the semi-obligatory album of the year type thing (2022 edition)


It’s been a few years since I did an ‘album of the year’ post here, because in general I have to write them for other places and get a bit bored with the process, but this year I thought I’d do something a little different.

But first: albums of the year 2022

My album of the year, by a big margin was Diamanda Galás’s extraordinary Broken Gargoyles. I’ve written about it at length here and here, and had the privilege of discussing it with Diamanda herself here, so won’t say too much about it, except for one observation. People usually use the phrase ‘life-affirming’ to describe records that are joyous, uplifting or leave you with feelings of positivity and contentment. All good things, but Broken Gargoyles is not that album. Instead, it’s life-affirming in the sense that it heightens the sense of being alive and even interrogates the idea of what it really means and how it feels, to be human. It’s thrilling and sometimes beautiful, but also harrowing; and how many musicians even attempt anything like that?

My other favourites this year included Shiki by the Japanese avant-garde black metal band Sigh. It follows in the eclectic footsteps of their past few albums but whereas they blended bits of black metal, prog rock, jazz and so on with sometimes great, sometimes patchy results, Shiki blends them in a far more cohesive and successful way where every song is everything and not this genre-with-a-bit-of-that.

I also loved Beth Orton’s Weather Alive, which I wrote about here, and a very late entry in the AOTY stakes (I literally heard it this week for the first time) is Hjartastjaki by Isafjørd. One genre I have very rarely liked or understood the appeal of is post-rock, but this – a collaboration between Addi of Sólstafir (who I do like – they played one of the best sets I’ve ever seen by anyone at Eistnaflug Festival in 2011) and Ragnar Zolberg – gripped me from the first listen and I currently can’t get enough of it. Even though it’s not at all like it in any way, something about it – maybe just the epically mournful atmosphere – reminds me of Disintegration by The Cure, which is never a bad thing.

So much for 2022. But how much importance should one place on the album of any given year? Albums, like movies, books or any other form of entertainment stay with you if they are any good, and your feelings about them change over time. And some of my favourite albums of all time were released before I was even born, so their context presumably doesn’t necessarily contribute to their impact, on a personal level at least. I’ve been writing for myself since I first started my old blog in 2012 so for a kind of half-assed ten-year anniversary I thought I’d revisit my older albums of the year and see which ones had staying power for me. I’ll limit it to a few from each year so it doesn’t get out of hand.

Strangely I didn’t do one for my own site in 2012 and I don’t have the list I did for Zero Tolerance magazine that year to hand so let’s go from 2013 to 2019, since 2020 is only two years ago and ‘the test of time’ hasn’t completely been passed or failed yet…


My favourite album of that year was Ihsahn’s Das Seelenbrechen, and it’s still one of my favourite albums. I rarely listen to it all the way through at the moment, but various tracks, such as Pulse, Regen and NaCL are still in regular rotation

David Bowie – The Next Day: I loved this at the time and it felt like a return to form of some sort, but now, though there are some great tracks, it feels a middling Bowie record
Ancient VVisdom: Deathlike – good kind of pastoral black doom/blues (!?) album but haven’t listened to it probably for years at this point
October Falls – The Plague of a Coming Age – very nice, interchangeable with any other October Falls record. They are all nice, I don’t listen to them very often
Sangre de Muerdago – Deixademe Morrer No Bosque: I still play bits of this dark Galician folk album from time to time. It’s great but I’ve never got around to listening to any of their other stuff
Manierisme – フローリア I LOVED Manierisme, and the atmosphere and noise of it still really isn’t like much else. But it’s so harsh in its peculiar way that I rarely listen to it now
Beastmilk – Climax: worth mentioning this because Finnish post-punks Beastmilk (who changed their name to Grave Pleasures and lost their appeal for me pretty quickly) were a much-hyped band that year. It still sounds like a pretty good gothy post-punk type of record, but I had to check it out to remind myself of that


My favourite album of 2014 was Mondegreen by the avant-garde string quartet Collectress and I still love it and listen to bits of it quite often
Most of 2014’s list are just names to me now, though I’m sure they are pretty good: I quite liked Scott Walker & Sun O)))’s Soused but have never revisited it. I thought Mirel Wagner’s When the Cellar Children See the Light of Day was great but don’t really remember it – must check it out again. Nebelung’s Palingenesis has some really nice songs on it that I listen to occasionally.


My album of 2015 was Life is a Struggle, Give Up by Oblivionized. Putting it on again for the first time in ages, it’s still an invigorating, unique semi-grindcore album. Also kind of harsh and draining, so not a frequent listen, but an album worthy of rediscovery nonetheless.

