Best Folk/Avantgarde 2023
ØXN – CYRM
|Experimental Doom Folk
For an avid music nerd like me, it is of great joy to find new (sub-)genres you can fall newly in love to. May it by chance, by recommendation or solely through intensive and extensive music listening. The year 2023 will be the year, where I found and embraced the Avantgarde Folk scene of Ireland. I knew that folk has been intermingled and enriched with a lot of different musical influences, but it needed Lankum and their magnificent third album False Lankum to really understand it comrehensively in spring last year. But ØXN´s debut album CYRM (half of Lankum being involved) pushed me further into this new realm. Exploring even deeper the possibilities of dark, droning and electronic soundscapes in the context of Irish folk. Not far from the sonic endeavors of Swans, but with strong Irish roots. Both enchanting and unsettling, a utterly captivating listen!
Strong contender: Lankum – False Lankum
Best Black Metal 2023
Crystal Coffin – The Curse Of Immortality
|Melodic Blackened Metal
|A Beast in the Field
Captivating music - check! Engaging artwork – check! Enthralling album concept – check! ”A hidden champion of Melodic Blackened Metal, just waiting for you to be unveiled. A maelstrom of heavy circular riffing, forward pushing drumming, sweeping melodies and intriguing storytelling, that will make an lasting impact on you, the second you hear and see it´s mesmerizing charm. Hawkwind, Rush, Satyricon, Darkthrone, Enslaved, Wolves in the Throne Room, King Crimson, Pink Floyd, Fabio Frizzi, all references that come to mind while listening. A near perfect amalgam of 70´s/80´s horror/sci-fi synth work, Prog, Folk, Kraut, Doom and Second Wave Black Metal.” Why Crystal Coffin are not much better known remains a mystery to me.
Strong contender: Thantifaxath – Hive Mind Narcosis
Best Death Metal 2023
Horrendous – Ontological Mysterium
|Progressive Death Metal
|Season of Mist
For many, 2023 was the year of Death Metal. High calibre releases from January to December, from the old guard to newcomers and everything in-between. So many different styles, so much quality. But the progressive branch of Death Metal surpassed everything else. Void of Ceremony, Tomb Mold, Afterbirth and many more have found new exciting ways to develop their sound. There have been a lot of surprises, but it’s not one that Horrendous would end up on top with Ontological Mysterium. They have clearly aimed to demonstrate the full range of their capabilities here. Mix later Death, Carcass, Iron Maiden, Voivod, Rush and Opeth and all you get is only the starting point of their sound. Death metal still forms their musical backbone, but from there they spread out in a variety of directions in a completely understandable way. Be it prog, jazz fusion or heavy metal. It’s an eclectic and fun ride and somehow they are able to turn everything into captivating songs, too. What a masterpiece!
Strong contender: Afterbirth – In But Not Of
Best Jazz 2023
Jaimie Branch – Fly or Die Fly or Die Fly or Die ((world war))
|International Anthem Recording Company
Here is what I wrote in my short review a couple of months ago: ”Lush, grand and full of life. The last album of a incredibly gifted jazz trumpet player, composer and DIY activist. It grooves like hell with passion and vibrance. Call it Punk-Jazz, Avantgarde-Jazz or whatever you like, but here is the deal: ”Fuck your technique, sound first”. But they/she had it both. Finishing touches were done posthumously, after her untimely death in August 2022. RIP Jaimie. Do yourself a favour and listen to this now!” Nothing more to say. Just do it, if you haven´t already. At least you will appreciate the attitude this album oozes out of every second of it´s playtime.
Strong contender: Verneri Pohjola – Monkey Brain
Best Alternative/Experimental 2023
Sprain – The Lamb as Effigy…
96 minutes of abrasive dissonance and well calibrated angst. Exhaustive, immersive, and ambitious. Bleak, grandious and brutal. Is this epic Noise Rock extravaganza? Or noisy Post-Rock fueled Experimental Rock? I don´t know, but it is definitely something different. An avantgarde score. A thread stretched to breaking point. Swans, G!YBE and Daughters combined. So intense in many ways, that it was not surprising that the band broke up shortly after the release. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. A lasting experience!
Strong contender: Ragana – Desolation´s Flower
Song of the year: Krypta – Dorian Gray
Concert/Festival of the year: Roadburn 2023
Best record cover: Afterbirth – In But Not Of
Records we should have covered
Trespasser – ἈΠΟΚΆΛΥΨΙΣ
|Antifascist Black Metal
|Heavenly Vault/Red Nebular
Trespasser is a two-member Black Metal outfit from Sweden and they have something to say. And it is urgent. On ἈΠΟΚΆΛΥΨΙΣ Trespasser discuss an Anarchist reading of John’s Apocalypse (the Book of Revelation). The reading the band offers seeks a major juncture with the understanding that justification of oppression in society is primarily derived from debt. Aggressive, powerful, melodic, anthemic at times. It is an optimistic stance towards prospective changes of society that sweps you away. Whereas there are quite purist Black Metal (Immortal, Dissection and Marduk) tracks to a certain extent, elements from Heavy Metal, Post Black Metal, Death Metal as well as Sludge and more can be found on this album. There is just one way: “Forward, into the light!”
Lathe of Heaven – Bound By Naked Skies
When it´s cold and dark, I also tend to listen to more post-punk, death rock and all kinds of stuff that likewise resemble the current weather and mood. Of course, at times like this it’s easy to go back to the classics (Sisters of Mercy, Killing Joke et.al.), but it’s always a little more exciting when you find a new band that can also convey the vibe you’re hoping for. Luckily there is a significant Post-Punk and Synth-Pop revival going on in the American Hardcore-Punk oriented underground at the moment. Besides House of Harm, Poison Ruin and Twin Tribes, it is New York´s Lathe of Heaven who transfer and reinterpret these familiar sounds into the here and now best. Their debut Full Length Bound By Naked Skies blends elements of British New-Wave and Finnish Post-Punk into a nuanced juxtaposition of 80´s sonic mania. Highly recommended!
Spider God – The Killing Room
|True Crime Black Metal
”Weaving elements of Goth Rock, Hardcore, and Prog into the their hyper-melodic style of Black Metal, and throwing curveballs of clean guitar and multi-phase suites along the way, Spider God expands the true crime themes of their first record to tell the story of Faustus, an ex-band member who went missing under mysterious circumstances after becoming embroiled in a deadly online game.” If the official promo text doesn’t pique your interest, then I don’t know what will.
Sacred Outcry – Towers of Gold
|Epic Power Metal
|No Remorse Records
I must confess, I have my prejudices against Power Metal. BUT along my musical journey I have of course realized that you can find bands/records to like in every genre and as we all know, exceptions prove the rule. Sacred Outcry is one of those exeptions. Of course, everyone in this band reveals incredible skill on their respective instrument, but as a band they are also able to tell a story with depth and credibility. No happy-go-lucky, but a dark story that reveals itself through a melodic rollercoaster ride with the right amount of respite and storytelling with one of the best vocalists in Metal at the moment: Daniel Heiman. So, if you like Power Metal, you probably already know Towers of Gold, but if not, you should listen to it at least once!
Untier – Untier
Noisy Black-Doom-Sludge that opens the gates to hell. Find pure catharsis in pitch-black atmosphere. For fans of: Dragged into Sunlight, Primitive Man, Rorcal, The Body, Indian and Body Void. ”Man, I can assure you, is a nasty creature.” (Moliére)