(Andy Synn skims off the cream of the crop for your delectation)
So here we are, the top-tier of 2023 (in my opinion, at least, whatever that’s worth).
Now I need to stress, again, that these lists, while certainly extensive (there were well over 200 entries on yesterday’s “Good” list, and another 100-ish here) are in no way comprehensive, and there’s lots of stuff I will have missed out on or just wasn’t feeling enough to want to write about.
But while this means, obviously, that there’s going to be some notable omissions, wouldn’t you prefer it if I continued to use my limited time to focus more on stuff that I really liked and/or stuff that I think deserved more exposure, rather than just covering the exact same artists and albums who just happen to receive lots of attention and coverage elsewhere?
One thing you’ll possibly notice going through this article is an overarching “proggy” vibe running through a lot of the albums I’ve selected for my “Great” list. For whatever reason, 2023 just felt like a year where the more “progressive” side of the genre (and related sub-genres) really came to the fore.
That doesn’t mean, however, that there aren’t just some straightforward killers, crushers, and straight-up face-melters here too. After all, “greatness” comes in many forms, after all, and you don’t need to to try and reinvent the wheel or push the envelope in order to make something great!
LEGENDS AND LEADERS
It’s noticeable – at least, it was to me – that most of the big names and highly-hyped releases left me feeling somewhat underwhelmed this year.
That being said, there were some major exceptions, with both Cattle Decapitation and Panopticon continuing their ascension (even if I thought the latter was a slight step down from its predecessor).
More importantly, however, I am continually blown away by how great the new Dying Fetus, Obituary, and Suffocation albums are, proving that each of these old dogs not only have some new tricks up their sleeves but that their bite is still even stronger than their bark.
While I wasn’t always that impressed by a lot of the “big” releases of the year, 2023 was definitely a great year for new bands making their mark.
On the Death Metal side of things albums from Ashen, Fossilization, and Terra Builder all deserved just as much, if not more, hype than their more over-exposed brethren (with Ritual of Ash in particular being the sort of album that should have hit more ears this year), as did the Blackened Death brutality of Serpent of Old.
I was also a huge fan of Moor‘s prodigiously powerful Post-Doom debut, Heavy Heart, and the similarly doomy, blackened brilliance of Sól Án Varma‘s stunning self-titled album.
And, of course, The Anchoret‘s prog-tastic It All Began With Loneliness, Fabricant‘s mind-mangling Drudge to the Thicket, and The Salt Pale Collective‘s sublime single-track debut, all showcased the more progressively ambitious side of the scene in strikingly different ways!
The Anchoret – It All Began With Loneliness
Ashen – Ritual of Ash
Chaînes – Les Litanies des Chaînes
Fabricant – Drudge to the Thicket
Fossilization – Leprous Daylight
Moor – Heavy Heart
Narbo Dacal – Elysium Now
Rosa Faenskap – Jeg blir til deg
The Salt Pale Collective – A Body That Could Pass Through Stones and Trees
Serpent of Old – Ensemble Under the Dark Sun
Sól Án Varma – Sól Án Varma
Terra Builder – Solar Temple
ONLY DEATH IS REAL
I’ve said a few times that, from my perspective at least, 2023 was a mostly “Good” rather than a “Great” year for Death Metal (even though the common consensus seems to be otherwise).
But I’ve come to realise that this is more about what’s been getting all the focus and attention, because albums like Visions of Infinihility, Insatiable Thirst for Torment, and Obsidian Refractions prove that the genre is still capable of creating morbid magic.
And while I’m surprised that both Outer Heaven and Phobocosm have been somewhat overlooked (maybe they’re both just that little bit too dark, and that little bit too heavy, to have the sort of mass-appeal that other, bigger, albums do) I’m not surprised that both Horrendous and Tomb Mold received so much attention for their new albums, as the step into proggier realms has pushed both bands to a new level.
Carnosus – Visions of Infinihility
Celestial Sanctuary – Insatiable Thirst For Torment
Cruciamentum – Obsidian Refractions
Horrendous – Ontological Mysterium
Majesties – Vast Reaches Unclaimed
Outer Heaven – Infinite Psychic Depths
Phobocosm – Foreordained
Tomb Mold – The Enduring Spirit
Ulthar – Anthronomicon / Helionomicon
DISSONANT, BLACKENED, BRUTAL
On the more dissonant and discordant side of the Death Metal scene, bands old and new – including Afterbirth and Mithridatum – continued to push the genre in new, non-Euclidean directions (although, I have to admit, I still prefer the previous album by the former band).