Much easier to listen to but at the time outside of my top ten is the great Hustler’s Row by

surprise sleeper – Hustler’s Row by Gentlemens Pistols

Gentlemens Pistols. I would not have predicted that this would be one of the records that I’d keep returning to but it is: people who love 70s hard rock of the Deep Purple/Rainbow type who haven’t checked it out are missing a treat.

Otherwise, loved Jarboe and Helen Money’s self-titled album, but it’s not very strong in my memory now. The Zombi Anthology by Zombi still sounds great but I rarely listen to it. Ratatat’s Magnifique still gets an outing every now and then, but SUN by Secrets of the Moon and Syner by Grift, both of which I really loved and still think are great, seem kind of hard going to me now.
I went through a phase of really loving Venusian Death Cell (and still do, but don’t listen much) and Honey Girl, “released” that year may be my favourite of his albums. Tribulation’s Children of the Night is fun too, in a very different and probably more accessible way


I wouldn’t necessarily say I was aware of it at the time, but 2016 was a great year for music. My album of the year was Wyatt at the Coyote Palace by Kristin Hersh (which I enthused about here) and it became, as I thought it might, one of those albums I can still listen to at any time, pretty much: it’s great.
Otherwise, Zeal & Ardor’s Devil is Fine still sounds great (and is still my favourite Z&A release). I liked Komada by Alcest but now think it’s pretty dull. I was excited by some EPs by Naia Izumi too, but haven’t really checked out their work since then. I am, outrageously, still the ONLY person I know who likes Extended Play by Debz, and it’s still a unique little record and I love it.
I still think Das Ram by Rachel Mason – my other contender for AOTY that year – is great, but as with a few other things, it slipped off of my listening list at some point and I had to remind myself of it

surprise sleeper – Kaada/Patton’s Bacteria Cult

Kaada/Patton’s Bacteria Cult (Ipecac Recordings) is the Hustler’s Row of 2016, only in the sense that it entered my forever playlist without me expecting it to. I’m not sure a week has gone by since then that I haven’t listened to a song or two from this masterpiece

Honorable mentions

David Bowie – Blackstar 
Leonard Cohen – You Want It Darker 
Iggy Pop – Post Pop Depression
Jozef van Wissem – When Shall This Bright Day Begin
Japanese Breakfast – Psychopomp
Schammasch – Triangle 
De La Soul – …and the Anonymous Nobody…
Kate Carr – I Had Myself a Nuclear Spring
Jeff Parker – The New Breed


2017 had fewer standouts for me but my album of the year, the self-titled debut by Finnish alt-rock band Ghost World, which I wrote enthusiastically about here, still sounds fantastic. That said, though I was less enthused by the 2018 follow up, Spin at the time, that album is the one I listen to more now. But the best songs from Ghost World are still energised grunge-pop classics.

Otherwise, I liked Quinta – The Quick Of The Heart and a few of its songs are still played quite regularly.
I gave Invocation And Ritual Dance Of My Demon Twin by Julie’s Haircut a great review at the time but don’t remember it now, whereas I didn’t think Tarrantulla by Islaja would have much staying power, but bits of it still pop into my head and therefore onto my stereo every now and then.


I was hugely surprised in 2018 to find that my album of the year was an electronic one, Swim, by Phantoms vs Fire, a cinematic masterpiece full of woozy retro-futuristic sounds and melancholy atmospheres. Even more unexpectedly, it’s gone on to be one of my favourite albums of all time and something that I regularly listen to. All of the other Phantoms vs Fire stuff is fine, but for me at least, this is the one.

I was much taken with As Árvores Estão Secas e Não Têm Folhas by the Portuguese dark folk band Urze de Lume at the time but though I could still happily listen to it, I haven’t for a while.
By contrast, songs from all of these have unexpectedly been in regular rotation over the past few years: Ghost World – Spin 
Just Like This – Faceless 
Orion’s Belte – Mint
Oh, and Burn My Letters by William Carlos Whitten has been revisited far more than I expected and I expect his “Poor Thing” will remain in rotation for the foreseeable future


In 2019, I loved another Collectress album, Different Geographies but it didn’t replace or match Mondegreen in my affections. I can’t seem to find my album of the year strangely, but it might well have been Youth in Ribbons by Revenant Marquis, still my favourite of that prolific artist’s releases.
I also loved but rarely if ever listen to Cryfemal’s Eterna oscuridad, Emma Ruth Rundle & Thou’s May Our Chambers… and Ulver’s Flowers of Evil, but the sleeper of the year was Henrik Palm’s Poverty Metal which I liked fine, but didn’t expect to still be listening to as regularly as I am.

surprise sleeper – Henrik Palm’s Poverty Metal

On the whole it seems to have been a year of songs rather than albums for me – I like the title track of Viviankrist’s Morgenrøde probably as much as anything from that year and bits of Cellista’s Transfigurations still sound great. But lots of the most-praised stuff of the year, albums by Alcest, Cult of Luna and so forth just don’t register with me now: still, can’t like everything.


