I’ve been a shade less consistent with keeping track of every record I’ve listened to over the last year, and even less consistent with writing reviews for records that I like. Going over my notebooks for the previous 12 months, it’s the first time in about ten years where I hadn’t actually complied a definitive list of my listening habits. Something something study, something something, revisiting older records. Nostalgia is brain disease, I’ll admit and one that I definitely became more susceptible to. That is to say, what I’ve collated below for my favourite records of the last year will be entirely vibes based and more so, the only fucking records I can remember. What we’re delivering (and we are using the royal “we” here), is what came to the forefront of this disorganised shit talker’s mind and now you, lucky you, get to read it.
Written by Matt Lynch
Grove Street – The Path To Righteousness
The more I thought about it, the more this record reminded me of Code Orange’s record I Am King. Not in terms of the sounds or the aesthetics but more so what it meant for each band. The third word in their names disappeared into the ether like D.B. Cooper with Code Orange shedding the “Kids”, and Grove Street electing to amputate the “Crew”, and in doing so I feel like it has worked out in favour of what their sound is intended to be. Grove Street have been drumming up a steady series of groove based hardcore bangers for a while now and The Path To Righteousness, is an immaculate example of hardcore kids putting on their Rebook Pumps and high kicking their way across stages. This was probably the record that I was the most excited about all year, and I had put such ridiculously high hopes about it living up to the standard I had set for it. I realised though that this shit was going to rule regardless of what my hopes were, and just to enjoy the hyper active fun. You’ll be headbanging along to this endlessly fun record, and if not heading banging then playing along on your air guitar; if not playing along on your air guitar, you’ll be strutting around feeling like the untouchable heavyweight champ of the world, and if you aren’t strutting around feeling like the untouchable heavyweight champ of the world, you have a shit taste in music and are fucked in the head. Sorry, thems the breaks, kid.
DRAIN – Living Proof
As once proffered by a man wiser than his years, the cream will rise to the top (oh yeah), and for a genre as so deeply saturated as hardcore is, that risen cream is always a refreshing consumption. This isn’t some new-fangled cream, either, when it comes to hardcore. You’d be hard pressed to find a ground breaking approach, a brand-new direction the sound is heading and or revolutionary tactic causing the creamy ascendency. From the opening tracking booting the door down and proceeds to stomp about with reckless abandon post the bouncing intro. Just before this song’s closing breakdown, those death riffs build up the groove perfectly before unleashing the air punching, fist swinging fury. Following that, FTS (KYS) says millie grazie to trash metal as it screams by, flaunting the chugging riffs as it careens off into another ruthless breakdown. When a band like DRAIN boil up from hardcore’s underbelly and into the wider cultural geist, it reminds me why I fell in love with the dumb arse genre in the first place. The pure energy on display biohacks my consciousness into a primal state, the often ‘me against the world’ mentality offers disarmingly pointed reflections while also fanning the ‘misunderstood youth’ mindset of the younger listeners and DRAIN are presented in this way where you’ve got a parasocial relationship with them. It’s not because you’re going out to make your whole life their music, shows, and social media content but they’re the heightened version of your mates you went to shows with. DRAIN are Living Proof of their success. To go back to the philosopher king I referenced earlier, (DRAIN are) the cream of the crop and nobody does it better YEAH.
Lurid Orb – Folded Visions
I may have slackened off with my music listening over the last year but one genre that finally clicked for me, and clicked in a big way to the point it became my most listened too was dungeon synth. I’d always been in peripheral to it, knew the aesthetic, and it’s association with both black metal and TRPGs but this record was definitely a lightbulb moment. Wait no, scratch that. That does not fit the aesthetic at all. This record was the wooden torch being lit in a burnt out, abandoned citadel that illuminated the surprisingly vast cavernous expanse hiding beneath the surface. Lurid Orb have a hauntingly gorgeous approach to dungeon synth, with endless swells of grandeur and an ever growing sense of importance that slips through your fingers just as you’re about to understand what it is trying to convey to you. It’s a frustratingly obfuscated intangible piece of knowledge you’re trying to obtain, some vision that’s lurking in a grimoire written in a language that you can’t quite work out. Folded Visions contains all this and more in a way that full expounds upon every element without becoming a murky mess. I’ve had this on repeat since I started listening to it and the inner workings are still not clear to me. I continually bash my head against the brick wall of German Idealism and their propensity to write in an intentionally opaque way, proving that I’m a stubborn piece of shit, and god dammit, I will unfold this vision if it kills me.
