best metal albums january 2023

MetalMatters: The Best Metal Albums of January 2023

In January’s best metal albums, Katatonia return with their beautiful gloom, Ahab travel into the doom/death abyss, and Oozing Wound carve out their furious identity.

Now things appear to be back at full speed, with January bringing in a ridiculous amount of noteworthy records. Scouring through these was as thrilling as ever, passing through the doom-metal aesthetics proposed by Tribunal and Lord Mountain. Descending in the black metal scene, Høstsol make a return to a point of origin while Thy Darkened Shade relish the brutal orthodoxy of the genre.

Crossing over with different genres, Dryad unleash a diatribe on punk fury and deathly origins. Speaking of which, the return of Obituary sees the Florida titans at their strongest, while Faithxtractor showcase a more holistic view of the genre. The post-rock infusions of Phal:Angst, the inspired return of Katatonia, and the descent to the doom/death seas with Ahab are just a few more of this month’s highlights. So dig in! – Spyros Stasis

Ahab – The Coral Tombs (Napalm)

Ahab - The Coral Tombs

It has been eight years since the Nautik doom masters released a full-length album. Finally, they return with The Coral Tombs, a work that further evolves Ahab’s take on extreme doom/death. All joking aside, the conceptual aspect of Ahab’s work gives a big boost to their music, allowing them to interpret it in a unique light. With The Coral Tombs, they lose no time and step right into Jules Vernes’ 20000 Leagues Under The Sea with a death metal explosion in “Prof. Arronax’ Descent Into the Vast Oceans”. Blastbeats and guttural vocals combine with black metal shrieks. It is a deviant offering that opens up the doom/death world in “Colossus of the Liquid Graves” and in a more brutal fashion with “Mobilis in Mobili”.

Yet, for all their edge, Ahab have always moved towards an emotive quality. So while the slithering doom/death of the title track can haunt you, the same can happen with their emotional side. Subtle parts open up ambient interludes, an introverted experience soon ensuing, building a much-desired duality. The clean vocals are key in this process, pushing the doom self towards numerous pathways. From the elusive and melancholic of “The Sea As a Desert” to the epic and overwhelming “Aegri Somnia” and “The Maelstrom”. At the same, the focus on a progressive rock influence, something that Ahab have always worked towards, has reached a state of maturity. It is an aura that infects the extreme metal perspective, adding a pristine characteristic or at times a psychedelic twist. It gives the finishing touch on what could be Ahab’s finest moment. – Spyros Stasis

Anachronism – Meanders (Avantgarde)

Anachronism - Meanders

Navigating the Swiss underground scene, tech-death metal act Anachronism has quietly released two excellent full-length records with Senseless and Orogeny. Now the trifecta is complete with Meanders, their debut record for Avantgarde, and their strongest work to date. Anachronism evoke the spirit of our times. Their death metal takes on many modern traits, especially from the latter days of Gorguts. The dissonance reigns supreme, and at the same time, the Ulcerate-derived darkness closes in. It is a combination that shines in moments like “Contrasts” and “Dialogues,” providing an unbalanced and uncomfortable quality. 

At the same time, Anachronism cherry-pick elements from death metal’s past. The old-school spirit is stitched together through the impure contortions of Morbid Angel and the ferocity of Hate Eternal, something that shows in “Prism” and “Insula”. Yet, they go even further adding a prog sense to their guitar work. It is something that brings an aura of sentimentality, pointing towards Schuldiner’s vision for the genre. Reconfiguring this process, Anachronism are also capable of infecting their structures with psychedelic twists, raising tracks like “Source”, “Mirage”, and “Microcosm” to a cosmic level. The only criticism might be that Anachronism favour their influences a touch more heavily than necessary, but there is no denying the quality of this work. It will be very interesting to see how they carry on and unearth their unique identity in the future. Something that I am confident they will do. – Spyros Stasis

Ashen Horde – Antimony (Transcending Obscurity)

Ashen Horde - Antimony

While amalgamations of progressive, black, and death metal accompanied by dueling growling and clean vocals is not really a revolutionary idea, very few other bands manage to shape this jumble of influences as successfully as Hollywood’s Ashen Horde. Continuing from their excellent 2019 record Fallen Cathedrals, the flow of Antimony is coherent in its diversity, which allows alternating styles and borrowed genre elements to grow and coalesce into one another. As a result, the more direct and aggressive passages spark with progressive expressions, as on the blistering “Summoning”, while at the same time calmer melodies and even Iron Maiden-esque segments of cuts like “The Disciple” appear haunted by angry, slamming black and death metal ghosts. – Antonio Poscic

