SBR Top 50 Albums of 2023

We reviewed 274 albums in 2023 and enjoyed most of them. Trends in heavy guitar music did not appear as obvious this year, with most hype focused on anonymous English iconoclasts, Sleep Token, who astonished everyone when they sold 10,000 tickets for their triumphant Wembley show. It’s debatable whether you could even call them a metal band, but no one can doubt the credentials of another artist that received the “future of metal” tag from Sweden. We are, of course, talking about Orbit Culture, who will have the pick of the major heavy metal labels after leaving Seek & Strike last month.

This year saw an abundance of post-metal and sludge albums that would’ve been perfect for the world recession that never happened. Are there any other sub-genres of metal as fixated on trauma and anxiety as these two forms of music? The legacy of nu metal continues to stick its tentacles into new generations of Anglo-American bands. Code Orange moved even further towards the contentious movement that defined the Fin de Millennium, and highly rated metalcore quintet, Dying Wish, did the same with their sophomore effort.

Death metal saw the release of big-name albums from Obituary, Suffocation, Cannibal Corpse, and Autopsy, but all eyes were on the Cattle Decapitation record as the bellwether for the genre’s overall health. Black metal witnessed the return of Dødheimsgard, Shining and Marduk, while thrash metal welcomed back its founding fathers in Metallica. It’s no secret that Scream Blast Repeat enjoy the most experimental forms of heavy music. Prog metal had as many notable releases as any sub-genre, with the likes of Periphery, Haken, Tesseract and Veil of Maya all adding to their legacy in 2023 with important albums.

So, which ones were our favourites? These are the SBR Top 50 albums of 2023…

50. Silverburn – Self Induced Transcendental Annihilation

49. Memoriam – Rise to Power

48. Mairu – Sol Cultus

47. Grief Symposium – …In the Absence of Light

46. The Abbey – Word of Sin

45. KOLLAPS\E – Phantom Centre

44. Dying Fetus – Make Them Beg for Death

43. Benthic Realm – Vessel

42. Gendo Ikari – Rokubungi

41. Maladie – For We Are the Plague

40. Oxx – The Primordial Blues

39. Periphery – Periphery V: Djent Is Not A Genre

38. Vintersea – Woven into Ashes

37. Horrendous – Ontological Mysterium

36. Dødheimsgard – Black Medium Current

35. The Zenith Passage – Datalysium

34. Omega Infinity – The Anticurrent

33. Guilt Trip – Severance

32. Henget – Beyond North Star

31. Evile – The Unknown

30. Herod – Iconoclast

29. Enforced – War Remains

28. Haken – Fauna

27. Fuming Mouth – Last Day of Sun

26. Temic – Terror Management Theory

25. KEN Mode – Void

What we said at the time: “KEN Mode will never be easy listening, but it will surprise you how much you can sit through this record in the mind of a voyeur rather than a tormentor. As a sequel to Null, it triumphs as a darker piece of contemplation with a focus on the subtleties missing from the last album.”

Genre: Noise Rock/Post-Metal

Country: Canada

Released: 22/09/2023

Label: Artoffact Records

Read the original SBR review of Void here.

24. Vexed – Negative Energy

What we said at the time: “The song-writing approach in the first eight songs is simple. Pound the listener into submission with monstrous drop-tuned grooves and flay them with unrepentant words of truth… A strangulating mood of claustrophobia haunts Negative Energy like a sequel to Korn’s Life is Peachy. Back in the day, that record sounded like an imprisonment of the mind with no hope of recovery.”

Genre: Progressive deathcore

Country: England

Released: 23/06/2023

Label: Napalm Records

Read the original SBR review of Negative Energy here.

23. Will Haven – VII

What we said at the time: “Twenty-eight years into their career, Will Haven still present us with that perennial question – what is this music? It’s a testament to their originality that we still have no succinct answer. The guitarists eschew solos; the drums play in common time; the vocals seldom deviate away from gut-spilling screams. And yet they sound like nothing else.”

