The 10 Best Metal Albums Of 2023

The 10 Best Metal Albums Of 2023

Huzzah, the listpocalypse is upon us. Behold, the Black Market is here to confuse and annoy you with the annual list of our favorite metal albums. Column writers, past and present, once again voted for their most-loved releases of 2023. This top 10 is the result. Is your most-loved album here? It is not. Did we list any albums that normal people listen to? Again, probably not. Is this a list so frustratingly niche and packed with impenetrable metal that it asks why we’re even allowed to do this? Yes, of course. In fact, this might be one of our most infuriating countdowns, so much so that the metal powers that be have taken notice. As soon as I sent this list to the Stereogum mothership, I was indicted on 666 counts of poser fraud and must surrender myself to Metal Law authorities immediately. This is what we get for not listening to Tomb Mold.

Anyway, it has been a busy year chipping away in the metal mines in search of gems. If you’re checking in with us for the first time, you’ve missed 110 blurbs for 110 frustratingly niche and impenetrable releases. You also missed us:

But enough about the near-past. As is tradition, I’m copy-pasting Aaron’s annual disclaimer so we can get this show on the road:

As the sacrificial goat chosen to kick this thing off, it is my job to deliver the bad news up front: This list will disappoint you. (Also, ranked year-end lists are dumb, dumber than our usual lists, which is saying something.) Apologies if this sounds familiar. I can’t say this in clearer terms than I did last year, and I won’t try, so let’s go ahead and make your disappointment an annual tradition, like drinking spoiled eggnog and laying waste to a public restroom.

No apologies, however, for the contents of this list, which is objectively perfect to the extent it accurately reflects our collective favorites. Presumably, it looks nothing like your personal list, which makes sense because, last we checked and despite our best efforts, we are not you. For better or worse, just like last year, we made a collective choice to eschew grand narratives and editorial coherence and instead give you our unvarnished favorites — the things we loved most (or hated least). Life is short, cruel, and full of idiots (like us), so this is what you get. Happy December.

There we go. As always, please drop your own top 20 in the comments. They’re one of my favorite things to read every year. And, hey, thanks for reading the column. See you next year. ––Ian Chainey


Anachronism – Meanders (Unorthodox Emanations)

Anachronism’s Meanders is the technical death metal equivalent of water carving out a complex cave system that would take years to explore. The Swiss quartet’s music is impossibly deep and detailed, yet it’s construction never feels forced. Or perhaps it’s more like the album’s cover art: a river’s tributaries cutting into an alien landscape. The players spread out in different directions, but the songs remain cohesive, running toward the same delta. Either way, the key here is that Meanders, which most assuredly does not, flows. Fittingly, as the band pointed our earlier this year when I asked about the album title, that word takes on multiple meanings. “It’s an allegory on relationships between our fellow human beings. It flows a bit chaotically: Sometimes you stick together, sometimes you split, always moving forward but at various speeds depending on the terrain you’re evolving through.”

Anachronism have evolved, too, taking the “perfect asymmetry” of their previous album, 2018’s Orogeny, and streamlining its attack while finding commonality between contrasts. Guitarists Lisa Voisard and Manu Le Bé’s riffs have a brainy progressive adventurousness that burns with a death metal fire. Florent Duployer’s stupendous drumming adds an unceasing propulsion that feels frictionless. Session bassist Alex Sedin, who also mixed and mastered the album, plays lines that could be leads while offering structural support. And Voisard’s vocals exude a zen-like control even when the growls and screams sound desperate. That’s one of the enduring facets of Meanders that has stuck with me throughout the year, how this album is simultaneously so many things that Anachronism has figured out how to engineer into a harmonious whole, not unlike the ecosystem around a river. And like that river, Meanders flows no matter where Anachronism take their music. –Ian Chainey


Shadows - Out For Blood (Sentient Ruin)

Out For Blood could have been released in 1987 and it would have slid in right alongside the wave of classic albums that were, at the time, defining the metal lexicon as we know it. But it was released this year in Chile, the work of five metal maestros bearing monikers like “Michael Mist,” “James Prowler,” and “William Freeze.” These guys get it, and they’ve got a 360-command of the tools of the trade, which they wield with panache to craft memorable songs that both conjure the dark sorcery of heavy metal heroes and are simultaneously fresh. Take the intro, “Nightstalker,” with its creeptastic acoustic intro and absolutely righteously menacing lead riff, which is as good a heavy metal “Hello, World!” as you’ll find anywhere. It sounds like some seminal track that you can’t quite pin down, one that, if you were put on the spot (gasp), could highlight a hole in your genre knowledge. (Fear not, no pose exposed.) But it’s also got an acerbic edge, not to mention the benefit of immersive modern production, that pulls it into 2023. It rips.

