Yet again, the final week of the year rolled around and I had little energy for actually putting this thing together, but... resurfacing my annual favorites in list form always seems to get things in front of a few listeners for the first time—in an arguably more effective manner, so... I fought back against holiday lethargy to get it done. Keep in mind that I don't pay a ton of attention to much in the way of "high-profile" releases, so I'm sure there are some gems that I remain blind to (feel free to point 'em out!). After 20+ years, I feel like I'm running out of words, so I'll try to keep it brief with my personal favorites of 2022, in alphabetical order...
The Darling Fire, Distortions (Iodine)
The list's first of two selections from the excellent Iodine Recordings this year, Distortions finds The Darling Fire intensifying their "post-"influenced brand of emotional alt.-rock with a serious dose of dark, metallic energy that occasionally even brings to mind mid-'90s Paradise Lost. Killer songwriting, soaring vocals, excellent production, and an aesthetically matched layout make this a "total package" type of release, and I'm quite eager to hear more.
Distortions is still available on three gorgeous vinyl variants, as well as pro CD-R and cassette (co-released by Friend Club Records) through Deathwish. See Bandcamp for digital needs, and there's always Spotify, too.
Drug Church, Hygiene (Pure Noise)
I don't think I've written about Hygiene prior, likely 'cause Drug Church is kinda "popular" and doesn't really need an assist from a puny site like mine. Nonetheless, the group has crafted their own hybrid of melodic hardcore that comes across in somewhat more of a grungy alternative punk vein, with unique vocals/lyrical approach. Atypically catchy, this is a great album that has continued to grow on me with each listen—different songs seem to jump out at me every time.
Entropy, Death Spell (Crazysane)
Hamburg, Germany's Entropy is certainly one of the best yet most underrated bands out there. Imagine Sugar meets Helmet, in the form of hook-soaked 'n' heavy alt.-rock with loads of post-hardcore textures and sleek vocals. I think people are slowly starting to "get it" with this quartet, but holy shit do they deserve so much more attention. Their debut made my favorites list in 2020, too. Highly recommended. Seriously.
Death Spell is limited to 300 one-sided 12"s with screen-printed B-sides. I still need to buy a copy myself, international postage is a real killer these days... Everyone else, utilize Bandcamp or Spotify.
The Final Agony, The Final Agony (Self-Released)
This mysterious project appeared seemingly outta nowhere with a sound that's basically a stripped down and raw take on the early Integrity brand of Cleveland metalcore. What's not to love about that!? Furthermore, Aaron Melnick contributes a couple of guest solos, so that stamp of approval should be all you need to know that this rules. Unless this turns out to be a one-off homage or something, I'd expect The Final Agony's next release to be backed by a label, 'cause this shit totally smokes.
Greg Puciato, Mirrorcell (Federal Prisoner)
Mirrorcell was a late entry for me, as I didn't pay enough attention over the summer when it was released. I'm honestly not much of a Puciato fan—that's not at all a slight, he's incredibly talented, my tastes have just resulted in a general indifference to a lot of what he's been involved with. But, this one caught my attention at some point with its nebulously grungy alternative rock type of vibe, though extends beyond those invisible boundaries. It's heavy and dark and atmospheric, with sporadic forays into some post-punk twang or industri-electric flourishes akin to some of Greg's past solo work. Huge production (Steve Evetts, baby!) and solid writing make for a strong outing that's very likely to make me circle back and revisit past efforts, so... I might be a convert after all!
Her Head's on Fire, College Rock and Clove Cigarettes (Iodine)
Her Head's on Fire also made my list last year for their split with J. Robbins, and their debut full-length—2022's second pick from the mighty Iodine—impressively delivers in full. Expect indie/alt.-rock that occasionally leans a little more into the rock, while also exploring elements of post-hardcore, emo, etc. Song after song after song caught my ear on the very first listen here, thanks to super catchy choruses that retain fully credible grit by avoiding any sense of over-polished fluff. So good.
Ignite, Ignite (Century Media)
Still hanging onto one original member, longstanding Orange County unit Ignite's new vocalist, Eli Santana, does a damn fine job stepping into the sizeable shoes of former singer, Zoli Téglás. This self-titled outing dishes out insanely catchy melodic hardcore that's very consistent with the rest of the band's Century Media era output, so there's absolutely no reason for established fans to be disappointed. I'm not gonna lie, I definitely came into this one with some hesitancy, but that was my mistake. I'm really impressed. Fantastic songwriting never fails. This is a fuckin' great album.
Inerth, Void (Abstract Emotions)
Madrid, Spain's Inerth aptly describes their music as "death sludge metal with doomed and industrial beats," and to my ears conjure visions of distilling the more mid-paced and plodding aspects of Napalm Death's Utopia Banished into an entire album. Toss in some Mindrot for good measure, and who wouldn't love that!? Skull-crushing excellence all over the place here, and this is another band that really ought to be garnering more attention based on the strengths of this material.
