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.

10. Frozen Dawn – The Decline of the Enlightened Gods (Transcending Obscurity)

Transcending Obscurity’s label head, Kunal Choksi, is a stellar talent scout with an incredible penchant for discovering and bringing under the limelight some of the most exciting metal bands from across the world, with a particular fondness for truly extreme and out-there styles. Madrid’s Frozen Dawn are the latest of his finds.

Rooted in melodic black metal, the trio plays a more focused style than most of Transcending Obscurity’s roster but dispel any familiarity or sense of safety with unfettered, blazing energy and legitimately inspired songwriting. There is not a single filler second across the ten tracks on their fourth LP, The Decline of the Enlightened Gods. Instead, each cut maintains momentum and continues the non-stop Sturm und Drang with stomping blast beats, blistering, supremely catchy guitar leads, and bouts of possessed-sounding growls. With a few crafty nods to their influences from Children of Bodom (“Frozen Kings”) and Necrophobic, who they also cover on “Blinded By Light, Enlightened By Darkness”, Frozen Dawn round off a near masterpiece and one of the most impressive black metal records of the year. – Antonio Poscic

9. Ascended Dead – Evenfall of the Apocalypse (20 Buck Spin)

Despite the pedigree of the members of San Diego death metal outfit Ascended Dead and the quality of their 2017 album Abhorrent Manifestation, their new release is a blindsiding success in terms of quality and power. Simply put, Evenfall of the Apocalypse is an album marked by sheer death metal ferocity, encapsulated in eleven pieces that feel simultaneously like vicious, face-melting attacks and sprawling, haunting soundscapes.

The whirlwind of riffs—and what riffs they are!—bumbling rhythms, and growls woven around the labyrinthine core of openers “Intro / Abhorrent Manifestation” and “Ungodly Death” is just a taste of the madness scattered across the cuts, which include squealing, Slayer-esque leads and solos on the crunchy scorcher “Tantum Bellum”, Tom Araya-like screams on the wild “Visceral Strike”, Al Di Meola goes metal acoustic segments on “Passage to Eternity”, and a general sense of controlled loss of control on the dissonant, swirling, and supremely brutal “Nexus of the Black Flame”. The whole is much more than the sum of all these parts, of course, and makes for one of the most gripping and intense death metal listens of the year. – Antonio Poscic

8. Ulthar – Anthronomicon/Helionomicon (20 Buck Spin)

Ambitiously, Ulthar follow up the excellent 2020 Providence with the dual release of Anthronomicon and Helionomicon. The former is the natural evolution of Providence, as the black/death maze is set up from the relentless start of “Cephalophone.” Technical aptitude and brutality combine, while absurdity and dissonance resemble a Voivod-ian spawn. Thrash utterings in “Flesh Propulsion,” progressive-minded rhythmic manipulations with “Saccades”, and an overall unpredictable and nauseating approach with “Coagulation of Forms” and “Larynx Plateau” craft a vicious work.

If Anthronomicon is the next step for Ulthar, then Helionomicon is the next leap. The two long-form compositions dial up the experimentation, shading away much of the traditional black/deathcore. The progressive inclinations and the Voivoid influence are stronger, detailed through the urgent approach and the schizoid lead work. Further explorations ensue as Ulthar move into doom and ambient territories to fuel their eschatological themes. The two albums are a testament to Ulthar’s evolution, the ideas becoming more challenging and daring as the listener transitions from Anthronomicon to Helionomicon, revealing the grand scope of a terrific act. – Spyros Stasis

7. Dødheimsgard – Black Medium Current (Peaceville)

One of the most radical and forward-thinking acts to grace the black metal scene, Dødheimsgard morphed their grim black metal into something unique. This is something they continue to do with Black Medium Current, as splendid amalgamations spread across genres. The spiraling descent into the unknown starts from familiar origins. The black metal foundation is undeniable, unleashing bitter assaults toward all. The atmospheric tinges and the discordant past calls upon the delirious fantasies of discordant black metal pioneers. Of course, the electronica and industrial components echo with the jarring modus operandi of 666 International, while the jazzy themes pile on to this extravagant motif. 

Dødheimsgard are still driven by their visionary instincts, which led to constructing a record as unconventional and unique as 666 International. Still, today, they appear more certain; they have departed from their overtly rebellious side and have entered a period of maturity. So, while Black Medium Current does not embrace the extravagance of their youth, it still features an extraordinary scope worthy of these masters. – Spyros Stasis

6. Afterbirth – In But Not Of (Willowtip)

While their work in the 1990s set the stage for the onset of brutal death metal and slam, the evolution of Afterbirth’s sound in the past ten years has been nothing short of astonishing and just as important. Although vestiges of brutal death metal echo throughout In But Not Of, the Long Island group’s third LP, the music is primarily driven by an unusually progressive approach despite having very few things in common with other bands in the genre.

