Hello and welcome

This is The List 2022. It is the latest iteration of the traditional annual rundown of my 20 favourite albums of the year (this is instalment #23, cause I am super old). All very simple: to qualify, a record needs to have been recorded in the studio, be a full length album, and have been released in the relevant year. 

Hope you enjoy!

20 - GAUPA - Myriad

We start with the answer to the question ‘what if Björk fronted a progressive stoner rock band?’. A late entry, the second record by Sweden’s GAUPA is still growing in my estimation. At times Myriad leans towards the more traditional end of stoner rock, like on the infectious ‘RA’, which has a rolling riff right out of the Kyuss playbook (stoner rock royalty!), but there also are much more intricate riffs on offer (see, e.g., ‘Mammon’). Indeed, this record is mostly concerned with pushing the genre. Take ‘Moloken’, which mixes stoner with something approaching lounge jazz to excellent effect, or ‘Sömnen’ – sung in Swedish – which is playing around with acoustic folk, and is haunting. As mentioned, Emma Näslund sounds an awful lot like everyone’s favourite Icelandic experimentalist pixie. Again, see ‘Mammon’ as a notable example. How much that is just a Scandinavian singing style, a coincidence, or a choice is hard to know, but the fact that Björk is repeatedly called to mind certainly adds to the sense of adventure here for me. More generally, the appeal of Myriad is that GAUPA are trying new things in a genre that I love but that has a tendency towards repetition.

19 - Bob Vylan - Bob Vylan Presents the Price of Life

Next up is the second record by London-based duo Bob Vylan. Incorporating a wide range of genres – hip-hop, punk, grime, rave, and reggae (basically, you name it) – this is accomplished stuff. Whichever genres are being deployed at any particular point, though, The Price of Life is always thematically coherent. The music might shift all over the map, but the lyrics are laser focused on the evils of financial inequality, racism, and ingrained privilege in modern Britain. It’s a call to arms and no quarter is given. The lyrical content here is both incendiary and poignant, and the quality of the writing in that regard never dips. Highlights include the reggae laced ode to healthy eating, ‘Health is Wealth’, anti-data mining protest song ‘Phone Tap’ and, best of all, the tone-perfect jab at liberal media that is ‘GDP’ (‘The BBC are talkin’ about the GDP / That means f*ck all to me / I gotta eat’). Come for the wicked breakbeat/riff mix; stay for the social commentary.

18 - TAPE TOY - Honey, WTF

Given that it was released on 6 January, the debut record from Amsterdam’s Tape Toy gets major longevity points. I’m still playing it more than 11 months later, which – in a year where Spotify tells me I listened to 830 artists – is no small thing. That said, Honey, WTF probably was my album of the year throughout the first quarter of 2022, so a placing of 18 means it has faded a bit since. Tape Toy have called themselves ‘bubble-gum grunge’ in interviews, which is both accurate and a little pretentious. Ultimately, this is an excellent indie rock record. Honey, WTF is full of catchy tunes, and has a fresh bouncy feel. However, it also does sometimes veer into something a little scuzzier (see, e.g., the verse on ‘Phone Call’; all of ‘Hold On’). The likes of ‘Crushed’ and ‘Lizzie’ even recall Momma’s post-grunge racket. Mostly, though, this trends to the poppier side. If there’s a weakness, it’s the lyrics, which are a bit dodgy: they too often come over like rote teenage angst. But this is a young band on album 1, so that can be forgiven. Overall, this is fun and catchy – I adored it for a hot minute at the start of 2022, and it has enough about it that even after that initial flush, it has managed to stick around all year long.

17 - BLACK MAP - Melodoria

The third record by hard rock supergroup Black Map exudes quality. The writing is consistently excellent throughout, the playing is as tight as it gets and it’s all expertly produced, mixed and packaged. There are riffs aplenty, soaring choruses and mellow detours in all the right places. The twist here is me getting into the work of a ‘supergroup’ when I have no knowledge of any of the bands that the constituent members were in originally: Far, Dredg, and Trophy Fire all passed me by. Backtracking to them a little, the post-hardcore and prog of the members’ earlier stuff certainly makes sense as a backdrop to Melodoria, but this is much more mainstream territory. Highly Suspect are a comparator (which scans, given they’ve toured with Black Map), as are Red Light Company. Melodoria has been a go to for me this year when I have needed a bit of a soul lift, cause every song raises the spirits and is uber-produced to just glide into the ear. The flip of all that is that it isn’t exactly a ground-breaking record, and I’m unsure what longevity it’ll have as a result. ‘Supergroup’ might, therefore, be overselling things a bit, but this is fun mainstream rock.

