The New Wave of Traditional Heavy Metal (NWOTHM) has produced a gold mine of great music since it gained its footing in the mid- to late-2000s. This past year saw yet another incredible batch of releases for the genre, and the top albums released in 2022 rank among the best releases in heavy metal history. To celebrate the ongoing awesomeness of the genre, I've put together a list of my picks for the Top 10 NWOTHM Albums of 2022.
This list is limited to full-length albums only, so EPs from bands like Skelator and Greyhawk weren't considered. In addition to my personal enjoyment of the albums, factors I considered here include the songwriting, technical skill, production quality, and overall completeness and quality of the album from front to back. And of course, the music has to have deep roots in heavy metal of the '80s and early '90s.
There were literally hundreds of albums released in this style this year, so this list necessarily represents a narrow slice of the genre. If you're looking for more, the YouTube channel NWOTHM Full Albums is an excellent resource and offers a wide-angle look at the genre. My NWOTHM playlist on Spotify is another solid resource for finding more music in this style, including the songs I believe are the best of the best since 2005.
Enough talk, let's dive into it. These are the Top 10 NWOTHM Albums of 2022.
10. Hell Fire - Reckoning
Hell Fire's blend of old school power metal spiked with a touch of high-speed thrash reaches new creative heights on Reckoning. The album's sometimes-frenetic style can make the songs challenging to fully appreciate on early listens, but there are legitimate songwriting chops to back up the band's amped-up presentation.
The patient intro and subsequent ebb and flow of the music on "Reckoning" is a perfect example of the band's ability to craft smart music worthy of close listening. By the time the song reaches the chorus, the impassioned vocals hit ten times harder thanks to the song's extended build-up. More immediate offerings like "Thrill of the Chase" are easier to digest quickly but are nonetheless backed by a powerful sense of melody and composition.
Some slightly uneven quality in the tracklist is the only thing holding this one back from a high spot on the list, as the best songs on here are deeply enjoyable creations that provide plenty of worthwhile content for repeat listens.
9. Acid Blade - Power Dive
Talk about making your mark with a debut. Acid Blade's Power Dive is the type of unexpected release that could never be predicted from the band's history, in this case an unremarkable split with Venator. Give this one a shot though and you'll find one of the most authentically old school heavy metal sounds of the 21st century. Tracks like "Ablaze at Midnight,"Into the Light," "King Killer," and "Tomb of Khentika Ikheki" carry an epic vibe with dramatic, imaginative lyrics, all brought to life with engaging riffs and intensely memorable chorus hooks.
Power Dive's best moments represent a crystal-clear creative vision and perfectly suited production style, and at its best becomes a singular recording that cannot be mistaken for any of its contemporaries. Unfortunately, Power Dive contains some notable rough edges, and so picking out the best songs from the tracklist is a better option than playing it front to back. Nonetheless, the songs that shine on here are among the very best NWOTHM tracks conceived to date.
8. Raptore - Blackfire
Raptore's style of high-speed heavy metal draws easy comparisons to early NWOTHM favorites Enforcer, frequently matching the intensity of that band's first several albums while incorporating a darker, more sinister touch. "Tirumphal March to Hell" sets the tone for the album upfront, and Raptore proceeds to take listeners on a suitably wild ride from there. The band doesn't compromise songwriting for the sake of speed either. Take the nearly six-minute "Phoenix," whose moments of blistering speed are offset with quieter moments like the gorgeous bridge section with top-notch guitar work, leading effortlessly back into the song's breakneck pace.
These moments help keep Blackfire fresh and unpredictable throughout its running time while still delivering plenty of the the band's signature speed. Much like Acid Blade's debut, Raptore's first full-length isn't always perfect, but the band's undeniable talent elevates Blackfire's best moments to a level that few bands ever reach.
7. Wolf - Shadowland
Flagbearers for traditional heavy metal since the 1990s, Wolf has crafted numerous worthwhile albums over the years, including the grit of early offerings like The Black Flame and the more melodic approach of later releases like Devil Seed. Shadowland turns back the clock for one the band's most genuinely old school offerings, and their reliably great songwriting carries through the running time with strong consistency in the overall quality.
"Dust" is an instantly exciting opener that promises great things for the album, and the band keeps that promise with similarly excellent efforts on "Evil Lives," "Shadowland," and "Exit Sign," to name a few. In light of their longevity and consistently engaging releases, Wolf is arguably the most under-appreciated band playing old school heavy metal in the 21st century. Give Shadowland a shot, and you'll likely be eager to dig into the band's worthwhile back catalogue for more.
6. Grey Wolf - Grey Wolf (Reissue)
Few bands in history can match the raw intensity of Grey Wolf's no-nonsense epic heavy metal. This is hard-edged, steely music built on themes of war and triumph in battle, frequently invoking the fictional realms of Robert E. Howard along with tales of Vikings, Spartans, and other notable warriors from history.
You'll find no progressive musical artistry here: Grey Wolf keeps their songs short and to the point, almost always clocking in under four minutes, and their particularly vigorous style benefits immensely from the concise writing. Coarse vocals, galloping rhythms, and thunderous riffs come together for some of the most powerful tracks conceived in the last four decades.
Although this is a re-recording of an album first released in 2014, it's more than a fresh coat of paint. This is the way Grey Wolf's debut self-titled album was meant to be heard, and the songwriting on the album is more than equal to the band's newer releases.
Grey Wolf may land in the "love it or hate it" category for some, but if you enjoy anything on Grey Wolf (Reissue), it's more than worth your time to dig into the band's past discography. I've done my best to be objective with this list and consider albums that a broad range of heavy metal fans could enjoy, though if I were purely playing favorites, this would be my top pick of the year.
