(DGR continues his run-down of his favourite releases of 2023)
This segment is an intriguing one for me because you start to see a few of the EPs I enjoyed throughout the year popping up.
I’ll go deeper into why I didn’t split them out as I come across them but alongside all of that noise there’s a bunch of the weirder and more challenging works of my year.
There’s hooks and power-choruses to be found for sure but some these groups are going to make you work to get there.
This is also where a lot of my old favorites find themselves – its like how I have a fondness for Mountain Dew, I know what one tastes like and I know that I still whole heartedly enjoy a particularly good one – since they’re known factors and did very good versions of their sound.
They deserve to be highlighted and rewarded for that even as I explored elsewhere for much of 2023 as I think I did hit a bit of a breaking point when it came to having simply good additions to a group’s overall discography.
The next edition should be equally exciting if I ever get up to fighting my way through it as I think there’ll be a lot of interesting names there – though I assure you its none of your favorites, so stop asking.
40 – Autarkh – Emergent
I am placing this one here and cackling like a fool while doing so because I know full well that a few of you are going to click play on this and have no idea what you’re in for and that is glorious.
Of course, I reviewed this one for the site right around the time of its release, but even then it is certainly not going to be the most outright Metal thing you’re going to hear all day.
Emergent is a challenging album, and purposefully so, as the band are questing to keep things strange as well as stretch the boundaries of just how far they can push their music, as the more Avante-Garde among us are want to do.
I brought it up in the review but you have to keep in mind that Autarkh are the sort of band that wants to keep as many things available to them as possible – they’ve even performed a drone/doom interpretation of their first album.
If you’re unfamiliar with Autarkh, the project was one of a few that has sprung out of the ashes of Dodecahedron (RIP) and their first album, Form In Motion, was originally reviewed by Andy back in March of 2021.
Fusing a lot of electronics with their Avante-Garde and Black Metal sensibilities, the band’s debut was a challenging listen no doubt (although it is also possessed a sharp industrialized groove, but Emergent is challenging in an entirely different way.
Emergent is an album that could easily be a lot of things to a lot of different people, as Autarkh have a lot of ideas threading their way through the album like alien tendrils wrapping their way through an empty hall.
The electronics and industrial side of the band still holds a lot of sway, but it is a different style and approach than the strictly overbearing mechanical nature that the group were wielding like a weapon on Form In Motion.
There’s a crazed and manic aspect to the album that is almost equal in measure to the strangely meditative and strangely beautiful side of their sound, and although Emergent gets lost in itself at times it always manages to fight its way back to some semblance of reality.
That being said, even when you feel like you finally have a hold on what Autarkh are going to do they gleefully launch themselves not just off the beaten path, but through the walls of the next few buildings over.
Are there still metal as hell moments throughout? Absolutely. But make no mistake – Emergent is one of those releases where Autarkh are using Metal as just one weapon in their arsenal, rather than strictly making a straight-forward ‘Metal’ album.
Either way, it’s a wild thing to experience and one that I take tremendous joy in unleashing upon people.
39 – Obituary – Dying Of Everything
Of the Death Metal old guard that released albums in 2023 I found myself wandering into the orbit of Obituary‘s Dying Of Everything far more than I expected to.
It took a while to rationalize, but it came down to the fact that it’s got such a hefty amount of groove to it, and for as much as Obituary are playing an Obituary album here it still seems like every song was constructed entirely around Don Tardy’s drumming and Terry Butler’s bass tone.
In that sense, it’s far more of a groove album than people realize. It keeps thing simple and quick-moving and feeds the listener multiple doses of the classic Bolt Thrower “Anti-Tank” double bass drum tempo.
Obituary aren’t seeking to change the world and there is nothing overly profound here. Hell, I think I’ve played dart games that would have higher scores on a philosophy test than some of the subject matter tackled on Dying Of Everything.
But that’s not a band thing, as the band shoot down Death Metal tropes like anti-aircraft fire and deliver a lot of raw, chest-beating aggression across Dying Of Everything.
Which brings me to the second reason and the one I think has really been why I went back to Dying Of Everything again and again. This album sounds like thunder. This album hits hard. In fact, this album sounds like how I describe Obituary “live” to people.
