TOP ALBUMS OV 2023 W/ SPEAR AND ROLDERATHIS!

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Dumplings, it is LISTMANIA 2K23 DAY 4. Your wallet lies tattered; your body is beset by jackals; your BC wishlist bloats, and your funds are impotent. Me and my bud Spear are here to drag your savings to the block of slaughter with some of our favorite releases of the year.

Spear

I probably say this every year, but damn was it hard picking a top 10 for 2023. I started with 35 albums as contenders for the list this year, and each cut I had to make stung. Fortunately, some of those cuts were because the albums in question made it to other people’s lists (specifically Dawn of OuroborosHellripperMajestiesNightmarerSulphur Aeon, and Tomb Mold). Others simply had to go for logistics.

Unfortunately, there are two other bands I cut for less than ideal reasons that I’m gonna call out right here. Massive Gun had an early banger with their self-titled album, but the use of AI art was an instant disqualification. Don’t fucking do that. The other is Alkaloid; on top of being labelmates with a couple white supremacist acts, Christian Muenzner made the brilliant move of outing himself as a shithead back during the 2020 elections, lauding Trump for “bann[ing] critical race theory.” These guys dropped one of the best prog-death albums ever written this year, and it’s sullied by one of their members not being able to just shut the fuck up. Unless something has changed and the guy’s turned over a new leaf recently, they are de facto disqualified from this prestigious position.

[ADDENDUM: I went back to find the statements in question at the behest of DF, and the post appears to have been deleted. Whether this means he’s retracted those beliefs somewhat or has in fact just learned to shut the fuck up is hard to say, but I’m leaving this as is. –Spear]

Anyway, let’s get to the good shit.


Battlemaster – Greedgripped & Spellspoilt
Independent

Battlemaster riffs continue to make me warlike into 2023. These dudes have got to be some of the most creative in their particular sphere of the metal world; every time you think you’ve got a song pegged, they throw you a curveball Delayed Blast Fireball that takes you completely off guard without slowing the momentum at all. They’ve got a chaotic energy that is entirely singular, and it’s fun as hell.


Blindfolded and Led to the Woods – Rejecting Obliteration
Prosthetic

Another BaLttW release, another slot instantly consumed on my top 10. Every time they put something out, it sounds fresh; I don’t know what it is, but they’re the only band out there who’ve got it. Rejecting Obliteration sees the band continue to push the boundaries of their sound, nightmarish and softly dreamlike in equal measure. Whatever twists it takes, it’s some of the vilest tech death out there, pestilent and caked in sludge. Beautiful and hideous and fantastic.


Convocation – No Dawn for the Caliginous Night
Everlasting Spew | Review

When funeral doom hits, it fucking hits. I don’t know that I’ve got much more to say about this album that I didn’t already bring up in my review, but suffice to say that Convocation impressed me enough to come back for several more listens. Call it recency bias if you want, but I really do believe this is one of the best albums in the genre, and I urge everyone to give it a try if you haven’t already. Even if low-tempo music isn’t your thing, there’s enough motion and layers here for it to not feel slow (or at the very least not boring), and I think you’ll get some enjoyment out of it regardless of your metal leanings.


Dead and Dripping – Blackened Cerebral Rifts
Transcending Obscurity

I’ve been slowly rotting away waiting for a new Disentomb album to drop, but thankfully, Dead and Dripping applied a salve that should stem the tide of gangrene for now. They’re certainly not a one to one copy or anything, but they give off that same sense of towering menace the former band is so good at. It also oozes Cryptopsy and shades of older Gorguts influence, and the whole this is quite icky because of it. Icky is good in my book, and this was a goopy enough album to end up on my top 10 for the year.


Frozen Soul – Glacial Domination
Century Media

Per my contract, I am including one incredibly braindead death metal album on this list, and Frozen Soul handily earned their place this year. This isn’t just caveman death metal; this is caveman death metal that makes you fat. These riffs are slathered in Crisco and garnished with deep-fried pinch harmonics. You jam this once and find your belly and brow protruding in equal measure. These songs breathe through their mouth into the mic on work meetings, wiping away the sweat beading upon their brow despite the chilly atmosphere with their chafed knuckles. Basically it’s flawless, 5/5 toilets, no notes.