Conservative Military Image – Casual Violence
Each year, I have a record that comes to me through the power of the internet algorithm and then becomes one of my most listened to of that year. 2023’s version of this was Casual Violence, and there was a bit of backwards sleuthing regarding this because I fucking love Grimlock’s immortalisation of Bobby Probert on 24 and so I fell down a rabbit hole of heavy bands writing songs about professional sports players. No you shut up, you dullard. I see you thinking “sportsball”, go fuck yourself. Conservative Military Image had Oliver Khan, and from there I went back to Casual Violence and holy shit, what a record. Its phenomenal. This kind of hardcore punk that boasts massive driving riffs, sing along choruses, and enough seemingly ignorant energy to hype up any sports players before entering in to the playoffs. The balance is perfectly struck to with audio clips peppered in amongst the songs to double down on their meanings, and there is a little bit more substance behind the chest beating antics with Conservative Military Image hitting on some unexpected stuff. A record that will get the blood flowing with reckless abandon but also makes you think a little more than what you’d intended. Shit, what a time this is.
Pizza Death – Reign of the Anticrust
When chatting to Pat from Pizza Death, it seemed like the general consensus for a thrash band all about pizza starts off with “what the fuck?” and ends with either “I love this shit” or “this is the worst shit ever.” Seeing as this ended up on my end of year list, no points for guessing which side of the dived I fall on there, my boyboy. Pizza Death has the toppings of various Melbourne bands and are now two years into a delicious campaign to champion pizza thrash; a campaign in which the gimmick of the band feeds into how good the music is and how good the music is in turn feeds how good the gimmick is. Reign of the Anticrust stuffs 20 tracks of headbanging, fist pumping thrash much like their previous record Slice of Death. On this sophomore release however, the run time is pushed out to a comparatively marathon 27 minutes and this extension allows for all the flavours to be appropriately cooked in and it all melts seamlessly together. Each track begins with a short clip that invariably relates back to Italy’s most renowned export that wasn’t my nooni, and then unleashes sub two minute lashings of pure, intentionally cheesy nonsense, but the nonsense is that good that it stops being cheesy. Either way, the Anticrust reigns supreme and I will continue to worship.
Quest Master – Swords and Circuitry
To further reinforce my love for dungeon synth, I’m going to wax lyrical (spiritual miracle in a swimming pool) about this Quest Master record. I’ve really heard nothing like it in the genre, and it entirely took my off guard. Swords and Circuitry is such an apt name for this release too because while it maintains aesthetic of crawling from a crypt with the drawn out pads and otherworldly sounds, it adds in this wild sorcery and Mage: The Ascension level of technology into the mix. Sonically, I feel like it aligns with a lot of Kraftwerk’s The Man-Machine era because punctuating these gorgeous and ethereal melodies, there’s, without fail, these industrial sized percussive sounds that hammer and smash away in the background. It feels like someone is trying to harvest raw, unyielding magic through the means of industrialisation and this constant fighting between the two parts of it just make for this utterly bizarre and insanely reward listen. It does sound like I’m still trying to wrap my head around exactly what this record is, and in some ways, that’s true but man, I’m enamoured beyond belief.