Let me explain – I have been lucky enough to see Obituary a couple of times now and have always told people that the band come of so much better live than they do on the album.
They’re a band that I can make an honest sales pitch that you don’t need to know a fucking note from the group and if you have the opportunity to see them live, you’ll know exactly what they’re doing and fold right into it from the start. It’s something else.
I don’t think a lot of Obituary albums have ever fully captured the low rumble or how thrashy they get when doing the live thing of playing the song slightly faster up until now.
Dying Of Everything, I think, captures a ton of that energy and sounds like what an Obituary live set is.
It is full “brain turn off, animal instinct” style music from one of the bigger names out there, and since its early January release it’s become a consistent part of my year.
38 – Foretoken – Triumphs
Virginia’s Foretoken were an early-ish – putting some huge qualifiers on early here – discovery in the year and one that threw a lance right at my soft spot for ‘smaller line-ups that are way more ambitious than you’d expect’ with their second album Triumphs.
I went deeper into this in a pretty wild three pack of reviews back in March, but the short of it is that Foretoken play a pretty ambitious style of symphonic Melodeath.
They are crafters of large songs that are packed to the brim and I knew upon hearing Triumphs earlier in the year that I had to save a spot for them somewhere on the year end hedge trimming, even if it meant they’d wind up higher in the nebulous ‘numbers mean nothing and the points don’t mean anything’ area of the list.
Because really, if you’ve come across anything I’ve done and found that we share somewhat similar musical tastes then you’re likely to enjoy yourself with Foretoken’s Triumphs.
Triumphs is an album where every song is tackling different subject matter and all of them have a lot to say. When your shortest tracks are still leaping over the three minute hurdle like an adult scoring touchdowns in a kid’s flag football game then you know that this is a group trying to make ‘journeys’ more-so than songs.
Hence you can see why Foretoken struck me in the ‘ambitious’ soft spot I have for bands taking metal and making it into a much larger spectacle.
I don’t know if its the theatre kid in me or if its just a nice breather from the manic ‘all Grind and Death Metal’ side of things, but it was hard for me not to enjoy something that had Hannes Grossmann sitting behind the kit for session duties.
But on songwriting strength alone, Foretoken have some absolute weapons on Triumphs with “La Llorona”, “The Labors”, “Devil O’ The Sea”, and “The Serpent King’s Venom”.
This small batch of suggestions are some of the straightforward brutalizers but they fall in well within the overall fireworks show of the album.
Foretoken put out an impressive release with their sophomore album and while it would be cliché to call it an absolute ‘triumph’, it’s still a solid recommendation for those digging around in the mud pile of 2023.
37 – Witch Ripper – The Flight After The Fall
Welcome to one of the harder albums to describe on my list.
Often, when you get a band like this it can feel like a group bouncing from genre to genre trying to find a sound and never really settling on one. Witch Ripper aren’t that but are instead a mighty fusion of many things.
They’re a little Sludge, a little Prog, a little Doom, a little Death, a little dreamlike, a little Punk, a little hero worship-ey at times… and you can see where this goes.
Witch Ripper have grown into this particular sound over the years and have done so quite organically since their earlier releases (a self titled EP in 2012, debut album Homestead in 2018), and while The Flight After The Fall only has five songs the albums still comes out swinging with about forty-seven minutes worth of music.
So here’s the thing… *taps on desk*… I didn’t review this one so I was free to launch myself headlong into this album’s lovin’ arms from the moment it released.
Of course, we also included this album’s opening song on our most infectious songs in 2022 so in some ways I did know what we were in for.
Even then though, the five songs on The Flight After The Fall are impressive in that they not only held my attention to the point where I didn’t really care that the final number was a sixteen minute suite of music but I also didn’t find myself often checking to see if a song was wrapping up.
It was one of those albums that I just let wash over me whenever I decided I needed to do another lap with it, and while it did sort of fall by the wayside a little bit as 2023 began to drag on, there was always a torch lit for this album so I would remember to save a spot for it in the year end shenanigans.
So if you get the chance, give this one a listen., and then maybe check out the earlier stuff too (after all, I liked Homestead enough to include the crew the year that one came out as well).
