TOP ALBUMS OV 2023 W/ HANS, MEGACHILES, AND EENZAAMHEID!

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LISTMANIA 2K23 DAY 2 M’FLUSHERS! It’s time to pray Bandcamp survives the acquisition support bands releasing great music in the Year of our Bowl 2K23, and also recognize the contributions of gud boiz Hans, Megachiles, and Eenzaamheid—what a bunch of benevolent Bemis brethren! Without further adoo-doo, let us commence!

Hans

Can’t remember a year where there was so much on my list that I never got around to writing about. Proper sad, that. And then there’s two I did talk about but which didn’t feel metal enough for a metal list: the uneasy lethargy of Hand Model drew me in time and again, as did the final Giant Brain album, which had the added bonus of catching me utterly off guard.


10. Sentenced 2 DieParasitic Infection
Maggot Stomp

I’m not gonna say the world would be a better place if all death metal was this easy-going and fun, but I’m not gonna claim I can prove that to be untrue either.


9. Parity BootFast Forward
Black Sunset | Mini Review

These are now basically canon SYL songs to me. And even if you don’t like ’em for that, you gotta admit that those hooks are at least as good as what Cognos did two years ago, so it’s only right that this should also make the list.


8. AnthropophagousAbuse of a Corpse
Independent | Choose your Review

This one was duking it out with Sentenced 2 Die for a while. What gave them the edge was that they put more variety on display and launch into a ripping guitar solo with a “kick it!”. That’s all it takes. It’s a vibes-based economy over here. I make no apologies.


7. AraeThe Mightless One
Independent

Mixing groove metal into otherwise fairly technical death metal is a dangerous game in my opinion, but god damn do these guys pull it off well. The result is a kind of prog death that reminds me a little bit of Swelling Repulsion in how freely it takes from different styles, barely ever creating a dull moment throughout its brisk runtime. I’m not so sure a 7-minute instrumental was necessary, but to be fair, they mostly keep up the pace even there.


6. Victory Over the SunDance You Monster to My Soft Song!
Independent

If you’re at all into avant-garde black metal, check this one out. If you previously found this project too inaccessible, check this one out, too; a lot of sharp corners have been rounded off, and while it’s never quite straightforward, it does feel more inviting than previous efforts. Both the radiant, euphoric beauty and the acerbic aggression are equally astounding, so you’re sure to find something rewarding in here.


5. Dark TennisWimbledoom
Independent | Mini Review

Modern grindcore that adds emotional depth without losing any of the feral brutality of the genre. What’s not to like?

That’s not a rhetorical question. Plead your case and face judgement.


4. No Spill BloodEye of Night
Svart Records | Mini Review

Every year, I want to do a Top 10 backed by science, i.e. take the top 10 albums from my Last.fm account and have that be the list, but it never works. Still, good thing I tried again, because this took top billing, and I had all but forgotten it came out this year. The awesome juxtaposition of stark monochromatic minimalism with technicolor synths had a unique effect on me. Highly recommended for walks at night.


3. FACSStill Life in Decay
Trouble in Mind | Mini Review

Admittedly also not metal, but I enjoyed it too damn much not to put it on here. Expertly crafted, never too artsy, always engaging. Recommended for fans of both noise rock and post-punk.


2. Bacterial HuskAnthropogenic Ruin
Independent

On the surface, a good death metal album. Below the surface, a damn near perfect album. Never a superfluous repetition, always bringing in a little variation or changing things up completely just when I want it to. Still, for all the scientific engineering that must’ve gone into these songs, they sound wonderfully effortless. On top of that, the Ghoulish dual vocals that sound freshly Exhumed at times quickly found their way into my heart.


1. QuasarbornNovo oru​ž​je protiv bola
Independent

Thrash? Power thrash? Prog thrash? Who cares. The hooks, riffs, and overall songwriting are so phenomenal that for about a month, the only other stuff I listened to was ambient music, because no other metal gave me the same rush. Still considering learning Serbian so I can shout along.

Megachiles

This year by replacing 85% of the black metal in my listening rotation with dungeon synth I have become happier, healthier, smarter, and better looking. My wife also makes marginally less fun of me. May your Bowl overfloweth with righteous jams this Listgiving!


