Retro Television Review: City Guys 3.5 “The Players” and 3.6 “Raise the Roofies”

Welcome to Retro Television Reviews, a feature where we review some of our favorite and least favorite shows of the past!  On Thursdays, I will be reviewing City Guys, which ran on NBC from 1997 to 2001.  The entire show is currently streaming on Tubi!

Let’s see what’s happening at Manny High!  But first, let’s check out the theme song and watch as Chris and Jamal have way too much fun while wandering around New York City together….

Episode 3.5 “The Players”

(Dir by Frank Bonner, originally aired on October 2nd, 1999)

Remember, way back during season one, when Ms. Nobel ordered Chris and Jamal to work together on the video yearbook?  That was kind of set up as being the season’s big storyline and then it was just abandoned.  Instead, Chris and Jamal got their radio show and people like me were left to wonder whatever happened with the video yearbook.

Well, in this episode, City Guys finally addressed the issue of the video yearbook.  When Chris and Jamal decide to make a movie and enter it into a film festival, Cassidy asks them what they know about making movies.  Chris and Jamal immediately mention the video yearbook.  Cassidy replies that they never finished the video yearbook.  

Later, Chris and Jamal ask Ms. Nobel, “When have we ever let you down?”

“Well, there was the video yearbook,” Ms. Nobel replies.

I have to admit that I actually laughed at that joke.  It’s not often the City Guys makes me smile but this episode succeeded.  Not only did I discover that I was right in my suspicion that Chris and Jamal just gave up on the video yearbook but there was also a funny B-plot in which L-Train, Al, and Dawn agreed to be tested for ESP.  They were asked to guess what a researcher was looking at on a card.  If they gave the wrong answer, they would get an electric shock.  Al and L-Train always got the answers right.  Dawn got shocked over and over again until the researcher finally revealed that the test was actually a social experiment to see how many time someone could be shocked without getting mad.  Again, I laughed, I’ll admit it.  Steven Daniel, Caitlin Mowery, and Dion Basco all really sold the story.

As for the main plot, Chris and Jamal try to make a movie together but Jamal wants to make a Spike Lee-style social drama while Chris wants to do an Austin Powers-style spoof.  Eventually, they realize that they need to work together so they splice their two films together.  Everyone loves the film, of course!  And you know what?  This plotline also worked far better than I was expecting, with Scott Whyte and Wesley Jonathan really selling both their fight and their eventual collaboration.  Jamal’s movie actually felt like a movie that the politically-minded Jamal would make while it’s very easy to imagine that Chris would probably be a huge fan of Austin Powers.  For once, the plot and its developments actually felt like an organic result of who the characters were.  This was a surprisingly good episode.  

Episode 3.6 “Raise the Roofies”

(Dir by Frank Bonner, originally aired on October 2nd, 1999)

This episode opens with Al, Jamal, and L-Train giving Chris a hard time about his efforts to date Cassidy.  They mention that Cassidy is mad at Chris for dating that Greek girl behind his back.  Oh my God — continuity on City Guys!

Anyway, Cassidy has a new boyfriend and his name is Trent.  We know that he’s evil because his name is Trent and he’s a student at NYU.  No one named Trent is ever a good guy and, in the Engelverse, frat boys are always dating high school students and revealing themselves to be jerks with wandering eyes.

Trent has a roommate named Tom who compliments Trent on his girlfriend.  Trent reveals that Cassidy is in high school and she’s a “goody-goody.”

“I guess you’ll be sleeping alone this Friday night,” Tom says.

“Not necessarily,” Trent says with an evil laugh, “I’ll just need a little help from old friend, Mr. Roofie! …. And the best part is that she won’t remember a thing Saturday morning.”

Trent invites Cassidy to a frat party, which makes sense.  He also invites all of her high school friends, which makes far less sense.  Chris, in an effort to make Cassidy jealous, allows Al to set him up with an old woman, who turned out to be a taxi driver named Cookie.  Dawn meanwhile drinks a glass of punch that Trent was about to hand to Cassidy.  Dawn ends up passing out and while she’s being taken to the student health center, Trent takes Cassidy back to his room and attempts to drug her a second time.  When Cassidy refuses the drink, Trent tries to force himself on her.  Fortunately, Chris overheard some other frat boys talking about Trent’s plans and he breaks into the room.  Cassidy escapes and, upon learning what happened to Dawn, agrees to go to the police.

