. Zeal and Ardor: Zeal and Ardor


I’ve been a fan of Manuel Gagneux and his amalgam of chain-gang/roots American soul and black metal since the first album appeared. Were I to have any criticism, it would be that although there were moments (and even songs) where the two disparate genres were melded immaculately, it was still occasionally jarring. In this, the third full-length, I feel more than ever that Manuel/Z and A are becoming what they’re going to be. The genesis of the project and the focus of a lot of its content means that the delivery is every bit as authentic as you could want it to be, yet Manuel’s knack for melody and electronics also makes it an incredibly easy listen despite being scathing, pounding and furious. 

19. Saor: Origins

Season of Mist

The first of 2 folk-black metal records in this list and sadly, yet inevitably, both of which I had to do a fair bit of research into before allowing myself to truly enjoy. Such is the proclivities for so many black metal-adjacent bands who lean heavily into their own country’s history. I’m aware of Saor mastermind Andy Marshall’s history and especially earlier project Askival, but in fairness, he does seem to have entirely left behind anything of that ilk, has made comments about getting away from certain people in his earlier life - and of course, his music for the last 9 years has focused on very little in the way of politics apart from a latent dislike of the English, which I can’t really hold against him. What Andy does do though, is produce an earthen, elemental and quasi-mystical form of atmospheric black metal that is extraordinarily evocative. Through a combination of vocal styles (monastic, baritone, voiceover, trad black metal, etc), militaristic syncopation, traditional instrumentation and a grasp of subtly medieval-influenced melody this record near as dammit picks you up and drops you into a paganistic Caledonian village or onto the back of a horse, galloping through an ancient glen. I’m not sure I can say that about any other artist, though I’m aware not many may have tried. 

18. Greg Puciato: Mirrorcell

Federal Prisoner

I reviewed this earlier in the year and I’m glad to say that my suspicions of it serving as a welcome and effective palate cleanser from my usual diet of death, black, sludge, grind and hardcore. The fact that Greg has it in his locker to deliver most of those styles to a high standard isn’t lost on me, but what he has given in Mirrorcell is something more focused than the first solo record, less chaotic than Dillinger, grittier than The Black Queen and something that to my ears, may well be the true sound of Greg Puciato, the solo artist. But irony of ironies, “Lowered” featuring Reba Meyers of Code Orange is absolutely one of the songs of the year and the standout track on the record.

17. Tómarúm: Ash in Realms of Stone Icons

Prosthetic Records

Mariusz Lewandowski (RIP) artwork? Check. 10+ minute songs? Check. Strings and keys accompanying a black metal base? Check. Introspective and existential lyrics? Check. Blastbeats and crazy, virtuoso solos? Check. If you are in any way like me when it comes to black metal, then this is a home run. And to be fair, I’ve made it sound far less complex and nuanced than it actually is. The emotive depth this record is able to plumb with extreme ingredients is extraordinary. And that’s why it’s in this list, to be honest. I hear maybe fifty records a year that try to do this particular thing well and maybe 1 or 2 that actually succeed. Tómarúm have succeeded at the first time of asking. And it’s not even all black metal. “Introspection II” is a moving lament coaxed from acoustic guitars, cello and violin. The fact that this is a debut record frankly boggles the mind. 

16. Clutch: Sunrise On Slaughter Beach

Weathermaker Music

Unlike most of the alternative music populace, I’ve not been into Clutch for literally decades, but since I have got into them, I’ve realised why people speak with such unwavering certainty about their consistency. I loved the last record and did plenty of back-catalogue listening as a result. So hearing Clutch planned to release a ‘no frills’ lockdown-written and recorded album, I was excited, but I also tempered my expectations somewhat given the rhetoric coming out of camp Clutch. Oddly, the only area where this record falls short, is in length. Basically Clutch’s record for consistency of quality remains very much intact. There are some really quite weird songs on this record, along with some stone-cold bangers (the one-two of openers plus “We Strive For Excellence” and more besides) but the quality of writing is fantastic. I initially felt short-changed by the runtime (not often I say that), but I’ve ended up coming back to it more than almost any other record in the last 6 months. Clutch, please continue just being Clutch. You’re the fucking best. 

