Despite going AWOL for large chunks of the year and not reviewing all of the albums I wanted to, I never stopped listening to new music at any time. And so, by (not so) popular demand, I thought I’d still put together a post detailing my favourite albums of 2023. My usual Top 30 daily countdown is in no way possible, but instead, here’s a rundown of the 30 best albums that the year had to offer my ears, in no particular order, either. If it’s here, it’s fantastic, end of story.
Haken – Fauna
“Haken are a bona fide rarity, a band that are unafraid to try new things, and go in different directions, wherever the inspiration takes them. ‘Fauna’ is yet another example of the magic that these six highly talented gentlemen can create when they come together and write music under the peerless banner of ‘Haken’.” Read the full review here.
Silent Skies – Dormant
“The whole thing is more than just an album containing some nice music – with ‘Dormant’, Silent Skies have gone above and beyond to create a piece of art that I will willingly and eagerly return to time and again for day, weeks, months, and years to come. It is a body of work that fills me with such a sense of wonder, teasing out all kinds of emotional responses along the way. It’s not something you simply listen to, it is an album that you give yourself to, absorb, and allow it to work its magic from the opening note to the last. Have no doubt, you’re in the presence of something truly special here. Silent Skies can do no wrong.” Read the full review here.
Temic – Terror Management Theory
Season Of Mist
The first of a handful of albums that I didn’t review this year (although I may still do so), ‘Terror Management Theory’ is the debut release from brand new progressive metal band Temic, featuring ex-Haken keyboardist Diego Tejeida alongside a host of talented colleagues. And the result is simply stunning – the production, the performances across the board and, crucially, some killer songwriting means that ‘Terror Management Theory’ is one of the very best heavy progressive albums of 2023.
Earthside – Let The Truth Speak
Music Theories Recordings / Mascot Label Group
Those that have been with me for a while will know that I have a real love of Earthside, championing their cause from the very beginning. It pains me, therefore, that my hiatus from writing coincided with the release of their long-awaited sophomore album, ‘Let The Truth Speak’. It has taken some significant time to come to fruition, but it was worth every second of the wait. With a strong cast of guest vocalists to assist, Earthside have outdone themselves with a tour-de-force of intelligent, deep, multi-layered, thought-provoking heavy progressively-fused metal with a rich, opulent symphonic element. There really is no-one out there that does what Earthside do.
Lalu – The Fish Who Wanted To Be King
Although not reviewed, this was the album that accompanied much of my summer. And it was the perfect fit, too, because Vivien Lalu has once again crafted a wonderfully enjoyable slab of progressive rock music, full of great songwriting and loads of warmth. ‘The Fish That Wanted To Be King’ also straddles nostalgia and modernity effortlessly, meaning that it sounds fresh yet familiar all at the same time. And with Damian Wilson behind the microphone, literally singing the telephone directory, you get tongue-in-cheek comedy alongside his uniquely inviting voice. It all adds up to a winning formula for me.
Redemption – I Am The Storm
“…I come back to ‘I Am The Storm’ time and time again, noticing something new each and every time, or appreciating something different. To me, that’s the hallmark of quality, and Redemption demonstrate this quality for the vast majority of the record…Given the high benchmark set by their previous releases, it is hard to say that ‘I Am The Storm’ is their best yet. What I will say is that ‘I Am The Storm’ made me consider this prospect once or twice, meaning that it must be up there with their best. Either way, this is a very welcome addition to their already impressive back catalogue.” Read the full review here.
Insomnium – Anno 1696
Century Media Records
“Without a doubt, this is my favourite album within the Insomnium discography, one that stretches back over eight previous records and the better part of a quarter of a century. I am beguiled, soothed, elated, and generally challenged emotionally by an album that is utterly incredible from start to finish. It is also the album that finally cements Insomnium’s place in my heart – and once there, it takes a hell of a lot to dislodge. But on the evidence of ‘Anno 1696’, I don’t think I ever want them to be dislodged. This album is nothing short of immense.” Read the full review here.