16 - SWEET PILL - Where the Heart Is

A mix of power pop, emo and smatterings of post-hardcore, this is an excellent debut record. Where the Heart Is benefits from both being catchy – hum those choruses – and inventive (the time signature of the riff on ‘Dog Song’, for example, is… unusual). Sweet Pill have quite a distinct sound, with the dualling picked ‘mathy’ phrases of their two guitarists acting as the main focus of most tracks. The closest I can think of is early Foals, who also had a similar trick in their arsenal. Zanya Yousseff’s vocals remind me a bit of Hayley Williams from Paramore, albeit that the comparison between the two bands doesn’t go much beyond that. Admittedly, as with a lot of emo, the lyrics are sometimes a little bit too, well, emo for me, but that’s a hazard of listening to this genre. A stellar live album released late in the year, which showed off just how well they can replicate these tracks on stage, helped to cement a place for Where the Heart Is on The List. As debut albums go it’s pretty impressive.

15 - SUNFLOWER BEAN - Headful of Sugar

Sunflower Bean’s fantastic indie rock debut, Human Ceremony, came second on this List in 2016 and still is in occasional rotation for me 6 years on. In contrast, 2018’s disappointing follow up, Twentytwo in Blue, didn’t come anywhere near a List placing: it was all polish and had none of the heart of its predecessor. Album #3 could, therefore, have gone either way. Happily, it’s much closer to their debut in terms of quality, if quite a departure from it sonically. A lot has happened to Sunflower Bean in the last 5 years, with drummer Olive Faber transitioning under a good deal of public scrutiny and singer/bassist Julia Cummings launching a whole other career in fashion and modelling. And, you know, pandemic. Perhaps it’s unsurprising, then, that Headful of Sugar feels like something of a new start. Venturing into synth pop and disco, while also rediscovering the fuzzy guitar hooks that graced Human Ceremony, this is more varied than anything they’ve done before. It’s not as focused as their early stuff but gets points for not always playing it safe. This record is a massive step in the right direction after a ropey sophomore effort, albeit that it still falls short of the high watermark of their debut.

14 - 40 WATT SUN - Perfect Light

The work of Patrick Walker operating under his 40 Watt Sun moniker is characterised by minimalism: this is largely acoustic, sparsely arranged and down-tempo mood folk. It probably makes the most sense in the context of Walker’s previous life as a member of now defunct doom metallers Warning. 40 Watt Sun’s sound draws on the same structures as doom/sludge metal – this is folk through the metal lens (or vice versa?), mostly made on acoustic guitar and piano. Perfect Light is album #2 for 40 Watt Sun, and it’s even more stripped down than its predecessor. Walker has honed his new formula, and he injects these musically sparse (but long) tracks with raw emotion – which really is the point. That fact means you do have to be in the mood, because this record is often quite miserable. Take the first line of post-rock influenced ‘The Spaces in Between’: ‘The hardest single time that we fell upon / Overcame us like a god’. The emotion feels genuine, though, and the minimalist sound provides a perfect backdrop to the weighty sadness of the lyrics and vocal style. I have listened to this a huge amount since it came out way back in January – like Tape Toy, demonstrating impressive staying power – but in Perfect Light’s case only in patches, because it brings with it some darkness.

13 - THE MYSTERINES - Reeling

The debut by Liverpool’s The Mysterines is a grungy rock delight. Built on consistent song-writing (this is a record that doesn’t dip), there is confidence and swagger here that is infectious. Reeling is full of scuzzy riffs and rousing choruses, like on thundering opener ‘Life’s a Bitch (But I Like it so Much)’ or the aptly named ‘In My Head’ (it’s an earworm alright). Even its softer moments – like the bash-ballad of the title track – pack a punch. Lyrically, there’s some great stuff too, with a power-over-patriarchy message that eschews victimhood. On ‘Hung Up’, for example, Lia Metcalfe announces ‘My words like bullets through your heart / But I will keep on trying / Cause I like to watch you dying.’ While ‘Means to Bleed’ is a feminist call to arms. Metcalfe isn’t messing around. She leads her band gleefully as they charge into next year’s festival circuit, which is just begging for big, bold post-millennial rock like this. Reeling is great – just the right mix of catchy and punchy. It’s another impressive debut album from a band to watch.

