This year, I bought less music that normal; while I typically will end up buying around 60-70 albums in any given year, 2022 saw only a bit more than 40 albums purchased. You'd think that'd make my job easier, but in truth I suspect I was probably just being a bit pickier this year. In truth, there was just as much great music in contention for the top album list, and I had to work hard to keep it to seven.
The top album list this year is quite a bit more rounded out than some years, with stuff from several genres including pop, rock, and metal, with of course a common theme being my love of things that land into the more complex and progressive side.
The honorable mentions are full of great albums, some from artists you probably already know (like Megadeth, Slipknot, or Taylor Swift) and several that were new to me (like In the Woods..., Lorna Shore, or Seventh Storm). Everything on that list is worth a listen, but choices had to be made, so here are my top 7 of the year.
Being a child who grew up mostly in the 80's, Tears for Fears were definitely a big part of my early music. "Songs from the Big Chair" was one of the biggest albums of the 80's, and for good reason with songs like "Shout", "Head Over Heels", and "Everybody Wants to Rule the World". Truth told, though, I found myself more drawn to their music from the 90's, especially the albums "Elemental" and "Raoul and the Kings of Spain". With the exception of an album in 2004 that I didn't buy, for me this is the first new music since Raoul, and it feels a lot like coming home. It's both retro and modern, and the production quality is positively outstanding. The title track is hands down my favorite of the album.
Ghost is a "love them or hate them" kind of band, steeped as much in pop music as heavy metal, with a satirical Satanic theme running throughout songs that alternate from dirge to banger. For me, this year's "Impera" hearkens back to their album "Meliora" from 2015, which is to say that they have threaded their pop sensibilities through mostly hard rock songs that result in extremely radio-friendly fare. Unlike that album, whose roots lie strongly into the 70's rock, "Impera" finds Ghost rollicking through the happier fields of the 80's. I believe "Call Me Little Sunshine" to be the best single song written this year, an absolutely perfect illustration of what makes Ghost something that people love (or hate). The video's creepy visuals match the song's darkly uplifting tone.
No question: Steven Wilson is the most talented musician and engineer in progressive music today. He's been not only producing music on his own and in bands, but also spending time re-mastering some of the greatest bits of progressive rock history. His solo work has always been the most introspective and personal, while his best known band, Porcupine Tree, has always been the heaviest and most driving of his work. They've been on hiatus since releasing 2009's The Incident. He's my favorite musician, and Porcupine Tree is one of my all-time favorite prog rock bands.
Given all this, it might be surprising to see him so far down on this list, but it just goes to speak to how strong a year it's been for the rest of the musical genres that I listen to. There's absolutely nothing wrong with this album, and I (like many other PT fans) are overjoyed by their return, even if it turns out to be short lived. This is an extremely solid PT showing with some tremendous song variety (and the expected incredibly engineering). The funky opener Harridan hits me right in the happy center of my brain.
This is my first time hearing this band, though they've been around since 2007. You can be assured that I will end up backfilling a bunch of their catalog based on the strength of this album.
The best way for me to describe this is that it's genre-mixing, typical of progressive bands, but it doesn't necessarily have the sound you'd associate with straight "progressive metal". The talent is definitely on showcase here, but it's more about how they deftly combine a core melodic death metal with many other styles, including jazz, blues, even progressive rock. In addition to the expected double kick drum thunder and deep guttural vocals, you get moments of quiet and contemplation, beauty to contrast the brutality. The album is designed to be listened to front-to-back, so picking any song in the middle with make it feel like the song has a hot intro and outro, simply because the material was designed to blend in without silence between the tracks. It's incredible how quickly the hour goes, and I strongly recommend you consume this music in the long form.
Allegaeon have held the spot of my favorite technical death metal band for many years now, and I always look forward to new albums from them. Their style has grown over the years, and this new release is no exception, as they've included clean vocals along side the traditional death growls in several of the tracks this year. It's been an album I've gone to many times this year when looking for something as an aggression outlet or energy source, like when working out or doing yard work. Outstanding work. Unfortunately, vocalist Riley McShane left the band in August, which makes me wonder what the next transition for them might be. And of course we'll all be anxious to see what Riley gets up to!
This year was really one of huge explosion for Polyphia, which in current form can be best described as guitar-centric music for musicians. It's often complex and nerdy in ways that musicians can appreciate but are sometimes harder for the general public to appreciate (the best example of this is probably Steve Vai's Flex-Able album). A very smart thing they've done, then, is to have a large number of collaborations that help to ground their experimental sound and bring in crossover fans. You have musicians like Brasstracks, Sophia Black, Lil West, and Chino Moreno (of Deftones fame) among the many guests, but the highlight is with the aforementioned guitar god Steve Vai.
This was the first album that I picked up in 2022, coming out on January 7th, and I didn't even finish the first listen-through before thinking that it was undoubtedly going to be one of my favorite albums of the year. They have absolutely perfected their progressive metal delivery here, creating one of my favorite progressive albums not only of the year, but of the last several years. Even if you're a person who doesn't appreciate guttural vocals, their presence here is least likely to be offensive (in the same way that mid-career Opeth did, with albums like Ghost Reveries). The ambience provided by the playing and integration with several pieces of orchestral passages are exactly what they've striven for, and finally achieved. This is destined to be a modern masterpiece.
Pawns & Kings by Alter Bridge
The Great Heathen Army by Amon Amarth
Halo by Amorphis
Deceivers by Arch Enemy
The God Machine by Blind Guardian
A Window of the Waking Mind by Coheed & Cambria
Ethereal Compilation 01 by Ethereal Girl
A Heartless Portrait by Evergrey
Back from the Dead by Halestorm
Diversum by In the Woods...
Vinyl Days by Logic
Pain Remains by Lorna Shore
An Hour Before It's Dark by Marillion
The Mars Volta by The Mars Volta
The Sick, the Dying...and the Dead! by Megadeth
Immutable by Meshuggah
Give It Back by The Pineapple Thief
Digital Noise Alliance by Queensrÿche
Earth Infernal by Satan
Maledictus by Seventh Storm
The Testament by Seventh Wonder
The End, So Far by Slipknot
Empire Central by Snarky Puppy
Atlantis by Soen
Övergivenheten by Soilwork
Survive by Stratovarius
Midnights (3am Edition) by Taylor Swift
Synchro Anarchy by Voivod