Genre: Hardcore/Post-Groove Metal

Country: USA

Released: 07/07/2023

Label: Minus Head Records

Read the original SBR review of VII here.

22. Ne Obliviscaris – Exul

What we said at the time: “Prog metal has seen some big name releases this year, and Ne Obliviscaris could teach Haken, Periphery and Entheos a thing or two about how to structure their albums for maximum listening engagement. Exul is worth the wait after so many false starts and should enhance the band’s reputation even further after this effort.”

Genre: Progressive death metal

Country: Australia

Released: 24/03/2023

Label: Season of Mist

Read the original SBR review of Exul here.

21. Liturgy – 93696

What we said at the time: “Liturgy have always been transfixed by the idea of creating transcendental black metal through the incorporation of other genres, most notably progressive rock and electronica. On 93696, they make their most daring attempt to reach this objective via the power of angelic soprano harmonies and chaotic guitar melodies.”

Genre: Progressive black metal

Country: USA

Released: 24/03/2023

Label: Thrill Jockey Records

Read the original SBR review of 93696 here.

20. Novere – Nothing Stays Hidden in Daylight

What we said at the time: “Novere like to inject you with enhanced substances and then calm you with the antidote. This music utilises heavy guitars like the great grunge bands of the day before the template became something to dilute and reshape for radio. Not here. The slower doom metal moments throb in anguish; the effervescent dynamics gather strength like whirlpools sucking you into the void.”

Genre: Post-metal

Country: England

Released: 01/10/2023

Label: Trepanation Recordings

Read the original SBR review of Nothing Stays Hidden in Daylight here.

19. Predatory Void – Seven Keys to the Discomfort of Being

What we said at the time: “Listen how sporadic grooves work their way through the music like sepsis. The noise and filth of the distortion are menacing enough to leave you with tinnitus. Do you feel your mouth making silent hissing shapes as the muddy down-picking guitars threaten to jump out of the speakers?… This is the sound of isolated misery from a person cut off from all human relations.”

Genre: Extreme metal/Post-metal

Country: Belgium

Released: 21/04/2023

Label: Century Media

Read the original SBR review of Seven Keys to the Discomfort of Being here.

18. Crypta – Shades of Sorrow

What we said at the time: “An analysis of the lyrical themes on Shades of Sorrow shows a preponderant emphasis on depression and anxiety. It feels like a personal album straight from Fernanda Lira’s anguished heart. Claustrophobia, persecution, and vengeance are as common here as the virtues of fortitude and survival.”

Genre: Death metal

Country: Brazil

Released: 04/08/2023

Label: Napalm Records

Read the original SBR review of Shades of Sorrow here.

17. Svalbard – The Weight of the Mask

What we said at the time: “The band’s determination to insert a nostalgic sorrow into an artform famous for its unhinged aggression is what puzzles metalheads. It also scares those in the indie rock scene that like the solipsistic tendencies of alternative music but cannot tolerate the black metal strain running through the vocals. This is not blackgaze. Nor is it the post-metal you can recognise in the DNA of Neurosis.”

Genre: Blackened Post-Hardcore

Country: England

Released: 06/10/2023

Label: Nuclear Blast

Read the original SBR review of The Weight of the Mask here.

16. Burner – It All Returns to Nothing

What we said at the time: “It’s clear that Burner waste no energy on this record. Every downward crunch of the guitar has a purpose. Churning basslines rumble underneath the distortion like loose wagon trailers threatening to break off from their master vehicles at the first sign of a pothole. Vocalist, Harry Nott, screams into his microphone like a starving man with a plate of chicken wings in front of him… There’s more to come from these South Londoners, yet this is an electrifying debut record.”

Genre: Hardcore/Death metal

Country: England

Released: 23/06/2023

Label: Church Road Records

Read the original SBR review of It All Returns to Nothing here.

