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Doomsday // 2023

Doomsday! God damn baby, I love this column and this list recapping the excellent (in music) 2023 is another fine example of why.

2 months ago

Doomsday! God damn baby, I love this column and this list recapping the excellent (in music) 2023 is another fine example of why. There's just so much on this list that is great, whether the albums that appear on more than one list (Oromet dears, we love you) or the differences that stand out. They're all fucking great, testimony to the sheer amount of riffs, chords, feedback, and reverb we were treated to this year.

So, pour your favorite drink (or light up your favorite leaf) and let's dive into a world where the deserts reign supreme, the groove flows like water, and every guitar must be run through at least four pedals.

It's Doomsday baby! Let's go!

Eden’s List of Slow, Low, and Far Out

10) Ahab - The Coral Tombs

*William Defoe in The Lighthouse voice* If what ye wish fer is a tight delve into the depths below, then look no further than The Coral Tombs, an album that is as punishing as me lobster is excellent!

9) Oromet - Oromet

Did I open this list with two funeral doom albums on purpose? Who knows! In any case, Oromet does things a bit differently than Ahab, in the sense that their brand of ultra-slow doom is expansive and ethereal where the latter’s is crushing. This is an album to dream of far away lands to.

8) Dead Quiet - IV

The first entry in my list that can be described as “fun”, IV sees Dead Quiet return once again to what they do best - deliver catchy and groovy as all hell riffs. It’s a short, sweet, and to the point release that continues to build on the band’s talent as some of the best songwriters around. Rock out!

7) Owl - Geomancy

Maybe the weirdest album on this list, Geomancy presents an odd blend of heavy metal, stoner rock, doom, and a bunch more stuff besides. It also contains what I’m pretty sure is a direct quote of Wishbone Ash’s “Warrior” and that slaps so hard. And so does the album! Riffs, heavy metal solos, and honey-drenched vocals. What’s not to like?

6) Pelegrin - Ways of Avicenna

This is this year’s “mandatory” inclusion from the French stoner scene, in quotation because it’s my absolute pleasure to keep following what is probably the best stoner scene on the planet. Ways of Avicenna is no different, presenting a captivating and extremely well put together journey across space and time. I think my favorite things are the emotion-drenched vocals and how perfectly they work with the trippy guitar tones and synths.

5) Fires in the Distance - Air Not Meant For Us

The first entry on the list where you might go “huh, does this really belong here?” and the answer to that is “I don’t care”. I’ve written about it elsewhere but Air Not Meant For Us was impossible not to include here, seeing as it’s just so damn good. It’s also good “just” as a doom album, even if you ignore its true drawing power of eclecticism. It’s redolent synths and big, moving riffs would grace any doom metal album, it’s just that you also get a side of excellent melodic death metal.

4)  Dream Unending & Worm - Starpath

The couplets are strong with this list as this is the second album that might cause you to scratch your head. There’s plenty on this release that’s just straight up death and black metal but there’s also an emotional and tonal backbone that is undoubtedly classic doom metal. And I do mean classic, as in the melodrama and epic size of 80’s doom, all the way back to the theatrical roots of the genre. If you’re looking for that flair, then this album is your best source in 2023.

3) REZN - Solace

What’s more for me to say about this release, one of the albums I’ve covered most extensively on the blog this year? It continues to draw me in with its massive size and scope and I keep discovering more and more to love about it. Whether you’re here for the huge guitars, the exceptional vocals, or just the way the entire album moves like one, hulking beast, Solace was one of this year’s best “straight up” doom metal albums. There is sophistication but there is also a furious dedication to momentum which makes it an excellent paragon of doom. All hail the reverb! Praise the feedback!

 2) Green Lung - This Heathen Land

One of the most consistently hyped bands in stoner and doom contains to consistently deliver on and exceed those expectations. I wasn’t planning on This Heathen Land to propel Green Lung this much further into psychedelic and progressive rock but that it at did, presenting us with one of the more grandiose and satisfying back halves to an album in years. And you know what, I am finding more and more to like in the rocking, all guns blazing first half as well, a sort of maturation and improvement on the sound that first made Green Lung a household name in stoner. That aside, just listen to “One For Sorrow” - it is truly one of the best tracks I’ve heard this year.

