(DGR is doing his own mini-takeover of the site this week, counting down his top 50 albums of 2023)
To put things exceptionally bluntly I didn’t know if I was going to do a year end roundup this time.
Things have been exceptionally tough at home in regards to personal family matters and it’s been difficult to try to build up the will to do much of anything.
It’s an ongoing process that will likely be that way for a long fucking time.
However, I think that my reason for doing these remains the same because it does allow me to send the year off in a funeral pyre – though it’s not the only one I’m lighting this time.
2023’s list is an interesting one in part because I don’t think it ever really crystalized for me as much as much as earlier ones did (though there are definitely a lot of old-guard and favorites still on standby here).
I’m a creature of habit and when the things I enjoy do particularly well by me then all of the critics and high-marks be damned – it’ll wind up here.
You have to remember that this is a personal list for me and me alone.
The upper reaches of this list remain as fungible as ever so don’t be too insulted when you see your favorite band up here. I just liked them enough to include them and they still managed to beat out what I initially had as sixty-five albums since I grossly miscounted what I thought fifty was in the haze that I initially ranked this thing in.
Some of these groups could’ve been in the thirties one day and up here the next. This part moves with the tides, so to speak. So let’s continue on, lest I lost the will to do so.
50 – Cannibal Corpse – Chaos Horrific
Cannibal Corpse landing on the end of year list here is an interesting one for a few reasons. We’ve generally made it a mission to try and cover more underground groups over the years and let bigger names ‘exist’ with the idea that they don’t really need any help getting out there.
Often, when you see a bigger name float across the site its either because we’ve found something we actually enjoy about a record or because we have something to say. Otherwise, when the old sentinels of the metal genre take their stand and put out more material that is otherwise about as straight shooting for them as you can get, we’ll let our two ships pass by each other, wave, and continue on our respective journeys.
There are also multiple alternate realities where the latest continent-melters from Suffocation or Cryptopsy could just as easily have found their way into these reaches, and a name like Cannibal Corpse appearing here, even high up in the rankings of the ‘fungible, otherwise amorphous’ mass that is this segment of the list breaks with tradition a little bit.
Mostly because even though I still hold true to the ideal that for most of their career, the band’s discography has been remarkably consistent and, really, you could pick two or three from the last twenty or so years and shuffle up the track-listings and have a pretty fucking good time. It’s the equivalent of settling down to a solid burger at a restaurant. You know what you’re in for, and you know it’s gonna be good.
Yet three months after the release of Chaos Horrific I still find myself thinking about it and often letting the album run. I don’t know if it was the change in line-up that did it but there’s a subterranean craze of energy that seems to be working its way through the band.
Songs seem to be slightly more manic (something that Violence Unimagined hinted at quite a bit but which has now has bubbled to the surface even more), and a a little thrashier, and things punch a little harder.
The fact that the first two songs – “Overlords Of Violence” and “Frenzied Feeding” – could easily make appearances in a modern day Corpse setlist and I would be pretty happy is a wild thing to think, given that the sheer red-meat of the classics could comprise a set of their own.
It should’ve been obvious that taking the previous album and ‘what if we go faster?‘ was going to work, yet it still results in killer songs like “Blood Blind” and “Pitchfork Impalement”.
There’s enough life here (so to speak) in the brutalized dead that full album runs of Chaos Horrific haven’t been uncommon, which is a big part of what landed Cannibal Corpse the opening entry.
PS – it seemed unfair to put out a review basically saying the same thing and not acknowledging that here.
49 – Devangelic – Xul
Elsewhere in the lands of the titanic sounding we have the brutal death metal act Devangelic and their album Xul.
Every once in a while you can cross paths with a band that’ll feature some sort of giant beast or roaring monster on their cover art and then have the music within sound exactly like that.
Devangelic are one of those groups, and sound exactly like the gigantic creature that is on their cover art and Xul was one of those records that has powered me through the year by the sheer force of absolute fucking stupidity since its release in April, 2023
These are big songs, and not just in the traditional sense – the song lengths vary wildly across the album from anywhere between minute-fifty interstitials to well over six – but also because Devangelic sound absolutely massive here, existing in a brutal death realm of low end growls that could shake buildings apart and guitar work and rhythm section that works in tandem to move things by sheer force.
