The 20 Best Metal Albums of 2023

The 20 Best Metal Albums of 2023

This has proved a fantastic year for heavy music and metal, with masters impressing and newer artists shining. These are the best metal albums of 2023.

Here we are again at the year’s end, and what a year it has been! I was particularly excited about some surprise releases from well-established acts this year. Who would have thought Khanate would not only return but would re-invigorate the flames of their self-titled record and Things Viral? How can someone expect Dødheimsgard to suddenly appear again, proving once more that they are one of the pivotal forces in avant-garde black metal, releasing another stellar work? I mean, what is next? A new Ved Buens Ende record, or the mythical follow-up to 2001’s Thorns? But I digress. Death metal old timers still show their teeth, both Dying Fetus and Afterbirth unleashing brutal works that proudly stand alongside the rest of their respective discographies.

Still, there is a lot of new blood in the scene, and its quality is undeniable. Sea Mosquito revealed aspects of their undeniable quality with 2021’s Fire, Magic & Venom EP, but they are now in a completely different league with Igitur. The same can be said about Body Void and their continual exploration of the sludge/drone/doom space with Atrocity Machine. Then you have two acts in Kostnatění and Anti-God Hand, who masterfully reconfigure the black metal sound, releasing just their sophomore full-length records. Yes, this year has been good. But there is still much more to discover or revisit in the list below, so dig in! – Spyros Stasis

20. Auriferous Flame – Ardor for Black Mastery (True Cult)

In a year that unfortunately saw Red and Anarchist Black Metal darlings Dawn Ray’d dissolve—at least they bid their farewell on a high note—we’re lucky to get another album by Ayloss’ project Auriferous Flame to take over the torch, lighting the darkness. Compared to his other projects like Spectral Lore and Mystras, Auriferous Flame’s music is direct and blazing, based in black metal but with a filthy punk and crust edge, and is all the better for these influences. This is a high-energy affair, with bouts of melodies that get thrashed around by absolutely unshackled metal aggression reminiscent of early Darkthrone. The raw poise suits the Greek musician so much so to not only make Ardor For Black Mystery superior to the already excellent 2022 outing The Great Mist Within in almost every way but to count as one of his best albums to date and one of the best black metal albums of 2023 full stop. – Antonio Poscic

19. Lamp of Murmuur – Saturnian Bloodstorm (Argento)

Saturnian Bloodstorm opens up a new kind of darkness for Lamp of Murmuur, as the storm of frenzy riffs appears, an Emperor-esque motif rising in “Conqueror Beyond the Frenzied Fog” and the keyboard flourishes in “Seal of the Dominator.” The Scandinavian scene is further evoked through the bitter steel of Immortal’s lineage, and the sharp riffs of “In Communion With the Wintermoon” further push this narrative. Within this space, the atmospheric dedication still prevails, the weaving lead work of the opener drawing from the post-punk scene and the unearthly synthesizer depths of dungeon synth.

While all this is familiar to Lamp of Murmuur, the entire record is packaged with a more poignant traditional metallic approach. M. drives head first into this mold, the sharp riffs screaming with heavy metal fury presented through a blackened lens. At the same time, M does not forget the origins of black metal, the rhythmic patterns of “Hymns of Death, Rays of Might”, bringing to mind the very early days of Bathory and the attitude of Celtic Frost. Lamp of Murmuur masterfully coalesce these elements, embracing the heavy metal lineage similarly to how Immortal viewed the genre. But they do it in their way, still pushing together a multitude of flavors and scenes in Saturnian Bloodstorm. – Spyros Stasis

18. Diego Caicedo – Seis Amorfismos (Burning Ambulance)

At face value, Barcelona-based guitarist and composer Diego Caicedo’s Seis Amorfismos isn’t a metal album. Composed for a string quartet plus electric guitar and growls, its six main cuts swirl and spiral out of control, silhouetting unnerving phrases, insisting, repeating, and improvising until the resulting textural concoction starts sounding like the most harrowing, droning, and hard-hitting sonic formations imaginable. As this frantic dance continues, you begin to realize that despite not having any of metal’s typical elements—not enough to satisfy Encyclopaedia Metallum’s strict rules—the music is as deranged and heavy as anything released this year from more orthodox metal circles, more punishing than any death metal attack and more evil sounding than any black metal conjuration. It’s an album that every fan of extreme metal should hear. – Antonio Poscic

