2023 has been another great year for heavy music. Thanks for supporting Heavy Music HQ again this year, and make sure to check out our weekly reviews every Thursday and bookmark our constantly updated release calendar. Here are our choices for 2023’s best heavy metal albums.
Afterbirth – In But Not Of (Willowtip)
Blut Aus Nord – Disharmonium – Nahab (Debemur Morti)
Cattle Decapitation – Terrasite (Metal Blade)
Church Of Misery – Born Under A Mad Sign (Rise Above)
Crown Lands – Fearless (Spinefarm)
Cruciamentum – Obsidian (Profound Lore)
Dragonheart – The Dragonheart’s Tale (Rockshots)
Enslaved – Heimdal (Nuclear Blast)
Fen – Monuments To Absence (Lupus Lounge)
Gel – Only Constant (Convulse)
KEN Mode – Void (Artoffact)
Majesties – Vast Reaches Unclaimed (20 Buck Spin)
Memoriam – Rise To Power (Reaper)
Outer Heaven – Infinite Psychic Depths (Relapse)
Primordial – How It Ends (Metal Blade)
Scar Symmetry – The Singularity Phase II – Xenotaph (Nuclear Blast)
Shylmagoghnar – Convergence (Napalm)
Temic – Terror Management Theory (Season Of Mist)
Trailight – Mirrors (Self)
Tribunal – The Weight Of Remembrance (20 Buck Spin)
25. Incantation – Unholy Deification (Relapse)
Death metal pioneers Incantation have been a stalwart of the genre for over three decades. Vocalist/guitarist John McEntee is the lone remaining original member, with drummer Kyle Severn first joining back in 1994. Unholy Deification is the band’s thirteenth studio album in what has been a very prolific period for them. Since 2012 they have issued five studio albums, a couple of splits, a live album and several compilations.
Unholy Deification is classic Incantation with punishing death metal, a bit of melody and McEntee’s gruff vocals. They shift tempos, slowing things down on “Concordat (The Pact) I” and keeping the pedal to the metal on most of “Chalice (Vessel Consaguineous) VIII.” The songs are razor sharp and focused, only once going over the five minute mark. That is with the closer “Circle (Eye Of Ascension) VII” that has a slow, doomy vibe before picking up the pace about halfway through and then slowing down again. There’s a reason Incantation have been successful for so long. That’s evident on this album, with top notch songwriting and musicianship.
24. Metallica – 72 Seasons (Blackened)
The title of Metallica’s twelfth album relates to the first 18 years of life when childhood experiences shape peoples’ futures. James Hetfield contends that much of our adult experience is a reenactment or reaction to those childhood experiences.
The mood and pace of 72 Seasons is darker and more deliberate than their last album, but there is still plenty of diversity. Waiting several years between recent albums allows Metallica to painstakingly construct songs, extracting riffs and parts they’ve written over a long period of time and building them into a cohesive and interesting whole. The album shows their continued evolution, a band comfortable embracing their past while not living there, still moving forward and able to sound modern and relevant.
23. Big|Brave – nature morte (Thrill Jockey)
The latest release from the Canadian post metal trio Big|Brave is nature morte, which is a French phrase for still life paintings, which translates to “dead nature.”
The band composes lengthy songs, with three of the six on the album clocking in at more than nine minutes. Big|Brave have no problem making long tracks engaging, with numerous shifts in tempo and intensity along with Robin Wattie’s compelling vocals that shift seamlessly from reserved to cathartic. Sparse acoustic sections shift into heavy, doomy parts. The arrangements incorporate extended instrumental passages as well, such as on “the one who bornes a weary load” where it takes a few minutes before the vocals kick in. That’s followed by the fuzzy instrumental “my hope renders me a fool.” With nature morte, Big|Brave have painted their musical picture with emotion, depth and variety.
22. Fires In The Distance – Air Not Meant For Us (Prosthetic)
Air Not Meant For Us is a richer take on Fires In The Distance’s melodic death/doom metal, thanks to live orchestration being brought in. Violas, violins and cellos elevate the mournful spirit the band situates themselves in on these six songs. The synths and piano remain essential, whether used as background enhancement or a gateway into a passionate instrumental section. Much like their debut album Echoes From Deep November, they dabble in extremity without sacrificing harmony.
Though they never fall outright into an unruly situation with their death metal, the guitars transform from monstrous riffs to soulful solos on the regular, and there’s enough going on in these songs to support their well-paced lengths. Air Not Meant For Us is a step up, thanks to the organic-sounding orchestration and denser songwriting.
