Eventually this list is really going to be insane. But for now it’s manageable. Mostly. And we know we have control over it but something just clicks when the number of titles in the list is the same as the year, ya know? But anyway! We start a draft of this list essentially the moment we start getting promos for the next year… Actually, scratch that. The moment we get a promo that really resonates so by the end of the year, if the music world is doing its’ job then our list is pretty long which makes our job even harder and 2023 was no different.
As always, we find ways to cheat where we can (Read: “Honorable Mentions”) so the list always ends up being waaaaaay longer than what was initially agreed upon (Agreed upon by who???) hence the rather large Spotify playlist at the end of all this. But all in all, we think it’s pretty representative of what really mattered to us in 2023 so without further adieu, let’s go:
In terms of mainstays, Metallica returned following a new single dropped late last year with 72 Seasons in April which was a definite highlight in the modern era from the Thrash legends with fellow guitar-driven Rawk Gods Extreme showing that absence truly makes the heart grow fonder with their first record in nearly 15 years. In other veteran news, Ladytron started 2023 right with their brand of lush Electro Pop on Time’s Arrow, H.I.M.’s Ville Vallo unveiled a solo effort while both Filter and VNV Nation unleashed Industrial/Electro-fueled new records that added to their musical legacy.
As for upstarts, Wargasm UK came to play with their brand of musical Venom as the remnants of Ill Nino returned in Lions at the Gate. Roseneath and Tombstones In The Eyes delivered some ’90’s-tinged Alternative bangers of their own, Dozer and High Priest brought the epic Desert Rawk in ’23, and 3TEETH made a triumphant return with the diverse Endex. Elswhere, NAUT dropped some gorgeous Goth Rawk, Somnuri reveled in Soundgarden covers and a loud record of their own, Tomorrowish entered the fray with an eclectic fusion of sounds, and Hinayana crushed with their latest Melodic Death masterpiece. And we absolutely LOVED the latest from Fellahin Fall but it just got inched out of our main list at the last minute… speaking of, here’s the rest (Reviews included in the header where applicable):
23. The Lion’s Daughter, Bath House: This tends to be a usual excuse for us but the only reason the latest from The Lion’s Daughter is so high up the list is because we only just learned of its’ existence. Even though it had been out since late October. Oops? Regardless, we belatedly reviewed it and loved every moment of the shrreddy version of the Terrifier 2 soundtrack that TLD lays down on their latest (Read: Heavy + Horrorful).
22. Poison Ruin, Harvest (Relapse Records): This record is top notch. We were enamored with the singles that preceded it and then absolutely gaga when put into context with the rest of the lo-fi, fuzzed out Indie Post-whatever of Harvest.
21. Grave Pleasures, Plagueboys (Century Media): The embers of Beastmilk still remain with Grave Pleasures’ 3rd full-length really diving in and embracing that Post-Punk position that Mat McNerney’s former outfit stood for with singles like “Society Of Spectres” and “Heart Like A Slaughterhouse” just barely representing what the rest of Plagueboys has in store.
20. Electric Six, Turquoise (Metropolis Records): This was an on again/off again addition to this list as we dug the hell out of it but when it came to crunch time weren’t sure if we could fit in and then listened through, hit album ender “The Wheel Finds a Way”, and almost hit ourselves in the face for even thinking that this didn’t deserve a spot on here. Yes, we know “Mature” and “Electric Six” don’t necessarily go hand in hand but that’s kinda what Turquoise is and it’s easily one of our most favorite E6 releases since their initial few.
19. Project 86, OMNI Pt.1: As we type this recap of Project 86’s penultimate release we realize that we’re barely a month away from the actual end when OMNI Pt.2 releases in January. That said, we can’t think of a better start to the P86 conclusion with this blistering, multi-faceted aural assault!
18. Blackbraid, Blackbraid II: We don’t remember where we actually found out about this one but holy hell we thank whatever dark lords opened our ears to this majestic Black Metal beauty of an album (It might’ve been Revolver now that we think about it). “The Wolf That Guides the Hunters Hand” alone is worth the price of admission but really, all of the record owns and it’s a must have for any fan who likes their Heavy with a capital “H”.
17. The Hives, The Death of Randy Fitzsimmons (Disque Hives): Easily our most favorite record from the Swedish quintet since 2004’s Tyrannosaurus Hives, the latest from The Hives is a rambunctious return to form that also manages to give fans plenty of sonic twists and turns along the way.
16. REZN, Solace/REZN & Vinnum Sabbathi, Silent Future (Blues Funeral Recordings): The band that we managed to miss several times when they popped into the Boston area but never managed to miss typing about, REZN had a phenomenal year that began with the release of their latest full-length and was followed by a killer collaborative record with Vinnum Sabbathi that had airs of the almighty Old Man Gloom running through the worldly transcendent heaviness of it all.
15. Ohhms, Rot (Church Road Records): This is one of those albums where some songs are played WAAAAAYYYY more than others. And that’s okay! Luckily, the whole of Rot is astounding but tracks like “Eaten Alive” and “The Mephisto Waltz” pulled us in early on and we never really forgot that impact (And neither did our year end playlists apparently).
14. Katatonia, Sky Void Of Stars (Napalm Records): Through the years, Katatonia has been hit or miss for us. Not that they’ve ever really put out anything even remotely mediocre just not everything really caught our attention. Thier 12th release, however, caught our ears BIG TIME! From “Austerity” and “Colossal Shade” through “Birds”, “Author”, and more there’s just something magical about this magnum Gothic Metal opus.