15. Conjurer: Páthos

Nuclear Blast

Few would deny that Conjurer have loomed large over the UK heavy scene for some time now. That this was only their second full-length record seems odd, as ubiquitous as they’ve been. Live shows, interviews, side projects, etc mean that the guys have scarcely been away, despite the 4+ year gap since the debut, Mire, dropped and left an indelible mark in the UK landscape. It would have been all too easy for Conjurer to strike while the iron was hot and produce something in the 18 months following Mire’s release. But no. They took their time. They allowed their ideas and the songs that eventually made up Pathos to percolate. And you can tell when you listen to it. Maybe that’s the most impressive thing to me; that the band had the maturity to exercise patience. It’s either that, or the inclusion of such varied textures along with their signature sludge/hardcore/prog amalgam. Whatever you take away from this album, I’m certain you’ll agree that the songwriting chops possessed by Conjurer is of a rare quality. 

14. Municipal Waster: Electrified Brain

Nuclear Blast

Muni Waste have just been one of those bands that you can rely on being decent for basically ever at this point. This is their seventh studio record and the first for five years, which is a long time but increasingly frequent in MW land. But what matters is that it is the best record they’ve made for at least 15 years. Maybe it’s a result of the pandemic and the amount of time people have spent alone, cogitating on their own existence, but there have been a lot of records that have been pensive, introspective and quite serious. So when MW turn up with their ripped stonewashed jeans, hi-tops, crumpled cans of PBR and 14 songs in 34 minutes, I was ready to roll over and have my belly tickled. The kicker was that this is genuinely a superb album of head-banging, propulsive earworms. This is a fine example of a record that isn’t treading any new ground, but the ground it treads, it does with confidence, style, adrenaline and so much fucking FUN. And there’s a lot to be said for that in a world as fucked up as ours.

13. Arð: Take Up My Bones

Prophecy Productions

Without double-checking, I have to assume this is the nerdiest record on this list. A concept album about St Cuthbert, a historical figure of some note from 7th century Northumbria here in the UK. Suffice to say, his story both precedes the world as we know it today, both geopolitically and from a historical veracity point of view. But what his story does lend itself to well, is a dark, brooding, cathedral-heavy, monastic, mood piece of a doom/black metal record. Truth be told, I can’t articulate why this is black metal apart from arguably the subject matter. So focused is it on its theme, that I can (and have) put on a pair of headphones, close my eyes and listen to this in complete isolation from beginning to end. When the record finishes, it feels entirely the same as having just finished a superb book. Not a film, a book. It has occurred to me in the past that books often stay with people longer because there are no bad actors in books. This record allows you to be completely immersed and transported. If you care to look into Cuthbert’s story as well, then the result can be quite profound. The depth of emotion and weight of import conveyed herein is genuinely astonishing. 

12. The Callous Daoboys: Celebrity Therapist

MNRK Records

There was a point that I’d almost decided this would be Top 3 or not feature at all in this list, such has been my relationship with it. So let me be clear. This album is off its tits. But has a sasscore soul that pulls it some way from the chaotic, mathy hardcore base that could otherwise lean it towards the world of Converge and the like. This album is much like if you took A Fever…era Brendan Urie, force-fed him a baffling diet of noise rock, groove metal and eloquent non sequiturs until the resultant creature began creating their own music. If that doesn’t sound that complimentary, that’s because sometimes I feel this record requires derision. But then I realise there’s at least as much that could legitimately be perceived as the work of genius. And the stuff I don’t like could just be more genius dressed up to fuck with me. Either way, the fact that this record makes me feel like that, comfortably earns its place here.

11. Malevolence: Malicious Intent

Nuclear Blast

Malevolence have had a hell of a couple of years. From being the band everyone spoke about in the (admittedly limited) UK festival circuit in 2021, to destroying stages from Malta to Manchester in 2022, coming armed with a record that more than ever, allows their classic metallic leanings to come to the fore. For a band who seemingly present as a hardcore band, playing Bloodstock, releasing what are effectively metal power ballads and peppering this record with groove riffs and wild but emotive solos? I have no issue whatsoever I should point out, indeed I think Malevolence in 2022 is the best version that has ever existed. Kings of the circle pit. The worst-kept secret gig of all time at Outbreak festival. Social media which suggest they’re just having the time of their lives. It would be easy to put Malev’s recent ascendency down to these things, but the truth is that Malicious Intent is a superb modern British metal record, incorporating a multitude of influences and using them all to devastating effect as and when the band see fit. Another band from Sheffield achieving a level of brilliance few ever do. 

