Top 2023 Releases

1- Saturnus - The Storm Within

This is easily the finest and most well-composed doom/death metal album released in 2023.  I've always enjoyed Saturnus... only briefly did that relationship slip with Martyre, their most commercial output, but they've always returned back to where they started.  This album is incredibly melodic and memorable, simple yet pure for lack of a better word, and was Prophecy's best release of the year.  That it was an unexpected new start after 11 years of silence also adds no little excitement.

2- Lull - That Place Somewhere

Released in the late days of 2022 but only available in 2023 in the USA, this came out in 2023 as far as I am concerned, take it or leave it!  Lull is my favorite ambient project since discovering it in 1994.  That Place Somewhere is a surprisingly complex work and I am still scratching my head over whether that complexity comes from improvisation and accident, and I'm making this shit up in my head, or intention.  Four tracks of sublime dark ambient like no one else is capable of doing, in any case.

3- Until Death Overtakes Me - Decay Into Irrelevance

I have an on and off relation with Until Death Overtakes Me as some of Stijn's albums strike me as borderline unlistenable, while others hit the mark completely.  This one is his best release, impeccably executed, with a beautiful smooth production and really high quality, just beautiful riff ideas.  This was the funeral doom highlight of 2023 for me.

4- Fragments of Lost Memories - Life Is Fleeting

Not as impressive and consistently enthralling as Divagate, Life Is Fleeting nonetheless has better substance than the majority of other funeral doom released this year, or just doom in general.  His song ideas are diverse and imaginative and are at their core designed to evoke emotion, which he always succeeds in capturing on every track.

5- Katatonia - A Sunset Choir for the Daylight Harvest (Rehearsal 92)

I loathe everything Katatonia has done since the late 90s from Tonight's Decision on, but this is a re-working of a rehearsal that is, in fact, excellent.  It's back when they were writing, not gothic pop rock, but really strong black/death incomparable to any other band.  The original rehearsal is 100 times better than this re-recording, but for the sake of the memory of that excellent rehearsal, which I was listening to repeatedly at the start of the year, I have to include this fragment of a better time.

6- Nattehimmel - Mourningstar 

Unquestionably the best black metal album of 2023 was Nattehimmel's debut featuring the Botteri brothers from In The Woods... who together with James Fogerty left the latter, and good riddance, since the new In The Woods... was awful.  An album this good rarely comes about, with real taste and differentiation between songs, and catchy to the max as it used to be in better days.  A total success.

7- Various Artists - Dark Side of the Sacred Star

I must add this compilation here as it is not only the best compilation released in 2023 (with an actual booklet... and liner notes... and individual band photos) but it contains exclusive material from absolutely classic bands like Kvist (mind-blown that they recorded something new), Dodheimsgard, Thorns and Sigh.  An absolutely great compilation and the bonus disc of 90s rarities is an amazing bonus.

8- Demoncy - Black Star Gnosis 

This is the continuation of Joined In Darkness from 1999!  Little more to say... it was quite a pleasant surprise to see that they went back to that awesome sound, and there is little here to complain about.  I am still listening but, so far, very impressed with this comeback...

9- Astorg - ...And Yet, The River Will Flow

2023 was a bad year for neofolk with only a few albums released of any worth in this genre, but my favorite was Astorg's debut.  This album is excellent, short, but full of emotion and richly complex music and to my taste far surpasses Thurnin, to give a popular example.  This is even better than the new Tenhi, which comes next.

10- Tenhi - Valkama

Looking back, no album that came out this year got me so worked up and excited as the new Tenhi, released 12 years after Saivo, and yet no album on this list has had me more torn in what to think.  On the one hand, it is an artistic achievement, they have not deviated from their sound and are still Tenhi, but on the other, there are long parts to this album that, at present, alienate me and leave me devoid of feeling.  The decision to begin the album with the extremely long and meandering Saattue ... I really don't know what they were thinking.  There are superb moments but at almost 80 minutes (!) it is... exhausting to listen to from start to finish.  My thoughts continue to evolve on this album but at present, in my mind, Valkama is a step down in quality, consistency, and focus from their earlier works.  Go shoot me if you love it.

11- Dimentianon - Chapter VI: Burning Rebirth 

Dimentianon's new album was the best thing released from the USA in 2023 as far as I am concerned, with the band at the peak of their powers.  Each track is different from the other, complex and full of interesting twists.  Read my review for more detail.  So it has to be added here to this list.

12- Ordalie - Mass of Perdition

Ordalie wins a place in this list for the best violent and straightforward black metal of the year, with the track Monotony of the Eternal Void unquestionably the most insane black metal song released in ages.  Drummer Moerkk is simply in his own league, incredible.

13- Sorrow - Death of Sorrow

I was never passionate about Sorrow from New York but remember them well from their debut on Roadrunner back in the early 90s.  Death of Sorrow gets a place on this list for making it back after 31 (!) years and for creating an interesting doom/death album with some unexpected twists thrown in (the last track will make Gen Z'ers drowning in cliches of the modern recycle culture to scratch their heads, guaranteed).  It's also a tight continuation of their earlier sound, though much improved.  A surprisingly good come back album.

14- Mournful Congregation - The Exuviae of Gods - Part II

The second part of this series was a bit of a disappointment from the last which I liked very much, but still... as this is Mournful Congregation, it is already leagues better than much of anything else in the genre!  The re-recording of a track from their 95 demo is the reason to get this.  The other tracks were far less interesting to me but my thoughts are evolving...

15- Ornamentos del Miedo - El cosmos me observa en silencio

The only reason I bring Ornamentos down on this list with this new album is that it sounds so damn similar to his earlier ones.  This is a band who have found a completely unique sound, but, unfortunately, are not able to move it anywhere.  El Cosmos... is a very good effort but is not exciting for repeating the past much, much too closely.  I'm afraid if this keeps up I may have to bail..

16- Deteriorot - The Rebirth

This was quite unexpected as I didn't care at all for early Deteriorot, but the riffs on this album are monstrous and total classic 90s... and the vocals are hilariously over-the-top.  For these reasons this gets a post in the top list despite me being fairly sick and tired of old school death metal these days.

17- Stabbing - Extirpated Mortal Process

Of all of the new "brutal death metal" bands, I think Stabbing are one of my favorites, and not just because of the female vocalist.  Behind the unusual vocalist there is also good quality to their music, a great, enjoyable sound and good artwork.  Little more to ask for in this genre.