Liquid Flesh Dolores
Time to Kill Records

Carcass were my entry point into death metal per se, and their seminal 1991 groovin’ masterpiece Necroticism – Descanting the Insalubrious is the Choice Cut from their discography so far as I’m concerned. And although death metal per se doesn’t quite scratch the same  itch it used to, I’ll be durned that when I slap play on “Tapage Nocturne” by Liquid Flesh and get blasted by taut and locked in dDeath Metal Grooves, with just the right level of filth, and lyrics I can’t understand (not because they’re medical textbook jargon, but because they’re in French), the itch to be scratched, and requisite scratch, remanifest. Suddenly, I’m back in Austin, Texas, stuck in traffic and head banging + stank facing + steering wheel drumming it up to “Incarnated Solvent Abuse” all over again, not a care in the world besides hoping one day I can get off I-35 to take a piss. So get in loser, we’re listening to Liquid Flesh.

FFO: Carcass, Entombed, baguettes, Merlot, taut grooves, guessing what words mean


Botanist Selenotrope
Prophecy Productions | NATURE IS BEAUTIFUL Review

Exultant black metal about actual plants delivered via actual hammered dulcimer. Can’t get more trees ‘n shit than that. Perhaps Otrebor’s odes to the secret and salacious nightlives of angiosperms make you feel like a big beautiful nocturnal carpenter bee, Xylocopa tranquebarica, or maybe a bigger, beautifuler Lesser Long-nosed Bat (Leptonycteris yerbabuenae)! Realistically, it’s more likely to make you feel like one of the 70,000 species of mostly small brown moths flitting under the pale moonlight, but don’t let probability and the sheer biodiversity of the Lepidoptera get you down. Dream big, slap play, and learn all about how Angel’s Trumpet (Brugmansia sp.) is full of nasty tropane alkaloids that will fuck you right up.

FFO: Binomial nomenclature, alkaloids (caffeine!), bees, bats, moths, birds, and more moths, counting how many plant families the ingredients in your meals encompass


Aura Merlin Illuminations
Independent | Dungeon Crawling Review

An ethereal and adventurous dungeon synth album that dabbles in that most forbidden art of “New Age”. Call it Wizard’s Tower Synth if you’d like, I’ll be busy vibing, dawg. As I wrote earlier this year, “The lovely, diverse orchestration mingled with spectral synth pads creates a rich depth that belies Illuminations’ “ambient ” and “winter synth” genre tags.“ Ranging from propulsive (“The Forgotten Dwelling”, “The Doctrine of Signatures”) to enigmatic (“Illuminations”,“Sacred Task of Limner”), Aura Merlin has created a world where mysteries abound, wonders never cease, and magic bristles in the very air. On second thought, my Wizard’s Tower Synth idea is pretty solid. Let’s call it that.

FFO: DIM, Elyvilon, Erang, Aquatic Ambiance/Stickerbrush Symphony, scrying, casting Magic Missile


Hole DwellerWith Dreams of Hereafter
Independent | Dungeon Crawling Review

Crisp as a pint of Barliman’s Ale from the Prancing Pony and as delightfully complex as Neil Peart’s drum fills in “Tom Sawyer”, Hole Dweller’s latest LP is not to be missed. As per my last email review in June, the compositional chops on display will have you “pining for bucolic scenery and a bowl of Longbottom Leaf in no time.” Crystalline pads and ruminative leads lend With Dreams of Hereafter a more pensive and meditative energy than the dreamy atmosphere of its predecessors. Rather than a pipesmoke shrouded, fireside retelling of Jamwine’ adventures, these are our protagonist’s bittersweet reflections on the life and people awaiting his return. Those memories where strength and hope may be found when it is all but lost. Beautiful stuff.

