(It’s the final countdown… of DGR‘s top ten records of 2023)
I feel like I’ve lit a fuse leading to a powder keg with this one because as of this writing I’ve finally sent in the other four chunks of this year end list, meaning I can no longer hide behind lethargy and malaise and actually have something of a deadline to answer to.
I am a fucking idiot.
The final block of albums is going to have a lot of familiar names from years past. As much as I picked on groups for playing it a little too close ot home earlier on in this tome, there were just as many familiar names that did manage to either add something new or excel in a style that they’d been honing for some time.
I don’t think there will be too many shocking choices here or ones out of left field. There’s a solid Grind block, a small chunk of Black Metal – both venom dripping, melodic, and hybridized into something meaner – a wall of Death Metal that you’re likely used to by now and one oddball that I think is basically right in line with my personal aesthetic.
So let’s kick this last bit downhill and see what sort of rubble it picks up along the way.
10 – Distaste – Der Ertraeger Und Das Fleisch
Allow me to humbly refer you to my review of their latest album because I think it does a pretty good job chronicling my history with Distate and why I like their particular brand of Grind so much.
Their newest album, Der Ertraeger Und Das Fleisch, could line up in perfect formation with the rest of the group’s discography up to this point yet does continue to travel along the distinct path that Distaste had started down with Todt and Deibel prior to this.
It’s a slab of music that is blisteringly fast but also razor sharp in its melodic hooks, and proves that Distate have gotten practically criminally good at rising to the occasion with an almost near-unmatched ferocity.
The group’s penchant for a multi-vocal attack over ceaseless blasting means that Distaste songs are often a white-knuckled adrenaline rush from the start, something which held true with Deibel and which continues to be the case with their newest one.
The big change between them is that Distate have traded a little bit of their laser-targeted riffwork for something a little moodier from time to time (although please keep in mind that this is a discussion about an album wherein a good grouping of the songs don’t even bother clearing the two minute mark).
Distaste albums have proven particularly good at strapping the listener to a rocket sled and then launching them off into the horizon, and there’re a few standout clock-cleaners in the mix this time as well in the form of “Geiferloch”, “Sisyphos” and “Der Ertraeger”, but there’s also some meaner slowdown in “Das Leid und sein Gift” that is worthy of hearing.
Since Der Ertraeger… weights in at just over twenty-nine minutes and the songs change at such a rapid-pace, its easy to get lost in multiple spins of the album. But even though this was one of a handful here that were later in the year releases I knew from a few moments in that it was likely to wind up getting a shoutout here.
Is it a little bit of carry-over from earlier albums scoring high with me? Possibly, but I wouldn’t call that out if I didn’t think there was also a seed of the fact that Der Ertraeger Und Das Fleisch is pretty good in its own right.
9 – Rotten Sound – Apocalypse
I like Rotten Sound and their suitably rotten branch of the Grind tree a whole lot, and you’ll likely have noticed over the years that this particular branch happens to of the “hyper fast, drums blasted into oblivion, circle-pit by way of a lot of Punk and Thrash guitar riffing” type.
You’ll also note that a lot of this is something that Rotten Sound has made their speciality for a long time now, and Apocalypse was basically guaranteed to wind up somewhere in this year end kerfuffle, even if I wasn’t a thousand percent sure exactly where.
Hell, even I am somewhat surprised that they punched in as high as they do with Apocalypse, but the more I think about it the more it seems that, of the recent Rotten Sound releases at least, this one is probably among the better ones.
Sure, both Abuse To Suffer and the Suffer To Abuse EP were both very low-end dominated and a little bit of a Death Metal mix to them that I loved, but by bringing back a lot of the high end in Apocalypse, Rotten Sound become managed to sharpen up their delivery just that little bit more – making Apocalypse a little less like being clubbed over the head and a whole lot more like being sliced in half.
It’s a sleek record as well since it barely clears the twenty minute mark – most of its eighteen songs are ballpark a minute and twenty, while “True and False” and “Nothingness”, clock in at just nineteen seconds and twenty-eight seconds respectively – keeping the Grind spirit alive with every short, sonic car crash of a song.