There has, of course, been many a word dedicated to the ensuing audio bloodbath that is Xul on this here site.
The challenge of not getting overwhelmed by the constant hammering of the album is part of the fun and like mentioned before, the amount of audio propellent on its own is enough to keep a person moving.
Days where I’ve been absolutely dragged through the mud and barely limping through work have many a times been punctuated by letting Xul provide the energy I otherwise need – lest I be found asleep standing up.
I would happily call bullshit on their being throroughly composed lyrics here in favor of letting a car engine rumble yet there’s plenty of room within the first few songs for there to be both.
Xul is an album where you can pick a few songs out at random and get a good impression of the release as a whole, or just hit play on ‘Scribes Of Xul” and let Devangelic smash everything into a fine-paste until they wrap up with their six minute closing number.
48 – Black Rabbit – Hypnosomnia
The strangest thing happens with me and Black Rabbit‘s Hypnosomnia.
Every time I’ve had to write about this disc I always find myself freezing up for a bit, as if I’m having some sort of difficulty with describing why their album hangs with me as much as it does.
Granted, it’s something I’ve gotten over before as I did wind up writing about said album at this here site, but there’s something to describing the upstart death metal crew’s album that seems to be put my brain in full “404 not found” mode.
On paper Black Rabbit are pretty understandable and part of the current wave of newer Death Metal projects out there, combining a healthy respect for the older guard slamming headlong into a current combination of revivalism and a fair bit of stealthy melody work courtesy of a light thrash flavoring, which means the Black Rabbit formula is one where you could see the band live without knowing a single song and probably rock out just as hard as someone who’d been following them since the release of their song “Taken By The Devil”.
Yet the real factor with Black Rabbit and why they’ve had a chokehold on getting into the year end fireworks accident since Hypnosomnia‘s March release is that although so much of what they’re doing is recognizable for those of us who’ve gotten good at seeing the musical gears turn, Black Rabbit groove and groove hard.
You get a lot of music with the album as well. For their first full length, Black Rabbit supply over fifty minutes here.
Broken out into smaller chunks and singles on their own you could find a whole bevy of songs to enjoy across Hypnosomnia and as a whole – once you get past the required intro stage setter – that’s still twelve songs that’re ballpark four-and-a-half minutes of collapsing wall of rhythm riffs.
“Delta Waves”, “Culmination of Hate”, “Hollow Eyes”, “Paradoxical Sleep”, and “Hellfire” are all worthy of shout-outs on their own but this is the sort of album that nails it to the wall far more than it misses.
As I mentioned before, yes, I understand most – if not everything – that is happening within the bounds of the Black Rabbit formula and could easily see the man behind the curtain any time I wanted, but like a few of the albums in the upper segment of this year end list, it doesn’t mean I want to.
47 – Mithridatum – Harrowing
Elsewhere in the world of heavy metal, we introduce ourselves to the first real monster of this list and the growing wave of ‘challenging’ and terrifying Death Metal groups in the form of Mithridatum and their album Harrowing.
It’s an album that is difficult to describe, part of the wave of dissonance-worshiping Death Metal crews that have been gaining strength over the past couple of years.
It’s a dense album that is written to overwhelm and suffocate and one that takes its small crew of musicians behind it and makes them sound monstrously gigantic.
Long story short, Harrowing is not one you throw on to have a good time and, judging by the fact that none of you cowards commented on it, I can assume that none of you did either.
Still, the thing about an album like this is that it’s one I am happy to have reviewed because it pushes you well outside of your comfort zone and tries to be something more than just another album release.
For effectively being Mithridatum‘s introduction to the world that is something both impressive and about as ambitious as you could get, and I can see why Willowtip might’ve wanted to get their paws on this thing.
Harrowing is only five songs for about thirty-five minutes of music but each of those tracks is its own battle to be had. Its one thick wall-of-noise composition after another, tumbling out of the musical closet like an endless avalanche of rubber balls in a comedy movie.
Within each song is its own journey to be had, though a full album run is just as rewarding. Its surprising how ‘full’ those thirty-five minutes feel, as if Mithridatum are compacting more and more within in each song.
I know there were a few times where I had thought that Harrowing was reaching into its final stretches only to discover that I was still camped out somewhere in the thick of either “Mournful Glow” or “Lower Power”, respectively.
