Words by Andrew Lampela
Andrew Lampela was an employee and eventual co-owner of the 40-year old institution, Haffa’s Records in Athens, Ohio, just outside of the dark woods from which Skeletonwitch emerged. Over his years there he has played in a number of bands ranging from rock to noise to metal and has taken his lifelong knowledge of music into contributing to a number of publications.
The duality of human nature has long been a focus in the worlds of art. Good versus evil, the masculine urge to destroy versus the feminine urge to not be an asshole, achieving peace through war, the Whopper versus the Big Mac, art has tackled this philosophical idea from every angle. Kant said there is no shame inherent in the primal urge to survive, only through rationalizing choices and injecting our own morality does shame arise. Humankind is the only species that stands behind a podium in the White House, reads an eloquently written poem to commemorate peace, then drone bombs a village halfway around the world into dust, so shame is a sliding scale. Duality is a real motherfucker sometimes.
With the holidays, and by proxy the end of the calendar year, upon us, there is no better time to turn the lens inward, to examine this duality of nature buried deep within.
What’s that? To be a better person? To solve world problems? Oh heavens no, nothing like that. There is something far more anxiety-riddled and pressing to apply this deeply personal soul-searching lens.
The end-of-year best of list.
Art has the potential to be all-consumingly powerful, across mediums. A great book, a vivid painting, a perfectly executed film, or an immersively deep album all have the power to transport your brain to a new perspective, inspiring untapped pathways in your own creative endeavors. The purely subjective nature of internalizing such beauty all but guarantees that no two people will experience the same piece of art exactly alike.
Which makes list season pretty fucking wild.
As someone who is given a platform to talk about shit that I like, the idea of quantifying ‘good’ versus ‘better’ versus ‘best’ gives me poop cramps, on multiple levels. My god, I want to talk about records I like, because I want other people to like them to! But at what individual cost? Dream Unending released another stunning artistic statement this year, but that certainly didn’t stop me from hitting repeat on the new Goatwhore five thousand percent more often. Objectively, the former breaks more new ground. Subjectively, Ben and Sammy talking shit on religion is my fuckin’ comfort food.
Narrowing down a top ten is absolutely bonkers, although admittedly I have far less time these days than I used to, as far as devoting every waking hour to devouring new music. Sometimes, all you crave is the warm embrace of listening to Six Organs of Admittance’s Dark Noontide for the millionth time.
In the end, I’m simply a random dude on the internet, one lucky enough to have an editor that has just enough faith in my tastes to let me ramble about metal albums that catch my fancy every month. This isn’t a day job, or ‘a’ job, in fact. Here at Off Shelf, we’re just a bunch of nerds that like talking about cool shit we enjoy. Who am I, really, to judge albums that a band have spent time, creativity, money, and passion on, even if it does suck as hard as every single second that Greta Van Fleet has released?
Still, as a nerd that has spent nearly his entire life obsessed with tracking down new music, I would be lying if I said I wasn’t stoked to whip up a list or two. How to get there is yet another gut-wrenching path. To go full numeric countdown? Shambolically irreverent? Yet again, duality is a motherfucker.
There is no right way, as far as I’m concerned. I’m going to spend months absolutely devouring both of those fantastic lists. I’ll be remembering that they are put together by nerds that just want to talk about the cool shit they liked this year, and are by no means a definitive list of all cool shit. It’s a big ol’ world out there, full of wonderful art and books and music to help take your mind of the big ol’ world of shittiness and impending collapse, so I only hope you find something in here that catches the ear, because some of these records truly saved my mind these past twelve months.
That said, I’m going BOTH routes. Narrowing things down to ten is foolish, so here’s a list of great shit that, on any other day, could’ve been in the bottom three spots because they all rip.
