It’s been a Hell of a year for metal. Bands thought long dead clawed their way out of their graves, old favorites signed off after putting in years and decades of stellar work, new bands celebrated the start of what will hopefully be long and fruitful careers, and veterans of the scene put out stunning reminders of why they’re masters of their craft. Pretty much whatever genre you are into saw something really spectacular come out this year. Flip that coin and your favorite genre probably saw a real head scratcher or two of an album come out as well. In between…well, those good, not great albums just tend to fall by the wayside, don’t they?
There have been a ton of new metal albums this year with a lot to talk about and fight over because, let’s face it, that’s what these end-of-the-year lists are for. There’s very little that people love more in the world of artistic endeavors than arguing over what is good and what is bad. I’ve been looking forward to compiling this list since I started this publication back in March because, in all honesty, I love end-of-the-year lists. There’s something that’s always intriguing about an author or institution declaring definitively that yes, to us, these are the top releases of the calendar year. For us here at Metal Plague, it’s been a particularly fruitful year in the new releases department so, without further ado, let’s get down to fighting over what did and didn’t make the cut, shall we?
10. Pillaging Villagers – Pillaging Villagers
This year has been filled with impressive debuts across the board but, for my money, none of them have impressed me in the same way that the self-titled debut from Pillaging Villagers did. The band is the brainchild of Milwaukee-based musician David Frazer and the record has been something that’s been in Frazer’s brain for more than a decade. That he was finally able to put it together and release it independently (and that it sounds as goddamn electric as it does) is one of the best DIY success stories of the year. The exciting nature of Frazer taking matters into his own hands and realizing his lifelong dream wouldn’t be nearly as magical if the album couldn’t back it up but man does it ever.
Pillaging Villagers is the rare concept album that actually tells a story. Too many concept albums are just more about vibes or loose themes but there are actual clear act structures to Pillaging Villagers and the record tells a well-defined story with villains that you cannot wait to see get what’s coming to them and heroes that you’ll be fully invested in by the time the finale rolls around. I’m not going to give anything away about the plot but it’s one of the best working class stories I’ve heard all year in any medium. Musically, the album blends folk metal with punk elements into a wholly unique package that manages to combine elements from different musical avenues in a way that’s completely organic and never forced. Everything here, from the music to the lyrics, serves to fully flesh out the world that Frazer has built and advance the story. The way that the music complements the story and builds tension and mood as it goes along really makes this feel like a soundtrack to a movie that I’d love to see. If you dig bands like Ensiferum and stories about the downtrodden finally rising up against the forces oppressing them, then I cannot recommend Pillaging Villagers enough.
9. Pain Remains – Lorna Shore
Outside of a few bands, I’m not and never have been a huge deathcore guy. There are a couple bands that I have some fondness for, mostly because I liked them when I was younger and they were a gateway to death metal, but for the most part, deathcore doesn’t do it for me. That’s probably why Lorna Shore really wasn’t on my radar until their last EP …And I Return to Nothingness was hyped up to me by both Riley McShane (ex-Allegaeon) and Ricky Myers (Suffocation). With pedigreed supporters like that behind them, I had to give the record a shot and I’m damn glad that I did. I was way more impressed with that release than I thought I would be but nothing prepared me for how much Pain Remains would blow me away.
Pain Remains is, quite probably, the best deathcore album I’ve ever heard. Will Ramos, vocally, is pitch perfect for what the band is doing here and it’s incredibly exciting that Lorna Shore was able to find a new vocalist that fits them after ousting former vocalist and alleged-dickhead CJ McCreery. It has been, without a doubt, a rough chunk of time for Lorna Shore but to see them rise above it and come out with one of the best releases of the year is a real testament to the undying spirit of this band. The orchestration and symphonic elements here mesh amazingly with Ramos’ vicious vocal attack and it all combines for an album that’s huge in pretty much every sense of the word. The runtime is massive but there’s nothing here that I’d cut and the maximalist nature of the compositions and the elements included really makes the whole presentation feel grand without seeming overblown. There are minor quibbles here and there (particularly with some of the breakdowns) but this is an impressive album that made me a true believer in Lorna Shore. For the first time in a long, long time, I cannot wait to see what a deathcore band comes up with next.
