Monday, January 2, 2023

Best of 2022, Part 1: Blind Guardian, Megadeth, Soilwork, Ward Davis, Disturbed

If there was one good thing that came out of the misery of 2020, it seems that a lot of artists used their lockdown time to create fantastic albums that trickled out through the year. For me, 2022 was an embarrassment of musical riches that featured some rock steady releases, some fantastic returns to form and even a couple of new discoveries.

The year wasn’t without its disappointments, and some of them were tough ones. The much-anticipated return of King’s X after a 14-year absence, for example, just didn’t connect with me the way that I’d hoped. But those were anomalies this year and certainly not the norm. I can’t remember the last time that I had 20 albums that I wanted to talk about at the end of the year, but here we are:

No. 20. HORIZON IGNITED – TOWARDS THE DYING LANDS: The second album for Finland’s Horizon Ignited was my introduction to the band. What they deliver on this first Best of 2022 honoree is not ground-breaking, but it’s very well-done melodic death metal in the vein of Soilwork and In Flames. Unfortunately for them, they were competing this year with a new record from Soilwork and four incredible songs from In Flames’ upcoming record, due in early 2023. That said, Towards the Dying Land is still a very enjoyable 40-ish minutes, and “Reveries” remains one of my favorite songs of the year.

Standout songs: “Reveries,” “Beyond Your Reach,” “Towards the Dying Lands,” “Servant,” “Eventide of Abysmal Grief”

Get Towards the Dying Lands.

No. 19. EVIL INVADERS – SHATTERING REFLECTIONS: I’ve encountered Evil Invaders a number of times over the years and found them entertaining, but never gripping enough to draw me in as a fan. Shattering Reflections scratched the right itch, though. I described it as the baby of Judas Priest and Mercyful Fate with David Wayne-era Metal Church as the godfather. There’s plenty of classic metal in the 10 tracks, along with a heaping helping of thrash and speed. Throwback metal doesn’t get much better than “In Deepest Black.”

Standout songs: “In Deepest Black,” “Die for Me,” “Hissing in Crescendo,” “Sledgehammer Justice”

Get Shattering Reflections.

No. 18. BLOODY HAMMERS – WASHED IN THE BLOOD: The two-piece outfit from Transylvania County, N.C., does its thing again – a blend of goth rock, light industrial and Misfits-style horror punk with some psychedelic leanings here and there. They’re consistent, but how much I like each of their albums really depends on whether or not I’m in the mood for it. This one hit me right. I particularly like the Misfits feel of “At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul.” It’s so inspired by them that I had to actually look it up and make sure it wasn’t a cover of some obscure Misfits rarity that I’d overlooked.

Standout songs: “At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul,” “Black Sunday,” “Phantasmagoria,” “Last Rites of Lucifer”

Get Washed in the BloodWashed in the Blood.

No. 17. KENDELL MARVEL – COME ON SUNSHINE: The first of a few non-metal albums to make the list, Kendell Marvel delivers a late ‘70s/early ‘80s country-rock style that’s heavily reminiscent of classic Hank Williams Jr. and Waylon Jennings’ rowdier side with a little bit of blues in the mix. Though I have to question getting a guest spot from Chris Stapleton – who’s arguably the best voice in country music at the moment – and only having him do backing vocals on “Don’t Tell Me How to Drink.” Marvel has a very gruff, classic country voice that works equally on everything from hell raisers to sincere ballads.

Standout songs: “Don’t Tell Me How to Drink,” “Keep Doing Your Thing,” “Come on Sunshine,” “Habits,” “Hell Bent on Hard Times”

Get Come on Sunshine.

No. 16. DISTURBED – DIVISIVE: Picking Disturbed these days on a best of list that’s largely metal will certainly be, pardon the pun, divisive. But this record is something of a return to form for the band. While it doesn’t quite capture the wild and aggressive spirit of their debut album, Divisive does blend that sound well with the more refined things that they’ve been doing more recently. Dan Donegan’s riffs are brutal and raw, but David Draiman’s vocal lines retain some of the more melodic stylings of their more recent work. I can feel Draiman’s middle fingers rising toward me as I write this, but I honestly needed more than one “o-wah-ah-ah-ah” to bring back that untamed spirit a little. Nice score getting Ann Wilson of Heart to sing a duet, too.

