Well, this is way late, but in my defense, there was a LOT of good music released this year. It took me quite a while to narrow down a top 10, and even longer to try to wrangle it into some kind of ranking. Additionally, any of the records on the “Honorable Mention” list are equally worth your time (including a few releases from good friends…).
So without further ado:
Best Albums of 2022
- Ghost – Impera
It’s pretty astounding to watch a band as odd as Ghost rise to such widespread popularity and critical acclaim. Sadly, any metal band that emerges from humble, underground beginnings inevitably draws the ire of naysayers as their popularity grows, but the joke is on them – Tobias and co. are producing some of the most original yet accessible metal in years. Wrapped in the trademark pseudo-Satantic schtick (with tongue firmly in cheek) that gets bigger and better with each album, this time out it’s employed as an analogy for corrupt leaders and con artists. Impera is wall-to-wall bangers, combining the heavy riffage of 2015’s Meliora with the pop-sensibilities of their last opus, 2018’s Prequelle. Unlike so many artists these days that release ridiculously accomplished albums that sadly won’t likely attract listeners that aren’t already fans, Ghost appears hell-bent on making each release increasingly seductive. As they say, the devil has all the best tunes…
- King’s X – Three Sides of One
Fourteen years. That’s how long it’s been since King’s X fans have been able to say, “we’re getting a new album this year!” KX devotees generally fall into two camps, those that unapologetically adore every sound the trio produces, and those who complain that each new album isn’t Gretchen Goes to Nebraska – Part 2. Since the latter is bound to be disappointed no matter what, give the boys credit for always doing whatever the hell they want. However, what sets Three Sides of One apart from just about everything they’ve done since leaving Atlantic Records in 1996 is that all three members are fully engaged, resulting in their most cohesive yet diverse collection of tunes yet. Most surprising is the band’s ability to take their own tropes – deep grooves, heavy riffs, Beatles-esque melodies, and heavenly vocal harmonies – in new directions, whether in the djent-inspired riffage of “Flood Pt. 2” or “Swipe Up,” the mellow power-pop of “Take The Time,” or the psychedelic density of “All God’s Children.” It’s good to have them back, and in top form.
- Messa – Close
If you think metal is a tired, repetitive genre, you aren’t looking far enough afield. Italy’s Messa is one of the most innovative bands of the last decade. Working from a base sound that most closely resembles “doom,” the four-piece incorporates world music instrumentation, brief detours into jazz, and elements of prog and ambient music into a wholly original subgenre of modern metal. Layered with Sara’s haunting, ethereal vocals (no last name given!) Messa takes you on a long, dark, yet achingly beautiful journey. Though the songs may not stick with you immediately on first listen, Close is a record that rewards repeated visits, coyly burrowing its way into your psyche and calling you back for more.
- Halestorm – Back From The Dead (Deluxe Edition)
Lzzy’s “lockdown” album is everything you’d expect from a hard rock record written and recorded during the height of isolation and uncertainty. Every track oozes with barely contained rage, making this easily the most angry and powerful Halestorm release to date, yet all without sacrificing memorable hooks and stadium-sized choruses. Lzzy’s powerful wail dives and soars, giving voice to all of our combined fears and insecurities, ultimately proving to be a beacon of hope and encouragement on album closing ballad “Raise Your Horns.” However, a minor quibble: the unrelenting intensity leads to a bit of “sameness” throughout the album, which is why I recommend the “deluxe edition.” Released late in the year, this expanded version includes a handful of lighter tracks that recall the “poppier” avenues the band explored on 2014’s Into the Wild Life, providing some much needed respite from the rage.
- Lucius – Second Nature
Seems you can’t turn around without finding Lucius lending their considerable vocal talents to somebody else’s project – from Roger Waters to Brandi Carlile to the latest from Ozzy (coincidentally also on this year’s list). Brandi Carlile returns the favor by producing Second Nature, but don’t let that mislead you: this is not an Americana record. Like last year’s release from Haim, Lucius come fully into their own by proving that well-crafted pop music can be every bit as fulfilling, soulful, and engaging as the most esoteric indie rock. The uncanny synchronicity of their vocal harmonies is nothing short of magical, and suits the soaring balladry of “The Man I’ll Never Find,” equally as well as the dance-pop energy of “Next to Normal” or “Dance Around It” (which also features backing vocals from Ms. Carlile and Sheryl Crow). Second Nature makes you move, weep, and sing along in the euphoria of a perfect melody.