FFO: Remembering the taste of strawberries, Geddy Lee, Howard Shore, Alchemy of Flesh


Atlantean SwordRealmwalker
Independent | Dungeon Crawling Review

A solemn but majestic debut dungeon synth album loaded with old school charm and pulp fantasy sensibility. Despite taking a more measured, mysterious, and almost wintry approach to their doots n’ toots, Atlantean Sword doesn’t get too heavy handed with the lamentations of the drones and pads. No, Realmwalker is woven with intricate Cimmerian melodies worthy of the Enigma of Steel itself. Snowy peaks, cursed magical tomes, and notorious ancient swords abound in this enigmatic Hyborian tale. All with a fitting lo-fi crunch that’ll have you whetting your blades, packing your dungeoneer’s pack, and preparing a backup character sheet (or three) for the coming adventuring day.

FFO: Mortiis, Arcana Liturgia, early Sequestered Keep, Thangorodrim, Escaping the Tree of Woe


Flickers From the FenStoned in Gielinor
Independent

The Cursed Isles must have something in the water, because as with their fellow countrymen Atlantean Sword, Flickers from the Fen have crafted one of the year’s most cinematic and evocative debuts with Stoned in Gielinor. But while their counterparts are firmly within the old-school, synth-heavy domain of dungeon synth, FftF have embraced the showy trappings of the Medieval Ambient bardic college. Stoned in Gielinor is replete with sweeping melodies that masterfully recall an idyllic countryside, the perils of a quest for 10 kobold fingers gone awry, and the feeling of mystery and adventure the world (imaginary or otherwise) once held for you. As with your favorite childhood vidya game overworld theme, you’ll soon find these evocative tunes integral to your psyche and coming to mind unbidden for even the most routine tasks. A reminder that while your world may seem smaller than it once felt, there are still beautiful mysteries and adventures to be found.

FFO:  Harvest Home by Jay Ungar and Molly Mason, the beautiful mystery of peat-accumulating wetlands fed by mineral-rich ground or surface water, having fun doing nerd shit with the buds, Frog & Toad books 


Panopticon The Rime of Memory
Bindrune Records

I haven’t had as much time to sit with this one as others on this list, but it wouldn’t be Listsgiving without one late breaking upset. Also I’m a complete sucker for interview samples discussing the impacts of climate change on Laurentian mixed forest fire ecology in the middle of 16-minute black metal songs. 

The Rime of Memory finds Austin Lunn manifesting all of the terrible power inherent to a climate change-fueled disaster into 70+ minutes of American folk-informed black metal, at once raging and despairing as the world around us burns. Special acknowledgement must be given to Charlie Anderson and Patrick Urban, whose string compositions do an outstanding job cranking the emotional intensity up to 11, especially on the climax of side A, “Cedar Skeletons”. Beyond expressing anger and sorrow on behalf of the little green planet we all share, this is also an album about growing old and the natural cycle of death and birth that humanity, try as we might, can’t escape. This is all to say, this album is so dang heavy and sad, man, but it undeniably deserves your attention. 

So: slap play on The Rime of Memory and then make a trek to your local state/county park or wildlife area. Go find a little piece of Nature to witness, cherish, and be a part of. Maybe even learn and document what wild things call this place home. Answer the call to be a steward and advocate for these places where and when you can. And in the words of Austin Lunn,Don’t let the fire burn out.”


Curta’n WallSiege Ubsessed!
Grime Stone Records

Ever since Joe got me wise to Old Nick back in 2020 I’ve been a dedicated follower of Grime Stone Records. Despite all its silliness, Abysmal Specter’s tongue ‘n cheek black metal projects clearly come from a deep love of the genre that I find downright infectious. However it was only a matter of time until he would release something so outlandish, so simultaneously goofy but sincere, something so undeniably dooty n’ tooty, that it would make even the most devout Grime Stone adherents question whether they had accidentally purchased a Korpiklaani record.

Siege Ubsessed! is that record, but it’s also good. And it’s a full-length at that. A convention-bucking siege engine powered by audacious application of Abysmal Specter’s signature synths and goblin voice (so deemed by my preschooler), a platoon of guest musicians manning the accordion, violin, banjo, saxophone, shawm, hurdy gurdy, bagpipe, tin whistle, and bouzouki, and perhaps most unexpectedly the sonorous clean vocals of one Elvya Dulcimer. It sounds as ridiculous as it looks on paper, yet it somehow all works. A testament to the power of catchy melodies, the accordion, and singing about swords. I guess on further reflection it’s just folk metal without the weird alcoholism and nationalism? In any case don your “Timeless Armor” of “Hounskull” and “Chainmail”, for tonight we ride towards death!