17. Dying Fetus – Make Them Beg For Death (Relapse)

Dying Fetus’s marvelous 2000 album Destroy the Opposition was probably among the first death metal records I had ever heard and showed me how sonically extreme metal could get, to the point of overload. While its bombastic production, the pummeling combination of riffs and growls, and Kevin Talley’s organ-shaking kick-drums might have been a bit too much for my teenage ears, the band’s name has become emblazoned among what I consider the death metal’s elite. With their ninth LP, they show no sign of stopping.

The style of slamming, brutal death metal played by the Baltimore, Maryland trio is particularly difficult to keep fresh, even across the duration of an album, let alone an entire career. Yet Make Them Beg For Death succeeds with aplomb, never allowing ferocious attacks and technical flair to slide into tedium. The music here is utterly dynamic and astonishingly varied. A tasty riff leads into a grooving, sputtering break, then takes a long way around, winding through a tunnel of grindcore-like brutality and speed, only to end up tangled up in another melodic chord. Recommendation: Blast it loud until your ears bleed. – Antonio Poscic

16. Laster – Andermans Minje (Prophecy)

Many have been inspired by the feverish dreams of Ved Buens Ende, but fewer have been able to reformulate them. Laster belong in the latter category, nourishing themselves with the disharmonic visions of the past without feeling the need to regurgitate them. So they glide through their deconstructed black metal vision. This discordance is further adorned by jazzy themes in the title track, with the dropped-down tempo of “Wachtmuziek” and the clean moments of “Onzichtbare muur” opening up a bizarro world. Circular motifs complete this transformation, letting in krautrock themes in the cosmic “Kunstlicht” and the anxiety-inducing “Achterstevoren”.

It is challenging to define Andermans Mijne as brutal or delicate. This silky quality is a fragile element that comes together, shining through the obsidian facade. Yet, the brutality is undeniable, and it takes many forms. The weaponizing of the jazz rhythms is profound, the barrage of energy in “Stegen Spiegel” being a highlight. How Laster contort and alter their appearance is chameleonic, diving through the modal world, passing by art rock peaks, and returning to a fierce black metal state. It is an absolute overload, a work that packs so much potential and inspiration, and a worthy follow-up to their exquisite Het Wassen Oog. And now that is a very tall task. – Spyros Stasis

15. Liturgy – 93696 (Thrill Jockey)

While it might be easier and neater to frame each Liturgy release as a discrete work to be judged against others in the group’s discography, perhaps the better way to understand Ravenna Hunt-Hendrix’s art is to see them as ephemeral snapshots of an otherwise fluid, uninterrupted oeuvre. In this context, 93696 becomes more than just Hunt-Hendrix’s latest outing, but the embroidered result of everything that came before it, from Renihilation’s lo-fi harshness to the daring experimentalism of H.A.Q.Q., and the philosophical undercurrents shadowing the music.

Contemplated as such, the album becomes a sprawling, ambitious piece that spans almost an hour and a half of music and incorporates elements as disparate as Appalachian folk, a cappella chants, turntable scratches, and breakbeats into a cohesive, utterly affecting whole. While eclectic, the metaphysical narrative, which forms and drives the album, results in movements that flow naturally into one another, even as they bridge acoustic guitar, flute, and electric piano soliloquies with pummeling black metal attacks. Because of its structure and complexity, 93696 might never be truly understood or fully untangled, but that is more mesmerizing because of its hermetic conundrum. – Antonio Poscic

14. Jesus Piece – So Unknown (Century Media)

One of the most devastating releases of metallic hardcore came at the end of the 2010s, as Jesus Piece unleashed their punishing debut Only Self, and now So Unknown continues this glorious path. Hardcore and metal again unite in the most extreme of forms. The beatdown and stomping grooves of “In Constraints” reveal this spite and meanness. The grueling pace inherited from a sludge lineage crafts a brutal and destructive experience as “Tunnel Vision” comes through. 