…And Oceans – As In Gardens, So In Tombs
Season Of Mist
“In all honesty, there’s very little that I would seek to change on this record. Aside from the magnificent music itself, ‘As In Gardens, So In Tombs’ also benefits from fabulous cover artwork and a muscular yet clear production that only serves to enhance the end product. Put it this way, if you liked ‘Cosmic World Mother’, you will almost certainly love ‘As In Gardens, So In Tombs’. Put it another way, if you like quality melodic, symphonic black metal to any degree, you will almost certainly love ‘As In Gardens, So In Tombs’.” Read the full review here.
Blood Abscission – I
RecordJet / Independent
“Way before I want it to, ‘I’ come to an end. As such, I do what any sane, rational person would do and I press ‘play’ again and dive headlong back into the music. And each time I do, there’s a moment, a note, a sequence, or a vocal that sends shivers down my spine, confirming that this is an exceptionally special release indeed. If it’s atmospheric black metal that you’re looking for, then stop your hunt and check out Blood Abscission immediately. I only wish there was a physical version to buy, as it’d look damn fine in my CD collection. I can only hope…” Read the full review here.
Crown Lands – Fearless
Spinefarm / Universal Music Canada
“…I want to end this review by simply saying that there are bands out there that, for one reason or another, just click, regardless of their style or genre. And this is one of those bands for me. Crown Lands came into my consciousness by way of a recommendation, and since the first listen, a love affair has begun. So much so, that it’s an album winging its way to me as I type, one that I cannot wait to add to my CD collection. It may not be my usual ‘thing’, but good music is good music, and ‘Fearless’ contains some sensational progressive rock music that is impossible to ignore.” Read the full review here.
Voyager – Fearless In Love
Season Of Mist
“Earlier in the review, I suggested that a particular riff within a particular song was the kind of music for which the ‘repeat’ button was invented. I wish to revise this: ‘Fearless In Love’, as an album, is the kind of record for which the ‘repeat’ button was invented. All of it. Every song. Every minute. I love this band, and I love these guys. I’m so grateful to have them and their spectacular, peerless music in my life.” Read the full review here.
Sorcerer – Reign Of The Reaper
Metal Blade Records
Another album that I was unable to review in 2023, but one that has a very worthy place in this year’s ‘best of’. ‘Reign Of The Reaper’ is everything you want from Sorcerer – doom-laden heavy metal, with melody and more than a hint of NWOBHM about it, not to mention a darker, heavier, more bruising edge than ever before. The more you listen, the better it gets, and the harder it pushes the Swedes’ already hugely impressive discography.
Ring Of Gyges – Metamorphosis
“It has been a while since I have been so blown away by an album, especially from a previously unknown entity. But blown away I truly am. Ring Of Gyges have crafted one of the most exciting, enjoyable, and downright fabulous progressive albums I’ve heard in recent times, and it deserves to bring them success and a much wider audience.” Read the full review here.
Anubis Gate – Interference
No Dust Records
“As I’ve made very clear by now, I love this album. 2023 has already released some genuinely thrilling progressive music, but ‘Interference’ refuses to be left in the shade, instead standing tall and proud alongside everything else that I’ve heard this year. It’ll take a monumentally huge rift in the fabric of reality for Anubis Gate to find their latest creation outside my top ten come the end of the year. If anything, I’m expecting it to be even higher. We shall see. For now, though, do not sleep on this record, for ‘Interference’ is a must-listen for anyone who enjoys quality progressive rock and metal – it’s by far and away my favourite release from the talented Danes of Anubis Gate.” Read the full review here.
Fires In The Distance – Air Not Meant For Us
“‘Air Not Meant For Us’ is insanely good. In fact, it’s magnificent. I’d change nothing about it. Not a single thing. Fires In The Distance have utterly blown me away with this almighty slab of brutally beautiful melodic death/doom metal, so much so that I’ve listened to precious little else since I first pressed play. What an album, what a band. This has my highest possible recommendation.” Read the full review here.
Cattle Decapitation – Terrasite
Metal Blade Records
“…I am very much of the opinion that ‘Terrasite’ might be the best record that Cattle Decapitation have ever released. Given their previous offerings, that’s a bold statement, I grant you. However, there’s something about it, that pulls me towards this conclusion. It’s the way in which the band have managed to pulverise us yet again, whilst also showing us their vulnerabilities and their honest selves in the process. To me, that’s brave, but it has also created a stunning album of extreme metal in the process. What more could you ever want? In my case, nothing. Nothing at all.” Read the full review here.
