In the early wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the music business was left in shambles. The outlook on touring seemed bleak, and artists’ ability to sustain themselves through new albums seemed more challenging than ever.
But as the dark clouds of death and despair began to part, so did the chokehold on the industry. As such, 2022 was a busy year with droves of recording artists – both old and new – hitting the road in support of new music.
For fans of rock music specifically, 2022 was a hell of a year. We saw comebacks, coming out parties, and continuations. In some instances, old lineups regrouped; in others, new casts of characters came together to stunning results. A spirit of rejuvenation seemed to swirl around many of these artists, yielding their best work in decades.
And so, with creativity afoot and the scene awash with new music, you might have missed an album here and there. But if you’re a rocker, never fear; here are 15 records that could be deemed essential as we move forward. Prepare to rejigger your Apple Music and Spotify playlists, as these albums are sure to leave you hitting repeat well into 2023.
15) Scorpions, Rock Believer
After a brief retirement, the Scorpions reloaded in 2022 with one of their best albums in years in Rock Believer. Truth be told, at 74 years of age, Klaus Meine’s pipes sound a bit tired, but still, he proved that he remains a capable frontman. Albums like Rock Believer are a not-so-gentle reminder of why the Scorpions were one of the ’80s’ most prominent bands. Moreover, they provide hope that after 50 years, the Scorpions might just have at least one last leg left in them.
14) Classless Act, Welcome to the Show
If you’re a subscriber to Gene Simmons’s myopic viewpoint that “rock is dead,” I’ll direct you to Exhibit A to the contrary: Classless Act. As the newest members of the New Wave of Classic Rock, Classless Act burst upon the scene with their debut record, the aptly titled Welcome to the Show. If Welcome to the Show’s ballsy sound, expansive production, and heavy riffing weren’t enough, the album also features cameos from the likes of Vince Neil (Mötley Crüe) and Justin Hawkins (The Darkness). Classless Act then proceeded to hit the road with Def Leppard, Mötley Crüe, Joan Jett, and Poison for 2022’s Stadium Tour. If you’re still thinking that rock is dead, think again.
13) Anvil, Impact is Imminent
Anvil has long been relegated as the real-life Spinal Tap by some fans and many critics, but for founding members Lips Kudlow and Robb Reiner, none of that seemed to matter as they barnstormed into 2022 with their latest, Impact is Imminent. Laced with classic riffs, thundering drums, and tongue-in-cheek lyrics, Impact is Imminent is yet another example of why Anvil remain cult heroes amongst metal scenesters. Stone-faced and unrelenting in the face of an unforgiving scene and indifferent to mainstream opinion, it does my heart good to hear that the boys in Anvil are as rage-filled as when they first formed in 1978. (For more about the band, watch the 2008 documentary Anvil! The Story of Anvil.)
12) Def Leppard, Diamond Star Halos
Most Def Leppard records are good, and that’s been the case for a long time. But I’d wager that most fans had settled into “oh, that was enjoyable” status regarding their later albums, deciding that Def Leppard would probably never reach the heights of their ’80s exploits again. I know I certainly thought that, so it came as a great surprise when Diamond Star Halos found the mighty Leppard creeping closer than I would have ever imagined to their work on Pyromania (1983) and Hysteria (1987). Do I feel this newest record fully reaches those heights? No. But I must admit it comes damn close, and while not quite as good, it’s easily their best record since those chart-topping multiplatinum records. If Diamond Star Halos was released in the late 1980s, I don’t think it would be a stretch to say that it might be thought of in the same terms as Leppard’s landmark albums of that era.
11) Ozzy Osbourne, Patient Number 9
The Prince of Darkness’s latest record, Patient Number 9, doesn’t cover any new ground, nor is it his best record. But Patient Number 9 is far better than Ozzy’s last record, 2020’s Ordinary Man. Moreover, in some ways, it does scratch the long, irritating Black Sabbath itch. A verifiable guitar smorgasbord, Patient Number 9 features the likes of Eric Clapton, Mike McCready, Jeff Beck, and of course, Osbourne cohort Zakk Wylde, making it a treat for guitar-hungry fans. But what’s most poignant about Patient Number 9 is that given Ozzy’s health, I get the feeling that this one might be his last record. I hate to say it, and it’s hard to believe, given the nine-lives life Ozzy has lived, but it seems that the raging rocker might be on his last legs. As such, this one is a treasure for that reason alone.
