2023 has been solid for metal music on a global level, spanning the spectrum of extreme and melodic. We’re a bit halfway through the year and while we’re excited for what is next to come, it’s refreshing to take a step back and reminisce and celebrate on the best of what has released so far.
Metal Has No Borders has curated the best of the best released this past year, from Japan and Ukraine to Brazil and Saudi Arabia, as well as everything in between.
Enjoy our hand-picked favorite albums 2023 so far below. Enjoy and share which bands you were headbanging to this past year in the comment section!
Babymetal – The Other One
Babymetal Records / Amuse Inc. / 5B Records
Emerging a bit over a decade ago with a truly unique fusion of J-pop with a myriad of metal subgenres, Babymetal‘s left-field black sheep approach to experimental heavy music inevitably faced elitism backlash. Even myself, with such an open mind [sarcastically pats myself on the back], initially struggled to swallow the jagged pill of such culture shock. With further exposure, I found myself fascinated by their bold innovation and undeniable melodies. We now arrive at their fourth full-length, easily the project’s strongest and most consistent effort. The Other One boasts a tracklisting where nearly ever song is single-worthy, brimming with catchiness, headbang dynamics, and of course, a perfect amount of weird factor. The metal community is full of quirky dorks and if you too self-identify as an eccentric individual, you’ll absolutely love this sensational listening experience.
FFO: Poppy, Periphery, Windrunner
Ignea – Dreams of Lands Unseen
As Putin resentment still lingers in the air a year after the despotic invasion, one would assume the righteous aggression of a Ukrainian metal act would thematically point their creative angst towards such tyranny. Instead, Ignea swats the low-hanging fruit branch aside to take the high road, focusing on the tenacity of an overlooked historic individual. From their homeland, travel photographer / reporter Sofia Yablonska traveled the world, became one of the first women documentary cinematographers, and gestured towards the negative effects caused by European colonialism. All considered, the concept of shining a light upon Yablonska as an iconic female figure and critic of imperial ideology is a more cultured approach to battling the recent unjust advancements and oversteppings of Russia. Musically, the symphonic orchestration and folksy eccentricity reflects the album theme’s aesthetics, exploring Eastern musicalities alike Yablonska’s treks to Morocco, China, Sri Lanka, etc. The group’s inclusion of Ukrainian lyrics, regional instrumentation, and rhythms are not only significantly unique to Western ears, but this diversity is also purposeful, meaningful. From the comforting war cries of vocalist Helle to the dynamic, boundary-crossing compositions, Dreams of Lands Unseen represents the potential, the power, of speaking as an oppressed against an oppressor.
FFO: Orphaned Land, The Agonist, Dimmu Borgir
Demonstealer – The Propaganda Machine
Black Lion Records
A titan? A legend? Any praising title seems to fall short in the massive shadow of Sahil Makhija (Demonic Resurrection, Reptilian Death, Solus Ex Inferis). Although his initial claim to fame is best represented in fronting India’s first significant metal project Demonic Resurrection, Sahil’s legacy will absolutely be carved in his prolific nature and ability to bring together musicians internationally to conjure the heaviest of art. In this solo release under the Demonstealer moniker, a colossal amount of talent is recruited including guitarists Alex Baillie (Cognizance), Dean Paul Arnold (Primalfrost), Sanjay Kumar (Equipoise), bassists Dominic “Forest” Lapointe (First Fragment), Stian Gundersen (Blood Red Throne), Martino Garattoni (Ne Obliviscaris), Kilian Duarte (Scale the Summit), keyboardist Anabelle Iratni (Cradle of Filth), and drummers Hannes Grossmann (Obscura), James Payne (Kataklysm), Ken Bedene (Aborted), Sebastian Lanser (Obsidious). With an insane abundance of virtuosity on deck, all eight tracks on The Propaganda Machine run the heaviness gamut with great confidence. Nonetheless, the most compelling aspect of the record is the message. While a lyrical theme can often get blurred in the growly nature of death metal, the inclusion of melodic, clean vocals were superb at providing dynamics and furthering the album’s concept. No matter what country you reside in, The Propaganda Machine is a call-to-arms for the proletariat, a war cry for revolution, and a fist-clenched around political division and disparity.
Favorite Songs: “The Anti-National,” “Monolith of Hate,” “The Great Dictator”
FFO: Katakylsm, Allegaeon, Fleshgod Apocalypse
Thy Catafalque – Alföld
Season of Mist
Folk-tinged progressive black metal one-man project Thy Catafalque’s eleventh full-length studio recording is both comforting and harsh, in tones, in dynamics. Vocals bellow out like wizards, damned to be hermits in frostbitten caves, as blackened riffs reflect also the Winter bitterness. Alföld slowly unravels, presenting a range of cold, callous compositions to whimsical immersion. The nine-minute title track and following piece “Folyondár” are most emblematic of this breadth, showing the vast stylistic spectrum and emotional gamut on par with Midsommar (2019) hostility. While mastermind Tamás Kátai runs the show, this album would not be complete without the guest musicians featured, a diverse display of American, Brazilian, Hungarian, Israeli, Italian, and Latvian vocalists and instrumentalists. Alföld is cogent, undoubtedly herculean.