15. Autarkh – Emergent

What we said at the time: “Throughout it all, you wonder if Autarkh have realised the sound that Gojira threatened – but failed – to unleash on their last two records. Aggression and melody co-exist with drop-tuned guitars and mutate into slabs of noise that thrive on sharp edges and progressive layering… They now refer to themselves as “contemporary metal adventurers”, but Autarkh are in clear prog metal territory here.”

Genre: Progressive extreme metal

Country: Netherlands

Released: 10/11/2023

Label: Season of Mist

Read the original SBR review of Emergent here.

14. Orbit Culture – Descent

What we said at the time: “Clearly, the Swedes decided that they should let the chunky guitar riffs be the focus of their musical rituals on this record… The fact that Orbit Culture can envisage a heavy metal thunderdome where Metallica, Gojira and Fear Factory co-exist like a triumvirate of judges opening a bloodsport event is testament to their confidence.”

Genre: Melodic death metal

Country: Sweden

Released: 18/08/2023

Label: Seek & Strike

Read the original SBR review of Descent here.

13. Trounce – The Seven Crowns

What we said at the time: “The fact that this art-school veneration of noise and unhinged aggression revels in monstrous low-guitar tunings is almost as surprising as the absence of screaming vocals… You can see how Trounce could become a black metal equivalent to what Voivod did to thrash metal when they took it apart and rebuilt it as an astral audio experience.”

Genre: Avant-garde extreme metal

Country: Switzerland

Released: 20/10/2023

Label: Hummus Records

Read the original SBR review of The Seven Crowns here.

12. End – The Sin of Human Frailty

What we said at the time: “You cannot remove your headphones at any point during these thirty-one minutes of carnage. At times, you’ll need to put yourself in the shoes of a shell-shocked soldier from the First World War… Their brand of down-tuned mathcore is the type of noise terrorism the metal world needs right now. Those that perish during the band’s audio assault will be in no fit state for an autopsy.”

Genre: Mathcore

Country: USA

Released: 27/10/2023

Label: Closed Casket Activities

Read the original review of The Sin of Human Frailty here.

11. Cattle Decapitation – Terrasite

What we said at the time: “Cattle Decapitation know their time is now. They have the confidence to end Terrasite with a ten-minute death metal opera (‘Just Another Body’) built on enchanting pianos and crowned in the triumph of a misanthropic epiphany. The Sisters of Mercy-esque climax will leave you in awe… We waited to see if the San Diego quintet could produce their fourth classic in a row, and they do not disappoint.”

Genre: Death metal

Country: USA

Released: 12/05/2023

Label: Metal Blade

Read the original review of Terrasite here.

10. Prong – State of Emergency

What we said at the time: “They emerged from hardcore, flirted with alternative rock, put their own spin on Anthrax, rewrote the manual for industrial metal, and never forgot their love of post-punk. You can hear all these innovations in this album… Tommy Victor is the unsung hero of metal, and State of Emergency is his way of reminding us that his band have always been ahead of their time.”

Genre: Thrash/Groove metal

Country: USA

Released: 06/10/2023

Label: Steamhammer

Read the original review of State of Emergency here.

9. Thy Catafalque – Alföld

What we said at the time: “How many times can Thy Catafalque produce an incredulous reaction in one song? Sometimes, you can hear early Therion in this music; other times you’ll feel like Tamás Kátai has you in a prog metal odyssey with Igorrr at the decks… A vague sense of bewilderment gives way to a dashing overflow of bedazzlement at every turn.”

Genre: Avant-garde metal

Country: Hungary

Released: 16/06/2023

Label: Season of Mist

Read the original review of Alföld here.

8. Urne – A Feast on Sorrow

What we said at the time: “Post-metal rage, thrash metal pizzazz, and sludgy grooves permeate through this LP like toxic smoke… Out go the Black Sabbath and Orange Goblin sounds from their debut, and in come Conjurer and Machine Head. This is a metal record of loss and anguish, of living with loved ones condemned by degenerative diseases to an early exit from the stage of life.”

Genre: Progressive sludge metal

Country: England

Released: 11/08/2023

Label: Candlelight Records

Read the original review of A Feast on Sorrow here.

