The Best Heavy Metal from Q1 2023
Time marches on as always, and 2023 has already provided a bountiful crop of excellent music. In fact, after reviewing the shortlists of picks from our writers, there was an incredibly low amount of overlap! Below, we've collected some top picks for your perusal - and, since the submissions were so varied, I've also included an alphabetic list of our writers' submissions at the end.
I actually had a pretty hard time figuring this out, not because of the quantity of solid releases between January and March of this year, but because of how many quality releases I've heard which are coming out after March. Albums and otherwise I'm looking forward to later this year: DHG, Lunar Chamber, Tenhi, Austere, Kinit Her, Paysage d'Hiver, Saturnus, and more. 2023 is shaping up!
Invisible Oranges' Top Metal Picks for Q1 2023 (Jan-March):
Lamp of Murmuur - Saturnian Bloodstorm
Having spent four years cultivating a devoted underground following, generated a mountain of speculation and counterspeculation, and finally debuted their live incarnation in 2022, Lamp of Murmuur are here to show us their assertive side. Saturnian Bloodstorm is a whirlwind of heavy metal and confidence that cannot wait for you to hear it.
[Read Luke's interview with M. here]
Majesties - Vast Reaches Unclaimed
By design, Majesties' debut album Vast Reaches Unclaimed has a sound firmly rooted in the past. Featuring members of Inexorum, Obsequiae, and Antiverse, the music holds some similarities to those projects, but it mainly takes you back to early 1990s Sweden with furious melodicism via the riffs and ripping brutality on the vocal side. Fans with an appreciation of the Gothenburg scene in Sweden, especially before it was a fixed monolith in heavy metal history, should recognize this primordial and beautiful style of music in its nascent state: one that can still be heard in various forms over 30 years later.
[Read Tom's interview with Majesties here.]
Katatonia - Sky Void of Stars
Thirteen albums over three decades, and Katatonia still has crushing insight into the foundations of suffering. Though they've long since moved on from death/doom to a dark spread of gothic and progressive metal, that fundamental connection to our heartstrings remains secure.
Gel – Only Constant
Though Gel's career may have spiritually peaked after a performance at a Sonic Drive-In, musically speaking Only Constant is a monstrous offering that promises even more chaos to come. The band creates bizarre, wondrous soundscapes and then blitzes through them with a menacing hardcore assault. It's a brutalizing whirlwind at high speeds, and when it slows down we're treated to some excellent weirdness.
[Read Tom Campagna's interview with Gel here.]
Kruelty - Untopia
It's hard to disagree with the thick, meaty diet of d-beats and grisly hardcore-mashed-up-with-death-metal riffs that Kruelty provides. Plus, you really can't top the drum tones here, especially that snare. As any drummer can attest, an unmuted snare drum is a loud, disagreeable motherfucker, and it's rendered in full furious fidelity here.
Spirit Possession - Of the Sign...
Remember in 2023 when we all remembered that the secret ingredient of good black metal is not, in fact, saxophones, but rather a strong foundation in heavy metal songwriting? Spirit Possession do, and on their second album for Profound Lore, Of the Sign…, heavy metal furls itself around the band’s cavernous blackened instincts.
Ulthar - Anthronomicon + Helionomicon
Regardless of your gravitation to fearsome four-minute bangers or byzantine tracks that take up the full side of a record, they're both here. This is the sound of a band that's had time to dial in the sound they want, which makes sense considering Anthronomicon and Helionomicon were born during the pandemic and refined after Ulthar's three members moved out of the Bay Area in different directions in part due to the region's soaring coast of living. Though Ulthar are now a bicoastal band, and its members have had to do more virtual swapping of riffs and ideas, the pace of their creative output has, if anything, sped up.
[Read Luke's dual-review and interview with Ulthar here.]
Liturgy - 93696
Which Liturgy did you come here for: white papers and trap beats, or black metal and staccato digitalism? For perhaps the first time in the band’s output, 93969 feels like a summation of what came before, a maximalist climax to the training montage that began with 2015’s The Ark Work and ran through 2020’s chamber piece Origin of the Alimonies.
Ablösung - Deformität
Well, for a start, this is cheating given it was released in the second half of December; It justifies its inclusion by having been unfairly overlooked amid December’s Big List Energy. The only convincing way to make rawness work in black metal is to make it completely integral to the music it supports. To embed raw in such a way that to alter or polish it becomes equivalent to removing an instrument altogether.