8. Erebos – Venom Prison
I’ll admit, I was skeptical about this album. I wasn’t sure how adding in the clean singing passages and prog elements would work with Larissa Stupar’s otherworldly death growls but damn if the band doesn’t pull it all off. If anything, the dissonant elements play off each other very well and create a truly memorable experience that really fits both Venom Prison’s traditional sound as well as the different aspects they added to that sound on this record. A large problem with any death metal band is stagnancy and the tendency to repeat the same album every time out. Not so with Venom Prison as this record really finds the band coming completely into their own and thoroughly refining their style into something that longterm fans should really dig and that also should appeal to people who’ve maybe never given death metal a try.
Erebos, while pushing the envelope further, does retain what makes Venom Prison such an easy band to get behind. The lyrics are still socially conscious and done in a way that doesn’t feel didactic or trite. Stupar is a superb lyricist and is still finding interesting angles on the shitshow that is modern living. Ash Gray’s guitar work is as stellar as ever here and the propulsive drumming of Joe Bills drives it all forward at a variety of different paces. If 2019’s Samsara was Venom Prison breaking through to a larger audience, Erebos is the band grabbing that audience by the lapels and full-throated screaming that they aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. Thank Satan for that.
7. Deep Gashes and Long Lashes – VHS
VHS is a band that feels tailored to my sensibilities. They pump out a ton of quality death/grind records all pretty much dedicated to horror and all the gruesome ways one can die within that most macabre of genres. After their aquatic, space, and vampire records, an album of Giallo-inspired tracks only feels natural. That it’s VHS’ best record to date might say something about the power of using Italian horror cinema as an inspiration.
The ten tracks on Deep Gashes and Long Lashes display VHS making a leap forward in compositions as the band incorporates more synth and cinematic elements into the songwriting in order to call back to the soundtracks of the movies that inspired the album. It’s a combination that could easily fall apart but Mike Hochins and crew (plus cool guest appearances from members of Fulci, Tenebro, Guineapig, and Golem of Gore) are more than up to the task. The evolution in songwriting can be heard in catchy, heavy tracks like “Deep Red” and “Quack, Quack,” as well as on my personal favorite, “Solange.” It’s an album that’s undeniably more of an ear worm than previous VHS albums but that still retains everything that makes their previous albums great. Argento, Bava, and Fulci would be damn proud.
6. Engrossed in Decay – Molder
There’s a little bit of regional pride in me recommending Molder all the time to anyone that will listen. Mostly it’s just that there’s not many (if anyone) doing OSDM better than the Joliet four-piece right now but there’s also something special about having one of the best bands in your favorite genre come from your state. The debut album from the group, 2020’s excellent Vanished Cadavers, announced a new force in the world of death metal. This year’s Engrossed in Decay proved that the first outing was anything but a fluke.
Engrossed in Decay, in a lot of ways, is more of the same from Molder. Disgusting lyrics about the bizarre depths of insanity that humanity sinks to? Check. Big ass caveman riffing that will stay in your head for days? Check. A vocal attack that stands as one of the best in all of current death metal? Check. Sometimes there’s nothing wrong with not fixing what isn’t broken and that’s definitely the case here. This sounds like an album made by the minds behind Vanished Cadavers but guitarist/vocalist Aaren Pantke and crew have refined everything down into a hell of a dynamite package and kicked everything up to the next level. This is one of the tightest 45 minutes that you’re likely to hear out of death metal all year. Songs like “Disinhumed Carcass Revived” and “Cask of Maggots” are among the best death metal songs of the year and perfect examples of what makes Molder such a disgusting delight to listen to. This is a band that is very clearly going places so get on board if you don’t want to be left behind in the viscera vats.
5. Those Who Hunt at Night – Savage Master
Savage Master will always have a special place in my heart. Their 2019 album Myth, Magic and Steel was a pretty instrumental album in getting my wife into metal and one that has been listened to a ton in our house. All things considered, three years is not that long of a wait for a new record but when a band is as consistently solid as Savage Master is, three years can feel like forever. When Those Who Hunt at Night dropped earlier this year, the wait was more than worth it as, to me, it feels like their second best album after the aforementioned Myth, Magic and Steel.
It doesn’t take long in Those Who Hunt at Night to be reminded why I’ve said before that Stacey Savage is one of the best vocalists in all of metal right now. There’s such a power to her voice and she utilizes the entirety of her range on the nine tracks on Those Who Hunt at Night. Complimenting Savage’s, uh, savage vocal attack are the huge riffs from guitarists Julien Fried and Larry Myers. Savage Master has always been a band that traffics in the classic heavy metal sound (think Cirith Ungol for a new generation) and there’s no change here. The big riffs, deep hooks, and sword and sorcery imagery all combine to give Savage Master fans more of what we’ve always loved about the band. There’s nothing here that’s necessarily a new direction or a surprise but when a band does it as well as Savage Master, that’s not a complaint.
