The Top 20 Albums of December | 2022

THE TOP 20 ALBUMS OF THE MONTH is just that, a grip of twenty albums that’d resonated most powerfully throughout this month. If you’re new to the site, the tendency is heavy and/or surreal music. Choices are selected based on temporal immersion, personal connection, impressive style, point of view, aesthetics and with consideration for the lasting value of each selection. All choices are ultimately personal and come without consideration for populism, nepotism, cronyism or perceived “relevance”. Any records left off this list will yet be considered for end of the year lists. I am just one man, writing about music is a passion I afford as much time as is manageable and I am eternally grateful to have so much to choose from. Thank you.

I. As I sit buzzing on the last four reviews still in process on my ‘to do’ list per 2022 not feeling even a bit of burnout there is the lingering sense that even more could be done in 2023. The season of black metal, video game escapism, and a healthy dose of self-examination/reflection upon the last year hasn’t otherwise taxed per usual. The wintry depressive torpor, mental exhaustion and thick lens of dysthymic tunnel vision expected yet eludes. The clarity afforded is grotesque, psychotic even, unable to be as disgusted with existence as one should be. Cast whatever bones are necessary that I might be more appropriately miserable and deranged throughout next year.

II. Roughly ~25 full-length releases are already in consideration for full review in January, but it is still too early to begin making that list in earnest. Before the end of 2022 I will publish a Top 100 Albums of the Year list which will include a list of 50 items with links to review and then 50 items which include the final verdict, a small paragraph of notation/argument for the record for a total of a hundred records championed. This is basically what I’ve done for the past 2-3 years without any major differences in format. I will address all one hundred of those selections in ten album chunks per a video series which will be slightly more edited than the usual droning.

III. Each day I meditate with all-consuming gratitude aimed toward the bands, labels and PR firms who choose to work with me — As well as the kind few readers who donate to the site intermittently. The goals and ethos of Grizzly Butts have not changed in 2022 but I will be somewhat less regularly active due to career and personal responsibilities intensifying as I age. Thank you.

#1Album of the Month
TITLE:Með hamri
RECORD LABEL(S):Norma Evangelium Diaboli

An uprooted main-de-gloire shrieking judgement to the bleeding ears of the false, this third full-length album from Reykjavík, Iceland-based black metal quartet Misþyrming arrives as the last great work of the year, insisting with every breath that you are not worthy of its marbled halls. There’d be no reason to have predicted the perhaps unintentionally Quorthonian stance and direction they’ve taken on ‘Með hamri‘, wherein heavy metal attitude and performance create a stoic and continuously regenerating sense of the hammer swung in stride, yet it works brilliantly. All the more exciting to hear where D.G. has gone with their sound when we consider the previous record was largely written in 2016. Of course I’ll have more to say in a full review soon enough.

TITLE:The Dance of the Four Elemental Serpents
RECORD LABEL(S):Unspeakable Axe,
Dying Victims Productions

Infused with chaotic dread, possessed by malevolent spirits and forced to focus on their craft at stabbing speed Chilean blackened thrash metal quartet Hellish propose an unholy arrival of pure evil thrash metal doctrine from a darkest realm, one of armageddon age terror and resurrected arcane pantheon hell-bent on cataclysmic decimation of mankind. Their third full-length album ‘The Dance of the Four Elemental Serpents‘ yet achieves a thinking man’s sentience under the grip of this new daimonian caste, no less obsessed with death spells and occult tales as its ~34 minute rifling cracks off with darkest introspective intensity. The result is inarguably one of the best thrash metal releases of the year.

TITLE:Zoetrope [mLP]
RECORD LABEL(S):Invictus Productions,
Dark Descent Records

Bathed in cinematically charged stroboscopic light, the mysteries revealed by the crushing wheel in dizzying whorl herein depict an infinitesimal far-gone march of the mind unchained and destined for spiritualized insanity. With emphasis upon deterministic philosophical outcomes for the envenomed thinker, this entirely indeterminate physical passage to nihil resembles a parade away from the mediocrity of comfortable existence and forward without fear of death. The horror of our shared cyclic existence is a roaring machine and feature-length panoptic harass in the hands of London, England-area death metal duo Qrixkuor who press on with their longform howling acknowledgement of ghastly truths, a sinister outcome too dark and sprawling to offer any tangible reflection without devotion. ‘Zoetrope‘ is as thousand-armed as one would expect from the black/death metal artist as they manage to follow-up with a markedly different conceptual undertaking which a reskinning, restatement which reinforces their core dissolution of death music tradition.