Wow, this was a heavy episode!  But again, the cast deserves a lot of credit for playing their roles with enough sincerity to make it work and the episode’s message was a good one.  

Wow, two good episodes of City Guys in a row!  I wonder what next week will bring!

My Top 35 Albums of 2022

Here we are again. With 96 2022 albums and counting in my collection and who knows how many others sampled, this is probably one of the hardest (but most rewarding) year end lists I’ve put together. I heard a heck of a lot of stuff. My usual mid-year drift away from new releases just didn’t happen. I kept with it, and now I’m left scrambling to make chops on what is going to be the longest album list I’ve posted since 2008.

But first, an essential primer:

Pocket Gnome – Oh, to Find a Home for a Gnome

comfy synth

Sample track: It’s 7 minutes just listen to it

This is a 7 minute EP about a happy gnome who finds a perfect home, and if you don’t like it you suck.

…Ok let’s go it’s a 35 album year end list huzzah!!

35. Soul Glo – Diaspora Problems

hip hop, hardcore punk


This is the most fresh punk album I’ve heard in a while. The description is pretty straight forward. Pierce Jordan and co wrote a hardcore album and filled it out with all sorts of hip hop elements and rapped sequences. If that notion intrigues you, you’ll probably like it. I can say the album didn’t stick around on my playlist long after the novelty wore off, but hardcore never does really. The discovery process was delightful, and if its not my favorite 2022 release, it’s absolutely something I encourage everyone to experience at least once.

34. Lunar Spells – Demise of Heaven

black metal

Sample track: Damnation of the Heavenly Sun

I was introduced to this band earlier in the year via their 2021 release Where Silence Whispers and then started noticing Demise of Heaven on recommendation lists. They really excel at keeping it simple, with a crisp tight lofi sound driven by short and basic repetitive melodies. It’s old school in a way that I want way more than I actually hear, direct and uncompromising but focused on feel over force, harsh but also kind of pretty in its way.

33. Veilburner – VLBRNR

psychedelic death metal

Sample track: Lo! Heirs to the Serpent

Veilburner have evolved into a bit of a pet obsession of mine over the years–one of those bands I’m just going to instantly pre-order without sampling and preemptively know I will enjoy. They landed on a sound I adore and, as eclectic as their individual songs may be, they seldom deviate from the core formula. That formula happens to be endlessly brooding and bending incongruous avantgarde chaos. A December release handicapped my ability to absorb it all. It doesn’t feel quite as compelling as their last album, but they’re always a slow grow and there’s nowhere to go but up from here.

32. Auriferous Flame – The Great Mist Within

atmospheric black metal

Sample track: The Great Mist Within

Recorded in his traditional abyssally hollow style, this Ayloss project was difficult to engage even by his standards. But the payout is still there in the form I’ve come to expect it: massive walls of bombast shrouding airy medieval melodic brilliance. It’s just bleaker here, even more marginalized, the faintest glimpses of beauty in a mire of cold plodding fury. It’s a bit of a challenge and not quite as captivating for me as his works as Spectral Lore and Mystras–no strangers to my year end top 3–but I got more than my Bandcamp dollars’ worth exploring it.

31. Artificial Brain – Artificial Brain

tech death metal

Sample track: Artificial Brain

If the gurgling vocals on this were replaced with more conventional growls, I think half of it could decently pass as a Krallice album. I’m glad they aren’t; that choking on my vomit sound hits me right in the sweet spot. Artificial Brain is very much in that later Krallician frantically performed lowkey monomoodal spectrum, tending to wash out in my head if I’m not actively engaging with it. I find this sort of stuff really rewarding; it can just play as a background piece, and any time I want to zone in I’m guaranteed something waiting for me to latch on to. They have an underutilized knack for writing incredibly desperate-feeling tremolo melodies that I hope is given more of a spotlight on future albums. My favorite tracks tend to be where they embrace that, most notably on the opener sampled above.

