TOP 50 ALBUMS OF 2022: Part IV (#20-#11)
’Never Let Me Go’
One of the greatest mainstream rock bands of the 90s/early 00s, Placebo’s trajectory during their first five albums is pretty much faultless - put on records like ‘Without You I’m Nothing’ or ‘Black Market Music’ today and they still hold up like it was yesterday - anthemic, bittersweet and perhaps surprisingly, for those who might have just skimmed the Placebo surface, deep tunes, both musically and thematically. Unfortunately, since then, despite still putting on a great show, their studio output has been sketchy at best, particularly in comparison with the brilliance of that first half of their career. Yet another once-great rock band fading away into eventual zero-relevance, we’ve seen that a lot before, right? Well, it’s therefore a great pleasure to witness how ‘Never Let Me Go’ is the proverbial “return to form”. No matter what your entry point is, whether it’s the actual first song, ‘Forever Chemicals’ (with one of those typically razor-sharp Brian Molko lines (“And it's all good / When nothing matters / It's all good / When no one cares / It's all good / When I feel nothing / It's all good / When I'm not there”) getting instantly stuck in your mind, or one of the four singles the band shared before the release date (totally nailing some of the best highlights, including the sourly environmentally-conscious ‘Try Better Next Time’), everything will scream “Placebo are BACK!” at you immediately. And as my almost daily spins of the album for several months now attest, the appeal won’t go away anytime soon. Turns out what we thought was teenage angst when us old fans got into Placebo the first time also keeps applying now we’re old and bitter, instead of young and bitter. “A hug is just another way of hiding your face / to look you in the eye is like a spray full of mace,” Molko sneers on ‘Hugz’. Yeah, quite.
’The Future Died Yesterday’
Before most of us knew him as the keyboard player for Neurosis, Noah Landis already had an established musical identity with the underrated yet enormously influential Christ On Parade, and he’s always kept some kind of extra-Neurosis activity throughout the years. One of these projects in particular, The Same, though it unfortunately never made it past its embryonic stage (do check out those two digital EPs though!), seemed particularly promising, a kind of new wave/post punk that effortlessly bridged the historical past of the genre with a fresh approach. Well, Tension Span, though a totally different band, follows a similar kind of vibe, a dark and sinister interpretation of punk and post-punk, full of, well, yes, tension and release, and subtle, sombre melodies that will stick to you like hot tar. It’s unfair to focus only on Noah, by the way, as this is very much a proper band - and as Noah told us when he was on the podcast, he was even the last piece of the puzzle, settling in on vocals when the two other brilliant musicians who complete the line-up, Geoff Evans (Asunder) and Matt Parrillo (Dystopia, Kicker), already had the foundations of the music laid out. Fans of everything from Subhumans to Killing Joke should get on this immediately - and hopefully this fabulous record will be the first step of many to come.
Find Tension Span on Bandcamp
’The Worst Has Finally Happened’
[Three One G]
When your band is compared to Swans, Einstürzende Neubauten, Bauhaus or Killing Joke left and right by people with a straight face, and obsessive fans of all those - such as yours truly - just nod and go “yeah” when those comparisons are made, you better hold on to what you have for dear life, because it surely is something fucking amazing. And that’s exactly what Seattle’s Haunted Horses are sitting on here - though not exactly newcomers, it seems that it was only in the last few years that these guys have really stepped it up, and this new album is by far their best release yet. Just like a mugger darting out of an alley in front of you, it grabs you by the throat straight away, even before you really know what’s hitting you. To that illustrious list of comparisons, I would add one that is very dear to me, which is Cop Shoot Cop - there’s that same dirty urban grit to these songs, a similar cold and grey kind of hopelessness that nevertheless seems to be almost ironically celebrated by the epic nature of massive tunes like ‘Pig’ (which sounds sometimes like it could have been lifted from Ministry’s sludgy masterpiss ‘Filth Pig’, and it’s not even because of the title) or the heart-stopping closer ‘Severed Circle’. “Industrial punk” is a fun moniker to tag onto them, but Haunted Horse are so much more than that. It seems that every little detail has been fine-tuned to aggrieve and upset you, including the expertly and assertively used samples and effects, everything is there to further rub your face in the filthy realities of current-day mankind - as vocalist Colin Dawson often heaves desperately like he’s out of breath, you too will find it hard to make it to the end of this brick-to-the-throat of a record, but the payoff is massive. Stick to it to the ugly, bitter end.
‘Private Collection’ bends my own rules for this list a little bit, as it isn’t a “pure” new full-length album - of its ten songs, nine are reinterpretations of songs from the Swedish-Norwegian’s scintillating (and, outside of Scandinavia, I feel that it’s still widely up for discovery by an audience that is only just now realising the brilliance of this woman’s talent) back catalogue. But you know what, fuck the rules, this is such an amazing record in its own right - and the new version of the songs are so different from their original versions - that it feels for all intents and purposes like something entirely new. If you’ve seen Karin live recently - I was lucky to catch her sublime performance at Amplifest -, you’ll know more or less what to expect here. “These are my favourite songs from 20 years of writing, re-recorded as I hear them now. Many of these versions are how I play them live, alone with my synths, mellotron and organ,” she says about this collection, and it’s precisely the intimacy that instantly draws you in. With a few sparse participations coming only from Kjetil Nernes (her husband and bandmate on the fantastic Årabrot) on guitars, Andrew Liles (Nurse With Wound) on synths and Benedetta Simeone on cello, it mostly feels like Karin alone, sitting among her machinery, staring at you while she delivers some of the most affecting and profound songs you’ll hear all year. “I knew I was in trouble when I let you catch my eye,” she laments provocatively on ‘Look What You’ve Done’ (one of the most incredibly, radically transformed songs of the lot). And ain’t that the truth.
’In A Bizarre Dream’
[New Heavy Sounds]
I was given this album for review by one of the magazines I write for without knowing that much about Blacklab, and from zero expectations at the start to furiously headbanging and screaming along with Yuko Morino, it was a matter of minutes. I featured them as band of the week back then, so you can just go and read my enthusiastic rambles to find every reason why you should submit to these Japanese riffqueens. Or just play it and find out, it won’t take long until the power of the riff compels you too.
’As I Cast Ruin Upon The Lens That Reveals My Every Flaw’
[Translation Loss Records]
’Death And The Twilight Hours’
[20 Buck Spin]
Two kinds of light (or the absence of it), right? To be honest, however, I only realised the possibility of a light pun given the names of the bands after I had already decided to pair them up - I initially did it because I think these are two examples of how far extreme music has come, and how genre promiscuity has created wonderfully new, uniquely terrifying sounds for which we keep failing to find a neat description.
Cavernlight, as it was already perfectly clear on their thrilling debut ‘As We Cup Our Hands and Drink from the Stream of Our Ache’ (yeah, their album - and song - titles are consistently awesome), are the sonic equivalent of being buried underneath an avalanche of burning coal - oppressive, intense, chaotic and often unpredictable. Though the surprisingly short songs (they feel like massive eight minute epics when you’re in the eye of the storm, but then you come up for air and realise that over half of them don’t even reach the five minute mark) desperately crawl along at a mostly doom-laden, pachydermic pace, the tension they create is often unbearable, making you ache for a climax that rarely comes. As an extreme portrait of depression, anxiety and hopelessness, few other records this year come close.
Predatory Light, on the other hand, do let a little light in, but presumably only to gleefully watch it slowly fade and die away before it reaches any living being. Featuring guitarist Kyle Morgan from Ash Borer and Vanum, the quartet (which shares its entire line-up with Superstition, a sort of nastier, more old school death metal oriented version of Predatory Light which also comes highly recommended) offers a curiously warm and melodic bastardisation of black/doom metal, drawing a lot of parallels in terms of guitar harmonies from some of the most classic heavy metal greats, and bringing to mind the mighty Negative Plane (already featured on this list, if you remember) in terms of approach sometimes. Unlike their list position buddies, they go for the long song approach, using repetition and cyclic structures in their songwriting to achieve an almost hypnotic effect, some of the riffs ending up swirling around in your mind as if they’re trying to find the exit on a very dark maze.
’Labyrinth Of Veins’
It’s Autopsy, okay? They have a new album, therefore it’ll be on the list. It’s a constant source of joy and reaffirming of death metal faith to realise how consistent these death metal stalwarts have been - as many other godlike names falter along the way in these latter years of their careers, or simply disappear altogether, Autopsy seem to just keep having fun and churning out extraordinary records, unmistakably Autopsy-sounding but never stale, boring or anything less than exhilarating. ‘Morbidity Triumphant’ is yet another of those, and I dare say the fire that seems to be permanently lit under their collective arses is even hotter this time - if you’ve seen them live in the last few years, it seems obvious that new bassist Greg Wilkinson has been an outstanding addition to the line-up, giving them a boost of energy and vitality that no one had really asked for, but one that seems absolutely necessary now.
As if to further prove that point, Chris Reifert went and formed yet another band, teaming up with Wilkinson himself to create Static Abyss. More spontaneous and seemingly freer of the lofty expectations and weight of catalogue that the Autopsy name brings, ‘Labyrinth Of Veins’ offers a sort of a looser, less polished (not to imply that the delightfully putrid Autopsy sound is actually “polished” in any way) take, closer to the earlier steps of the band, flirting with doom/death as much as the iconic ‘Mental Funeral’ did back in the day. Static Abyss are different enough from the guys’ big day job (let it be noted, however, that Greg is also a part of Brainoil and Deathgrave, and yeah, part of the crusty sludge and grind of those acts is present in places here too) to justify their creation, but with enough parallels to guarantee that if you’re an Autopsy fan, you need to get this one too.
’Eyes Of Oblivion’
I gotta tell you, I had mixed feelings about a return of The Hellacopters. Not that they ever went away for good, there were a few shows here and there, but a full-blown return with a new album and everything? I do love Nicke Andersson enough to give him the benefit of the doubt, and I have none of the issues a lot of people have about reunions/returns/reformations (“oh, it was just for the money!” - you mean they played for free before? And if they put on a great show or released a kickass album “just for the money”, does that interfere with your enjoyment? Newsflash, the original members of Venom couldn’t stand each other and they still made some of the most awesome music ever, just to pick a random example), but the thing is, even when they were active, they had lost a lot of their appeal over the years for me. Of course, nothing will ever surpass the endless appeal of the lo-fi, youthful raging intensity of ‘Supershitty To The Max!‘, but even the more polished and tremendously catchy, bluesy ‘Payin’ The Dues’ lords over every increasingly pale, arena-ish rock album they kept doing after that. And you know what, it took me about twenty seconds, which is the time it takes for the main riff of ‘Reap A Hurricane’ to kick in, to raise an eyebrow all the way to the top of my forehead in that typical “hang on a minute” anticipation, and one exact minute - when the undeniable, anthemic chorus kicks in - to be completely convinced that, boy, was I wrong about having any doubts about this. Let’s be clear, it’s no ‘Supershitty To The Max!’ return to raw garage days, okay? That, yes, would be silly and fake. No, this is very much pure fucking hard rock made by people approaching 50, with a deep appreciation of all the nuances of the genre, with experience, and with a very special talent for writing a damn good song. ‘Reap A Hurricane’ and ‘Can It Wait’ are the perfect opening combo, a mature, lived-in version of the ‘(Gotta Get Some Action) NOW!’ / ‘24h Hell’ opening pair that made us think all those years ago that yeah, it might be a great idea to ditch Entombed to go do this full time. But that’s just the beginning, and the album holds up the quality all the way. From the upbeat, percussive bounce of ‘Beguiled’, to the impossibly catchy ‘Tin Foil Soldier’ (you could easily win Eurovision with this one, no joke and no insult either), there’s a certain Beatles mood going on, which Nicke fully confirmed in an interview a few months ago when he described the album as “The Beatles meets Judas Priest or Lynyrd Skynyrd meets the Ramones“. Sounds blasphemous, sure, but I’d surely agree.
’And In The Darkness, Hearts Aglow’
[Sub Pop Records]
I’ll just put it this way - on that little spreadsheet that I’ve told you about, the one I keep open all year where I write down all the albums I enjoy over the year (Discos2022.xls, this year’s is called), I have an extra column beside the usual artist, album title, label and release date ones, which I signal with an asterisk if I think the album in question has Top 20 potential. It might change throughout the months, of course, but it’s a way of signaling the “like”s from the “really like like”s. When ’And In The Darkness, Hearts Aglow’ was first announced, I immediately typed it in, asterisk and all. Even before listening to the first single. Now, this doesn’t mean that Natalie Mering, the singer, guitarist, keyboardist, bass player, songwriter and all around awesome lady behind the Weyes Blood name, gets an instant free pass. But she’s given me enough proof that her records will be amazing for me to kinda assume they will before listening. My favourite albums of 2016 and 2019? ‘Front Row Seat To Earth’ and ‘Titanic Rising’, no question. The former might have been the record I had for the longest time playing over and over and over in my car, ever (over six months of listening to nothing else while driving, I shit you not), and seeing her live on tours of both those albums has been nothing short of a near religious experience. Her songs flow free and unburdened, melodically speaking, a sort of wounded but almost divine beauty exuding from them, with oceans of lyrical depth giving them an underlying gravitas that 99% of all singer/songwriters would kill for. Why isn’t this #1 also, then, you might ask, understandably so? Well, to be honest, I might regret the relatively low position I’m going with for this, but while ’And In The Darkness, Hearts Aglow’ does continue to fit that previous description I gave of her music, it has taken a little bit of a shift mostly in the immediacy of the songwriting. After half a listen of those two previous albums, I was completely blown away to smithereens, ready to throw what’s left of my little cold black heart at Natalie’s feet, but these songs burn a little slower, a little longer, a little more nuanced, not so dependent on that one chorus or that one hooky line that will sweep you away. The very recent release date probably means that in a couple of months I’ll be slapping myself and doing a new post on these very pages to tell you that this should have been twelve positions higher, but you know, whatever. All 50+ of these albums are highly recommended anyway, numbers are just numbers, reality is a simulation, we’re all going to die, and listening to Weyes Blood is one of the best reasons for being alive and suffering through this hellish torment. So do it.
Goddamnit, how I wanted to hate this record. You know that instant reaction you get, if your brain is wired a certain way at least, when you see something universally praised, of immediately wanting to label it a passing fad, a stupid infatuation of the masses, yet another automatic destination for the mindless herd? Maybe not in so many words, but you know what I mean, deep inside. First time I heard of Chat Pile (I didn’t know the EPs) was when interviewing the lovely Jonathan Tuite, label manager for the truly fantastic The Flenser, for a magazine feature in late 2021. When asking him what his main plans for 2022 were, he immediately mentioned this exciting new band from Oklahoma the label had signed, how they already had a sort of cult following and how their album would be mindblowing. I never did go check out the material they already had (should have!), so fast forward a few months and suddenly my social media is full of people raving about it like mad, even people with, erm, musical tastes that are… not entirely compatible with mine, he says diplomatically? (relax, I don’t mean you) So I had actually gotten the promo already but it was still sitting unassumingly in the constantly colossal “to listen” pile, so I dug it out and gave it a whirl, with my superior, cynical outlook of “yeah, I bet it’s all that and a bag of chips too”, but at the same time with some undeniable curiosity because I remembered what Jonathan had told me. And yeah, I’ll be damned if I didn’t love it instantly. Maybe love is not the word, because it’s not a pleasant listen, you won’t be whistling these ditties along in the shower, but these songs create a fucking gut reaction. Of course Raygun’s half-spoken, half-sneered, seemingly freeform declarations are the immediate highlight of the whole thing. Not only is he intense in an unshakable, staring at you the whole time kinda way, and I mean seriously intense like Tim Singer in Kiss It Goodbye-intense (hear: ‘grimace_smoking_weed.jpeg’ in particular), but the uneasy subjects that are unflinchingly tackled here (from the meat industry in ‘Slaughterhouse’ to the homeless in ‘Why’, there are no punches pulled on society) will hit you straight through the heart, if it still has any kind of beat to it. But it’s not just him - the rest of the band use their instruments in a similarly rough, brutally honest way. An incisive, huge-sounding jumble of other uncomfortable sludgy noise-rockers of the past, they tear through songs as if possessed by the menace of Unsane, the filth of Eyehategod, the surgical precison of Helmet, the mechanical drive of Godflesh or the constant almost-but-not-quite uncontrol of The Jesus Lizard (honestly, I don’t hear the much vented - even by the band themselves! - Korn thing, but maybe throw it in there too I guess), and even so they still manage to sound pretty unique. Yeah, those are some pretty big names to throw at a band on their first album, but maybe that’s why everyone’s going mad about them. Sometimes it’s not a mindless herd thing, sometimes it’s just good.
Stay tuned for the next round!
The Devil's Mouth is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.