Best Metal Albums of 2023: Michael Centrone’s Go-To List

With the vast amount of metal that harassed my ears in 2023, it was clearly the sub-genre of death metal that demanded the most attention. Many of the heavyweights from this brutal arena posted crushing new albums, notably Cannibal Corpse, Obituary, Suffocation, and Dying Fetus (the reigning grooviest death metal band). There were also hammers dropped by the newer blood, including Sanguisugabogg, Frozen Soul (my review), Creeping Death (my review), and Kruelty (my interview with Zuma).

The onslaught of death metal contributions certainly kept me galvanized this year, but my top-release list isn’t dominated by that particular style. My criteria for this list is fairly simple, no matter the genre: Does the album stick?

I came across a TON of metal and rock releases these past 12 months, and I have to admit, most didn’t have me coming back for seconds. Some kept me invested for half the length; others had me good after one go-around, and some had me executing the ol’ 15-second-sample-and-skip maneuver once I got the gist a few tracks in.

These are the top five releases that hold my blackened soul in their powerful grasps and move me from beginning to end, also garnering pleasurable discoveries after multiple spins. Look, I’ve been listening to, analyzing, and writing music for the majority of my 41 years; it takes more than just being heavy to win my cold heart. These records give me what I long for not only in music but in all forms of art: a story.

5) Enforced — War Remains (Century Media Records)

Ten hair-whipping tracks of unbridled thrash comprise Enforced’s third full-length War Remains. These vicious Virginian upstarts breathe fire into a classic style of metal here, unleashing raw, personable, and catchy bangers that linger in the mind.

War Remains effectively rations pulverizing speed and thumping groove. The snarling vocals may be one-dimensional, but the patterns in which they’re delivered and their articulation create memorable hooks, especially in the title track and “Mercy Killing Fields,” which is inspired by a death in the family. You can hear the collective’s hunger and urgency throughout the whole savage shebang. Nothing fancy, just a sign of these oppressing times.

Read my full review here.

4) Brujeria — Esto Es Brujeria (Nuclear Blast Records)

The Mexican grindcore lords Brujeria have never let me down when it comes to dropping super-fun, brutal gazes into the occult and our bloodthirsty underworld. Esto Es Brujeria, their fifth piñata-pummeling release, keeps that streak alive. These 16 tracks provide those unique, sadistic, cultural, and humorous flavors synonymous with the mysterious band that originally fascinated me in the ’90s.

Novel touches like the horns in the title track, the reggaeton cadence of “Estado Profundo,” and the Munchkin-Land-style vocals in “Bestia De La Muerte” keep the romance fresh for fans like myself. La Encabronada also makes her vocal debut on “Bruja Encabronada,” grabbing lead duties from Juan Brujo. Speaking of Brujo, he delivers his signature unhinged, sometimes off-tempo and off-key vocals to my delight, of course in español. El Sangrón spews his venom as advertised, adding even more glorious chaos alongside Brujo. The cover of Eric Clapton’s “Cocaine,” in the form of “Cocaína,” is a swell closer, coming off a fiesta of blast-beats, grinds, and breakdowns.

Read my full review here.

3) Afterbirth — In But Not Of (Willowtip Records)

This composition is an absolute mindfuck. I love it. Upon subjecting yourself to In But Not Of to completion, good luck trying to lump it into a genre. Long Island, NY prog-dissonant-death metal veterans Afterbirth have dropped a memorable one here, folks, and hopefully more will stop sleeping on it. These tracks embody a fever dream, with unusual song titles and themes beautifully synergetic with spacey instrumentation, especially in “Hovering Human Head Drones,” “Autoerotic Amputation,” and “Time Enough Tomorrow,” with the latter giving off Sonic Youth vibes.

Vocalist Will Smith, when not beasting over the brutal sections, somehow makes his deep-sea gurgles gel with Cody Drasser’s hallucinatory riffs. The teaming with producer Colin Marston pays gigantic dividends, as their non-contemporary approach makes the material sound like it was recorded in an actual physical room, adding to its exclusive charm. In conclusion, you won’t feel right after finishing this journey, but you’ll be appreciative of its process.

2) Inferion — Inequity (Horror Pain Gore Death Productions)

The production, performance, and songwriting on Inferion’s fifth full-length Inequity are monstrous. You wanna talk about an aura of urgency, these 10 salvos are overflowing with it. Although hailing from the U.S., the persistent quartet oozes Euro-death vibes a la Carcass and old In Flames. Their balance of melody and brutality leaves each song rich with emotion and imagery.

“Grendel” takes us back to a mythical past, the days when Beowulf was bangin’. “8 Minutes Ago” carries an apocalyptic fervor, as does “Empty Heavens.” Remarkably, though, the song that causes me the most frisson is “Grief Demands An Answer.” Its bridge is fit for a part in Metallica’s classic Master of Puppets, slamming me right into that dark and nostalgic setting. The fact is, this record has been criminally slept on and deserves to be blasted on speakers worldwide.

1) Wormhole — Almost Human (Season Of Mist Records)

Yo (smirking defiantly and shaking my head), Wormhole done did it. They’ve accomplished their mission of whisking us away to the darkest depths of the cosmos and our minds with Almost Human. I can only gush over how everything—the music, the titles, and the band name itself—coalesces on these eight head trips. Not gonna lie, some parts even choke my ass up in a blissful manner.

The guitar work by the Kumar brothers sets the scenes poignantly, producing sounds that don’t even resemble instruments but more space creatures or astral vehicles. The self-proclaimed originators of tech-slam put a laser focus on detail when they wrote this voyage, as Noni (Kumar) explains in our interview: “There was emphasis on getting more technical, more interesting, to add more depth–there has to be a twist to everything, a trick around every corner.”

The title track is where it’s at for me, brimming with urgent passages and clever structuring. Every song is captivating in its own galactic way, from “Spine Shatter High-Velocity Impact’s” orbital-insect guitar licks fluttering over the breakdown chorus, to “The Grand Oscillation’s” dissonant, curtain-calling quality as a closer. Oh yeah, and “Data Fortress Orbital Stationary” might contain the chunkiest beatdown of the year (at 0:30).

Almost Human is a complete treat for the ears, even though I feel the gurgly vocals get lost a little in all the pageantry. Nonetheless, we may have been delivered the heaviest matter in the universe in such a mesmerizing form.

Read my interview with Noni here.
Read my full review here.

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