30. Mizmor & Thou – Myopia

doom metal

Sample track: Myopia

The ten minute funeral dirge of a title track is reason enough to pick this up, and there’s 74 minutes of other material to toy around with after that. Thou and Mizmor are a pretty sick combo and sound, well, pretty much exactly how I would have expected them to. Don’t count on much to rev you up here, opening track aside. The album’s a sequence of crushingly thick slow rolls peppered with Mizmor’s black metal inclinations and Thou’s respect for 90s thematics.

Would I remember this album as much without the title track? Well, no, I absolutely wouldn’t. Myopia the song is a doom metal anthem for the ages and single-handedly carries this album into the sphere of something I’ll remember for years to come. But the rest is pretty rad too.

29. Fogweaver – Labyrinthine

dungeon synth

Sample track: Fogweaver – The Ring of Erreth-Akbe

Dungeon synth is my new jam. As I slowly but surely transition towards becoming a feeble, decrepit, 40 year old boomer, my old bones just aren’t going to be able to take blast beats and pig snorts much longer. Thankfully, people with access to MIDI keyboards have taken compassion and established a genre that us olds can still enjoy.

I love dungeon synth. The itch was always there–Summoning stands as my third most listened to band all time–but I’ve scratched my way thoroughly down the rabbit hole at this point and buy nearly as much of this stuff as I do metal. It’s not the easiest genre to rank. I’m barely even listening to it when I put it on. It’s my ultimate dream background music genre. But it’s been woefully underrepresented on my year end lists, and I can’t continue to leave it off if I want to be honest about what I’m actually listening to. I binged Fogweaver a lot this year as a full discography playthrough. If I had to pick a favorite album, I’m not sure it would be this one. But I think this was my favorite dungeon synth discovery this year with a 2022 release, and I’m feeling pretty damn satisfied right now listening to it as I write this.

28. Antecantamentum – Saturnine December

post-black metal

Sample track: Wraith

I was about wrapped up with my 2022 year end list, making a final browse through new Bandcamp releases, when what to my wandering ears should appear but a killer December 9th experimental black metal release. It’s a really meandering album that can be repetitious in phases but rarely follows a single theme to any logical conclusion, transitioning between thematic riffs and harsh assaults and peaceful post-black drifts and acoustic breaks without a predictable progression. Hints of Enslaved and Panopticon perhaps, if I had to guess at some bigger name influences, but Melpomenë has certainly crafted her own irreverent song-writing process that keeps me on my toes. I love that I’m never quite sure where a given track will take me, and the getting there is pretty fun too.

27. Cervidae – Majestic Fables & Tales

comfy synth

Sample track: The Floating Castle Calls

I’ve been pretty heavily diving into dungeon synth and its awkwardly pleasant offshoot comfy synth all year, and while it’s rare for any one album in these genres to grip me on a level that justifies year-end placement, I absolutely adore queuing up full discographies of these artists and letting them roll all day.

One of these dives lead me to purchasing the full Eisenfell label catalogue–a surreal collection of vaporwave hiphop comfy synth hybrid monstrosities that tickle me almost as pink as this album cover. I highly recommend hopping around through them on Bandcamp for an evening. Cervidae’s second demo, Majestic Fables & Tales, ultimately stood out as my favorite in the mix. Maybe I’m letting the collective novelty skew my placement here a bit, but I don’t care.

26. Grima – Frostbitten

atmospheric black metal

Sample track: Giant’s Eternal Sleep

I tend to seek out innovations and projects that push norms to new limits, but sometimes a band can just come around and drop a solid atmospheric black metal album and I’m all in. Frostbitten doesn’t do anything out of the ordinary outside of the occasional accordion accompaniment, which is itself pretty ordinary in Russian black metal these days, but it doesn’t need to. It’s just a really satisfying wintry nature soundscape that’s excellently performed and ships a lot of good melodic progressions without overreaching.

The only review I found of it makes a point of criticizing the production, and that gave me pause to listen to it a bit differently. I quickly noticed… I don’t want to say flaws, but a definite blending together of sounds that enhances the atmospheric vibe at the expense of its distinct parts. But I connected with Frostbitten as a background-oriented mood piece despite its melodic tendencies. I like the overall aesthetic, and that doesn’t always require instrumental clarity. Maybe with better production this album could have amounted to more, but I’m loving it for what it is.