 1) Flesh of the Stars - The Glass Garden

I’m going to break my own format by not writing a lot here. I’ve already covered this album extensively on the blog; it’s one of the most underrated albums of 2023. It’s chock full of doom, post-metal, and more, always dedicated to sounding exactly what it should like for each passage. It’s complex, challenging, and extremely well made. Go listen to it. Please.

Bridget’s List of Funerals, Throwbacks, and Voids

10. Lord Mountain - The Oath

Northern California epic doomers Lord Mountain combine the swagger of heavy metal with the cold depths of doom on their debut album, The Oath. The result is a groovy, riff-riddle gallop through faraway lands that takes listeners on a wild adventure. 

9. Viral Tyrant - Vultures Like You

The debut album from Viral Tyrant stretches elements of thrash, progressive metal, and black metal into mind-melting sludge. Firmly grounded in the trenches of reverb-drenched doom, Vultures Like You burns through moments of 70s revivalism, death-doom darkness, and thrash-adjacent sprints with a confident, hazy swagger that places it among a rising tide of genre-bending doom acts like Morass of Molasses, Tumulation, and Somnuri. 

8. Thunder Horse - After The Fall 

After The Fall doesn’t fit neatly into doom, nor any other category, as Texas natives Thunder Horse marry the confidence of stoner fuzz with the earnestness of Southern rock, only to weigh it down with a heady dose of doom. In other (fewer) words: RIFF CITY.

7. Class Traitor - Broken Energy Highway

Experimental sludge/post-metal collective Class Traitor harnesses the emotional intensity of post-metal to plunge their suffocating strain of sludge into even harsher depths, trapping listeners in a dystopian wasteland. Broken Energy Highway is anchored by the muscular bass lines found throughout the doom and sludge subgenres, buried in fuzz and distortion for an echoing, haunting ambiance. Human and instrumental screeches break through the haze with jarring dissonance, only to transform into death metal-like growls. This isn’t music for the apocalypse; this is the sound of desperate screams from the post-apocalyptic void.

6. Hippie Death Cult - Helichrysum

It’s incredibly impressive to see how much Portland, Oregon-based trio Hippie Death Cult manages to transform with each release. Each new effort seems to re-introduce the band as a groovier, more engaging version of themselves. Helichrysum takes the classic sounds of 70s hard rock, supercharges it with the heaviness of doom metal, and puts an innovative psychedelic spin on it. The result is a deeply satisfying blend that successfully plays on rock history, yet sounds distinctly modern and unique. 

5. Seum - Double Double

“Double double” is a Canadian term for a caffeine and sugar bomb that’ll half your lifespan and double your energy in the same shot: coffee with two tablespoons of sugar and double cream. It’s also the title of the third album from Canadian doom’n’bass trio Seum

As their description implies, Seum doesn’t futz around with accessories like guitars; their sound is pure bass bliss. The minimalist sonic palette serves their apocalyptic absurdity well, underscoring nihilistic-yet-funny lyrics straight from the mind of someone very reluctantly sobering up and dealing with the rather unpleasant consequences.  

The bass-only approach infuses Seum’s sound with a stoner edge that’s only improved with the band’s punk energy. Blackened vocals punctuate the languid, occasionally mildly psychedelic, bass. The effect is grimy and raw, with just a hint of swagger. Ridiculously catchy and wild sludge for those going through their own existential crises.

4. VANISHING KIDS - Miracle of Death

Haunting, grandiose, and hypnotic are just a few of the words that come to mind while listening to Miracle of Death, the 6th album from Wisconsinites VANISHING KIDS. Layering classic rock and doom metal in a gauzy, lush shroud of shoegaze and psychedelica, Miracle of Death is black lace draped over an electric guitar.

VANISHING KIDS describe the album as “a deep celebration of life, death, love, loss, and many places in between.” Miracle of Death exemplifies the “in between” as it weaves together tones that are simultaneously beautiful and haunting. Vocalist Nikki Drohomyreky’s voice is equal parts ethereal and mournful, taking center stage over dignified organ drones with a graceful, strident presence. 

“Midnight Children” entwines muscular guitars with delicate organ ambiance and Drohomyreky’s ethereal, droning intonations. The organ gradually gathers strength as the song builds, adding an unexpectedly dignified air to notes ripped from the sweaty history of rock. “Midnight Children” cascades into the waterfall of synthy organ wails of “Feral Angel,” taking the listener deeper into the depths of VANISHING KIDS. The line between floating and drowning becomes stunningly thin as we sink into the waves of sound. Our only lifeline is the rollicking guitars, muted slightly, but no less a dominant presence as they cut through the veil of sound. The surprising and somewhat contradictory mix lights up Miracle of Death as it celebrates the in-between of life, death, metal, and rock. 

3. Usnea - Bathed in Light 

Bathed in Light by Portland, Oregon-based Usnea wraps listeners in an aura of oppressive melancholy, with heavy, echoing growls distending themselves over pendulous guitars. Distorted voices attempt to break through the fog, to no effect. It’s a crushing, purely funereal introduction. But the gloom doesn’t linger for long, as “The Compleated Sage'' quickly shifts into a blackened-death-doom chimera. Cascading riffs that would make any stoner metal band proud grind our ears to dust, only to give way to death metal growls. The balance between abrasiveness and gut-wrenching heaviness defines Usnea’s sound. They’re neither doom or death metal, but they clearly have the musical skills and songwriting chops to excel in either genre. 

Bathed in Light is a stunning descent into the darkest, most violent manifestation of grief Usnea underscores the complexity of our emotions and their songwriting skills. As we emerge reborn from the depths of hell, we’re greeted by an ominous, almost minimalist, post-metal track that evokes the feeling of a religious chant. A beautiful, yet emotionally charged ending to a stunning album. 

2. Depleted - Failing

Late 2022 into early 2023, I did a little digging into my musical tastes to figure out what songs, memories, and feelings inspired listening habits. Unlike a lot of folks in these parts, I didn’t grow up listening to metal, instead developing a love for extreme music well after most people’s music tastes are etched in their brains. Yet common threads can be traced to early points of origin. Funeral doom, as best I can decipher, stems from young exposure to a church organ. The droning, melancholic tones of hymns set the stage for a love of funeral doom that would only be discovered decades later.

This early connection likely explains why 1-2 funeral doom albums creep onto my AOTY lists every year, despite death metal dominating my regular listening habits. With bands like Depleted producing such profoundly heavy, mournful music, funeral doom simply demands attention. 

The Portland, Oregon band’s debut, Failing, is 40 minutes of crushing heaviness laced with hints of noise. From the opening notes, Failing is a ponderous dirge made even more immense by growling vocals that echo from the depths. A melodic edge provides some light, but only enough to emphasize the dark droning atmosphere. It’s mournful, yet beautiful. The level of detail that cascades across Failing is captivating, with “Cold and Distant” marching from arcing guitars to haunted growls with grace for over 10 minutes, only to fade into the unforgiving hiss of harsh noise. The shifts marked by atmosphere in contrast to the unrelenting, immovable beat throughout the album showcase how true heaviness demands patience, atonement, and dedication. 

1. Wallowing - Cyborg Asphyxiation 

Captain’s Log, Stardate 320.433789954: We’ve come across a strange, isolated planet at the far reaches of the known universe. Sensors indicate a cold, hostile climate dominated by howling winds and landslides of toxic sludge. Little is known about this place, except that it’s ruled by a mysterious entity known as Wallowing. Attempts to establish contact have resulted in a strange message from this creature, which has deafened several members of the crew.

So begins our journey into Earth Reaper, the second studio album from anonymous doom/sludge collective Wallowing. This monumental record immediately grabbed my attention when it dropped in late April of 2023, and eight months later, Earth Reaper still stands as a highlight of the year. Wallowing’s unique take on doom, theatrical atmospheres, and sheer aural acidity simply has few peers.

The core of Wallowing’s sound is doom, but the band experiments with so many different sounds and elements that it’s difficult to approach Earth Reaper like a traditional album. The narrative built by Wallowing is so fundamental to their music that Earth Reaper more closely resembles a soundtrack than an album. “Flesh and Steel” burst through a brief intro with an abrasiveness that leans heavily into the death side of death doom, plunging into only slightly doomier depths as it fades into a noisy electronic interlude. “Cries of Estima” drags us into a darker, slower place and introduces an eerie synthy element that adds cinematic flair to Wallowing’s caustic sludge.  The track gradually builds into a pounding intensity, feeling like an action scene as Earth Reaper races towards its epic conclusion. 

In the final track of Earth Reaper alone, an atmospheric passage reminiscent of dark folk group Heilung transforms 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 massive closing song means missing other intriguing moments. “Cries of Estima,” carefully placed between brief instrumental tracks, showcases orchestral and electronic elements to fascinating effect. 

And yet…it all works. The dark, haunted mood created by Wallowing ties an inordinately wide range of elements into a cohesive album that’s equal parts satisfying and surprising. Raw, organic noise easily shares space with atmospheric, electronic blips and even a theremin. (What would a sci-fi album be without a theremin?) Wallowing, whatever they are, have constructed an utterly absorbing record that plays with sound like an author plays with sentence structure, building a rich, emotional world that demands repeat listens to fully appreciate. 

Jordan’s Top Ten Titans of Tone (and other fun aspects of doomdom)

10. Lord Mountain - The Oath (heavy metal, doom)

Knowing the classics are always going to be there to listen to on a whim, I’ve become something of a Goldilocks when it comes to taking on new heavy metal releases. For me, it’s gotta have that old-school vibe and sound, but there’s a line I can’t yet decipher that separates those tastefully paying homage from those with a derivative angle. As you may sleuth, Cali quartet Lord Mountain fit into the former category here. The Oath is the kind of proto-doom/trad metal record that embodies the “show, don’t tell” mantra. And though the influences of Black Sabbath, Pagan Altar, Iron Maiden, and Warning are worn on their sleeves, they’re not shackled by them.

Instead, Lord Mountain forge their own classic tales. In fact, they sound so much like the real deal you can practically hear paisley and fringe, as if the most logical explanation for the consistency in quality and vintage vibe here is that these dudes just drove their van through a tear in the fabric of time and popped out 50 years later. With chuggy epics like “Well of Fates,” the speedy and beaming “Chasm of Time,” or the nautical sway of “The Giant,” there’s little doubt in my mind I’ll be reaching for The Oath for years to come.

9. Worn Mantle - Hole (progressive sludge)

Worn Mantle is the best-kept secret in all of progressive sludge. Their utterly massive 2022 debut cracked my personal top 25, and their followup is no slump. Longform is still the name of the game here, but Hole’s lugubrious mutations are even more monolithic. Consisting of just two near-30-minute tracks, this Minnesota-based collective carves a labyrinthine path through the noisiest depths of death metal, doom, black metal, post metal, and sludge. Their artistic approach exudes a confidence and patience that few can match. Tension is developed masterfully, and oftentimes at a snail’s pace. It doesn’t make for a particularly easy listen, but listeners will find a lot to sink their ears into when the shit hits the fan. Hole is tastefully arranged and varied, and the seamless transitions from lizard-brained simplicity to chaos only Steven Hawking could untangle offer an abundance of surprises and delights. You just need to exhibit a bit of mental fortitude to dig out its treasures.

8. Fallow Gold - The Slog of Days (doomgaze, sludge, emo)

Of all the slow and low I’ve enjoyed this year, few hit me like The Slog of Days. This debut from Madison, Wisconsin-based solo project Fallow Gold clicked with me immediately, bringing together its influences in a way that hasn’t crossed my ears before. Fallow Gold creates a distinct identity, melding minimalist slowcore, punishing Godflesh-y percussion, robust, sludgy guitars, post-rock undertones, and affected vocals that culminate in something that almost feels like KEN Mode gone doomgaze. Better yet, the songcraft here is on-fucking-point. Listeners can expect to find a plethora of great (and often surprising) hooks, adventurous and rewarding structures, and astute production choices. Compared to many other self-produced solo projects, Fallow Gold impresses me with its “completeness.” There’s a tangible atmosphere that lends character and shape to each track that highlights its melancholy and heaviness at every. single. turn. I can’t wait to hear more.

7. Oromet - Oromet (funeral doom, epic doom)

Upon first listen, Oromet’s self-titled debut didn’t strike me anything particularly noteworthy. That is, until “Alpenglow” wrapped. This remarkable closer has become one of my favorite songs of the entire year, and arguably one of the best funeral doom tracks, ever. Seriously, it’s that fucking good. More importantly, it got me to dive into the previous tracks with a fresh perspective, tuning into the little details and nuances of these arrangements to uncover a deceptive depth to their songcraft.

On the surface it may seem as though this is a straightforward funeral doom release, but convention often finds a challenge, whether through Oromet’s use of synths for atmosphere building or their epic metal bend that glosses things a level up from their dirge-y contemporaries. The inspiring highs and crushing lows are dynamic and complementary, but the keystone of Oromet’s sound seems to be how their melodic aspects always shine brightest. It’s the hallmark of any good epic doom act, but in the context of Oromet’s vibrant world building, they become revelatory.

6. High Priest - Invocation (cosmic doom, stoner rock)

I don’t typically associate stoner doom with singalong hooks, but Chicago’s High Priest seem to have found a way to make their cosmic brand of doom capable of handling some truly awesome choruses as well as some stupidly heavy riffage. The production on Invocation is remarkable, reconciling ridiculously heavy guitar tones and drums while making space for an impressive variety of melodic vocals. There’s a sense of wonder for me in their accessibility, and in this way, Invocation feels bent on expanding and upending listeners’ expectations, as though they’re compelled to delight listeners in a new way with each track. And while High Priest make good on delivering an expansive world of heavy melodicism, Invocation is spacey as all hell, these cosmic incantations calling down an overabundance of memorable riffs, stellar harmonies, and infectious boogies from the heavens. This seems to be getting slept on quite a fucking bit, but it damn well shouldn’t be for as fun and engaging  as this record is.

5. Black Helium - Um

In my time contributing to this column, I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to listen to a shitton of stuff I might not otherwise indulge in. More specifically, I’ve had the pleasure of digging in on a lot of heavy psych over the last few years. Black Helium hopped on my radar with their 2020 release, The Wholly Other (which landed on our “stuff we missed rapid fire”), and if I’m not too bold to say it, Um (their third LP) goes bigger and better in nearly every way. The distortion has been tamed down a hair, but the London-based group seem to have brushed up a bit on the headier aspects of their sound.

Tracks like “I Saw God” and “The Keys to Red Skeleton’s House (Open the Door)” are comparatively audacious psych explorations, touching on a broader array of psych-adjacent sounds that include krautrock, space rock, and desert rock. Um grooves for days, so if you’ve found any sort of traction with releases from the likes of Black Mountain, King Buffalo, or The Black Angels, you’d be smart to get this into your rotation.

4. KEN Mode - VOID

Every KEN Mode album feels essential to me. Their discography is as strong as anyone’s in extreme music, all while offering something different with each release. That magic has gotta wear off sometime, but VOID doesn't put the brakes on KEN Mode’s exceptional track record. Whenever a band is willing to adopt some more melodicism to their sound, my ears perk up. Moreover, when a band with this much fire decides to “cool it down” a bit, it carries a little more weight with me.