21. Code Orange – The Above (Blue Grape)
Code Orange had a ton of momentum heading into 2020’s The Underneath, but it was released just as the pandemic began, limiting their ability to bring their potent live show to the fans. It garnered rave reviews, a Grammy nomination, and ended up on many best of 2020 lists, including ours.
Their fifth album The Above has their most accessible material to-date, but also plenty of inscrutable and esoteric moments. Opener “Never Far Apart” has a little bit of everything, from modern electronic sounds to melodic singing from Reba Meyers to intense hardcore and harsh vocals. You’ll find radio friendly songs like “Mirror” while heaviness and intensity prevail on tracks like “Theatre Of Cruelty” and “A Drone Opting Out Of The Hive.” Code Orange embrace industrial stylings on songs like “Splinter The Soul,” and “Take Shape,” which features Smashing Pumpkins’ Billy Corgan. The Above is an effective balance of styles, tempos and intensities with memorable songs and minimal filler.
20. Danava – Nothing But Nothing (Tee Pee)
Portland hard rockers Danava released three well-received albums between 2006 and 2011, then went silent, save for a single released in 2016. A dozen years after Hemisphere Of Shadows, they make their triumphant return with Nothing But Nothing.
They roar out of the gate with the opening title track, an uptempo song with great riffs and guitar harmonies. They have a retro approach, utilizing elements from both ’70s hard rock and ’80s NWOBHM, and sprinkling in stoner and prog. That range of styles and their musical prowess is on display on the instrumental “Season Of Vengeance.” Danava generally keep the pace fast throughout Nothing But Nothing, but ease back into moderate grooves on songs like the Maidenesque “Enchanted Villain.” Nothing But Nothing is a welcome comeback, and will appeal to a wide range of heavy music fans, from classic rock to stoner to hard rock/traditional metal.
19. Horrendous – Ontological Mysterium (Season Of Mist)
The Philadelphia death metal band Horrendous‘ fifth album Ontological Mysterium arrives five years after Idol. They finished the writing quite a while ago, but thanks to the pandemic had to push back the recording process.
Horrendous’ approach to death metal is progressive and ambitious. Their songwriting blends dense, technical sections with groovy and melodic parts. They are equally comfortable composing lengthy songs like the 7 plus minute “Chrysopoeia (The Archeology Of Dawn)” and streamlined tracks such as “Neon Leviathan” that are half that length. The band says their inspiration was the bombastic spirit of metal from the ’80s and early ’90s, and while there are some of those classic melodic vibes, tracks like “Exeg(en)esis” drift more into experimental territory. That balance of styles makes Ontological Mysterium another notable addition to the Horrendous catalog.
18. Autopsy – Ashes, Organs, Blood and Crypts (Peaceville)
One year after Morbidity Triumphant, death doom institution Autopsy are back for another helping of ferocious death metal with their tenth full-length Ashes, Organs, Blood and Crypts. This is the second album to feature bassist Greg Wilkinson, who also plays with vocalist/drummer Chris Reifert in Static Abyss, a band who released their sophomore LP earlier this year.
Reifert also uses a cough and shout to add to his maniacal presence behind the mic coupled with his excellent battery work that goes to show him as an unparalleled death metal musician. “Coagulation” and its slow start allows the band a track to clean up the mess that they made during the album; a fitting end to the eternal misery that surrounds this band’s sound, but not before taking a few more steps towards their furious death metal speed, not to mention a rocking solo that gives life to this death metal as well. Ashes, Organs, Blood and Crypts is proof positive that Autopsy’s sanguine lust knows no bounds.
17. Sermon – Of Golden Verse (Prosthetic)
Sermon stormed critics’ charts back in 2019, when the band’s debut Birth Of The Marvellous was our top pick of the year. Now finally the band is back with Of Golden Verse. Featuring a similar lineup as their debut (James Stewart on drums, and Him on guitars/keys/vocals, but now with Lawrence Jenner pitching in on bass), the band has had four years to concoct an appropriate follow-up.
Of Golden Verse will quickly be recognizable to fans of Sermon. The style and vocal melodies remain the same, but this time around there is a more primal feel to the songs. Perhaps these numbers come from a slightly angrier place, but Of Golden Verse is certainly slightly darker and more aggressive than Birth Of The Marvellous. Despite (or because of) that, Sermon have again crafted a masterpiece; 49 minutes of visceral, taut, climactic metal.