Gorod – The Orb
Independent

Them orby bois can really weedle a deedle if you know what I mean, really noodle a fretboard, really put out consistently good and impressive technical death metal if you catch my drift. I don’t know that there’s a band out there that is simultaneously as shreddy and as catchy as Gorod. It feels like it some violation of the natural order that they can do this every goddamn time they put out an album, but somehow, every single song on this is a bop that also makes me want to quit guitar. Eminently groovy and melodic in complement to its fantastic instrumental work, this is pure booty-shaking tech death, a rare breed indeed.


Turbid North – The Decline
Independent

It’s been eighty-four years since Turbid North dropped Eyes Alive, and they came out of nowhere and heaved The Decline into our unprepared laps. This is not an album anyone expected as far as I’m aware- not with regards to its release timing but with its sound. It certainly isn’t a continuation of their previous album, but HOO BOY does that not matter when it’s this heavy. This is about as bleak and hopeless as death metal gets, but the band proves it’s entirely possible to simply jam through the pain. And jam I did; this ended up being my second-most listened-to album this year behind Frozen Soul, which is a hell of a feat given how accessible Glacial Domination is in comparison to this. It’s a damn masterpiece, and you need to listen to it now if you missed it back in January.


Velaraas – Pantheon
Independent

Velaraas hold the record for greatest Spear redemption arc, going from a band I was ambivalent about to not only dropping one of the best tech death albums of the year but retroactively making me like their older stuff more in the span of one album. You take the vocalist from A Novelist and drop him into Vale of Pnath circa II and this is what you get. If nothing I just said makes any sense to you, just trust me when I say this is top-shelf tech and go listen to it right the fuck now. This is riff-worship at some of its finest.


Xoth – Exogalactic
Independent

I don’t know there are many bands out there that can boast about feeling as complete as Xoth; every single moment on this album feels like the band is moving as one, every instrument playing both lead and supporting roles, everything sounding exactly in its place. That unity has spawned Exogalactic, arguably my album of the year even among the rest of these giants. These dudes go so over the top with their melodies and progressions that it loops back around to feeling serious again, like a marriage of tech death and power metal that excises the most grating parts of either genre and keeping only the best parts of each. It is the truest ideation of (non-Swedish style) melodeath, and it’s some of the most fun you can have in metal as a whole as far as I’m concerned. Also, kudos to the band for deciding to remaster the album at the eleventh hour, the final product sounding leagues better than the preview materials. Fuck yeah, Xoth.


The Zenith PassageDatalysium
Metal Blade

They’ve got a riff that goes like, “BUM BRRRT BRRRT bum bum bum BUHNANANA bum bum bum BRRRT BRRRT BRRRRT ANANANA BUM BUM BUM BRRRT BRRRT bum bum bum BUHNANANA bum bum bum BRRRT BRRRT bum bum bum bum bah BWEEOOOOEEE,” and I think that’s just great.

Rolderathis

2023 was another strange year for me—a time of stagnation and uncertainty, full of difficult lessons (and a few glimmers of hope, as a treat). Musically, it was a different story altogether, with a staggering number of solid releases that made selecting a Top 10 feel somewhat arbitrary. I’m not sure if I just listened to more albums (my BC wish list has ballooned in the months I’ve been helping out with This Toilet Tuesday), or if it was a particularly productive year for the genre, but I can only hope to be spoiled like this in future rotations around the Bowl. Thanks to everyone who contributed articles, took part in a Discord shidposting sesh, or swam in our open waters this year. We’d be clogged without you. ~<3 Roldy


BegravementHorrific Illusions Beckon
Independent | Mini

When I say Begravement is hungry, I don’t mean they’re driven to succeed; the gnawing they feel is a curse, sated only through the consumption of new genres. They’re not picky: after tasting death metal’s carcass, they lurched from the graveyard in search of prey. In basements, they drank the blood ov wampyric black metal; in the local VFW, they devoured thrash young and old; in the observatory, they picked clean the bones of prog, and stared with lust into the stars. (There must be so much meat in all that space.) With the release of Horrific Illusions Beckon, a ravening beast has been set free, and no distance can guarantee your safety.


MetasphæraS/T
Independent | Review

In the spirit of splintering music into increasingly obnoxious subgenres, I dub Metasphæra Giger Tech. This nearly perfect organism has much in common with the master’s biomechanical art—an exoskeleton of rigid rhythms protects an underbelly of fretless bass and melody. This is what I call a “Shake and Bake” debut; the individual players were clearly masters of their crafts already, and when placed together, their cohesion came as second nature.

While certainly a showcase of compositional prowess, Metasphæra is determined to make listeners feel something as well. At its most dense, the album mirrors the cramped corridors of the Nostromo with eerie cleans (guitar and vocals) that conjure a sense of predation; of horrors lurking just out of earshot. However, more than just aural terror is needed to carry an hour-long record; thankfully, they know how to have fun as well, be it with a funk infusion or an orbital nuke of a breakdown. To all other tech releases in 2023… you have my sympathies.


Quasarborn Novo oružje protiv bola
Independent

I’m a stubborn bird when it comes to vocals—countless are the solid albums I’ve sidelined due to a cringe-inducing croon or monotonous death growl. Serbia’s Quasarborn almost escaped my talons’ grasp due to a woefully misguided dismissal of Luka Matković’s bombastic singing. Luckily, we have other contributors with taste: I have Hans to thank for guiding me back to Novo oružje protiv bola and its odd concoction of technical thrash, folk melodies, and hermetic grooves.

I’ve always been exceptionally weak at sitting with discomfort (see: my aversion to most disso- bands), but it’s the albums that bring me to the edge of my tolerance that end up burrowing the deepest. With just a few dedicated listens, the band’s hooks (vocal and stainless steel) had ensnared me: with each spin of “Voz”‘s poppy, earworm chorus and “Menja Se”‘s sobering beatdown riffs, I surrendered like a moth to a flame, and wound up finding a new weapon against pain.


The Mosaic WindowPlight of Acceptance
Independent | TTT Feature

First off, I’d like to applaud Andrew Brown for helming the first solo project to release an album under 75 minutes. Restraint and black metal are (Im)mortal enemies, and beyond the runtime, The Mosaic Window keeps the feud alive through its ferocity and eclectic influences. From melodeath pedalpoint riffing (“Spiritual Intoxication”) to timid shoegaze (“Nails of Holy Origin”), Plight of Acceptance collects shards of disparate genres and arranges them in murals of sonic stained glass.

The pictures that emerge are beautiful and horrific in turn. Tracks like the aptly-named “The Haunting that Follows” lodge in memory through a mixture of setpiece surprises (I’ve labeled the sassy cleans in this track “Alucard vox”), heartfelt melodies, and various vocal styles. This is the point where I’d usually whine about programmed drums or the lack of self-awareness endemic to one-person bands, but I have no nits to pick here. There’s a reason Brown’s project was scooped up by Willowtip shortly after the LP’s independent release—I only hope they allow him to continue putting his vision to tape unfettered.


ChorosiaStray Dogs
Grazil Records | TTT Feature

I’m already feathered, so it’s only fitting to add some tar. Sludge is similarly tortuous to me 90% of the time, but Chorosia’s progressive blend of genres stuck in my head like a mastodon at La Brea. Whether channeling a young Ozzy over bluesy doom (“Reflections”) or Bolt Thrower‘s tank-tread death (“The Shrike (Fire Assault))”, the band wanders a great distance in its 35 minutes—without a single misstep into the mire.

An added draw of Stray Dogs is its willingness to journey beyond the nihilism and misanthropy associated with sludge. Sure, there are blastbeats, death growls, and bass bombs low enough to play my ribcage like a marimba, but stirring in anthemic, playful melodies solidified the record as one I can return to often without slipping into a spiral of negativity.


Death File RedInhumanitarian
Independent | TTT Feature

This blurb was going to be about how Death File Red’s music is so grimy, so shrouded in rust, that it can give you tetanus through your external acoustic meatus. However, a quick search online led to a disheartening discovery: rust doesn’t cause tetanus; Clostridium tetani, a common soil bacterium, does. Having learned something, I promptly spun Inhumanitarian, laying waste to each pesky neuron grasping for connection.

This release should’ve given me lockjaw, but I can’t shut up about it: the scab-encrusted HM-2 tones; the tongue-out-of-cheek, start-stop songwriting; the breakdown at the end of “Spear of Ten-Thousand Suns”, during which I can actually feel my brow ridge extending. The fetid finale, “Hosogami”, trades in the EP’s earlier rabidity for a detour into death/doom and infectious grooves; this checks out, given the hōsōgami of Japanese folklore spread smallpox through the countryside. There I go learning again! I know what I’m listening to next.