10. Inhuman Condition: Fearsick

Blood Blast Distribution

The sole band in this list who also featured last year, with their debut record, no less. Fearsick was released a mere 13 months after debut Rat God. I gather the various members were somewhat surprised by the extent of the response to the debut, which sounded (as much as a death metal record can) like the people playing it were having the time of their lives. I’m glad to say, little changed in the following year and if anything, the shit-eating grin that no doubt adorns the faces of Inhuman Condition when writing, recording and playing the songs involved has likely widened. Whether it’s the immaculate, first-person horror narrative of “I’m Now The Monster”, the gritted teeth delivery of “Recycled Hate” or the rolling riffs of “Fencewalker”, this record is bubbling over with manic, malevolent joy. It might just be me hearing that, I guess? But whether it is or not, I couldn’t be happier to have another dose of these thrash-tinged, hook-laden, goremongers so soon after the debut. Keep it coming, guys.

9. Dream Unending: Song of Salvation

20 Buck Spin

It was less than a year after the debut, that Dream Unending, a project involving Derrick Vella (Outer Heaven, Tomb Mold) and Justin DeTore (Devil’s Dare, Innumerable Forms, etc) released Songs of Salvation. The first record was received with rapturous praise by most of the music press, but I have to admit it didn’t chime with me too much for some reason. I honestly don’t know what that reason was, but it certainly isn’t present in the follow-up. 5 songs stretch out over 43 minutes, including a 14-minute opus of an opening track, other tracks involving trumpets that feel for all the world like they should be providing texture to a film starring Paul Sorvino, a sub-3 minute composition of genuine beauty and fragility and on top of all this, guitar leads that range from subtly mournful to viscerally intense; evoking the sense that Vella is merely a conduit, coaxing these extraordinary sounds from his guitar in a genuinely otherworldly fashion. Which fits the project's overall theme and style immaculately. As an immersive mood piece, this record may be unmatched this year. 

8. Venom Prison: Erebos

Century Media

Although every Venom Prison show I had tickets for this year was cancelled (Covid, Larissa needing to spend time with her new baby, etc) there is no question whatsoever that Erebos deserves its place in this list without even a shadow of a doubt. Following up Samsara was always going to be an interesting creative crossroads. Having doubled down on the death metal in that release (after the savage but more hardcore-leaning debut) if Venom Prison chose to continue down that route, no-one would have blamed them. Few would have complained. But where they did choose to go was far more inventive and impressive. Introducing a sense of spaciousness, of patience and of melody (dare I say it). Yet travelling freely across the spectrum of sounds that spectrum gave them access to. “Comfort of Complicity” has some of the most latter-era Carcass riffs this side of…well, Carcass. “Gorgon Sisters” opens with a black metal scream and speaks unflinchingly about the blight of misogyny in the most overt of terms. And “Pain of Oizys” is a kind of post-metal lament with piano, Clapton guitar work and ultimately, evidence of the potential in this band that is even greater than I’d dared dream.

7. Reeking Aura: Blood and Bonemeal

Profound Lore

As a guy who listens to a lot of death metal, I’ve learned I often have to filter out the stuff that is really good, but isn’t doing anything new. I still love that stuff, but there are only so many hours in a day, let’s be honest. But then along comes Blood and Bonemeal by Reeking Aura. The artwork is relatively bright, at least partially. It has the look of an AI-produced sunset with an equine feature in the foreground and a hut structure. All very abstract but evident for those with the right kind of eyes. I pressed play and was met with something I liked. A heaving, toiling death metal sound. But one where the higher end of the fretboard still had a part to play. The light and dark that the artwork displayed. Then I learned that Reeking Aura described their sound as Agricultural Death Metal. Then I learned the concept behind the record. I won’t spoil it for you, but with the concept, the sound and the artwork, this has become arguably my most transportative record of the year. It’s not somewhere I want to spend all my time, but the fact that I know that, is credit to the world-building abilities of this record’s creators. 

6. 156/Silence: Narrative


I was very taken by a couple of the tracks from the (re-released) debut record by 156/Silence. I think it was the unabashed, almost absurd heaviness of their breakdowns. Truth be told, my interest waned relatively quickly and they became a few songs on a playlist. But I always remained interested. My interest was well-placed it seems, because Narrative showed not so much a shift from the band’s beginnings, but a development, which both cemented their sound and fleshed it out. The hints at the atmospheric bleakness and sonic dynamics present in the debut were now fully-fledged. The Pittsburgh natives allowed themselves 10+ minutes more of runtime over the last record (as did fellow Pittsburgh hardcore luminaries Code Orange between Forever and Underneath) to focus on conjuring the right atmosphere. It’s paid off in spades. Narrative brings 156/Silence into a conversation with the biggest hitters of that scene. 