In particular, “Lower Power” is one that has stuck around the most simply because the lasting impression of that song has been of it slowly reaching its tendrils into every crack and crevice it could find and then proceeding to bounce off of every wall nearby afterwards.
Harrowing is an album where you could pick a song and get an entirely different response from each person, with five different approaches to the overall formula.
It was one of those albums that felt like it had to be put out there not just to add to the pile of metal but because it requires more from the listener than the usual headbang ‘n’ mosh approach.
46 – Teeth Marks – Humans Are The Virus
I had a bit of a grind party back in February and you’ll note that some of the bands featured within that little show will likely be mentioned throughout this year end shebang.
Despite the overarching theme – short songs, musical hissy fit, maybe an instrument or two launched into a passing car – the three albums within were fairly distinct from one another, with two of them happily embracing the powerviolence and grindier side of the genre’s core customs and Hungary’s Teeth Marks grasping the Hardcore side of things with its fist so tight that it pops.
They still have a bunch of Grindcore conventions within their overall sound, but this is a band that took those and slammed them headlong into the shout-chorus and hefty-rhythms of the more breakdown-focused corner of Hardcore and the result is something that is impressively mean but still has plenty of circle pit riffs to go alongside its massive chugs and blatant throwdowns.
One reliable thing within the Teeth Marks formula is that the band are going to throw their all into whatever form they take in that particular moment.
If they move fast, they’re the fastest and noisiest they can be. If its ignorant punching the ground time, then you’d be well suited to think that Teeth Marks are going to be the first ones leaving cracks in the cement.
Songs like “Maelstrom” flash into and out of existence and follower “Tempest” dives right back in for seconds, and you can hear how the Teeth Marks crew are moving between their multiple genres within the first four songs.
The opening two are big, dumb chug fests that are among the longest songs on the album (clearing the two minute and thirty second mark), but then multiple songs afterwards lay anywhere between one and two minutes flat and that is it.
Teeth Marks end those songs with the finality of a hammer striking an anvil. Just one loud bang and the fucker is done.
The constant dance between Grind, Hardcore, and Death Metal – and even the occasional crossover-thrash riff (it happens twice, for like twenty seconds total) – is all done with Teeth Marks looking at a particular segment and going ‘alright, now how can we club someone to death with this?‘.
Humans Are The Virus was one of a strong class of ‘weaponized anger‘ albums that came out in 2023 and one that is worth diving into again if you missed it way back in February.
45 – Penny Coffin – Conscripted Morality
The bleak and brutal segment of the Death Metal garden remained particularly well-fed this year and Penny Coffin‘s EP Conscripted Morality was more than happy to supply its fair share of blood for the roots.
Yes, its an EP, but I’ve long given up trying to split out EPs and albums from each other without feeling like I’m banishing one to some sort of weird ghetto simply because it didn’t have the requisite number of tracks/minutes – especially when you consider I have grind albums on here that are shorter than some of the EPs.
Quite simply, if, by end of year, I feel its worth recommending to people and its something that still claws at the back of my skull then its likely it found its way on here.
Conscripted Morality is one such album though a simple claw is putting it politely because if the music is anything like the band imagines it being, its more like someone launched a fifty pound bag of concrete through my driver’s side window while I passed by them on the street.
There are, of course, more words to be found on this subject should the initial description strike your fancy.
Since we’re dealing with just four songs its hard not to go song by song on this release. Restricted to immediate highlights though, you’d do well for yourself to check out the titular “Conscripted Morality” song as well as opener “Ballistic”.
The title song is the one that the whole EP swirls around and descends upon so after three tracks that’ve steadily increased in both bleakness and length, “Conscripted Morality” feels like the final summation.
“Ballistic” on the other hand is the previously mentioned musical large object slammed through a windshield.
It may seem like a strange way to approach things by recommending the bookends but its also a hell of a way to recommend Conscripted Morality to people by going “here’s how the EP begins and here’s where it ends” and then letting them try to fill in the gaps. And, even then, they probably wouldn’t get anywhere close to some of the sludge-filled crushing moments that lay throughout this thing.
44 – Eridu – Enuma Elish
There was a small wave of discoveries made on this here site in the world of symphonic death metal this year.