12 - WET LEG - Wet Leg

Another debut, and rare album that (largely) lives up to the hype, Wet Leg is a great indie pop-rock record full of catchy tunes and playful, tongue-in-cheek lyrics. An exercise in both having and eating one’s cake, Wet Leg make fun of hipster cool while embodying it (a trick the Arctic Monkeys pulled off notably too, a good decade and a half ago now). Musically, Wet Leg remind me a bit of The Breeders or early Sleater-Kinney, albeit with a slightly softer edge. The glowing reviews, repeated ‘sound of 2022’ labels and the general over-exposure had me primed to dislike this record from the start, but when it came out I found I enjoyed every track, and it has stayed in rotation well beyond my expectations. The pre-release singles like ‘Chaise Longue’ and ‘Wet Dream’ – for all their silliness – remain lodged in the head a number of months on. But it’s the more ambitious tracks that elevate this above the pack: take the dreamy ‘Loving You’ (I hear echoes of the wonderful Palehound here), or the stomping ‘Oh No’. Quite what longevity this album will have for me, or what Wet Leg can muster for album #2, who knows. They are, very deliberately, throwaway in their message and presentation. In any event, as I write, this actually has ended up being (a) sound of 2022.

11 - CHARLEY NO FACE - Eleven Thousand Volts

The second full-length record from this strange, little known band from Portland, Oregon is an inconsistent delight. At its best, it’s top 5 material, but it has some dips (e.g., take the incessant cowbell on ‘Flat Circle’ – unwise) which have meant that it’s ended up mid-table. Playing around with fuzz-grunge, psychedelia, stoner rock and prog, Charley No Face are on a trip. And they seem not to care all that much whether you want to come with them. Take the largely instrumental 9-minute closer, ‘Death Mask’, which makes no concession to palatability: a swirling, bass-driven epic that’s as rudderless as it is fun. ‘Satan’s Hand’ is another long one – clocking in at over 7 minutes – and the first 2 of those are just scene setting, before things come on all lethargic Black Sabbath. Opener ‘Eyes’ is my favourite here, a track built on an odd drum lick but propelled by a drawling riff that sounds like Soundgarden slowed to quarter speed. Charley No Face are the sort of band that pre-internet would have struggled to get a record deal but would have had a small band of adoring fans in their home town; now they can reach across the globe. Unapologetically weird, and, admittedly, with some bits that don’t really work, there are nonetheless gems aplenty to be found on Eleven Thousand Volts.


Most years a little post-rock makes it onto my List somewhere. And there were some excellent post-rock records in 2022 that didn’t quit make the cut – shout out to long-listers The Glass Pavilion (x2, as both 2022 releases were close), and Secret Gardens (which is 70% a fantastic record but has a real dip in quality in the middle). The standout post-rock record for me this year, though, is this effort from And So I Watch You from Afar. They’re a band who have been around for almost 2 decades, and for much of their existence they’ve made post-rock on the heavier, mathy side, with pounding drums, odd time signatures and a bunch of riffs. All that previous work is good, but not so good that And So I Watch You from Afar have ever troubled my List before. Jettison is a much mellower effort, full of large open spaces, string accompaniment and gentle, plucked guitar. It’s a largely instrumental record, albeit with a few spoken samples that introduce some themes along the way. There are occasional nods to the math rock of their past, like on ‘III Lung’, but they’re rare. Conceived as a single piece (to the point that the record is available as a selection of tracks but also as a single track), this is a real album, and one to wallow in. Like all the best post-rock it grows and envelops. This change of pace and focus has turned And So I Watch You from Afar from excellent to essential.

9 - THE BETHS - Expert in a Dying Field

I liked both of the first 2 records by The Beths, but neither were especially close to a List placing. Expert in a Dying Field is therefore definitely their breakthrough album for me. The formula isn’t all that much different, but The Beths have raised the quality bar here, with a consistency that wasn’t present on their previous records. It’s also the case that their trademark sugary pop-rock has more edge on album #3, with some chunkier riffs and a guitar sound that sometimes veers from their usual fuzzy to scuzzy. My favourite track on the record, ‘A Passing Rain’, highlights this well, starting all saccharine before building to the sort of powerchord guitar riff that wouldn’t be amiss on Bush’s 90s classic Sixteen Stone. Elsewhere, ‘When You Know You Know’ is a sunnier sing-along, which reminds me of Taylor Swift at her most indie; while ‘Silence is Golden’ unfurls unexpectedly with something approaching a prog-metal structure (if not sound). There are plenty of open-heart surgery lyrics throughout, exploring loss from various angles. Ultimately, this is another step up from a band that already was making impressive strides.

