It's 2022 and black metal's evolutionary leaps show no signs of slowing down. From bands incorporating Native American folklore into their songwriting to those who fuse black metal with shoegaze, prog metal, delta blues or beyond, the parameters for what black metal can look - and sound - like in 2022 are boundless.
2022 has been a great year for black metal, a wealth of releases from the likes of Midnight, Wiegedood, Belphegor, Mantar, Panzerfaust and beyond ensuring that honestly, we could have stacked our official critics poll with nothing but black metal and still not cover every base. Even so, we've boiled it all down and these are the 10 best black metal albums you need to hear from 2022.
10. Celeste - Assassine(s)
Celeste remain an important part of France’s avant-metal firmament. On this seventh record, the band embrace the staccato chunk of their hardcore roots while experimenting with style and structure. Their melding of black/post/ sludge with an increasing melodic sensibility makes for a multi-faceted approach.
Compelling by virtue of its unpredictability, Assassine(s) has allowed each musician to explore individual freedom of expression in their pandemic isolation. The result exceeds the sum of its parts. CC
9. Sigh - Shiki
Thirty years since Sigh’s debut EP attracted the enthusiastic attention of Norwegian black metal scene lynchpin Euronymous, the prolific Tokyo stalwarts maintain a hard-won reputation for impassioned creative flair, atmospheric versatility and playful imagination.
Seldom have Sigh achieved this more resoundingly than on this 12th LP, Shiki is gleefully defined more by imperial, crunching riffs, dazzling twin-axe melodies and Mirai’s tasteful cosmic synth runs. CC
8. Kaoteon - Neither God Nor Master
Neither God Nor Master is the third album since Kaoteon emigrated halfway around the world from their home in Beirut. Musically, Neither God… stays in the mould built by Kaoteon’s last two outings: traditional black metal brutality scrapping with dissonant and death metal flairs.
The virtuosity and sliding riffs are comparable to Ihsahn, such as when Nimrod’s Demise explodes from a thumping bass lick to cascading chords. The title track is just as quick to nab attention, except it pairs tumbling drums with melodeath guitar taps. Be thankful that this outfit escaped their oppressive backdrop and are finding their groove – and long may they continue. MM
7. Blackbraid - Blackbraid I
"Indigenous black metal from the solitude of the Adirondack wilderness", so goes the description of newcomers Blackbraid, but it does little to capture the magic at the heart of the one-man-project's debut.
Drawing upon stories of Native American history in a parallel to Alien Weaponry's exploration of Maori culture, Blackbraid I evokes the majesty and ferocity of classic Scandinavian black metal whilst infusing folk twists that create a sense of scope and ambition befitting an act that catapulted to the top of the Bandcamp charts. RH
6. Ibaraki - Rashomon
Matt Heafy’s expedition into the world of black(ened) metal is drenched in the imagery and mythological themes of Heafy’s ancient Japanese heritage. At its best, Rashomon is revelatory. Trivium have long exhibited a solid understanding of heavy metal’s dynamic potential, and those sensibilities have enabled Heafy to let his imagination run riot here.
It’s all sufficiently immersive and elegantly conceived that cameos from Ihsahn (Susanoo No Mikoto), Nergal (Akumu) and, erm, Gerard Way (Ro¯nin) pass by without fuss, each one neatly assimilated into the bigger picture. Too progressive for black metal purists and arguably too extreme for a good chunk of Trivium’s audience, Rashomon is a brave, heartfelt and pointedly progressive move from a sincere student of the dark, metallic arts. DL
5. Gaerea - Mirage
Gaerea have categorised themselves as “cathartic black metal” and that hits the nail on the head. Their aggressive yet progressive suites are always invigorating, pulling from the most primal parts of death and sludge metal to keep the violence fresh. Third album Mirage is by far the most eclectic of Gaerea’s trilogy of beatings.
Gaerea already have a reach well beyond the borders of black metal, and this album will only spread that popularity even further. Accessible and eclectic without compromising on the essence of extreme music, it’s hard to think of a metalhead who won’t be won over by Mirage. MM
4. Abbath - Dread Reaver
Three albums into his nominal solo career, it now seems a wonder that Abbath spent so long grimacing under the constraints of Immortal; he’s since found a multitude of new voices to inhabit. Dread Reaver edges the much-loved/much-mocked frontman ever closer to the sweet spot between Bathory, Motörhead, Manowar and Kiss (his stated aim for this album’s ear-ringing production).