Dryad – The Abyssal Plain (Prosthetic)

Dryad - The Abyssal Plain

After a series of excellent EPs and a split with Acid Leather, Dryad unleash their debut record, The Abyssal Plain. The act from Iowa sits on a known combination of genres, leveraging punk immediacy with black metal aggression, something that is not particularly novel. Yet, the manner in which they approach is very enticing. At times, It feels like a tug of war between the two sides, something that becomes apparent in “Bottomfeeder”. On the one hand, eerie, on the other end primal. There are moments when the punk groove prevails, as with “Pompeii Worm”, and then shifts where the relentless black metal self reigns supreme, as with “Eutrification”.

Yet, it is the blurring between these two scenes that elevate Dryad’s debut. Beneath the black metal riffage of “Brine Pool Abberation”, the track is based around the D-beat progression. This is then altered to have a rockier quality, as is the case with “Black Smoke” or a full-blown chaotic manifestation, for example, the grindcore sentiment of “Loki’s Castle”. Then there are of course the keys, an additional layer of complexity within The Abyssal Plain. Not only do they enhance the eerieness, but they also a cinematic take to the interludes and intros/outros of this work. It is an ambitious take, and given its sonic characteristics The Abyssal Plain does tend to appear like a frenetic mess. But, that is exactly its greatest attribute. The willingness to let go of norms and lose oneself in the chaos of it all. – Spyros Stasis

Faithxtractor – Contempt For a Failed Dimension (Redefining Darkness)

Faithxtractor - Contempt For a Failed Dimension

First of all, Ohio’s duo Faithxtractor are here to extract faith and not to cross it with tractors. Considering the blistering, soul-exorcizing pace and force of impact that their fourth album Contempt for a Failed Dimension imposes, they are certainly on the right path to doing just that. Over the super compact, 24-minute long run of the album (which includes a cover of Sepultura’s “Empire of the Damned”), the duo of Ash Thomas and Zdenka Prado touch upon pretty much every corner of the death metal world—from At the Gates-like melodeath to doom-death—then imbue it with a restless sense of urgency. In turn, this inherent, unrelenting edginess makes both the blackened death sections found on “Relative First Occurrence” and the meaty chug of “On Every Breath…a Curse” feel as if teetering on the verge of collapse. Massive stuff. – Antonio Poscic

Høstsol – Länge Leve Döden (Avantgarde)

Høstsol - Länge Leve Döden

Ah, the nostalgia of the past. Høstsol, the new band from members of Shining, Manes, and Barathrum, aims at scratching that particular itch. Their debut record, Länge Leve Döden, turns back the clock to the early 1990s and the sovereignty of the Scandinavian black metal scene. It’s impressive that they do so in a holistic manner, paying homage to the various facets that black metal has to offer. The raw and uncompromising nature of Darkthrone is pivotal in this narrative. “Det Som En Gång Var (Det Kommer Aldrig Igen)” shows this sense of cold, detached nihilism, which can turn more fervent with the furious progression of “Länge Leve Den Ansiktslöse Mördaren”.

In that set basis, Høstsol introduce further elements. The eerie tinges of the guitar work bring to mind Mayhem’s magnum opus, particularly terrifying with the mid-tempo dread of “Din Skördetid är Nu Kommen”. Flipping the script, the introduction of keyboards brings memories of Emperor’s majestic touch, especially at the ending of “Det Som En Gång Var (Det Kommer Aldrig Igen)”. At the same time, clean passages give rise to the genre’s ambient leanings with “Länge Leve Den Ansiktslöse Mördaren”. For the finishing touches, Høstsol travel further back and reinvigorate the epic essence of Bathory, both in the triumphant introduction of “As Seen Through the Eyes of the Prophet”, but also in the sinister take of “Parallellt Dubbelliv”. If you are looking for novelty, you will not find it here. You will instead reminisce about times long gone. Thankfully we have acts like Høstsol to remind us. – Spyros Stasis