36 – Scar Symmetry – The Singularity (Phase II: Xenotaph)
You’ll likely have started noticing a pattern developing within this subsection of the subsection of the list. A lot of the more established artists out there played it pretty close to the chest and were pretty conservative with their latest albums.
Many of them felt like ‘brand’ material as much as they were music for the band. I enjoyed many of them but I also enjoyed many of them because I am the aforementioned fan of the group – it guarantees at least a baseline level of acceptance whenever a group decides to simply do ‘more’.
I’m not even the type to want to kick the hornet’s nest when a group isn’t constantly taking risks or innovating, but I will note that when a group decides to follow their established blueprint whether or not they’re doing a ‘good’ version of that or if its become something a little more rote.
None of the bands you see here fall into that second category but instead are here because they’ve done a ‘pretty good’ version of ‘X’ style band album.
What makes it weird is when you have a group like Scar Symmetry – a band whom were understandably busy and had a whole lot fall into their laps for multiple musicians within the line-up – that wound up getting backburnered for long enough that Xenotaph hit the streets almost nine years since the release of Neohumanity and it sounds exactly like an album that was meant to follow that.
It’s odd, because the idea of The Singularity “suite” deals with the concept of cryo-chambers and being in suspension, and Xenotaph starts out as if the first album had never really stopped.
My review of said album dives much deeper into this, but this is both a good and bad thing. It sounds so much like Scar Symmetry that its kind of like being reunited with a comfy old bed – you know exactly what you’ll be in for.
It also feels like The Singularity part of the album doesn’t really start to emerge until four songs in – “Overworld” is enjoyable on its own and “Chrononautilus” has a fun hook – but it isn’t until the keyboards and guitars of “Altergeist” start to set in that you feel like you’ve gotten to whatever comprises Phase II.
The amusing part being that if you just go from “Altergeist” on, you wind up with eight songs – which is the same amount that made up the tracklisting of Phase I all the way back in 2014.
Phase II – Xenotaph is an album that has a lot to offer and I had a good time with it – it is also very much a Scar Symmetry album and they’ve been established enough that you kind of know what that means from the start.
35 – Insomnium – Anno 1696/Songs Of The Dusk
It seems crazy to say this after such a lengthy career, but maybe when Insomnium are at their best is when the band have a concept they can focus on and wrap the whole album around.
Or, at least, If not their best then at least their most consistently interesting, as was the case with their 2023 release Anno 1696 and it’s companion EP Songs Of The Dusk.
It seemed for a little while like Insomnium were lost out in the weeds and unsure of what to do next other than keeping the Insomnium machine going in some form.
Anno 1696‘s older sibling Heart Like A Grave is very much an Insomnium album but is also one that for the first time felt like the band had become more of a ‘brand’ than a ‘band’, in some senses, and were just aiming to create songs that fell perfectly in line with their name.
It had some incredible songs on it yet the band still wound up taking about four years before the release of Anno 1696 – but it seems that Insomnium found the direction they wanted to go in, which basically boils down to returning to the well of what has worked before.
Both Songs Of The Dusk and Anno 1696 have some absolute epic songs on them and I know it looks hypocritical and goofy combining the two together and then picking on the album prior for running long, but Songs Of The Dusk does add a little extra-ooomph to a disc that came out surprisingly concise.
It doesn’t seem like Insomnium have found that perfect sticking point just yet in terms of ‘perfect amount of Insomnium to provide on an album’ but at least with these two they’ve gotten closer.
Anno‘s concept allows for the group to have a more varied approach to their sound as well, so each song is its own distinct beast.
There’s a few epic numbers that would’ve slotted in perfectly within the Winter’s Gate track-listing – roaring synths, heavy blasts, mountains collapsing, you’ll recognize the sound – a few standard Insomnium numbers and a couple of stompers as well.
Yet, because it was all so recognizably in line within the Insomnium wheelhouse, the combined releases found themselves within the comfort food of 2023 category.
I enjoy this band tremendously and I knew exactly what I would be in for here and often the Anno 1696 runs would quickly become the full discography run.
Its just that those visits were often done in fits and starts with long gaps between and I found myself drifting off to explore other genres more often than I’d have expected this time around.