On Out For Blood, Shadows are having fun, and cues and homages to the greats, in particular Mercyful Fate and King Diamond, are everywhere. You’ll find them in the theatrical, toned-down King vocals, the spooky synth accents, and the album art, which is essentially Abigail as seen from a different angle. To Mercyful Fate’s debut album-ender “Melissa,” Out For Blood offers up closer “Alissa.” Lots of metal fans want this. There’s a reason classic acts like Iron Maiden sell out world tours year after year, and that one of modern metal’s most successful new acts, Ghost, serves up earworms that pull from a halcyon era. Shadows are more of a metal pure-player than Ghost, more Opus Eponymous than what’s come recently. Shadows are doing it with style, and in Out For Blood, they’ve bottled magic. ––Wyatt Marshall


Kostnatění - Úpal (Willowtip Records)

Úpal is of the broader black metal genus, but its bones are twisted and fractured in so many unnatural ways that it deserves a new, unsettling branch on the evolutionary tree. The album blasts, to be sure, but across its seven mind-melting songs, time and tones are extended and compressed according to deranged gremlin logic. Vocals snarl, shriek, chant, and moan against a backdrop of ritualistic madness. Disquieting chimes ting and ding; drumming pitter-patters and jumps seemingly haphazardly into urgent, spastic fills. Pulling heavily from a tech-y death palette and incorporating various Middle Eastern and African folk traditions, this aural madness is the work of D.L., who self-describes his music as “manic, raving, and death-obsessed extreme metal.” But this mania is ever so carefully orchestrated, and the hooks densely buried throughout Úpal will grab you with surprising ease. Fiendishly buzzing, disorienting guitars become more and more intelligible with each passing riff, seemingly chaotic time shifts become patterns, and you’ll see beauty in what was at first blush disquieting. By the end, Úpal will have you speaking its language. –Wyatt Marshall


Trichomoniasis - Makeshift Crematoria (New Standard Elite)

Hello, I’m reporting to you live from the end of music. Trichomoniasis’ Makeshift Crematoria is like the child of Last Days Of Humanity’s Putrefaction in Progress got booted out of Berklee for turning the entire graduating class into acid casualties. In other words, Hunter Petersen (vocals, guitars, bass) and Faustino Rodriguez (drums) take the turbo-ping blasting miasma of the most degenerate goo slingers and spice it up with freewheeling sonic experimentalism. Oh yes, it’s out there and will reliably flummox anyone who isn’t deranged. If these Californians existed in any other era, they’d be burned for witchcraft. And if you like Makeshift Crematoria and you’re looking for a quick and easy “should I be in a relationship with this person” test, playing it on a date is a fantastic way to cement the fact that you’re going to die alone.

However, for the sick, twisted, and open-minded, in that their minds have been opened by a well-aimed ax swing, you won’t find a more engaging band than Trichomoniasis this year. Goddamn, does this duo do some things, fully delivering on Doug Moore’s past pronouncement that “nothing going on here sounds like a rock instrument.” To wit, I wrote that “Predacious Stylet” “features Faustino’s clattering blasts that are like a giant millipede running through a drum factory and Petersen growling over cryptic bass rattles that might as well be Victor Wooten spending his last moments trying to shut off the Event Horizon.” That’s not even the weirdest thing here. The blast endurance test “Groaning Siphon” ends with Petersen’s riffs shrinking into a singularity, leaving a pre-universe nothingscape where the only sound is God playing Derek Bailey riffs. These undeniably bizarre moments pop up on each song, flooring me, a jaded experimental music vet. And, again, they appear within the context of a blasting, gooey gore album. My friends, this is the future. None of us can buy a house, but at least we got this.