8 - METRONOMY - Small World

Metronomy have been one of my favourite bands of the last decade, and that’s reflected in the fact that Small World is the fourth of their records to make my List since 2011. It’s also probably their best work since Love Letters topped this countdown back in 2014. There’s a mix of moods on show on Small World, but it’s fairly clear that most of them have their roots in the experience of the pandemic. The record begins with the mournful ‘Life and Death’, which is full of existential angst (‘It was fun / What I did / Got a job / Had some kids / See you in the abyss’). But then this dour (albeit excellent) start quickly gives way to radio-baiting earworm, ‘Things Will be Fine’, which – as its title suggests – is uplifting lyrically as well as musically. We’re moving forward. Next up is ‘It’s Good to be Back’, which is effectively about the miracle of vaccination and the rebirth of live music, all set to a synth-dance groove that will stay with you. Later on, ‘I Lost My Mind’ is a reflective acoustic summation of life in lockdown, while (best on show) ‘Hold Me Tonight’ returns us to the upswing. This is Metronomy’s most varied record musically but also their most focused thematically. It doesn’t quite reach the heights of The English Riviera or Love Letters for me, but it isn’t all that far short.

7 - CLUTCH - Sunrise on Slaughter Beach

I first came across Clutch when they supported Therapy? at the Oxford Zodiac (now the Oxford O2) in 1999, so they’ve been in my life for a while now. The inclusion of Sunrise on Slaughter Beach here means that the last 6 Clutch records have all made this List. One of those – Earth Rocker – has grown into one of my favourite records of all time; I still play it at least 10 times a year. Even leaving aside that high watermark, though, a Clutch record is always likely to place: they just know how to rock me up in the right way. So, it’s perhaps interesting that I initially was very disappointed with Sunrise on Slaughter Beach. It felt off the pace compared to their usual quality, and I nearly gave up on it. I’m very glad I didn’t, cause it has ended up placing higher than any previous Clutch album. Even Earth Rocker only managed a modest 9th place in 2013 (albeit that it has never stopped growing in my estimation since). Sunrise on Slaughter Beach is probably now my second favourite Clutch record, although it’s hard to put my finger on exactly why. As usual, there are not huge surprises here – blues infused stoner rock is the name of the game. Clutch do Clutch. But there is something more anthemic about a number of the tracks, especially the likes of ‘Mercy Brown’ and ‘Skeletons on Mars’, which just sound bigger than the band have done in the past. This record isn’t likely to change anyone’s world, but it features some of the best riff-driven blues rock that you’re likely to come across.

6 - FRESH - Raise Hell

Raise Hell is the third record by London-based punk-emo band Fresh but it has been my introduction to them. It’s a great record, which uses pace extremely well, shifting from mid-tempo to upbeat and back as the tracks ebb and flow. It’s also a sunny record, at least musically, evoking summer nights and festival days. Catchy and poppy at times, but with a raw edge too, Fresh mix it up. There are elements here that remind me of other bands that have featured on this List: specifically, both The Beths and Tape Toy. When I recommended this album to a friend, he said that it sounded like Pretty Girls Make Graves: a reference that was lost on me initially but after investigation is indeed another good comparator. Fresh have a traditional punk DYI ethic – a quick glance at their tour schedule makes it clear that they play lots of shows – and that is reflected in the music too, albeit in some unexpected ways. One example of that is the use of synth, which is rare for a punk band and is peppered throughout Raise Hell; more than that, though, they serve up an unusually unvarnished synth sound. At times it comes over almost like weird 8-bit ditties over the top of grungy guitars. Different and memorable. Lyrically, like Sweet Pill, some of the writing is a bit too emo for me (‘I was never your girlfriend / I don’t deserve that affection’ – jeez). But, as already noted, it’s probably unfair to listen to emo bands and then complain that they’re too emo. Anyway, all the boo-hooing hasn’t stopped this album from getting within a hair’s breadth of the top 5. The high placing is largely due to just how downright listenable these songs are, and the fact that there are no weak links: every track shines.