Not to say this is a soft album, but VOID unleashes the Canadian’s signature venom with an artistic touch that’s not quite so “heavy” handed, but instead, for lack of a better word, moodier. This feel is complemented by the band’s increased use of “unconventional” instrumentation like saxophone, piano, and synths — and in turn new full-time member Kathryn Kerr — culminating in an even more unpredictable sound. Tracks like “A Reluctance of Being,” “He Was a Good Man, He Was a Taxpayer,” and “These Wires” offer some reprieve from their typical onslaught of noisy post-hardcore, though they’re as dark and twisted as ever.

3. Khanate - To Be Cruel

If you’re looking for some sick, dark shit, I don’t know if there’s a better place to start than Khanate’s latest. For fuck’s sake, the opening track is titled “Like a Poisoned Dog.” If that alone doesn't turn your stomach, I don’t even know what that says about yout (though it’s probably not good). Each song on To Be Cruel is about 20 minutes long and is apparently driven by a desire to lay the smack down on listeners’ eardrums and patience. The laborious nature of Khanate’s noisy,  droney doom is exhausting (in a way satisfying to sickos, apparently), but wholly effective, and quite artsy. Alan Dubin’s shrieks cut like a rusty knife, and when coupled with Khanate’s improvisational feel on this record, create an unease that sticks to my bones through each listen. Oddly enough, I haven’t been able to put this one down despite feeling the need to take a shower after every playthrough.

2. JAAW - SUPERCLUSTER

I’ll admit, I have a Big Fat Riffs™ problem. I can’t get enough. I wholly blame Torche for my addiction, but I’m thanking JAAW in 2023 for offering a fresh spin on my beloved BFRs. This sludgy post-industrial supergroup featuring Andy Cairns (Therapy?), Jason Stoll (Mugstar, KLÄMP, Sex Swing), Wayne Adams (Death Pedals, Big Lad, Petbrick) and Adam Betts (Three Trapped Tigers, Goldie, Squarepusher) has the tones dialed in to make SUPERCLUSTER a deliciously heavy and noisy listen. Slow churners like “Reality Crash” and “Bring Home the Motherlode, Barry” take inspiration from Godflesh, but they attain a less regimented feel. On the other hand, tracks like “Hellbent on Happiness” and “Thoughts and Prayers (Mean Nothing)” up the tempos for a more rockin’ post-punk vibe. Though the nü metal revival isn’t quite my thing, I’d be lying if the fusion of stupid heavy and groovy riffs colliding with harsh electronics on this record doesn’t owe some of its beauty to that oft-maligned sound. And that amazing Björk cover to wrap things up? That’s just the cherry on top of this scrumptious clusterfuck of a beast.

1. Vanishing Kids - Miracle of Death

Novelty is good ‘n’ all, but the idiosyncratic spectacle that is Vanishing Kids is without compare in the world of slow and low in 2023. Whether it’s the lush, misty synths, the epic guitars, or Nikki Drohomyreky’s arresting vocals, there is so much to latch onto in Miracle of Death. The VK formula reconciles sonic heft and beauty in a myriad of ways, touching on classic rock, heavy metal, shoegaze, glam rock, psych, goth rock, doom, and a handful of other heavy-adjacent sounds, too. It’s difficult to articulate precisely how these elements come together in such a wondrous fashion, but there’s no denying VK’s mastery of these sonic worlds and the nuances that makes them so effective.

I loved many albums this year, but few of them carry their emotional weight so earnestly or present themselves so powerfully and vibrantly. Ultimately, I think it’s just plain ol’ impossible not to be moved by this record. I’ve minced words in a feeble attempt to shine light on more details from this masterpiece just a few months ago, but the sentiment remains exactly the same. Miracle of Death is not only one of the finest doom-adjacent releases of the year, it’s simply one of the finest albums to hit my ears, period.

Eden Kupermintz

Published 2 months ago