The Knotfest editorial team offers an midway assessment of the health of heavy music at the halfway mark in what has been a pivotal, post-pandemic year.
With the first half of 2022 in the rearview, the health and wellness check of the output in the space of heavy culture is as robust as ever. The first two quarters of the year have produced a stellar collection of new music that reiterates what those in the know have been keen on for quite some time.
The modern era of aggressive music and outsider art is arguably the most diverse and dynamic as it has ever been, with veterans proving their endurance and adding to their timelessness, while emerging artists continue to affirm their hype in a way that honors the tradition of the sound, while advancing the craft into the contemporary.
The stalled pace of the pandemic era was always suspected to be the perfect conditions artistic retreat – now, the world of heavy music is starting to see how music was in fact, the ultimate form of therapy in working through some of the most traumatic couple of years in recent memory.
Here is the rundown of the releases that have made 2022 such a good year in music at only the midway mark.
Metal is in desperate need of its next generation of headliners, so it was great to see Malev step up with this rager. Brandishing their best Sheffield steel, the album is an amalgam of punishers such as “Life Sentence” and slippier beasts like “Above All Else”. Standout track “Higher Place” further proved they put the POW! in ‘power ballad’.
Their joints might be stiffer, but the Swedes are still a well-oiled machine and ambassadors of metal modernity. “Broken Cog” announced the album as a return to the chunkier sound of “Koloss”. Epic instrumental “They Move Below” showed they still had new horizons to explore.
Like a footballer who had taken one too many knocks to the head, you’d think rap metal might have retired from the game. Not so, insist Gridiron, with this bombastic fusion of rap and hardcore metal. The title track alone makes this record worthy of inclusion as a highlight of 2022 so far, pummeling the listener into the ground like Body Count in their prime.
The death metal renaissance continues with this mind-melter from Artificial Brain. It rounds off a trilogy of albums from the wildly talented New Yorkers and is sadly the last with their excellent, near-inhuman vocalist Will Smith (no, not him). It’s cerebral stuff, but given time its dissonance and complexity reveals itself as finely crafted and almost sinisterly melodic.
One-man band Tristan Shone has outdone himself with this one. Krüller drips with the atmosphere of 90s industrial music and sounds like an alternative soundtrack to Blade Runner. It’s a grungey, grimey, hook-driven album, full of surprises. ‘Drone Carrying Dread’ and ‘Maiden Star’ are as doomladen and euphoric as classic Type O Negative. Tool’s Danny Carey and Justin Chancellor pop up on a couple of tracks. Then there’s the inspired cover of Portishead’s ‘Glorybox’…
Post-metal is the genre for when you want something that feels heavy, rather than just sounding heavy. Orochen’s Anthroposcenic is a stark statement on societies everlong collapse into individualism, isolationism, and rampant. Consumerism. Their effective use of rock, black metal, and neo-folk elements make this album musically breathtaking and have inspired my new found love of banjo in black metal.
Besna play epically progressive post-black metal that is artful and hauntingly beautiful. Soaring melodies and tortured vocals immediately evoke an emotional reaction. Even if you do not speak Slovak, you can feel the intensity of this album. It is not for the faint of heart, but devastating your soul is totally worth giving this a spin.
The Fall of Man is a stunning example of orchestral black metal. Grandiose without being over the top, Lucerna Mundi crafts a wall of sound fit for the blackest of cathedrals. With the right amount of complexity to add texture, The Fall of Man is what would happen if Milton wrote black metal.
Evil Invaders pulled out all the stops with this album. Holding true to their classic speed metal roots, Shattering Reflection saw them explore new territory, reach new emotional heights, and craft one of the most effective metal ballads since the late 80s. Joe has come into his own with his impressive vocal range and the instrumentation as always is top notch.
There is a reason this is one of the most exciting death metal albums in YEARS. Undeath embraces both brutality and humor, something that has been lacking in this sometimes all too serious genre. As musicians they take themselves very seriously, which is evident in the quality of music they put out, but their humor, and attention to detail in everything that they do sets a new bar in death metal.
As Tobias Forge has carved the path for his once underground group, every record has seemed closer in its make-up (genetic, not literal) to populist rock pomp than shady hooded figures in a way that has consistently made the record immediately beforehand seem suddenly smaller. Impera feels like years of whispering it have given way to Ghost becoming the de facto breakout metal band of their generation, taking cues from the golden age of commercial metal dominance to craft an album so full of full-bodied and timeless anthemic songwriting, and yet what’s so admirable about their evolution is how much it has retained their subversive qualities. Impera’s conceptual ideas of hedonism and corruption at the heart of empire has somehow brought us to the place where Ghost are writing cheeky fascist caricature songs on reggaeton beats, and it still feels as big a release as anything the rock world has had in a very long time.
