Credit: Steve Gullick

I know it’s perverse to compile a year-end list of concerts (“Want to hear about some great stuff you probably didn’t see?”), but please consider these as ongoing recommendations—all five bands below will slay your face no matter when you catch up with them. I left off some truly spectacular shows to avoid repeating previous years’ lists, among them Arkona, Godflesh, Yob, and Ghost (who turned out to make surprisingly good date music). If I had room for seven, I’d definitely also include Anaal Nathrakh and Cloud Rat.

Electric Wizard at Metro on Tue 4/7

The final moment before Electric Wizard take the stage feels like the portentous pause before an end-boss battle—you know something huge and evil is on its way, and for just a second you have the luxury to be afraid of how badly it’s going to fuck you up. Then the preposterously heavy riffs kick in, sucking all the light from the room in a conflagration of lurid menace, and in no time you’re thinking with nothing but your brainstem. At the party I went to afterward, fittingly, someone had set the living-room table with dinner plates covered in sloppy fistfuls of coke.

Ufomammut at Reggie’s Rock Club on Wed 5/13

Onstage these amplifier-abusing space sorcerers create a sort of reverse sensory-­deprivation chamber: their magma-thick grooves recirculate hypnotically, roaring and thundering like the plasma in a cosmic cardiopulmonary system, until it’s impossible to pay attention to anything else. Judging from the narcotizing buzz vibrating all my soft tissues, I’m pretty sure my mitochondria were banging their heads too.

Babymetal at House of Blues on Thu 5/14

I’ve never laughed so much at a concert—and not the mocking, behind-my-hand kind, but giddy, incredulous, what-the-fuck-is-happening laughter. Babymetal’s infectious train wreck of sunny, sentimental J-pop, brutally compressed deathcore, and goofball techno was only half the spectacle: I also had to contend with the girls’ exhaustingly frisky choreography and the alarmingly enthusiastic crowd. The band dressed as Japanese ghosts, and a guy in the pit came in costume as a tomato.

False at the 2040 on Fri 8/7

One of the most celebrated bands in U.S. black metal played a tiny, musty sweatbox in the basement of an unlicensed venue in Pilsen, and it was awesome. False sounded like a tornado full of roofing nails trying to play a bleak and beautiful symphony, but offstage they were warm, charming, and even silly—I bonded with their singer, Rachel, over a cat we both gravitated toward in the backyard, and the guitarist who introduced himself as Skorpian had scissored the bottom edge of his red shorts into a toothy pirate fringe.

Mgła at Reggie’s Rock Club on Thu 11/12

These Polish black-metal masters write lyrics that read like a vivid and persuasive suicide note, and their stage presence is so icily nihilistic it seems almost contemptuous: they walked offstage without a word before the last note of their set had even finished reverberating in the air. But the stark grandeur and hopeless dignity of their melancholy, corrosively violent music spoke for them—and the band’s clear awareness of the futility of their efforts only increased their power.

Philip Montoro

Philip Montoro has been an editorial employee of the Reader since 1996 and its music editor since 2004. Pieces he has edited have appeared in Da Capo’s annual Best Music Writing anthologies in 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010, and 2011. He shared two Lisagor Awards in 2019 for a story on gospel pioneer Lou Della Evans-Reid and another in 2021 for Leor Galil's history of Neo, and he’s also split three national awards from the Association of Alternative Newsmedia: one for multimedia in 2019 for his work on the TRiiBE collaboration the Block Beat, and two (in 2020 and 2022) for editing the music writing of Reader staffer Leor Galil. Philip has played scrap metal in Lozenge, drummed with the Disasters, the Afflictions, and Brilliant Pebbles, and sung for the White Outs. He wrote the column Beer and Metal from 2012 till 2015, and hopes to do so again one day. You can also follow him on Twitter.