The careers of Lemmy and Quorthon are most evident musically, exemplified perfectly by the opening one-two of Acid Haze – taking a classic black metal route through Arctic riffs flurried over propulsive drums – and Scarred Core, a Philthy-beaten biker rumble making good use of Abbath’s experience fronting Motörhead tribute band Bömbers. CC
3. Watain - The Agony & Ecstasy Of Watain
On their latest, Watain resume their impious evolution, though the growth is subtle. Ecstasies In Night Infinite announces the album’s murderous intent with a firestorm of blastbeats and buzzsaw riffs, building to a dizzying, Slayer-esque solo. The Howling and Before The Cataclysm tap into wavelengths of such unrelenting malice that they seem to channel the very fires of Hell, serenaded by Erik Danielsson’s raw, blistering vocals.
Though happy to swing sledgehammers at the skull all day long, Watain pull back the BPM on Serimosa, with its stabbing melody and grinding, mid-tempo malevolence. It’s a great example of how Watain are inspired by, rather than imitators of, the old-school Norwegian style. Though you’d never use the word ‘accessible’ with Watain, The Agony & Ecstasy Of… is their catchiest outing yet, and jaws will surely drop at the level of both savagery and precision on display. JD
2. Imha Tarikat - Hearts Unchained: At War With A Passionless World
Sonically superior and even more explosive than its predecessors, Hearts Unchained – At War With A Passionless World may prove to be too dark, too intense, for mainstream consumption, but Satan will surely find a way. Band mastermind Ruhsuz Cellât’s formidably individual approach and razor-sharp songwriting demand it.
Superficially, Imha Tarikat adhere loosely to the brutal and austere German black metal template, but there is momentum and mystique driving the likes of Radical Righteousness and Brute Majesty. Coupled with Ruhsuz’s incensed fairground barker vocals, that air of malevolent mystery lifts everything here to a higher plane of terror.
Most startling of all, Streams Of Power – Canavar is a sublime, four-to-the-floor post-punk anthem that makes perfect sense as a precursor to the wild and wicked miasma of Stardust Wisdom (Manifest Of The Deity To The Unkeen): a solid contender for black metal song of the year. Even the horror flick organ drones of interlude Birth Of Grandeur feel strangely momentous and bereft of cliché. Whatever curious source of infernal power Imha Tarikat are tapping into here, the end result is undeniable. This is black metal art of the highest quality. DL
1. Zeal & Ardor - Zeal & Ardor
‘Black metal meets black spiritual music.’ Bottle it, flog it for all it’s worth. When Zeal & Ardor’s debut, Devil Is Fine, slithered into 2017’s end-of-year lists, we’d heard nothing like it: centuries-old slave chants blasphemed by black metal tremolo, bubbling electronica, dusty blues, Gothenburg melodies, and baroque Nick Cave-iness. Coining the idea of African American slaves praising Satan rather than God, Zeal & Ardor’s Manuel Gagneux established his ‘thing’.
Stranger Fruit stretched that concept further in 2018, while 2020’s more immediate Wake Of A Nation EP tackled current affairs, galvanised by George Floyd’s murder. Does album number three have anything left to do? Course it does. It has more ideas than will.i.am drunk-texting Elon Musk. More twists than M. Night Shyamalan shagging a rollercoaster. But the difference is, Manuel knows what he’s doing.
Zeal & Ardor is as cohesive as it is contrary, the title track’s industrial Godflesh drone set against silken, Satanic litanies. Album closer, A-H-I-L, is nearer to a Jim Williams horror score than it is to anything written by churchburning Norwegians. Between those extremes, Manuel goes toe-to-toe with everyone. Emersion visits that sunshiny postblack metal Møl have cornered the market on, Götterdämmerung injects soul and ghoulish choirs into mid-2000s Dimmu Borgir stomp, while J-M-B buzzes like a necro Ministry backed by… honky tonk piano?
It’s all so propulsive, but it’s ridiculously accessible and nothing’s a footnote. Manuel’s gorgeous vocal timbre is never compromised, lending the record an aged quality – not least on Golden Liar’s Spaghetti Western by-way-of John Legend acoustica. We’re told everything’s been done before. Digital cartoon monkeys are the pinnacle of creativity. The Simpsons is still going. Originality is a scant currency, and Manuel’s pockets are full. Devil Is Fine dreamt a new world, Stranger Fruit started the journey, but Zeal & Ardor cast its anchor and bought a house there. We’re just lucky to be invited. AC