Fathomage – Autumn’s Dawn, Winter’s Darkness
Northern Silence Productions
“Yes, it might be too long, and yes, it might suffer occasionally in the production stakes, but I adore this album. And, if you like a good slab of atmospheric black metal too, I urge you to check out ‘Autumn’s Dawn, Winter’s Darkness’ by Fathomage as quickly as possible.” Read the full review here.
Pressure Points – The Island
Art Gates Records
“‘The Island’ is ambitious, multi-layered, multi-faceted, and an utter delight from beginning to end. Some songs take a little longer to make their mark, but when everything clicks, it’s fair to say that there isn’t a weak song on the album…it is hard to find much fault with ‘The Island’ at all – if you’re looking for progressive metal with melody, ambition, and a heavier bite, make sure you give Pressure Points your attention, because they thoroughly deserve it.” Read the full review here.
Martin Miller – Maze Of My Mind
“I’ve gone from knowing nothing about Martin Miller to absolutely adoring his music in the space of a couple of weeks. It’s these kinds of discoveries that make what I do so rewarding and so much fun. I never know who I might discover next and be taken on a journey with. I’m so pleased that I stumbled across this album, because it has put an enormous smile on my face. If you are someone who likes progressive music that straddles the worlds of rock and metal, and like the idea of it being laced with pop sensibilities, a touch of nostalgia, and exemplary musicianship, ‘Maze Of Your Mind’ is the album for you.” Read the full review here.
Ne Obliviscaris – Exul
Season Of Mist
“What is without question of any kind is that ‘Exul’ is an utter beast of an album. Every bit as good as their previous works and in some aspects even better, ‘Exul’ is the creation of a band that is at the very top of their game. When they are in full flight, as they are here, they are virtually peerless, leaving many others in their wake and with mouthfuls of dust. If you want to hear some of the best technical progressive extreme metal committed to record, then ‘Exul’ is for you. Ne Obliviscaris are dining at the top table, with no apparent desire to move any time soon. Don’t even think about it, buy this album. Immediately.” Read the full review here.
Katatonia – Sky Void Of Stars
“…as with every other full-length that they have released over their impressive career, it delivers some utterly delightful music along the way that I have once again taken to my heart. I know, 100 per cent, that I will listen to ‘Sky Void Of Stars’ as much as any others in the discography, and derive plenty of enjoyment from the repeated experience. That’s more than enough for me right now, thus justifiably earning the album my seal of approval.” Read the full review here.
Elvenking – Reader Of The Runes – Rapture
“What a surprise, and what a hugely enjoyable one at that. I’m thoroughly embarrassed, and I’m kicking myself for never listening to Elvenking before. But I have finally taken the plunge and have been rewarded handsomely for my belated efforts. Aside from the gruff vocals, and the occasional foray into blastbeat territory, I don’t really hear any real black/death metal intent, but that doesn’t matter, because ‘Reader Of The Runes – Rapture’ is a really excellent slab of melodic power metal, with a folk/pagan element that actually enhances rather than detracts.” Read the full review here.
Kamelot – The Awakening
“I hadn’t quite given up on Kamelot, but to be honest, I wasn’t far off. However, with ‘The Awakening’, I have been pulled willingly back into their warm, symphonic, and majestic embrace. It might be darker in tone, heavier, and occasionally toys with more immediate radio friendly compositions, but for me, the magic is back. The songs are so powerful and strong, the melodies so memorable, the performances so on-point, that it ticks just about every box I could want from a Kamelot record. And it feels like the band are firing on all cylinders, too, adding that important sense of authenticity to proceedings. I’m delighted, and thoroughly pleased to be able to say that this is easily my favourite Kamelot release for a decade or so. Welcome back, Kamelot, I’ve missed you!” Read the full review here.