Pustilence – Beliefs of Dead Stargazers and Soothsayers
Fuck me Brisbane can put out some truly heinous cosmic death metal sometimes and the more that I revisited this Pustilence record through the year, the more I loved it. When the album starts to unfurl itself like those Papua New Guinean flowers that stink of rotting flesh, its ultimately repulsive nature is what draws you in. A member stronger, a full release now in the world, the horsemen are here to spread Pustilence and make that intent and horrific appeal clear. A lot of this record reminded me of fellow Brisbane cosmic death metal crew, and probably one of the first heavy bands King James Sweetlove and I bonded over Portal. I find out a few days after the release of this record, that Portal’s Aphotic Mote was involved in the summoning process. Turns out I’ve got good ears. The ever winding, ever evolving, from-another-place death metal swarms as it pleases but never loses us along the way. It also refuses to be seen as self-indulgent or navel gazing, which can find with some of these more expansive death metal records. However, it all is aimed, directed, and focused in one direction, it just allows for these utterly mental and thoroughly engaging little tangents.
The Gauntlet – Dark Steel and Fire
Genuinely, I think this record would have made my Top 10 on the album cover alone. Much like I mentioned with Pizza Death earlier on in the list, I had the positive “what the fuck” reaction when I saw this fall in my inbox from King James Sweetlove and it just got so much god damn better as soon as I hit play. It is the best example of a Ronseals all year, which is basically something doing exactly what it says its going to on the tin; Dark Steel and Fire has lit the beacons high atop the mountain peaks and unleashed a horde a buzzsaw, face melting riffs, super aggressive vocals, and just a shitload of fun. I love the fact they kept the production and the presentation on the rawer side of things because this kind of noise making is best presented in a way that makes it seem like it’s been cobbled together in a hurry, on a shoe-string budget, and them pumped out into the world before the fleeting ideas of the band have burned up in their own churning mind. Sure, a lot of these ideas where already touched on during the first way of black metal but sometimes when the tribute is so lovingly crafted and done with such gleeful earnest, you can’t help but love it. You also cant tell me that The Gauntlet didn’t have the best fucking time ever writing and playing this record where at the end of tracking they sat back and laughed at how cool it sounds and how much they were enjoying themselves. Sometimes, that giddy glee can be heard in records like this and I love it so dearly.
Pain of Truth – Not Through Blood
If you took away all the guest artists who cropped up on this most recent Pain of Truth record, it would still be one of the best hardcore releases to come out in the year of our lord 2023. However, if you take it as a whole, the guest artists on every single track truly elevate it to elite status. Hardcore, as I’ve said through countless reviews and on endless interviews, is the most communal dude genre that I’ve ever come across and Not Through Blood is the best example I’ve heard in fucking years of that sometimes corny but always positive sense of brotherhood this fucked genre creates. The riffs themselves are massive, coming right out of the Judge school of throwdowns with huge bouncing energy launches bodies upon bodies off the stage while war time jargon is barked with an ever present ferocity but again, its this “us against the world” mentality that ties this whole release together. You could spend months listening to records by Pain of Truth and each of their individual compadres who show up here but you won’t get anything as wholly focused and seamlessly executed as this, I promise you that.
Ghost – Phantomime
Anyone who knows me knows that I’m what you would call a BSB or ‘Big Special Boy’. As such I don’t normally like music that other people consider to be fun or enjoyable, because my superior intellect requires something of greater substance to be truly stimulated. Now I’ve seen this band called Scooby Doo metal and I get it, I really do, but once you’re able to look passed that you find some really killer music. I mean I think the spooky occult elements are great, sometimes they can be a little scary, I mean this is PRETTY spooky stuff here, but for those who can handle that kind of stuff, I think you will be pleasantly surprised. At times the band can be a little heavy for my taste, but I can get passed that thanks to those sweet, soothing vocal harmonies, I just can’t get enough of that. I also love the fact that every single song sounds exactly the same, so I never have to worry about what comes next. This is yet another album that has me a little teary eyed as I imagine taking my future son to his first Ghost concert and buying him his first $150 branded clockwork varsity jacket. Granted that would require me to step away from my Funko POP! collection and meet the right person, but until then at least I have my Papa Emeritus and Nameless Ghouls Pops to keep me company. Now if you’ll excuse my I plan to give this album another spin before I settle in for the night and watch some Euphoria.