Wednesday, January 4, 2023

Best of 2022, Part 2: Ozzy, Zeal & Ardor, Whiskey Myers, Parkway Drive, Amon Amarth, Alestorm, Skid Row

Continuing my Best of 2022 list with the top 10: 

No. 10. OZZY OSBOURNE – PATIENT NUMBER 9: Who’d have thought that an Ozzy Osbourne record would ever crack my Top 10 again? This one really kind of hit home for me despite some questionable production choices. The title track with Jeff Beck is the best thing that the Prince of Bleeping Darkness has done in ages, and there’s plenty more to like here with guest shots from Tony Iommi, Eric Clapton, Zakk Wylde and Mike McCready. Though it doesn’t quite capture the classic Ozzy energy, there are certainly shades of all of his incarnations to be found in the songs here, and it’s probably the first Ozzy album that I’ve truly enjoyed since 2001’s Down to Earth. (And yeah, I know most people dislike that one, too, but I don’t.)

Standout songs: “Patient Number 9,” “Immortal,” “No Escape from Now,” “One of those Days,” “A Thousand Shades,” “Evil Shuffle,” “Mr. Darkness”

Get Patient Number 9.

No. 9. PARKWAY DRIVE – DARKER STILL: If you’re a fan of Parkway Drive’s first few metalcore albums and think 2018’s Reverence was a complete sell out, Darker Still is not for you. Luckily for me, I really enjoyed Reverence and, let’s face it, metalcore as a genre gets pretty boring and repetitive after a minute. The Aussies push even more toward catchy and hummable hard rock here on tracks like “Ground Zero” and “Glitch,” and there’s even a hip-hop influence on “If a God Can Bleed.” There’s some heaviness still left in one of my favorites, “Like Napalm,” “Soul Bleach” and album closer “From the Heart of the Darkness,” which is probably closer to their older sound than anything else. The centerpiece, though, is the title track, which reminds me of Savatage’s dark ballads and is unlike anything the band has done before. I don’t like Darker Still quite as much as Reverence, but it’s still entertaining.

Standout songs: “Darker Still,” “Like Napalm,” “The Greatest Fear,” “From the Heart of the Darkness,” “Glitch,” “Ground Zero,” “Soul Bleach,” “Land of the Lost”

 Get Darker Still.

No. 8. AMON AMARTH – THE GREAT HEATHEN ARMY: I had my doubts about this one after the first few songs trickled out, but fortunately, they were some of the weakest on the record in my opinion. The Great Heathen Army really plays into Amon Amarth’s more melodic side with a lot of classic metal influence and a couple of really enjoyable romps. The folk metal of “Heidrun” is infectious, and “Saxons and Vikings” (a duet with – who else? – Biff Byford of Saxon) is fantastic fun for old-school metal heads. In places its hummable, in others its epic, and it’s always as heavy as Thor’s hammer. This is the side of Amon Amarth that I love.

Standout songs: “Heidrun,” “Saxons and Vikings,” “The Serpent’s Trail,” “Find a Way or Make One,” “Oden Owns You All”

Get The Great Heathen Army.


No. 7. LOCUST GROVE – THE BATTLE OF LOCUST: I’ve made no secret of my love for Anti-Mortem’s 2014 album New Southern. While the reformed version of that band went down a more modern rock path with its self-titled album released last year, former guitarist Zain Smith doubled down on the attitude-laden hard southern rock with Locust Grove. The Battle of Locust is the follow-up to New Southern that I’ve been waiting eight years or so for. It’s dripping in attitude, grooves and memorable hooks from start to finish. From raging about the world around us on “Sick of It All” to the blues-rock tones of “Bluebird” to angry, grooving headbangers like “Not Worth My Time,” “Why Run” and “These Hands,” this record satisfies my need for heavy Southern fried rock that, quite frankly, there’s not enough of these days.

Standout songs: “Sick of It All,” “Why Run,” “One Foot in the Grave,” “Bluebird,” “S.O.S.,” “These Hands”

Get The Battle of Locust.

No. 6. ALESTORM – SEVENTH RUM OF A SEVENTH RUM: After 2020’s Curse of the Crystal Coconut, which included a lot of silliness even by Alestorm standards, my favorite pirate metal band got back on course with this release. While there’s still plenty of goofiness – it wouldn’t be Alestorm without it – they also dipped back into their past to deliver some songs that would have been right at home on their earliest albums, long before they traveled through time to battle Vikings, came to drink your beer or pulled out that infamous anchor. Most notably, the title track really feels like something that could have appeared on their debut Captain Morgan’s Revenge. They even saved the disastrous “Tortuga” from that last album with a metal re-imagining here, and despite my gripes at the time of release, I even came around to “Cannonball.” It’s nice to have them back at the top of my playlist.

Standout songs: “Seventh Rum of a Seventh Rum,” “Under Blackened Banners,” “Magyarorszag,” “The Battle of Cape Fear River,” “Cannonball,” “Magellan’s Expedition,” “Return to Tortuga”

Get Seventh Rum of a Seventh Rum.


