See Queens Of The Stone Age play Emotion Sickness on Jimmy Kimmel Live
Watch Queens Of The Stone Age hit Jimmy Kimmel Live to perform In Times New Roman…’s lead single Emotion Sickness.
…And that was the year that was. Went fast, didn’t it? Feels like only a few weeks since we were looking ahead to what 2023 had in store. And yet, here we are again. There’s been genuinely unexpected returns from heroes with their best work in years, the usual young newbies having a pop at the champs, the deeply satisfying sight of bands on the rise delivering something that’s powerfully them, and a few dead certs that, in the event, proved even better than expected.
It’s been a brilliant 12 months for music; every single week we’ve heard something new that’s got us excited. We’re proud to have been there bringing you the scoop on it all. And with just as much pride, we’ve once again welcomed an immense number of new bands to our cover.
What we have here is the result of a very hard job digesting all the music of this year, and putting it into a list of the best and most important. The criteria has been wide – some albums are creative genius, some have rocketed its authors to stardom beyond what one could have estimated, some have been a catalogue of emotions of a very specific time – but all of them have been threads to the great big rope that was 2023 in music.
It’s been a blast. Here are the 50 albums that shaped the year…
“We don’t work out, we don’t go to the gym, and we’re not into UFC,” Grove Street guitarist Chris ‘Sandy’ Sanderson told K! back in September. “The hardcore scene is saturated with bands trying to look tough. But that’s not us.” The UK crossover crew’s music speaks far louder than stern looks and swollen muscles, anyway. Although the artists previously known as Grove Street Families have continued their niche nods to video games – the band themselves are named in tribute to a hazardous locale in 2004’s Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas – they aren't playing around on The Path To Righteousness. Rather, tracks like the ferocious Hunting Season and spring-loaded single Lessons Of The Past unleash a smashing momentum that deserves to be discussed in the same breath as heroes like Suicidal Tendencies, Biohazard and Power Trip. No cheat codes required. (SL)
Emo roared back to life so strongly this year that it was easy to forget whether it was 2003, 2013 or 2023. Almost seven years after their last album Misadventures, Pierce The Veil leapt back into action with the big riffs and big feelings they’ve always been known for, while bluntly refusing to be boxed in as a nostalgia act. At times, they don't so much step forward as lunge, finding ways to be both softer and heavier, while maturing – even blossoming – all the while. Ultimately, The Jaws Of Life is all the necessary proof that Pierce The Veil can defy being confined to one scene or one point in time, and, above all, that they are far from done. (EW)
The city of Paris had a massive 2023, home to everything from the Rugby World Cup to Green Day’s big comeback, with the Olympics still to come. But big things have also been happening for the band of (almost) the same name. If Lynn Gunn – now firmly established as PVRIS’ sole creative force – competed at the Olympics, she’d surely be a heptathlete, such is the versatility on show on her fourth full-length. EVERGREEN pushes ever deeper into electronica, hip-hop and R&B influences but retains all of PVRIS’ old emo-rock power on the likes of I Don’t Wanna Do This Anymore and Take My Nirvana. Vive la difference, as they say on the Champs-Élysées… (MS)
Awsten Knight always has his eye on what’s coming next. That forward-thinking outlook is evident from the outset on INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY, and its gleeful hyperpop ditty ST*RFUCKER as an opener. From there on out, Waterparks’ fifth album is a wild ride through the band’s consistently wacky world, and a deep dive into the irreverent yet complex creative mind of their frontman. One second biting, the next blissfully carefree, INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY is a pop-rock album that always keeps you guessing but remains accessible. Super-catchy single FUNERAL GREY is more than enough proof that Waterparks have a hit in them, but so too do they bookend those more chilled-out moments with the likes of REAL SUPER DARK, where Awsten lets his dark side reveal itself in wonderfully sarcastic fashion. INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY is another strong record from one of pop-punk’s most creative forces. (JR)