10) Dawn After Dark, New Dawn Rising
You could say that Dawn After Dark’s frontman, Howard Johnson, knows rock and metal music pretty well. After years of covering it for Kerrang! and Metal Hammer magazines, Johnson came on as Editor of Rock Candy Magazine in 2016. And now the journalist-turned-vocalist seems to be pulling double duty, with his pedigree serving him well on New Dawn Rising. His fellow band members join him through monstrous swells of straight-ahead rock ‘n’ roll dynamism. The best part? New Dawn Rising’s ability to pay homage to what came before it while still sounding just modern enough to fit in with the contemporary era’s newer, more commercial rock.
9) Skid Row, The Gang’s All Here
It seems that 2022 was the year of the comeback album, and Skid Row sure was the poster child. Skid Row’s first two records – Skid Row (1989) and Slave to the Grind (1991) – are revered, but the New Jersey outfit has spent the better portion of 30 years trying to reclaim lost glory. It hasn’t helped that since vocalist Sebastian Bach’s departure in 1996, fans have been all but begging for him to return. Well, Skid Row fans, have no fear; Erik Grönwall is here. The Swedish-born wunderkind has injected life into the left-for-dead hair metal outfit, seeing to it that The Gang’s All Here is Skid Row’s best record in years. Skid Row was a band that was freefalling for a long time, left to try to punch above its weight based on its legacy alone. But now, the mighty sleaze rockers have created music that stacks up against anyone.
8) Suede, Autofiction
Every release from stalwart London Brit-pop veterans Suede is a gift. With Autofiction, the group’s latest, you can bet that Brett Anderson and company have continued a long tradition of heroics through music. Anderson’s voice is in fine form, and the band follows suit, with sprawling, cinematic soundscapes accompanied by their trademark cataclysmic lyrics. But I must caution fans: if you’re expecting the same sort of record that made Suede perennial winners of the BRIT Awards in the ’90s, you’re going to be disappointed. Autofiction is more in line with Suede’s previous reunion work, which isn’t a bad thing. The record shows maturity and further proves that Suede will continue to work to step out of its own massive shadow.
7) Liam Gallagher, C’Mon You Know
As an admittedly huge fan of Oasis and a steady supporter of Liam Gallagher, not even I saw the success of his solo career coming. With good reason: most would attribute Oasis’s success to his big brother Noel, but then again, Liam brought the swagger, attitude, arrogance, and of course, the voice to Oasis. And so, when he embarked on a solo career, I was interested, albeit with careful trepidation. But since 2017, Gallagher has bucked notions that he can’t craft memorable songs, releasing three records, with each bettering the last, culminating in 2022’s C’Mon You Know. Gallagher’s trajectory is interesting, if only because his career will forever be compared to his older brother’s in Oasis and in Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds, and so far, Liam is giving Noel a run for his money. While Noel might have a longer track record, and a remarkable songwriting career, there’s no doubt that since 2017, Liam has not only stood with him chest-to-chest, but bettered him at every juncture.
6) Saxon, Carpe Diem
This one came out early on in 2022, and I feel that it was subsequently buried beneath the myriad of releases that came after. But make no mistake, with Carpe Diem, Saxon is still roving the land and pillaging the countryside in the name of heavy metal thunder. Now 23 records deep, one might assume that singer Biff Byford is tiring, but no, his voice is as powerful as ever, and the current lineup – now 28 years strong – sounds utterly invigorated behind him. Ultimately, fans will always hang onto Saxon’s New Wave of British Heavy Metal-era records – with good reason – but if you’ve hopped off the train and left Saxon for dead, let Carpe Diem be your signal to catch a ride out of the next station.
