(We’ve already presented a 2023 year-end list of “Dark Horse” records compiled by Axel Stormbreaker, but the ones he left out to make the list more digestible kept chewing on him to be observed, and so now we have this supplement.)
So, here’s what didn’t make the final cut of my 2023’s Dark-Horse list. As you may have guessed, any reasons vary in each and all circumstances. There’s some stuff I found out about after I compiled my final picks. And then there are some comps / EPs I had to exclude for the sake of homogeneity. And there’s also the issue about artists who either sound commercial, or end up too popular to be considered a current part of the underground.
Plus, shoving 30+1 albums from every possible genre down your sore throat in one go seems kinda unproductive. Being a labor worker who sleeps with Sharon Stone, while remaining clueless he’s an international spy whose not-so-Mexican girlfriend is waiting for him on Mars to overthrow an evil government makes more sense comparably… especially after watching the said movie. The latter is a brilliant work of exaggerated science fiction. The former, plain madness, simply put.
So, there you go. Another list of odd records that sound cooler than your band. This time I’ll have to adjust my style to the music described, or not. But since this article’s dedicated to Total Recall and its Mind-Bending Edition, you should expect to raise an eyebrow or two on more than one occasion.
16. Owdwyr – Receptor
Fairly interesting this one. Theatrical death metal done the prog way. To clarify things a bit here, what we got are 15 tracks whose average length won’t exceed the margin of 3 minutes or so. Its elaborate constructs may not align to the narrow frames that define a technical death metal release, but rather to the perspective of how an extreme metal soundtrack unfolds its multiple layers of interloping influences.
Thus, should I attempt making any comparisons I’d say Gojira meets Gridlink here, who likewise meets Don Caballero, who, likewise, meets Santa fuckin’ Claus Pavarotti. I’m aware it doesn’t sound that way, but on the one hand, what you get is prog death metal that’s nearly accessible in parts, along with a bunch of disharmonic, spastic leads that bump forcibly upon each other. Oh, and then there are those jazzy asymmetric parts that bring full closure to the subject, or not. This fucker is epic to the point any attempt of separating its numerous ingredients would rather confuse the reader, than offer any assistance to the matter.
P.S.: Kudos to “Temple” for pointing them out. Didn’t wanna leave anything out so I had to create an extra slot. After all, “Not Afraid” did remind me of my NYC hardcore days. Cool vibes right there.
15. Lichen – Neolithic Sorcery
This one I chose not to add ‘cos its best material dates back to 2021. But my opinion hasn’t strayed, since Neolithic Sorcery is one of last year’s most intriguing underground black metal compilations you may come across. What we have here is some brilliant guitar work in the vein of the old Scandinavian scene, held together by some architectural form of obsessiveness despite its abrasive aesthetics stemming from their raw BM background. Or you should just listen to its opening track “Igne.Natura.Renovatur.Integra.” to see what it’s all about. Last time I enjoyed such an epic-sounding release must have been around the time Ljå released Til Avsky for Livet.
14. Dark Shaman – Evil Ceremony
This one I left out ‘cos it’s an EP and I had already selected a Danish doom metal compilation. What you should be expecting is the usual ol’ fun; down-tuned guitars, funny people wearing odd pointy hats, naked virgins tied upon the altar, etc. Ideal for fans of Electric Wizard and Coven. It’s groovy, dubious, imposing, as well as illustrative of how a zillion clichés we’ve seen and heard before still provoke God-fearing awe. Plus, they’re from Sicily (Italy), which makes it a tad bit intriguing.
It even sounds so cool when you say it out loud. Sicilian occult doom. Yeah.
13. Trhä – nêbamducel cánsë ulan da gunej
Of course Trhä deserved a slot, but I had to split my picks in two categories so I’d organize my thoughts better. Plus, I’m not sure they’re a Dark Horse band anymore, at least in regards to what raw BM enthusiasts have been following lately. Still, facts won’t change nêbamducel cánsë ulan da gunej has been one of their finest offerings in 2023, and may I say, it ends up as thoroughly more concise in respect to its integral flow. You’ll hear the same established combination of elements amicably fused together, from Japanese black metal up to US country (God, I love that banjo). As well as the usual howls and shrieks that haunt your late-night sleep. No surprises there. No fucking disappointments.
12. Merlin – Grind House
I can’t quite make up my mind on how I should describe this one. On the one hand you get jazzy ‘70s rock. On the other retro synthwave. And then there are these epic cinematic moments rolling out this withered red carpet (that’s apparently borrowed from some abandoned old theater). It’s a fucking beautiful and, at the same time, outrageous record, crafted by solitary souls who choose to walk down this dark neon road on their own volition, regardless where it may eventually lead them.
Even though, the sole fact Goblin coexist with Morricone here should urge you to hop upon Merlin’s train, like, real fast. Before the clock strikes midnight and you see it turn into a fucking pumpkin.
11. Jørgen Thorvald – Ghost Citizens
Soil records from Spain has been one of my favorite current labels regarding underground electronic music. Jørgen Thorvald’s Ghost Citizens is their second release featured at NCS, following a pattern of shady beats, industrialized techno, as well as electronic body music suitable even to inflexible metallized tastes.
Nothing too spectacular, on all accounts. It’s just so damn good.
10. Geist – Blueprints To Moderate Sedation
What UK’s Geist are offering here is the usual blend of hardcore punk, crust and grindcore that’s been popular to certain crowds for a matter of two decades. Again, no surprises there. But while there are thousands of similar bands out there, I found this particular record immensely enjoyable. What you get are cool no-bullshit riffs, raspy, expressive vocals, along with an approach as muddy as your deepest darkest despair. The end of the world is coming, after all, probably sooner than later. We might just as well crank our speakers up and fucking celebrate.
