James Sweetlove’s Top 20 of 2023


Its been a massive year for music, with more amazing albums coming out than a person can ever hope to listen to. Within this flood of new music James has chosen 20 albums that really stood out to him. So please enjoy this list of top tier music and maybe you’ll find something new that you live too.

Written by James Sweetlove

Thanatomass – Hades

Hades secured its place as an album of the year before I had even finished its first full track. Drawing on Sarcofago’s INRI and Germany’s Katharsis for inspiration, the band create some of the rawest, most evil and primitively produced music ever to exist. The faded, echoed mixing of the vocals, coupled with the muddled, faded unpolished guitar and bass work pair with hypnotic drumming to create a punishing maelstrom of ferocity that offers the listener zero respite or solace.

At The Altar Of The Horned God – Heart Of Silence

Heart of Silence is a groundbreaking album, so much so that it immediately secured my album of the year spot for 2023 thus far. The project combines atmospheric black metal with gothic and ritual ambient elements, the result of which is a moody, haunting offering that at times feels somewhat hypnotic. The balance struck between harsher black metal vocals and the depressive yet epic clean gothic style vocals alone make the album worth your time and that’s without the mind blowing musicianship.

Vastum – Inward To Gethsemane

Seething with rabid energy and oozing occult themes, West Coast heavy weights Vastum return with another album of blackened death metal extremity. As someone who has been a fan of the band for years I am able to say quite confidently that this is one of the best things that they have released since their early works. The album perfectly combines unbridled aggression with dark, depressive/oppressive atmosphere, but still manages to work in just enough subtle underlying groove that you’ll find yourself headbanging along at multiple points throughout each track.

Lalalar – En K​Ö​Tü Iyi Olur

En K​ö​tü Iyi Olur is more than just an album, it is a sonic experience that alters not only the listener’s mind, but their concept of how varied and experimental an album can be. The album’s strong Middle Eastern influences shape its unique sound, energy and essence, further expanding upon its already unique charm. Joining these elements are folk, electronic, psychedelic rock, funk, hip hop and far more. Overall I can’t recommend this album strongly enough, it’s just so good that everyone should listen to it at least once. Regardless of what style of music you enjoy there should be a little something for everyone here.

Zorn – Zorn

Zorn play a perfect blend of black metal, thrash metal and punk, but deliver it with the speed, ferocity and raw unfiltered sound of 80s First Wave black metal. Most importantly they chock their music full to the brim with deliciously monstrous riffs and hooks and raw, wildly shrieked vocals that never let up from start to finish. It kind of feels like a blend of early Voivod, Nunslaughter, Bathory, Midnight and Exodus, all rolled into one incredible package. An AOTY contender right here.

The Gauntlet – Dark Steel and Fire

Do you like dark knights, demons, motorcycles and pure early Bathory worship? Then this is the album for you. Dark Steel and Fire is a perfect homage to First Wave black metal that has limitless replay value. The band manage to perfectly capture everything I love about this style of music but give it a fresh energy and power. You’ll find plenty of killer riffs, killer vocals and great drum work on offer throughout the album.

Khanate – To Be Cruel

Legendary underground menace Khanate return with a brand new offering of auditory abuse, one that caught many of us fans off guard in the best way possible. The band haven’t lost their lust for assaulting their listeners and collectively let all of us have it on To Be Cruel, a fitting title for a life threatening panic attack in auditory form. This is an album that I found to be incredibly powerful, but on a level that my eardrums and psyche couldn’t possibly handle on a regular basis.

Cinder Well – Cadence

Cinder Well present us with a stunning offering of simplistic stripped back, yet highly moving folk. The album capitalizes on its emotive atmosphere and stunning vocal delivery to suck the listener in and connect with something deeply personal within them. Amelia Baker is hands down the star of this show, crooning mournful verses that are equally as moving as they are haunting. There’s a melancholic beauty here that’s hard to explain without actually hearing the music, so give Cadence a spin.

African Head Charge – A Trip To Bolgatanga

If you enjoy music that transcends the boundaries of genre, culture and geography then this is the album for you. It shows that the human experience is universal, and we are all united by elements such as music. The duo traverse complex, varied and ever shifting and evolving sonic landscapes. Some tracks are upbeat and energetic, while others are immersive, mysterious and at times haunting, however all are richly textured and complex. There’s a great fusion of sounds and rhythms that feel both familiar and exotic, as the duo fuse traditional Ghanaian instruments and influences with those of the London electronic scene.