16. Obituary – Dying Of Everything (Relapse)
Back for their first time in six years, Obituary are finally acknowledging their descent towards the grave with Dying Of Everything, their 10th album overall. “War” includes a slight section of acoustically picked riffs, adding an air of quiet not often attributed to these Florida legends. However it’s something fresh for a band that has spent the majority of its career rotting away in front of our eyes, much to our pleasure. The title track has all the speed that you would want from a death metal band such as this, feeling like it came from their most prominent and formative eras, showing that these old dogs have an excess of tread left on their tires.
This album has one of the last commissioned art pieces from Mariusz Lewandowski who sadly passed away in 2022 and was responsible for so many great album covers over his career. Entering their fifth decade of releasing albums, Obituary have nary missed a beat here, having crafted a great death metal record while remaining true to their lethal lineage. Dying Of Everything is death metal done right.
15. The Ocean – Holocene (Pelagic)
Progressive post-metal juggernauts The Ocean took a slight left turn in the closing track “Holocene,” off their fantastic 2020 album Phanerozoic II. It was a pensive song dominated by electronic flourishes, and it also happens to be the name of this album, which closes off the band’s paleontology-themed album arc which began way back in 2007. On this final outing, clean singing, electronic atmospheres, and haunting melodies envelop the listener.
For the most part this is quite a departure for The Ocean, but they do still bring the heaviness at times, particularly on the second half of the album. Listeners willing to allow the band to go beyond the heavy post-metal they are known for will be handsomely rewarded. Tracks such as the “Atlantic” – “Subboreal” pairing brilliantly bridge old and new sounds into truly stellar material, and the epic track “Unconformities,” with haunting vocals from Karin Park (Årabrot), is mesmerizing and, in the back half, furious. All told, this is another fantastic outing from one of post-metal’s best bands.
14. Panopticon – The Rime Of Memory (Bindrune)
Austin Lunn’s atmospheric black/folk project Panopticon has long been a critical darling, issuing albums that receive glowing reviews and landing on numerous year end lists. That won’t change with The Rime Of Memory, his tenth full-length studio album.
After an opening instrumental is the nearly 20 minute “Winter’s Ghost,” Panopticon’s longest song since “Patient” from 2011’s Social Disservices. After a peaceful, somber beginning, it abruptly shifts into intense black metal about halfway through, lasting a few minutes before easing back into mellowness and then briefly ratcheting up the extremity again prior to a peaceful ending. “Cedar Skeletons” and “Enduring The Snow Drought” take the opposite approach, beginning with brutality, while “An Autumn Storm” keeps up the aggression until the very end. This varied songwriting approach keeps lengthy songs (9 to 16 minutes) interesting and unpredictable. The Rime Of Memory is Panopticon’s longest album at 75 minutes, but that doesn’t dilute its impact at all.
13. Godthrymm – Distortions (Profound Lore)
Returning for their sophomore album Distortions are Godthrymm, complete with two former members of My Dying Bride and Solstice. The approach here is far less gothic and much more epic. Opening with an 11 minute monster in “As Titans” is a gutsy move, one that helps establish the band’s foothold on your emotions and ears for the next hour. With emotions running high next to the sheer grandiosity of the track, this is more than enough to garner the praise that this album rightfully deserves.
Godthrymm can also cut down their concept on a track like “Devils,” giving you more of what you expect from an early Paradise Lost and Candlemass with a lot of darker themes overall. With “Obsess and Regress” there are touches of the ethereal from Catherine Glencross’ vocals juxtaposed against those of her husband Hamish, who has an early ‘90s doom flair about his own vocal style. Distortions is an incredibly dense and well thought out album with twists and turns throughout. For fans of epic doom with gothic flair from some well-versed musicians you can’t do it any better.
12. Frozen Soul – Glacial Domination (Century Media)
Frozen Soul carved out their frosty funeral two years ago with the crushing Crypt Of Ice, an exceptional debut that garnered comparisons to Bolt Thrower among other bands.
For Glacial Domination, Trivium’s Matt Heafy produced, helping to push their sound beyond where it had been before. The band showcases some new sounds in the form of solos which were largely absent on their debut, adding a layer of depth to this concentrated attack. Glacial Domination is the sound of Frozen Soul going from good to great, adding those finishing touches on a sophomore record that sets them apart from other death metal bands. Their domination is just beginning.
Wilderun fans, pay attention here. The Amensal Rise is Belgian prog-death outfit Omnerod’s third and most ambitious album. Clocking in at seventy minutes (that’s over just seven songs), The Amensal Rise is a daunting listen both in length and complexity, but boy is it rewarding. Each song on this album screams “epic,” and draws from modern and classic influences alike, resulting in an album at once familiar yet different and captivating.
