TOP ALBUMS OV 2023 W/ IRON GODDESS OF MERCY, 365 DAYS OF HORROR, AND JOE THRASHNKILL!

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Do you hear that? It’s the sound of LISTMANIA 2K23 DAY 3 making off with your hard-earned green rectangles. Don’t blame me—this is purely the fault of Iron Goddess of Mercy, 365 Days of Horror, and Joe Thrashnkill! We should all hope to be such sweeties. While we can never be them, we can aim to be more like them by studying their impeccable musical tastes and coating our BC collections with the following selections.

Iron Goddess of Mercy

Yo, fuck 2023 almost as hard as 2022, but we’re still here writing 100-word blurbs on 10 albums that we might not even listen to when the clock strikes 2024. Who cares about longevity or being right in 6 months? In this moment, it seems that the following albums are worthy of note. Thank you to Toilet ov Hell for being Toilet ov Hell. Thanks to all the showrunners and editors and fellow contributors and readers and commenters. All of my love to those who are still flushin’. My apologies to the Reverend Kristin Michael Hayter for the double exclusion.


HircineOld Kings Fall
Fiadh Productions
Illest Joint: “The Wilderness Ablaze”

Permit me this humble transgression: though Old Kings Fall originally released in December 2022, I am including it here for the very simple—the very profound—reason that I finally understand dungeon synth. Or cozy synth. Or comfy synth. Or whatever the fuck you nerds want to call ambient music run through a fuzzy new age filter and then betwinkled with forest sprites and nymphs. I have found such peace in this autumnal oasis, this ageless summoning of all that might caress us as the softest moss holds the tiniest plash of dew on the morning of your sweetest dreams.


WormholeAlmost Human
Seasons of Piss
Illest Joint: “Spine Shatter High-Velocity Impact”

I don’t know how to write anything more about death metal, so I’ll use this space to say that Almost Human, Wormhole’s tech slam earworm beat out Nothingness’s Supraliminal, Olkoth’s At the Eyes of Chaos, Dead and Dripping’s Blackened Cerebral Rifts, Celestial Sanctuary’s Insatiable Thirst for Torment, and Nithing’s Agonal Hymns for this spot on my list. Maybe it’s simply a function of a later-in the-year release date. Maybe it’s how fun (a theme!) it is. Maybe it’s how badly I want a sick Tech Slam tank top. In any case, get your spine absolutely shattered to this space-age bullshit.


boygeniusthe record
Interscope Records
Illest Joint: “Not Strong Enough”

Consider this a love letter to someone who doesn’t deserve receiving one from me. Consider this record as the best thing Julien Baker’s done since Sprained Ankle and the best thing Lucy Dacus or Phoebe Bridgers has ever done. Consider the emotional depths of “Emily I’m Sorry.” Consider the gauzy dreaminess of “True Blue.” Consider the folksy coolness of “Cool About It.” Consider “Not Strong Enough” an anthem for the mess we made of it all. Consider “Satanist” as a Presidents of the United States A-side. Consider one day I might hear this record without falling apart ever so buoyantly.


FiddleheadDeath is Nothing to Us
Run for Cover Records
Illest Joint: “Going to Die”

I know I said Paint It Black released the best hardcore record of 2023, but I don’t know how to exclude anything Pat Flynn does, because I simply don’t know what else to do but hand out every last piece of my heart to anyone who passes me by when I hear him cheer, “So see me on the up and up / I’ll see you on the flip. See me on the up and up / And I’ll see you on the other side ‘cause I don’t wanna die.” Take all of me, for there will always be more.


Serpent of OldEnsemble Under the Dark Sun
Transcending Obscurity Records
Illest Joint: “The Fall”

It might be 2025 until I make sense of the various forked-tongues, icy scales, slithering tails, and sh(r)edded skin of Ensemble Under the Dark Sun, so consider its inclusion here a recognition of something that I don’t yet—and may never—fully understand. The atmosphere is pitch black but your eyes adjust. The dissonance resonates. The chaos relents. The endless riffs come to a halt. I find myself more and more gobsmacked. I find myself less and less befuddled. There’s clarity here; there’s murkiness here. There’s an epiphany here; there’s an enigma here. This is death metal for the ages.