No. 5. HELLBOUND GLORY – THE IMMORTAL HELLBOUND GLORY: NOBODY KNOWS YOU: Simply put, I believe Leroy Virgil is a poet. Even when he’s singing about subjects like burning down the Dairy Queen and robbing a cash machine, there’s something in it that speaks to me. When he takes on something more serious, it’s even better. There’s an old-school honky tonk feel to Nobody Knows You that’s a little more understated for Virgil but suits him well. There are still the fun romps that you expect like “Can’t Wait to Never See You Again,” “Word Gets Around” and “Didn’t Die Young (Aint Done Trying),” but even they have a little different feel from his usual rowdy tunes. The ghost story “13 Corners,” probably my personal favorite here, evokes the dark storytelling of Johnny Cash. But even more haunting than his ghost story is “Evacuation Song,” a mournful acknowledgement of the western wildfires. Though I do love the louder, more raucous Hellbound Glory of their early records, I think this might be Virgil’s best work to date.

Standout songs: “13 Corners,” “Evacuation Song,” “Can’t Wait to Never See you Again,” “Word Gets Around,” “My Woman’s Whiskey Kiss,” “Trouble in Mind,” “Nobody Knows You”

Get Nobody Knows YouNobody Knows You.

No. 4. SKID ROW – THE GANG’S ALL HERE: Skid Row’s first three albums are classics for me, particularly second album Slave to the Grind, which ranks as one of my favorite records ever. While I enjoyed some of the things that they did in the years after they split with vocalist Sebastian Bach and drummer Rob Affuso, I never thought that they’d deliver another album that belonged in the conversation with their early work. I was wrong. Young gun Erik Gronwall has brought a new energy to the band. A fantastic vocalist, he sounds enough like Bach to do justice to the old material, and the new music has more fire than it has in a long time. The Gang’s All Here draws on those three albums for inspiration, but also sounds fresh and not like a band trying to reproduce its glory days. This was by far the most pleasant surprise of the year for me.

Standout songs: “Hell or High Water,” “Tear It Down,” “Time Bomb,” “Resurrected,” “When the Lights Come On,” “Nowhere Fast”

Get The Gang's All Here.


No. 3. ARCH ENEMY – DECEIVERS: I’ve been happy on the last couple of albums to hear Arch Enemy stretching out a little bit. While the music here still sits firmly in the melodic death metal style that they’ve made their name on, they play here and there with some different melodic ideas, and we also get to hear Alissa White-Gluz’s natural voice a little more in the context of a heavier song on “Handshake with Hell.” I know there will be fans bemoaning the band going soft, just like there have been since their first female singer (now band manager) Angela Gossow joined in 2000. Let them bitch. White-Gluz is too good a singer to be pigeonholed into nothing but death growls. (See her collaboration with Nita Strauss, “The Wolf You Feed,” also released this year.) Michael Amott and Jeff Loomis deliver some great guitar melodies on songs like “House of Mirrors” (one of my most played of the year) and the classic metal-flavored “In the Eye of the Storm,” and this album is honestly bad ass from start to finish.

Standout songs: “House of Mirrors,” “Handshake with Hell,” “In the Eye of the Storm,” “The Watcher,” “Sunset Over the Empire,” “Spreading Black Wing,” “Poisoned Arrow”

Get Deceivers.


No. 2. WHISKEY MYERS – TORNILLO: Early Morning Shakes has always been the album that all other Whiskey Myers efforts are judged on for me (not that they’ve done a remotely bad one). But Tornillo will give it a run for its money. This album is basically a love letter to the Southern American music that influenced them, and they wear those influences on their sleeves in places, as on the Skynyrd-style romp “Feet’s” or the Stevie Ray Vaughan-like blues groove of “Bad Medicine.” They cover the bases from Southern rock to blues and even throw in some funky and more heavy rock touches. Tornillo is fun, rowdy and at times very gritty and touching, and it produced one of my absolute favorite songs of the year in “The Wolf.”

Standout songs: “The Wolf,” “Antioch,” “Mission to Mars,” “Heart of Stone,” “John Wayne,” “Feet’s,” “Whole World Gone Crazy,” “Bad Medicine”

 Get Tornillo.

No. 1. ZEAL AND ARDOR – ZEAL AND ARDOR: This is the one album that has not left my player since it was released in February. I’ve always enjoyed Manuel Gagneux’s subversive blending of traditionally black music – gospel, blues, soul – with more extreme music like black metal and industrial, but he really hits his stride on this record. The blend on this Best of 2022 LP is perfect with raging metal songs like “Gotterdammerung” more soulful (ironically) offerings like “Church Burns” and the perfect mixture of the two in tunes like “Death to the Holy.” It’s very rare in 2022 to find a musical take that you haven’t heard hundreds of times before, but Zeal & Ardor are stunningly different, and while the styles mixed are often miles apart, the transitions are never jarring. Gagneux makes them sound like they fit together naturally. And maybe they do.

Standout songs: “Death to the Holy,” “Church Burns,” “Gotterdammerung,” “Run,” “Golden Liar,” “Bow,” “Feed the Machine”

Get Zeal and Ardor.

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