Most of the 11 cuts are highly technical, mind-blowing roller coasters, but the focus seems to be on their overarching purpose and poise, not sensory overload. This paradigm shift allows the band to elegantly move from screeching dissonance and brutal rampages (“Devils With Dead Eyes”) and frolicking, bumbling tech death metal (“Autoerotic Amputation”) to cosmic, synth-filled ambiance (“Hovering Human Head Drones”, “Time Enough Tomorrow”) and progressive post-rock reminiscent of Dredg (“In But Not Of”) and Devin Townsend (“Angels Feast on Flies”). – Antonio Poscic

5. Khanate – To Be Cruel (Sacred Bones)

At last! Fourteen years have passed since the release of Khanate’s previous record, Clean Hands Go Foul, and now the masters of drone and despair have returned. But To Be Cruel is not only their comeback; it’s also a restoration of their early selves. As was the case in Khanate’s earlier days, this is about mastery of time and space. It is an understatement to say that Khanate take their time. This otherworldly ceremony is glacial, a ritual taking place in the furthest, darkest corner of the cosmos. The punishing drone doom comes together in a nihilistic fashion, while the musique concrete lineage extends the dimensionality of the track. 

Within this minimalistic, alien realm, the voice of Alan Dubin stands as the last remnant of some essence of humanity. A tortured and disfigured specter, clinging to its formal self while the feedback and distortion paint this negative space. It is such a decadent state where the inclusion of the cleaner parts still retains the excruciating sense of their progression. It stays on even when Khanate open up to their pensive side, gleefully showing that there is no catharsis to be found here. Ever. – Spyros Stasis

4. Sea Mosquito – Igitur (Independent/Onism)

The mysterious entity from London showed signs of brilliance with their 2021 EP, Fire, Magic & Venom. Their unusual take on black metal has been able to pick attributes across the spectrum, from the orthodox roots to the avant-garde and experimental tendencies. Their debut record, Igitur, perfectly encapsulates this unique approach. Electronic components and industrial elements become a backbone, acidic guitars join the discordant recital, and infernal post-club influences deliver precise rhythmic strikes. Noise and electronica combine while beautiful acoustic guitar passages strike a traditional black metal chord.

Despite this broadening of their sound, the foundation for Sea Mosquito is still found in their black metal core. The avant-garde and technical scenes play a significant part, as the London act further adorn these with mathcore and noise rock elements. At times, there is Botch-ian energy, driven by way of Serpent Column. Frenzied approaches still ensue as Sea Mosquito pull the song structures to their limits, making this a very intense and thrilling journey. The same intensity is present in the descent to a recluse disharmony, plunging the listener into this horrid dreamscape. The overall result from Sea Mosquito is astonishing, and the flow and delivery of Igitur are exquisite. Given the promise that Fire, Magic & Venom, Sea Mosquito have delivered in full and then some. – Spyros Stasis

3. Body Void – Atrocity Machine (Prosthetic)

“Turn on the cop show / Murder for free / 24/7 free live stream / The victims / You and me.” Delivered with earnest pain and angst, the fourth full-length by Body Void sources its lyrics and boundless sonic heaviness from a raw, unfiltered reality. Eschewing metaphors and artistic misdirections, Atrocity Machine taps into the horrific underbelly of Western, particularly US society, turning police brutality, capitalist destruction, and post-truth narratives into some of the most crushing heavy music of the year.

Edward Holgerson (drums), Janys-Iren Faughn (electronics), and Willow Ryan (guitars, voice) lay down a monumental sound that encapsulates the sensation of a freight train passing millimeters from your face, combining riffs heavy enough to move mountains, rhythmic patterns that sound more like tanker explosions than drum hits, and electronic sirens, walls of noise, and beastly screams to make your skin crawl. Harrowing, beautiful stuff. – Antonio Poscic

2. Kostnatění – Úpal (Willowtip)

Projecting the familiar black metal elements through a different lens is always a worthwhile experiment, and this is the work that D. Lyons undertakes with his solo project, Kostnatění. In Úpal, these aspects of the genre are collected through the discordant edge of black metal. The inharmonicity of Written in Watters and the off-kilter approach is contradicting chaos and technical aptitude radiate with intense fury. It contorts the early formless days of Krallice and the math-informed visions of Dodecahedron in a cohesive form. 

However, what’s different here is that a bright intensity replaces the usual cold and detached aspect of black metal. A blazing sun that sets flame to everything in its path with its spikey approach. That is quite apparent in “Rukojmí empatie”, as Kostnatění enrich the scenery with some Middle Eastern influences, which are even more prominent in the title track. It is quite an unusual approach, yet it works for Úpal, providing a novel twist to a well-trusted modus operandi. – Spyros Stasis

1. Anti-God Hand – Blight Year (American Dreams)

Back in 2021, City and i.o released an exquisite work of experimental music with Chaos Is God Neighbor. Now City, the alias of guitarist Will Ballantyne, returns with the sophomore record of his black metal project Anti-God Hand. The follow-up to 2021’s Wretch, Blight Year is an intense trip through the landscape of modern post-black metal, with Ballantyne re-interpreting many of the traditional attributes of the genre. Instead of textural characteristics, Blight Year features a well-defined and complex approach. The raw perspective is melting into a complicated structure, a method also mirrored in the progression providing a strong sense of drive and purpose.

Hand in hand with this comes the transcendental, modern-day interpretation of the genre. It is a quality that opens up further experimentation as Ballantyne takes on a Krautrock approach. The application of atmospherics and further sound design build a crystalline monument, one capable of exploding in a myriad of colors. To balance things out, Anti-God Hand still offer grueling and oppressive moments. The continuous beating in “Endless Brightness”, the in-your-face assault of “Demon Sniper”, and the complete nihilism of “Warped and Opalescent Swords” are examples of this modus operandi. It all results in a very technically sound, forward-thinking, and beautifully balanced work of extreme music. – Spyros Stasis