From Overseas & zakèDemain, dès l’aube
Past Inside the Present
Illest Joint: “Across Mountains”

I did not plan to include a Past Inside the Present release, though I usually do, on my year-end list, but I was again swallowed up by “Across Mountains” in the exact same way as when I first heard it during a Bandcamp listening party. Blissfully, unassumingly floating along the delicate Basinski­-esque loops of earlier tracks, I found myself fully submerged in its cresting lightness, its dawning ineffability, its encompassing eclipse of everything outside of it. Within “Across Mountains” is the spirit of the entire collaboration: tomorrow, at dawn, we will rediscover ourselves and each other for a blessed eternity.


MorgengrauSehnen der Finsternis
Schattenpfade
Illest Joint: Something in German

A quick Alta Vista search reveals there are zero English-language reviews of Sehnen der Finsternis, the second album from these Bavarian black metallers. Non-English reviews are scarce, too, and only something like 13 people have ranked it on Rate Your Music. It makes my top-ten for two reasons: (1) Roldy loves it and (2) it strikes me as a perfect introduction to black metal. Have a friend who doesn’t like the genre for otherwise good reasons? Give them this enthralling, familiar, icy, blazing, melodic, romantic, catchy, riff-laden album and watch them convert before your very eyes. Death, indeed, smells sweet.


Dying FetusMake Them Beg for Death
Relapse Records | Review
Illest Joint: “Feast of Ashes”

I spent a lot of time listening to the Dying Fetus discography this Fall, thanks in no small part to some other blog going ranking. However high or low one might eventually rank Make Them Beg for Death in the pantheon of Dying Fetus classics, it’s an unfuckwithable truth, dear reader, that Make Them is an expertly crafted, finely curated, all-phat-no-fat, flat-out slamfest. I almost want to giggle over how fun the record is. But this is no laughing matter; metal is serious business. In the year of Old Dudes Still Releasing Sick Death Metal, Dying Fetus again reigns supreme.


Larry June & The AlchemistThe Great Escape
Empire
Illest Joint: “Summer Reign”

Look, we all know that I love big fat-ass tuba beats and drug dealer rap, but The Great Escape feels like making a batch of psilocybin tea with your best friend and sipping that tea throughout the day as you float together for hours in your parents’ pool on a blissful July afternoon that might feature a little sun, some passing clouds, a few raindrops, some passing sundrops, and not necessarily in that order. The Alchemist is solidified as the one of the best non-DJ Premiere producers ever, and Larry June is solidified as one of the Bay’s very finest.


Fires in the DistanceAir Not Meant for Us
Prosthetic Records | Review
Illest Joint: The whole fucking thing

Permit me this second transgression: I never include albums which I reviewed earlier in the year. Moreover, I never add a score to anything I review. And yet, I did just that for Fires in the Distance and am here talking about it all over again. And so, a third (or a fourth?) transgression: I won’t deign to write a full 100 words. It’s the best. Full stop.

365 Days of Horror


Wazzara Ombreine1.WazzaraOmbreine
Independent

Despite only being a 3 song EP (with one of those songs being a cover of a Swiss folk song from the 1700s) and running under 20 minutes, Wazzara’s Ombreine packs all the emotional and spiritual meaning of an entire full-length. Combining the best of doom, blackgaze, and folk metal, Ombreine is an evocative album that is both tense and moving, heavy yet spectacular. I find myself returning to this album over and over, discovering comfort in Barbara Brawand’s haunting voice, like the ghost of a loved one returning in the stillness of night to offer a comforting lullaby during a nightmare. Ombreine beautiful yet terrifying, like being caught in a rainstorm. You realize how small and fragile you really are, but there is peace in knowing that you are experiencing something incredible. That’s what Wazzara has accomplished with this EP and I thank them for giving me something that transcends simple words and basic emotions. Ombreine is special. I dream…I dream…


