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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


BANDS 11-1

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.

Little Johnny’s

Best of the Best in 2022

Bands 11-1

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.