25. Krallice – Crystalline Exhaustion

atmospheric black metal

Sample track: Dismal Entity

Modern Krallice is not the band I fell in love with 14 years ago. They’re unrecognizable juxtaposed. Their constantly evolving sound has been more interesting than endearing to me. They slowly drifted off of my year end charts, but they were never forgotten. Demonic Wealth intrigued me quite a bit last year with its transition into synth-driven atmospheric sounds vaguely reminiscent of Botanist. Crystalline Exhaustion is the logical next step in that direction, and its cover art could not describe it more perfectly. This album sounds, intentionally as far as I can tell, like it was recorded in a crystal cavern a mile under the earth. It is a soundtrack for exploring such realms. It accomplishes this so vividly that I can’t help but feel a deeper connection to the band again, perhaps the most I have since Loüm and Go Be Forgotten.

24. Drudkh – All Belong to the Night

atmospheric black metal

Sample track: Windmills

Ok, look, I know that if Drudkh took a dump on a paper plate and called it music I wouldn’t gobble it up because I didn’t place Handful of Stars on my 2010 list. (I haven’t listened to that album in over a decade, so apologies if it was actually good and I was too hurr metal hurr at the time to appreciate it.) Wait, did I just apologize for not eating the shit sandwich? uh… Drudkh are pretty incapable of writing music I don’t absolutely adore, and that’s a testament to their enduring capacity to maintain a fundamentally unaltered core sound while pumping out endless quality material for twenty years as much as it’s a testament to my enduring love for that core sound they flooded the Ukrainian bm scene with so many years ago. This album is just beautiful from start to finish. I’m thankful they’re still able to do it after all the fucking bullshit their country has had to endure this year.

23. Everything Everything – Raw Data Feel


Sample track: Teletype

The opening track of this alone is enough to sell me if the rest doesn’t fall to pieces. It might be the most infectious banger I’ve heard all year. Jonathan Higgs’ vocal style is absolutely enchanting throughout and single-handedly carries half the tracks I’m otherwise neutral on to grand heights.

Make no mistake, pop is not my forte or something I naturally gravitate to. I hadn’t even heard Everything Everything before this album. A lot of these songs had me going “wow this is great in spite of”. It definitely feels like a bookended album, with the opener and closer distinctly exceeding the in between for me. But the enjoyment is authentic, if that makes any sense. It doesn’t leave me wanting more so much as occasionally consciously going wow I’m surprised I still like this.

When it came time to sort a year end list, I decided I like it quite a bit!

22. White Ward – False Light

progressive black metal

Sample track: Phoenix

I didn’t latch onto this album quite as much as a lot of people (I’ve been seeing it tossed around as album of the year outright), but my goodness does it have some stellar moments. A progressive black metal album packed with slow brooding saxophone and not averse to spoken sound clip samples, I honestly like it best at its most conventional. When these songs take off, they gooooo with precision and intensity and intricacy that makes the wait worth it every time. I sometimes wish I was a little more viscerally engaged with the in betweens, but they’re never dull or redundant.

21. Dinbethes – Balans

pagan metal

Sample track: Geboren

Sucker for amazing album covers that I am, I gave this an instant sample when it showed up as a new release on Bandcamp, and it wound up in my cart shortly after. Its mid-tempo blackened viking metal grooves hook me start to finish, and at 34 minutes, it’s a relatively easy listen that feeds my endless craving for the style and occasionally really pops off with something brilliant. The middle track Geboren in particular has a really cool sort of Middle Eastern vibe going on. Solo musician J. manages to make often neglected black metal bass relevant and uses some creative bending to forge epic moments. Geboren never gets too fancy for its own good and delivers its creativity in a controlled package. An admirable debut.

20. Entgeist – Res Gestae

progressive blackened death metal

Sample track: Verfall

Really nice all-arounder. Blackened death metal with progressive flares seems to be my bread and butter these days, and Entgeist stood out a lot for both their capacity to ship memorable riffs and their willingness to experiment around a fundamentally traditional core. I think the production’s a bit washed on the guitars and doesn’t always do justice to the full assault potential of the song-writing, but I love what they’re doing here and hope this album’s relative obscurity half a year after release doesn’t dissuade them from keeping it up.