Blackwülf – Thieves and Liars

Blackwülf have given us what I regard as one of the finest offerings of progressive stoner rock/doom metal in 2023. Not only is the album chocked full of killer riffs, captivating vocals and just the right amount of fuzz, but it’s the band’s superior song writing ability that really makes it a home run. They’ve managed to weave together some seriously varied influences and make it feel natural, more so, they’ve made sure that it feels fresh and exciting. If you enjoy fuzz laden metal with an old school influence and a progressive edge, then this album is for you.

Leper Colony – Leper Colony

Transcending Obscurity Records have established themselves as purveyors of great death metal, but they outdid themselves when they released Leper Colony’s self titled album. This is top tier OSDM that would easily be right at home being released in 1991. If you’re a fan of bands like Obituary, Master or Asphyx then you will love this album. Raw yet understandable vocals meet crunchy guitar, killer riffs and just the right amount of underlying groove. Play this loud and often.

Teitan – In Oculus Abyss

Teitan give me exactly what I want from experimental extreme metal In Oculus Abyss. This is bizarre, unhinged black metal that goes place I never saw coming. Dissonant, discordant riffage meets impressively immersive dark atmosphere and wild, crazed vocals to make for a truly exciting listening experience. This is an album where you can really judge a book by its cover, as it gives the listener an equally as uneasy, confused and stimulated feeling.

Mud Spencer – Kliwon

Mud Spencer 'Kliwon' Artwork

The album is a masterclass in how to create spacey, transcendent instrumental psychedelic rock. Honestly there are tracks on this album that will transport you to a different plane of consciousness with their stunning texturing and immersive beauty. The approach taken toward psychedelic music really shows an understanding of the genre and a love for creating it. If you enjoy mind altering music or are looking for something to space out to, I cannot recommend this album enough.

ESOCTRILIHUM – Astraal Constellations of the Majickal Zodiac

With 130 minutes spread over three parts this is a monolithic undertaking, both for the artist and for the listener. However, for those with the fortitude and stamina to complete the journey, you will find top-tier, ground-breaking black metal that tells the gripping tale of of an intergalactic space war between monumental cosmic deities. Each volume presents us with a different mood, combining raw, atmospheric and melodic black metal with synth and piano elements with epic and dramatic results.

Fryktelig Støy – Disappointment

Em Støy presents us with a moving offering of atmospheric black metal, one that expertly builds its foundation on doom and post-metal. The result of this unholy union is an album that is equal parts heavy, depressive, and raw. She uses venomous yet pained shrieked vocals to tell stories of violence and betrayal in the lives of famous female muses. Most importantly she creates a captivating atmosphere that balances depressive elements and the righteous anger to keep you emotionally invested.

Malokarpatan – Vertumnus Caesar

Imagine Rotting Christ but if they used constant Maiden style riffs and worked in Eastern European folk and a tonne of moody, spacy synth elements and you basically have Malokarpatan’s Vertumnus Caesar. The band show some amazing creativity in their song writing and instrumentation and create an amazing atmospheric experience throughout. The This one was a super late discovery for me but the second I heard it, I added to my list.

Cryptworm – Oozing Radioactive Vomition

I hope you enjoy Finnish death metal in the style of Demilich, because Cryptworm’s Oozing Radioactive Vomition takes some amazing inspiration from the style and sound. The band perfectly capture that bizarre kind of groove that shouldn’t work but does and bury it in a layer of filth and slime. The vocals are as strange and guttural as you could ever hope for and the songs are as heavy and harsh as they are catchy and memorable.

Seer – Glimpsing Into Oblivion

Glimpsing Into Oblivion is a journey into unknown realms of fantasy and horror, serving as a soundtrack to a movie that does not exist. A perfect blend of dungeon synth, ambient, gothic and doom metal works with hauntingly melancholic vocals and an expert mastery of minimalism. Be warned that extended listening may cause sadness in the listener. However if you’re like me and actively seek music that elicits an emotional response, then this will definitely be the album for you

BEKOR QILISH – The Flesh Of A New God

If you like your death metal to make you question the boundaries of both genre and reality, then Bekor Qilish is the perfect fit for you. This is mind altering, weirdo extreme metal at its finest, as it casually blends together technical death metal with black metal, dissonant death and prog metal, all with an avant-garde flair. Overall I rank this as one of the best extreme metal releases of 2023 and have secured this band a spot in the “keep an eye on these guys” section of my brain. If you like your music to be objectively strange but utterly captivating then I promise you, this is an album that you shouldn’t miss.

Wolvennest – The Dark Path To The Light

The Belgian psychedelic black metal/ambient act take us on a dark, immersive and at times almost cinematic journey into ancient worlds and spiritual realms. Overall this is one hell of a release and I guarantee that even if it isn’t your thing, at the very least you will find it interesting and engaging. The band do an amazing job of drawing the listener in with immersive atmosphere and thematic imagery, but they keep them there with excellent song-writing and impressive musical ability.

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