5) King’s X, Three Sides of One
It had been 14 years since King’s X’s last studio release, 2008’s XV; as such, the consensus was that King’s X was perhaps finished as a studio outfit. What’s more, with all three members, including DUg Pinnick and in particular drummer Jerry Gaskill and guitarist Ty Tabor, dealing with various forms of sickness and personal sorrow, there were whispers of King’s X folding its tent. But through it all, King’s X remained relatively active as a touring entity, leaving hope that their creative juices might flow once more. Then, seemingly without warning, the band dropped Three Sides of One on the unsuspecting masses. Musically, Three Sides of One is what you’d expect: a raging yet blissful amalgam of heavy metal, hard rock, grunge and indie/alt steeped in majestic glory as defined by Pinnick’s ever-young voice and Gaskill and Tabor’s menacing instrumentation. But the lyrics are striking; musings of death and aging permeate the record’s thematic structure. The Grim Reaper’s bloody fingerprints are all over this thing, making for a truly introspective listen.
4) Michael Monroe, I Live Too Fast to Die Young
From his days with acclaimed punk-leaning glam metal outfit Hanoi Rocks, vocalist Michael Monroe has perpetually seesawed to and fro between various genres. Is he punk? Is he glam? Is he metal? Monroe is all these things and more, and that beautiful, chaotic mess has consistently left his records enjoyable whirlwind listens. With 2022’s I Live Too Fast to Die Young, Monroe has not diverged from that blueprint. If anything, the veteran frontman has leaned into it harder than ever. If you’re looking for a thrill ride, I Live Too Fast to Die Young has it all, from punk rock ragers to more melodic almost-ballads. At 60, Monroe has crafted a record for the ages, showing that musically, he truly is forever young.
3) Pixies, Doggerel
It’s no secret that the Pixies have had some trouble finding their footing since their 2004 reunion. After the messy departure of founding bassist Kim Deal in 2013, it’s been even more difficult. But perhaps we should never count out Pixies leader Black Francis/Frank Black because in 2022, Black and his bandmates – David Lovering (drums), Paz Lenchantin (bass), and Joey Santiago (lead guitar) – have crafted the Pixies’ best album since their heyday. Finally comfortable in their own skin and having fully integrated Lenchantin into the band, on Doggerel, the Pixies are firing on all cylinders. If you’re expecting another Doolittle, then your sense of reason is undoubtedly out the window. But if you’re open to the idea of what Santiago has referred to as “Doolittle senior,” then you’re going to be pleasantly surprised with this record. The biggest takeaway from Doggerel is that for the first time since her departure, the Pixies have got me saying, “Kim Deal, who?”
2) Melvins, Bad Mood Rising
Leave it to the Melvins to open an album with a 14 minute and 10 seconds long track, and have it be entirely gripping. And if you thought for even one second that vocalist/guitarist Buzz Osbourne would deviate from the Melvins’ established “what the hell am I hearing?” sonic template on 2022’s Bad Mood Rising, think again. Each song is a journey unto itself, with bone-crushing drums from Dale Crover and heavy basslines from Steven McDonald. The Melvins have always been an off-the-beaten-path sort of band, and that’s never going to change – thankfully. But what I love most about Bad Mood Rising is that in an age where artists are struggling more than ever to remain viable and make money from their art, Osbourne has defiantly flipped a middle finger in the industry’s face. On the precipice of their 40th anniversary, the Melvins appear poised to make some of their most interesting and noisy music yet.
1) Megadeth, The Sick, the Dying…and the Dead!
I won’t lie; I figured that The Sick, the Dying…and the Dead! would be my album of the year as soon as I was alerted of its official release date. As the singles began to trickle out, that notion was not even remotely dispelled. What more can I say? Vocalist/guitarist Dave Mustaine appears to be bulletproof. Having beaten alcoholism, drug addiction, and career-threatening arm, neck, and back injuries, as well as a life-threatening cancer diagnosis, Mustaine has nothing to prove regarding his toughness and will to live. However, seemingly never-ending upheavals in the band’s lineup had some fans doubting the future of Megadeth. Well, doubt no more. The Sick, The Dying… And The Dead! finds Megadeth in exceptional form. With its finest lineup in years – Mustaine, bassist James LoMenzo, drummer Dirk Verbeuren, and guitarist Kiko Loureiro – the band seems stronger than ever. If The Sick, the Dying… and the Dead! has taught us anything; it’s never to doubt Dave Mustaine’s mettle until he’s dead and buried.
Header image: King's X, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Goongunther.