13. Codeseven, Go Let It In (Equal Vision Records)/CLSM, Infinity Shit: Two bands that we loved who put out fantastic career ending albums mounted surprise comebacks in 2023 so we figured it was best to pair them here. First, as CLSM, Coliseum dropped Infinity Shit out of nowhere in November. Like, out of nowhere! And it is FIERCE! Following vocalist/guitarist Ryan Patterson’s more Post-Rawk stuff in FOTOCRIME which spiraled out of Coliseum’s swan song in Anxiety’s Kiss, IS just came correct with the old school “Black Magic Punks” vibes and we are here for it! Then there’s Codeseven who had been playing the occasional show since their end in 2005 but then came back in full with a new album in December which continues the story from Dancing Echoes/Dead Sounds without missing a beat!
12. Ashnikko, Weedkiller (Parlophone Records): The newest outing from Ashnikko really slapped. Is that what the kids say? Whatever! We can’t quite put our finger on what it was about Weedkiller that resulted in such a high number on our year ender whether it was the visuals that accompanied the songs or the songs themselves but whatever the reason, Ashnikko is here with a new brand of Pop that we are digging the hell out of.
11. Lauren Lakis, A Fiesta And A Hell (Green Witch Recordings): For folks anxiously awaiting Chelsea Wolfe’s new sure-to-be banger we implore you to check out Lauren Lakis who’s got a little less gloom but still all the doom and on LL’s latest, those sounds are at the forefront for a rollicking ride that’s ethereal yet elegant.
10. Til Lindemann, Zunge: Artists who get accused of shitty things will get written off pretty quickly in the RNRF offices regardless of how big a fan we are. We also believe in due process and were pretty elated to know that the Rammstein vocalist, while still a weirdy, had been cleared of any recent wrongdoing so we could go ahead and praise the latest and first proper solo outing from Lindemann following a split with Pain’s Peter Tägtgren which is a little more straight forward in the Dark Industrial vein this time around.
9. Will Haven, VII (Minus Head Records): Let’s be real-Will Haven never disappoints with their releases. That said, their aptly titled seventh full-length, VII, is kind of above and beyond encapsulating all that make the Sacramento outfit one of the leaders in the Heavy scene almost thirty years in. Yes, kids. Thirty! And they keep getting better.
8. Metalocalypse Presents: Dethklok, Dethalbum IV (WaterTower): 2023, the year in which we rediscovered the majesty of Dethklok. This record got played a LOT in the RNRF offices following its’ late summer release. We even missed seeing Peter Gabriel to behold Brandon Small and company live because who needs “Sledgehammer” live when there’s a chance to catch “I Ejaculate Fire” in person???
7. Duran Duran, Danse Macabre (BMG/Tape Modern): This thing was on REPEAT the week it came out! We were also psyched at the affirmation that DD could still seemingly just pull a record out of thin air and also revisit their roots and do it really, REALLY well. It’s New Wave but Goth and Electro and everything in between. Those looking for that “old school” Duran Duran? Look no further.
6. Queens Of The Stone Age, In Times New Roman… (Matador): We’re big enough fans of QOTSA (And Kyuss which preceded them) to announce that the band’s eighth is probably our most favorite since the debut. And we’ve loved what’s come between but nothing has consistently hit like this one one.
5. A Cause In Distress, In Search Of Spring (Cool Thing Records): It finally arrived! After years of singles, the debut full-length from A Cause In Distress is here and does not disappoint in the slightest. Alongside familiar faces like “Modern Commerce”, “Paraffin”, and “Submission” comes vibrant new auditory stories like “Limbic Smog” and “Slugs In Salt” to fill in the gaps… but let’s be real, there’s no filler when it comes to what A Cause In Distress is producing.
4. Filth Is Eternal, Find Out (MNRK Heavy): Have you ever heard a record and you’re just so immediately blown away that it compels you to go off and buy ALL the variations of that record on vinyl??? Just us? Fun. Anyway! While the songs of Find Out definitely stand out on their own, as a whole the new record from Filth Is Eternal is just an experience and one that we’d be drawn back into for different parts here and there and then have to dive back into the record again to find out where those certain parts were which became a whole thing. Luckily, it helps that all of Find Out barely lasts for 30 minutes meaning we can go back over and over again to relive what enticed us in the first place.
3. HEALTH, RAT WARS (Loma Vista): The minute we heard all of RAT WARS, the 6th from HEALTH, we knew it was not only going to have a place on our year end list but also one that was pretty high up there. We’ve dug all of what’s come from this trio for some time but RW is the first where, all the way through, it’s just made sense to us. Like Pet Shop Boys mixed with The Downward Spiral-era Nine Inch Nails, HEALTH has crafted an electric record that just transcends genres and is far and away their best to date.
2. Cattle Decapitation, Terrasite (Metal Blade Records): We’re late to the CD party by a LOT. We dove into Death Atlas when a promo arrived across our digital desk a few years back and were instantly hooked by not only the brutality but also by the way the band transcended their genre and brought some (Gasp!) harmony and melody to the party. With Terrasite, Cattle Decapitation has done it again bringing new flavor to Death Metal and infusing the genre with new life as songs like “Scourge of the Offspring” and “A Photic Doom” truly bring in new aspects to their brand of sonic destruction.
1. Friendship Commanders, MASS (Trimming The Shield Records): Spotify Wrapped be damned! Also, we listened to a lot of MASS before it was actually out so can’t trust that algorithm since a lot of our listening happened on other devices. Anyway! There’s a reason we talked about Nashville’s FC so much this year and in terms of consistency, the record has no skippers as the kids would say. Do the kids use that term? Regardless, MASS is about MA, was recorded in MA (Oh hai, Kurt Ballou and God City!), and is, ahem, MASS-ive. (Sorry!) The story that Buick Audra tells here with co-hort Jerry Roe providing the percussive pummeling is compelling and a Rawkin’ one at that.