Vintersea M Theory Audio2. VinterseaWoven Into Ashes
M-Theory Audio

As I said in my review earlier this year, Arch Enemy wishes they were Vintersea. Woven Into Ashes is a brilliant mixture of blackened progressive metal-meets-melodic death metal. What makes them head and shoulders above the others is their ability to combine unrelenting aggression and harmonious beauty. Songs deftly move from intricate death metal with all the usual harshness one would expect and then turn on a dime to gorgeous, soaring melodies. Major labels like Nuclear Blast, Century Media, and Metal Blade are messing up by not grabbing Vintersea and putting them on their roster. Woven Into Ashes is great from start to finish and in a more just world would be on the AOTY lists from every publication.


Dryad - The Abyssal Plain3. DryadThe Abyssal Plain
Prosthetic Records

Hell. That’s what Dryad’s The Abyssal Plain sounds like. Not one of fire and brimstone and demons poking you with pitchforks. No, The Abyssal Plain is a blackened abyss found in the deepest trenches of the ocean. Each song drags you down further and further until the light of the surface world is only a faint memory. Cavernous screechings, haunting keys, and a raw, unrelenting cacophony of drums, guitar, and bass are your only comfort for your watery oblivion. An unforgiving listen that combines the horror-synth stylings of John Carpenter with the black metal howls of an eldritch horror, The Abyssal Plain is a bad time in the best way possible.


Ne Obliviscaris Exul

4. Ne ObliviscarisExul
Season Of Piss

Ne Obliviscaris is an amazingly talented band. This isn’t news to anyone who has ever listened to them, but it requires repeating. Front their playing to their songwriting, everything is so very impressive and that talent shines on Exul. Everything they do impresses, not just in how the songs sound, but in how everything is put together. Despite having long songs, nothing drags or feels like a waste. Everything has its place, whether it’s incredible violins, gorgeous clean vocals, insanely complex bass. Exul all sounds amazing and takes the listener on a twisting, winding, and ultimately rewarding journey.


Majesties vast reaches unclaimed

5. MajestiesVast Reaches Unclaimed
20 Buck Spin

I have desperately been wanting a melodic death metal revival for years. Bands like Dark Tranquility, Soilwork, and In Flames helped shape my appreciation and love for metal and while other subgenres have had their revivals, melo death has not had that moment. Thankfully, Majesties have come along to remind me of the good old days with Vast Reaches Unclaimed. The album is a compelling and entertaining listen, harkening back to the late ’90s when the Gothenburg sound was thrilling metal fans across the world. Every song Majesties has done is a killer testament to a genre desperate for revitalization. I dare you to listen to Vast Reaches Unclaimed and not headbang like you’re a kid again. Majesties gives me hope that a new crop of melodic death metal is just around the corner.


Dawn Of Oroborous Velvet Incandescence

6. Dawn Of OuroborosVelvet Incandescence
Prosthetic Records

Velvet Incandescence is progressive death metal without pretention. It’s simply great riffs, dynamic vocals, and, ultimately, heart. Dawn Of Ouroboros craft an album that is as heavy as it is emotional. Songs weave and dance through the mind, body, and soul. The heavy parts are touching and the spiritual parts are crushing. Velvet Incandescence is the type of album where you shut your eyes and absorb everything that happens to you. It’s an aggressive meditation that makes you feel, hope, and maybe, even for just a minute, believe. Dawn Of Ouroboros makes me want to breathe, listen, be, and occasionally rip someone’s head off.