Standout songs: “Hey You,” “Bad Man,” “Divisive,” “Feeding the Fire,” “Part of Me”

Get Divisive.


No. 15. BLIND GUARDIAN – THE GOD MACHINE: Man, this is something that I’ve wanted for a while, and in any other year, it would probably be a Top 10 album. Blind Guardian returns to the more aggressive sound of their earlier work. They back down the symphonics and just let it rip. It’s really nice to hear the blazing guitar riffs and Hansi Kursch belting out the vocals with anger and fire. This is the Blind Guardian that I’ve missed over the last 15-ish years, and it’s nice to have them back.

Standout songs: “Deliver Us From Evil,” “Damnation,” “Violent Shadows,” “Life Beyond the Spheres,” “Blood of the Elves.”

Get The God Machine.

No. 14. MEGADETH – THE SICK, THE DYING … AND THE DEAD!: We were “promised” a lot before the release of this album. From the early riffs that Dave Mustaine allowed fans to hear snippets of down to the ellipses in the title, everything signaled a return to the band’s classic sound. What we got instead was a little faster and slightly more aggressive (in spots) version of the modern Megadeth. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but not quite what a lot of fans, myself included, were expecting. The album did give us one of the strangest duets of the year (at least until Billy Gibbons showed up on a Morris Day song in November), as Mustaine teams up with Sammy Hagar for album closer “This Planet’s on Fire,” which oddly is one of the more interesting songs, blending some Megadeth-style riffs with the big party choruses of Hagar’s work.

Standout songs: “We’ll Be Back,” “This Planet’s on Fire,” “Life in Hell,” “Killing Time,” “Police Truck,” “Night Stalkers”

 Get The Sick, The Dying ... And the Dead!

No. 13. AMORPHIS – HALO: Amorphis is almost incapable of putting out a bad album (we don’t speak of 2003’s grunge-inspired Far from the Sun), but they seem to have been stuck in the same formula since 2009’s outstanding Skyforger. Halo is a great album as usual. It was an early contender and spent a lot of time in my playlist, but it really doesn’t distinguish itself all that much from their last several records. I won’t complain about another dozen albums exactly like this, but I also wouldn’t complain about a small bit of evolution either – as long as they don’t go back to grunge for inspiration.

Standout songs: “On the Dark Waters,” “The Moon,” “Seven Roads Come Together,” “Northwards,” “When the Gods Came”

Get Halo.

No. 12. WARD DAVIS – LIVE FROM AN UNDISCLOSED LOCATION IN HAYS, KANSAS: I wouldn’t normally put a live album on my end-of-year list, but this one is a lot of fun. And since I missed his incredible 2020 album Black Cats and Crows, which should have been near the top of my list that year, I figure I owe it to him. Davis returns to the scene of the crime, so to speak, to deliver a strong set of his own songs, songs he wrote with friend and collaborator Cody Jinks, and covers, including one from … Richard Marx? It’s great fun and good stuff for fans of what country music used to be.

Standout songs: “Time to Move On,” “Same Kind of Crazy as Me,” “Hurt You,” “Sounds of Chains,” “I’m Not the Devil,” “Black Cats and Crows,” “Get to Work Whiskey,” “You’re Gonna Die”


No. 11. SOILWORK – OVERGIVENHETEN: One of my favorite groups of melodic death metallers continue in the more progressive vein they’ve traveled in recent years. Sure there are still plenty of blast beats from Bastian Thusgaard and screams from Bjorn Strid that are fairly safe melodeath, but there’s also a fair bit of artsy and experimental stuff. Sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn’t. Overgivenheten is a bit uneven compared to 2019’s Verkligheten, but it still delivers some bangers – and songs like “Dreams of Nowhere” and “Death, I Hear You Calling” were staples of my playlist in the last five months of the year.

Standout songs: “Death, I Hear You Calling,” “Dreams of Nowhere,” “Valleys of Gloam,” “Electric Again,” “Vultures”

Get Overgivenheten.

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