Ablösung understand this, and their debut Deformität uses extreme rawness to convey a sense of place, while obscuring easy access to their music. The Siberian act play lock step, metronomic black metal through a blizzard of distortion and hum that will have your ears squinting to decipher it, and your imagination running wild as to how, when and why this document came to be. The audio equivalent of watching Skinamarink on a Game Boy.
Witch Ripper - The Flight After The Fall
Seattle’s Witch Ripper traffic in 2000s-era hulking, sludgy, proggy stoner metal. Their sophomore full-length The Flight After The Fall is the best record I’ve heard this year (so far). Thanks to brilliant songwriting, expert pacing, and a helluva story with some superb imagery (“Like a broken arrow, steel pushes black / Cold tethered no more, a space devoid of light”), the album builds to an arresting climax and satisfying conclusion with its 16-minute closer, “Everlasting in Retrograde Pts I & II,” like a well-written novel. This is my gold standard for 2023 until proven otherwise.
Ropes Inside a Hole – A Man and His Nature
Ropes inside a Hole released one of this year's gentlest heavy records in January. A Man and His Nature is timeless, melodic post-rock veined with post-metal riffs. Gauzy moments give way to granite edges; ghostly vocals harmonize above. That's not to say the album lacks urgency—tracks like "Others Are Gone. I Don't Care" remain propulsive, buoyed as much by charging riffs as by math-rock guitar and rhythm work. It's an unassuming record that gets under the skin on repeated listens—this Italian six-piece knows how to paint a vivid and introspective picture for the listener not afraid of a little emotion.
Trespasser - ἈΠΟΚΆΛΥΨΙΣ
A scathing assault on some of the crumbling pillars keeping modern capitalism going. To quote a not-yet-published interview by Colin Dempsey (check back next week!), the band "repurposes the urgency often found in hardcore punk into a meaty yet triumphant barrage that’s outgrown their former black metal distinction." Does that count as a spoiler? Point is, this rocks, and our interview next week will dive extremely deep into what makes Trespasser tick.
Top Dungeon Synth Pick for Q1 2023 (Jan-March):
Erang – A Blaze in Time
A career in retrospective. The 11th album from this dungeon synth artist proves to be his most intimate and self reflective moving beyond all expectations. This is not just dungeon synth rather fantasy ambient being used to take stock of the past and evaluate trials and tribulations filled with both joy and sorrow.
Stay up to date on cool dungeon synth happenings with Kaptain Carbon's Dungeon Synth Digest. We're super excited for his upcoming feature on NEDS 2023!
More Writer Submissions - Best of Q1 2023 (Jan-March):
Note: These are all submissions that didn't make the above list. Alphabetically ordered, and you'll even find some non-metal stuff in here.
Anachronism - Meanders
Arnaut Pavle - Transylvanian Glare
Baazlvaat - Incredible World
Caroline Polachek - Desire, I Want To Turn Into You
Celestial Rot - A Chain Around Eternity's Throat
Conjureth - The Parasitic Chambers
Cycle of the Raven Talons - A Medicinal Musical
Danny Brown x JPEGMAFIA - Scaring the Hoes
Enslaved - Heimdal
Fathomage - Autumn's Dawn, Winter's Darkness
Firmament - We Don't Rise We Just Fall
Haxprocess - The Caverns of Duat
Hellripper - Warlocks Grim & Withered Hags
Judiciary - Flesh + Blood
Kringa - All Stillborn Fires, Lick My Heart
Man Must Die - The Pain Behind It All
Mithrandir - Toward the Spires of Dol Guldur
Obituary - Dying of Everything
On the Sun - Drag
Parranoul - After the Night
REZN - Solace
Scáth na Déithe - Virulent Providence
Sigils of Ruin - Demo I
Skratte - Akt II : Des Wolfes Klagen
Superterrestial - The Fathomless Decay
Theophonos - Nightmare Visions
Thy Darkened Shade – Liber Lvcifer II: Mahapralaya
Trǫlláss - All Trolls Are Bastards
Truciciel - Buried Beneath
Zulu – A New Tomorrow
For even more, check out BrooklynVegan's list of favorites from Q1.