Blood Star First Sighting

7. Blood StarFirst Sighting
Shadow Kingdom Records

Blood Star’s First Sighting has one foot in traditional heavy metal and another in rock and roll and it’s awesome. This album could easily fit in with the classic from the 80’s. I can practically hear the crackle of old vinyl and worn-out warbling from an overplayed cassette every time I listen to this album. Simple yet highly effective, First Sighting is a fun metal album that will get you tapping your foot to the driving beat, banging your head to the guitar solos, and pointing to the sky for triumphant sing-alongs. This album makes me want to throw on a leather jacket and battle nuclear vampires in the atomic wastelands. The band may sing “no one wins” but First Sighting is definitely a winner. Trust me.


Tomb Mold 20 Buck Spin

8. Tomb MoldThe Enduring Spirit
20 Buck Spin | Interview

Expanding your sound can always be a risky proposition, especially for a death metal band. You risk alienating your fans and drifting apart as a unit if things get a little too esoteric. Not everyone wants to wear a suit while you bang on synthesizers in a planetarium. Tomb Mold’s The Enduring Spirit avoids the trap while staying true to the band’s death metal sound. Everything is bigger, better, and more impressive on The Enduring Spirit. The talent explodes through the speakers on each song, requiring people to really, truly listen and to absorb everything that they are hearing.


Industrial Puke Born Into The Twisting Rope

9. Industrial PukeBorn Into The Twisting Rope
Suicide Records

Industrial Puke’s Born Into The Twisting Rope is one of 2023’s most overlooked albums. Fast, punchy political songs move in, tear things apart, and get out before you know what hit you. Equal parts death metal and crust punk, the band has something to say and you’d better listen. Born Into The Twisting Rope is chaotic glory, punctuated by the distinctive hell howls of Burst’s Linus Jägerskog. For a genre desperate for truth, Born Into The Twisting Rope is an in-your-face and honest expression of what is going on in the world and what needs to be done.


Violent Life Violent Death Break Burn End

10. Violent Life Violent DeathBreak.Burn.End
Innerstrength Records

Violent Life Violent Death are the Hugo Simpson of heavy music. Too metal for Hardcore Town, too hardcore for Metal Town and that what makes them great. In a year where it feels like a lot of top hardcore bands all just kind of sound the same, Break.Burn.End is a much-needed kick to the teeth. It’s fast, heavy, mean. It also sounds just like Zao, which is never a bad thing. I’m old, tired, and riddled with injuries, but Break.Burn.End makes me want to come out of mosh retirement and bodyslam someone through the merch table.


Honorable MentionsNight Demon, Outergods, Blindfolded And Led To The Woods, Astralborne


Joe Thrashnkill

I came to a realization earlier this year that I needed to recapture my love of music. My working hypothesis was that I had stopped digging deep into repeat listens of cool records, preferring instead to listen to them once or twice and then quickly hurry on to hear something new. This disposable approach to art is not great! To counter my poor listening habits, I downloaded my entire Bandcamp collection onto an iPod and began leaving my phone behind when I walked out the door with headphones. I highly recommend this exercise as a way to rediscover the joy of music that can only come with repeated, focused listening. That being said, I did listen to a bunch of records this year that I thought were pretty siqqq. Here they are in no particular order:

VengeanceSewer Surge
Dying Victim Productions

A bunch of first wave-obsessed black metal scumbags from Poland started a band they called Vengeance (or, “FUKKIN’ VENGEANCE” as they call themselves to helpfully discern their band from other Vengeances) and quickly dropped this insanely hard-driving, vividly ignorant masterpiece. Please listen to “Brain Damage” and “Attack from the Gutter”. They’re not going to like, change your life or anything. They may, in fact, make you dumber, but maybe a surplus of brain cells is slowing you down anyway.


Narrow HeadMoments of Clarity
Run For Cover Records

There’s a vibrant strain of young folks making the kind of killer ’90s college rock that was passé by the time I was in college and Narrow Head may well be at the forefront of this new slacker scene. Moments of Clarity fills me with a dreamy sense of nostalgia as it drifts me along in its fuzzy distortion clouds. RIYL: Bleed, Hum, Torche, ’90s indie rock. Listen to: “Moments of Clarity”


Dead Heat Endless Torment
Tankcrimes

We covered this on the podcast. And now I know, thanks to our listeners, that the instrument at the beginning of “Eyes of the Real” is called a vibraslap. That rules. Anyway, if you like crossover thrash along the lines of Power Trip but with Suicidal Tendencies-esque lead tones you really can’t jam any harder than with Endless Torment.