(Don’t) Lower Your Expectations; the evolution of Oblivionized


We’re not quite at the ‘albums of the year’ stage yet, but when we are, Oblivionized’s Life is a Struggle, Give Up will be featured prominently. From their earliest demos onwards, the band has epitomised the vital UK underground extreme music scene, with a series of always high-quality releases varying from dirty, chaotic grindcore to extremely technical death metal and I have been lucky enough to be writing about the band since those early days, mostly for Zero Tolerance magazine. Back in April I caught up with one third of the band for Pun-Based Name Pending and below is (a slightly revised version of) what came of it:

Oblivionized band

It’s always* nice to watch a band grow and evolve and although Oblivionized have just released their first album Life is a Struggle, Give Up, it’s the culmination/distillation of five years or so of progress and transformation that has seen the band go from the powerful, technical death metal-infused grindcore of their earlier work to something looser, less metal, more intuitive and distinctive, far harder to define, but no less intense.

*disclaimer; if they are any good it’s nice. Otherwise it’s annoying.

The band’s history is short enough that it’s fairly easy to track down all of their work to date; it’s totally worth doing that. discography

The style the band has arrived at since shrinking to a trio in 2012 isn’t very much like any other band I can think of. Drums/guitar/vocals sounds like a pretty skeletal basis for an album, but the concentration on these components gives the music a sparse, elemental feel and an emotional impact that matches the harsh minimalism of the lyrics. On earlier releases the technical skill of Sammy Urwin (also of death metal band Regurgitated Life etc) was often used in a powerful but fairly conventional (riffs/solos) way and the songs seemed to be carefully composed for maximum dynamic impact – which was very effective. On Life Is A Struggle though, the technical aspect (though no less impressive) seems less to do with killer riffs and heaviness than with an almost jazz-like telepathic intensity, comparable in a way to Painkiller circa Guts of a Virgin, but with a more personal/introspective focus. The album perfectly captures the live sound the band showcased on last year’s This is S.O.A.N. split with Razoreater, losing none of the immediacy of the live tape, but giving everything more precision and a sharper impact.

oblo Well, that’s what I think anyway; here are some thoughts from vocalist/lyricist Zac Broughton:

It’s been quite a long wait for a full-length Oblivionized album, but it definitely feels like now is the right time for it, do you feel like this is the Oblivionized lineup for the foreseeable future? Was this the first time you ever wanted to record an album?

I’d say this is the third album me and Sammy have written for Oblivionized. Before Abhorrent Evolution (2011) Geoff (Bradley, guitarist), Sammy and myself over the course of nine months or so, demoed a twelve track album in my room. We turned the best from those demos into four songs when Jon and Phil joined and recorded them and released as Abhorrent Evolution. With that five piece line up we wrote nine, maybe ten songs for an album, we demoed two of them and released that as Nullify The Cycle… That album obviously never happened and I’m happy it didn’t. I realised recently that I haven’t been doing music just for fun, I enjoyed hanging out with my mates putting demos on myspace and going to gigs and that, but I’ve turned expressing myself through music it into my life. Being able to express myself honestly, not just screaming negative fantasies, or telling people how fucked the world is… which it is, lets be honest, we’ll likely all be dead in twenty years if that. But actually making something that I can be proud of and feel is an honest representation of what this is. So basically, if all the music we wrote, people’s lives we’d been part of, positive and negative experiences we have had as a band and individuals during our time together hadn’t happened, neither would Life Is A Struggle, Give Up… I don’t know what I’m trying to say anymore but I think I said it.

The title is great because it can be read as super-negative or actually positive, listening to the album it kind of feels like both; very bleak and angry but at the same time full of passion and energy, what would you say is the overall feel or theme?

