Best of 2022: Kieron Hayes

Spread the metal:

01. Skid Row – The Gang’s All Here (SAMPLE)

It’s been 16 years since Skid Row put out a full-length album, and, let’s be honest, over 30 since they put out a genuinely good one. The Gang’s All Here has absolutely no business being anything like as good as it is, but it damn well is, picking up right where their self-titled debut and Slave to the Grind left off. Granted, it doesn’t break any real new ground, but every track’s a banger, Erik Grönwall does an excellent job stepping into Bach’s shoes, and the whole album is a sleazy, no-fucks-given affirmation that Skid Row have still got it. There’s no way I can’t give this my #1 spot of the year given just how many times I keep coming back to it for another fix.


02. Avatarium – Death, Where is Your Sting (SAMPLE)

Avatarium is an interesting beast: they started out sticking pretty close to Candlemass in sound, but since their debut Edling seems to have grown comfortable letting the heavy psych side of this project express itself more and more. Their last work, The Fire I Long For, seemed to hit a real sweet spot blending the doom with the psych aspects. This one goes for more of a distinct identity of its own, still fundamentally applying the same core style, but having something of a dark romance flavour running through it (especially apparent in “A Love Like Ours” and the title track).


03. Venator – Echoes From the Gutter (SAMPLE)

Echoes From the Gutter is just one of those great classic heavy/speed metal albums. It isn’t reinventing anything or doing anything that honestly hasn’t been done before, but it does what it does very well and reminds you why you love this genre in the first place. Any classic fans would do well to add this to their collection.



04. Xentrix – Seven Words (SAMPLE)

The UK thrash metal scene of the 80s was never as big as those of the US or Germany. Alongside the likes of Sabbat and Onslaught, Xentrix were one of a small number to garner some attention with the likes of their debut, Shattered Existence, and their (in)famous cover of the Ghostbusters theme song. I’ll admit, while I was a fan of this early work, I didn’t pay much attention to their reunion and 2019 release, Bury the Pain. Seven Words makes me wonder if I should have, as this is a stonking bit of thrash right here. Jay Walsh’s vocals in particular are a perfect fit, full of just the right amount of grit.


05. Venom Inc. – There’s Only Black (SAMPLE)

I thoroughly enjoyed Venom Inc. Ave from a few years back, and There’s Only Black is a fine follow-up. It carries on in much the same, amping up the thrashy side of Venom to place it front-and-centre, and it makes for a fun and frantic end product. It may not be the most creative piece of work, but it’s such a good head-banging, throat-ripping time. Just listen to the stomp of “Tyrant” and “Inferno”, the relentless pounding of “Come To Me” or the slashing speed of “The Dance” and try not to bang along.


06. Marturos – Thy Will Be Done (SAMPLE)


Marturos make great use of tricky and tools from all across the metal spectrum here, with catchy hooks, crunchy riffs and grand vocals all mixing together into something equally comfortable sweeping you away with grandiose melodies or kicking your teeth in with vicious rhythms.


07. Wolf – Shadowland (SAMPLE)


Sweden’s Wolf are back and going for the throat again! Well, in truth, they never really went anywhere, but their last couple of albums did feel like they were lacking some of the wickedness and bite of their classic works. This is back with teeth bared and knife at the ready now. Shadowland captures that same vibrant feel of Mercyful Fate meets Iron Maiden that they do so well, catchy but with just enough of aggression and dark edge to keep things bloody and raw. “The Ill-Fated Mr. Mordrake” in particular is theatrical, horror-themed metal at its finest.


08. Threshold – Dividing Lines (SAMPLE)

Threshold just GET memorable prog metal. Dividing Lines doesn’t try overly hard to show off flashy technicality, it just packs hooks into quality song-writing from start to finish to craft the kind of metal you’ll be singing to yourself all day long even as you consider their lyrics further.



09. Messa – Close (SAMPLE)


Messa take doom in a bold and thrilling direction here, smoothly incorporating stoner, folk and atmospheric elements to create something different. It sticks to the core of what makes good doom but brings in these new flavours with the ease of a master chef preparing his speciality dish.


10. Candlemass – Sweet Evil Sun (SAMPLE)

I’ll admit, by Candlemass standards, Sweet Evil Sun does play things a bit safe. But this is a doom metal band of such pedigree, they can snag themselves a spot among my top 10 of the year even when they do so. This is just an album packed with iron-hard doom riffs, along with a good dose of classic metal influence underneath it all. I’ve also heard some complaints about Johan Längquist’s vocals, but his rugged delivery feels right at home here.


11. Zeal & Ardor – Zeal & Ardor (SAMPLE)

Zeal & Ardor’s unique combo of black metal and African-American spirituals remains as ruthlessly effective as ever. Here it feels like their sound’s undergoing something of a transition, as if some kind of change is on-going, but not entirely evident yet. This means it isn’t quite as effortlessly confident as Stranger Fruit was, but there are still plenty of great numbers here.


12. Armory – Mercurion (SAMPLE)


Like a mad science experiment yielding incredible results, Armory’s Mercurion is both carefully crafted yet also wild and unrestrained, complex and with a menacing tone beneath it all. Their manic yet technical speed metal approach fits perfectly with the sci-fi theme they stick to, blasting out tunes about death-defying interstellar adventures, mind-bending space phenomena and deadly enemies from the void between worlds.


13. Elder – Innate Passage (SAMPLE)

Innate Passage strikes for something of a balance between the stoner voyages of Reflections of a Floating World and the softer progressive approach of Omens, and it hits its mark more often than not, carrying the listener off into vast, proggy soundscapes tinted with heavier psychedelic moments. The balance of fuzz and ethereal is just exquisite.