The Enigma Division – The Enigma Division
“At over an hour in length, I’d normally say that this record is a little too long. But it is difficult to fault on this occasion, because rarely a moment is wasted throughout, and when listening, the experience seems much shorter than it actually is. That should give you the clearest indication yet, as to how much I like this record. Ambitious, memorable, engaging, and dramatic, ‘The Enigma Division’ is a debut release to be savoured, enjoyed, and absolutely not be passed by. I nearly missed it, but now that I know it exists, I’ll be doing my damnedest to ensure that you don’t.” Read the full review here.
Pyramaze – Bloodlines
“…I have to conclude that Pyramaze have done it again and have delivered a fantastic melodic, symphonic power metal record. With consummate performances from every corner of the band, deceptively skilful songwriting, addictive melodies, and an incredibly adept and majestic performance from Terje Harøy, oner of the strongest male vocalists currently in heavy metal, ‘Bloodlines’ is the latest addition to an increasingly high quality discography, further cementing Pyramaze’s reputation as one of the very best bands within their chosen genre. This is marvellous.” Read the full review here.
Fen – Monuments To Absence
Putting this post together, I realised that I had completed my review for this album, but never published it. What an idiot. I’ll look to post it ASAP but, in the meantime, here’s what I wrote: “‘Monuments To Absence’ is easily one of my absolute favourite extreme metal albums of the year. In fact, as I listen for the millionth time, staring at the cover artwork of the CD that sits alongside me, I’m more and more of the opinion that it might be one of my favourite releases of the year, full stop. I have fallen for it massively, and if you like extreme metal that blends black metal and post-metal together, with splashes of doom and power metal, and a healthy injection of memorable melody, I cannot recommend this more highly.”
The Anchoret – It All Began With Loneliness
“…the credit all belongs to The Anchoret. They are the musicians that have come together to create some hugely impressive progressive heavy metal, and they have managed to win me over genuinely. I’m unsure if there will ever be a day when I declare ‘hurrah, it’s a saxophone’, because I still have a hard time enjoying the sounds that this instrument makes. However, when a band creates music of this quality, the personal misgivings recede to the point that they become less and less important, bordering on the irrelevant. Simply put, ‘It All Began With Loneliness’ is an hour-long ride into the realms of high quality, hugely enjoyable, and deeply satisfying progressive metal, and I’d recommend it to anyone who’s prepared to listen.” Read the full review here.
Autrest – Follow The Cold Path
“What I also like about this record, aside from the fact that every single song brings something magical with it, is the fact that the seven songs, which includes a delicate final instrumental (‘The Place Where I Belong’), only last for around 42 minutes. To me, this is a perfect length for an album like this. It isn’t too brief, and you’re not put off by mountains of material that others with the genre are liable to deliver. This record hits you in the gut, tugs at your heartstrings, and then leaves, a mess of a human being left mercilessly in its wake. What’s not to love about that? So come on everybody, join me in checking this out and joining a louder chorus of voices demanding that Matheus Vidor turns this wonderfully emotive album into a tangible product for us to add willingly to our collections.” Read the full review here.
Angus McSix – Angus McSix And The Sword Of Power
“Cheese? What cheese? And anyway, who cares? When the output is this good, this infectious, and this out-and-out committed, I’ll take all the cheese you can throw at me. ‘Angus McSix And The Sword Of Power’ is a fabulously entertaining slab of Euro power metal that I’ve been listening to over and over again. The smile gets wider, the cares of the real world melt away, and I’m left feeling happier, and more energised as a result. Get your lugholes around this brilliant debut release and forget your worries for 45 glorious, ridiculous, minutes.” Read the full review here.
Chronicle – Where Chaos Thrives
“It falls to the title track to close out ‘Where Chaos Thrives’, which is yet another tour-de-force of technicality, dark brutality, bludgeoning heaviness, and well-placed melody. At nearly eight minutes in length, it’s the longest track on the record, but makes use of that extended run-time by exploring different tempos, different textures, and in so doing, finishes the album in rather imperious fashion. In fact, if truth be told, this whole album is rather imperious and it stands in the very upper echelons of all of the technical melodic extreme metal I have heard during 2023 so far, maybe even longer. Do not let this pass you by.” Read the full review here.
And there you have it…I hope you enjoyed my picks. If you didn’t, feel free to let me know – I’m sure you will!
Until 2024…feel free to check out all of the reviews I wrote during 2023: