Hello everyone and Hello 2024! As we round the corner to a new year, it is tradition to reflect on the previous year and roll out a series of retrospectives and lists that are all so very serious, because Album of the Year discourse is Very Serious Business. But in addition to our standard collective lists, we like to have fun with our year-end content and come up with some other fun ways to celebrate the music we've enjoyed in the previous year that won't necessarily end up in the conversation for Album of the Year. After all, music isn't a contest!
Let's get into it: our Heavy Superlatives for 2023!
Unto the Breach
Albums most likely to make you cause/sustain grievous injury
Necropanther - Betrayal
I’ll be honest with you - I slept on Necorpanther for way too long. It wasn’t for lack of recognition; I’ve been recommended the band multiple times and we’ve covered them on the blog before. Maybe it was the name? Maybe I’m just an idiot? Regardless, I’m glad 2023 was the year in which I fixed this terrible mistake. I’m not even joking; Necropanther are that good. It’s rare to find a piece of thrash metal that still makes me feel something but Betrayal’s present riffs, chunky grooves, and furiously caustic vocals makes me feel something and more. It makes me want to ride a rocket into a space station or just mosh with the closest crowd of stinking metalheads in my vicinity. In short, it makes me want to rock.
Teeth - A Biblical Worship of Violence
Every so often an album comes along that sounds exactly like its title. A Biblical Worship of Violence is one of those releases. Teeth have conjured an opening salvo that’s as vicious and brutal as anything I’ve heard in the -core space in quite some time. The vocals are relentless, the breakdowns are nuclear, and the percussion section pulverizes with a wild level of intensity. I’d be a bit worried to be in a pit with this shit blaring live. So flailing my arms around like a man possessed and howling to the basement ceiling will have to do. Genuinely destructive stuff.
Chamber - A Love To Kill For
Metalcore comes in a lot of forms, but increasingly I’ve been drawn towards its most pissed off and raw expressions. Often labeled “metallic hardcore” to make that distinction, Chamber’s sophomore effort A Love to Kill For was the best release of that style this year for me, disregarding most melody for the explosive in-your-face approach of hardcore, combined with frantic and technical barrages of mathcore insanity. This album is just non-stop pit-stirring bangers, truly made to be experienced while moshing. The panic chords, the manic vocal delivery, the dissonant backing guitars, the whole thing is the formula for violence.
Flammable Regurgitosis - Unhinged Irreversible Mutilations
Do not play this album when other people are present. One, the cover art will make your loved ones concerned for your wellbeing and make strangers nervous about sitting next to you on the bus. Two, Unhinged Irreversible Mutilations is so ridiculously, obscenely, outrageously heavy that the resulting headbanging will have painful consequences.
I’ll admit, I was in a rut when this beast dropped in early August. No new albums had really grabbed my attention, the end of summer was in sight, and a hectic fall loomed in the distance. Life was somehow boring and stressful. But THIS ALBUM. This bloody, beautiful slab of caveman slam burst its way into my eardrums and my heart. Flammable Regurgitosis reminded me how fucking fun brutal death metal can be, bulldozing their way through my summer blues with downtuned guitars, insane blastbeats, and utterly guttural vocals. Groovy, gory, and heavy as hell, Unhinged Irreversible Mutilations lives up to its name in the best way possible.
The World Is On Fire And The People Who Are Burning Us Have Addresses And Names
Once again we are arrayed against our political enemies and we need a soundtrack for it
Exulansis - Overtures of Uprising
I fully expected Exulansis to release one of the best, if not the best, black metal albums of the year but I didn’t expect them to release the most moving political rallying cry. While the band have been vocals about their politics before, Overtures of Uprising is much more explicit with its feelings of rage and mourning. It’s an album which captures our current moment well, as we are caught between the need to cry for all that we’ve lost while we recommit to the struggles which are our only hope of maintaining what we still have. In its powerful black metal guitars, strings, and vocals also lies a promise of our power, if we only choose to unleash it, together.
Ragana - Desolation’s Flower
You know Desolation’s Flower is fucking good, and you know what, I know you know that Desolation’s Flower is fucking good. But since Ragana is just that fucking good, we’re gonna talk about it.
Devastatingly harsh, heartachingly poignant, and gorgeously executed, Desolation’s Flower is quite arguably the breakout album of 2023. The Oakland, California-based duo (Bay Area pride) bleed together black metal and post-metal to incredible effect. If 2023 has you caught between despair and rage, Desolation’s Flower is here for you. Listen to the plaintive vocals on “DTA” build into a wall of riffs and snippets of the painful reality in which we live, only to be pierced by furious and mournful shrieks, and tell me you aren’t ready to burn it all down.
The HIRS Collective - We’re Still Here
As a cis male I can’t begin to speak of the full power and meaning of this album, but the least I can do is spread the word about it. The perfectly titled We’re Still Here is an unapologetic expression of queer fury at a world that continually marginalizes and strips the rights away from the innocent. The Philly-based queercore/powerviolence project re-emerged this year with its most ambitious, and most profound release to date. Featuring different guest vocals on every track, from the entire spectrum of the hardcore scene from the likes of Anthony Green to Full of Hell, it’s incredibly unpredictable and eclectic. Yet, every track maintains the raging focus that as bleak as things may seem, there are people in this world willing to fight for your existence. “A version of therapy for ourselves and anyone who feels in need to scream their lungs out for one more day of living. We’re still here.”
Finally, Some Good Fucking Riffs
The albums that caused/brought the most stank
Megaton Sword - Might & Power
This album is titled Might & Power and that is exactly what it delivers. Megaton Sword have always been good but on this album, they take their formula of destructive heavy metal to the next level. The bass is louder (good!), the vocals are even more powerful, and the riffs, good God, the riffs slap all the way to Alpha Centauri and back. Chock full of choruses that will make you want to raid the nearby village or challenge the local baron to a duel, Might & Power is your address for everything BIG and LOUD and GROOVY in 2023.
The Lion’s Daughter - Bath House
I’ve listened to the opening track of Bath House at least two dozen times. It’s so fucking good that I have a hard time moving past it to get to the rest of the record (don’t worry, I have and it’s excellent all around). With this record, The Lion’s Daughter has created a career apex of memorable and impactful riffs that are just as delectable on the fifteenth listen as they were the first. The band has always been known for their knack for writing a catchy, heavy tune, but Bath House accentuates this strength and sends it into the stratosphere. There is no record this year that has facilitated more car ride stoplight headbanging sessions than this one.
Alkaloid - Numen
How many times can you listen to variations of the riff from “Where The Slime Live” and still get hit with the biggest fucking stank face you can muster? The answer: at least one more fucking time. Alkaloid simply do. Not. Miss. You can question whether their sound is starting to get rather formulaic for a prog band three albums deep (even if you’re wrong, looking at you Eden), but you cannot question the sheer power of the FUCKING RIFFS these guys conjure time and again. I don’t care about your big, loud and groovy power metal riffs Eden - I care about my big, loud, and groovy DEATH METAL riffs and “Qliphosis” is the best damned thing I’ve heard all year. It makes me want to pump my fists like a piston, stomp the floor like a bull, and bang my head like I’m not tense as fuck and going to regret this decision in 10 minutes time. I REGRET NOTHING - this absolutely owns - it owns when they’re doing the slow groovy thing, it owns when they do the techy Obscura thing, and the crazy proggy thing, hell even the chill bluesy thing - it doesn’t matter, they’re masters of all of it. They’ve got any riff you could ask for - so quit that New Year riff diet and throw this thing on before you forget what’s good for you.
Owdwyr - Receptor
Tech death is a genre that should be known for its riffs, but often finds itself having flair before substance. The limit-pushing and speedometer-breaking can leave your stank face wanting, but Owdwyr are here with one of the best debuts of the year and it really leaves a mark. Receptor is really a mix-bag of a ton of different approaches to the genre, but the Arsis-ish riffs definitely stand out. This might not appeal to every tech death fan, but one of the best parts about this release is they’re not afraid to be a deathcore band once in a while. I’m talking some of the progressive grooves of Exoplanet-era The Contortionist mixed with the grinding buzzsaw riffs of stuff like The Red Chord. Some comparisons could also be made to the also excellent new Blindfolded and Led to the Woods release from early 2023, but with a lot more progressive experimentation and straight-up jazz.
Majesties - Vast Reaches Unclaimed
Shoutout In Flames for somehow dropping a new In Flames album and an “old” In Flames album in the same year. I jest, but really, this is one of the best iterations of that early-In Flames meets At the Gates sound we’ve heard since the 90s. And that’s not to say this album is purely derivative, the group is composed of members of talented melodic black metal bands Inexorum and Obsequiae, and the drummer of avant-sludge band Pyrithe, and they all bring their own ideas and influences. But really, it’s hard to ignore how much this is just Gothenburg-era melodeath worship, and there’s really nothing wrong with that. More than anything, that sound was renown for its riffs, and Majesties brings those riffs in fucking waves.
Djent is a genre, actually (and it’s still happening?!)
Some proof that djent still has a leg to stand on in current year
Unprocessed - Lore
Djent and I have an interesting relationship. It seems to me that there are an equal amount of records that I either love or couldn’t care less about, leaving the subgenre firmly in my “mixed bag” category. Unprocessed’s latest record Lore lands firmly in the former category, and I can’t even explain why. Perhaps it’s the more progressive elements, or the record’s general unpredictability (at least to my ears), but regardless of the reason this shit bangs and bangs hard. There’s definite replay value to be found here, and watching the band blend djenty vibes with the wildness of Polyphia and Animals as Leaders is a real treat.
Vvon Dogma - The Kvlt of Glitch
More than any other in metal, djent has always been a sub-genre that embraces the future, in its creation, recording, production, but also aesthetic. Vvon Dogma I recognizes that in spades; this sounds like metal from the future. The name, the (questionable) AI artwork, and of course the sound. Vvon Dogma I is the strange new creation from the eccentric mind of acclaimed extended-range bassist ChaotH, most known for his work in the now defunct avant-garde french Canadian metal band Unexpect, and tech-death goes prog rock supergroup Humanoid. The Kvlt of Glitch is their first foray into the world of “djent”, incorporating thumping grooves into an eclectic mix of progressive metal and The Algorithm meets video game soundtrack electronic beats.
ChaotH takes the Cynic route on vocals, with their inclusion being entirely in the form of a vocoder. It could even be argued they fit better with the electronic-fusion of this album. “Day of the Dead” into “One Eye” are the most straight-forward djent track here, bringing some classic and heavy djent riffs spaced between ChaotH’s 9-string bass licks, ambient synths and glitching effects behind uplifting vocoder harmonies. In a sub-genre that has seen a lot of saturation, this is a little bit of fresh air, as fresh as the air could be in a synthetic, cyberpunk future.
TesseracT - War of Being
Calling this album “djent” is a bit of a stretch, as TesseracT expand further and further into progressive metal spaces and sounds. But there’s still plenty of that TesseracT riff, the staccato style that led them, and the entire genre, to original popularity. The power of this type of riff is only enhanced by the melodic and more emotive elements around it. In that way, perhaps, TesseracT are painting a template for djent’s relevance, as a heavy, aggressive tool in the kit of the modern progressive metal writer, instead of the core of a scene as it once was. This is a great development, as the djent chunky riff sounds way better in a supportive role, injecting momentum and drive to otherwise more considered and well thought out compositions.
Sleep Token - Take Me Back To Eden
Combining djent with pop music and contemporary R&B perhaps wasn’t such a terrible move, because now Sleep Token have taken the world by storm whether you like it or not. Look, I know it’s my job to sit here and explain this album to you, but you’ve heard Take Me Back To Eden, or at least enough to know it’s not for you, so I’m not going to try to persuade you. Personally, I enjoy SZA and The Weeknd, so hearing those melodies and atmospheres against Drop Z guitar riffs is fun, actually.
How did that celestial being get in my yard?
The albums that are so earth shatteringly heavy they could open up a wormhole to another dimension.
Wormhole - Almost Human
Ah… brutal cosmic death metal. Is there anything better? Wormhole’s first two records were certainly a treat, but it did not prepare me for how incredible Almost Human would be. This is a dizzying record that never compromises brutality for the sake of artfulness, but instead blends these elements into a roiling stew of space-based destruction that’s an incredible and bold step up for the band. Is it mercilessly heavy? Yes. Does it make you want to stare into the inky void above and contemplate the essence of existence? Also yes. What more could you ask for?
Wallowing - Earth Reaper
Describing Wallowing could easily consume this entire entry: post-doom, blackened sludge, noise, and even dissonant death metal all emerge in the murk of Earth Reaper. The core is death-doom, but the band experiments with so many different sounds and elements that the album quickly becomes a sonic blackhole that exemplifies the sci-fi theme.
In the final track, a supermassive beast clocking in at almost 22 minutes, an atmospheric/dark folk passage feeds into borderline stoner riffs overlaid by raw black metal vocals. Before the listener has time to process that transition, Wallowing drags us into deep, sludgy waters. There’s roughly a minute of blackened rock that might be one of my favorite moments in metal this year. But ignoring the rest of the album for the mammoth closing song means missing other intriguing moments.
“Cries of Estima,” carefully placed between brief instrumental tracks, showcases orchestral and electronic elements to fascinating effect. Distorted vocals echo and crackle over riffs so heavy, they have their own gravitational force. Raw, organic noise easily shares space with atmospheric, electronic blips and even a theremin. Earth Reaper is a desperate, beautiful cry from the cold depths of space that will swallow the planet whole. And I, for one, don’t mind at all.
Humanity’s Last Breath - Ashen
Sweden's shining stars of deathcore consistently bring the most devastating and catastrophic atmosphere the genre has to offer. I know it seems obvious, but when we talk about heavy, I suppose it's easy to take for granted that the music has to have a weight to it. Ashen, as with all of Humanity's Last Breath's works, feels lumbering and thick, even when the band are pummeling with speed. Breakdowns are an art, and Ashen is another example of how they can be done in a way that's a actually breathtaking and staggering.
Nithing - Agonal Hymns
If we’re talking about heavy, then let’s just cut to the chase here and go all the way with it and reach for the most disgusting and unlistenable brutal tech death record to drop this year. This shit must have been made by time traveling aliens drunk on primordial ooze (as depicted on the cover?) otherwise I don’t know how something can sound so avant garde while also sounding like it was made by cavemen smacking rocks together.
Dead and Dripping - Blackened Cerebral Rifts
Defeated Sanity and their consequences happen to be one of the best things to happen to death metal over the last few years, with the influx of brutal tech coming through and absolutely destroying my listening habits (see above). Dead and Dripping’s sophomore LP Blackened Cerebral Rifts is their best, and it’s pure cosmic weirdness. Just look at the album artwork and take it as a reflection of the music held within.
I’m not crying, you’re crying!
Albums that got you totes emosh, holding back the tears, or sobbing uncontrollably.
Mesarthim - Arrival
Maybe this category was meant for soft, mushy albums that worm themselves into your heart and make you weep tears of sorrow but I’ve chosen Mesarthim’s Arrival because it makes me cry tears of hope and glory. It continues the project’s penchant for writing about space but this time fills that theme with a sense of mission and purpose, charting a brave course towards the great unknown. It makes me cry because I believe in that vision so very much and also recognize that it won’t happen, or probably even begin to happen, in my lifetime. Pour some black metal fury and passion into that and you’ve got yourself a real tear-inducer for those of us who dream of the great void beyond.
Sufjan Stevens - Javelin
I mean… it’s a Sufjan Stevens record. Need I say more? After a few forays into more electronic and experimental territory with The Ascension, Convocations, and Reflections, Sufjan gets back to his folk-based (and unfortunately deeply heartbroken) roots, dropping a record that’s easily among his best and certainly his most impactful statement since Carrie & Lowell. The circumstances around this record’s creation are not essential to its enjoyment, but they certainly add an element of emotional heft that few artists are able to capture so vividly and powerfully. I’d be a liar if I said “So You Are Tired” didn’t bring an awestruck tear to my eye at least once. Javelin is a journey well worth taking, but bring a box of tissues. You’ll probably need them.
Well, I did not see that coming
The albums that took you by surprise, surpassed expectations or slapped you in the face with fierce purpose when you were least expecting it.
Blessed Black - Seasons: Vol. 1
It’s not that I was surprised by this release because I didn’t think Blessed Black were good; I’ve covered and premiered their music several times on the blog before. But when looking at the track list, Seasons: Vol. 1 seemed to me like a short release which made up being filler until the full release (hinted to by the “Vol. 1” in the name) comes along. But instead, I got what is probably the band’s best trio of tracks yet. The formula is the same, namely seriously rocking and groovy stoner metal with a tinge of heavy metal, but the execution is so good. The synth tone on this release rules hard, the vocals return with newly found verve, and the riffs are just as delicious as before. Bring on the rest of the volumes!
Jarhead Fertilizer - CARCERAL WARFARE
When a band is called Jarhead Fertilizer, you start listening with a very specific idea in mind. Namely, you expect br00tal death metal in all its ignorant glory. The all-caps-required CARCERAL WARFARE will prove you deeply, fundamentally, aggressively wrong. Jarhead Fertilizer has created a veritable slab of dense death metal with creative flashes of psychedelic death metal and hints of death-doom that quickly rose through my 2023 rankings.
CARCERAL WARFARE lurches out of its cave with a slow, almost doomy gait illustrated by growling groans in “Blood of the Lamb,” only to awaken with a fierce screech as we’re chased into bludgeoning death metal punctuated by pig grunts. As an avid fan of bands who use multiple vocal styles to add depth to heavier subgenres, I was immediately absorbed. Jarhead Fertilizer juxtapose groovy guitars with filthy vocals and distorted sirens, trading between different metal styles as they drag us to the underworld. CARCERAL WARFARE is unquestionably brutal, but also intentional, creative, and skillfully executed. Don’t judge an album by the band name, title, or cover art in this case.
It’s a grower, not a shower
Albums that didn’t stick (hehe, more wiener puns) initially, but eventually got heavy rotation.
The Armed - Perfect Saviors
Yes, I slept on The Armed’s breakout album Ultrapop a few years back despite various blog members singing its praises at the time – what about it? I caught up eventually, didn’t I? Its fusion of hectic mathcore and pop hooks is still unlike anything I’ve ever heard before or since, a sugar rush of a record unmatched in its perfected genre-meld. Unfortunately, Ultrapop standing alone in this is also an implicit indictment of its followup Perfect Saviors, which pulls back on the mathcore side of things massively and goes all in on big hooks and experimental alternative rock-isms instead.
I’ll be honest and say this did not resonate with me at first, mathcore enjoyer that I am – that is, until I saw the band open for Queens of the Stone Age earlier this summer and finally felt it all click. Perfect Saviors is The Armed coming around to the fact that despite having phenomenal mathcore chops, they’re also really fucking good at putting together a sleazy alt rock tune or ten that has an earworm chorus and knows something you don’t. “Everything’s Glitter” sounds like a lost song from the A-side of Hot Fuss on first listen, but give it some time and it still worms into your brain just as much as “All Futures” or “An Iteration” did, just with fewer blast beats this time around. Ultrapop is still king to me, but Perfect Saviors is a brilliant exploration of The Armed’s more alt rock side that’s worth giving time to.
Pupil Slicer - Blossom
Breaking the rules for this superlative a little, but bear with me. With their 2021 debut Mirrors, Pupil Slicer emerged as one of the most exciting new bands in the mathcore scene. A dissonant and cathartic maelstrom of LGBT-empowering chaos that was an ode to genre classics like Dillinger, Converge and Car Bomb with little to no frills. For them to then follow that up with a lead single title-track “Blossom” that was… more alt-metal meets post-hardcore than anything, was surprising and honestly disappointing. While not a bad take at that sound, it just wasn’t what I expected or (selfishly) wanted from my new favourite mathcore band.
However once we got to hear the full thing, it quickly became clear that Blossom was the sort of album that was bigger than the sum of its parts, and those parts, such as that single which happened to be a fitting album closer, all fit perfectly in their place. Blossom is still undeniably a mathcore record. Mostly everything that I loved about Mirrors is still here: the riffs, the passion, the misery, the rage. But this time around, it’s all just a little more nuanced and daring. There’s forays into nu-metal and industrial, and the aforementioned alt-post-hardcore, but it all works towards a larger picture of an affectionate outpouring of violent emotion. This is Pupil Slicer truly blossoming into something more, and I can’t wait to see what comes next.
“What the fuck is that? Gimme that aux cord.”
The best in incomprehensible and completely unutterable noise. The very bottom of the iceberg. The far reaches of good taste.
Vantana Row - FAT_ASS_PUSSY
Vantana Row was my most-listened to artist this year and my favorite new musical discovery. The band is made up of vocalist Volly and drummer/producer Jamey, and the couple travels around the country in a van primarily playing guerilla shows on the street (coming to a city near you!). They also produce and record all of their music in their van. Many different, specific genre tags have been applied to Vantana Row, many of which they have also applied to themselves: cybergrind, crustwave, hyperpop, and trap metal just to name a few. But what ties it altogether is just how noise-ridden their sound is. While Volly scream raps maniacally, the beats and samples are often mixed to feel like they’re pushing your speakers to the brink of functionality. This overblown production style is especially true of FAT_ASS_PUSSY, an EP made up of older Vantana Row songs that they re-recorded in an effort to more accurately capture their live sound. If FAT_ASS_PUSSY represents their live sound, from the galloping rhythm and Aphex Twin-like melody of “Fiver” to the bouncing R&B of “I’m Sensing a Protagonist”, be prepared to have your ears eviscerated once their van door opens on your street.
Christian Cosentino/winterquilt - Portals to Perdition
This album belongs in this category for three reasons. First, as I’ve said many times on the blog before, what Cosentino does to black metal is subtly weird. If you listen to it on the surface, it will seem plain enough, but if you really dive into what’s going on there, you will be flabbergasted. Then there’s winterquilt which...if you haven’t listen to yet, please enjoy losing your mind to the gnarliest and weirdest cybergrind/something out there. Lastly, there’s the fact that someone (read: the label) put these two artists together, creating a mix between two different types of chaos that appeals to a very specific kind of listener. Very specific.
Behold the Arctopus - Interstellar Overtrove
After listening to Interstellar Overtrove, my friend commented that it sounded like “crabs scurrying across a boardwalk”. After I listened to it, I would only add “...during a vivid sunset” to that statement. Behold the Arctopus decided to take a radical new approach to their process while recording Interstellar Overtrove: no distortion, no amps, no drum kit, and no keyboards. While the compositional approach itself seems similarly complex to the band’s previous output, the use of mostly clean, direct input guitars and electronic drums creates an otherworldly atmosphere with a hefty dose of whimsy (if song titles like “Hot for Emotions” and “Def Lepton” didn’t already give the latter away).
At times, the electronic drums sound as if a CD is skipping while at other times they sound as if a fully-packed suitcase is being thrown down the stairs. While the electronic drums pitter patter and plonk, the guitars often follow along in highly structured and technical ways, but there seems to be chaotic outbursts of improvisation littered liberally throughout the album as well. There are very few metal albums that sound truly alien to me, but I know when aliens eventually abduct me, I won’t be surprised when I hear something very similar to Interstellar Overtrove playing in the background while I’m lying down on the examination table waiting to be probed.
Angel Electronics - ULTRA PARADISE
Imagine hyperpop, cybergrind, vaporwave, and black metal had a baby. A weird, hyperactive, bizarrely upbeat baby who just wants to sing you a lil tune. You’re starting to understand Angel Electronics, Los Angeles’ self-described #1 brutal euphoria wave band. Enter their neon paradise with an open heart and open ears…and a hint of caution.
Angel Electronics is a collaborative effort from Ash Nerve and Ada Rook. Seemingly from opposite ends of the musical spectrum, ULTRA PARADISE is an off-kilter adventure through boppy computer pop that breaks down into gritty cybergrind and black metal screaming without warning. But the hooky pop of ULTRA PARADISE belies the devastation inside. “Party Girl” is a light, catchy tribute to an extroverted love by their introverted partner.
It’s a sugar-sweet love song that will capture the heart of any pop fan. When “Evil Behind You” comes on, however, things get a bit terrifying. Darker lyrics start making your skin crawl - “there’s evil behind you, just take my hand, don’t look back” - and by the time the chorus ends, we’re enveloped in a jagged cybergrind stutter and fleeing demonic howls. Who’s to say where the evil lies? It’s worth exploring on ULTRA PARADISE, but only if your friends let you play the entire album.
Menstrual Vampires - Menstrual Vampires
The band and the album are called Menstrual Vampires, need I say more? But if that wasn’t enough, this bloody gorefest of a death metal album was released on Valentine’s Day and features song titles like “Out of Cervix” and “Miscarriage Fetish (Womb with a View).” This album is among the filthiest, nastiest death metal I’ve heard all year…and I mean that as a compliment.
The legendary Xasthur, a pillar of USBM and other extreme music scenes, created Menstrual Vampires as his tribute to the foul heydey of death metal. This album sounds like it should be traded on underground tapes through a network of fanatics, yet still oozes like a fresh wound. There’s few bands in recent memory capable of creating something this disgusting; the strain of murky, downtuned aggression in Menstrual Vampires immediately joined the rarefied and rotting ranks of personal favorites CUFF and URGED. Play it exclusively at midnight when camping alone in the swamplands.
Nithing - Agonal Hymns
I briefly discussed this album above, but it truly is the most disgustingly heavy death metal record I’ve heard in 2023. If anyone caught me listening to this record, I’d be a social pariah. I’d lose my job, my house, and my kids, not just the aux cord privileges.
Critical Hit! Roll 2d4 for Damage
What you would prefer your bard would *actually* play while your adventuring party is slaying dragons and plundering treasure during your D&D campaign
Century - The Conquest of Time
As you well know, I love my power and heavy metal to be chunky and present. I enjoy the occasional falsetto laden shred fest, but for me it’s more about the groove and the big riffs. Century have both of those in droves, delivering this year’s meatiest album to draw swords to. There’s really not much more to say here - the riffs are big, the solos rules, and the vocals make you want to storm a castle.
Curt’an Wall - Siege Ubsessed!
As serious as D&D players take their campaigns, I think even they would admit the whole thing is a little goofy. So, why not listen to the goofiest black metal you can find to accompany it. Curta’n Wall is the solo-side-project of Abysmal Spector, known more for his work as the vocalist of avant-garde black metal band Old Nick. With Siege Ubsessed!, the debut full-length under this moniker, they are essentially cosplaying as a D&D bard, making the most joyous wiz’rd hat donning blend of medieval folk, raw black metal and dungeon synth you can find in the Forgotten Realms.
Adequately cheesy hurdy gurdy’s, accordions and folk metal melodies will accompany you to destinations like “Ogre’s Bog” and “Fae’s Pond”, while some legitimate black metal riffing, blast-beats and Spector’s grim vocals will have you glad you brought your “Hounskull”. Throughout the album are some great guest vocal appearances from Belgian artist Elvya, whose clean vocal harmonies are strangely reminiscent of Astronoid. Metal is often at its most novel and charming when it doesn’t take itself too seriously, and 2023’s Siege Ubsessed! is a prime example of that.
Heavy Blog is Not Heavy
Best albums for when we needed to give our chronic tinnitus a break from even more ear-splitting cacophony
Paramore - This Is Why
Paramore dip further into their post-punk influences on This Is Why, capping off what was a year-long-plus obsessive re-visit of their discography after taking a dip into their catalogue in 2022. Yes, I’ve heard Riot! and the hits, but I never afforded myself the time or opportunity to really sink my teeth into their glorious spectrum of emo pop, post-hardcore, and new wave that littered the landscape. This record is a much more mature record for the band, and it’s often clear that they’ve spun a lot of Interpol, Talking Heads, and Bloc Party during the making of This Is Why, and it’s a good look for them. In recent weeks, they’ve announced that they’ve fulfilled their recording contract and wiped their social media, so there’s no telling where they’ll go next, but I’m on board.
crushed - extra life
Dream pop and it’s cousin shoegaze are styles of music that, on a whole, speak to my predilection for wistful, bittersweet music. However, there are so rarely bands and albums in those styles that are not simply cheap imitations of the styles’ progenitors and most well-known practitioners, whether Mazzy Star in the case of the former or My Bloody Valentine in the case of the latter. What crushed does so well on their debut EP extra life is take the foundational characteristics of dream pop and make it their own by injecting it with a heavy dose of 90s-style alt rock hooks and a multi-layered production rife with samples and grainy trip-hop style drums.
While track “respawn” draws heavily upon 90s hits by a variety of female alt-pop artists, such as Natalie Imbruglia’s “Torn” and Alanis Morisette’s “Thank U”, the downtempo beat and delicate, sensuous vocals help retain the yearnful dream pop gleam. Even with its bouncy, hi-hat-driven rhythm and pronounced bass lines, the shimmery guitar chords and mournful yet catchy vocal lines arguably make “coil” the best and most heartache-inducing track on the EP. While extra life captures the breezy, woozy sounds that dream pop is best known for, the strength of the songs and production are cause for multiple spins, if for no other reason than to get this collection of earworms out of your head and into your dreams.
Mammal Hands - Gift from the Trees
I am not a jazz expert by any means, but it is a genre that I've grown to love in recent years. As the old adage goes, “I don't know much, but I know what I like”.
Mammal Hands offer a fine balance of complexity and tranquility. They mix jazz with other influences such as ambient, triphop and world music. They also never take things too far, showing restraint and reeling themselves in before getting anywhere near improvised chaos. Even the most intricate sections of storming songs like “Riser” and “Dimu” have the ability to be achingly beautiful. It's not difficult to imagine yourself in a dense forest with leaves billowing around you as the off-beat drums collide with cascading piano and undulating saxophone.
This album scratches the ‘metal itch’ by providing plenty of odd time signatures and slow building crescendo’s. But it also pours me a cup of herbal tea and whispers “chill out man, everything will be OK”, which I desperately needed at times in 2023. “Deep within Mountains” is one of the most relaxing songs you'll hear this year, with its delicate waves of melody able to tame even the most fevered of tempers.
Would I have been into this album five years ago? Probably not. But a global pandemic and fatherhood can do strange things to a man. I now need music like this in my life just as much as I need brutal death metal or noisecore.
If you've yet to dip your toe in the (admittedly intimidating) waters of jazz, I can definitely recommend this album as a good place to start. It won't be for everyone, but might just offer some welcome respite to those searching for something a little bit different.
Julian Lage - The Layers
I’ve long sang the praises of jazz virtuoso Julian Lage on the blog, and you bet your brass section I’m not stopping now. I maintain that Lage should be on the radars of any and all metal fans who are in it for brilliant, creative guitar playing, and this year’s EP (yes, it’s an EP and not an album, shush) The Layers has Lage and his trio following up on last year’s View With A Room with more of exactly that. But here’s the catch: this time Lage isn’t alone on guitar, with legendary guitarist Bill Frisell contributing to several of the tunes on hand.
The title track showcases this at its best, with Lage and Frisell having a full on conversation through their instruments, while “Mantra” instead has Frisell contributing eerie overdubs to Lage’s lush playing. The Layers is, of course, a phenomenal way of resting your ears after a day full of blast beats – but it’s also a brilliant jazz release in general, best enjoyed on a dark winter night with a hot cup of tea in hand and an attentive ear for the stories Lage and Frisell have to tell.
Contemporary Noise Ensemble - An Excellent Spiritual Serviceman
I used to consume a lot of this warm-yet-intricate style of jazz fusion before I realized the genre suffers from the same problem that many forms of art focused on complexity do: they all start to sound complex in the same way. But Contemporary Noise Ensemble stands above the rest by creating an album that’s not only intricate and interesting but is also unique. This makes the album like its own internal language, with recurring themes and ideas communicating spiraling musical messages that are best experienced rather than understood. It’s also full of really cool tones and samples, making it very like its scintillating and busy cover art. A true treat.
The songs/albums that crept, unbidden, into our heads repeatedly and without mercy
Voyager - Fearless in Love
It’s well known at this point, or at least I hope, that I had been waiting for Voyager to unleash their full potential for years. I had stuck with the band and loved them because when that potential shined through their previous release, it was very bright. But I was waiting for the full thing to explode and finally, with Fearless in Love, explode it did. I felt like years of waiting had come to fruition (which they had) and that finally, I could wholeheartedly embrace a Voyager release. This led to countless hours of listening to the full thing, with special emphasis on the closing track, “Gren (Fearless in Love)”. I’m still waiting for my last.fm recap of the year, but I fully expect it to rank very high on the list. It, and the entire album, is filled with an emotional expression that I just can’t get enough of; the full magic of Voyager’s delivery unveiled!