You can guess by the song titles – “Fight Back”, “Newsflash”, “Renewables” (although “Suburban Bliss” and “Digital Bliss” are a little different) – that Rotten Sound are sticking with a lot of what’s tried-and-true on Apocalypse, yet I was there for pretty much everything they were doing anyway.
Let’s face it, subtlety took a soccer kick to the liver with this band a long time ago, and the fact that Apocalypse was furious as hell from the start and held on to that right until the moment it stopped is exactly why I’ve been going back to this one constantly since its release.
8 – Mental Cruelty – Zweilicht
Sometimes a band can win with me just by being the ‘most’ at something, and boy howdy does it feel like two albums in a row Germany’s Mental Cruelty have won simply by being the ‘most’ of something.
I am well aware that Mental Cruelty are a Deathcore band with a lot of symphonic elements to their sound, but it has always felt like that is one of those genres where you’re dealing in shades moreso than putting any one particular pin in something.
It is music that gets by on a lot of bombast and it doesn’t surprise me that Mental Cruelty wound up going down that route. Let’s face it, they were already sort of in that trajectory anyway, shifting away from straightforward Brutal Death and Slam on their album A Hill To Die Upon and into something much ‘grander’ sounding.
Then, by changing vocalists, Mental Cruelty showed themselves to be the style of band whose sound may change in regards to their particular vocalists talents at a time, and the form Mental Cruelty take to line up with vocalist Lukas Nicolai, it one that’s chaotic, manic, and not afraid to fling a whole shitload of loud your way.
Zweilicht could be redundantly described as a Symphonic Deathcore album but holy shit, is it a lot of that genre of music in one go (side note: the more -core minded crews as a whole have been spread pretty evenly throughout my year-end collective this time with the occasional mighty effort popping up about once every ten or so albums).
Even with an opening instrumental and a scene-setting interstitial, Zweilicht is a weighty album at nearly forty-nine minutes, with Mental Cruelty throwing every goddamned thing they can think of at you and, as a result, almost all of the elements that comprised the band’s sound have been pushed past the red line.
Many of the songs here are parts that have been rammed together and stay that way by force, welded by some sort of symphonic break to keep things in place, and just as many of those songs dart from bit to bit so quickly that you’d think the song has changed a handful of times.
There’s an unintentional sense of adventurism to it since it comes off like the band experimenting with as many filters on their sound as they could, so they wind up creating something crazy sounding like the Folk-Metal and Wintersun keyboard war of “Zweilicht/Symphony Of A Dying Star” or the more straightforward and brutal tracks like “Forgotten Kings” and “Pest”.
It gets to be a little too much every once in a while, but this was a release that got by on a lot of bombast and by constantly catching me on the backfoot as to where a song might go next, and that – combined with the album’s never-ending delivery of heavy – is what carried it up this high.
7 – …And Oceans – As In Gardens, So In Tombs
I didn’t need a tremendous amount of excuses to return to As In Gardens, So In Tombs throughout the year. It is an album that has stuck with me for the longest – and that’s quite a feat on its own given its January 27th, release date – and so was often part of a rotating grouping that would usually have me listen to this album and then right afterwards listen to Cosmic World Mother, the album that had come out before this.
Needless to say, I think the current incarnation of the …And Oceans crew is on a murderous tear, even if it’s not that far fetched to think that a band whose sound has been all over the map of both Black Metal and Industrial – with suitably weird album titles to match – might not’ve felt like swinging for the fences in terms of catching people off guard on what is, remember, only their second full length since their return.
Instead, they took the ‘same but more‘ approach on As In Gardens, So In Tombs, as while the songwriting here is pretty in line with what the band were doing on Cosmic World Mother – and considering how much I enjoyed that album, that was one way to ensure that I’d still find a lot of appeal in in it – the other elements of their sound have all been cranked up even more more this time.