FFO: Ihsahn, Sigh, Arcturus
Stoned Jesus – Father Light
Season of Mist
With such a blasphemous band name, one would expect Stoned Jesus fell down the stoner gimmick hole as Bongzilla or Cannabis Corpse had tripped on. Instead, the Ukrainian trio reflect more creatively through ramblings of occultism and existentialism. Where as most surface level acts of this style would be stuck on psychedelic babble, Father Light digs deeper, both musically and thematically. The inclusion of acoustic or subdued moments as well as classic rock clean vocals allow this record to be a breath of fresh air amongst the typical fuzzed-out grooves one would normally head-nod to nausea in the stoner rock scene. For the traditionalists, don’t worry, there are still plenty of slow, methodical, and earthy grooves. All in all, this album conveys a genuine sound and is guaranteed a splendid listen, whether you’re blazed out of your mind or sober.
FFO: Monster Magnet, Led Zeppelin, Kyuss
Umbilichaos – Mourning Carnivals from Now On
Time to Kill Records
Like a curb-stomp on painkillers or a gunshot in your sleep, Umbilichaos exudes unheard pain. This one-woman act is masterminded by Anna C. Chaos, who loosely holds the reigns on a truly unhinged four-track exploration of sludgy industrial hardcore indulgences for Mourning Carnivals from Now On. As riffs hit harder than metal on concrete, it is the blood on the back of her throat that truly compels this record forward. For those who enjoy dissonance and fingering wounds unhealed, you will find solace here.
FFO: Godflesh, Neurosis, Author & Punisher
Wothrosch – Odium
A majority of black metal output puts me in a cold, desolate, and vulnerable headspace. Wothrosch enters the extreme music bloodstream, harnessing the aforementioned tropes, yet adding the most peculiar dose of horror, a fascination for the darkest of tragedies. Themes of sickness and death regurgitate all through Odium, to the point where you find yourself immersed in and somehow comforted by the mental dystopia. Slithering grooves meet lead guitars that wail out in slow-motion, like trauma. These compositions would score Lovecraft’s longest fever dreams. After nearly an hour, this record released it’s sharpened grasp from my throat. The density within this album made witnessing silence again like first breath after asphyxiation. For those macabre-minded and enjoy the forced catharsis in blackened sludge metal, I have nothing less than a plead to listen to this effort.
Favorite Songs: “Child,” “Disease,” “Mass“
FFO: Slugdge, late Behemoth, Wolvhammer
Dusk – Spectrums
The expanding reaches of progressive metalcore can be heard throughout North America, West Europe, and even Japan nowadays, but I had not foreseen a contender with such vision emerge from Saudi Arabia. Meshari Sangora drives the one-man project Dusk with an abundance of ambition. Spectrums may appear to be a meditation on djent, however there’s further merit under the skin. The record gathers a multitude of contributors: Abzy (Wazin), Khalid C (Entropia), Alex Hamilton, Adnan Mryhi (Unmuted), Aaron Harris (Solemn Vision, Teloch Vovin), Moe Steiger, Jon Thomas, Jaani Peuhu (Swallow the Sun, IANAI, Mercury Circle), Iman Ahmed, and Abdulrahman Elghazali (Dune, Veridical). With such diversity across twelve tracks, some growing pains are inevitable. I found myself more attracted towards a select handful of guest vocalists, where others were not my personal taste of aesthetically pleasing, resulting in an admittedly mixed bag. Nonetheless, there is an impressive feat in not only banding together artists with vastly different styles, but also of different language (English, German, Finnish, Arabic). Additionally, we discover EDM, jazz, pop, industrial, and ambient fusion finessed within the overall extravagant gallery of modern progcore.
Favorite Songs: “Lethal Perspectives,” “Breath In, Breath Out,” “Burning in My Mind”
FFO: Born of Osiris, Polaris, Termina
Cosmic Jaguar – The Legacy of the Aztecs
In the vast realm of music, I never assumed the fusion between technical thrash and Latin American folk would be a worthy combo, let alone sourced from Ukraine. Cosmic Jaguar score the fantastical setting of deities and nature stemming from Aztec mythology with Slayer aggression and stand-out bass lines. While the majority of the tracks are driven by a raw, progressive 80’s thrash sound, the entire record is accented tastefully by whimsical woodwinds and world percussion for an astoundingly unique style.
Favorite Songs: “Teotihuacan: City of The Gods,” “The Northern Underworld,” “Chimalma: Mother of the Quetzalcoatl”
FFO: Voivod, Cemican, Atheist
Woe Unto Me – Along the Meandering Ordeals, Reshape the Pivot of Harmony
Somber, colossal atmospheres are painted in broad strokes on the Belarusian progressive death-doomers’ third full-length. The duality between vocalists Igor Kovalev and Artem Serdyuk presents the depths of depression, while accommodated by hypnotic funeral dirges. Along the Meandering Ordeals, Reshape the Pivot of Harmony is a wholly dark record, yet there are moments where a lead guitar or clean vocal melody breaks through the graveyard fog to cast a light of optimism.
Favorite Songs: “Spiral-Shaped Hopewreck,” “Cast Down in the Innermost Thicket,” “Deep Beneath the Burden“
FFO: Ahab, Katatonia, Bell Witch