Anyway, shout out to Hunter Petersen, a player making it their life’s work to push the most unhinged and brutal music into new and unexpected places. In addition to releasing a whole other album a couple months ago, the equally excellent Harvest Of The Killing Fields, Trichomoniasis chipped in a song for the recent Encenathrakh tribute, I Can’t Believe It’s Not Encenathrakh. So, too, did Hunter’s other band, Chloroma, which is similarly avant-garde damaged. Potion, Petersen’s G3-soloing, ghost-wailing grinder, also came back to life. And just a few days ago, Embryonic Devourment unveiled a new album of reworked older material. (Nothing yet from Ophanim, the heavy melodeath band that might be Petersen’s future breakout.) All those records are worth your time, but if you only have time for one, it might as well be the album that broke music this year. –Ian Chainey


Jute Gyte - Unus Mundus Patet (Jeshimoth Entertainment)

Jute Gyte is the undisputed champion of making me say “whoa.” For over 20 years and 30-plus full-lengths, this USA-based project’s sole member, Adam Kalmbach, has used black metal as a jumping-off point for sonic experimentalism. It’s the metallic R&D department that never fails to find a new way to make disarmingly powerful sounds, be it through microtonal explorations, ambient excursions, or some other method I lack the technical expertise to define. And while Kalmbach’s skunkworks is steeped in theory, often to a level where I, a numskull, need an explainer to make sense of the nuances, the sheer force of these pieces doesn’t need much of an explanation at all. Nope. One utterance sums it up nicely.

Unus Mundus Patet, Jute Gyte’s first set of black metal since 2021’s Mitrealit​ä​t, might be Kalmbach’s most forceful work. And, despite the artist setting expectations by describing it as “black metal in the archaic style” in the Bandcamp liner notes, it’s another unique take on the style that feels like a beginning instead of an ending. The opening track, “Disinterment Of Sfanomoë,” launches to life like a pyroclastic flow entombing anything within earshot in microtonal ash. The other bookend, “Hesperus Is Phosphorus,” a song I described as a “three-part suite examining a black hole eating every black metal song ever recorded,” is one of the more unique metal experiences you’ll hear this year. What happens between those brain-busters is your typical Jute Gyte experience, which is to say…whoa. What more can you say? –Ian Chainey


Summer Haze '99 - Inevitable (Fiadh Productions)

On paper, Inevitable shouldn’t add up the way it does. Across the debut from Summer Haze ’99 — that name! — you’ll hear melodic hardcore, blackgaze, jazz, power metal, trad metal, pop, post-metal, and a whole lot more that you’d think would be the work of some kitchen-sink experimental college band. But in the hands of Erech Leleth — the mastermind behind the atmospheric black metal project Ancient Mastery, the medieval rock entity Bergfried, and others — it makes for a glorious, otherworldly, and deeply affecting masterpiece. Tenderly played piano is the first thing you’ll hear on Inevitable, but you’ll soon be rushing headlong into the unknown behind heroic guitars. There, as you follow one dazzling melodic sweep after another, you’ll make detours into ethereal, wondrous ambience where dreamy clean vocals from Anouk Madrid provide yet another dose of where’d-this-come-from magic. It flows in ways that are entirely novel but feel instantly familiar, where stylish jazz naturally lives alongside raw black metal riffs and blazing Helloween-esque guitar leads.

The name Summer Haze ’99 itself explicitly evokes nostalgia, and across Inevitable there is a palpable charge and vigor of youth, proclamations of cautious optimism and dramatic purpose, and the kind of forever feelings of love and friendship that take hold at the precipice of entering into an unknown future. It’s a transportive album that resurrects the warm, humid nights that you knew in the moment you would remember, when fireflies blinked and stars dotted the skies and the world was small and endless at the same time, and you took it all in alongside someone you’d cherish, in some way, forever. –Wyatt Marshall


Nithing - Agonal Hymns (New Standard Elite)

There’s a point with every brutal death metal release when the loud-noises novelty wears off. It’s like riding a rollercoaster one thousand times. Eventually, you’ll know all the thrills and spills. So, after you internalize how the blasts will blast and the slams will slam, the quality of the music determines an album’s shelf life. I bring this up to write that Nithing’s Agonal Hymns is that rare brutal death metal album that gets better with every listen.

