Nov 222023

As part of our annual NCS LISTMANIA extravaganza we re-publish lists of the year’s best metal that appear on web sites which appeal to vastly larger numbers of readers than we do — not because we believe those readers or the writers have better taste in metal than our community does, but more from a morbid curiosity about what the great unpoisoned masses are being told is best for them. It’s like opening a window that affords an insight into the way the rest of the world outside our own disease-ridden nooks and crannies perceives the music that is our daily sustenance.

One of those sites is PopMatters. It has been in existence since 1999. In its own words, the site “is an international magazine of cultural criticism and analysis” with a scope that includes “most cultural products and expressions in areas such as music, television, films, books, video games, sports, theatre, the visual arts, travel, and the Internet”. PopMatters, which has been independently owned and operated since its inception, claims that it is “the largest site that bridges academic and popular writing in the world”.

As in past years, PopMatters has today published a list of “The 20 Best Metal Albums“ of the year, again under the by-line of Spyros Stasis and Antonio Poscic. You’ll find that list below.


After perusing the 2019 version of this list one of my NCS colleagues remarked, “The PopMatters list feels MUCH more like the author actually cares about what is ‘best’ and not just ‘what our readers want us to choose’”. I thought that was an astute observation that year, and I think it continues to apply. In fact, much of what I wrote about the PopMatters list in past years continues to apply.

My instinct, as before, is that this will be one of the most interesting lists we’re likely to see in our growing collection of 2023 lists from print zines and “big platform” web sites. It does cover a broad range of genres, some of which will not personally appeal to every reader who comes our way, but the list again appears to be the result of genuine effort and honest thought — and it dives pretty deep.

If you’re keeping count, there are five overlaps (Dødheimsgard, Thantifaxath, Frozen Soul, Lamp of Murmuur, Jesus Piece, and Tomb Mold) with the list from Decibel that we re-published to start this year’s LISTMANIA orgy, which is more than usual, but the rest of the picks are different.

There might be another reason why I enjoy looking at the list. As someone who tries to keep up with what’s happening in extreme underground music, I’m usually surprised by how many entries on the PopMatters list I haven’t heard, or in some cases haven’t even heard of. We did pay attention to many of the selections this year, but certainly not all.

As usual, the write-ups by Stasis and Poscic about each of the choices are enjoyable to read, and you can find those HERE, along with stream embeds. Here, for example, is part of the mini-essay accompanying the album that took the No. 1 spot on the list:

The application of atmospherics and further sound design build a crystalline monument, one capable of exploding in a myriad of colors. To balance things out, Anti-God Hand still offer grueling and oppressive moments. The continuous beating in “Endless Brightness”, the in-your-face assault of “Demon Sniper”, and the complete nihilism of “Warped and Opalescent Swords” are examples of this modus operandi. It all results in a very technically sound, forward-thinking, and beautifully balanced work of extreme music.

And with that, here’s the entire PopMatters list. What do you think?


20. Auriferous Flame – Ardor for Black Mastery (True Cult)

19. Lamp of Murmuur – Saturnian Bloodstorm (Argento)

18. Diego Caicedo – Seis Amorfismos (Burning Ambulance)

17. Dying Fetus – Make Them Beg For Death (Relapse)

16. Laster – Andermans Minje (Prophecy)

15. Liturgy – 93696 (Thrill Jockey)

14. Jesus Piece – So Unknown (Century Media)

13. Cicada the Burrower – Blight Witch Regalia (Blue Bedroom)

12. Thantifaxath – Hive Mind Necrosis (Dark Descent)

11. Tomb Mold – The Enduring Spirit (20 Buck Spin)

10. Frozen Dawn – The Decline of the Enlightened Gods (Transcending Obscurity)

9. Ascended Dead – Evenfall of the Apocalypse (20 Buck Spin)

8. Ulthar – Anthronomicon/Helionomicon (20 Buck Spin)

7. Dødheimsgard – Black Medium Current (Peaceville)

6. Afterbirth – In But Not Of (Willowtip)

5. Khanate – To Be Cruel (Sacred Bones)

4. Sea Mosquito – Igitur (Independent/Onism)

3. Body Void – Atrocity Machine (Prosthetic)

2. Kostnatění – Úpal (Willowtip)

1. Anti-God Hand – Blight Year (American Dreams)


  1. It’s a pretty solid list even when considering the exclusion of any I, Voidhanger releases. Afterbirth will probably appear on many a list, deservedly so. Ulthar and Cicada the Burrower should too, great to see them here.

  2. Lets Get All This Together Into the Deep Pit….Surprised To See This Killer List From Pop Matters.
    Just Listen Sea Mosquito / Son Of Man For The Mind Altering Experience

  3. Both Anti-God Hand and Auriferous Flame are worthy, and Anti-God Hand as the top pick is something you probably wont see on many other lists.

    Tomb Mold’s new one checks off all the boxes for a music journalists wet dream, so I fully expect its going to be everywhere. I also fully expect the underground to completely check out on them as a band.

    Kostnatění released a great album as well, but I feel like it’s going to be the Spectral Lore/Oranasi Pazuzu “black metal for people who don’t like black metal” release of 2023….still a great release though. Won’t take that away from him

  4. Not nearly as bad as I expected…very surprised by Body Void at #3….great album…and definitely not “masses” friendly.

  5. Thanks for the very kind words about our list! The list and the monthly column Spyros and I run at PopMatters are purely a labor of love, so it’s rewarding to receive positive feedback.

    Re I, Voidhanger: We both love Luciano’s work, and a bunch of their releases missed out by the smallest of margins (A.M.E.N., Onkos, and Asystole).

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