4. Deathwestern – Spiritworld
Combining death, thrash, and hardcore stylings with Western storytelling and motifs would either make a powerful witch’s brew or a fucking disaster. It’s a credit to main man Stu Folsom that Spiritworld is all the former and none of the latter. Deathwestern follows in the footsteps of 2020’s debut Pagan Rhythms with more tales of Western extremity set to music filled with the sounds of all the bands that inspired Folsom as a young metal and punk fan. It’s a mix that worked perfectly on the debut but that has been honed even further here to prove that the first time was anything but a fluke and Folsom’s unique brand of extreme metal has true lasting power.
Deathwestern is a record that gets in and gets out without wasting any time. At barely more than a half-hour, the album is brisk and no track outstays its welcome. Lyrically, this is more of the splatterpunk Western that made Pagan Rhythms such a unique delight. Tales of sundrenched butchery abound here with titles like “The Heretic Butcher” and “Mojave Bloodlust” leaving little to the imagination. Musically, this is the same type of cross between Max Cavalera-era Sepultura and Agnostic Front with a sprinkling of OSDM thrown in because why not? That it all worked on one album was a blast, that it works again here shows just how talented Folsom is as a writer and performer. This could easily have been an album with a wild direction change or a repeat of the exact same thing as the first outing, but Folsom makes the smart move by sticking the course that he started on Pagan Rhythms and refining the sound with more detailed and varied compositions. To those who loved the first album, this should feel similar but not too comfortable. After two releases, Spiritworld has evolved and improved each time out. What has come already has been a blast but if this pattern holds, what comes next just might bury us all under the baking desert sun.
3. Hate Über Alles – Kreator
After a five year gap, Kreator roared back with its triumphant return, Hate Über Alles, and holy Hell was the wait well worth it. The band’s fifteenth studio album is the first one with Frédéric Leclercq handling bass duties for the departed Christian Giesler and the new man in town fits in perfectly with his Teutonic thrash brethren. The new four-piece sounds as good as ever and, when listening through the new record, it’s kind of hard to believe that this is a band that has been around for 40 years and 15 albums. There are a lot of bands that struggle to sound this fresh one decade in, let alone four, so that Hate Über Alles sounds as goddamn energized as it does is a real testament to Mille Petrozza and crew.
Hate Über Alles is backed by a ridiculously strong set of singles. “Hate Über Alles,” “Strongest of the Strong,” and “Midnight Sun” are all pulse-pounding Kreator songs that are damn near impossible to get out of your head. The title track and “Strongest of the Strong” feel like they could fit on any of the other crushing releases during the Sami Yli-Sirniö era. Both are complete with big, catchy riffs, a tempo that doesn’t let up, and lyrics meant to empower metalheads the world over to overcome the shitstorm that is our modern world. “Midnight Sun” definitely feels like a Kreator song from this current era of the band but also throws a little more experimentation into it with clean female vocals mixed into the track. It’s not as much of a curveball as Kreator’s (unfairly) maligned middle period, but it’s definitely nice to hear that the band wants to mix things up album to album and track to track and sit back and rest on its laurels.
The rest of the album is an accomplished beast of a record as well. C’mon, how can you be a trve cvlt metalhead and not love a song called “Killer of Jesus?” “Dying Planet” is a fitting and varied closer that unsurprisingly references our current climate catastrophe without getting heavy handed or too melancholy. “Become Immortal” is a nostalgic callback to the early days of Petrozza falling in love with metal and a song that should be relatable to most listeners, no matter where and when the genre wormed its way into your heart. There’s a lot to love here and a ton to dig into with Hate Über Alles and it’s only appropriate that Kreator would rise from its slumber with such a resounding clamor that even the most critical of the hordes will have a hard time not being totally enraptured.
2. Let There Be Witchery – Midnight
There’s not much to quibble over in terms of what Midnight is all about. The band pumps out sleazy, blasphemous speed metal and doesn’t seem to have any interest in changing that formula. Thank the Dark Lord for that. When you pump out albums as consistently great as Midnight does, why fix what isn’t broken? It worked for Motörhead for decades so why not Cleveland’s finest filth purveyors? Album number five, March’s Let There Be Witchery, knows the assignment and wastes absolutely no time in letting you know that you can check your higher thought processes at the door. Hell, the first lyric lets you know that not only have your brains been slaughtered, they didn’t have a use here in the first place.