It’s an always terrifying exercise, but I’m going to risk quoting my own review of the album:
“As In Gardens, So In Tombs is the most natural progression one could’ve expected from a group like …And Oceans.
With no real line-up changes in between albums – translation: the weapons of the rhythm section Kauko Kuusisalo and Pyry Hanski return, alongside the surprisingly prominent driver of many recent …And Oceans songs in keyboardist Antti Simonen – the group begin right where Cosmic World Mother stopped.
They start by playing with madness and spend much of As In Gardens, So In Tombs seeing which way they can twist and contort it into new forms.”
I found myself drawn into the orbit of “The Collector And His Construct”, “Cloud heads”, “Ambivalent God”, and “Within Fire And Crystal” more often than I’d expected, but given that As In Gardens, So In Tombs is a lengthy beast – and much like a few other albums in this grouping a large amount of “stuff” to justify it – sometimes it would just have me picking songs out like a bird hunting twigs for a new nest.
Yet overall, throughout the year, I remained impressed with how often this one kept coming back into the fray and I knew, at the very least, …And Oceans were going to fight their way into the top ten here.
6 – Sermon – Of Golden Verse
It wouldn’t be one of these without a near out of nowhere release and guess what, here it is.
We only wrote about Sermon‘s Of Golden Verse one time, but one time was all it took because there was something to the mostly clean sung, metallicized prog and goth-rocked ambitions of Sermon that won me over on this album.
Sermon are one of those projects with a vocalist/key driver of the band keeping themselves anonymous but I do appreciate the willingness to recruit one hell of a drummer in James Stewart – who has appeared a couple of times throughout the year end festivities here – for their second album.
Of Golden Verse being far more Prog-Rock and occult exploring in subject matter means that I’ve frequently found myself involuntarily humming something from this disc in the days since its March 31st release.
Granted a lot of the time it was the main refrains from both “The Great Marsh” and “Royal”, but given that there was about forty-eight and a half minutes to choose from musically, it was hard to tell what was going to be setting up camp in the back of my brain if the need arose.
Long story short – Of Golden Verse quickly became one my sing-along power-hour albums this year, though musically there’s far more to it beyond the fact that they can carry a hell of a catchy tune.
It’s an album that is naturally cinematic in the way it moves, with songs building malice and tension throughout, and each time and you can tell when the release of all that is supposed to happen simply because the next song is an instrumental number.
Because of that, Of Golden Verse plays out as if it has three distinct movements to it and by the end the songs have gotten noticeably longer (and heavier) than they were in the beginning.
Most of the songs comprising the block that is “The Distance”, “Sensescence”, “Wake The Silent” and “Golden” are about six minutes long, with “Senescence” taking the crown for lengthiest at way over seven, and while “Wake The Silent” is a highlight of the album as a whole many of the songs were almost equally as likely to jab themselves into my side at one point or another throughout 2023.
Of Golden Verse definitely made a great palate cleanser from the brutal, furious, and infernal conflagrations [Spoilers! – Andy] I was otherwise bathing myself in throughout the year – even when it had its own air of ‘sinister foreboding’ to the overall affair.
5 – Rannoch – Conflagrations
Good on Rannoch for scoring high once again with their newest album Conflagrations.
A little less immediately indulgent than its predecessor Reflections Upon Darkness – another really good album – Conflagrations splits the difference between that one and it’s older brother Between Two Worlds a little bit and sees the band forging and re-forging their music over and over again, so that even when informed that there’s an almost seventeen minute song in the track-list, there’s nothing here to cut.
Rannoch songs have always been on the bigger side though and Rannoch themselves have always sounded much bigger than you’d expect, utilising a hybrid of big grooves and Progressive Death Metal which – without often stepping hard on the accelerator – uses these big, burly riffs to add weight to their songs.
The band are fully aware of this it seems and so they often challenge themselves as much as the listener to make songs full of odd turns and strange angles work in their favor, and their new album lets Rannoch be the most Rannoch they could conceivably be, while also letting them see how much they can get away with within a boundaries they’ve set for themselves.