RECORD LABEL(S):Cruz Del Sur Music

Unbent, tried and still true to what ails ’em the return of relocated and re-revivified (now) Montana-based heavy metal entity Hammers of Misfortune for this seventh full-length album is a nuke, a reckless and fittingly overwhelming dive-bomb into maximal progressive thrash metal. ‘Overtaker’ is guaranteed to sound like nothing else you’ve heard, at least not all that close, as an energized experience crammed with riffs enough to leave the mind tingling with transcendence and the body radiated into slop. — Fans of proper progressive thrash and the late 80’s/90’s progressive metal it spawned will appreciate just how hard this record goes for something unheard of, sophisticated yet obsessive in its aggressive undertaking. Certainly memorable for how different it manages to be from past work, or anything else around today.

TITLE:Ritual Death
RECORD LABEL(S):Shadow Records

A proper black metal album, aggressive occult esotericism armed with physically charged performances and a knack for clever yet unpolished odes to unholy death. — Eroded by the ennui dripping from every waking moment of life and empowered by heretical revelation found only in the most bleak circles Trondheim, Norway-borne black metal quartet Ritual Death answer the call of pointedly fatal realism with barbaric reflex on this graven debut full-length. The antithesis of the mortification of the flesh, ‘Ritual Death‘ springs forth in desanctification in order to return feeling to the sinful nature of mankind by way of absolute possession. Uncalculated in their aggression yet precise in conveyance of haunted mayhemic mindset these well-regarded spectres reveal their Thanatotic mystery at last, a cult of the infinite death-drive.

TITLE:Force Form Free
RECORD LABEL(S):Blues Funeral Recordings

You’ll find me touting records from bands like Earthless and this latest one from Dead Meadow this year for the chilled, modern psychedelic rock revelations they contain, however quaint, “easy” and dreary one might find ’em at face value. ‘Force Form Free‘ stuck in mind for that effortlessness itself, hardly touching vocals unless it was called for, hitting an Ennio Morricone cover simply because it fit the record’s vibe, and generally creating an experience which balances itself between the foreground and the background without feeling like an interruption to run-on thoughts. Fans of late 60’s psychedelic rock should especially love where this record ultimately goes. Sure, It’ll have to be an introduction to this long-running act for many but, definitely pick around their discography for what fits best if this perks your ear at all.

TITLE:Eight Mahavidyas
RECORD LABEL(S):Awakening Records

Singapore-based blackened death metal quartet Rudra have been around since 1992 wherein their interest in death/thrash metal eventually evolved into a rhythmically unique treatment of extreme metal they call “Vedic metal” and of course their lyrics concern themselves with early Hindu mythology, theology, and philosophy all of which are naturally intertwined. ‘Eight Mahavidyas‘ is the tenth full-length from this severely underrated troupe and it finds them deeply set within a sound that developed during the very well-loved ‘Brahmavidya‘ trilogy of albums from the late 2000’s through 2011. This sound continues to set them apart from the common comparisons to bands like Absu, certain Varathron records (and even Arghoslent back in the 2000’s) now emphasizing more of the black/thrashing aesthetics while still in keeping with a meditative verve. This is a daunting experience at ~64 minutes long but one which does an excellent job of immersing the listener into the world Rudra creates. I will hopefully have the time to full review this album before the end of the year, either way the recommendation is high.

RECORD LABEL(S):Werewolf Records

With such long periods of consideration now stretching between Finnish black metal musician Werwolf‘s contributions to the Satanic Warmaster canon, and so many imitations breaking ground year-over-year, it has become easier to forget exactly where the standard for the underground melodic black metal vernacular today was built and exactly by whom. I’d argue that a quick wheel across the catalog of the artist promises to be satiating and steeling enough in reminder of a certain distinctly Finnish sect of devotee for the ages but I’d have to also append this thought with the suggestion that this long-awaited sixth full-length album, ‘Aamongandr‘, both properly recalls and adds to the enthroned’s infamy.