9. Krieg – Ruiner
I gave Ruiner a few listens after reading how NJ previously stated he has been checking lists to see if it made its way in any of those. And I must admit I felt too fuckin’ tempted to write some bleak British jokes along with this “review”, even though I’m just a contributor here (plus, my best guess is he can throw a punch).
Which is why I changed my mind, especially after hearing “Solitarily, A Future Renounced”, a song that defines both the solitary side of black metal and the very detachment that plagues every regular BM writer. Of course, Ruiner does offer its good chunk of great party black metal too (especially in regards to the opening tracks, “Red Rooms”, for instance is so Armagedda in parts). It’s just how I feel about those nostalgic moments that add value to the whole, such as “No Gardens Grow Here” and its agricultural opening, or the epic passages gracing “The Lantern And The Key”.
But then again, I’m this brave cocky Edgelord, who stays in character no matter what. So, I’m obliged to take everything back and grade this album with an absolute zero. Don’t you dare to listen to it, or you may, in fact, enjoy it.
8. Oblique Occasions – Guile
Another intriguing release from this eclectic Maryland-based project. Nostalgic ’70s/’80s beats that shine wondrously down to their last insignificant detail (note this one’s more jazz-y compared to its predecessors). It’s that exact blend of silly/jaunty ingredients that appear arguably suitable to ease your aching Sunday mornings. If you’d ask me, you better put on the kettle and let its soundscapes flow while cleansing thoroughly last night’s hangover.
P.S.: “冷たい心 ” makes Madonna sound cooler than your goat. If you dig such stuff, make sure you also check here my last year’s Valentine’s Day article.
7. Mudhoney – Plastic Eternity
A band that needs zero introduction. I need to revisit some of their past works, but so far it’s my favorite Mudhoney album since Under A Billion Suns. And that, by itself, should mean a lot.
6.6.6. Hellripper – Warlocks Grim & Withered Hags
Peaceville is no Dark-Horse label, of course. Yet, Warlocks Grim & Withered Hags may have raised a few eyebrows here and there, even if only for evolving Hellripper’s uncompromising style. It’s those tricky, thrashy riffs that quiver amidst the epic aura once found in Necrophobic’s mid/late era, or even old-school Dissection. As well as, those calculated, elaborate constructs that revel in maturity unlike few releases of 2023. Whole point is what we deal with is an absolute banger, a brilliant record that’s only meant to stay. Or just an engaging treat bound to spin on your turntables till its grooves degrade further than Hell’s own domain.
P.S.: “The Hissing Marshes” would make Lemmy proud.
5. Phase Fatale – Nailed To The Net
Phase Fatale’s first EP release in a good while features an eclectic mix of old-school techno, hints of drum ‘n’ bass and electronic body music, amicably regulated through Hayden Payne’s impulsive precision. Of course, I do realize Berlin’s techno scene ain’t quite the hot NCS subject, but one may well argue this stuff’s industrial too. It’s just the guitar missing.
4. Diary of Dreams – Melancholin
Longtime fan here. Diary of Dreams may have been departing from the style they’d been gradually establishing in their post-One of 18 Angels era, but I can’t complain as I’d been starting to lose my interest in their current releases. What they chose with Melancholin here was to evoke the finest elements of their ’90s period, all while maintaining its focus undisrupted towards a stimulating future. A captivating release all around, their most intricate and well-thought one in ages. Can’t say I don’t feel intrigued to find out what the future holds in store for them, especially now that Adrian Hates sounds more revitalized than ever.
3. Profanatica – Crux Simplex
PRAISE THE GOAT! This is what demo-era Profanatica would sound like had they recorded their shit in 2023. Sounds like a party after a dirty bar brawl, one wherein your wasted, no-good buddies are throwing glass beer bottles at each other, while, as you lay beaten to shit, close to unconscious, you find yourself holding your swollen, aching balls. It’s just so good and so fun, it almost smells like Christmas. My best guess is its only downside must be how it fails to make a striking first impression, so keep that in mind in the light of taking some additional few listens.
2. Edge of Paradise – Hologram
Now how should I call this? An impassioned blend of sci-fi electronics, industrial/heavy metal and regulated dosages of teenage angst? Perhaps? A great record, nevertheless, even if (some of) our readers may view it as a tad bit too juvenile for their taste. Personally, not only do I love everything I’ve heard from this band, but I’m fairly convinced Hologram is a well-thought release aiming at the mainstream crowd. I may be wrong, of course, but I don’t think Frontiers is the right label for them, considering their evolutionary stages keep on aiming at younger audiences, rather progressively. Nuclear Blast would seem as a bet safe enough for a fit more suitable, especially if they chose to record a song or two in German language.
1. Kangding Ray – Wann Kommst Du Meine Wunden Küssen (Kiss My Wounds / Original Film Score)
An unconventional marriage of ethereal Heaven sealed in the fiery pits of your solitary Hell. Kangding Ray’s original score for Wann Kommst Du Meine Wunden Küssen should be of no surprise to his followers, thanks to his expertise in merging soundscapes alike few prominent artists of his kind. To lay it down in simple words, this OST is so good it’s bound to tempt you to watch the accompanying movie, regardless whether you speak its native language or not. It’s soothing, provoking, alluring, heartbreaking. It’s human nature itself, broken down to its fundamental pieces.
Please note I wrote the comment about wanting to watch the movie prior to finding out the latest one on Bandcamp says pretty much the same.