It seems strange saying this but Reflections Upon Darkness was an album that was a long time coming and as a result sounds like a disc where a band threw every goddamned thing they could think of within it – as if the seven year gap between releases had pent up so much music that it had to be released.
Conflagrations takes all that and refines it while also still letting the band explore new ground, and I can’t imagine what it must’ve been like the first few times anyone got asked to try and describe what was taking place here to Willowtip without devolving into sentient mind-sludge like I am here and just saying “look, it’s big, it’s still a big sounding album“.
Andy’s long-time familiarity with the band meant he was better suited to tackle this album for us, but I do share many of the same opinions, and considering the fact that I spin this group’s discography pretty often in its own right I was thrilled to be able to add Conflagrations into the mix – its a worthy follow up and was the soundtrack to many a work night after its release in late July.
4 – Rorcal – Silence
If I had to nominate the meanest, bleakest, most acidic album in my year end list this time I think I’d gladly hand the award over to Silence.
Rorcal‘s new one seems to have been been purposefully written so that it is not an enjoyable listening experience – it’s an album that earns its ‘extreme’ tag with ease and is so forcefully nihilistic you’ll likely feel like you’ve been personally assaulted by the time it wraps up.
It’s very different in both concept and execution than the group’s last full length Muladona [Which was one of the best albums of the last decade – Andy] back in 2019, although there were hints of the sort of monster that the band were becoming on their collaboration with Earthflesh back in 2021, and Silence does carry over some of that collaboration’s naming conventions with song titles like “Childhood is a Knife in the Throat” and “The Worst In Everything”.
Muladona was a concept album that asked that the band slow things down at times, and the way it spent a lot of time ratcheting up tension meant that when it finally released it was like a volcano finally being allowed to go off.
Silence, however – in spite of its name – is more of a constant series of explosions and throws its weight around enough that it could take down walls, with changes so sudden and rapid that ensure it’s as overwhelming as possible at all times.
It’s an album that you can feel the heat coming off of, a release where you can tell that any song is going to be absolutely suffocating live and leave everything around it laying in a charred heap.
It reminds me a lot of Sectioned‘s Annihilated in the sense that it just launches itself out of windows again and again – the difference being that Rorcal have Sludge Metal’s tendency to paint things as dark as possible while doing so, utilising varying shades devastation where the endgame is always going to be a smoking crater in the ground.
Silence shot up the ranks rapidly this year, even as it felt like the album did nothing but collapse upon me each time I listened. It’s not a friendly release in any sense – Andy tackled this one in our premiere for the disc and had his own battle with describing just how intense it is – but, man, is it ever one of the better ones that hit in 2023.
3 – Night Crowned – Tales
Even though it’s one of the most recently released albums in my year end collection, and their most recent release, I’d risk going out on a limb and saying that Night Crowned‘s Tales has turned out to be my favorite of theirs because – for one of the reasons I often cite when talking about artists that seem to be releasing albums in ‘threes’ – they somehow manage to split the difference and combine the ‘best of both worlds’ of their two previous albums.
It takes the teeth-grinding Black Metal of Hadanfard and combines it with the melodic and speedier side of Impius Viam for something that is equally as dark as both of them but doesn’t have to insist as much that it has a “blackened” vein running through it quite like previous albums have had to.
Tales is a more “confident in itself” style release and – despite its shorter run time – a lot more free to play with a multitude of ideas as a result, leading to some infectiously catchy melodic lines that weave their way through many of the songs – that is, when the band haven’t turned absolutely feral – and some very interesting instrumentation outside of the usual metallic combinations.
The last few months of my year were a fucking mess but even then I still managed to pen some words about Tales alongside a few other releases, partially because I didn’t want this one to just suddenly appear on the year-end list without at least some explanation as to why I like it so goddamned much.
