The month reads "November", which means that this is the last Editors' Picks of the year. While we are going to run our end of year content in January once again so we can, you know, take into account two whole months of the year, there's no point in pretending that November and December are really the same as the rest of the year. October, which this column covers, is the last "full" and "proper" release month. As such, it is also ironically one of the most stacked, as bands and labels rush to release music before everybody loses attention.
This October is no different, with absolutely massive albums lurking both in our main picks and in the extensive further listening section. As you listen to them, perhaps try to use the music to mark time, to fight the feeling as if the year got away from you. Use it to remember all of the excellent music you heard this year and all of the excellent things you did. Use it to fight against the feeling that the year is a lemon and that you must squeeze every last bit of it out or be doomed to feel like your time has been wasted.
This year, like all years before it and after it, is dying. It passed by at the rate of one second per second. In it, we all did our best. There will be a tally yet, as always, of my year; it is, after all, the tenth (!!!) year I have been running Heavy Blog. But for now, I want you to scroll down below, listen to some great albums, and feel the weight of expectation lift off your shoulders as you realize you've done, and are doing, a good job, no matter where, how, or who you are.
I love you. Enjoy.
A FLOURISHING SCOURGE – SICKENED SEED (PROGRESSIVE DEATH METAL)
You can read all about the incredible month that death metal over on Death’s Door, so I won’t bore you with the details here. Suffice it to say that the genre absolutely exploded in October, releasing a host of fantastic albums on our unsuspecting ears. Some of them came from big names while others saw the return of indie-scene darlings but none of them came from as left-of-field as A Flourishing Scourge. Maybe that’s just a limitation on my part and how good these guys really are is a well known fact. But, for me, this was like a breath of fresh air. Except it was actually putrid air, blooming with the progressive leaves of some caustic and effective death metal.
At its core, Sickened Seed is thoroughly a progressive death metal album. It features the genre’s trademark tension between heaviness and complex fragility that first launched the genre into popularity. While one breed of this tension can already be seen on the album’s opener, “Tidal Waves”, with its operatic yet tender middle passage, it takes on much more complicated forms as the album unfolds. Sickened Seed is one of those albums that requires a few listens simply to orient yourself within its varied structure; from track to track, A Flourishing Scourge will challenge your perception of the genre’s tropes, hitting on all of the major themes but not necessarily in the order and configuration you might expect.
When they’re not doing this, A Flourishing Scourage have the fundamentals of death metal down to a tee. Furiously flamboyant solos, riffs that dally with the edges of thrash metal in their buzzsaw aggression, and all the melodic, soaring sweeps you could desire fill in the blanks between the more uniquely constructed tracks. They are just as pleasing; hearing death metal carried out to such a degree of expertise is always impressive. Put the two halves together and you get a towering achievement, an album that is both a pleasure to listen to blow by blow but also an encompassing work that operates on a whole different level when taken as a whole.
Afterbirth - In But Not Of (Progressive / Technical / Brutal Death Metal)
Afterbirth have fast become the darlings of dudes who love weird death metal. Their 2017 debut The Time Traveler’s Dilemma was a bit of a sleeper, but their 2020 follow-up Four Dimensional Flesh was touted as one of the best death metal records of the year. The growth of Afterbirth simply doesn’t stop, especially in the years since their sophomore record when prolific death metal vocalist Will Smith (not that one) parted ways with Artificial Brain wherein the group presumably had more time together to hone their craft. And hone they did; In But Not Of is the group’s finest outing to date, and easily a high-water mark for death metal in 2023.
