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Death's Door // 2023

It’s the end of days. 365 of them to be exact. Arbitrariness of time as a concept aside, gathering together to celebrate another year of incredible music (while dancing

a month ago

It’s the end of days. 365 of them to be exact. Arbitrariness of time as a concept aside, gathering together to celebrate another year of incredible music (while dancing naked around a bonfire covered in blood or whatever our moms think we do when we hang out and listen to death metal) is one of my favorite parts of any year. There were so many incredible releases in 2023 that we couldn’t keep the list to just 10. So here it is, in no particular order: The top 15 records of 2023. 

Thank you for coming along with us as we traipsed through another year of death metal together. You’re the best. 

Enough talk. Let’s fight. Death metal. Forever. 

-Jonathan Adams

Best Records of 2023

Afterbirth - In But Not Of

Brutality and beauty/mystery are a natural mixture. Take the Amazon rainforest as an example. Lush, teeming with life, and home to some of the most incredible species on earth. It’s also oppressive, tangled, suffocating, and truly deadly. All at the same time. It’s a simple example, but it’s a concept that I’ve been ruminating on since first hearing Afterbirth’s mesmerizing and befuddling third full-length record In But Not Of. It’s absolutely overstuffed with skull-caving brutal death metal madness and mom-scaring aggression, but there are significant stretches of this release that are just… majestic. Beautiful, even. It’s one of the starkest blends of guttural nastiness and sublime melody I’ve heard in years, and is pulled off with such confidence and adventurousness that I can’t help but sit in awe of its unique and singular artistry. In But Not Of may well end up Afterbirth’s supreme masterpiece. 

It’s been documented time and again, but it’s kind of a minor miracle that Afterbirth exists at all in 2024. After a 20+ year gap between their early demos and their first full-length record, the fact that the band not only sounds great, but as if they had been releasing records on a regular basis that entire time given their level of polish and skill, is nothing short of astonishing. Their re-entry onto the death metal landscape back in 2017 certainly made waves, but their continued evolution across three long-form releases has been remarkable. 2020’s Four Dimensional Flesh was a markedly bolder and more progressive sequence of tracks that ended up being one of my favorite releases of that year. 2023 ended up being no exception to the Afterbirth rule. They release a record, it’s among my favorites. 

More than any of their previous work, In But Not Of leans deep into progressive metal and rock territory, culminating in that mix of beauty and brutality mentioned above. This is a metal record through and through, with tracks like opener “Tightening the Screws”, “Vomit On Humanity”, and “Autoerotic Amputation” delivering some truly brutal goods, with ex-Artificial Brain frontman Will Smith snarling and gurgling over a slurry of intense riffs and mad drumming. All of this is executed with a conviction and competence that rivals contemporaries like Defeated Sanity and Unfathomable Ruination for sheer destruction. But it’s the album’s latter half that sets both Afterbirth and In But Not Of apart from their fellow brutal death purveyors. “Hovering Human Head Drones” is, for lack of a better phrase, a simply stunning track that keeps some brutal riffing/breakdowns but surrounds that musical base in delicious, shimmering progressive melody that’s atmospheric, gorgeous, and also the cornerstone of the track. Here the metal feels like the accent feature, and it’s in this space where In But Not Of shines brightest. 

The album’s entire latter half is some of the most perfectly executed progressive brutal death metal in existence. It’s genuinely beautiful without sacrificing aggression, or running the risk of becoming uninteresting because the band are such fantastic songwriters. With this record, Afterbirth are proving yet again that they’re becoming an entity exclusive to themselves. No one else sounds like them, no one else has been able to effectively imitate their unique sound, and a new record is cause for genuine celebration. Afterbirth isn’t trying to sound like anyone else, and their bold, brutal, and beautiful songwriting stands alone atop my death metal heap for 2023. In But Not Of is a truly special record, and the best in the genre I heard in 2023. 

-JA

Dead and Dripping - Blackened Cerebral Rifts

There are two fairly recently emerging branches of death metal that seem to be getting the most attention around these parts, and that’s dissonant death metal and brutal tech death, and the two are often interlinked. It makes sense when you think about it; since the beginning, death metal’s intrinsic connection to the outermost extremes of the genre continually sees it moving the goalposts further and further out year after year. We’re all chasing the dragon, and the old tricks don’t send that wave of euphoria through our brains like they used to, leading to constant one-upsmanship in the realm of death metal. Currently, New Jersey’s Dead and Dripping are pushing against those lines, turning the unlistenable into unlikely earworms in the process.