The opening few numbers on Tales run the gamut but are all great, with “She Comes At Night” playing out as an alternate and equally ferocious take on the album’s opening number. “Nattramm” and “Lupus Luna” belching fire in line with the band’s trademark of holding a flame thrower to your face, and “Old Tales” serving as a fantastic closer (something that Night Crowned are getting really good at).
Tales came out on November 10th and truth be told I probably took longer to get around to it than I should have, but it clawed its way into my listening habits pretty quickly and as a result had multiple nights where it was just me and this release for numerous hours.
Every trip into the frosted cold and equally fiery landscapes that Night Crowned have created on Tales held my interest. Make no mistake, it’s hard not to get something from this one embedded into your skull.
2 – Herod – Iconoclast
In an alternate universe out there, Herod‘s Iconoclast is absolutely my number one release of 2023. Were it not for my fascination with the idea of “Heavy Metal as an extreme sport” Iconoclast would be at the top of the heap with ease.
As it is, I would hardly call this the 2nd slot on my list this year, more the 1 and 1/4th position because there are few things like Iconoclast that lay quite on the venn diagram of ‘Things DGR Enjoys’ as this disc’s specific combinations of sounds did.
Barring nothing else, at the very least let me just state that I think this is a fantastic release and the fact that I’m spending the opening segment of my discussing it here apologizing for not ranking it higher should show that.
The combination of Sludge, Industrial, and Groove – plus some dual vocalist Hardcore shenanigans, and a handful of other things – means that Herod‘s Iconoclast was basically an album made for me.
Hell if you want a deeper dive and many more words than what I could do here without sounding like a jukebox in good need of a kicking you can check out my take on the album from right around the time of it’s May 2023 release.
By the way – shout-out to Switzerland in general for landing three of the five spots in the top five as it is. What a weird trend that I’ve only just now noticed.
Up front, “The Icon” is a showstopper of a song and it took me ages just to get past repeating it over and over to see what the rest of Iconoclast held. There was plenty more but that song along was worth the price of admission and I’d honestly pitch it as being one of the most infectious of this year.
Herod explores a ton of different styles on Iconoclast, all based around gigantic grooves and earworm guitar riffs, meaning you’ll rotate into and out of worlds once populated by the likes Meshuggah, Gojira, Cult Of Luna, and a handful of others, in the eight songs here, and although you can call out and name every bit of machinery that is used to construct Iconoclast, it is still an album of its own.
And while I enjoyed every track I really felt the album picked up into something more than just a collection of really good songs right as “The Edifice” segued into its midpoint, all building towards “The Prophecy”, which is a fantastic closer to a fantastic album.
This is one of those releases that really should be out there more and, like I said, were it not for pyrotechnical fretwork being my personal vice, I’d be willing to bet you this would’ve easily taken the number one spot.
1 – Stortregn – Finitude
When it came to weighing all of the releases that I’d hoped to cover in the year end list this year, I found myself moving Stortregn‘s latest album, Finitude, higher and higher.
I kept thinking about the sheer number of plays I had given this one since its release in October, all of my time that it had dominated, how much there were one or two songs alone that I would listen to and then eventually just wind up spinning the whole release again anyway… and I came to the conclusion that I really, really like Finitude and Stortregn‘s brand of fretboard tapdancing.
The group are hard as hell to pin down, but all you really need to know is that they have a penchant for ridiculously fast, melodically dense and technically impressive songs – they’re a classic ‘everything and the kitchen sink’ style group and the fact that they’ve made it work for Finitude is one of the reasons it keeps winning me over.
I’d already thought they were onto something great with Impermanence prior and, as my review of Finitude showed, this is one of those releases where I could go on and on about how listening to it is like watching a fireworks store catch fire and the hours of explosions that follows.
Hell, the pairing of “Xeno Chaos” and “Cold Void” alone is goddamned good enough on its own that it brings my listening sessions to a screaming halt more often than I’d like to admit just because I want to listen to those two songs again and again, and my first few days with Finitude had me swearing up and down that there was some awesome stuff in “De Inferno Solis” later on in the album…I just couldn’t always tell you what it was.