5 - SORRY - Anywhere But Here

After a 6th place finish in 2020 with their stellar debut, slacker indie pioneers Sorry go one better with an even stronger sophomore record. There might not be anything quite as instant as ‘Starstruck’ or ‘Right Around the Clock’ here, but there’s greater depth and consistency throughout. Sorry are growing as song-writers. It’s probably telling that, when my ‘Spotify wrapped’ stats appeared, Sorry came out as my 2nd most played artist of 2022 (1st was the artist that tops this List, and 3rd was Nirvana…). Sorry placed second because alongside this excellent album I’ve also continued to play their debut regularly, as well as their curio EP from last year. Anywhere But Here is the best of those 3 releases: it ups the game by broadening its influences. Lament to lost love ‘Key to the City’ is a trip-hop track in disguise, especially in its last third; ‘Baltimore’ mixes the spikey indie of the 2000s with post-rock; album-closer ‘Again’ is a synth driven prog-indie delight. And the lyrics are uniformly excellent again too. Take the exploration of the mind of a gambling addict that is ‘Quit While You’re Ahead’ (‘Quit while you’re ahead / How can I when I’ve got winning combinations in my head?’). A fantastic live show in Bristol on Halloween certainly helped cement my love of this record, but it was already well established. Sorry have released two albums and an EP since the start of 2020, and I’ve loved them all: meaning that they surely are early contenders to be one of the bands of the decade for me.

4 - MY KID BROTHER - Happy.Mad.Weird.Sad

I discovered Leesburg, Virginia’s My Kid Brother in a slightly odd way: I was reading a discussion thread about exciting emerging metal bands, hoping to truffle out some new noise. Someone had listed My Kid Brother as a metal band to watch, in a post that was followed by lots of angry replies about how they are not at all metal. Which is true, they’re an indie band. The video to the wonderful ‘Spilt Salt’ parodies metal videos, though – and does so really well – so I’m assuming the post author saw that and got confused. I’m glad they did (sorry loads of people yelled at you, dude), because My Kid Brother are notably better than any of the actual metal bands that were mentioned on the thread. Whether it be during the harmonisation of mid-tempo opener ‘Never Break Your Heart’, the bouncy indie-pop of the aforementioned ‘Split Salt’ (I adore that track), the quasi-disco of the aptly titled ‘Disco Days’, or the piano driven rock of ‘Shoulders’, the unifying factor here is melody. These tracks are beautiful, heartfelt and – most of all – memorable. I have hummed almost every song on the record on repeat. The slight dip is the disappointing ‘Roots’, which is perfectly ok but feels out of place with its Raconteurs-evoking scuzz. Nonetheless, this record benefits from a consistently high standard of song-writing and is well worthy of its 4th place finish. Not bad for a metal album that isn’t a metal album.

3 - METRIC - Formentera

I have played Metric albums before, but none of them ever left much of an impression. This time it clicked, and as a result Ive been revisiting – and enjoying – their previously dismissed back catalogue. Formentera is certainly the high watermark for me, though, probably because it’s the first record of theirs that I fell for, and I fell for it hard. The amazing ‘Doomscroller’ is a formidable start and hard to see beyond when one thinks of the record. A 10+ minute masterpiece, with its unerring bassline pinning you down while all hell breaks loose, before the whole thing shifts gear entirely (more than once). Lyrically vital (‘ruling classes trickle piss from champagne glasses’) and musically so confidently ambitious, it’s a track that has more to it than most albums. But Formentera is far from a one trick pony. Other highlights for me include the rolling synth ballad ‘Enemies of the Ocean’ (with its wonderful big band chorus), the instant dance-pop classic ‘Oh Please’, and the ethereal ‘Paths in the Sky’, which is a fittingly excellent way to end things. But the truth is this record is essential listening and every track on it is fantastic. I think that I prefer Formentera to both of my last two List toppers from 2021 and 2020 – which says a lot about the two records that I’ve ranked above it. 

