JONATHAN “DOC” SWANK: Top Releases 2022

Amazing Year for Metal

2022 was a phenomenal year for rock and metal. Therefore, I thought it would be appropriate to publish a few “top” lists to highlight the “highlights” and in doing so revisit and recognize some of these amazing offerings. While I can only scratch the surface every year – so much to keep up with – I was able to “listen” to a lot more material this year than in either 2020 or 2021.

The first list would be the most relevant to most of our readers and for lack of a more creative title will call this the Heaven’s Metal Top 15 for 2022. This list will of course include all the “Christian” releases and those from artists I consider highly spiritually relevant. The second list consists of “all of the rest.”

In full transparency, I don’t really like distinguishing one group of artists from the other, but I also acknowledge that the Heaven’s Metal Magazine mission is primarily to support artists from the Christian faith – there being so many other zines and websites out there in cyberspace dedicated to covering everything else.

Finally, there is, in general, value in having a reference point for the quality and credibility of music. In recent years I’ve somewhat eschewed rating systems, partly because they tend to be like “grades,” and I think over time as a reviewer of music I’ve just realized words are better tools than numbers in evaluating/assessing the quality and value of the artists and their music.

All that said, I have chosen to include my individual ratings for the releases listed in these lists – partly just for fun and partly because I hope the “numbers” serve to emphasize the principle that whether your music is from this walk of life or another, its value lies in its ability – through competent and creative execution – to move the soul! Enjoy.

Happy New Year!

[Note: I’ve tried to stick to new releases only so I know some may question the inclusion of Deliverance – Redux in that regard. However, given how different this was from the original – and the fact that the version originally released was incomplete on many levels – I felt it belonged on this list. I have also provided links where available to reviews from our karew]

Doc’s Heaven’s Metal Magazine Top 15 releases for 2022

1. Threshold – Dividing Lines (9.75)

Exceptional on every level. Blissful melodies, driving rhythms, intricate compositions and absolutely “spot-on” words for our times.

2. Demon Hunter – Exile (9.75)

Basically, a tie for first with Threshold in many ways, Exile – especially the Deluxe version – represents one of the most creative and flawlessly executed concept albums of my lifetime, and all with that Demon Hunter metal twist.

3. Becoming the Archetype – Children of the Great Extinction (9.5)

Amazing comeback album from this much beloved progressive death metal band.

4. Thee Final Chaptre – So Let It Be Done (9.5)

This album was a total surprise for me. Although it revamps some of their original early ‘90’s material, the end result of this venture is pure metal bliss.

5. Reign of Glory – All Will Bow (9.25)

Melodic metal just doesn’t get much better. Like Whitesnake with clean lyrics!

6. Celldweller – Satellites (9.25)

Klayton is well-known for his creative electronic rock and cinematic compositions which rarely fail to amaze. Satellites represents the heaviest release since those early Circle of Dust albums, but equally (and maybe more importantly) its his most spiritually relevant lyrical output in the past 20 years.

7. All for the King – Let There Be Light (9)

I hate to call it praise and worship, but this is the best, most rocking praise and worship album I’ve heard in a long time!

8. Saint – Heaven Fell (9)

Incredibly strong album from these veterans.

9. Fear Not – Fields of Sorrow (9)

This band perfectly reinvented themselves and although the EP hinted at what they could accomplish, this release is breathtaking on so many levels.

10. The Brave – Gravedigger (9)

Two releases in a row of melodic rock bliss, The Brave are one of the most enjoyable comeback surprises right up there with Fear Not. (Review forthcoming)

11. Flood – Polarized (9)

Another surprise album. A total rebranding of the other half of original Tourniquet – Polarized is a diamond in the rough.

12. Malchus – Heritage (9)

Maybe not quite fair to be on this list since this is technically not a 2022 release, but it was never recorded previously with lyrics in English. Heritage is such a diverse, lyrically rich and amazing album that I just couldn’t exclude it from this list!

13. Deliverance – Camelot in Smithereens Redux (9)

Too much new here to not include. Camelot the way it was intended to sound and script. Bravo, Jimmy, for toughing this one out and finishing the race!

