LIVE CONCERTS - The Year In Review (Part IV)
Written by: Mark McQueen
In 2022 the concert circuit really came back full scale. There were shows aplenty and Metal (of all types) to be seen and listened to. Your author Mark McQueen aka “The Beard” along with his sidekick, the irrepressible, “Little Johnny” got to see and review 49 shows and 218 live sets of music this year. Over the next four weeks, we will share with you our top 20% of all these live sets. You can peruse our guidelines and disclaimers in part one of this series.
We now present the final installment of our series
THE BEST OF THE BEST
As ranked by The Beard
#11 DAMIEN from April 9th at The Blades of Steel Festival Milwaukee 95.2/100
The most unknown band to make this list in 2022 is likely Damien. A power metal band from Ohio. Their heyday was the early 1980’s (making them prime material for an RK Metal festival). Randy Kastner always finds the best, (if not forgotten at least out of the spotlight), bands that can still pack a sizable punch. Damien was one of those bands. They took my “Best of the Fest” award at Blades of Steel, and here they are on the most elite list of the year. The Beards top 11 of 2022.
#10 NERVOSA from May 6th at Reggie’s in Chicago 95.4/100
My 3rd time seeing the death metal supermodels from Brazil. The first two times featured original members Fernanda Lira on bass/vocals and Luana Dametto on drums (along with the amazing Prika Amaral on guitar). That was the best looking (yet still amazingly heavy) band I had ever seen up until that point. Liras DEATH screams were in the 20-30 second range and full-throated power. So, in 2022, knowing that there had been a full-scale change of membership (other than Amaral on guitar), I worried that the sound and look would suffer. I was pleasantly surprised though when out walked Mia Wallace (from Abbath) on bass, and Diva Satanica (of Bloodhunter) on vocals. This meant that Nervosa sacrificed nothing in the way of looks, and actually improved in musicianship. These ladies can handle death metal with the best of them musically, and you never get tired of watching them perform. A true top 10 set of the year in 2022.
#9 MAYHEM from August 20th Psychofest Las Vegas 95.6/100
I’ve already said Psychofest brought the best of European black metal this year, and this four-part list has contained many of them including Emperor, Rotting Christ, Samael, and MGLA. Still, the most famous (or perhaps infamous) of them all are the progenitors of the 1990’s second wave of icy black metal madness ... MAYHEM!
Any fan of black metal already knows the sordid history of Mayhem, from original singer “Dead’s” predilection for carrying around dead animals in a bag, (to smell before he took the stage), or to cut himself deeply while performing. They know of Dead’s grizzly suicide and of his bandmate (and founding guitarist) Euronymous claims to have not only photographed “Dead’s” body, (upon finding it) for an album cover, but also that he gathered and used the dead singer’s skull fragments for jewelry. Finally, fans know of Euronoymous’s own grizzly murder at the hands of noted and convicted church burner Varg Vikernes (of Burzum). Very likely no other Black metal band has as dark a history.
Even though THIS wasn’t THAT Mayhem, it was “still” Mayhem in the flesh, so to speak, and I was anxiously awaiting what an actual set of theirs would sound like. Clearly, I was NOT disappointed. From the spooky lighting and fog to the dark figure of longtime singer Attila stalking the stage like Satan himself looking for converts, this band gave off the blackest of black metal feels. Icy, dark and without hope or redemption, Mayhem left you feeling as beyond salvation as any band I saw all year. Admittedly, the lyrics were not understandable, but the intent of them and the music behind them certainly were. With Mayhem you have the very dark metaphorical side of Jacob Marley. A band doomed to tour the earth without redemption forever. Mayhem exudes “hopelessness” and THAT makes perfect black metal.
#8 HALESTORM from July 7th at Summerfest Milwaukee 95.8/100
Halestorm have been doing their modern era Pat Benatar-on-steroids act for a long time and it keeps getting bigger, bolder, and better. Summerfest in Milwaukee is a massive event, often stages are playing simultaneously and competing for the viewing eye. Halestorm commanded their time slot with ease. The crowd was huge, and rabid in support. The Beard is an old man and yet still stood atop a table throughout the entire set just to be able to see it over the massive Milwaukee crowd.
Lzzy Hale knows her fans, and her songs of sex-soaked grunge reach a lot of people personally. “Freak like me” was a raucous sing-along and while Lzzy stalked the stage every bit the she-panther she is, her brother Arejay Hale (clad in a lime green suit) crushed it on the elevated drum kit playing with the ferocity of Tommy Lee at his best. Halestorm give you everything, the look, the sound, and the show and their grade and ranking on the year end sets reflects it.