I spent a lot of time trying to make sure I wasn’t telling anyone what to do or how to think, I’m not interested in that, so you can take them how you like. For me the album expresses exactly how I felt while writing it; simply put, life is really hard and I’ve wanted give up, just become what other people expect or want me to be. I chose not to and decided I’d live for myself, nothing matters anyway, so why give a fuck about other people and their opinions if the end result is your unhappiness.


One of the things that is really noticeable about the album is the way each element of the music has the same importance/focus, is that easier to do that as a three-piece band than it was in the past?

That is something Will bought to the band, in the past we’d had bass that was kind of an accompaniment, with guitars that played separate parts, make things more dissident but we’d made the drums all blasting and double kick. When Will joined and we became a three piece, Oblivionized became three different personalities working towards something.

You tour and play live a lot, was it important to produce an album that captures the sound you have live?

We don’t want to create much on record that we can’t recreate live as just a three piece. We recorded drums with just Sammy and Will playing together, no click track, no triggers or drum replacement, just take for take. Sammy then recorded his guitar parts and I did my vocals last, Tom (Corrupt Moral Altar, Vagrant Recordings) added some singing bells to I Pity You and Justine (Employed To Serve) did some extra vocals on Your Mouth Is A Wound, besides that it’s just us three in a playing music in a room.

SOAN tape

Secret Law records seem to be doing a really good job of promoting the album, how did you come to sign to the label?

Will was just hanging out with his mate Tom and Tom was most likely saying “bro I might start a metal label” and Will probably said something like “yeah that’d be rad dude, my band has an album no other labels want to release!” and it just snowballed from there, Ed and Tom are fucking on it, they’ve picked up Desert Storm and they just picked up a new band called Funeral Pact who are rad.

Do you have as much control and involvement in all the aspects of making and promoting the album as you did when you were putting things out yourselves?

We still do all the same stuff, we just have some mates working with us now. It’s good to be part of something like Secret Law Records where we are working together to get something heard.

I’m sure the music is carefully worked out etc, but compared to your older work it has a kind of explosive, spontaneous quality, almost like free jazz, is there any element of improvisation in the way you write songs together?

Some songs were written with all three of us in a room bouncing ideas off each other, basically pushing a song in different directions until it met a conclusion, others were Sammy bringing ideas to me and Will, or Sammy and Will bringing ideas to me. After I’d improve vocals until I knew what the song was about. More simply put, It’s all just ideas and things that happened, musically and lyrically.

A related question; I’m not sure which are the newer and older songs on the album, but it seems like the band has gotten a bit looser and less rigid over the past couple of years, would you agree?

Before Geoff (Bradley, now of Atonement) left the band, he said something along the lines of “it’s time Oblivionized stopped writing shredding guitar exercises and started writing songs.” So that’s what we did, weird avant-garde jazz grind songs, or something.

One of the things I really like about the sound Oblivionized has now is that it’s impossible to label in a meaningful way; there’s something really special about the contrast of the technical guitar playing with the kind of intuitive, non-robotic drumming and super-emotive vocals but it isn’t typical ‘tech-grind’ or any of the usual labels you are given. How do you describe your music as it is on the album?

I honestly can’t, when we started out the idea of a genre was a huge joke to us. We started in 2008 it was weird man, you remember all the bands calling themselves “Ultra Guttural Brutality” and “Brutal Technical Slammin Death Metal” yeah? We all thought it was funny, some reviews called us Technical Death Metal, others said Deathgrind so we called ourselves “Misanthropic Technical Deathgrind” and it was hilarious. So we don’t really mind; Trve Kvlt Heavy Core.


the Life Is a Struggle artwork by Mark W. Richards (Heavy Hand Illustration)

You seem to push yourselves further with each release, is that something you do consciously? Do you have a ‘comfort zone’ as a band and if so is it something you avoid staying in?

I feel like we are aiming for something musically and we haven’t reached it yet, I love music and really enjoy being involved with underground bands and new bands. Lots of people come and go, make new bands and there are some brilliant bands out there if you want to find them. There are also a lot of bands that sound just like Converge, Napalm Death, or someone else and that’s rad, go for it, I enjoy seeing those bands play… but I’d like express myself, not someone else’s self.

Since the early days of the band it seems like the lyrics have become more and more focussed and specific and possibly more personal, is writing and performing an emotional or cathartic experience?

The lyrics are all developing an idea; it’s fully developed, yet I’ve been exploring the same idea for a long time. Making this music and performing is a very cathartic and important experience though, I feel sorry for any musician or listener that doesn’t have that connection to music.



Secret Law Records homepage

Heavy Hand Illustration