TITLE:Split [12″ LP]
RECORD LABEL(S):Me Saco Un Ojo Records,
Rotted Life Records

Here we find two of the more celebrated underground death metal bands of the last two years, each with their own dark atmospheric take on new ‘old school’ death metal eerie. This 12″ split LP covers a substantial enough half hour with Russian trio Gosudar heading off the charge with the bulk of the runtime and Texan death metal quintet Malignant Altar rounding off the tail end with their final two pieces. Expect mid-paced traditional death metal from both entities, each pushing an unbendable die-hard point of view be it particularly Slavic or North American. RIP to the Texas crew, who left a big mark, and hail to these Russians for continuing to amaze.

TITLE:Elevenfold Tail
RECORD LABEL(S):Into Endless Chaos

Resilient in the face of the repeated collapse-and-rebuild of its environs the serpent’s adaptation now constitutes a frenzied leap into hypnotic motion, swaying before each calculated strike in artfully decisive killing blows. A dance of poisonous maw-spattered filth against a scale-draped and rugged animalistic austerity Malmö, Sweden-based black metal quartet Nigrum‘s debut full-length arrives seasoned in its actions yet abrupt in its mayhem, a reared-up showing of teeth meant to first terrify and then slowly debilitate. ‘Elevenfold Tail‘ is a frantic, rogue black metal conquest that is magisterial and refined despite its bestially spawned grout, an occult nightmare sequence in formation which yet reads as triumphal thanks to their unbroken channeling of sempiternal darkness. — In English: A bit like Ultra Silvam but a bit more heavy metal/thrashing about.

TITLE:From Which Nightmares Crawl
RECORD LABEL(S):Chaos Records

If you’ve any vested interest in the origin and expansion of the true melodic death metal dialect you can’t miss the virtuous intentions which south of Salt Lake City, Utah-borne melodic death metal band Sacrilegion present thier debut album. At face value ‘From Which Nightmares Crawl‘ might appear as a band in exacting tribute but they’ve more to wield than easily caught references to a core handful of elite melodeath bands. Though the nuance will be lost on most, this quartet strike their own buffed and brazen Eldritch current woven along an increasingly twisted semi-technical riffcraft-obsessed path for the duration of this well-polished entrance. FFO: (later) Cenotaph, Intestine Baalism, The Chasm circa ’04.

TITLE:Manum Inicere Alicui
RECORD LABEL(S):The Sinister Flame

Raw Satanic black metal, reveling in self-evisceration. Cold, miserable, and ancient as the early 90’s black metal that’d originally influenced them this German musician’s second album rings as authentic in its doomed curse of death from the moment its first riff is struck. The dread which resonates off of this album is unexpectedly thick, nearly as profound as the muscled-at finesse of the riffs here which’ll charm folks with vested interest in the earliest pure black metal acts and waves from the tightly knit and unforgiving German scenes of old. More stuff to say in the review once it is done.

TITLE:Hearts Unchained – At War With a Passionless World
RECORD LABEL(S):Lupus Lounge

Though the proverbial dam had been burst a few years prior we now begin to see the crags, shapes and sediment concentrated beneath the outpouring of desirous freedom found within the work of Germany-borne melodic black metal act Imha Tarikat. Tested, scoured, and now sustaining their channeling of the etheric body by singular will ‘Hearts Unchained – At War With a Passionless World‘ is the reveal of philosophical foundation built beyond a blustering start. It’ll have to represent a claim laid upon a sound which now threatens to solidify itself for the sake of an unbroken connection with like minds. In this sense these works bolster and speak for the inspiration of the individual more than they create new distractions, finally building columnar bracing around unwieldy, overcharged spiritus.