MournboundLegends of the Dragon Forge
Independent | Dungeon Crawling Review

https://mournbound.bandcamp.com/album/legends-of-the-dragon-forge

My top of the heap for dungeon synth this year. Fantasy synthesizer music so anabolic you can hit gym PRs to it. Will thou heed Mournbound’s call to arms and claim the Dragon Forge? Or will thou be forced to leave the Hall, forever branded a Wimp and a Poser?

There’s a doom metal-like weight to Legends of the Dragon Forge. Pads create a molten thrum, at times forming the lament of a choir of dwarven smiths, while the rhythmic striking of hammer and anvil expertly temper and sharpen the grandiose leads. This is powerful feeling music! It’s through this possibly atavistic cadence and heft we can glimpse dungeon synth’s common ancestry with heavy metal writ large. Looking past its black metal progenitors and the rapid proliferation of high fantasy themes in the ’80s. Peering all the way back to the primordial era, when some dudes (that’s “blokes” for our Bri’ish readers) from Birmingham started tuning down, playing slow, and singing about the Devil. Maybe there’s also something cool about “tritones”, or “modes” , or some other cool shit someone with expertise in the deep magics and forbidden lore of “music theory” could glean. Alas, I am not that dude. I’m just here to tell you when the doots are rad, and Mournbound’s are absolutely rad as hell. 

Spin Legends of the Dragon Forge and be welcome in this hall, friend.


Tomb MoldThe Enduring Spirit
20 Buck Spin | Interview

Tomb Mold ascended to the stars a lifetime ago in 2019, and have finally returned with a suspiciously purple logo and art that seems to depict a cyborg orgy. Fear not my cave dwelling brethren, Tomb Mold hasn’t jumped the proverbial giant space swordfish. The Spirit Endures is the same Tomb Mold that gave the world Primoridal Malignancy and Manner of Infinite Forms, it’s just the knotty Finnish sensibilities of those past albums have been cleansed of their filth and detritus by the cold, terrible light of the cosmos (i.e. there are clean leads played in a slightly higher register now).

With their terrestrial visage shed, Tomb Mold’s ever-present alien technicality can now shine through unabated. This slight shift in presentation makes The Spirit Endure feel lighter on its feet than its predecessors, more akin to Cynic and latter-day Death than to Demigod or Nucleus. This lightness is also abetted by more empty space/breathing room in the music. A sensibility perhaps gleaned as much from Derrick Vella’s (guitars/bass) writing for Dream Unending as it was from Payson Power’s (guitars) and Max Klebanoff’s (drums/vocals) technical dream pop side-project, Daydream Plus. Go listen to 4:21 of “Enduring Spirit of Calamity” or 3:50 of “Will Of Whispers” to hear what I mean. Also go listen to Daydream Plus.

The product of these relatively small changes is a highly engaging and dynamic listen. An album at once wistful and defiant as it ponders the inevitable, unknowable end, while endeavoring for solace in existence and experience itself.  A triumphant return, my new favorite Tomb Mold record, and my favorite metal album of the year.

Eenzaamheid

This is a year I started out very high-minded with a google doc to track the best albums started at the beginning of January, and then promptly ignored until July-ish, then ignored again until right now. This year, metal deserved better, but it got me. Sucker. There were some releases I was very hyped for and then let down by (Gridlink), and some releases I wasn’t particularly expecting but was floored by (Fluisteraars), and a whole lot of shit in between.  Enough rambling, enjoy!


10. Fluisteraars – De Kronieken van het Verdwenen Kasteel – I – Harslo/ II – Nergena

You know that old saying,  two EPs make an album? No? Whatever. If you are craving some old-school-yet-fresh black metal, (possibly) recorded in a dungeon, under the influence of pagan spirts (maybe) and/or drugs (probably), look no further. Sure it’s in Dutch but it’s not like you can understand what they’re saying anyway. The force of their playing come across in full: the manic howls, the cavernous drums, and the flute that sounds like it comes from an endless dark corridor straight out of a horror movie. Like most raw black metal, it’s an acquired taste, but if your ears are so attuned, you’re missing out by not spinning these EPs back to back right now.



9. Dryad – The Abyssal Plain
Prosthetic Records | Mini

What are metal fans but extremophiles? In a year where we witnessed several tragedies of the deep, Dryad plumb the depths and arise with something interesting and extraordinary from the blackened crust of the lowest depths.


8. Shitstorm – Only in Dade

As a one-time resident of Broward County, Florida I have spent plenty of time in neighboring Dade County, which contains Miami among other Southeast Florida hellholes. On this record, Shitstorm capture a manic hatred of South Florida that I know all too well. The gaudy vanity, self-important pretense, and callous exploitation and subjugation of fellow humans that comes part-and-parcel with those traits, are all on full display here in the only place they belong: imprisoned in sub-30-second tracks on an absolutely apeshit grindcore screed about the band’s hatred of them.


7. Serpent of OldEnsemble Under the Dark Sun
Transcending Obscurity Records

This is a debut album that makes a statement about the skill Serpent of Old possess. It’s densely layered and dissonant but feels like a composition in a way that most dissonant blackened death metal does not. The atmosphere the band creates is amazingly stifling. Just what I want to hear when I crank up the disso to crank down my brain.


6. Filth is EternalFind Out

A band once named Fucked and Bound invite you to Find Out that they’re not fucking around. This is punch-to-the-gut hardcore punk delivered by the singer with a pissed off yarl that Scott Stapp wishes he could approximate on his best day. Also this album cover is just so fucking cool if I saw it at 14 I might still be trying to make it in music today. This album could have destroyed my life. Fuck yeah.


5. MemorrhageS/T
Big Money CybergrindReview

A Nu-metal pick? In 2023? Am I just a complete hack? Well probably, but the guy behind Memorrhage, also behind Cara Neir and other weirdo-metal bands is definitely not. This album doesn’t try to resurrect or emulate or worship anything. It’s asking underground metal fans in their 30s to reflect on the genre that probably got them into metal before we collectively discarded it to the abyss of “gateway bands”. Maybe some of those juvenile feelings we felt were real and honest. Maybe some of those artists weren’t just total pieces of shit on a power trip (though some definitely were). Maybe some of them made something earnest that can be respected. Memorrhage is all about empathy for our nu-metal past-selves. Also this absolutely fucking rips.


4. Pupil SlicerBlossom
Prosthetic Records | Bump ‘n Grind

It’s really fucking cool to see a band grow into themselves before your eyes. Their last release, Mirrors, was a gnashing debut that established them as mathcore wunderkinds. Blossom is more experimental, not just for the sake of it, but out of genuine curiosity and interest in songwriting. There’re clean vocals that actually go with the songs and electronic elements that are folded in to make a whole that’s greater than the sum of its parts. This is an apt title, because the band has really started to bloom here.


3. Closet WitchChiaroscuro
Zegema Beach Records

This is the most blistering release this year from Zegema Beach Records, a label that basically only does blistering releases of albums on the edge between grindcore and emoviolence. The Midwest kinda fucking sucks, and this band from Iowa is the musical antipode to “midwest emo”. Their feelings are powerful. Their feelings are violent.  They probably go to see American Football carrying switchblades.


2. Horsewhip Consume and Burn
Iodine Recordings

Another banger on the cusp of emo and grindcore, though the sound leans harder into crust and hardcore-adjacent genres. Maybe you’ve heard of the so-cleverly-title Touche Amore album To the Beat of a Dead Horse…? This Horsewhip album would have stuffed that scrawny kid in a locker after gym class before getting detention for smoking cigarettes in the bathroom.


1. HellripperWarlocks Grim & Withered Hags
Peaceville Records | TTT Feature

A magnum opus of speed metal fury, it sounds as fresh today as it might have in 1988. It’s just track-after-track of crossover gold. This album has so many riffs that fuck, I feel like I need a smoke after every listen.


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