For the lack of better vocabulary, Blackened Cerebral Rifts is a catchy album for those with ears attuned to brutal tech. As off-putting and challenging as the aesthetic here is, these songs feature monstrous groove and exhilarating technical riffing, with guitars gliding and grinding and angular basslines convulsing throughout. Cavernous croaking gutturals in the lineage of Demilich are the main flavor of vocal here, and they’re as menacing and imposing as you’d hope for the style. The drum performances are intricate and nuanced, as well. It would disservice this record to call it a perfect death metal record, but this is the genre in an idealized form; just sleek enough to not betray the grit the genre necessitates while being strangely listenable in its experimentations. Weird death metal is always the way to go, and Dead and Dripping are one of the most promising acts within. 

-Jimmy Rowe

Depraved Murder - Unethical Terrestrial Collapse

The Indonesian death metal scene has rapidly become a festering breeding ground for some of the heaviest bands on the planet. Case in point: just-technical-enough brutal death metal band Depraved Murder, who released their third full-length with Comatose Music in the spring of 2023. 

Unethical Terrestrial Collapse stands as an anthem for the end times, injecting excellent brutal death metal with flashes of technicality for a punishingly heavy album that cuts like a knife. Balancing razor-sharp guitars against rapidfire drums and vicious growls, Depraved Murder creates the perfect soundscape for tales of devastation and destruction.  A hefty bass shoves us along our journey, punctuated by insistent drums and enunciated by skronky guitars. The interplay between guitar and bass is carefully balanced so that riffs hit harder when Depraved Murder decides to really showcase their musicianship, technical flourishes have the space to take center stage. A calculated, yet devastating, brutal death metal album that celebrates the power of Indonesian death metal. 

-Bridget

Djinn-Ghul - Opulence

If memory serves, I included Djinn-Ghül’s 2021 EP Mechalith in our 2021 “Best Of” coverage and our fearless leader Eden premiered their 2023 full-length on Heavy Blog over the summer. A less likely duo is hard to find in the depths of Death’s Door, but in this case, the unexpected pairing just proves how well Djinn-Ghül have consistently delivered on their jagged, bludgeoning sound. 

Infusing death metal with corrosive industrial metal and creepy electronics, Djinn-Ghül have been a highlight of the underground since their debut EP in 2019. The unholy brainchild of Grant Nachbur (Nephrectomy) and Junior Patiño (Voraraephilia), Djinn-Ghül is one of the most distinctive and ridiculously heavy bands in my rotation. The combination of grindcore blasts, guttural vocals, and crunchy industrials is a sonic punch in the gut, beating you over the head with breakneck speed and brutality. Brutal death metal, but make it smarter, more creative, and more punishing. 

Opulence only builds on their sound with new layers of spine-tingling aggression and unrelenting brutality. While cavernous death metal continues its unmitigated rise across the underground metal scene, Djinn-Ghül is producing their own toxic blend of crushing atmosphere and punishing riffs. The infusion of eerie electronics and industrial elements only heighten the intensity of death metal and underscore how fucking heavy Opulence is across 29 heart-pounding minutes. 

Oh, and have I mentioned that Opulence features Wormed and Disentomb as guests? Stop reading this and just listen already. 

-Bridget

Fires in the Distance - Air Not Meant for Us

Majestic. There’s no other word that captures it. Fires in the Distance make flat-out majestic music. Their debut, Echoes from Deep November, definitely caught my attention back in 2020 with its grandiose and melody-heavy take on death-doom, but it did not prepare me for how truly remarkable Air Not Meant for Us would be. Epic in scope, thoughtful in writing, superb in execution, it’s a sophomore record that propelled Fires in the Distance into the stratosphere, moving them firmly from promising newcomer status to dominant force. Air Not Meant for Us is that dangerous piece of music that can either make or break a band: an early-career masterpiece. 

When it comes to the melding of death and doom metal, in my estimation there isn’t a better record that was released in this space this year. Period. Every single aspect of this record works to perfection. The production is simultaneously clear yet slightly distant, with a guitar tone that feels distinctly fiery and an epic reverb around the album’s synth work that fits the album’s overall aesthetic like a glove. The songwriting is rich, immediate, and epic, allowing each track on this record to stay interesting throughout. Opener “Harbingers” includes everything you could ever want from this type of music, blending the melodic, slightly progressive melodeath of An Abstract Illusion with the symphonic synths of Aquilus all while hitting those epic doomy riffs with aplomb. It’s honestly a sound that I haven’t found in many other places, drawing inspiration from a multitude of bands but sounding exactly like none of them. It’s a singular take on a tried and true style that’s as enveloping and enjoyable as any you’ll encounter. 

Fires in the Distance have their sights set on the death-doom throne, and if their first two records are any indication they may soon rise to the top of the crowded pile as lords and masters of the subgenre. All of the ingredients are present. Excellent and unique songwriting, expert musicianship, and a singular sound that feels both familiar and untouchable by their contemporaries. I shudder to think what a better album than Air Not Meant for Us might sound like, but I’m hoping beyond hope that this isn’t the band’s peak. Because it’s very rare to see a band beat perfection. 

-JA

Horrendous - Ontological Mysterium

I was always a fan of Horrendous but I felt like there was something missing to make me completely fall in love with them. On Ontological Mysterium, it appears that the answer to the question “what more do I need” was a big, hefty dose of weird. Everywhere on Ontological Mysterium, Horrendous choose left hand paths and road that twist more than ever before on their way to the death metal abode to which the band are driving. The guitar leads are more gnarly, the song structures less obvious and, in general, the death metal just seems much more complex and interesting.

A big part of this are the vocals, which I’ve some people online mention they didn’t like. I actually love them, as the tension between their timbre and production style and the rest of the instrumentation works really well to offset the usual death metal equilibrium. This creates a very dynamic performance, the vocals more haggard and abrasive than any other sound on the release. Put that together with some truly ascended song writing and technical prowess, and you have one of 2023’s more energetic and convincing death metal albums.

-EK

Lunar Chamber - Shambhallic Vibrations

You’ve got to tread lightly when Western bands overly appropriate Eastern aesthetics and philosophies. Not that it’s a particularly problematic action to take when there are far greater issues in extreme metal to focus on (the prevailing issue of NSBM in particular), it’s just that it’s often done in a way that is shallow, cheap, or disrespectful in a way that betrays the quality of the music and the ideas the artists are trying to communicate. Do we need more metal records from dudes who are uhhh… overly medicated and read Jung once? There’s nothing wrong with a sincere appreciation of Eastern cultures and more esoteric philosophies; Karl Sanders from Nile for instance is a legitimate scholar on the subject of ancient Egypt and the passion stems from a real respect for the history and culture, not simply mined for content. 

With that in mind, it was easy to be skeptical when newcoming band Lunar Chamber – packed with musicians with stage names such as Timeworm Nexus and They, Who May Not Be Perceived – announced a debut album about the life and times and spiritual journey of Buddha titled Shambhallic Vibrations. On its face, the concept throws up red flags, but it’s an unlikely hit, legitimately standing as one of the best progressive death metal records of its kind in recent memory. 

Descending from the lineage of bands such as Cynic and Atheist and mirroring the psychedelic weirdness of Blood Incantation, Lunar Chamber expertly treads the line between challenging brutality and ethereal melodicism. The album’s clear highlight is the thirteen minute finale “III. Crystalline Blessed Light Flows… from Violet Mountains into Lunar Chambers”, which makes makes great use of its epic length, generating an ebb and flow in the songwriting that turns from meditative and experimental with its use of synthesizers and unorthodox timbres to explosive flurries of death metal. With recurrent melodic themes throughout providing a clear and accessible through-line – not just in the final track, but throughout the album – this is a death metal record that not only challenges the mind and spirit, but is also very fun to listen to. 

-JR

Nothingness - Supraliminal

Minneapolis’ Nothingness had the distinct honor of releasing one of the first great records of 2023 when they dropped their sophomore record Supraliminal on January 20th, and the fact it maintained its place in the conversation a year later is a testament to this act’s promise as a younger band in the death metal space. It’s hard to pin down Nothingness as they appear across Supraliminal, as there are numerous oscillations between weird angular dissonance a la Gorguts (“Catapulted into Hyperspace”) to the more straightforward and riffy brutality of Cannibal Corpse (“Horrendous Incantation”) and experimentations with sludge and melodic death doom (“Beacon of Loss”). Some might call it undifferentiated, but we’d call it versatile. Supraliminal may very well be the platonic ideal of death metal, with Nothingness making a broad play at everything that makes the genre so worthwhile and fun in 2023. Can we just crown Nothingness as THE death metal band going forward into the new year? Because Supraliminal is the barometer. 