34 – The Breathing Process – Todeskrone
It wasn’t that long ago that I was talking about The Breathing Process and their new EP Todeskrone.
It’ll be hard not to parrot what I said back then about the four songs present here, but it certainly has been nice to hear from the band again, especially as it seems like the band are starting to settle into their current musical groove and have learned to weaponize it.
It also turns out that, despite its relatively recent release, four songs is a near perfect amount of the band’s bombastic take on Deathcore meets Blackened Death Metal.
The symphonics and synth work that were integral to the band’s sound are still present but, like much of their Labyrinthian album, have settled into a background role a bit.
They used to be part of the spectacle and did much of the melodic heavy lifting but now The Breathing Process seem focused on just being heavy.
The four songs on Todeskrone deliver a beating over and over again for a pretty solid demonstration that the band may have always kind of been ‘ahead’ of their peers and everyone else just needed to catch up.
Granted, four songs also gives the band the ability to give a very condensed experience, so them shooting down various The Breathing Process checkpoints like clay pigeons works pretty well.
You have your slow bruiser, you have the constant shifting dynamics song, you have the big bombastic fucker, and you have a hell of a song in the EP’s title track.
I’d be prone to say there’s a bit of recency bias in play here given Todeskrone‘s November 24th release but this is also one that has seen a pretty high amount of spins since and even led to diving back into the band’s catalog.
Thus Todeskrone didn’t so much find a way on to the year end list this time as much as it decided to Kool-Aid Man its way through this year end lists’ wall.
33 – Katatonia – Sky Void Of Stars
Hello children! It is I, your local Katatonia mark and one I assume, of many that likely read this site. My year end lists up to this point are a record of my
atrocities inclusions of them throughout each release, each with something different to say but overall boiling down to the fact that I am a sad boy and I enjoy sad boy music.
Katatonia‘s newest album is exactly what you’d expect from the masters of melancholy. It has a suitably sad atmosphere throughout, beautiful vocal lines, impeccable production… and it is also Katatonia playing it pretty close to the chest as well.
It sounds like the next step after the group’s return to life album City Burials, in that its a little more lively but also delves deeper into the melancholy and goth-y part of their sound.
It’s a little more straightforward as well and, as has generally been the case with these latter-era Katatonia albums, many of the songs are suited more as a vehicle for Jonas Renske‘s voice than they are for the the band themselves to shine.
Sky Void Of Stars does excel in the fact that it feels more cohesive than its immediate predecessor, which was an enjoyable disc but one where it seemed like Katatonia weren’t really sure where to take go next, so they just tried everything and wound up spread a little thin because of that.
Sky Void Of Stars sticks pretty close to one idea this time and that idea is very much Katatonia playing to the hard-rock Katatonia blueprint.
Now don’t get me wrong, a ‘safe playing’ Katatonia is still a pretty solid high seven/eight out of ten for me and I’d take it a million times over the dreck that passes for some more popular crowd pleasers these days.
I also have to commend the band for opening the album with the sudden starting, near Prog Rock, tempo-switcher that is “Austerity”. It’s not the easiest song to digest on the first go and certainly isn’t going to summon up the cold and grey skies people commonly associate with the band.
Likewise there’re some solid hard rockers built around glorious guitar leads like “Birds” and “Atrium”, both of which seeming to be echoes of lessons learned with the guitar work that comprised much of “Serein” from The Fall Of Hearts.
There’s also always one song on every Katatonia album that seems almost criminal – ha! get it! – to be that good and this one does feel like it’s cheating a little bit by placing Soen‘s Joel Ekelof in the limelight – seriously, there’s going with a guaranteed win and there’s nuking an anthill, and picking Joel for the duet on “Impermanence” takes a song that was already a win and launches it into space.
It also draws from earlier Katatonia as well, summoning up spectres of the last time the group got real doomy on Night Is The New Day‘s seventh song “Nephilim”.
Yet, you’ll probably have noticed why Katatonia sit so high up here, and that’s because so much of Sky Void Of Stars echoes and pulls from Katatonia‘s earlier history – there’s no mystery to the album, just a good, solid batch of songs with great singing and enough distant and disconnected sadness to them that you can still get your sad boy fix.