Much like Wilderun, Omnerod specialize in richly layered, intricate compositions. Arrangements and instrumentation are spot-on. There’s not a weak spot to be found across the album, aside from the daunting song lengths. In this case, though, the songs all flow wonderfully, making The Amensal Rise a rare long album that begs to be enjoyed in its entirety. Put it all together and you’ve got a prog-death album that’s done exactly the way I love them.
10. Blackbraid – Blackbraid II (Self)
One-man black metal band Blackbraid is the project of Sgah’gahsowáh, who is of Native American descent and continues to bring that lore to the band’s second album Blackbraid II. It’s a sprawling experience that leads the listener to grandiose soundscapes that are matched by the extreme shifts in the band’s sound throughout the album. Tales of wolves, moons, and spirits go a long way to introduce listeners to the historical and metaphysical experience of indigenous Americans.
Blackbraid II, with the excellent stories to be told, atmosphere nearly without equal, is perhaps one of the single most important American black metal albums since Panopticon’s Kentucky. Sgah’gahsowáh has outdone himself and is forging a new path forward for black metal in 2023, one that will likely continue to set him apart from his contemporaries and become one of the biggest new faces in the genre for years to come.
9. Royal Thunder – Rebuilding The Mountain (Spinefarm)
Calling it quits after 2017’s excellent Wick, Royal Thunder reconnected with original drummer Evan Diprima in 2020 and forged on as a three piece. Rebuilding The Mountain picks up right where they left off, combining the grinding tempos of doom metal with psychedelic, swirling, Soundgarden-esque guitars and singer/bassist Mlny Parsonz’ soulful, spine-chilling vocal delivery.
The most overlooked vocalist in modern rock, not “underrated,” because no one who’s heard her Janis Joplin-meets-Chris Cornell belting will ever discount it, Parsonz positively soars on lead single “The Knife.” She exorcizes her demons through the larynx-shredding vocal delivery on “The King” or the plaintive melancholy of “Live To Live.” Royal Thunder take a more focused and concise songwriting approach (only two songs break the five minute mark, and most are under four), creating their most cathartic yet accessible release to date, and a must-listen.
8. Green Lung – This Heathen Land (Nuclear Blast)
Green Lung’s latest occult masterpiece, This Heathen Land, should’ve been released a week earlier, in time for All Hallow’s Eve. This ode to England’s pagan heritage brings the listener a uniquely British spin on witches, Satan, and ancient forest gods, delivered with both the utmost skill and sincerity, and a knowing wink. One almost expects the spoken word intro to conclude with, “O how they danced, the little people of Stonehenge.”
Green Lung expand on their equal parts doomy and groovy Sabbathian-swagger by embracing vintage swinging ‘60s keyboards on “Maxine (Witch Queen)” and recalling Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain” on the acoustic stomp of “Songs of the Stones.” The crushing riffs and hooky melodicism of tracks like “The Ancient Ways” hew closer to the sound the band established on earlier releases, and taken as a whole, Green Lung have produced a strong contender for album of the year.
7. Urne – A Feast On Sorrow (Candlelight)
For some bands, it takes a few songs to become absorbed in an album, while others never get there. For Urne’s A Feast On Sorrow, it only takes under a minute to become infatuated with their second album. That’s when the opener “The Flood Came Rushing In” becomes a thrashy treat, though the record moves between that, sludge, and, in special circumstances, black/death to maximize unpredictability.
Their debut album Serpent & Spirit got the attention of Gojira’s Joe Duplantier, who came onboard to produce A Feast On Sorrow. It’s apparent what he sees in this band to be this hands-on, as their metamorphosis is shown on two 11-minute opuses, “A Stumble Of Words” and “The Long Goodbye/Where Do The Memories Go?” The two mark the current songwriting pinnacle of their career, with the latter having an outstanding ending section with Celtic ties. Urne have put out a must-listen metal album in A Feast On Sorrow.
6. Baroness – Stone (Abraxan Hymns)
Stone is Baroness‘ sixth album and their first to eschew the color palette titles of their past albums. It’s also their first with a complete lineup intact from a previous record. Baroness have done a masterful job of toeing the line between grandeur and modesty on Stone. Never do you feel that this album is full of fluff or itself, there is a mix of everything they have ever done with a sense of unity from within the band that was lacking in their earliest days.
Once again a well-oiled machine, Baroness are masters of their craft and Stone is just the next chapter for a band that refuses to be pigeonholed as anything other than themselves. A supremely simple, yet complex affair for the band, Stone forms the bedrock for the future of Baroness and rock music overall.