Watain’s prior two releases The Wild Hunt and Trident Wolf Eclipse showed two possible paths for their music, the iconoclastic rebels bringing astounding ambition and diversity to a traditionalist branch of the genre, and the feral predators set only to tear out throats. Appropriately The Agony & Ecstasy of Watain seeks something more all-encompassing and definitive, and while by necessity it is neither their boldest or most direct release, The Agony… is a pilgrimage down the river Styx full of the ungodly conviction and rancid scents of death that make these records so waited upon. The songwriting at this level in their field is borderline peerless, making genre trademarks newly vivid and antagonistic, and in the eye of that firestorm are the moments of gothic shamanistic pause like We Remain with its kindred spirits guest line-up practically forming an occult metal supergroup for one treasured track only.
Cult of Luna’s transcendent collaboration with Julie Christmas on Mariner (now freshly joined by frontman Johannes Persson’s other collaboration with Perturbator in Final Light) seemed to pose the question of where else the revered Swedish band could take their music after that, but the years since have proved a fascinating offering of an answer. Of the sonically related projects in this reconfiguration, The Long Road North is potentially the strongest, perhaps because it is the most purposeful and directed as to its conjured imagery and destination. Inspired by Persson’s move back to the wilder Northern regions of Sweden, The Long Road North plays like a Scandinavian Western, a windswept journey through the rugged landscapes that seem to dwarf the figures moving through it, drifting by some ghostly characters along the way.
Warning singer Patrick Walker’s 40 Watt Sun project has undergone quite a startling transformation in the little over a decade that it’s been active, in a way that acts as a revealing demonstration of the creative pipeline between anguish-baring doom metal and the fragile, skeletal singer-songwriter material at its core. Perfect Light’s compositions bleed over into the distant horizon the way its creator’s metal fare does, its immersive repetition of melancholic chord patterns every bit the long-form meditation, but the delicate instrumentation and the unwavering earnestness of one of modern heavy music’s most captivating and covertly influential singers has made it bizarrely more arresting the more stripped back it has become.
Part of the reason Matt Heafy’s long-rumoured black metal project took its time to materialise (it first started kicking around publicly in Trivium’s Shogun-In Waves eras if you need the context of how long it was) is that at some point upon being challenged by his mentor Ihsahn, a decision was made that it would be more interesting to truly push some boundaries instead of sticking to a very faithful second wave replication. The result is one of the most maximalist extreme albums of recent years, practically exploding with orchestral excess and Japanese folk storytelling traditions, the first album ever to feature both Behemoth’s Nergal and My Chemical Romance’s Gerard Way operating on equal levels of retching bile. Ibaraki is pointedly not a guy from a popular radio band simpering to the underground crowds who don’t like him that he’s one of them really – it’s the sound of someone owning their identity and shaping black metal in their own image.
On “Where Myth Becomes Memory,” Rolo Tomassi have assured the musical world there is no one else that sounds like them. The album realizes nearly 20 years of musical growth into what could be considered their finest hour.
Blending aspects of post-metal, hardcore, ambient and even black metal, the Sheffield outfit still find away to include emotional songwriting and piles of riffs. Vocalist Eva Korman’s switch between haunted faye vocals and throat-splitting screams give an already massively talented band that extra push, while James Spence’s keyboards and backing vocals complete Rolo’s otherworldly feel. Songs like “Drip,” “Closer,” and “To Resist Forgetting” highlight a dynamic record that constantly keep the listener on their toes.
Best enjoyed in one full listen with a pair of headphones, “Where Myth Becomes Memory” begs to be spun immediately after it ends, again and again and again.
Possibly the most original band in metal today. On his third full length, Zeal & Ardor’s Manuel Gagneux has bolstered his band’s instantly recognizable sound with an unapologetic and fearless desire to push the boundaries as far as they can go. Whether it’s the nu-metal stylings of I Caught You, the euphoric blackgaze of Emersion, whatever insanity J-M-B (Jazz Metal Blues) is, or the definition of Soul Metal with Church Burns, “Zeal & Ardor” is an invigorating album that begs to be spun again and again.
And we haven’t even mentioned Götterdämmerung yet, which is now the best song the band has written.
On their first swing out of the gate, Atlanta’s Tómarúm may have just created a masterpiece. Taking the best aspects of progressive black metal and technical death metal, their debut album “Ash in Realms of Stone Icons” takes the listener to the very edge of life itself. The lyrics and musical motifs tackle an uncompromising look at mental health and wanting to die, and main songwriter Kyle Walburn credits these songs with saving his life. It’s a powerful, heartbreaking, yet uplifting album. The end payoff is immense and the record mimics Walburn’s journey from suffering to purpose.