Afterbirth continue to push the envelope of their sound on their third LP, but it is geniusly unveiled slowly throughout the album’s runtime. The synthesizers and proggy melodic inclinations that make this album so magical don’t begin to show up until roughly halfway through the album, when “Vivesected Psychopomp” opens up to a comparatively lush haunting chord progression. Moments later, “Hovering Human Head Drones” goes full-in with palpable Rush influence, alternating between grooving brutal death and soaring fusion-inspired soloing. The album’s title track takes cues from psychedelic sludge, with spiraling riffs and phasing leads floating over midtempo grooves, something out of the Intronaut playbook, building intensity through its five-minute runtime. There’s an unpredictability and air of experimentation about In But Not Of that makes it such a fun ride throughout.
It’s far too easy to make comparisons to the much beloved Artificial Brain given the two bands’ shared lineage and cutting-edge stylistic choices, but Afterbirth are very much on a similar plane of existence, blending brutal and technical death metal with progressive, avant garde, and an almost bizarre melodic flair to create a death metal record that is such a joy to listen to and serves as a reminder of how artful and listenable extreme metal can be.
The Lion’s Daughter - Bath House (progressive/blackened sludge)
The Lion’s Daughter is a band, in a similar vein of Inter Arma, that I just do not understand their lack of notoriety. All of the ingredients are there: Extremely catchy songwriting, off-kilter experimentation, deeply memorable riffs, all coupled with excellent musicianship with a keen sense of melody. It’s the perfect soup of weirdness that tends to get a band noticed around these parts, but I’m constantly surprised by how many people in the extreme music scene have never heard of them. It’s sad, and I’m here to change the (alarming lack of) narrative around one of the best and most exciting bands working in the scene today. With an album as good as Bath House on the table, it would be criminal not to.
For those unfamiliar, The Lion’s Daughter have moved in style from fairly straightforward and effective brand of sludge to a synth-heavy and at times wildly experimental collage of 80s-inspired industrial, blackened death metal, thrash, and progressive/alternative rock that is nothing short of dizzying. Their music is deeply unpredictable, but has a uniformity of vision that makes each album a thoroughly cohesive and enjoyable experience. Bath House, the band’s latest LP, may be the most confident and brutal of the bunch. Feeling in many ways like an epic culmination of the band’s stylistic wanderings so far, it’s a testament to the wonderful things that can happen to a band that refuses to sit still and accept the confines of its genre classifications.
If all of the above sounds a bit too wonky for you, just give the title track a spin. Kicking off the album with a thrash-inspired slab of propulsive riffs and blast beats, it’s about as straightforward and epic an opening as one could hope for. The album seldom strays from an oppressively heavy aesthetic, punching and bashing its way through your ear canal in tracks like the blackened frenzy of “Maximize Terror” with its call and response madness, or the Mastodon circa The Hunter progressive gyrations of “Your Pets Died on TV”. This three track barrage is easily as heavy as anything the band has yet recorded, and should satisfy fans of their most intense sonic fare. But it’s in tracks like “Liminal Blue” and “12-31-89” that showcase to a greater extent the band’s range, with the former in particular feeling like it could be right at home on a Stranger Things soundtrack. But it’s these wild fluctuations of style that keep listeners fully engaged with every track, creating a sense of unpredictability that only becomes more clear and cohesive with subsequent listens. Which are essential for this record.
Front to back, there’s little about Bath House that feels anything short of excellent. It’s a weird, frenetic, expertly performed collection of tracks that only become more galvanized with each new listen. I’ve returned to this record many times since its release and I can’t get enough of it. Hopefully Bath House is the record that sends them into the stratosphere. If not, they’ll remain one of the best kept secrets in metal. Which would be a crying shame.
Wayfarer - American Gothic (atmospheric black metal, gothic country-western)
Gimmicks in metal are often a tough balancing act. They can corner you into an obscure niche, or shift your sincerity into parody territory. However if you lean into it with enough gravitas and adequate acumen, especially if said gimmick is beyond just an aesthetic or look, it can really elevate a band towards something special. Something more than just being unique for the sake of being different, but making a statement to capture something through their art that maybe hasn’t been done before. It’s been a gradual process to fully capture this for Wayfarer, but this is exactly what they’ve done with their new album American Gothic. A strong culmination of all of their work to date, Wayfarer’s blend of atmospheric black metal with an old-fashioned cowboy western aesthetic and gothic country is truly an transportive experience.
