SBR Top 7 Avant-Garde Metal Albums of 2023

This is the third year we’ve run a celebration of the best avant-garde metal albums. We know your first question is what constitutes avant-garde. In 2022, we gave you a bullet point list to define the criteria. This year, we’re less rigid. Avant-garde is anything experimental with non-traditional elements.

Last year we decided to include post-metal bands in this list. We reverse this decision for 2023 due to the overwhelming amount of quality albums released in this distinctive sub-genre. Traditional forms of metal go through cyclical ups and downs. Our focus will intensify in 2024 on the more experimental forms of heavy music. There are no recognised leaders in the field of avant-garde metal because many of the qualifying artists are doyens of other movements and sub-genres. Some of them could fall under the banner of progressive metal.

Nonetheless, these are the SBR Top 7 Avant-Garde Metal albums of 2023…

7. Orme – Orme

What we said at the time: “This is a record that could succeed as a soundtrack to a fake snuff movie or as the background noise in your head when you have a spare hour for deep introspection. ‘Nazarene’ is forty-one minutes of patient audio meditation with a determination to avoid any semblance of melody. Imagine the extreme distortion that the autistic child sees in every social situation that might require their participation… You must unlearn every instinct you have for filling the silence with something of great presence.”

Country: England

Released: 20/04/2023

Label: Trepanation Recordings

Read the original SBR review here.

6. Grant the Sun – Voyage

What we said at the time: “It’s a pleasure to dissect all eight compositions on Voyage. The lyrics make up less than three stanzas throughout the entire album, but the music is an expressive language of its own. You’ll fail to notice the simple Black Sabbath coating of ‘Seadevil’ amid a whirling lens flare of ethereal melodies. The spindly strings of the down-tuned bass hold the foundations together until they transition to a head-rolling Mastodon riff for the climax. This is how you merge alternative rock, metal, and shoegaze onto the same canvass with clarity and abstraction.”

Country: Norway

Released: 09/06/2023

Label: Mas-Kina Recordings

Read the original SBR review here.

5. Oxx – The Primordial Blues

What we said at the time: “Of course, thirty-eight minutes of mathematical avant-garde metal can be exhausting…The illusion that you can make sense of it on repeat listens is what makes The Primordial Blues such a fascinating record… These are vain pretensions, but it’s a credit to the quality of the music that it produces this belief in you. Who’d have thought that something so complex could be so enjoyable?”

Country: Denmark

Released: 18/08/2023

Label: Nefarious Industries

Read the original SBR review here.

4. Maladie – For We Are the Plague

What we said at the time: “Maladie are too complicated and too distinctive to fit into any category. They could have delivered a fifty-minute album and held back three of the songs here for a future EP, but why stop when you have momentum? For We Are the Plague would be unlistenable for its sheer length alone if a death metal record or a tired piece of atonal black metal. But it’s the complete opposite. Like Edge of Sanity’s classic Crimson album, it incorporates everything across the rock and metal spectrum and draws on the textures of jazz, folk and easy-listening with a mischievous smile.”

Country: Germany

Released: 24/11/2023

Label: Apostasy Records

Read the original SBR review here.

3. Trounce – The Seven Crowns

What we said at the time: “They share some parallels with Akercocke, yet 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. And yet you’re still befuddled when the screeching robotic vocals of ‘Silene’ emerge from an assault of syncopated guitars and fuzzy reverberations that dig into your collar bone. Discordant arpeggio patterns creep through the gaps in the low-end bludgeoning like prisoners burrowing through their walls in the secrecy of night. Perhaps there’s a sense of humour underneath the avant-garde irony.”

Country: Switzerland

Released: 20/10/2023

Label: Hummus Records

Read the original SBR review here.

2. Ahab – The Coral Tombs

What we said at the time: “The biggest mistake you can make is to assume this is a lethargic album for the niche fanbase of funeral doom. If anything, this is progressive metal. Of course, the band want you to breathe the cold ocean air, inhale the frozen water of the icebergs, and detect the wet pungency of giant squids. But you need a novel to create this sense of place. Instead, Daniel Droste’s sinister growl vocals and malevolent drag of the palm-muted guitars heighten your sense of danger. The extended riff passages and high-register guitar melodies sparkle in the darkness of minor key progressions as if you’d asked Radiohead to cover a Mastodon album with Pallbearer as the executive producers.”

Country: Germany

Released: 13/01/2023

Label: Napalm Records

Read the original SBR review here.

1. Thy Catafalque – Alföld

What we said at the time: “A miscegenation of contrasting musical styles is what Tamás Kátai does best. … Thy Catafalque are leaders in the experimental metal field. They have no interest in continuing any legacy but their own, even if the chasm left by Celtic Frost and Edge of Sanity still feels like yesterday. The metal world needs new heroes – let’s start with Tamás Kátai, the man who would rather die in obscurity than take one of the new pedestals beckoning him to glory”

Country: Hungary

Released: 16/06/2023

Label: Season of Mist

Read the original SBR review here.

Honourable mentions