It may take a couple listens to settle in, due to its density and ambition, but rest assured “Ash in Realms of Stone Icons” is a can’t-miss release of 2022.
Galvanized by the death of their bandmate Caleb Scofield, the surviving members of Massachusetts’s Cave In have honored his memory with their best album in years.
From the moment you press play Heavy Pendulum offers track after track of inspired rock and roll that veers into sludge, hardcore, post-metal, doom and grunge. It seems impossible to keep up that momentum for 71 minutes, but by the time the final track starts — the incredible, slow building Wavering Angel — you’re wondering where the time has gone. We should all be thankful Cave In persevered through tragedy, and that Caleb Scofield’s spirit is alive and well in Heavy Pendulum.
If Immortal ever took a stab at covering Iron Maiden’s “Somewhere In Time,” it would sound pretty close to “Voices of the Kronian Moon.” Fuzing black metal and traditional British heavy metal, San Francisco’s Nite conjure a haunting journey through the cosmos. Guitarist, singer and songwriter Van Labrakis’ voice echoes through your brain like a celestial being, bolstered by thundering drums and plenty of guitar harmonies. Many may have tried this combo before, but Nite knock it out of the park, offering an original piece of music that greets you like an old friend.
This album is an epic catalog of atmospheric and diverse tracks bound to make you feel something. The Death of Peace of Mind captures Bad Omens’ phenomenal evolution despite being just their third album. The metalcore collective displays their impressive versatility both musically and lyrically with some of their 15 tracks being unapologetically heavy and others surprisingly graceful. Frontman Noah Sebastian flexes his incredible prowess as a vocalist, showcasing a duality of brutality and angelicity throughout the album. The Death of Peace of Mind is dark. Sentimental. A carefully crafted masterpiece.
Have you ever thought, ‘WTF did my ears just hear?’ and smash the replay button? Welcome to Ho99o9’s music. SKIN is a menacing fusion of hip hop and hardcore that is sure to blow your mind. The album is unpredictable and incendiary in the best ways possible and is a headtrip from start to finish. This 12-track assault features artists including Corey Taylor, Bun B, Saul Williams and Jasiah and is produced by Travis Barker. SKIN marks Ho99o9’s rawest work to date and is undoubtedly one of the hardest albums of the year.
The intensity of this album is off the charts. Oh What The Future Holds is an introspective, emotionally-charged record with themes that borrow from the sorrow and bleakness of the world. Fit for an Autopsy not only made this an electrifying and ferocious album, but one that also took risks to expand their sound and make it the symphonic and massive collection that it is. It’s filled with filthy riffs, killer drums and an amalgamation of genres spanning from deathcore to post-rock. To put it simply, this record brings the heat. Buckle your seatbelt prior to listening. You’re in for a wild ride.
I think we can all agree that the world could use more lighthearted fun. Appropriately released on April Fool’s Day, The Fundamental Slimes and Humours fulfills that purpose as a quirky, self-aware and oh-so-lovable record. It captures Nekrogoblikon’s chaotic sense of humor and creativity, fusing death metal, melo-rock and electronic elements to produce one glorious and magical album. Prepare to bob your head, sing along and relate to John Goblikon.
2020 will forever be remembered as one of the most challenging years in history. Scoring the End of the World perfectly depicts the turmoil brought on by the pandemic, as well as vocalist Chris Motionless’ personal struggles at the time. Each song embraces a diverse sound, from nu-metal and metalcore to synthwave and pop, that make for a captivating listen. (Think Breaking Benjamin meets industrial metal!) Scoring the End of the World is a heavy album that covers heavy topics but does contain a glimmer of hope. It’s a big middle finger to each catastrophic event that made it feel as if the apocalypse was upon us.
Among a small, albeit game-changing class of emerging artists that are causing a culture shift in the landscape of heavy music from the UK, Heriot have delivered on the hype that packaged with their spring EP release in Profound Mortality. The rendered down meld of sludgy, metallic hardcore, peppered with accents of industrial make for the kind of aggression that is as punishing as it is dynamic. The tandem of Jake Packer and Debbie Gough deliver a tortured tone in their vocal attack that only amplifies the combustion that is requisite in every Heriot track. Violent, venomous, and brimming with vitriol, the band’s volatility is more crafted that contrived making for an authentically heavy listening experience that relies on it’s artistry almost more than it’s aggression.