The extreme metal fills the aggression, allowing a schizoid sense to tamper with the band’s core. “Fear of Failure” adds unpredictability, “Profane” with its Slayer-ized lead work, destroys the equilibrium, and “FTBS” cuts through like a sharp blade in anger and anguish. At the same time, darker inclinations flourish as the eerie passages of “Silver Lining” are exposed. But, it is a story that always ends in devastation, be it through the disfigured D-beat energy of “Gates of Horn”, the East Coast style beatdown of “An Offering to the Night”, or the sludge malice of “Stolen Life”. Jesus Piece prove to be a band of our times, and So Unknown perfectly encapsulates the state of reality. – Spyros Stasis

13. Cicada the Burrower – Blight Witch Regalia (Blue Bedroom)

This album by the Blue Bedroom Records label head and Madison, Wisconsin-based musician Cameron Davis contains some of the strangest black metal music of the year. Born out of her experiences with hormone replacement therapy, Blight Witch Regalia is a meandering exploration between bouts of raw but atmospheric black metal and psychedelic detours. On this path, it weaves together an unusual composition of gnarly metallic elements, bucolic electronic effects, and a general sense of otherworldly esotericism unlike anything else in the genre. Alongside Liturgy’s 93696, it shows the endless possibilities that exist to subvert black metal’s ossified elements into something thorny yet beautiful. – Antonio Poscic

12. Thantifaxath – Hive Mind Necrosis (Dark Descent)

It has been nine years since Thantifaxath, the elusive avant-garde black metal entity, released their debut record, Sacred White Noise. What stood out about Thantifaxath was their ability to be adventurous and open-minded without losing their black metal foundation. That remains true to this day with the release of their sophomore full-length, Hive Mind Necrosis. The traditional black metal mindset is pivotal, unleashed furiously with “Surgical Utopian Love”. However, there are moments when a duality dawns upon the compositions. The technical aptitude displayed in “The Lost Kingdom of Wolves” and “Mind of the Sun” compliments the old-school mentality yet opens up new pathways. 

Eerie lead work stretches the mind through strange and atonal means, sucking out all color. Noise rock augmentations and unpredictable rhythmic patterns add to this excruciating process. The atmosphere on top of it all completes this off-kilter identity, as minimalistic edge, sound design, and elusive lead work combine in glorious effect. It is no mystery why it has taken Thantifaxath so long to release their sophomore work. Hive Mind Necrosis is a meticulously constructed record of avant-garde black metal from a band that has taken extreme care in structuring and building every single bit of this work. – Spyros Stasis

11. Tomb Mold – The Enduring Spirit (20 Buck Spin)

Thanks to a mysterious constellation of circumstances about which I’d rather not speculate, every once in a while a band or album from the (death) metal underground gets noticed by the wider public. In most cases, the ensuing hype is entirely unwarranted. But Tomb Mold? Tomb Mold deserve all the success and attention they are currently enjoying.

Judging by The Enduring Spirit, in the four years since 2019’s excellent Planetary Clairvoyance, the Toronto band have further cultivated their variant of death metal into a careful balance of technical dexterity, cosmic atmospheres, utmost ferocity, and unexpected but tastefully infused non-metal flourishes. In short, the album is a triumph in all senses, whether melting faces and roaring ruthlessly (with just a touch of groove and mind-bending bass lines) like on “Angelic Fabrications” and “Flesh As Armour” or incorporating bits of guitarist Derrick Vella’s spacey ambiance from his side project Dream Unending (“The Enduring Spirit of Calamity”). Thoroughly recommended and easily one of the best death metal albums of the year. – Antonio Poscic