- Ozzy Osbourne – Patient Number 9
Patient Number 9 is the second Ozzy release in a row to make my AOTY list – how is this possible? Producer/guitarist Andrew Watt, that’s how. Expanding on the formula the pair created on 2020’s Ordinary Man, Watt doubles-down on the special guests, and the result is a heavier, more energized outing. Building on the returning rhythm section of Duff McKagan and Chad Smith, several tracks feature the final recordings of Taylor Hawkins, alongside low-end reinforcement from Robert Trujillo and Chris Chaney. Zakk Wylde is all over this, providing a critical bridge to Ozzy’s solo heyday, alongside the Ozzman’s original partner-in-crime, Tony Iommi. Oh, and let’s throw in Jeff Beck (also his final recorded appearance) and Eric Clapton, just for good measure. Much credit goes to Andrew Watt for putting his ego aside and pulling in the right players for the job, making an Ozzy record that sounds more like “Ozzy” than anything he’s released in 30 years.
- Dorothy – Gifts from the Holy Ghost
If you’ve ever fantasized about what Adele would sound like fronting a metal band, you need to check out Dorothy. Cut from a similar cloth as Halestrom, Dorothy’s uplifting lyrics and vocal power combine with catchy chorus after catchy chorus. It would pass for pop if it wasn’t for the massive guitar riffs (courtesy of the offspring of Lukather and the discount “Richie Sambora” of Bon Jovi) and balls to the wall production. Opener “A Beautiful Life” and the title track both vie for earworm of the year.
- Lizzo – Special
Every so often, a new artist crashes into the pop music world who, through sheer force of talent and charisma, transforms and transcends the often formulaic world of modern pop. Lizzo’s hot streak continues with Special, and damn if she isn’t! With her devastating soulful voice and razor-sharp rap chops, every track on this album crackles with a joie de vivre that could only emanate from someone who is being 100% who they are, unapologetically. “About Damn Time” harkens back to the reckless abandon of the height of disco, and the title track and “Everybody’s Gay” throw open the doors to welcome everyone that wants to party along and live their best life. Special is an end-to-end joyride.
- 3rd Secret – 3rd Secret
This one felt a bit like a bait-and-switch: launching with the down-tuned riffage of single “I Choose Me” and major PR touting the combined grunge powers of Krist Novoselic, Kim Thayil, and Matt Cameron, you might be forgiven for expecting an entire album of Soundgarden-y sludgeness. But opener “Rhythm of the Ride” is nothing but an open-tuned acoustic guitar and the haunting vocal harmonies of Jillian Rae and Jennifer Johnson. This vibe permeates more than half the tracks here, making this digital-only release mostly a platform for Novoselic and Raye’s songcraft. But don’t let that turn you off – sounding like Veruca Salt and Soundgarden combining forces to re-make Led Zeppelin III, this beguiling and unique project gets more fascinating with each listen.
- Jack White – Fear of the Dawn
The over-achieving Jack White (honestly, when does this guy sleep?) released two albums in 2022, with Fear of the Dawn the harder rocking of the two. Following up the oddball Boarding House Reach, here White fuses that reckless experimentation with his more usual guitar-forward rock and roll, best evidenced on opener “Taking Me Back,” with “Hi-De-Ho” venturing further afield via Cab Calloway samples and a guest appearance by Q-Tip. At this point in his career, you’re either a Jack White fan or you’re not, but if his last album put you off, Fear will likely bring you back.
Honorable mentions: Sanhedrin (Lights On), Skid Row (The Gang’s All Here), Jack White (Entering Heaven Alive), Dream Widow (s/t), Alestorm (Seventh Rum of a Seventh Rum), The Hu (Rumble of Thunder), Ginger & The Wildhearts (s/t), Muse (Will of the People), Bloodletter (Malignancy), Stephen Kohlen (Daydream)
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