19. Boris – Heavy Rocks 2022

heavy rock

Sample track: She Is Burning

Leave it to Boris to pop off a killer metal-leaning song with brass in the year when every band on the planet seems to be doing it. Heavy Rocks 2022 kicks off about as fabulous as any Boris album ever could, with She Is Burning firing full speed ahead in their most quintessential psychedelic punk sound while still managing to find yet another new flavor novelty. The album ranges pretty far from there in ways that only Boris would consider. It’s a smattering of most major leanings they’ve had over the years, written in the spirit of No with a flare for high energy consistent across the Heavy Rocks titles. It has no flow to speak of and seems like a randomly sorted Boris buffet, jumping from punk to jazz experimentation over an eclectic Nirvana-esque bass groove to drone to electronic-infused hardcore to a dire slow rolled piano and vocal outro with no regard for the listener’s sensibilities, and as far as I’m concerned that’s just part of their charm. The album literally ends mid note without explanation, a not-so-subtle hint that if you want the real deal you should go see them live.

And I did, for the fifth time, and it was just as good as always. 🙂

18. Esoctrilihum – Consecration of the Spiritüs Flesh

brutal black metal

Sample track: Thertrh

Sometimes I just want to smash things. Aurally debase everything around me and revel in ruin. Portal’s Avow filled that niche for me last year. This year, Esoctrilihum has been getting the job done. The album is so effectively destructive that I usually miss all the interesting things they do along the way. Once in a while my head snaps into place and goes wait there is a song here. I like it that way.

17. Moonlight Sorcery – Piercing Through the Frozen Eternity

melodic black metal

Sample track: Wolven Hour

Bombastic anthemic black metal in a constant state of hype that’s uniquely, for the genre at least, distinguished by some very creative drumming. It’s an excellent debut EP from a band with fairly little pedigree. I had a lot of fun listening to this and had to share. They followed it up with a second EP that I haven’t had a moment to check out yet, but hopes are high. I could see a master class full length coming from them a year or two down the road.

16. Liminal Dream – Mind

experimental metal, ambient

Sample track: Liminal Sight

I don’t think my love of Damián Antón Ojeda music is any secret these days. Liminal Dream is one of his lesser known projects, but this album is a wild ride. Throughout Mind, he uses a lot of electronic effects in fairly basic ways that don’t really need to be technically cutting edge to get the job done, because it’s all about creating a very unique atmosphere. As always, his music sounds like it was recorded under a rock at the bottom of a volcano inside a trench in the Pacific Ocean, and that melds uniquely with the programmed drumming, keyboard, and massively clipped samples he brings to the table here. In ways it stays true to his post-rock orientation as Sadness, but there’s less structural build-up to climax tradition. The songs tend to collapse into these mires of ambient and harsh noise that feel fresh and incredible to me.

15. Spire of Lazarus – Soaked in the Sands

progressive deathcore

Sample tracks: Soldier of Sand, Mask of the Wraith

Or more accurately, progressive djent chipslam deathcore uh something something this many notes should not be able to exist on an album. It’s pretty cheesy but compensates by going hard as hell at all times with almost no room to breathe.

I feel like I place a Mechina album most years for hitting the same nerdcore appeal on a significantly tamer level. Mechina’s 2022 release didn’t do much for me, but this album stuffed the void until it ruptured rainbow mucus all over my eardrums.

14. Sadness – Our Time is Here


Sample track: Late Spring True Love

Late Spring True Love is heartbreakingly gorgeous, and Sunset Girl is an admirable supplement to qualify this as an EP instead of a single. Its only flaw is being 11 minutes when I want a full album. Long known for his post-black metal projects that dabbled in pretty and fragile things, on Our Time is Here, Sadness drops the metal veneer entirely and embraces a purely shoegazed-out emo punk sound. It’s fabulous. I want to place it even higher; it’s just so short that it’s hard for me to see it as a complete package from an album standpoint. Late Spring True Love is my favorite song of 2022.

13. Blut Aus Nord – Disharmonium: Undreamable Abysses

atmospheric black metal

Sample track: The Apotheosis of the Unnamable

This album might be best summarized by its cover.