Russian Circles‘ Gnosis (Sargent House), Fugitive‘s Maniac (20 Buck Spin), Blasted Heath‘s Vela (Wise Blood), goddamned Goatwhore (Metal Blade), Cave In‘s Heavy Pendulum (Relapse), KEN Mode‘s Null (Artoffact), Innumerable Forms‘ Philosophical Collapse (Profound Lore), Phobophilic‘s Enveloping Absurdity (Prosthetic), Tzompantli‘s Tlazcaltilztli (20 Buck Spin) [editor’s note: thanks for this one, Andrew], Predatory Light‘s Death And The Twilight Hours (20 Buck Spin), Undeath‘s It’s Time…To Rise From The Grave (Prosthetic), Devil Master‘s Ecstasies Of Never Ending Night (Relapse), Wormrot Hiss (Earache), Cloud Rat‘s Threshold (Artoffact), Inexorum‘s Equinox Vigil (Gilead Media) …and probably a dozen more I’m forgetting. If you can’t find new music you like, you sure aren’t trying very hard, huh?
Which brings us, in descending order, to my ten favorite metal albums of 2022.
As a genre, Doom is a tricky one for me. Too many bands equate crushing two barre chords and singing about blacklight Satan posters on weed with being heavy. The Otolith are a shining example of the genre done proper. I’m a pretty big SubRosa fan, and Floium Limina surpasses my expectations by miles. Somber, moody Doom perfection, now with more strings!
There are plenty of examples of creative ways to expand the Black metal vocabulary, but none more striking than Avielut. Microtonal sheets of angry depression are most definitely my thing, and they are here in droves. Applying Classical leanings to such a raw musical direction elevate Avielut into a unique example of how Black Metal can grow above and beyond the rigid KVLT rules.
Daeva – Through Sheer Will And Black Magic… (20 Buck Spin)
It’s truly a feat to sound this on-the-edge unhinged and still be absolutely tight as fuck, and Daeva nail it. This is the sound of a dead serious band having a shit-ton of fun.
Cloakroom – Dissolution Wave (Relapse)
I’ve always liked Cloakroom, but Dissolution Wave is the first one I’ve absolutely loved. The band have trimmed some of the fat, distilling things into a forty minute Emo Space Rock bummer gem.
Dreadnought – The Endless (Profound Lore)
There’s a lot going on here, from Jazzy pastoral passages to Folk inflections to tremolo-picked Black Metal, but Dreadnought make sense of it all with their strongest release to date. Progressive metal without the pretension, this album stayed in the car for months.
Mother Of Graves – Where The Shadows Adorn (Wise Blood)
Mother Of Graves occupy a very specific niche in the Doom world, and I don’t think they’d mind being included in a conversation about the Peaceville sound. If melodic, depressive doom and gloom is your thing, jump on Where The Shadows Adorn immediately. Done with passion and attention to detail that many have attempted but few have nailed this perfectly. This one also gets a ton of car play.
Chat Pile – God’s Country (Flenser)
The internet is dumb. Never read the comments about things you like. Best case scenario? You’ll come away bewildered at people talking shit on this record. What’s not to love about this Industrial Sludge beatdown? Comparisons are pretty dumb too, but if Godflesh had more of a sense of humor, I’d imagine it sounding like this pummeling good time. People just don’t enjoy other people having a miserable good time, I guess.
Escuela Grind make me want to punch my head through a wall. Better yet, listening to Escuela Grind keeps me from punching my head through a wall. Who doesn’t need a blast of pure grinding catharsis?
I am a huge Subarachnoid Space fan, so I don’t know how I missed Melynda Jackson being in a progressive metal band. Fandom aside, this album still would’ve cracked the top five. It’s difficult to pin this to any specific genre with the vocal harmonies and the long drone passages and the knotty prog spots and the not-quite-Doom Doom parts. Whatever it is, I’ve absolutely crushed this album all year. It’s a heady ride, and one absolutely worth taking over and over.
As difficult as it may be to rank subjective tastes, Falls Of Rauros put out what is unquestionably my favorite album this year. Absolutely perfect blend of technically progressive Black Metal that manages to have a soulful depth, a difficult trick I tell you. Black Metal may be the base, but the emotional resonance within these songs elevates Key To A Vanishing Future to rarified air, transcending genre completely. A total stunner.