Eridu‘s newest release Enuma Elish was one of those, couching itself in mythological worlds and Middle-Eastern melodies to create an adventure of an album.
Granted, there’s always a little room in my heart for the more theatrical among us like Eridu who imagine themselves to be much larger than a traditional band and write their music to match.
Its probably an understatement to say that a few of the songs here are suitably ‘big’. Eridu are an ambitious bunch and spend as much of Enuma Elish attempting to throw songs into planetary orbit as they can.
The main core that all of the symphonics and spectacle swirls around is largely one that dances between the Blackened, Brutal, and Melodeath realms, meaning that often times its that backing orchestra doing much of the melodic work while the band themselves are hammering away through genre-staples like movie quality bank robbers attempting to load one last bag before the police show up.
There’s a suitable amount of musical fireworks here to keep the brain suitably distracted enough that you never quite wind up seeking the man behind the curtain and dare I say it, at times Enuma Elish actually coalesces pretty well into a solid brick of music.
Though it is often the goal to combine as many of their varying elements combine into one as possible, Eridu at times throughout Enuma Elish will have the varying forms of their music more separate than they may have desired.
Thus, you have songs that are straightforward world enders like “Defiling The Tablet Of Destinies” and “Reign Supreme”, songs that are mostly folk-instrumental and interstitial scene setters, and then ones where the lines blur a little more like “Clay, Blood, and Vengeance” and “The Great Divide”.
The songs on Enuma Elish are suitably beefy given just how much they’re trying to get across, so its not an album that is as concise as you might want it to be, but the sheer amount of ambition and spectacle on display was enough to win me over, even in mid-May when I first came across the album.
43 – Ahab – The Coral Tombs
The Coral Tombs is an album that I would define as being the disc I have ‘fallen into’ and ‘fallen out of’ the most this year.
It’s the most insanely Ahab release imaginable and with a proven track record like the band has – and being one of the few doom groups I have time for – its hard to see that as too much of a bad thing.
There was still plenty to like within The Coral Tombs, which is why I constantly found myself going back to it but it is also an album that was defined by weeks of never really glancing in its direction again.
I’ll grant you, frequency of play is not a tremendous metric by which a year end list should be assembled but it would be hard to deny that it isn’t a factor given that there are so many different albums calling for your attention that you do have to mentally justify returning to the same halls again and again
I did appreciate that throughout The Coral Tombs that even the band themselves are at least somewhat aware that the overall Ahab formula is recognizable at this point and they tried to change things up a bit.
The core of slow moving, churning passages the band are known for is still firmly in place, and the nautical themes are still up at the forefront, but – whether it be a weird guitar effect, unexpected melodic change or equally unexpected bit of outright and up-front aggression – each song on at least had something to it other than just the rolling of the waves.
If you didn’t notice, that’s my by-line on the review of this diving bell, so this brief (and somewhat flippant) swim with the album here is fully elaborated upon there.
There are certainly magnetic moments throughout The Coral Tombs that will keep someone sitting there for the journey – “The Seas As A Desert” is one that still distinctly hangs with me, as do the opening moments of “Prof. Arronax’ Descent Into The Vast Oceans” – but it’s also the sort of album where no matter how lost you are in its inky depths, you’re still praising Ahab for making something that is recognizably Ahab.
That meant that since its January release, it became a mood album and there are few albums more befitting that sort of ‘mood’ than what Ahab do.
It sounds strange saying that of course, but the way The Coral Tombs got listened to a lot this year was when I really, really, wanted to listen to something which sounded like The Coral Tombs, which became a once every couple of months thing.
It was like a meter that needed to be filled, rather than a consistent highlight throughout. I would drift back into its orbit for a bit, go ‘wow, yeah, this is pretty enjoyable‘ and then float right back out for a few weeks.
Its a strange experience to describe but it would feel like a lie leaving it out of the festivities here if I didn’t address the way it did continue to drag me back in.
42 – Grand Cadaver – Deities Of Deathlike Sleep
There’s been a freight truck’s worth of Death Metal revival groups over the years and as of a handful ago we’ve even achieved the much vaunted ‘narrowing down to regional sub-genres‘ stage.
We’re now at the point where – if you’re not Bloodbath, who’ve travelled regions mightily – you have groups that are deep in the buzzsaw echo-chambers of the Swe-Death scene.
