SBR Top 7 Guitarists of 2023

You can chug it, stroke it, shred it, pick it, thrash it and use it to speak to other instruments. We are, of course, talking about man’s greatest extension of his anatomy – the electric guitar. Loved by Freudians, virtuoso musicians and even incels, the guitar is gender-blind and always challenging the next generation to reinvent its sound and purpose. Whether you see it as a scientific study, a prop to make you look cool, or an axe to grind, this string instrument continues to capture the imagination of those that use it to express the colours and sounds of the mind.

This year saw some of the dominant names of the 2010s return with their first albums of the decade. The most famous metal guitar duo of all time also resurfaced in 2023 with a new Metallica record, and Pantera reformed with Zakk Wylde as their new six-stinger. Legends like Andreas Kisser (Sepultura) announced their effective retirement in 2024, but does this mean we’ve seen the last of him?

These are our Top 7 guitarists of 2023…

7. Scott Fairfax (Memoriam)

Memoriam started life as a post-Bolt Thrower custodian, but they’re now as vital as their predecessor band. Much of this success must be attributed to their axeman, Scott Fairfax. A Brummie by nature and an automotive painter by trade, the guitarist now runs a riff factory in the West Midlands, producing some of the finest tremolo patterns and crunchy rhythms you’ll hear in the twenty-first century. There’s a reason why Memoriam released five albums in the last seven years. Fairfax’s productivity and quality go hand-in-hand and show no signs of decline on the quartet’s latest record.

Read the original SBR review of Rise to Power by Memoriam here.

6. Mark Holcomb (Periphery)

No list of accolades is complete without a member of Periphery, especially in the year of a new album. The question is which one of the three axemen to choose. As the most metal, the most unsettled by a scandal (he missed the band’s 2019 tour due to an adulterous affair), and the most inventive lead player in the triumvirate, we nominate Mark Holcomb for his sizzling rip through the fretboard on ‘Everything is Fine!”. It might be as puzzling as a Rubik’s cube with more slides than a water theme park, but it bears his imprints in all its unorthodox glory. It goes without saying that the new Periphery album is another guitar masterpiece for the drooling faithful.

Read the original SBR review of Periphery V: Djent is Not a Genre by Periphery here.

5. Jesse Heikkinen (The Abbey/Henget)

Finnish guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter, Jesse Heikkinen, produced not one – but two – stellar albums in 2023. Both released via Season of Mist, The Abbey’s debut enthralled us with its colourful doom metal and ghoulish pop. His avant-garde black metal project, Henget, confirmed his talent for song arrangements, but his fretboard action did not go unnoticed, either. As one of the most versatile players in modern metal with a love of strange distorted chords and rapid plectrum movements, he will be in the spotlight again in 2024 with the release of the new Iterum Nata album.

Read the original SBR review of Word of Sin by The Abbey here and Beyond North Star by Henget here.

4. Stuart Henley-Minchington (Blindfolded and Led to the Woods)

Nobody is sure what to call the music of BALTTW these days, but chaos reigns supreme in their guitar approach. The technical math-grind puzzle at the heart of their sound comes from the dexterous fingers of Stuart Henley-Minchington, who confessed that even he cannot transcribe the theory behind his chord choices. His experimentation with shoegaze textures on the group’s latest LP adds another dimension to the notorious brutality of their sound. Death metal’s evolution could reside in the hands of this band.

Watch our Behind the Album interview with Stuart here.

3. Marc Okubo (Veil of Maya)

Nobody executes the stab of the guitar strings like Marc Okubo, and few can squeeze the type of fills in between these bursts of violence like the Chicago native. A Veil of Maya song is like a Gameboy with a cracked screen and a faulty memory card. You never know what’s coming next in the pandemonium of excitement, but you can guarantee it demands a prodigious ear for polyrhythms and a seven-string embroidery beyond the minds of most guitarists. Is it tech death, djent, or a strange metallic dubstep that comes from his amps? You can buy his custom Kiesel guitars and see if they provide a clearer answer.

Read the original SBR review of m]other by Veil of Maya here.

2. Justin McKinney (The Zenith Passage)

He didn’t come from nowhere. But as a contemporary of Scott Carstairs (Fallujah) and Andrew Virueta (Interloper) and a former shredder in The Faceless, 2023 is the year Justin McKinney announced himself as an elite guitarist in the metal scene. He relaunched The Zenith Passage and secured a deal with Metal Blade Records in the process. Few artists get a second chance at greatness, but McKinney’s rhythmic brilliance, masterful brutality, and tasty lead work earned rave reviews from the likes of Misha Mansoor (Periphery) as a new watershed in progressive tech death music. This is a man who commands the stage as well as he stretches his fingers for the most impossible of scale runs.

Read the original SBR review of Datalysium by The Zenith Passage here.

1. Ol Drake (Evile)

England’s most important thrash band of the twenty-first century looked to have had their day when they returned in 2021. But they came back with a new vigour this year, thanks to Ol Drake’s sensational transformation as lead vocalist and visionary of a leaner, meaner, and mid-tempo metal outfit. Their new record has as many iconic riffs as a Dave Mustaine retrospective and abundant grooves to match the hand of Robb Flynn. We thought it would be impossible to replace his brother as the frontman of the band, but Ol Drake’s maturity as a songwriter is just as impressive as his commanding new voice. This man mastered his instrument years ago, but his dynamite guitar rhythms will always define him.

Read the original SBR review of The Unknown by Evile here.

The Best Five Guitar Duos of 2023

Let’s not forget the finest guitar duos of 2023 that are indistinguishable from each other and cannot be separated for the purposes of individual accolades…

Ross Wilson & Dave Hill (Akilla)

Lisa Voisard & Manu Le Bé (Anachronism)

Josh Elmore & Belisario Dimuzio (Cattle Decapitation)

Charlie Griffiths & Richard Henshall (Haken)

Acle Kahney & James Monteith (Tesseract)