Granted, it will take a long time to hear everything Matt Kilner has crammed into his solo project: chaotic avalanches of rhythmically inventive drumming, theoretical physics bass twiddling, and extra-guttural growling that could be a 16th six-toothed creature’s gurgling stomach. But Agonal Hymns‘ most immediate feature is the guitars. This album is a love note to people who love new sounds. There are radar-ping riffs surveying the topography of far-away planets. There are pinch harmonic flurries that might as well be someone beating a Super Mario Boo to death. There are squelch-cannon salvos that obliterate your inhibitions, devolving you into a mammoth-femur-wielding wild person tabbing out chugging slams on a cave wall.

Right, Agonal Hymns is all about mashing up the innovatively futuristic with the brutishly primeval, delivering the same infectiously contradictory duality inherent in Kilner’s other gig, the sorely missed Iniquitous Deeds. It’s like Nithing is saying that even if we reach the stars and survey galaxies beyond our own, we’ll still desire to splatter our enemies with a battle-tested club. You can hear it in a song like “Of Those Immortal, Longing for Decease,” which bristles with frightening primality as it pilots its deep-space research vessel through a wormhole. More importantly though, “Of Those Immortal, Longing For Decease” has great riffs. That’s why Agonal Hymns is a permanent fixture in my playlist. And Nithing’s strongest quality is that everything gets sweeter on the next play. Some bands position their great riffs like horror movie boo-scares. Nithing has great riffs that are like three-day holidays. You can’t wait to get to them. And they seem to pay off even bigger on each subsequent play. –Ian Chainey


Great Falls - Objects Without Pain (Neurot Recordings)

There are breakup albums, there are divorce albums, and then there’s Great Falls’ Objects Without Pain, a set of songs so open, honest, and vividly vulnerable about a relationship imploding that listening to it may qualify as a legal separation in some states. “There is no escape from this place,” vocalist/guitarist Demian Johnston screams on “Dragged Home Alive.” “This is no mistake.” Over eight increasingly volatile tracks, you hear this Seattle trio confront that new reality: a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t scenario where every chapter in the Choose Your Own Adventure ends with someone’s life getting wrecked.

However, the reason Objects Without Pain is such a good album is that even if you haven’t been dashed across the rocks of relationship trauma, there’s something here for you if you like loud, noisy music. Johnston, bassist Shane Mehling, and drummer Nickolis Parks cook up some incredibly aggressive and potent metalcore slash noise rock. When Great Falls goes full tumult, cranking the volume to imminent hearing damage levels, it’s like being dunked on by a tornado. Check out the chaotic closing to “Ceilings Inch Closer,” when the trio plays with the concentrated power of a building collapsing. Johnston’s screams tear through you like bad news. And the music is like Kiss It Goodbye covering Sadness Will Prevail: absolute dejection manifested as insatiable fury. Truly, this album should come with a referral to a social worker.

But Objects Without Pain is memorable because of the catharsis. Great Falls packs an emotional wallop. Whenever guest singer Lillian Albazi comes in during the rest-stop reveries between the roaring turmoil, it’s brutal in a way a lot of music can only dream of being. It’s the perfect aural analog to those quiet, unexpected moments when the life-changing epiphanies hit you: What am I doing? Why am I doing this? Is this a mistake? Those near-universal questions are intense, and thinking about them again, even by proxy within the context of an album, could rip the scab off old wounds, letting past insecurities bleed again. But Objects Without Pain’s misery is more like a salve. The album’s final song, “Thrown Against the Waves,” sets us adrift on a stormy sea with no rescue in sight. Be that as it may, just the fact that someone else has felt these feelings is the life preserver that some of us need. If they can live through their worst days, we can, too. –Ian Chainey


Imperium Dekadenz - Into Sorrow Evermore (Napalm Records)