RECORD LABEL(S):Reptilian Records

As Chicago’s Salvation finally begin to let loose and enjoy their own skin we find their previously kinda grunge obsessed take on early 90’s noise rock now feeling a bit heavier on the swinging, big bustin’ garage rock side of things. Making a bigger stink, getting it off their chest and getting louder with it than their already great ‘Year of the Fly‘ (2019). Their heaviest, noisiest and most daring record overall, and even if I’m not hot for the quietude of “Drag the River” the whole thing is otherwise mad, sonically charged and outrageous as noise rock should be. I especially love the 10+ minute harass of “Voices in the House” and the irritable swing of opener “Drag” into single “Backwards Bunny”.

RECORD LABEL(S):Personal Records

Insane heretics arisen in the grand tradition of death music against indoctrination Richmond, Virginia-borne blackened death metal quintet Appalling press the dagger to the nape of all lamb-kind here on their third and most cutting full-length album. The blood, the braying and the depressurization of the hatred-fed mind all surge in excess from ‘Sacrilege‘ which is at once their most stunning visual, thematic, and musical statement thus far as the band reaches a still primal professional standard herein. FFO: Angelcorpse, (early) Centurian, Vader.

TITLE:Ingested Burial Ground
RECORD LABEL(S):Brilliant Emperor Records

Ploughshare have concocted a paradigm shift well-worth considering. A finely made set of grooving electro-painscapes brimming with repeatable and gratifying textures enough to challenge the curious avant-black/death metal fan who’d have no reservations venturing into the world of dark electronic music all the same. From my point of view the “living death” of their impetus survives in a somewhat more original conception, an upturned world of based grooves where the only real measure of success quantifiable is the fact that it didn’t leave me pining for their former extreme metal self. 

TITLE:Bestiary of Immortal Hunger
RECORD LABEL(S):Hell’s Headbangers Records

Fans of Proclamation and blood-spitting war metal in general will immediately recognize the cruel intent of these folks as they drop nuclear waste-level contaminant upon concise and occasionally grooving bestial death metal songs, all of them grinding low and blasting unholy. The most quintessential Abysmal Lord song on here for my taste is “Bestiary of Immortal Hunger”, it’ll serve as a good showcase for their sound having changed in terms of less shocking reverb applied, more of the actual performances kicking through and this time around far more variety on the kit. Best songs on here for my taste are “Carcass of the Living God” and the ancient goat-horned grind of “Glowing Baphomet”.

TITLE:Assim na Terra Como no Inferno

After two decades of his solo raw-yet-varied project Irae Portuguese musician Vulturius (Decayed, Concilium, Ancient Burial, et al.) might only have five full-lengths under his belt but the dumber of splits, compilations, demos, and mLPs run on a mile-long list. This record is all over the place, celebrating various aspects of his sound over the last two decades but held together by a unique sense of rhythm and demented guitar work. The main feeling conveyed by these recordings is a reminder of the artist’s original inspiration, the introduction to black metal that has stuck ever since. It’ll be a rough introduction if you’re not familiar but still a genuine article which should reveal both the unique voice of the musician and the raw madness of his music.

TITLE:La Mort Appelle tous les Vivants
RECORD LABEL(S):Sleeping Church Records

French traditional doom metal band Barabbas play a mixture of 80’s and 90’s doom metal which includes plenty of Hammond-esque organ grinding and sing entirely in French. The inspiration is clearly flowing here on this latest album as the band packs a lot into this hourlong record yet none of it ends up feeling too overstuffed. The biggest bits of personality shine on the last two pieces and make for an engaging full listen for the most part. Fans of ‘Alkahest‘-era Paul Chain, mid-to-late 90’s Cathedral, and 90’s Candlemass will do well to check these folks out.

TITLE:Hidden Beyond Time
RECORD LABEL(S):The Sign Records

Stoner/heavy metal band Green King play a style of music that’ll immediately appeal to fans of Black Wizard‘s ‘Livin’ Oblivion‘, Saviours, and 70’s heavy/proto-metal influenced rock in general. Though their sound isn’t particularly original it does hit in its own way per fine guitar work and plenty of grit on behalf of the vocalist. Missed out on everything this label released this year but glad I caught this one on Bandcamp before 2022 was over. Stoney proto-trad metal that rules is few and far between so jump on this one and see if it sticks.

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