I was first turned on to Blut Aus Nord in 2011 with 777 Sect(s), and the sequence of albums from there through Memoria Vetusta III consistently enthralled me. They started to drift in a direction I struggled to connect with after that. I have very little memory of Deus Salutis Meæ or Hallucinogen, and I felt the latter underperformed their side project Yerûšelem that same year.

Damn what a return to… quality. I can’t say form for such an amorphous being. Blut Aus Nord’s core sound is unmistakable throughout their discography, but the directions they’ve applied it in vary significantly. This album is an astral swamp. A hellspace of swirling bile that resists the temptation to manifest into anything solid and just keeps on brooding for 46 intensely satisfying minutes. It’s been one of the most dominant background albums for me all year, recapturing that essence of profound untamed mystery I fell in love with them for a decade ago from a novel angle.

The progression of this album is so amazing too. I wouldn’t say it has any sort of linear flow, but each track just sounds better to me than the one before it. Whether that’s an objective quality or just a steady immersion, it ends when I am most prepared to let it play on forever. The replay value is endless.

12. Falls of Rauros – Key to a Vanishing Future

folk black metal

Sample track: Clarity

Falls of Rauros are up to six full length albums now, and I have somehow managed to accumulate all of them without actually listening to anything since Hail Wind and Hewn Oak back in 2008. I don’t know if the timing didn’t align with my mood or what, but I ended up going into this album with an essentially blank slate, and I was really taken aback by how pretty it is. I don’t even mean in the sense that they write scenic melodies. I mean, if you took out the harsh guttural screaming, this could be one of those easy listening albums. Adult contemporary. Or something like that. …

Really, this album is so chill. Falls of Rauros have a reputation for writing beautiful music, but a quick skim leads me to think they went further here, forcibly reducing the harshness of their tones to better match their picturesque melodies. I don’t know how they manage to make a black metal-rooted sound so damn agreeable. Country grim frostbitten wintermoons, take me home.

11. black midi – Hellfire

experimental progressive math rock

Sample track: Welcome to Hell

Ok, I confess, for a few years there I thought that the meme synth billion note experimentation scene was just really popular. This is the first year I dove into black midi the band, so my perspective is lacking previous albums that I’ve been told are just as good if not better.

Oh well.

Whatever the hell is going on through this 40 minute clusterfuck of sound, Geordie Greep’s unique vocal performance and theatrical lyrics give it the air of an exhibition, like each track is the next display in some freak show. It’s that consistency that makes it not just a great collection of songs but a great album for me, and it carries the least enticing moments (I could live without Still) through as part of a bigger picture. I enjoy it best as a full ride from start to finish.

I had 11 top 10 albums this year. Sometimes that’s just the way it goes. Something had to get the chop, and ultimately I want metal more.

10. Boris – fade


Sample track: 終章 a bao a qu -無限回廊-

Holy crap what a treat. When Heavy Rocks 2022 was announced in July I predicted there would be a third full length this year. W screamed Wata to me. Heavy Rocks was the Atsuo project. Takeshi would get his turn leading the pack. I have no idea if that’s how it actually works in the studio for them, but here we are. It’s early to be judging this, I know. A December 2nd release doesn’t allow for much processing time. But I’ll venture to say this is the best drone project they’ve dropped since Altar with Sunn O))) in 2006.

This sounds so good aaaaaaaa the first track has these very faintly mixed shrieking siren guitars in the background that remind me of what Wata did far more prominently on Intro from Akuma No Uta. Every track has something fuzzing and echoing and wailing behind the crushing wall of doom guitar just out of reach, always beckoning. The whole album is beautiful and I’m so happy Boris went this route. I want to say this is my favorite thing they’ve released since at least Dear (I think Dear was great and its poor reception was mostly due to the newest fanbase expecting something different, but I digress), and it’s only going to get better over time.

9. Kostnatění – Oheň hoří tam, kde padl

avant-garde folk black metal

Sample track: Çay benim çeşme benim

A massive wall of frantic chaos to primitive melodies that don’t conjure any sense of a modern folk connection. This EP’s assault is more like a mass slaughter ritual in an antiquity that achieved dystopia before they even invented musical notation. I’m never quite sure what is happening instrumentally here, but I’m pretty sure a blood moon just collapsed into the Pyramid of Giza and the wrath of Anubis is about to rupture forth from my rib cage.