02 - GREYHAVEN - This Bright and Beautiful World

On their third record, progressive post-hardcore (verging on post-metalcore) up and comers Greyhaven have absolutely nailed it, pure and simple. Hailing from Louisville, Kentucky (mullets! bad moustaches!), Greyhaven deliver on the promise shown previously – particularly on their second record, Empty Black – with something really outstanding. One can hear some influence here from (now sadly defunct) metalcore stalwarts Every Time I Die, especially in the occasional inclusion of southern blues rock amidst the chaos, although Greyhaven venture far further into the ‘post’ landscape than Every Time I Die ever did. The Callous Daoboys are another, more contemporary (and, so far, more acclaimed), touchstone. But they have never reached anywhere near these heights (NB: The Callous Daoboys’ own 2022 record is good but did not come close to a List placing). This Bright and Beautiful World is a journey into depression and damaged mental health: make no mistake, it is ironically named. There is nothing bright nor beautiful here (one might note, instead, the title of the opening track: ‘In a Room Where Everything Dies’, which better reflects the album’s tone). It’s bleak stuff, but this record undoubtedly benefits from being thematically focused. Its real trump card, though, is the music. This Bright and Beautiful World writhes and twists in a host of unexpected ways. Unusual time signatures, changes in tempo, and a mixture of bile and melody: this is intricate and curated carnage. Greyhaven will undoubtedly be too much for many, with the metalcore screams obscuring the quality on show. There’s no doubt that a track like the truly vicious ‘Foreign Anchor’, for example, requires a hardy disposition. But this record also sees Greyhaven branching out, with the astounding ‘Fed to the Lights’ showcasing their melodic prog credentials, and the groovy ‘All Candy’ making it clear, almost arrogantly, that they can do radio-friendly just as well as unfriendly if they’re of a mind – a highlight of this record while being wholly unrepresentative of it. This Bright and Beautiful World is an exemplary album: one of the best heavy music records of the last decade, up there with the likes of Boss Keloid’s Melted on the Inch and Tool’s Fear Inoculum

Speaking of outstanding heavy albums…

01 - ITHACA - They Fear Us

It’s hard to know where to start here. I don’t think I’ve ever had an experience with an album like I have had with this one, where the obsession was so deep and intense. Cards on the table at the start. They Fear Us is not just my favourite album of 2022: I now consider it to be my favourite album of all time. And, at this point, I’d say comfortably so, even though it has only been out for five months. I have, without variance, viewed Amplifier’s self-titled debut as my favourite record since its release in 2004 – an unchallenged 18-year stint at the summit of all records ever made. No longer.
In the first 2 weeks of its release, I listened to They Fear Us around 90 times. In the next four weeks I listened to it roughly another 80. That means in the first 6 weeks I played it an average of four times a day. There was one day where I played it 16 times. Sixteen. In the same day. It was over 2 months before there was a day where I didn’t play it at least once. By the start of December ‘Spotify wrapped’ told me I had listened to it just under 300 times. Which equates to 129 hours of my time. And I’ve played it a fair bit since the start of December too, meaning that number is misleadingly low.
This eulogy comes with a health warning. Ithaca are a melodic metalcore band, and so will be a lot to swallow for some (most?) readers of this List. The vocals are often shouted rather than sung (although there is a lot of beautiful, melodic singing too), and the riffs are bone shattering. Like Greyhaven’s excellent This Bright and Beautiful World, this is not for the faint-hearted. 

