Our 2022 Midyear Report continues with our favorite metal and hard rock albums of the year so far.
The pandemic rages on, but the music industry has finally settled into some semblance of normalcy in 2022. Album cycles and tours have been less affected by delays and postponements, as we all cautiously move forward with a general sense of resignation. That said, the world feels no less dystopian. War broke out in Ukraine, climate change seems like a ship that’s sailed, and there’s uneasiness and unrest abound.
One thing’s for sure: Heavy music remains as vital as ever. The catharsis of these times demands music that can satiate the anger, the disillusionment, and the despair — or at least momentarily distract us from it. Of course, any genre of music or art can serve this function. But there’s something about heavy riffs and loud volumes that can invigorate the heart and mind during times of utter bleakness.
When building our list of the best heavy albums of 2022 thus far, we were struck by the sonic diversity of the selections — from the vitriolic hardcore of Soul Glo to the arena rock leanings of Ghost to the metal-meets-blues of Zeal & Ardor. Every entry here possesses its own idiosyncrasies. But what also stood out was the sheer urgency of the artists themselves. This is music made with intent, seemingly in spite of a growing, pervasive nihilism within the cultural consciousness.
We hope that you discover something in this list that inspires you to buy a record, go to a show, and acknowledge the music beyond merely streaming it. Directly supporting these artists is now more important than ever.
Senior Staff Writer
Animals as Leaders – Parrhesia
The eccentrically aggressive Parrhesia further solidifies Animals as Leaders as masters of instrumental progressive metal. Specifically, tracks such as “Gestaltzerfall”, “Micro-Aggressions,” and “Conflict Cartography” brandish an almost non-stop frenzy of interlocking rhythms and riffs. Conversely, “Red Miso” and “Asahi” lean toward cosmic calmness. Really, each track accomplishes a typically inventive balance between the djent abrasiveness and soothing respites, with plenty of quirky changeups and lovely nuances to give each piece as much personality as possible. — Jordan Blum
Boris – W
“Hypnotic” is not used often as a descriptive term within the realm of heavy metal. But the Japanese trio Boris continue to lean heavy on the entrancing side of things on their 27th (!) studio album — the mysteriously titled W. Starting things off decidedly experimental and rather softly (particularly the album-opening “I Want to Go to the Side Where You Can Touch…”), it is not until the middle of the album (“The Fallen”) that the amps finally get properly cranked… before the remainder of the album falls back into mesmerizing mode. — Greg Prato
Cave In – Heavy Pendulum
Despite all the ups and downs Cave In have gone through as a band, Heavy Pendulum is a record not of scorn or remorse, but of prosperous experimentation and expansiveness. There’s a bit of grunge, sludge, blues — you name it — and Cave In probably managed to work it into the incredible hooks and rhythms throughout the record. They may have been knocked down before, but they’re not a band to stay down, and Heavy Pendulum proves it. — Cervanté Pope
Coheed and Cambria – Vaxis II: A Window of the Waking Mind
Coheed and Cambria are back with their tenth studio LP, Vaxis II: A Window of the Waking Mind, and the album’s slick, melodic songs fit well inside the band’s growing catalog. The song structures are typical Coheed and Cambria, with chugging riffs, soaring melodies, and lyrics that take the listener on a journey. It’s an epic concoction that should please longtime Coheed fans and newbies alike. — Anne Erickson
Cult of Luna – The Long Road North
Cult of Luna continued their unbroken streak of brilliance by both closing ranks and seeking outside assistance. With guitarist and vocalist Johannes Persson returning to Umeå after a long stretch in Stockholm, the quintet was able to meet up more frequently to hone the explosive material on this new album. And for added texture, they called on saxophonist Colin Stetson and vocalist Mariam Wallentin for crucial contributions. The results are as engulfing and breathtaking as a tidal wave. — Robert Ham
Devil Master – Ecstasies of Never Ending Night
Devil Master are in the running for best black metal album of 2022. The band broke onto the scene pre-pandemic with a delectable sound and image that was a bit black metal, slightly vampiric, and sonically reminiscent of ’80s Japanese hardcore such as GISM and Death Side. For their sophomore release, Devil Master sought to embrace a more mature black metal identity while emphasizing the romantic occultism inherent to their music. No, they’re not making post-metal — there’s still plenty of fun riffs and the self-aware humor of the first album. They’ve simply committed themselves to the left hand path outright. The 13 candles have been lit, and there’s no turning back. — Jon Hadusek
Dream Widow (Dave Grohl) – Dream Widow
Dream Widow, the band from Foo Fighters comedy-horror film Studio 666, is Dave Grohl’s homage to metal. For this project, Grohl handled multiple instruments, including vocals, with help from keyboardist Oliver Roman and Fireball Ministry guitarist Jim Rota. Grohl can’t help being tongue-in-cheek on songs like the Metallica-esque “Come All Ye Unfaithful,” but the stoner-sludge-meets-Bathory sound on songs like “Encino” and “Lacrimus dei Ebrius” makes it clear Grohl is not kidding about his love for heaviness — even with segues into alternative like “Cold” and “Angel With Severed Wings.” — Colette Claire
Ghost – IMPERA
Retro metal enthusiasts Ghost exploration of music history has now hit the late ’70s and early ’80s. On IMPERA, there are distinct nods to arena rock acts like Kansas and Styx, as well as hard rock bands like Queensrÿche and Van Halen, but in a still distinctly Ghost style. Tobias Forge’s smooth soaring vocals and occult lyrics lend well to the grandiose, theatrical rock opera direction of IMPERA, especially evident on songs like “Twenties” and “Darkness at the Heart of My Love.” Standouts also include “Call Me Little Sunshine,” “Watcher in the Sky,” and — for Rush fans — “Kaisarion.” — Colette Claire
GWAR – The New Dark Ages
At this point, we know what GWAR is able to produce and communicate in an album albeit it satirical and outright outlandish at some times. Still, their way of translating societal tragedy into sonic solace is one of the things we’ve so heavily relied on them for for decades. The New Dark Ages takes that effect and flips it on its head, essentially telling the story of the present apocalypse through heavy thrash and a comedic backstory regarding the origins of The Berserker Blothar, with a graphic novel to boot. — Cervanté Pope