5. Get The Shot: Merciless Destruction


Does somebody know something I don’t? That’s a genuine question. Because Get The Shot are an extraordinary band. An utterly savage, balls-to-the-wall, metallic hardcore band who do the lot. It’s heavy as a black hole, the drops and breakdowns are insane, there are singalongs, gang vocals, wah-heavy, shreddy solos, panic chords and they never drop below about 109% intensity. I don’t get it. People will queue overnight to get tickets for Knocked Loose (no shade, I love KL), but these guys seemingly get comparatively little love? The last record was almost this good and the debut was sick as well. If you like your hardcore metallic, wild, unhinged, violent and fun as hell? Listen to Get The Shot. And if you don’t? Listen to Get The Shot anyway. Then you will like your hardcore this way.

4. Undeath: It’s Time…To Rise From The Grave

Prosthetic Records

The world of death metal moves quickly these days. When Lesions Of A Different Kind was released on Prosthetic Records in 2020, Undeath felt like they could be one of many new, shiny things in the ironically murky death metal world that would tarnish quickly and be passed over, rightly or wrongly. Thank god that didn’t happen. It turned out that Alex, Kyle and co were funny, entertaining and came across much like a bunch of death metal dudes who happened to be gifted with the skills to play one of the most enjoyable versions of it many of us had heard in years. I suspect they came across like that because that seems to be entirely what they are. Cue shows in skateparks, superb merch, Crocs - but most importantly, a follow-up album that more than lived up to the hype around the band. It was propulsive, paid homage to their progenitors, planted it’s tongue in its cheek frequently (songs like “Human Chandelier” and “Head Splattered In Seven Ways” make that clear) but more than that, was overflowing with vocal and musical hooks, grooves and originality as much as it was with grotesque imagery. They might be my new death metal band who I’d show non-DM fans at this point. 

3. Counterparts: A Eulogy For Those Still Here

Pure Noise Records

Some will be familiar with the story behind this record and its release. Others will not. Vocalist and sole consistent member of Counterparts lineup since their inception 15 years ago, Brendan Murphy, is an open book. He speaks freely on social media, often in a humorous fashion, but equally often speaking about his life experience in a sufficiently honest way that it makes some uncomfortable. Brendan had a bond with his cat Kuma, that few people who haven’t owned pets through difficult periods could understand. In a cruel twist of fate, as this record was being released, medical issues took Kuma from Brendan, whilst he was in another country, touring. In short, the record focuses strongly on the knowledge of impending loss and how one is supposed to cope with it (hence the title). As someone who has been through similar circumstances with both human and animal loved ones, this record hit me like a ton of bricks. And yes, the more raw, emotional end of hardcore isn’t for everyone, but if you know the pain in Brendan’s lyrics, delivery and performance (I saw Counterparts a week ago as I wrote this), I defy you to not be deeply moved by this record.

2. Cave In: Heavy Pendulum

Relapse Records

The nature and timing (not to mention title) of Final Transmission led many to believe it would be the last Cave In record. Let’s be honest, the amount of other projects the remaining members are involved in could keep them busy for many lifetimes over. But that was not to be. Since the announcement of Heavy Pendulum, anticipation began to build. When Nate Newton (Converge, Jesuit, Old Man Gloom) was announced as Caleb’s replacement for the record, that anticipation was heightened further, arguably. What few expected was a 14-track, 70-minute, sprawling journey through stoner, classic rock, space rock and more besides. Ultimately it sounds exactly like you want Cave In to sound. And the quality doesn’t drop below excellent. For over an hour. On top of that, “Wavering Angel” is one of the best and most emotive songs of the last decade. Brodsky and co have created an astonishing record in Heavy Pendulum.

1. Ithaca: They Fear Us

Hassle Records

I really loved the first record from Ithaca. It was scathing and violent, whilst being righteous and also holding a style all its own. But even as a fan, I could not foresee the quantum leap the band took forward with their follow-up. When the title dropped with its already-iconic video, we could all see the ambition and scope had been upped, but it was only the first time I completed a full listen-through of this record that I truly knew what Ithaca had achieved. A band whose trademark was mathy hardcore, panic chords and impassioned screams of consistent intensity; managed to keep all of those things but add range to all of them. The result was an emotional, widescreen epic of terrifying and glorious proportions. Their mastery of melody separated them from many of their peers. Their live shows furthered that process whilst engendering an even greater sense of inclusiveness, catharsis and optimism than before, and did so whilst leaning into their ideologies, their passion and their shared experiences as a band. And what a band they have become. I can scarcely imagine what they will do next, but I'm all in at this point. All hail.