Also I cannot be the only person that yelled the first time the legally distinct “In the Air Tonight” tom fill hit in “Sclera”. I really like the way that song moves and the chorus is a mean hook but… damnit.
32 – Desolate Sphere – Maledictus
Japan’s Desolate Sphere were one of the better surprises that I crashed into this year.
They probably didn’t appreciate it given the size of the hole I probably left in their ceiling but you live and learn and as soon as I’m done cleaning drywall out of my hair, I’ll have an answer for you as to what exactly I learned.
Drawn in by the EPs artwork during one of the many “DGR Falls Into Internet Rabbit Holes” sessions I had this year, I was blown back by the sudden start to Maledictus and how consistently sharp the band remains throughout.
Yes, you could easily drop a few plate glass windows on the band and vivisect them ala The Cell and spot every influence that has ever come into the pathway of Desolate Sphere, but it was difficult to ever really feel the need to.
The band’s blurring of the line between Melodeath, Tech-Death, and hyperspeed ‘core falls right in line with many of their current peers on labels like The Artisan Era and Unique Leader, yet were it not for a random spotting of album art and a piqued curiosity I would never have seen this group or experienced the opening thirty seconds of “Ablaxe From Within”.
The EP keeps things to a trim five songs and each of those five is an ass-kicking in its own right – a front-to-back run of the whole thing yields about seventeen minutes worth of music before the group do the “over/out” routine and slam this release into the dirt.
It’s a solid slam of adrenaline and one that impressed the hell out of me when I wrote about it back in October. So please, give this one a chance.
31 – Linus Klausenitzer – Tulpa
I’ve been ruminating for a little bit now on why Linus Klausenitzer‘s first solo release, Tulpa, has hung around with me as well as it has.
It’s part of a much wider circle of Tech-Death musicians – mostly comprising those who’ve made up various line-ups of Obscura and Alkaloid or are within the wider Dark Fortress circle – who’ve all jammed solo releases, all appear on each other’s releases whether they be part of groups, guest appearances, or cutting session work to contribute to the previously mentioned solo vision, and all of them tend to fall pretty closely next to one another sound-wise.
There’s definitely a style that has developed between said groups, and the journeyman bassist’s release is the newest of the bunch. Yet, I think part of the reason why I am constantly asking myself “why?” boils down to this – the line-up that Linus uses for much of his first solo release is about half the same crew that comprises Obsidious, the Prog and Tech-Death hybrid formed after the most recent line-up shift/jettisoning that resulted in Obscura‘s current form.
Obsidious themselves released an album last year that, try as it might, just could not stick with me. Yet half of that crew has returned again – including vocalist Javi Perrera – for Tulpa, and under the banner of Linus’ solo name have found themselves placed quite well within the nesting of my year end grease fire, and the best I can figure is that maybe it just came down to the songs.
There is, as you might expect, an absolute battery of Tech-Death nerdery taking place within the bounds of Tulpa and there’s also a ton of music in which Linus and crew are able to do so.
The guest list for this album reads like a combination of murderer’s row and familiar inmates of various Death Metal wizardry circles throughout the years and much of Tulpa sounds like you might expect from that crew.
Personally, I’m all in favor of anything that keeps Linus employed so if Tulpa is to be the latest of the quick moving, near Melodeath, near-Thrash, full on explosion of wall of notes guitar and bass wanderings so alien that they could challenge a theramin in terms of bizarre, horror movie sounds, than so be it.
Linus flexes his songwriting and instrument playing muscles throughout Tulpa but it’s a surprisingly ‘band’ oriented effort from something that’d you expect to be more of a vehicle for the bassist to get his time in the spotlight.
If you hadn’t been aware that Linus has been the weaponized backbone of a distinct number of solid groups over the years, you’d be prone to assuming that the guy was just a very well connected producer/solo guitarist.
There is, of course, a deeper and more concise explanation than whatever this digit-flailing here consists of elsewhere on this site that was part of a larger round up.
Tulpa is an impressive release even if it places itself pretty well next to everything else that – admittedly, very enjoyable – circle of Tech-Death musicians breaks out.