Baroness - “Last Word”
I have to confess I didn’t take to Baroness’ Stone overall quite as much as I did their 2019 opus Gold & Grey, but “Last Word” is still one of the best album openers they’ve put together in years. The opening riff is almost Red Album-like in its sludgy quality, before a shout-along verse and chorus one-two punch pulls the listener right into the action. While the high mark of “Last Word” is very clearly lead guitarist Gina Gleason’s absolutely blistering solo – one of the finest in Baroness’ entire discography – it’s the section afterwards that squarely lands the song in this category. There’s a brief breather after Gleason’s guitar heroics, but then the band launches into a brilliant driving section that opens with Gleason and John Dyer Baizley harmonizing on “Oh my sweet oblivion”, a line so good and well-delivered they named this year’s headlining tour after it. That section alone has not left my brain for a moment since I first heard “Last Word”, and if you’ve not heard the song yourself just yet, hit play below and welcome it to the depths of your mind forever.
The Ocean - Holocene
I adored The Ocean’s Phanerozoic pair of albums, but especially so the ending tracks of both: the magnificent ten-minute opus “Permian: The Great Dying” that closes Phanerozoic I, of course, but also Phanerozoic II’s understated closer “Holocene”. The latter of these is an unusual tune by the band’s standards, in being a brooding, synth bass-driven tune instead of the typical prog metal fare – but it’s a tune that captured my attention immediately, and one I was delighted to hear inspired the entirety of the band’s next album of the same name.
Holocene the album is a co-writing effort between bandleader Robin Staps and keyboardist Peter Voigtmann, and it is chock-full of spooky synth bits and excellently crafted hooks. Take the entire ending section of “Sea of Reeds”, which is impossible to forget after first listen – especially with vocalist Loic Rosetti delivering one of his finest and catchiest clean vocal moments (“I divided the waters for you…”) over a haunting clean guitar line.
Similarly, “Atlantic” gradually builds up into a twisting instrumental that also twisted its way into my head constantly this year, while Rosetti’s repeating and intensifying couplet (“How can you say that you loved me / When all you seek is revenge?”) drilled it in that much more. Even though it came out in May of this year, various moments from Holocene still linger for me half a year on – and I anticipate that’ll continue well into 2024.
Terromania - Nyctophobic
Does EuroVisioncore officially exist? Should it exist? Finnish metal-powerpop-Djent-jazz fiends Terromania certainly make a case for it on Nyctophobic. The dizzying and ridiculously catchy album released on Ripple Music in late 2023 is somehow always playing in my head. By the time the full album dropped, I knew the singles “Disturbingly Beautiful” and “Demon in the Rain” by heart, belting them out in the car with friends on roadtrips. Terromania merges the hookiness of pop with the muscularity of rock and heaviness of metal into one of 2023’s most entertaining releases. Play this for your metalhead friends, your pop-obsessed siblings, hell, even your stadium rock dad. They’ll all find something to enjoy on Nyctophobic, and then you can sing along together when “The Pain Makes You Feel Alive” gets stuck in your heads for the 100th time.
Ostraca - “Stage Whisper”
SONG OF THE FUCKIN YEEEEEEER. Remember the last time you heard something and were left wondering what the fuck just hit you? That’s the kinda brain slap Ostraca crafted here. Swelling from a quaint and pastoral intro, the tension building over the opening minutes is utter perfection, surging in energy and volume before exploding into a tumultuous refrain. And that call back at the end? Oof. It’s superbly cathartic.
Basically a Book
Compelling characters, gripping storylines, and a flair for the theatrical, these concept albums basically count as reading.
Liturgy - 93696
Anyone familiar enough with black metal to regularly peruse this website should know about Liturgy by now, and be well aware of the fact that behind the insanely dense and detailed avant garde musical arrangements lies Haela Hunt-Hendrix, a talented and complex individual who has spiritual and academic pursuits beyond this incredibly ornate black metal and treats each release as a "sacred ritual," wth each release from this band coming with a slew of theoretical and spirtual musings that go far beyond my realm of understanding, but it's nice to see someone with passion building multi-faceted projects such as this. Some call it pretentious and overly complicated, but I find it interesting, even if it's not for me. The music itself however, if you take it in a vacuum at face value, is still a wonderfully cinematic experience and one of the most intricate and ethereal records from 2023.
Portrayal of Guilt - Devil Music
A flair for the theatrical you say? The best way to experience the new release from Portrayal of Guilt (or at least the B-side of it), is through watching the SHORT FILM they created for it. A satanically Shakespearean tale of worship and sacrifice. Devil Music is the extremely ambitious and equally impressive new offering from the former screamo group, now gone blackened crust. The second half of this album however is a retelling of that first half, but done entirely in a medieval chamber music style, complete with cello, french horn and tuba, yet with those same devilish blackened vocals. It’s a bizarre experience that isn’t for everyone, but the entire package made for one of the most memorable and novel releases of the year.