Crossed Hearts Forced Perspective
Independent

This is not a record that changes the game or shifts the paradigm or any other phrase that dipshits with MBAs like to use. It is, however, a record that rocks hard. If you dig ’80s solo Ozzy or Dokken or any number of other groups that probably kept a gold gravy bowl filled with gleaming white cocaine back in the day, you’ll probably like Crossed Hearts. We covered this on the podcast, but you should listen to “Ruminating” and the rest of it as well.


AgricultureAgriculture
Independent

Lotsa good options for false black metal made by noise musicians that mostly want to sing the praises of nature’s vast and majestic bounty out there but for my money, one of the best false black metal bands made by noise musicians that mostly want to sing the praises of nature’s vast and majestic bounty is Agriculture. We covered this on the podcast, but you should probably listen to Look, Pt 1. Hell, you should probably listen to Look, Pt. 2 as well. And dangit, why not listen to the whole record while you’re at it. Gotta tell ya: I think it’s pretty good.


Tomb MoldThe Enduring Spirit
20 Buck Spin | Interview

I avoided listening to The Enduring Spirit for way too long because I wasn’t immediately hooked by Manor of Infinite Forms and I was annoyed by the hype surrounding the new record. What an insufferably antisocial decision! Why would anyone do that?! That was dumb as hell! The Enduring Spirit is packed full of swingin’ riffs that’ll blow your head clean off. Hands down my favorite death metal record of the year. Listen to: “Will of Whispers”


Poison Ruïn – Harvest
Relapse

Gonna be honest man, when I first heard Poison Ruin I heard the sound of early ’80s punk band Crisis and saw what appeared to be a similar visual aesthetic to Crisis’ later, politically opposite incarnation—Death in June. Fortunately, the band doesn’t seem too concerned with dull-as-shit neofolk or Morrissey-esque rants and, instead, is firmly focused on fuzzy punk that tantalizes the senses with melodies that may or may not exist just under the surface. Listen to “Harvest” and “Resurrection I”


THORN – Evergloom
Transcending Obscurity

You ever watch a video of a guy willingly squishing himself into a hole half the diameter of a basketball inside some goddamn rock formation that looks mostly filled with water? I reckon you could make the case that Evergloom, a record of fully oppressive, claustrophobic death/doom, would make an appropriate soundtrack for this kinda suicidal spelunking. Absolute cave worm musick. Listen to “Xenolith of Slime”


Summer Haze ’99 Inevitable
Fiadh Productions

Every week I do a stupid podcast that inevitably talks about thirty-year failed genre experiments that choke out all new life in metal like kudzu vines with stupid ass face tattoos. It sucks, man. We need to raze the old ways to the ground to make way for the future: pretty blackgaze with overtly pop leanings. Summer Haze ’99 doesn’t much remind me of my own Summer Haze ’99 (far fewer Playstation binges and nü metal) but it’s evocative of another, better forgotten and misbegotten youth—one with soaring, sultry melodies and glistening tremolo riffs. Listen to: “Voy Con Libertad” and “Idle Hands”.


Flesh of the Stars The Glass Garden
Independent

Go back and read my introduction to this list of records. I found myself absorbing so much more of Mercy, Flesh of the Stars 2019 full-length (and one of my favorite records of the year) by jamming it over and over on my iPod this year. This, the final record from Flesh of the Stars, is a slow-moving affair that deserves your attention. I expect that The Glass Garden, a record that creaks and groans, filling the spaces slowly like a settling house, to reward repeated listening far beyond the nonsense of another harried list season. Listen to: “Unseen”

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