Enough so, that you even have groups resurrecting themselves in a weird sort of self-necromancy as they’ve seen their own value rise in the past couple.
Out of that grouping, each has developed their own signature sort of charm that even if you’re still treading at surface level – as I am prone to doing from time to time – you can still somewhat pick out one band from another without thinking that you’ve just stumbled into the “for fans of: genre” shuffled playlist on your favorite music service.
Grand Cadaver for all their airs of sinister and infernal are the ones I would argue have the stealthiest sense of lead-melody to them.
They tear through the various genre-tropes and riffs like a dog through dinner yet manage to hang on not just because they’re particular good at the one-two, but also because there is usually a serrated hook somewhere in the song that’ll catch you sideways.
Some of the stronger songs from Deities Of Deathlike Sleep hit prior to the album coming out so there was a sense of familiarity going into the disc upon first listen, but even then you’d still be hard pressed not to at least give a shout-out to a song like “Serrated Jaws”.
There’s also the title-track – which I went back to pretty constantly throughout the year when a full disc run wasn’t in order – and I still have a bit of a giggle at “Stabbed With Frozen Blood”, which may be one of the few times in this particular sub-section of the list that a band may have out Cannibal Corpse‘d the band themselves.
And while Deities Of Deathlike Sleep hews pretty close to the tried-and-true for its main songwriting, the band are subtly one of the more melodic ones out there, and there’s always something worming its way through the back-third of a song that you’ll find yourself humming along to.
90% of the time, the main gist of a song is about as joyously dumb as the band can make it – Grand Cadaver aren’t going to stray too far from the ol’ redneck stomp – but its those moments alongside it that keep the project more interesting than just another all-star cast of musicians slamming together a BBQ hamburger in musical form.
Trust me, when you have a track like “The Wishful Dead” available to you, you’re at least making a statement that there’s something more to you there than just revivalism and influence-worship.
41 – Mercenary – Soundtrack For The End Times
Every one of these end of year briar patches that I construct for myself and subsequently throw myself into has a handful of overly repeated phrases.
I swear to you, I make an effort every year to not sound like a jukebox that has taken one too many hits to the side but the compulsion to flap my gums about an album wins out more than my ‘stop using this shit’ note that I have stickied to the top left corner of my computer monitor.
One of the phrases you are – I guarantee this – going to see over and over again is the idea that “there has been a lot of time between releases here”. Yet, how else are you going to describe a decade long gap between albums – which is the mountain that Mercenary have built for themselves here with the release of Soundtrack For The End Times?
Up until the album’s September release date it had legit been a full decade and a few months since we had last heard from the band in full album terms (and they’re not the only ones that saw 2023 as a golden opportunity to emerge from whatever cave they’d been comfortably hibernating).
I didn’t review this bad boy. That honor fell to Andy, who emerged at about the same point I did after the first few listens.
Soundtrack For The End Times is an enjoyable as hell disc and it has enough hooks to remind you that there was something serious to the Mercenary formula and there’s a reason why they’ve held on somewhat as long as they have.
Its also an album wherein Mercenary make some of the most predictably ‘them’ music they possibly could’ve, at least as far as this current incarnation is concerned. So there’s no real big surprises to catch you on the back foot; instead you just get a surprisingly long pack of Mercenary songs that’ll take up an hour of your time.
Its got a weird spread too, with serious highlights being randomly dart-shot throughout the album. “Beyond The Waves” lays at the end, “A Darker Path” is midway through the album, “Where Darkened Souls Belong” was a single from last year but I kind of have to take the ‘if I ain’t seen it, its new to me’ approach with that one due to the weird region placement. And “Become The Flame” is one of a few anthems.
You can easily see how someone would constantly fall into and out of the orbit of an album like Soundtrack For The End Times. It got a boost already because I actively enjoy this incarnation of Mercenary and I imagine had I found more time for it in the back half of the year, it would’ve climbed even higher.
In that sense its a bit of a victim on that front; given that I was legit up ’til Christmas day slamming reviews into this website’s face. Still, Soundtrack For The Endtimes is one of those albums that seems to have emerged from a cryo-chamber – Mercenary have just picked up where they left off and are still way too damned good at a catchy-chorus or two.