Into Sorrow Evermore adds a major injection of fuel to a growing suspicion that, in 2023, Imperium Dekadenz is modern black metal’s best band. Working from their Black Forest homebase, the German duo of Horaz and Vespasian have always aimed high, producing big production, atmosphere-rich sagas built on walls of lush melancholic riffs. Early on, they found thematic inspiration in the Roman Empire, casting a brooding, ominous cloud over the Forum, but on their 2019 jaw-dropper, When We Are Forgotten, their focus turned inward to questions of existentialism and grief while keeping the same epic style and scale. Into Sorrow Evermore continues the journey into spiraling doubt and anguish, and it’s a front-to-back stunning album where black metal blasting soundtracks inner turmoil and crests into crashing waves of catharsis that are shouted into a maelstrom. With big, leading melodies guiding each track and a high-polish finish, it’s all incredibly catchy and carries an awestruck, cinematic sheen. Into Sorrow Evermore is a monumental work, and when considered along with their other albums, you start to realize Imperium Dekadenz are in a league of their own. –Wyatt Marshall


Blut Aus Nord - Disharmonium - Nahab (Debemur Morti Productions)

Hello, again. Blut Aus Nord tops a Black Market end-of-year list for the third time. Either we’re the biggest BAN marks of all time, or no other band in this column’s history can claim that kind of sustained success. It’s probably both. Still, there’s something notable about the achievement. As a reminder, we’re the kind of contrarian idiots who have handed out previous album-of-the-year accolades to a two-song split and a compilation conceived on an internet forum. You bet we’re allergic to the comforting confines of conventions, for better and mostly for worse. So, the fact this disarmingly arcane French black metal band fronted by the enigmatic Vindsval is now a multi-year AOTY dynasty is extra unlikely. I’m not even sure there’s a good sports correlation to drive home BAN’s dominance. Imagine a squad of shoggoths coached by Nyarlathotep winning NFL Super Bowls with the regularity of a Bill Walsh-led franchise. I’m sure a turducken-stuffed John Madden once dreamed of the possibilities of the Necronomicon Offense.

Anyway, as anyone who has been on a championship squad can surely attest, Disharmonium – Nahab is different than the previous ring-winners, 2014’s Memoria Vetusta III (“a really good guitar band [writing] really good guitar riffs“) and 2022’s Lovecraftian Echoes (“[peels] back the layers of reality until it feels like death is standing right behind me“; jeez, what was going on in my life in 2022?). Sure, there’s a throughline in roster consistency and sound philosophy: The even more mysterious bassist GhÖst and drummer W.D. Feld rejoin guitarist/vocalist Vindsval as they have done since 2003, and this second installment in the Disharmonium series harkens back to the creepy-crawly glory-day grotesqueries of The Work Which Transforms God and MoRT. But the way BAN has constructed this album feels fresh, taking the many-layers approach of last year’s Disharmonium – Undreamable Abysses and going even deeper.

Indeed, Disharmonium – Nahab‘s most impressive aspect is how much happens every single second. The sheer preponderance of aural data arranged in towering vertical blocks almost causes vertigo. In any one section, riffs may lurch and skitter while bass lines seesaw queasily over drums that uncannily stumble precisely to the unknown physics of an alternate dimension. And that’s not even adding in Vindsval’s vocals, an otherworldly tapestry of groans, screeches, and monastic moans that, when taken together, might as well be someone with telepathy hearing the thoughts of an entire city at once. It’s undeniably unnerving, stoking a sensation that makes me feel like I’m peeking behind the veil at the inner workings of some ancient malevolent deity that’s the universe’s genuine guiding hand.

Of course, all of this would be for naught if the songs sucked. The songs are great. What, did you think we gave the AOTY to an album with no songs? (OK. I get it. We have a track record.) But, no, “Queen Of The Dead Dimension,” “The Black Vortex,” and “Forgotten Aeon” are some of Blut Aus Nord’s finest contributions to making sure you don’t go to sleep tonight. And I’ll be damned if BAN doesn’t sound energized, smoldering with a new band’s fire. (To that end, Vindsval seems like he’s having fun this year, additionally popping up in the very different Ershetu and Eitrin.) That’s the impressive part: Blut Aus Nord turns 30 next year. Kind of makes you think they’ve got another AOTY up their sleeve. I wouldn’t bet against them. –Ian Chainey

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