They Fear Us is Ithaca’s second record. I found their debut, 2019’s The Language of Injury, in early 2020, so it was too late for it to be considered for the 2019 iteration of this List. It probably would have made it on, although it would’ve been a low placer if so: a strong metalcore record, but nothing exceptional.
In contrast, there’s no question that They Fear Us is an exceptional record – read almost any review of it, including a glowing one in The Guardian (not a publication well known for its support for obscure metalcore bands). But I’m also self-aware enough to know that context must have had something to do with me liking it quite so much. Not sure why it struck such a chord for me in the way it has, but I guess that’s the joy of the subjectivity of music. What I can say is that a key thing that has kept me coming back is how ambitious – musically, lyrically and aesthetically – this record is. Ithaca have spoken about their frustration as to the lack of ambition in metalcore. To say they have taken it upon themselves to remedy that is a ridiculous understatement.
There are a number of themes that recur on They Fear Us. One of them is the empowerment of the marginalised. As the album’s title indicates, the ‘have’s’ are afraid of the ‘have not’s’, and there is huge power to be found in acknowledging that fact. As Djamila Boden Azzouz howls on the title track, ‘you think we’re lightyears away … but we’re catching up… / you should know that you’re prey.’ Whereas, on ‘Fluorescent’, she bemoans the stacked deck of the system: ‘The flowers never bloom / When it’s the vase that decides’. ‘Camera Eats First’ hits out at body-shaming as well ruminating on public value-signalling as a mask for abhorrent private views or actions. ‘Number Five’ is – in part, at least – about female marginalisation (‘When did I have to start begging / For a single scrap of sentiment?’) and, ultimately, empowerment. Indeed, Ithaca have been explicit in interviews that ‘divine feminine power’ underpins this album. This can even be seen on the album’s cover, where Bouden Azzouz sits bright and vital in a (now iconic) orange dress, amongst her subservient pale, male bandmates. I love the fact that Ithaca have sometimes billed themselves as a ‘male-drummed’ band, to highlight the silliness of the ‘female-fronted’ label that’s so often applied to bands that happen to have a woman vocalist. The band also have been very clear that they have queer members and that they actively support gay rights (Pink guitars! Symbols are important…), as well as articulating a strong anti-racist stance. None of which is the norm for the genre, even in 2022.
Another (related) theme throughout They Fear Us concerns trauma – specifically, that people are not defined by their trauma, but that it is healthy to engage with it, so as to overcome it. Musically, this is deliberately signposted as the record evolves, with the more violent, heavier, tracks on the early part of the album slowly transitioning towards its more melodic and progressive final third. Lyrically, too, They Fear Us moves from anger through to growth and kindness. Take the mirroring of the album’s first and final tracks. It begins with trauma (and the ‘blockage’ that it causes for people) on the thunderous ‘In the Way’. ‘There’s no place here for compassion’ shouts Bouden Azzouz. Contrast that with the beautiful ballad that closes the album (a song that is surely the least metalcore thing that any metalcore band have ever done), ‘Hold, Be Held’, where she sings that ‘there is compassion here’. Where ‘In the Way’ acknowledges that a process of healing is beginning (‘here it goes’), by ‘Hold, Be Held’ that process is ending (‘there it goes’). Emotional evolution is also evident in the final, delicate refrains of the record which – listen closely – play over a bed, low in the mix, of a snippet of its opening track. Compassion literally overcoming the trauma that bore it. Elsewhere, ‘The Future Says Thank You’ focuses on the idea that confronting pain in the present, rather than hiding from it, is an act of healing for your future self, if not yet for you. This is again replicated on ‘Hold, Be Held’: ‘Don’t try to hide your shaking’, asks Bouden Azzouz. Confront your damage to disarm it.
Of course, for all its emotional wallop, They Fear Us is ultimately a metalcore record, and, as such, it’s important to say that it features some of the best skull-mashing riffs ever recorded. The riff from the title track alone is one for the ages, and the final riff – built to throughout the song and thus earned – on ‘The Future Says Thank You’ is incomprehensibly good. This album is just as ambitious sonically as it is lyrically. It may engage in head banging of the very highest level, but it also draws on a wide range of genres well beyond the narrow confines of metal. Shoegaze is one influence (check out the end of ‘Fluorescent’), as is breakbeat (listen to the drum sound on ‘They Fear Us’ – it’s got a sharp hip-hop edge). 80s new wave creeps into the chorus of ‘In the Way’, and ‘You Should Have Gone Back’ is a full-blown prog song masquerading as a metal track. Finally, as already noted, closer ‘Hold, Be Held’ is a dreamy ballad (complete with guest vocals from Yansé Cooper, who takes us well into the realms of soul).
Most of the tracks are packed full of dense guitar arrangements, thanks to the incredible chemistry between Sam Chetan-Welsh and Will Sweet. But that density is offset by just how infectious those tracks are too. Dom Moss on bass and James Lewis on drums also deserve kudos, because they ensure things stay tight – they are the keepers of the hooks. This album never risks falling into the trap, which occasionally has caught the likes of Tool, of disappearing too far into the reeds. You can always just bang your head and forget the rest if you want. The riffs are never far away.
Ultimately, every single track is, for me, 5*. They Fear Us is an utter masterpiece. Simply put, amongst the thousands of records that I have listened to over the decades, I like this one the best.

Taster Playlist for the List 2022

This is a taster playlist on Spotify, which has 1 track for each of the 20 records on this list. Just to get you started...