#7. YEAR OF NO LIGHT from August 21st at Psychofest Vegas 96/100
Top band of the year (that I had never heard of before). This French black/doom/drone act was instrumental, but needed no words to make their point. Although they have existed for almost two decades, they didn’t tour America until 2014, and have only released one CD since then, so definitely under the radar to my ears. From open to close though, I was taken by their sound. Sometimes words get in the way and Year of No Light is a great example of that. Words would drag this band down. Their grade is about the atmosphere they created. Stellar set.
#6 RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE from July 12th at The United Center in Chicago 96.5/100
The Beard had these tickets for two years waiting for this one to finally happen. The reformation of the original Rage against the Machine line-up was a one-shot deal, and I wasn’t going to miss it. Knowing every song in the set and yes even singing along “badly” to many of them, Rage took me back to the early 1990’s and a different stage of rebellion in my life. Hearing Zack de la Rocha STILL angry, still defiant, and still yelling out “Fuck you I won’t do what you tell me!”. brought back memories, and for many people that’s the greatest gift music can bring us. I loved going back in time and just being a fan for an evening. A top notch set of music.
#5. OPETH from April 28th at The Riviera in Chicago 97/100
No band has as unique a sound as Opeth. The first time I saw them (long before they broke huge), my thought was “Metal Floyd”. Unbelievable lighting, and a mix of prog and harsh almost blackened metal. Lyrics were thoughtful and actually understandable much of the time. Although songs are long, they have a point and a purpose and since the musicianship is great and the lighting superb, you don’t mind their length. With the arguable exception of the Scorpions, Opeth had the best light show of 2022, and their music was crisper, less bombastic and more scalpel than meat cleaver. Opeth are great artists and this night they provided a top five of the year set.
#4 ZEAL & ARDOR from September 19th at The Bottom Lounge in Chicago 97.5/100
This unique combination of black metal-meets-Plantation Spiritual as performed by a Swiss avant-garde band is definitely unlike most any other act you will see. Using lighting and positioning on stage to maximum effectiveness, these guys present an almost militant presence to their act. Under blood red lights, standing in formation on the stage, fists raised, defiant, and singing (preaching?) their gospels such as “A good God is a Dead one. A good God is the one that brings the Fire.”, or “The Devil is Fine.” Zeal and Ardor take you to that place where you seek not just the overthrow, but the literal “death” of your oppressors. This was a set that moved me and that made it one of the very best of all of 2022.
#3 WITCH MOUNTAIN from August 21st at Psychofest Vegas 98/100
The Beard had only seen Witch Mountain once and that was after lead vocalist Uta Plotkin had left the band and been replaced by Kayla Dixon. I enjoyed that set, but lamented that the true majesty of the bands American doom west coast sound was tied up in Plotkin’s vocal range and power. Once I knew Plotkin was returning to the fold for a set at Psychofest, this became a “must see” set.
Even though Witch Mountain was shunted to a small secondary stage in an afternoon slot pitted against a Katatonia’s main stage act at the same time, the room was still filled to absolute capacity as so many of the Psychofest fans knew what I knew, THIS was going to be monumental. It absolutely was. Uta Plotkin proved she is the “only” singer that can do justice to Witch Mountain's music. Her voice soars to places we think about but know we can never get to on our own. Plotkin’s movements on stage alert everyone that she is pulling notes from the deep place inside her soul and projecting them out to us all. THIS voice must have THIS music. THIS music must have THIS voice. On one afternoon in August, the Beard got to see it happen, and it garners the number 3 act of the entire year.
#2 MERCYFUL FATE from August 21st at Psychofest Vegas 99/100
This was a set of the year. Mercyful Fate is iconic to the first wave of black metal with its progressive influences musically, and its truly evil lyrical content brought forth in haunting falsetto by its front man, (one of the greatest metal vocalists of all time), the mighty King Diamond. Fate had not played live together in two decades, and Psychofest was going to be the night that “Evil” came back to life.
This set was a hit from the first notes of “Don’t Break the Oath” all the way to the precise solos of “Satan’s Fall” played by Hank Sherman (one of Metals most underappreciated guitarists). Mercyful Fate hit us with track after track of their seminal first three albums and the arena thundered and shook with sated approval from the thousands who had waited so long for this moment. It was one of the most wonderful musical experiences of my entire year. Hail to the King and horns up to Mercyful Fate.