7. Code Orange – The Above

What we said at the time: “Code Orange exceeded their potential on their 2020 record, and they do the same here. Why be content as the king of a nation when you can be the emperor of the world? They have some way to go, but the top is within view. Does heavy guitar music get more exciting than this?”

Genre: Hardcore/Industrial metalcore

Country: USA

Released: 29/09/2023

Label: Blue Grape Music

Read the original review of The Above here.

6. Ahab – The Coral Tombs

What we said at the time: “The term they use to describe their music might be contrived, but Ahab are right about one thing – they have a unique sound that belongs to them. The Coral Tombs is a magnificent album that leaves you astonished by the quartet’s ability to make doom metal so riveting and addictive. You cannot take your mind off this record during the listening experience, nor can you forget it after the event.”

Genre: Avant-garde doom metal

Country: Germany

Released: 13/01/2023

Label: Napalm Records

Read the original review of The Coral Tombs here.

5. Raum Kingdom – Monarch

What we said at the time: “From day one in 2013, Raum Kingdom wanted to create a soul-crushing sonic experience for the listener, and they don’t abandon this primary objective on opener, ‘Red Admiral’. The delicate amp feedback at the beginning gives way to belching low-end guitars and visceral hardcore screaming within twenty seconds. You know this will be an all-encompassing experience of empathic mental turmoil… Why bother with anti-depressants when you can exercise your demons through the power of music?”

Genre: Sludge metal

Country: Republic of Ireland

Released: 27/01/2023

Label: Argonauta Records

Read the original review of Monarch here.

4. Blindfolded and Led to the Woods – Rejecting Obliteration

What we said at the time: “The most obtuse melodies are always in danger of swerving into a tidal wave of death metal ferocity. Have you heard anything like the chromatic shred patterns of ‘Methlehem’, where the guitars scythe through the mix as the bass, drums and vocals lock into a mesmerising percussive attack?… No band has dared to infuse sorrowful melodies and discordant guitar shapes in such a confident and coherent manner. Avant-garde metal has a new leader.”

Genre: Progressive death metal

Country: New Zealand

Released: 19/05/2023

Label: Prosthetic Records

Read the original review of Rejecting Obliteration here.

3. Tesseract – War of Being

What we said at the time: “Like all prog records, nothing happens in the way you anticipate it…The monumental expedition through the title-track starts with a succession of finger-twisting metal riffs and heroic double-kick grooves in line with the band’s famous technical-minimalist approach. Clearly, the group learned a thing or two from their 2016 tour in support of Gojira, but it’s impossible to compare the up-and-down dynamics with any other artist.”

Genre: Progressive metal

Country: England

Released: 15/09/2023

Label: Kscope

Read the original review of War of Being here.

2. Dawn of Ouroboros – Velvet Incandescence

What we said at the time: “It looked like experimental metal had a new vision in the early 2010s before those that merge atonal black metal with pensive alternative rock attracted the attention of the hipster crowd. Dawn of Ouroboros show… that the two can co-exist with guitars that sear the face and strangle the heart at the same time. Chelsea Murphy’s high-reverb vocal daydreams at the beginning might convince you that you’ve wandered onto a lonely lagoon in search of eco-systems untainted by the presence of man.”

Genre: Blackened progressive metal

Country: USA

Released: 21/04/2023

Label: Prosthetic Records

Read the original review of Velvet Incandescence here.

1. Pupil Slicer – Blossom

What we said at the time: “Pupil Slicer are in that once-in-a-lifetime moment of a band’s career when the status quo of heavy music looks towards them as a barometer for the future… Seldom does an album with so many risks triumph, but Blossom is a rare exception. It’s as heavy as anything you’ll hear all year, yet it swoons with colourful timbres and bristles with an overflow of ideas. Pupil Slicer have elevated mathcore to new levels with this record.”

Genre: Mathcore

Country: England

Released: 02/06/2023

Label: Prosthetic Records

Read the original review of Blossom here.