Let There Be Witchery, like every Midnight album, clocks in just as long as it needs to be. At a touch under 35 minutes, there’s no wasted time here and no fat to be found on the bones of any of these tracks. If you’ve heard any of Midnight’s other four albums, you should know what to expect from the band going in. Tales of late night demonic couplings between man and monstress abound on the ten songs that make up the record and each of them is a breakneck composition that threatens to fly off the rails at any time if it weren’t for the man in the middle of the storm holding it all together.
Athenar has been a Hell of a one-man-band throughout his studio time with Midnight and his approach is part of the charm of the band. The man is not the most technical musician in the world but everything sounds and feels exactly the way that it’s meant to for the song. If this was a band of technical virtuosos ripping it up on their instruments, I don’t think that would appeal as much. There’s something to the rough and dirty playing style of Athenar that makes Midnight feel more authentic, more honest than other bands. That’s no exception on the new album as Let There Be Witchery is as raw as the rest of the band’s studio LPs, which makes it another catchy, memorable outing for one of my favorite bands currently going. Not to beat a dead horse, but the Motörhead comparison really does feel apt and anyway, if you’re bitching about a blackened speed metal version of Motörhead, I don’t wanna know ‘ya.
1. Angels Hung From the Arches of Heaven – Goatwhore
Angels Hung From the Arches of Heaven doesn’t leave a whole lot to the imagination, does it? Then again, Goatwhore has never been a band to be coy about who or what they are. A new Goatwore record means a new pile of songs about the legions of Satan finally overcoming Christ the deceiver and more demonic imagery than you could expect to find in an illustrated version of Paradise Lost. You definitely won’t find any equivocating here (would you expect to on a Goatwhore record?), but you will find the best collection of tracks the band has put out since my personal favorite of theirs, 2012’s superb Blood for the Master.
Lyrically, Angels Hung from the Arches of Heaven is more of what we’ve come to love about Goatwhore. Vocalist L. Ben Falgoust II and guitarist Sammy Duet have crafted 12 more tales of carnage, Satanic victory, and the decimation of heaven. It’s stuff that would fit in quite well in a gritty ’70s horror picture and definitely not something to throw on at your family’s X-mas party (well, I guess that depends on how cool your family is). Songs like “Voracious Blood Fixation” and “Born of Satan’s Flesh” both harken back to gory exploitation cinema of yesteryear, but Falgoust also managed to include some real world inspiration in “Death From Above,” which is about an all-female Russian bomber unit during WWII. It’s a cool addition to the album and that Falgoust wrote it in a manner that feels very Goatwhore and not like a history lesson (love ‘ya Sabaton but that’d be weird here) is a real testament to his abilities as a lyricist and part of why I’ve always said he’s one of the best around.
While the album might not hold a ton of surprises lyrically (not a complaint!), musically this is Goatwhore’s most varied outing to date. Crediting the downtime forced upon the band by the pandemic, Duet was able to play a little more with the arrangements and compositions this time out to try some things that he hadn’t before. That the band was willing to roll with Duet’s experimentation and that it came together as nicely as it did is a credit to the skills of producer Kurt Ballou and to just how good of a riffmaster and writer Duet is. There’s nothing here that will shock you musically (the band doesn’t go synth-pop or anything too out of left field) but if you’re a longtime fan, there are small things here and there that you might not expect to hear on a Goatwhore album, such as the piano outro on the title track and the more melodic solos throughout the record.
As a whole, Angels Hung from the Arches of Heaven is a lot of what fans already love about Goatwhore with enough extra bells and whistles tossed in to keep things fresh. It’s the kind of release that you get from a mature band that fully understands what appeals to their fans but that also wants to try new things and not get stale. Way too many bands this many albums in will toss off another album of songs that could fit on any of their other records or, if they are desperate, totally change their sound in an attempt to gain new listeners or pivot to new styles. Angels Hung from the Arches of Heaven is not a repeat of the past nor is it a break from it. Rather, Metal Plague’s top album of 2022 is a refinement and a honing of what has made Goatwhore an extreme metal mainstay over the years. It’s been 25 years since Goatwhore entered the world and, with them still putting out albums as goddamn electrifying as Angels Hung from the Arches of Heaven, it’s hard not to see them blessing the next quarter century of metal with more of the most blasphemous creations under the all-consuming sun.