#1 CANDLEMASS from April 24th at Thalia Hall in Chicago 100/100
The Beard has been reviewing for about a decade now, and I had long thought there was no “perfect set”. Never in 10-years had I awarded the ultimate number to any band. That changed within the confines of Thalia Hall in April.
Bringing back original vocalist Johan Langqvist and playing a set comprised of their first three albums, this Swedish doom band did nothing wrong all set. I knew every song. The lyrics were perfect. The sound flawless. The lights amazing. This show failed at nothing. From the first song and after each one to follow I kept thinking “this can’t keep being perfect.” It can. It did. It was. No words I write can do justice to a perfectly performed set of metal. You had to be there. You had to experience it first hand. Nirvana is indescribable and this night, Candlemass reached it. The greatest set of music in 2022.
So, there you have it. The Beard's Best of the Best for 2022. Hard to believe it’s only a few days until we start all over with another 365 days and many more chances to see who will reign in 2023. Thank you all for reading along and joining the Beard on this long odyssey of metal exploration.
Now, keep reading to see just who my counterpart, the irrepressible Little Johnny, chose as his “Best of the best” for 2022.
Best of the Best in 2022
I will definitely say, Beard is committed. That old man loves heavy metal. Granted, he’s as long-winded as Grandpa Simpson most of the time, but he genuinely loves what he does. Me? I just pound the IPA’s and tell him occasionally that everything he says is $&@*ing brilliant, so he’ll stop talking.
Okay, so here’s my best of the best of 2022. No surprise, these sets come with some serious moshing going on. As always, no grades from me. I never liked school much anyway.
#11 GWAR from June 7th at The Forge in Joliet Illinois
Now here were some crazy $%#%ers. It wasn’t so much a concert as a show where a stage full of monsters and aliens decapitated, stabbed, gutted, and banged everybody in sight. The whole audience got splashed with blood and other fluids. I was drenched by the end. Beard wanted me to ride home on the luggage rack. Not sure musically, but man what an awesome show.
#10 FROZEN SOUL from August 21st at Psychofest Vegas
Death metal from Texas. Yep, 30 seconds into this set and it was pits all over. We slammed, surfed, and raged. There’s nothing quite like just blowing out your aggressions by slamming into other people. It looks crazy, but if you are into the spirit of it, it’s not ever about hurting people. Anytime I’ve been flattened, people always pick me back up. Moshing is a community man. It’s where our people go to let loose, and these Texas boys really let us do that.
#9. EMPEROR from August 19th at Psychofest Vegas
This was black metal done big time. The stage was huge. The crowd was huge. There were tons of lights and there was this one dude near me that headbanged like no one I have ever seen before. Dude had hair to his waist, and he was slamming all set man. I got a lot of energy, and that dude blew me away. Emperor fans are awesome man. They have got energy FOR-EV-ER. What a cool set that was.
#8. TESTAMENT from October 4th at The Eagles Club in Milwaukee
Beard says these guys are usually just openers. I don’t get it cause they were awesome! Man, they could thrash! Before this show, I had never been in a “Pit War”. It’s like you clear the middle and get on one side or the other, then when the singer yells “GO!!” we just try to lay the other side the $#^$ out man. INTENSE! I don’t think any show had me as moshed out as the three bands on this night’s bill. Not surprisingly Beard was hiding in the balcony somewhere.
#7. EXODUS from October 4th at The Eagles Club Milwaukee
Told you dude, that show was the best moshing all year. So, this band I guess was like around from the early days of Metallica, Beard says their original guitarist actually went over to join Metallica. I don’t know nothing about any of that, but they do this song called “The Toxic Waltz”. That tune is the thrash national anthem man. If I had to pick one song from the whole year that had the best thrashing in it, it would be THAT one.
#6. THE SCORPIONS from September 1st at the All-State Arena Chicago
Okay, like that baseball stadium I went to, you know with those Leppard dudes I talked about earlier and those old dudes with the strippers. Something Crue. Anyway, that was the biggest show I went to, but this Scorpions show was the most stuff on stage I ever saw. They must have had like a thousand lights, and every song there was like this entire new set on stage it seemed like. I don’t know how they did it. Beard said they have been touring for 50 years. 50 years! I didn’t know metal stretched back that far. I thought that was when bands like The Beatles and Barry Manilow were performing. I got to say though these Scorpion dudes had a lot of killer songs. I mean I didn’t know most of them, but they sounded killer with all those lights and effects and stuff. Cool set.