Part of the success of this album lies in how natural everything feels to them. Like their peers in Panopticon who brilliantly have pulled off an americana and bluegrass fused black metal sound, you can tell they have the background to pull off these styles with ease. In turn, the way they transpose this into black metal feels seamless and authentic. American Gothic immediately transports you to the wild west with their great use of familiar sounds and textures that we associate with that western vibe. From the first notes of the opener, that mournful twang of the guitar makes you feel like you’re riding on horseback into a town with population density issues. The digitally distorted vocals on “Reaper on the Oilfields” and the old saloon style piano of the album’s lead single “False Constellation” are equally and immediately evocative of this rugged outlaw landscape of which Wayfarer takes you on a journey back to.
The quality of songwriting goes a long to pull off something like this without it feeling like two styles just forced together, a critique Zeal & Ardor sometimes get. Here it’s more progressive and art-rock oriented in a way that former post-hardcore group Trophy Scars was also able to pull off on their similar ode to the old-American West on their latest release. One could argue that there is even more room for them to lean into that sound, but again going back to that balance, they keep it from ever getting too campy. Even if you scraped all of the “gimmick” from this release, the foundations of a solid black metal release would still remain. Lending credence to the idea that this never really was a gimmick, this is just Wayfarer.
Baring Teeth - The Path Narrows (dissonant death metal)
As celebrated as dissodeath has become in recent years, Baring Teeth – longtime mainstays in the genre since before it had a trendy name back in 2011 – are perhaps the single most underrated band in the field. Their new album The Path Narrows delivers some severely caustic dissodeath and mathcore that really ought to elevate them to their rightly status as being influential to this evolutionary branch of death metal.
ETERNAL EVIL – THE GATES BEYOND MORTALITY (THRASHY BLACK METAL)
While Flash of the Blade rests for now (at least until the end of this year), my appetite for blisteringly fast music has not abated. The Gates Beyond Mortality has, however, temporarily sated it with its absolutely ecstatic dedication to the fundamentals of good thrash. Namely, it goes fast and it goes hard, from cover to cover.
FLESH OF THE STARS – GLASS GARDEN (POST DOOM)
I cannot help but use whatever platform I have to tell you once again to listen to this immensely underrated band. Glass Garden, like all previous Flesh of the Stars releases, has been worming its way into my heart and mind since I first heard it. It’s one of 2023’s more complete and accomplished works of ambient, doom, and post-metal.
The Callous Daoboys - God Smiles Upon The Callous Daoboys (mathcore)
Offering a quick three-track follow-up from their celebrated 2022 sophomore LP Celebrity Therapist, and this band of misfit toys are as irreverent and experimental as ever, going as far as to touch on hip-hop as they lean into their nu-metal influences. God bless the Callous Daoboys.
Dreamwell - In My Saddest Dreams, I Am Beside You (screamo, post-hardcore)
Ever since their sophomore release Modern Grotesque blew up online in 2021, Dreamwell have been taking the screamo world by storm. With their new album In My Saddest Dreams, I Am Beside You, the Rhode Island-based 5-piece have cemented themselves at the forefront of this scene’s revival. Aided by their relentless touring schedule, and emphatic and violent live shows (their vocalist, Ryan, literally bashed his head open with his mic the last time I saw them), Dreamwell are undeniable. In My Saddest Dreams is the perfect vessel for this outpouring of cathartic passion and suffering, while also drawing influence from a number of other heart-on-their-sleeve subgenres such as blackgaze, mathcore and post-rock. In that sense, it’s definitely their most diverse release to date, but hasn’t lost any of the virulent rage of its predecessors.