14. Blind Guardian – The God Machine (SAMPLE)

Blind Guardian continue their masterful dominance of all things power metal. Where some dive head-first into the flamboyance and madness of the genre, Blind Guardian stick solidly to a style rooted in an irresistible sincerity. They’re having fun, but they also take their fantastical inspirations and themes seriously, just like many of the best sci-fi and fantasy authors.


15. Traitor – Exiled to the Surface (SAMPLE)


Just a fun, furious slab of thrash. Now with a tongue-in-cheek cover of “Careless Whisper”.




16. Molten Chains – Orisons of Vengeance (SAMPLE)


Molten Chains pound out varied metal tunes while sticking to a consistently dark, hellish vibe that works wonderfully. It’s hard to easily pigeon hole the band’s sound, but it’s dark, it’s fun and it’s metal as fuck.



17. Kreator – Hate Uber Alles (SAMPLE)

Hate Uber Alles doesn’t reach quite the same heights as Gods of Violence did (and certainly not the outstanding Phantom Antichrist), but Kreator are veterans of thrash for good reason, and there’s still plenty of good material here, their thrashy ferocity tempered with classic metal and melodeath melodicism.



18. Sleepless – Host Desecration (SAMPLE)


This post-thrash mix takes a bit of getting used to, but after a few listens it can surprise you with how much it sucks you in and gets you grooving along.




19. Saxon – Carpe Diem (SAMPLE)

Saxon may not venture much outside their comfort zone of classic heavy metal and hard rock anthems, but they know what works, and they’ve had a whole string of consistent releases longer than many bands have even existed. Carpe Diem is no exception, in style or quality. Don’t expect any real surprises, but if more old school metal is what you’re after, Saxon have you covered, and it’s frankly amazing that guys in their 60s and 70s can still sound this energetic.


20. Septicflesh – Modern Primitive (SAMPLE)

Septicflesh are still struggling to recapture the magic of Communion and The Great Mass, but like most of their work since then, Modern Primitive is still a solid bit of symphonic death metal, and this album’s helped by having “A Desert Throne” on it, an absolute banger.



Best New Band (debut full-length in 2022): Venator

As you can see from them reaching the #3 spot in this very list, Venator’s debut impressed me no end, and I’m hoping they can keep following it up with more raw quality speed metal.


Best Comeback of 2022: Skid Row – The Gang’s All Here

As mentioned above, The Gang’s All Here really shouldn’t be as good as it is. The whole time I first listened to it, I kept expecting the dip in quality to come, the good tracks to run out, but they never did. Welcome back, lads. Keep it coming.


Favourite Non-Metal Release: Devin Townsend – Lightwork

Devin Townsend never disappoints, and Lightwork might be one of his best works. While it does have some heavier moments and aspects here and there, as a whole it sits more in a progressive/art rock realm, and it’s one that Devy seems very comfortable in. It feels like one of his most free and open works, without real constraints on what it “should” sound like or a goal of being as wild and experimental as something like Empath was. Lightwork sits with the likes of Casualties of Cool and even Ocean Machine as a pure, honest expression of where this mad musical genius is right now, heavy and pounding when it needs to be, light and celestial at other times, and I’m so here for it.


Best Concert: Diablo Swing Orchestra @ Valand, Gothenburg, 19th October

Diablo Swing Orchestra don’t tour extensively, no real surprise given the size of the group and all the different instruments involved. So I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to catch them in October, and the show absolutely did not disappoint. It was every bit as manic and irresistibly fun as I expected, and then some. Their carefree mixture of metal with swing, big band, folk music and more makes for a twisted cabaret stage show that captivates everyone lucky enough to witness it.

Disappointments of 2022:

Dragonland – The Power of the Nightstar

Dragonland’s previous album, Under the Grey Banner, was a masterclass of power metal, a real soundtrack to an epic fantasy tale. This follow-up has been a long time coming, and while I appreciate the attempt at a different thematic direction, the end result just doesn’t live up to the potential. The music doesn’t pack the same punch as Grey Banner did, and they don’t do much with this sci-fi setting.

Amorphis – Halo

Amorphis’ career is one of fluctuation, both in terms of their sound and my own enjoyment of them, but they’ve been on a good course of late, with both Under the Red Cloud and Queen of Time impressing me. Halo isn’t a dramatic shift in style, but it’s a significant step down in quality. It just feels like the leftover dregs from those past couple of albums. Like Dragonland’s new one above, Halo isn’t horrible, but it falls far short of what the band is capable of.


Hopes for 2023:

One of the big ones for me is Metallica’s 72 Seasons. Everyone knows these titans have had their ups and downs, but they’ll always be important to me as the band that got me into heavy music in the first place, and I enjoyed Hardwired well enough. The first single, “Lux Aeterna”, is a promising early sign, carrying a distinctly Kill ’em All vibe to it.


Overkill also have a new one on the way, Scorched. I feel the band’s been in a bit of a rut trying to recreate the lightning-in-a-bottle of Ironbound, with diminishing returns on each record since then, and I’m hoping they can break out of that and impress again.

While not a hope tied to any particular band, it’d also be nice to see some more adventurous and impressive albums in 2023. There are plenty I enjoyed this year (as the above list shows), but I’m conscious of the fact that many of them are “playing it safe” to at least some degree. They’re still great albums, don’t get me wrong, but it’d be nice to sprinkle in some more bold creations next time.

Kamelot are also working on new material I believe, and it’d be great to finally see a third Triptykon full-length. And who knows, maybe this’ll be the last time I put King Diamond’s The Institute on my “hopes for next year” list!