14. Seventh Servant – The Tree of Life (8.75)

Revelational power metal juggernaut!

15. Stryper – The Final Battle (8.5)

What more can be said about these guys than hasn’t already been said! Hopefully not the final act.

Doc’s “Other” Top Releases 2022

1. Threshold – Dividing Lines (9.75)

Here it is again … oh, well, what can I say, they deserve the accolades!

2. Michael Romeo – War of the Worlds Part II (9.75)

Part I was released in 2018 to rave reviews, but in heroic fashion the main man behind Symphony X managed to top that release with the sequel to his sci-fi “geek-metal” cinematic extravaganza.

3. Megadeth – The Sick, The Dying … and the Dead (9.5)

Dave Mustaine exceeds expectations (given recent personal health issues) and puts forth one of his best efforts since Countdown to Extinction.

4. Queensryche – Digital Noise Alliance (9.25)

A much more cohesive and compositionally impressive release this time around, it sounds like they’ve arrived at a destination musically – the best of the La Torre era, IMO.

5. Porcupine Tree – Closure/Continuation (9.25)

In some ways, the final chapter of the band’s career, never previously released … or a new beginning? While Steven Wilson has been hugely successful with his solo artist career over the past decade, one can only hope – these guys had an amazing run and this recording captures the essence of that chemistry in grand fashion.

6. Avantasia – A Paranormal Evening with The Moonflower Society (9.25)

Tobias Sammet’s solo career has been a bit of an enigma, yet somehow, he keeps finding these amazing singers and keeps crafting quality melodic rock/power metal.

7. Stratovarius – Survive (9.25)

Reference level power metal, Euro-style. Yep, despite all the line-up changes over the past decade or so, they’ve still got it!

8. Blind Guardian – The God Machine (9.25)

One of the most meticulously complex and disciplined power metal bands on the planet shreds it up in unorthodox (non-concept) song-oriented manner.

9. Mariuz Duda – Lockdown Trilogy (9.25)

Duda is the singer/songwriter/bassist for Poland’s progressive rock/metal act Riverside. Different from his other solo entity (Lunatic Soul), Lockdown is a 3-part “retro-electronic” musical perspective on living during the recent pandemic.

10. All Things Fallen – Shadow Way (9)

Many may not be aware of Markus Sigfridsson’s (Harmony/Darkwater) side project. Shadow Way is the second album under this moniker and it’s excellent.

11. Evergrey – A Heartless Portrait – The Orphean Testament (9)

Sweden’s dark melodic progressive masters, led by Tom Englund, show no signs of slowing.

12. Seventh Wonder – The Testament (9)

Tommy Karevik (also of Kamelot) and company continue to deliver high quality power prog with tons of melody.

13. Star One – Revel in Time (9)

Arjen Lucassen (Ayreon/Star One/Guilt Machine/Gentle Storm) is one of my favorite artists of all time. Not only does the guy have an amazing imagination, he puts together these epic releases filled with tons of talented musicians and vocalists. Revel in Time is the 3rd Star One release and features heavy guitars, sci-fi movie-based lyrics and some of the most amazing vocal talent in the world.

14. Zero Hour – Agenda 21 (8.75)

In 2008 I interviewed guitarist/songwriter Jasun Tipton for a Heaven’s Metal “What So and So Says” feature in the wake of the band’s Dark Deceiver album. Agenda 21 – rife with more pseudo-utopian sci-fi technical progressive metal – their first release since that time – represents another astounding comeback release for 2022.

15. James LaBrie – Beautiful Shade of Grey (8.75)

The iconic vocalist for Dream Theater delivered his 4th – and more laid-back – solo album full of surprisingly accessible anthems.

[Final Note: I would be remiss if I didn’t comment on the sheer volume of reissues in 2022. Leading these efforts, Roxx Records, Retroactive/Brutal Planet/Bombworks Records and Girder Records have continued to crank out beautiful and high-quality sounding reissues this year at a frenetic pace. While its beyond the scope of this piece to feature these releases (it would take me a month to chronicle them all) praise should be given for their efforts to restore, preserve and enhance the music of yesteryear. Thank you!]

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