#5. HALESTORM from July 7th at Summerfest Milwaukee Wisconsin
This was awesome. So, Summerfest is just this giant like fair by the lake that has tons of stages and places to eat and drink beer all day while hanging outside. There are stages all over, so if you get bored, you can just wander around, grab a cold one and then check out another stage. Now, there were a lot of bands there that weren’t my jam, but this one was incredible. The chick singer was all hot and stuff and she was singing tunes about banging and doing it with her man and stuff like that. So, of course I’m like “that’s cool.” And the lights and stuff were awesome outside at night, and the drums were like high up there and really flashy during the solo part. Beard says the drummer is like the singer’s brother. That’s cool. I always wanted a brother or a sister and having one that you could play with in a band every night would be pretty awesome. They must have a great life. I really liked that show.
#4 NERVOSA from May 6th at Reggie’s in Chicago
Hot chicks playing death metal! What more do I need to say, man?! HOT CHICKS PLAYING DEATH METAL!! It’s like the greatest. I even got to meet the bassist. She was totally cool and liked my cap. Beard says I could market it. Sounds like work to me, but if you see me at a show, I’ll let you take a picture wearing it…you know…if you buy me a beer, I mean. Anyway, this was a great night with all the bands, but these girls were outstanding.
#3 RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE July 12th at the United Center Chicago
So, they are a little before my time, but I kind of remember hearing people play some of these tunes and digging em. It was about rebellion and standing up for yourself and stuff. I’m all for that. Life ain’t cool or fair a lot of the time and you got to sometimes fight for yourself if you want to make it. That’s how I felt listening to these guys and it seemed like all the people in the crowd thought the same way. I loved that tune “Know your Enemy” ‘Action must be taken. We don’t need the key we’ll break in!” Hearing those tunes and moshing made me feel good.
#2 ZEAL & ARDOR from September 19th at Bottom Lounge, Chicago
So, I don’t like to talk about growing up much. It wasn’t fair or fun in an orphanage, but a lot of people got it bad too in other ways, and it ain’t like I can change nothing about it anyway. #&%# happens right? So, this band was the main one this year that made me, you know, reflect on that time. Always somebody telling you what to do. When to get up when to go to bed. When to eat when to work. And they always wanted you to appreciate it. Always said, “Johnny, it’s for your own good.” But I noticed it didn’t ever change nothing. Food didn’t get better. Blankets never got warmer. But people that worked there drove nicer cars and stuff.
Anyways, I couldn’t wait to get away, get out, get on my own. This band made me realize that happens to a lot of us. We all got something to get away from. Something to fight against. I give Beard a lot of crap, but he’s my friend. A real friend, and I ain’t got many of them. Zeal and Ardor made me think a lot and yet still were heavy and fun to jam to. They were I guess as close to educational music as I want to get really. I liked them a lot.
#1. MERCYFUL FATE from August 21st at Psychofest Vegas
Dudes, I ain’t never seen the Devil. I mean they always talked about him and how he could steal your soul, but I kind of always thought the Devil was just bad people you know? Well, if there’s a singer Devil, it was that King Diamond dude. When he came onstage in that satanic robe with that giant ram’s head thing on his head and started singing about giving your soul to Satan in that voice that was so high, I think mostly only dogs could hear it, man that dude could have been the Devils main musician.
Now, I get it’s just a show and stuff, and it was obviously really good. I mean that guitar player was amazing, and the songs were all great and stuff, but that singer? I have NEVER heard a dude sound like that. He had a song called “Come to the Sabbath”. Man, it was like he just converted 5000+ people to his cause. I looked around and people were in love with this dude. I’ll tell you, if there is a real devil, it might just be that guy. Definitely the most memorable set of the year.
Okay, so that does it for 2022. I guess Beard's bosses (that publish this stuff) say we can do it all again next year, so we’ll take a little break, but it won’t be long until we’re back on the road, going to shows and fests, drinking IPAs, and moshing and banging all over again. It’s a pretty awesome life man and we have fun most of the time. If you dug us, whether it’s Beards stuff or mine that you like, thank you. We dig you all too. Keep reading The Mighty Decibel articles, they really know their stuff there, and if you see us at a show, have a beer with us. Maybe even buy one for us if you liked our stuff. I’ll let you wear my cap. Well, I guess that’s a wrap.
From Little Johnny, and the Beard, Happy holidays, a great new Year, keep rocking and always remember ...