While those looking for a prime dose of blackened brutality should really give the new albums from resurgent Greek titans Burial Hordes and their freshly-formed countrymen Wothrosch a listen ASAP.
And as for Wothrosch‘s artfully abrasive Achamoth? Well, you’ll be reading more about that one later this week…
Afterbirth – In But Not Of
Anachronism – Meanders
Burial Hordes – Ruin
Devangelic – Xul
Mithridatum – Harrowing
Nightmarer – Deformity Adrift
Nott – Hiraeth
Sulphur Aeon – Seven Crowns & Seven Seals
Wothrosh – Odium
Wells Valley – Achamoth
PROGRESSIVE MENTALITY, CREATIVE TECHNICALITY
Remember how I’ve been saying this has been a surprisingly “proggy” year?
Well, here’s some more proof for you, whether you prefer the mournful melodic creativity of a band like Fires In The Distance, the genre-blending sonic cinematography of Hypno5e, or the introspective intensity and devastating density of Rannoch‘s crushing new album, Conflagrations.
And, of course, if you’re looking for some stunning fretwork you should definitely give the new Gorod and Stortregn albums a listen, or check out A Flourishing Scourge and/or Obsidian Tide for a taste of pure progressive power.
Aetherian – At Storm’s Edge
A Flourishing Scourge – Sickened Seed
Atavistia – Cosmic Warfare
Fires In The Distance – Air Not Meant For Us
The Gorge – Mechanical Fiction
Gorod – The Orb
Hypno5e – Sheol
Obsidian Tide – The Grand Crescendo
Rannoch – Conflagrations
Stortregn – Finitude
The World Is Quiet Here – Zon
Xoth – Exogalactic
BLACK IS THE NEW BLACK
If you like your Metal overflowing with bellicose blastbeats, twisted tremolo runs, and scorching screams then may I offer you some of the best Black Metal that 2023 had to offer?
From the extravagant extremity of Horda‘s Form to the raw fury of Qwälen‘s Syvä Hiljaisuus and the shape-shifting sounds of Somniate‘s We Have Proved Death, the last twelve months have been as rich in pure blackened venom as they were in visceral variety.
And whether you like your Black Metal positively dripping in desolate atmosphere (Nyrst, Икотка) or laced with poisonously proggy vibes (Slidhr, Wyrgher) or just bursting with nasty riffs (Spirit Possession) I’m sure you’ll find something here to love.
Bull of Apis, Bull of Bronze – The Fractal Ouroboros
Horda – Form
Moonreich – Amer
Nyrst – Völd
Porenut – Mislives
Qwälen – Syvä Hiljaisuus
Slidhr – White Hart!
Somniate – We Have Proved Death
Spirit Possession – Of The Sign…
Thron – Dust
Wyrgher – Panspermic Warlords
Икотка – Распад
BLASTING AND BLISTERING
Of course, if you want to hear something that ramps up the in-your-face intensity and bitter blackened fury even further, then the more stripped-down, straight-for-the-throat, Hardcore-influenced assault of albums like Calligram‘s cathartic Position | Momentum and Telos‘s devastating Delude, or the take-no-prisoners Black/Grind/Sludge punishment of Rorcal‘s Silence and Tithe‘s Inverse Rapture, might be even more your speed (emphasis on “speed”).
And there’s no way in hell we can ignore the fact that Ὁπλίτης put out three(!) absolutely killer albums of technically twisted riffage and angular, antagonistic aggression this year (with the most recent, Ἀντιτιμωρουμένη, possibly being my favourite of the bunch).
Calligram – Position | Momentum
Downfall of Gaia – Silhouettes of Disgust
Rană – Richtfeuer
Rorcal – Silence
Telos – Delude
Tithe – Inverse Rapture
Trespasser – Ἀποκάλυψις
Ὁπλίτης – Ψευδομένη
Ὁπλίτης – Τρωθησομένη
Ὁπλίτης – Ἀντιτιμωρουμένη
SHADOWY, SINISTER, AND STRANGE
If you like your Black Metal atmospheric and/or melodic side of things, however, both Afsky‘s new one and Krigsgrav‘s pheneomenal Fires In The Fall (which, for my money, managed to be superior to both the new Enslaved and Insomnium albums put together) should be on your list to listen to ASAP, as should the sinister strains of Wordless by The Sun’s Journey Through the Night.
