Dark Juan’s Top Ten Releases of 2022 (And Maybe Some Honourable Mentions)
By Dark Juan
It is almost that time of year again, dear fiends, where we debauch ourselves and give extravagant gifts to loved ones, drink ourselves into stupors an inch away from death from alcohol poisoning, give thanks to a creepy bloke with a beard who steals into childrens’ bedrooms (with the tacit permission of the parents!) and leaves things behind wherever he goes, progressively emptying his sack in every bedroom. And all the children who can’t spell are in for a rude shock when their letters to Satan get answered and they don’t receive the gifts they thought they would…
2022 is nearly over then. Quite a lot of us would probably say “Thank fuck for that”. Myself especially, as a number of things that I shan’t bore you with here have somehow resolved themselves, Dark Juan Terrace was abandoned for the swanky new digs at Crow Cottage (conveniently within staggering distance of SIX hostelries, three of which are within three minutes of pissed-up wobbling, which will not do anything for my work rate for Ever-Metal.com), I lost my best doggy friend Zeus, got promoted at work thrice, spent a month on my arse due to COVID and I listened to a metric fuckton of new records.
I know I repeat this every time I write a best of, but this really has been an extraordinarily vintage year for extreme music. 2022 has been a bit special for records. With the aftermath of lockdowns and the subsequent explosion of creativity that has been unleashed on to the world of extreme music, I’d say Metal and extreme music in all its forms is in the rudest and most obnoxious health ever. The quality and power of most of the things I have heard this year (and I have heard a fucking lot) has been just jaw-droppingly magnificent. I have had to be more than usually ruthless with my reviewing this year and it’s fair to say that I haven’t, for the first time ever, heard a dud record from my choices from the review list, which is why Seething Akira, who have arguably dropped an absolute banger in “Nozomi”, only got a 7/10 and didn’t make it to the top ten…
So, yeah, merry fucking Christmas and all that. Dark Juan is famously grumpy around this time of year. Primarily he is looking forward to the bottle of single malt the sister of Dark Juan has promised him after there seems to be a shortage of affordable absinthe this year. Although he is breaking the habit of a lifetime and going to a Christmas dinner with his colleagues. But that is only because he has been instructed to and his Senior carer colleague bought a rather fetching Grinch hat for him to wear. Records and words below about what I think were the highlights of the music released in 2022:
10. Chimpgrinder – Remixes of Vol 666, Oliver and Simian Space King
Philadelphia, in the USA, gave us this bunch of scuzzy, mucky fuzzmeisters and their utterly delicious concept Sludge Metal, about a particularly disturbed space chimp named Oliver and his subsequent adventures with blonde human nurses, psychotropic drugs, being experimented on without his consent and forced space exploration. Oh, and murder. Gratuitous murder. Supremely performed, with interesting subject matter and played by some extra-nice gentlemen to boot. And I dig the concept, being based on the fact that the band practice in some nasty sub-basement of an old USAF base, where there were loads of rusting cages or something else unspeakable to do with animal experiments. Still waiting for the T-shirt I was promised, though. Not that I am able to be bribed 😉
9. Sonic Flower – Me And My Bell Bottom Blues
Composed of three-quarters of Church Of Misery and hailing from the normally totally un-groovy nation of Japan, Sonic Flower unleashed a fucking peach of a Psychedelic Rock album and sent Dark Juan into paroxysms of acid-popping joy and inner universe exploration fuelled by as much psilocybin as he could cram down his drug-abusing neck and this Bluesy, LSD-soaked and patchouli-scented record got me swinging my flares and undoing my tie-dye shirt to the navel, displaying my CND medallion, in the hope of obtaining some free love in short order…
It didn’t happen. Instead, Mrs Dark Juan gave me an atomic wedgie and sent me to the spare room without my tea. Disgraceful.
8. Graham Bonnet Band – Day Out In Nowhere
Truly, in a year where I was privileged to meet the man himself, my musical hero, the incomparable Mr. Graham Bonnet in person, stole a cuddle from the most delightful, beautiful and lovely Beth-Ami Heavenstone, made friends with surely one of the greatest modern Rock guitarists in Conrado Pesinato (this all thanks to part of the Brazilian Ever-Metal.com contingent in Wallace Magri – thank you for making an overgrown teenager’s dream come true, Wallace, you absolute GENTLEMAN) and enjoyed my first taste of being an ACTUAL rock journo by having an interview planned and ready to go and ending up in the photo pit a mere metre away from the man, you’d think that the most wide-ranging record in Graham’s enviable canon would be higher up the list. That it isn’t is truly testament to the sheer quality of the releases this year. Heavens to Betsy, “DOIN” is the best Bonnet for years and the man has never sounded better. This album is chock full of the kind of polished Hard Rock that only a select few can do well, and Graham fucking Bonnet is the king of the lot of them, and Dark Juan’s adoration and appreciation of the man and his voice (and his bass player! Especially his bass player. Did I mention that I am a massive fan of Beth-Ami, the bass player?) has only grown even more.