5. Tomb Mold – The Enduring Spirit (20 Buck Spin)
Tomb Mold surprised the death metal populous, releasing their fourth album The Enduring Spirit with minimal notice. It seems that Tomb Mold have married the beauty of the guitarist Derrick Vella’s other band Dream Unending and added it to their sound which at its peak is purely gross and primordial yet becomes progressive and at times reaches beyond its own genre’s boundaries.
Tomb Mold have come out of nowhere to deliver their best record to date, something which puts it at the top of the list for death metal and metal as a whole in 2023. Albums like this are few and far between, and as such this career defining album’s legacy will live on for a long time. The Enduring Spirit is the sound of pure extreme sonic freedom; do not miss this record.
4. Wayfarer – American Gothic (Profound Lore)
With the climate of the USBM movement being of such varying degrees and considering the rich history and fabled tales of the Western US, it’s no surprise that a band like Denver’s Wayfarer eventually made their way onto the scene. Ten years of clad-in-black, romantic yet violent, pure outlaw black metal. Wayfarer’s highly-anticipated new album American Gothic is their fifth full-length.
A sinister ambience to absorb, heartwarming melodic sequences to savor and that telltale Western twang that calls to mind images of stallions in full stride under the cool glow of pale moon over canyon and sacred bonfires ablaze in the desert night. Each epic album cut alive and pulsating with newfound energy: black and bold, dramatic and visual from the opener “The Thousand Tombs of Western Promise” that lays down the thunder of a thousand horses trampling the plains with every dominating cadence and full-attention-demanding guitar riff, to the midway point in the stunning mood piece “A High Plains Eulogy” with its dreamlike lulls, all the way through to the blackened psychedelia of the closing track, “False Constellation.” American Gothic is an unforgettable black metal experience.
3. Insomnium – Anno 1696 (Century Media)
Finnish melodeath veterans Insomnium turn back the clock a few centuries for their ninth full-length. Anno 1696 explores what was happening in northern Europe during that era, such as witch trials and cannibalism. Musically, there are elements of both their epic, single song 2016 Winter’s Gate album and 2019’s Heart Like A Grave.
The songwriting on Anno 1696 is outstanding. Opener “1696” sets the stage with an acoustic beginning before the metal kicks in. The melodic triple-guitar attack is contrasted by Niilo Sevänen’s potent harsh vocals. Rotting Christ’s Sakis Tolis guests on “White Christ,” which adds cinematic atmosphere to its blackened melodic death as its ebbs and flows from extreme to melodic. It’s an album highlight, as is the dynamic “Godforesaken,” which features Eye Of Melian’s Johanna Kurkela. Her delicate singing contrasts well with Sevänen’s bold growls. “Lillan” is more traditional Insomnium, while “The Witch Hunter” has melodic singing that takes it to the next level. Closer “The Rapids” also has melodic singing and a bit of a Ghost vibe. There’s not a weak track on the album, making Anno 1696 a wide-ranging and compelling listen, a master class in melodic death metal that ranks as one of Insomnium’s best efforts.
2. Ne Obliviscaris – Exul (Season of Mist)
Ne Obliviscaris are one of the truest symbols and the definition of an extreme metal band. Six years after the acclaimed album Urn, they have once again created a gigantic theatrical stage to direct their musical show with the utmost epicness and passion.
Every moment and every second of Exul is surrounded by carefully-designed songwriting, tremendous emotions and sensational power. Violin-driven songs create dramatic and thought-provoking moments, and the complexity of melodies with the silky operatic voice of Tim Charles and the roar of Xenoyr’s growls, combining melodic/progressive death metal with melancholic yet overwhelming death doom metal. This combination touches a new frontier that the band has not approached in such an impressive way in previous albums. Exul is an extraordinary achievement, a glorious renaissance in creating emotion out of chaos.
1. Katatonia – Sky Void Of Stars (Napalm)
Katatonia, who need no introduction to the metal populace, are back with their thirteenth album Sky Void Of Stars. They have played out their version of light and dark metal/post-rock since the late ‘90s when they changed from a death/doom unit to one more properly fueled by melody and Jonas Renske’s soft vocal approach.
It is easy to marvel just how fresh this band sounds 25 years after making a dramatic stylistic shift, but they just do it. Sky Void Of Stars is the sound of a band continuing to grow in their own unique way, making albums that sound like Katatonia and nobody else. 13 may be an unlucky number to some, but this newest release from Katatonia is one of the most well-rounded and best albums they have recorded. It’s our choice for 2023’s best album.