-JR

Nithing - Agonal Hymns

Death metal is, to its very core, the type of art that boomer parents are convinced warps the minds of the youth and turns innocent children into evil, property-disrespecting gremlins. One need only briefly research the Satanic Panic of the 80s and 90s to get a picture of how much this brand of music scared the parentals of Middle America. But, as has been perpetually revealed by history and academic research, this brand of music has rarely been an instigator of the level of antisocial behavior those authority figures expected. Quite the opposite, in fact. But that’s not the feeling I got when I heard one-man megaton bomb Nithing’s utterly ferocious debut Agonal Hymns. It’s brutal death metal at its most fundamentally unnerving and relentless. It’s slam at its absolute slammiest. It’s the audio equivalent of sticking your face in a meat grinder while overdosed on [insert hallucinogen here]. It’s the music those poofy-haired Karens were terrified of. They may have been onto something. This shit’s evil. 

Outside of Teeth’s debut EP, I did not hear a single piece of music this genuinely violent and depraved in 2023. To be frank even that comparison feels inaccurate. Think more along the lines of Devourment’s last record but somehow even more aggressive. Agonal Hymns is the fucking plague. It’s biblical. Calling out specific tracks almost feels pointless because for 23 minutes and 36 seconds Nithing is going to strap you to a chair A Clockwork Orange style and force you to witness the horrors of existence in a relentless and unceasing barrage until you can stomach no more. It’s abject filth in musical form, and god do I love it. Matt Kilner is an absolute wrecking ball as a musician, and each performance here is transcendently nasty and precise. But what makes Agonal Hymns a genuine triumph is its sneakily excellent songwriting. Sure, this is beat your head in with a mallet music, but there are dozens of weirdly catchy moments that are obviously and carefully constructed, causing attentive listeners to keep full engagement throughout the buzzsaw. It’s the kind of album that deeply rewards multiple listens, and I’ve enjoyed it more with each new pass. 

Nithing creates the kind of music that gets kids either grounded or sent to the school counselor. It’s the sonic stuff that you either intensely hate or absolutely love. There is no in-between. Falling firmly into the latter camp, I can’t speak highly enough about how excellent Agonal Hymns is. In a subgenre constantly trying to top itself in extremity, it captures an essence of violence that feels as punishing as any record that came before it without ever losing a sense of real, intentional artistry. This is a genuinely fantastic record and your mom’s gonna hate it. 

-JA

Phobocosm - Foreordained

It takes a pretty damn good album to release in the last few months of the year and make it on this list. Phobocosm holds that distinction for 2023 with their utterly excellent third studio album Foreordained. Releasing on December 8th, I’ve only been able to sit with this record for a couple weeks, but here we definitely have a quality over quantity situation. Foreordained is undeniable. Inevitable. Insatiable. There is a depth to this band’s music that has only become more stark with each new release, and while I’ve certainly enjoyed all of the band’s output up to this point, Foreordained easily takes the cake as Phobocosm’s opus thus far. A dark, measured, and at times truly scalding work of death metal art worthy of all the positive attention it’s getting.

One aspect of Phobocosm that typically presents a make-or-break scenario for many listeners is the obviousness of their influences. Streams of Incantation and Ulcerate run freely and liberally throughout Foreordained, to be sure. But where Phobocosm excel and separate themselves from their inspirations is in their unusually adept ability to generate deeply memorable riff sequences in longform tracks that never feel as laborious as their runtime suggests and are strangely memorable. “Primal Dread” is a perfect example of this, bringing in a combination of blazing death metal riff work and crushing doom over a 10 minute sequence that never once feels as long as it actually is. There’s a strange, beautiful economy to the band’s songwriting that presents a near-perfect balance between the crushing, the ethereal, the head-bangable, and the terrifying. It’s music that’s been done in some measure before, written with love and crafted with such skill as to feel fully reinvigorated. It’s truly excellent.

If you’ve yet to give Phobocosm your attention, there’s no better place to start. Foreordained is an absolute masterclass in death-doom songwriting prowess, pulling in some of the subgenre’s best sounds and perfecting them with a level of conviction and skill we don’t often get to witness in this space. With this record, Phobocosm continue their determined ascent to the top of the modern death-doom heap, and I cannot wait for what they deliver next. Until then, I’ll just spend more time with this brilliant slab of soul-crushing death.

-JA

Pronostic - Chaotic Upheaval

God, I am such a slut for neo-classical technical death metal. I’ve written elsewhere about this but it bears repeating: taking my favorite elements from power and heavy metal and slamming them right into the “coldest” and most overwrought of death metal subgenres is such a good idea! Just listen to Chaotic Upheaval and how the energetic galloping structures work so well with sweeps and blast-beats. Or to how the bright synth tones uplift the drier tech metal production style into new levels of contrast and expression.

I listened to this album so much in the beginning of the year that my play count towards its end started to drop but that is no fault of the album as I listened to a lot of fucking Pronostic when this album dropped. I went back to it more regularly for this list and I am glad I did; Chaotic Upheaval with its complex, technical death metal but its unrestrained neo-classical, power metal undertones will stay on my spin list for a long time. It fucking rules!

-EK

Stortregn - Finitude

It’s so easy to jump to the superlatives when writing columns like this, given the fact that we’re highlighting a list of the best records in a given genre as agreed upon by a tight community of fans and writers. And yet, there are unwritten rules when it comes to music journalism and criticism. I’m supposed to sell you all on how incredible Stortregn’s Finitude is but like, play it cool? Finitude is a progressive death metal opus that deftly blends black metal, melodic death metal, tech death, neoclassical, and flamenco. Forget all the prose and formalities. Finitude is sick as hell, and it’s an easy highlight for 2023 that not enough people are talking about. It’s the 2nd highest rated death metal record of the year on Rate Your Music (69th best album across all genres, nice) and it’s the band at their very best. Fans of First Fragment, Obscura, and Gorod ought to not sleep on Stortregn any longer. 

-JR

Tomb Mold - The Enduring Spirit

Does any album more perfectly capture the sound of 2023? Tomb Mold’s ascension to the peak of progressive death with The Enduring Spirit was seemingly everywhere in the metal underground, rightfully earning them a spot in our own Top 25 list and countless other “best of” recaps. But why fight the tide when it’s bolstering a talented band that has fully embraced their weird death metal side. 

Weird, proggy, and cavernous death metal has experienced a resurgence in recent years, with acts like Horrendous and Blood Incantation producing brain-breaking albums united in their ability to give your ears whiplash. 

“Will of Whispers” cascades from almost pretty indie rock to rapid-fire death metal underpinned by an undeniably groovy guitar for an unexpected twist in the midst of a head-spinning album. In contrast to less informed years gone by, the introduction of genre-bending (or outright genre-breaking) passages serves to showcase the skills of Tomb Mold. As “Will of Whispers” builds into meaty death metal, the lingering impression of catchiness only adds to the track as it fades into the angular destruction of “Fate’s Tangled Thread.” The otherworldly experimentations set the stage for the album’s expansive closing track, an 11-minute beast that careens into a dizzying and majestic masterpiece. Time warps, space collapses, and all that’s left is The Enduring Spirit

-Bridget

Torn the Fuck Apart - Kill. Bury. Repeat.

Brutal death metal has entered its golden era. Incredible albums graced (or bludgeoned) our ears from the very start of 2023 up until the clock struck twelve on December 31st. The impact can be seen across Heavy Blog’s own AOTY lists, across plenty of other metal publications, and many of our respective music libraries. As hard as it is to narrow down a rising tide of ultra-heavy music into a handful of favorites, Torn The Fuck Apart was an unquestionable add to my list. 

Kill. Bury. Repeat. immediately stood out as special. It’s 43 minutes of savage, mind-twisting brutality with an inescapable grooviness that only supercharges Torn the Fuck Apart’s aggression. Perfectly balanced between buzzsaw aggression and earworm grooviness, the guitars commit an unmitigating assault throughout the entirety of Kill. Bury. Repeat., occasionally relenting for delightfully fun moments of skronk. Their bludgeoning grooviness is a large part of the reason I bought this album 90 seconds after pressing play, and a significant factor in why Torn the Fuck Apart is on this list. 

Blast beats abound, but Torn the Fuck Apart knows how to construct a song beyond the brutal death metal mainstays. Their songwriting style laces ignorant BDM with enough technicality to prove truly deadly. The colorfully titled “Submerged in Human Compost” spirals into an endlessly engaging breakdown that illustrates how fun brutal death metal can be. Kill. Bury. Repeat. is a slaughterhouse, yes, but one constructed by a meticulous surgeon with a truly evil grand design. 

-Bridget

Xoth - Exogalactic

Oh, what’s that? Yet another technical death metal on my list that’s influenced by heavy and power metal? You don’t fucking say. What’s left to write about Xoth, considering that this is my fourth or fifth time of covering them this year? If you don’t listen to this album you are a Big Dummy. It Goes and has Riffs that Slap. It’s fast, expressive, emotive, abrasive, cohesive, high-octane, and more and more and more adjectives. Just more! It is technical death metal maximalism done to absolute perfection, engineered to melt your face-flesh right off. Play it loud!

-EK

Jonathan Adams

Published a month ago