5. Sumerlands - Dreamkiller
Sumerlands had a tall task ahead of them to live up to the standards of their fan-favorite, self-titled debut. Surprisingly, the band has adopted a musical approach that's notably distinct from their first effort, leaning into a more traditional production sound and classic heavy metal songwriting style that perfectly supports the voice of the band's new singer. Dreamkiller is every bit as good as its predecessor, and it's packed front-to-back with classic heavy metal tracks ranging from FM-friendly anthems to artful, progressive pieces with dream-like ambience.
The title track alone is worth the price of admission, offering one of the most beautifully crafted and satisfying songs of the year. The track's double bridge sections, both packed with praiseworthy guitar leads, is pure bliss on the eardrums. And though the rest of the album rarely matches the immediacy and power of "Dreamkiller," patience and repeat listens are your friend with this one, and they reveal a complete album characterized by varied songwriting styles and a willingness to give each track its own personality.
Dreamkiller could easily be considered the best NWOTHM album of the year, and it absolutely deserves your attention.
4. Riot City - Electric Elite
One of the most highly anticipated and best-known releases of 2022, Riot City's long-awaited follow-up to 2019's Burn the Night had fans chomping at the bit for a first listen. Does Electric Elite live up to all the hype? As much as I was excited for this one, it was honestly a rough few listens before I could fully appreciate its finer points.
Oversinging dominates this album and nearly spoils the incredible songwriting and technical performances of the other members, but giving the album some room to breathe and letting the ears adjust to the wild vocal performances is well worth the effort. Beneath the surface there's a recording here that's much deeper and more rewarding than a first spin would suggest.
The chorus sections in particular deserve praise, as they balance the band's high-speed attack with hauntingly beautiful moments. Electric Elite holds an impressively rich atmosphere, one that manages to radiate a sense of desolation within a retro-futuristic sonic landscape, and it must be heard to fully appreciate.
Electric Elite is one of the most recognizable albums of the year for good reason: its tight musicianship, imaginative atmosphere, and emotive melodies mark it as a must-hear NWOTHM recording in 2022.
3. Stray Gods - Storm the Walls
It's a cliche among music journalists to say that every NWOTHM album is trying to sound like Iron Maiden, and those who believe it desperately need to familiarize themselves with a broader range of traditional metal. That said, Stray Gods first album is more than deserving of the claim. Storm the Walls is a pure and unabashed tribute to Iron Maiden's early and most beloved material, and it surpasses everything the British heavy metal pioneers' themselves have crafted in recent decades.
From the opening seconds of "The Seventh Day," Storm the Walls will feel like a familiar favorite, an album you once loved but haven't heard in years. It might be easy for this type of unabashed tribute to fall into triteness, but the imagination behind Stray Gods writing and the high quality of the band's execution makes the homage feel deeply endearing instead. By the time a fourth or fifth spin is complete, Storm the Walls is likely to feel like the best album Iron Maiden never wrote.
Storm the Walls is a deeply satisfying release that will hit the sweet spot for fans who have been disappointed by decades of muddy and uninspired Iron Maiden albums. Stray Gods have crafted a recording that's crisp, well produced, wonderfully melodic, and loaded with songs that you'll remember long after listening.
2. Blizzard Hunter - The Path of Triumph
Every now and then a band makes a bold creative leap forward, stepping outside any predictable pattern of quality to share something genuinely stunning in its imagination and execution. So it is with Blizzard Hunter and their latest full-length, The Path of Triumph, which blends the sounds of NWOTHM with a classic European power metal style and delivers it with remarkable polish.
Like many of the best albums on this list, those who listen through The Path of Triumph multiple times will be the ones who gain the most enjoyment from it. These tracks are deeper than they seem at first glance and hold plenty of satisfying nuance. The near-ballad "Redemption for Tomorrow" represents this perfectly: I initially dismissed the track as overly simplistic until I found it stuck in my head. Revisiting the song showed me a song with carefully written vocal melodies and deliberate pacing that delivers a slow burn, contrasting wonderfully with the higher intensity of earlier entries on the album.
It's almost hard to believe this is the same band responsible for 2015's excellent but relatively straightforward release, Heavy Metal to the Vein, yet the core members are the same. Despite some familiar stylistic earmarks, the songwriters have grown in leaps and bounds over the years and have delivered a must-hear recording for NWOTHM fans, and especially those who appreciate the early power metal classics from the '80s and early '90s.
Looking for more great heavy metal? Follow my NWOTHM playlist on Spotify:
1. Venator - Echoes from the Gutter
Energetic, melodic, and powerfully written, Venator's Echoes from the Gutter utterly defies expectations and shreds the checklist for a world-class heavy metal album. Everything a heavy metal fan could want is here: impeccable musicianship, riveting songwriting, and the rarest ingredient of all to find in an NWOTHM band – a high-quality frontman.
Echoes from the Gutter represents an incredible leap forward for the band. Although 2020's Paradiser EP and their split with Acid Blade certainly showed promise, it's stunning to see Venator jump from those middle-of-the-road offerings to one of the finest traditional metal albums in the genre's 40-plus year history.
From the electrifying opener "Howl at the Rain" and the jaw-dropping, high-speed intensity of "The Seventh Seal" to the hooky "Manic Man" and the bittersweet closer, "Streets of Gold," Echoes from the Gutter delivers track after track of heavy metal perfection. This one will likely grab you the first time through and leave you with no choice but to take it start to finish time and again.
It's hard to find any fault at all with Echoes from the Gutter. Each of its nine entries is deeply enjoyable in its own right, and together they comprise the most complete and satisfying NWOTHM album of the year.