ProfeciUb​ó​stwo
Godz ov War Productions

Ub​ó​stwo means “poverty” when translated from Polish to English—a fitting title for the desperate, grinding quality of Profeci’s black metal. However, there’s no dearth of ideas in the album’s fleeting runtime: “Jedność wielości’s” haunting intro recalls cabins and struggling meadows, while “Bez niej byłbym niczym” veers into post-rock territory, replete with vocalist Piołun’s most wounded performance.

It’s a testament to the band’s songwriting that Ub​ó​stwo‘s dense, genre-spanning sound conveys emotions so clearly. When “Głód” (“Hunger”) ratchets up the double kick’s tempo, an overwhelming anxiety sets in; a fear, however unwarranted, that one may need to fight for their next meal. This power to transport the audience to unknown climes and circumstances is aided by the record’s clear, unembellished production. Listeners absorb Ub​ó​stwo‘s vision without the murk of ambiguity (and bad mixing)—a harrowing experience, delivered with clarity and without compromise.


Giant BrainGrade A Gray Day
Small Stone Records | Review

Let me begin by saying I no nothing of krautrock. If it weren’t for that pesky Hans, I could be writing about SLABS and HIGHLY ANTICIPATED records; instead, I must grapple with the unexpected: sprawling, instrumental jams that borrow as much from surf- and psychedelic rock as they do doom metal. The focus on repetition in long-form tracks like “Munich” and “Terminator” would normally bore me to tears, but here creates a pleasant hypnosis where I can imagine I’m a cool guy driving a cool car wearing cool songlasses [siqq] in a cool, futuristic city doing cool detective things. This is surely canon for the band.

I’ve never really understood the concept of background music (other than as a passive-aggressive putdown) until Grade A Gray Day; its mix of ambience and chunky grooves reflects both the bustle of urban life, and the joy of leaving it behind for pockets of pristine silence. “Between Trains” ends the album with such a rest: an auditory cigarette by the front door; a despondent self-lullaby; words spoken without much care given to their accuracy or longevity. It makes me think of trains, which makes me think of Hans, which makes me want to visit him again, innit.


Sulphur AeonSeven Crowns and Seven Seals
Ván Records

I’ve always enjoyed the overwrought honorary titles of Egyptian mythology (and games like Diablo II—looking at you, “Stinklord, Pariah of the Unfettered Legion”). When applied to humans, there’s a real risk that the long list is making up for something short, but when uttered by the acolytes in Seven Crowns and Seven Seals, we feel the inevitability of the Outer Gods. Sulphur Aeon’s blackened death had never ensnared me in the past, but with their latest LP, they’ve turned a corner, layering their compositions with a host of maddening melodies.

Before I could surrender to this perverse pantheon, I first had to believe in its power; where past records (and frankly, most Lovecraftian acts) focus on the fear imposed by such alien entities, they miss out on the most frightening aspect of cosmic horror: the confidence, the arrogance of beings of unimaginable might. There’s a celebratory, processional quality to songs like “Usurper of the Earth and Sea” and the title track that speaks of supremacy; of victories won before being fought. It’s all too easy to be swept up in the zealotry of these cultists, as seen by my urge to stomp around my apartment and revel in the futility of Man at least once per listen.


LumskFremmede Toner
Dark Essence Records | Wrote | A few | Words on it

Please don’t make me type another word about this band. Just kidding, I’d love to. It was in the fever dream of my first bout with COVID that I hatched the idea to write an essay comparing the halves of Lumsk’s poetical concept album. Surely my brain was addled—I spent most of July in a haze of research and prog folk metal, ultimately finding what I consider an album worthy of 5/5 Flaming Toilets ov Hell.

Each meticulously constructed track (and reflected companion), each hammer of an e-piano, is captured with a clarity that helped me form a spiritual connection to the record and the ghosts that reside within. I mapped the turmoil of my year onto the mournful ballad “Dagen er Endt”, and Longfellow’s lyrics (sung with arresting beauty by Mari Klingen) kept me company during some of my life’s lowest moments. This isn’t just an album for me; it became a multimedia experience, including a tour of the Longfellow House in Cambridge, MA, that further solidified my love of history and Fremmede Toner.

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