For as purely hostile as the hardcore collective of Candy is, an album like Heaven Is Here really shines when taken into account how well the audio assault is tempered with moments of reprieve. From the wash of electronica and stylized programming on “Transcend to Wet”, to the ominously glitchy lead in of “Human Condition Above Human Opinion”, to the eerie downward spiral of the band’s 10-minute descent into hell in “Perverse” – Candy’s ability to incorporate elements outside of throat, bass, guitar and drums is what positions them to outpace their contemporaries. Already equipped with an understanding of how to make intense music interesting outside of using brute force, the band’s brand is multi-dimensional in a way that makes those haymakers seemingly hit harder when they finally land.
An opening track is often a reliable indicator of the potential of an album and in that regard, “It Dwells” from Conjurer’s sophomore full length sets a lasting precedent while reaffirming that the band are indeed the future of UK metal. Establishing the band’s adept balance of beauty and brutality, tracks like “Crack In the Pyre” and the almost jazzy interlude of “In Your Wake” create the kind of brilliant crescendos that make for an ebb and flow in the listening experience. The compositions are without superlative, cinematic, in how they nurture narrative. What’s more important is that the breaks in the onslaught don’t feel segmented. These aren’t forced halts in the heft of the songs – these instances of instrumental expansion translate as seamless, working harmoniously in a collection of songs that are as menacing as they are melodic.
The Massachusetts outfit managed to accomplish something particularly impressive with their long-awaited follow-up to 2018’s Errorzone with the very apropos titled, This World Is Going to Ruin You. Broadening the band’s sound by implementing sonic elements that span the spacey to the sinister (“Wherever You Are” works well), Vein.Fm’s evolution as songwriters is on full display and yet the band seem to be more accessible than ever. While the worship for bands like Converge is apparent, the level of execution, combined with the premium level of production in Will Putney make for a pulverizing experience that propel the unit among the best in their respective game. Punctuating the effort, the “Funeral Sound” seems to hint that the band have just scratched the surface in terms of potential – closing out this chapter with a stylistic statement of what is likely to come.
In what was a sort of full circle moment for Jae Matthews and Augustus Muller, The Runner was the kind of project that the darkwave duo of Boy Harsher had been working up to throughout their career thus far. The tandem met in film school in nearly a decade ago, before cresting the greater awareness of heavy culture via synth with albums like Yr Body Is Nothing and Careful. For their combination of short film along with accompanying soundtrack, Boy Harsher taps into a b-movie horror aesthetic that makes for a presentation that doesn’t need to be deep to be engaging. The project, overall, is effortlessly cool with tracks like “Autonomy” and “Give Me A Reason” translating as stylishly dark without pretense. However, the project isn’t without it’s more methodical moments, like the final cuts in the piano-driven “Untitled” and the ethereal “I Understand” that reiterate that Boy Harsher bring some complexity to club music in a way that makes sense for cinema.
Ryan J. Downey
A half-dozen albums into an already impressive career, dark alt-rock duo Blood Red Shoes hit their stride. Ghosts On Tape is the true-crime podcast soundtrack we didn’t know we needed. Laura-Mary Carter and Steven Ansell swirl together garage rock, noisy pop, punk, and shoegaze across their rich discography. Northern Transmissions called this one the duo’s “most diverse and strangest record.”
Like Axl Rose and David Letterman, Cloakroom hail from Indiana. But there’s nothing histrionic or comedic about Dissolution Wave, a shoegazing extravaganza imagining a world where all of humanity’s art and abstract thought was erased. But don’t let the Space Western concept intimidate you: Cloakroom puts the songs above the story in the pecking order. The result is immersive and powerful.
Somber but slick, doom-laden but accessible, Deathwhite reliably delivers inviting anti-anthems of goth-metal goodness and Grey Everlasting is no exception. Imagine My Dying Bride with the rougher edges worn down to smooth perfection, or the more commercial era of Paradise Lost infused with a bit more bite. Deatwhite wanders the no-man’s-land between desolation and divine bliss with effortless precision.
Softcult is the grunge/shoegaze/dreampop side-project of Mercedes and Phoenix Arn-Horn, two-thirds of Courage My Love and likely the coolest twins to ever emerge from Ontario, Canada. The six-song follow-up to the Year of the Rat EP is another slice of foggy but determined and arrestingly hooky songs, with raw nerve and DIY sensibilities. (I mean, they even make ‘zines!)
I first fell in love with White Lies at Filter’s Culture Collide Festival in 2010. As I Try Not To Fall Apart is the sixth album from the refined West London post-punk revivalists. Fans of Joy Division, The Cure, Interpol, Editors, and any artist that would pop up on Pandora alongside them will delight in White Lies, assuming they aren’t deeply devoted to them already.