Holy crap I just realized pulling a youtube sample link for this that the entire EP is a. Turkish folk. cover album. My mind is completely blown.

8. Immolation – Acts of God

death metal

<a href=" album. My mind is completely blown.

Sample track: An Act of God

I consistently slept on Immolation for years before this album dropped, but something in that album cover spoke to me enough to check it out, and damn. This is so punchy from start to finish. It captures an older school death metal ethos of never holding back on the pummel, but it gets it done with modern expectations of (actual) production quality that I can enjoy without a lingering craving for more. It’s managed to stay on rotation for 10 months now without feeling stale, and the title track is absolutely one of my favorite songs of the year.

7. Fortress of the Pearl – The Grove

piano and black metal bliss

Sample track: At the Center Of It All, I Fear Of What’s Outside

Ayloss did that thing he seems to do at least once every other year where he puts out the new best Ayloss project I have ever heard holy crap this is euphoric. Start with his sound on Mystras and layer it with gorgeous piano and dulcimer and ride this into oblivion. I’m speechless listening to it. I wish I had found it sooner–had had more time to listen it next to III and Castles Conquered and Reclaimed and Ετερόφωτος and get a real feel for where it ranks for me in the canon of one of my all-time favorite artists. I discovered it when I started making this list, and this is not a year in which I can rocket something up to seventh place lightly. But here it is, already, and it is sure to dominate my January playlist.

6. Hath – All That Was Promised

blackened death metal

Sample track: Decollation

The first thing I look for in new music is a feel. The what they’re doing to accomplish it, that comes later if they’ve acquired my interest. Maybe that’s why the further back in time I go, the more I tend to shrug off death metal projects and lean ever more on black metal. Death metal bands of late have been growing tremendously proficient at shipping an atmosphere I can instantly connect with, and there’s just so many more interesting things going on to engage my brain along the way. Hath’s new album clicks for me like Ulcerate. I want to drown in its overarching encompassing void. The songs get to assault me with their depth and character from that sweet spot, not on the outside looking in.

5. Scarcity – Aveilut

post-black metal

Sample track: II

A nearly 8 minute intro track can seem like a tall order, but it sunk in pretty quick that Aveilut is not meant to be experienced as a collection of songs. It plods forward in perpetual moody motion, painting a sequence of grim, hostile landscapes like stages in a video game or circles of hell. The pacing is perfect. I builds up huge anticipation and then II instantly delivers with a pulse driven by some merciless freight train tone I can’t identify but fell madly in love with on first encounter.

The album refuses to break from the forward motion established in I, introducing more and more sinister elements to the journey that express themselves as layers over the rhythm rather than significant changes in the structure. The percussion evaporates in IV, but by then the album has already conditioned me to feel motion, and the airy post-rock guitar tones maintain a sense of vast open space. The landscape is just bleak and desolate now, a droned out hellscape occupied by a singular menacing mass represented by the most effective growling I have heard on a drone track in a while. V is the least like the others: a conflicting mood–a scramble of finality and triumph and hopelessness–a hollow victory to conclude an intensely dark and visceral musical journey.

4. Swampborn – Beyond Ratio

progressive black metal

Sample tracks: Sleepingstatic, Transitions

This album feels like it’s going to be generic metal for about one minute before blitzing out the first of countless killer riffs. Maybe the discordant ear-piercing tremolo at 1:45 or the industrial funk solo and subtly mixed choir at 3:50 first clued me in that the ride would be far reaching. But by the end of my first spin through opening track Entropie, I was definitely aware that I was listening to something special. How far it would go, how much it would do, that’s something I’m still soaking in dozens of plays later.

There’s an Eastern European black metal centerpoint to a lot of it that I could see feeling like a drag at times if that’s very not your thing. That sound is one of the most satisfying mood trends in music to my ears, so I’m in for the long haul. I have no pressing desire to pay attention because I’m already content with it in the background, but there’s soooo much going on. These songs have so many key moments and tight transitions and short-lived catchy melodies (the brass passage on Muscarum has been stuck in my head for months), I discover something new every time I put it on. It’s hard to pick a sample track because each song is such a unique, self-contained package.