Owdwyr - Receptor (tech death, progressive deathgrind)
Know that Heavy Blog-approved new Blindfolded and Led to the Woods release from earlier this year? Now add even more technical chaos and progressive instrumentation, including a rotating cast of elite death metal drummers. Sprinkle in some of the mechanical, grinding grooves of The Red Chord and a bit of jazz on top? Now we’re cooking with Owdwyr. Receptor is not only one of the best debuts of the year, but one of the best tech death albums too.
Sufjan Stevens - Javelin (indie rock/singer-songwriter)
Indie music’s most enduring darling needs no introduction. Javelin, his latest heartbreaking and uplifting collection of tracks reflecting on real life tragedy, is his best offering since 2015’s Carrie & Lowell. It’s beautiful, delicate, brutally sad, and filled to the brim with redemption and love. One of the finest records to release this year, and among his best work to date. A future classic.
Svalbard - The Weight Of The Mask (post-hardcore, blackgaze)
Bristol’s premiere post-everything darlings are back with the follow-up to their incredible 2020 album When I Die, Will I Get Better?, which wound up being one of our favorites of that year. As Incredible as that album was, The Weight of the Mask might be the band’s best work yet. If you’re into blackened shoegaze, this one will win you over before the first track ends.
Worm/Dream Unending - Starpath (Progressive/doom metal)
In retrospect we all should have seen this collaboration coming. It makes so much fucking sense. Blackened doom-lord Worm and progressive metal and Tomb Mold-adjacent Dream Unending are a sonic match made in heaven, and Starpath showcases everything one would expect from a melding of such similar minds. The two tracks each band presents here blend perfectly into a proggy, epic whole that feels as robust and excellent as either act has yet produced. Extremely easy to recommend.
BACTERIAL HUSK – ANTHROPOGENIC RUIN (DEATH METAL)
END – GAPING WOUNDS OF EARTH (HARDCORE)
HOWLING GIANT – GLASS FUTURE (STONER PROG)
THROAT – WE MUST LEAVE YOU (GOTH DOOM)
VOKONIS – EXIST WITHIN LIGHT (STONER PROG)
YELLOW EYES – MASTER'S MURMUR (POST BLACK METAL)
OWDWYR – RECEPTOR (TECHNICAL PROGRESSIVE DEATHGRIND)
THE CALLOUS DAOBOYS – GOD SMILES UPON THE CALLOUS DAOBOYS (MELODIC? MATHCORE)
AFTERBIRTH – IN BUT NOT OF (BRUTAL DEATH METAL)
BATTLEMASTER – GREEDGRIPPED & SPELLSPOILT (BLACK THRASH)
BLOOD LIGHTNING – BLOOD LIGHTNING (STONER METAL/DOOM)
CIRITH UNGOL – DARK PARADE (HEAVY METAL)
DREAMWELL – IN MY SADDEST DREAMS, I AM BESIDE YOU (HARDCORE, SKRAMZ)
FOREST SWORDS – BOLTED (EXPERIMENTAL ELECTRONIC, AMBIENT DUB)
SULPHUR AEON – SEVEN CROWNS AND SEVEN SEALS (BLACKENED PROG DEATH)
BODY VOID – ATROCITY MACHINE (NOISE SLUDGE, DOOM GRIND)
GEVAUDAN- UMBRA (FUNERAL DOOM)
SVALBARD – THE WEIGHT OF THE MASK (POST HARDCORE, SHOEGAZE)
AURIFEROUS FLAME – ARDOR FOR BLACK MASTERY (BLACK METAL)
CAPRA – ERRORS (HARDCORE)
CROW BLACK SKY – SIDEREAL LIGHT, VOL. TWO (PROGRESSIVE BLACK METAL)
HERETOIR – NIGHTSPHERE (POST BLACK METAL)
HOPLITES – ἈΝΤΙΤΙΜΩΡΟΥΜΈΝΗ (DISSONANT BLACK METAL)