Whereas anyone interested in the weirder side of the Black Metal spectrum will doubtless have already checked out the new Dødheimsgard (and if you haven’t, what are you waiting for?) but might have overlooked both Altari and Teitan.
And then, if you’re really looking for something warped, try Genevieve‘s brain-scrambling Akratic Parasitism or Sea Mosquito‘s singularly strange Igitur.
Afsky – Om Hundrede År
Altari – Kröflueldar
Dødheimsgard – Black Medium Current
Genevieve – Akratic Parasitism
Haar – Ouroboros
Krigsgrav – Fires In The Fall
Mephorash – Krystl-Ah
Miserere Luminis – Ordalie
Sea Mosquito – Igitur
The Sun’s Journey Through The Night – Worldless
Teitan – In Oculus Abyss
DOOMY AND GLOOMY, PROGGY AND MOODY
From the gorgeously gloomy strains of Anesidora by Isole (who continue to prove themselves to be one of the best, and most underappreciated, bands in the genre) to the immersive ambience and artistic ambitions of Nebulae Come Sweet (one of my favourite new discoveries of the year) and the soul-crushing sound of Oak‘s doom-laden Disintegrate, the more sombre side of the spectrum more than delivered the goods this year (and, remember, I’m still only just scratching the surface here).
Add to that the melancholy magic of Meanwhile, which finds Klone continuing to be at the absolute top of their game, and the anthemic melodic muscle of Ohhms (RIP) and their fantastic final album, and I’m sure you’ll have a lot to listen to from this section alone.
Earthside – Let the Truth Speak
Isole – Anesidora
Klone – Meanwhile
Nebulae Come Sweet – De Lumière
Oak – Disintegrate
Ohhms – Rot
Somnuri – Dessiderium
TodoMal – A Greater Good
Witch Ripper – The Flight After the Fall
HEAVY RIFFS AND HEAVIER ATMOSPHERE
Between the two of them, Post-Metal prodigies Death Engine and Torpor delivered a pair of 2023’s heaviest albums (just give them a listen if you don’t believe me) while both A Constant Knowledge of Death and Chained to the Bottom of the Ocean stepped up their games significantly with the cathartic filth and fury of Dissecting a One-Winged Bird and Obsession Destruction (respectively).
At the same time, the humongous riffosity of Herod‘s explosive epitaph Iconoclast and Warcrab‘s punishing The Howling Silence could also give anything from this year’s heavy crop a run for their money, while the more experimental and unorthodox approach of artists like Entropia and Remote Viewing made for a more challenging, but equally crushing, listening experience.
A Constant Knowledge of Death – Dissecting a One-Winged Bird
Body Void – Atrocity Machine
Chained to the Bottom of the Ocean – Obsession Destruction
Death Engine – Ocean
Entropia – Total
Herod – Iconoclast
Lo! – The Gleaners
Remote Viewing – Modern Addictions
Torpor – Abscission
Warcrab – The Howling Silence
Since last year was such a big year for Hardcore – for me anyway – I think I’d managed to convince myself that 2023 was something of a disappointment in comparison.
Well, as it turns out, I couldn’t have been more wrong, as while I may not have loved a lot of the bigger releases of the year (which, to be clear, no judgement, they just weren’t for me) the sheer metallic heaviness of albums from END, Horsewhip and Incendiary more than made up for what their more “mainstream-friendly” relations may have lacked!
It wasn’t just about raging riffs and bludgeoning breakdowns however (although there were more than enough of those, that’s for sure) with the the chaotic unpredictability and grinding savagery of the likes of Forcefed Horsehead and Sleepsculptor both serving to push things in an even more extreme and unpredictable direction (Monoceros in particular is a personal favourite) while there was simply no denying the the creative, captivating songwriting and expressive emotional intensity which made the new albums from Dreamwell and Svalbard such a spellbinding listening experience.
Dreamwell – In My Saddest Dreams, I Am Beside You
END – The Sin of Human Frailty
Horsewhip – Consume and Burn
Humanity’s Last Breath – Ashen
Forcefed Horsehead – Monoceros
Incendiary – Change The Way You Think About Pain
Racetraitor – Creation and the Timeless Order of Things
Sleepsculptor – Divine Recalibration
Svalbard – The Weight of the Mask