Man Destroyed Man, The Decline and Decay (Self-Released)
Man Destroyed Man is another second-year-in-a-row favorite with The Decline and Decay. The sorely underrated New Jersey outfit features ex-members of Elements DEC and All Parallels delivering high-level melodic/metallic hardcore with a message, and an aesthetic all their own. Hopefully this EP won't be their swansong, but if so, it's one hell of a high note—their best work yet.
Momma, Household Name (Polyvinyl/Lucky Number)
Momma was one of the biggest surprises of the year for me. I had never heard of the band and still know little about 'em, but Household Name was recommended to me on Instagram and I've been blown away by how memorable it's been. I'm becoming more and more of a sucker for relatively simple, lightly grungy alt.-rock—in this case kinda-sorta power pop-ish, but also somewhat dreary. What can I say? Hooks are hooks, and like the Drug Church disc above, this is one where each listen finds a few different tracks catching my ear—to the point where it's tough to pick a "best" standout. Excellent.
Nothing in Between, Nothing in Between (Self-Released)
Brazilians Nothing in Between dropped one of the absolute best of the year—easily the #1 hardcore album, it just hits the spot for me in a way that demolishes anything else I heard from the genre this year. Stylistically, the material brings to mind the finer points of the melodic and passionate hardcore of the mid-2000s—think Comeback Kid, Go it Alone, etc.—but should absolutely appeal to fans of contemporary acts such as Be Well and One Step Closer, too. Cooler still, I was somewhat surprised to discover little dashes of slightly more complex and metallic fare that nods to '90s gems of the Strongarm/Shai Hulud variety, which is always a plus!
Therefore, I find it rather shameful that no labels have hopped aboard yet. It brings out the asshole in me that wants to berate the entire scene for caring more about superfluous bullshit than music, because if music was all that mattered, many more prominent websites than mine would be yelling and screaming about the magnificence of this album, and at least a label or two would be actively working to produce a physical format. Maybe one day? For now, race on over to Bandcamp or Spotify.
Onsloow, Onsloow (Friend Club/How is Annie/Motorpool/Slow Down)
This fantastic half-hour of poppy emo/indie goodness comes compliments of Trondheim, Norway's Onsloow. Uncomfortable with anything deemed "poppy"? Well, don't be a goof! There's nothing wrong with catchy songs with memorable choruses, especially when the delivery's not overly-polished and retains the rugged warmth of the "underground." Way back in January I predicted that this one was "shaping up to be the sleeper hit of the year for me," and here we are. Rightfully so!
Roseneath, Shine (Trepanation)
Roseneath was the first new band to really blow me away in 2022. I knew this EP would rule, and it does. The Richmond, VA duo consists of Jason R. (also of Breaths) and Brian G. (formerly of Cosmonaut) exploring nothing short of "grungegaze" excellence. Packed with densely distorted rhythmic hooks and lush singing accented by post-hardcore textures, the approach forms a wide-spanning brand of generally designated "alternative rock" that—while obviously influenced by the '90s—is delivered through a crisp and polished sound that boasts a much more modern punch. Look for a full-length sometime next year
Sweet Teeth, High Anxiety (Lövely)
Near the end alphabetically, but near the top in terms of high-energy earworm brilliance, Finspång, Sweden's Sweet Teeth refers to themselves as "power pop/punk/Hüsker rock." I also discern the energy and tonality of classic Dinosaur Jr. and some early Goo Goo Dolls, though they don't particularly sound like either. The material covers a lot of ground in terms of atmosphere—at times it's all about charging tempos and hooks, others more laidback and somber fare (though sap-free and far from bland). Somewhat loose and jangly, but still tight, and never without an expertly melodic sheen. Absolutely awesome.
Various Artists, Exhibit A: A Benefit for the Southern Poverty Law Center (Atomic Action!/Hellminded/Knife Hits/Shove/Ugly and Proud)
I grabbed this comp-for-a-cause primarily for Rid of Me, Bitter Branches, and Be Well, but must admit that a number of other bands caught my ear, too. I'll need to do more digging on Exhalants, Every Scar Has a Story, The HIRS Collective, Easy Prey, Fashion Week, and Truth Cult, for sure. Almost all exclusive tracks! This turned out to be one hell of an impressive collection—that it benefits an organization like the SPLC is an added bonus.
I opted for Exhibit A on cassette from the fine folks at Knife Hits, but it's also available on vinyl through Atomic Action! and Hellminded; and in Europe you can get tapes from Ugly and Proud. Stream it on Spotify.