7. KEN mode – Null
Shockingly unhinged Canadians are given musical instruments in an effort to calm them the fuck down and then proceed to level several city blocks around them with a combination of explosive hate, extreme amplification and unbridled aggression. “Null” is fucking fantastic, a combination of bulging-eyed, spit-flecked roaring hatred of everything and everybody, and some of the most truly misanthropic and deep-freezingly cold music ever recorded. KEN mode are a monstrous bunch of people who have even made the saxophone (usually the squawky sex horn) into less of a knicker-dropper and more into a terrifying, stabby weapon of mass destruction. Dark Juan cannot recommend this musical rendition of serial murder enough. Canadians are normally so polite, as well…
6. YAWN – Materialism
This five-piece of Norway-based noiseniks blew me away back in February with an album that contained a mere two minutes and one second of written music. The rest was thirty-five minutes of improvisational playing so jaw-droppingly complex that I hurt my bollocks when my bottom jaw crashed into them. A swirling, incandescent morass of riffs and fractured percussion took your correspondent on a singular musical journey that was as powerful as it was unique. Five big-brained and even bigger-bollocked musicians achieved musical nirvana for this over-excited Metal fan. This album pisses all over Tool and their over-serious ilk for sheer musical ability, and must surely rank among one of the greatest ever improvisational releases ever.
5. Splintered Throne – The Greater Good Of Man
As my musical tastes grow ever more abstruse and unusual and I go and seek out the lesser-known, shadowy corners of extreme music, I sometimes come back to where it all started for me, which is good old Heavy fucking Metal, and Splintered Throne are some of the finest modern protagonists of that style of Trad Metal out there in the world today. This bunch of American gentlepersons far more talented than I are fronted by one of the finest Metal singers the world has to offer – this being the deceptively petite and gentle Lisa Mann, friend of Dark Juan and Ever-Metal.com, who appears to be possessed of a set of lungs from a much bigger and vastly more aggressive person. As well as being quite outlandishly charming and being so humble she might as well be a nun (even if she is partial to a bit of patricide, judging by the video to one of her solo songs), her barrel-lunged alto, uber-powerful, effortlessly soaring vocals lift this album into the stratosphere, even on top of the already superb craftsmanship of the song-writing and playing from the rest of the guys in the band, who are all very good eggs despite being ungrateful colonials! (Dark Juan is British and still sore about the sheer waste of tea at the Boston Tea Party. Tea. in the sea. Unforgivable!) If you dig traditional twin guitar lines, lush production and clean singing from a person (and a band) whose love of Metal shines out from every single second of her (their) performance, Splintered Throne have you rather luxuriously covered.
4. brb>voicecoil/ Omnibadger – DISCO
A joint release (not a split album, but a collaboration) from Newcastle-based noise deconstructor brb>voicecoil and Stoke-On-Trent anarchic Industrialists Omnibadger (nee Omnibael), this album combined the chopping up of electronics and the reformation of them into something that should not be, and them recombining them with the kind of Industrial noisemaking that would not be out of place in a stark and unremittingly grim and blackened dystopian future world where production is the sole reason for existence, where a genetically-engineered Resistance lives and fights from the ruins and pollution of a previous civilization with weapons made from the refuse of the endless, grey factories that belch smoke and utterly spoiled water into oceans that have a rainbow, oily sheen. Screaming electronic suffering meets metallic, percussive hammering meets the kind of noise that overstressed hydraulics make the moment before they catastrophically fail and this album is a visceral, scalding, frequently painful experience that can only be experienced as a type of never-ending, brainsawing horror. Of course, Dark Juan fucking loves it, even if he is still not sure what an Omnibadger is. Or who the mysterious Jase is…
3. Epectase – Nécroses
Having been resident in France for a while, once upon a time, Dark Juan has a particular fascination with the Metal scene of that fine country. It has given us the delights of (besides Bar Louisa in Guemene-Sur-Scorff, pastis, patisserie and Demon lager (13% beer available at your local Intermarche. Fucking brilliant for drinking, not so much for your liver)) Industrial punishers P.H.O.B.O.S, the considerably unhinged and dangerous Esoctrilihum, the most excellently emotional Rostres, and the very sadly defunct Dirge among many others, and this album from innovative Black Metallers Epectase takes that music in an unusual and extraordinarily Gallic direction where it has been twisted and genetically altered to not just sound like a jar full of furious wasps that someone has miked up and recorded, but instead being a blackened horror rampaging around your brainpan and chewing chunks out of your grey matter. In parts beguiling, and in others horrifically violent, Epectase show us that the French Metal scene is in very safe hands. An avant-garde Black Metal album for the ages and a welcome departure from the traditional blueprint of corpse-painted, angry young men with pipecleaner arms and a penchant for murder, burning churches and driving plank nails into their own bodies making the kind of noise that UVB-76 did at a much higher pitch.
2. MASTER BOOT RECORD – Personal Computer
This one-man Italian musical project (not an IBM 486 processor as he likes to insist he is) is a ridiculously prolific musician, and MBR are one of Dark Juan’s all-time favourite bands. MASTER BOOT RECORD is the undisputed king of the space between Metal and Synthwave, and the Synthetic Metal that MBR performs is just sublime. It is cinematic, powerful, massively heavy, endlessly complicated and yet totally accessible by anyone who isn’t a total arsehole neckbeard about just what constitutes Heavy Metal. Just because it doesn’t stem from the traditional guitar, bass and drums doesn’t make it shit. This is Metal dragged kicking, screaming and protesting into the 21st century and “Personal Computer” the current zenith of what Metal musicians can achieve if they expand their minds and their musical repertoires. This album is absolute sonic heaven for Dark Juan and it is played at least once a week in between all my other duties. I have to thank my friend Metal Carl (there is no one more Metal than Metal Carl. Not even Metal is as Metal as Metal Carl) for introducing MBR to me via the medium of ‘IRQ 0 SYSTEM CLOCK’.
Now then. Before I tell you what I think is the finest release of 2022, allow me to introduce you to some of the ones that nearly made the top ten, but are still extremely worthy of your attention.
Texans Quinn The Brain released a single of tempestuous brilliance in ‘Bad Friend’ and are Dark Juan’s favourite Grunge-Punk band, but don’t make the top ten because an admittedly excellent single alone just isn’t enough output to make this list. If I were doing a top ten singles article, then HOLY FUCK would Quinn The Brain be easily top three but for this bit of ranting we need more, and we need Quinn The Brain to visit the UK. They can stay at my house.
Locrian (from Chicago) released two absolute Drone masterpieces in “New Catastrophism” and “Archive 3: Visible/Invisible” and the sole reason that they have not ended up on my top ten list is because of the extremely limited appeal their geologically slow Drone soundscapes will have on a Metal audience, which is a crying shame because they are works that drip emotion at the rate of continental drift and are not something you merely listen to. You EXPERIENCE their work.
Black Star Riders served up a most delicious Psychedelic feast that skirted and flirted with Metal but just never quite made it there, instead the German band choosing to dodge the Doom label with something a little more uplifting and psilocybin induced. Still absolutely and all-conqueringly superb in all ways, it just wasn’t quite Metal enough for a top ten place. Still got full marks though, and that’s because its a fucking awesome album!
“Cherry Blossoms At Night” by Box was another rather special record, possessed of a Puckish sense of humour and a desire in main man Andrew Stromstad to incorporate as many styles of Alternative and Extreme music into his work as he possibly could. Never less than jaw-dropping throughout, its eclecticism would have proved too challenging for the casual listener. In my opinion anyway.
The Antichrist Imperium, multinational Satanic Death Metallers, one and all, unleashed something so shocking and musically brilliant that Dark Juan’s socks would have been forcibly blown off had his feet not been resting upon the floor at the time. Taking aggression to heights normally only occupied by psychopathic serial torture-killers, The Berzerker or currently incumbent Russian presidents, The Antichrist Imperium delivered a Satanic ritual that the One Who Walks Backwards could not possibly ignore. Hail Satan!
There have been many more, but they were the ones that really stuck in my mind as the records that were fucking brilliant, but for various reasons (mainly my own idiosyncrasies) were denied a top ten finish for the year. Nevertheless, I am quite sure that you want to know what my record of the year for 2022 is…
Well, this is where we are going to have a problem, because I have two albums that I can’t even fit a Rizla paper between for consummate supremacy this year. I have spent days agonising over this final choice and I have come to the conclusion that there is NOTHING between them, being as both records have that violent, yet intelligent je ne sais quoi that Dark Juan is so fond of, so I am going to award a joint album of the year to:
JOINT FIRST PLACE WINNERS:
1. The Chronicles Of Manimal And Samara – Trust No Leaders
1. Mycelia – In A Late Country
Let us deal with the singular brilliance that is The Chronicles Of Manimal And Samara’s album. “Trust No Leaders” offers the listener a different side to the personalities of Daphne Ang and Andrea Papi. Compared to their debut, “Full Spectrum”, which was an expansive, wide-ranging record that encompassed everything from poetry to full on dance music, “Trust No Leaders” (a cruelly focused, pinpoint assault on the senses) is based entirely on fury. Fury at everything from AI (from the AI’s own point of view), humanity in general, corruption and politics in particular and the fact that for some everything is STILL not enough. This is combined with a deep understanding that the human race is nothing more than a cosmically unimportant concentration of atoms, with ideas WAY above their station, on a small blue world revolving around an unremarkable star, cosmically speaking, and it ranges wide enough to encompass the thought that every single war ever fought for ideology, or realpolitik, or for a way of life that some think is the right way at the expense of others, are all utterly meaningless in the grand scheme of things.
The fury is palpable throughout the album. And by fucking god it is powerful. Daphne Ang’s normally mellifluous, smooth, icily perfect diction gives way to cracks in the voice, words being forced between clenched teeth, and the kind of controlled rage and forced patience you see in the split second before someone totally loses their shit and murders an entire supermarket armed only with a baguette. See Dark Juan’s default emotional state. The music is equally focused and direct. Andrea Papi’s playing seems to be designed solely to remove the head of the listener. Eschewing some of the experimentation of “Full Spectrum”, the music of TCOMAS takes Thrash Metal, butts heads with NWOBHM riffs and Post-Metal and Shoegaze, which then morphs into Tool and Meshuggah style complexities and the band use Vedic chants, Persian classical poetry, Native American and South American folk music and Indo-Persian classical music to add depth and challenge to their music. The lyrics and vocal performances are similarly cerebral and complex, encompassing as they do Jungian philosophy, theology and contemporary poetry and theatre. And that is me describing a LESS experimental record than their debut. TCOMAS remain one of Dark Juan’s most favourite ever bands because of their utterly enchanting mélange of intelligence, political nous, muscularity and vulnerable emotion. They couldn’t BE more Metal if they tried. Their music and song-writing offer diversity, power and heaviness in spades and they still are, even more increasedly, in my opinion, the most important British-based band out there.
Mycelia are a somewhat different animal to The Chronicles Of Manimal And Samara. “In A Late Country” is a sprawling, expansive Djent concept album which requires the whole and undisturbed attention of the listener, telling the story of a young man trying to find his lost girlfriend during a Government-controlled evacuation programme dealing with an overpopulated city. I characterised the record as “Djent Opera”, as like the predominantly Italian wailing women and classical music combo, the lyrics of the record form the narrative and the dialogue of the tale, with the characters speaking to each other as song lyrics. Also, allied to what is an engaging story and an inventive and imaginative way of delivering it, these Swiss maestros also have incredible musical skill.
Their Metal mettle goes far beyond the strictures of Djent or any one genre or form of music and their virtuosity is beyond compare. The arrangements of the music are sublime and the performances on the instruments absolutely compelling at all times. Add the this that this tale has been written and recorded in English, which is a foreign language to Mycelia (being as they are Swiss) and your correspondent is blown away by the intelligence of the band as well, being as Dark Juan can only mutter incoherently in French and only knows swear words in German and Russian. To write an entire tale in a foreign language and make it comprehensible AND entertaining is intellect and intelligence at levels beyond awesome, and then to put it to the kind of music that would make Tool, Tesseract and Meshuggah shake their heads and down tools because it is too complicated, requires a whole new level of adulation that we just haven’t invented words for yet. A concept record for the ages, and intelligent in a whole different way to TCOMAS, yet just as deserving a winner of record of the year, for Dark Juan, for 2022.
So there you have it. Two Records Of The Year. Betcha never saw that coming. I’d better put down this glass of single malt and get myself to bed. Work tomorrow!!!
May you all be blessed with every joy you wished for in 2023, and a whole load you didn’t know you wanted.
Disclaimer: This review is solely the property of Dark Juan and Ever Metal. It is strictly forbidden to copy any part of this review, unless you have the strict permission of both parties. Failure to adhere to this will be treated as plagiarism and will be reported to the relevant authorities.