It’s a real shame this has been slept on. I did find out that about half of the album is rerecordings of demos they released eight years ago, so maybe that’s a factor? But it just leaves me more impressed because it means they were using brass and sax in black metal before it was cool. Go experience this and tell me if I’m crazy to call it a strong album of the year contender.

3. Ashenspire – Hostile Architecture

avant-garde metal

Sample track: Tragic Heroin

I’ve made so many bad decisions creating these lists over the years that when I went to do a 20 year anniversary review in 2021 it was so cringe I couldn’t motivate myself to write about it. 2015 was a respectable year for me, relatively speaking, but placing A Forest of Stars’ Beware the Sword You Cannot See seventh was an atrocity. This album feels like its spiritual sequel, both in style and in quality.

If you are familiar with Beware the Sword You Cannot See, that might come off as a pretty absurd statement. It was an incredibly unique work. But here we are, rambling furious spoken operatic Brit over violin and sax-driven melodies that meander between Pink Floyd-esque dreams and frantic blast beat explosions with the tangled strings of prog chaos tying them together.

I couldn’t bring myself to bump this album up to first place, but I’m fairly confident it’s the one I’ll still be listening to the most four years down the road.

(I just realized this was my 666th Bandcamp purchase and now take full credit for it being an outstanding metal album.)

2. Black Country, New Road – Ants From Up Here

indie/post-rock. post-indie rock? not indie post-rock

Sample track: Basketball Shoes

As far as I can tell this has been the most hyped album of 2022 all year, so I don’t know that it needs much of an introduction, but I can confirm that it’s pretty damn brilliant. Beautiful, diverse orchestration accenting fragile, compellingly personal vocals. The songs often progress like post-rock anthems, but the getting there is arguably even more rewarding than the payout. I went back and sampled their previous album and couldn’t care less about it, so I’m pretty sure my disconnect from the modern indie scene isn’t swaying my opinion here. (Besides, I was a rabid indie consumer for the better part of a decade.) Bread Song aside, which uniquely irritates me for being so boring in the midst of so many gripping cuts, this album is in fact all it’s hyped up to be.

1. Chat Pile – God’s Country

sludge, nu metal

Sample track: Slaughterhouse

Echoing drums and a blood-curdling scream of hammers and grease set an immediately devastating stage on God’s Country. Rhythmically keen, crushing guitar wades through a miasma of shit and ruin to Raygun Busch’s barely coherent shrieks, briefly yielding to introduce his unnervingly fragile spoken vocal style before launching sky high in a shoegaze guitar siren accompanied by desperate shouts of if we could fly away now; if we could only fly away.

And all the blood All the blood And the fuckin sound, man You never forget their eyes Everyone’s head rings here Everyone’s head rings here And there’s no escape There’s no motherfucking exit Hammers and grease Pounding Pounding And the sad eyes, goddamnit And the screaming More screaming than you’d think There’s more screaming than you’d think Everyone’s head rings here Everyone’s head rings here

The genius of God’s Country is in never losing intimate accessibility through descents into brutality. Instrumentally, the album is sludged out nu metal at its core, but the feel shares very little in common with the genre’s tendency for ham-fisted mediocrity. The downtuned grooves are delivered with an introspective sensibility that reminds me more of Tool and Nirvana and Steve Albini than anything within the sphere of the actual style they’re orbiting. There are endless subtleties that make every moment feel like unique, un-interchangeable components in the musical narrative.

Raygun Busch puts the crown on the whole thing with a lyrical and vocal performance that’s easier to think of as voice acting than singing. He is constantly addressing both the listener and the subject nightmares assaulting him in a spoken first-person string of consciousness that blurs lines between the narrative fiction (or in some cases uncomfortable reality) and a direct conversation. Have you ever had ringworm? The closing track depicts a drug-induced psychotic breakdown so vivid that it’s hard to imagine he isn’t actually having one in the studio.

God’s Country has some of the best lyrical delivery I have ever heard, and the musical backdrop for Raygun’s performance is an intricately woven journey resurrecting and successfully blending tons of 80s and 90s innovations into a completely fresh sound. Easy album of the year choice.