I tremendously appreciated how Finitude didn’t really have a full blown intro song, instead doing some set-dressing before storming right in and then not letting anyone breathe until seven songs later (all of which were immensely packed journeys of instrumentation done at such high-speed that it was practically head-spinning).
There’s hooks and catchy lines dancing in and out of songs, immolated just as quickly as they appear, there’s immaculate acoustic guitar work, crazed drumming… Finitude is an album where I enjoy seeing people discuss different songs simply because everybody notices something different in it that made them like that particular song. Its a weird shared sense of discovery but it’s also fun to be part of it.
The songs are more than just these relentlessly fast Tech-Death showpieces. There’s enough to nerd out about here that you could aggravate anyone just looking for ‘music to listen to’. Yet in all of that Stortregn still find ways to have a song worm its way around your grey matter for days.
Finitude is a true show-stopper of an album, packed with show-stopping songs, and had so much to distract me during this back part of the year I couldn’t help but get drawn into its world again and again.
Normally I will close these out with some sort of review of the year, address what I think next year will be like, and try to talk about some of the more notable absences from the list as my closing paragraph.
I’ll attempt to do that in some ways here, though it’s not going to go well.
2023 was a year of very high ‘highs’ and incredibly low ‘lows’ personally. I’m not the only one and I know that, so I’ll keep that part short.
Needless to say I’m glad its over but the changing of a number just means I’m going to spend the next month or so fucking up the date on any cheques I write to pay the bills around here.
On the Metal front I think it was obviously an amazing year… but then I say that every year. The genre remains fluid enough that there is always a series of pleasant surprises or some weird combination you never saw coming, always something being revived and some band taking a formula that you would’ve thought had all the life wrung from its neck by now and making something incredible with it.
For as much junk food as I wind up slamming down my face musically throughout the year, there’s just as much fine dining. 2023 was no different, and 2024 will likely be the same.
There are some bands that you might’ve expected to see in this list given patterns in my writing as well as people who may have been in my orbit, but I tried my best to not keep much of a ‘bubble list’ going this year.
Its safe to assume that if I wrote about an album this year, I probably enjoyed it a lot. I think I had maybe two or three that I was general ‘okay’ with but wrote about anyway as a matter of historical record – so I could at least go back years from now and kick myself in the junk for any sort of revisionist history.
You might be asking where Colony Drop and Beyond Grace are given that we’ve covered them a bit here but the truth is that I know those guys. They should’ve figured out my opinion on their latest releases when I pointed out that we were clearancing out scented garbage bags at my wor…
In actuality I think both of their new releases – Brace For Impact and Welcome To The New Dark Ages, Part 1 – are great and you should listen to them and buy them (although maybe I’m worried too much about my imagined integrity to talk about them too much outside of texting them ‘hey good job not sucking‘ every once in a while, as these are songs I’ve been listening to since they were embryonic in some cases).
At the very least, you should watch Andy’s video for The “Burning Season” and help push them over that 12k mark.
You’d be correct in saying I did enjoy them a ton and in some ways I’m hoping to correct that here, but I’ll also at least excuse myself slightly given that The Amenta‘s latest release is a very fun and incredibly interesting covers album for the most part – the titular “Plague Of Locus” shows that the band are still an amazing clusterfuck of sound, and the covers that they chose are done justice on multiple fronts.
The Ocean‘s Holocene is one I also enjoyed a ton but its also not the most ‘Metal’ thing they’ve done. Its an amazing piece of art, but given how it is primarily born out of electronics and has a fraternal twin in Shrvl‘s Limbus release you can maybe understand why I felt a tiny bit safe just saying that I do absolute love Holocene as an album (and will hopefully be seeing them live this February) but felt more omfortable giving the room to someone else on the year end party.
Thus, I draw the curtains closed on the 2023 year end list as long as it took me and as awkward a monster as it is. May these closing bits show that the headspace I’m in remains weird and hopefully I’ll have kicked the ‘writing rust’ off and can get this machine in gear for the upcoming wave of 2024 albums.