Back in 2014, when BABYMETAL started making a big noise in the UK, some considered them gimmicky and wondered how much of a shelf-life they could have. Almost a decade on, despite the departure of founding member YUIMETAL, the naysayers have an emphatic answer in the form of THE OTHER ONE. The band’s fourth album has an interesting concept in an age when everyone is obsessed with multiverses, with each of these 10 songs exploring parallel universes in which different versions of the band exist. In practice, this allows for evolutions in their sound, with a sizeable injection of dance music birthing some rock club bangers. On a logistical front, it gave SU-METAL and MOAMETAL the chance to recalibrate, which they’ve done brilliantly. And, having announced the arrival of a new third member MOMOMETAL earlier this year, The Fox God is smiling down upon the future of BABYMETAL. (JH)
Given the rollercoaster year that has been Slipknot’s 2023 – some of their most fevered live performances in aeons, not one but two surprise departures from their ranks – you could forgive Corey Taylor for wanting to indulge a side hustle that acted as a release. And in CMF2, metal’s Great Big Mouth finds exactly that: a space in which he can indulge his every whim and fancy. “Because I'm able to do this, I'm able to take the pressure off [from Slipknot],” the man himself told us of his busman’s holiday. He would have known full well that the at-times scattergun sound of his second hard-rock-leaning solo outing would not be to everyone’s taste, but to think CMF2 is a record made for anyone but Corey Taylor himself is to miss the point entirely. (SC)
Undergoing a transformative rebirth and putting the Lingua Ignota project to bed, Reverend Kristin Michael Hayter arrived with a bold new style on SAVED!. Heavy on the religious iconography and dripping in desperation for salvation, it’s a listening experience unlike any other. In jarring contrast to the artistic output that brought her to the metal party, the music features church pianos enhanced with bells and chains. While distorted tape recordings offer a haunting backdrop, Kristin pushes herself to new levels of physical, emotional and spiritual intensity, speaking in tongues in a genuine attempt to commune with a higher power. (DM)
A youthful pop-punk album that celebrates the genre’s past, present and future, the debut full-length from Meet Me @ The Altar is a fun time from start to finish. Having blown up over the past couple of years, the trio have had to take their fair share of flak from online haters (“industry plant”, anyone?), but rather than knock them back, the trolls have hardened the band’s resolve, and it’s made them a stronger outfit in the process. Opening track Say It (To My Face) showcases their newfound bite, with vocalist Edith Victoria spitting some delightfully melodic venom. Past // Present // Future is, as its title suggests, both a throwback and a look forward, indebted to ’00s mainstream pop-punk trailblazers like Avril Lavigne as much as it adds to the genre’s contemporary canon. Based on this, bright days beckon for the future of pop-punk. (JR)
Freed from major label expectation, Within Temptation’s eighth album is their darkest, most daring and certainly most thought-provoking. Supported by eye-boggling AI-enhanced videos, Wireless and the title-track highlight topics such as the war in Ukraine and the suspicious death of Mahsa Amini, an Iranian woman ‘detained’ for not wearing a hijab. Bolstered by gigantic sonics, the album visits soundscapes most would fear to enter, becoming at times simply jaw-dropping in its heaviness, sadness and anger, led as ever by Sharon den Adel’s soaring siren of a voice. It’s probably their most compelling musical statement to date. (SB)
While we’re busy handing out the year-end gongs here, in RAT WARS’ first song DEMIGODS, HEALTH must surely be due some kind of hat-tip for writing 2023’s most ominous opening. Its slow, brooding stagger through foggy atmospherics the perfect scene-setter for what follows in its wake. Much has been made of the industrial trio’s obvious Nine Inch Nails influence, but the melancholy in which RAT WARS swims is imbued with a distinct Britishness, too, owing as much to The Cure, Depeche Mode and Godflesh – sampled here, in fact, on SICKO – as it does the Los Angeles-based band’s native forebears. HEALTH’s vision of the world presented here may feel cold, unforgiving and distinctly lonely, yet piercing flashes of neon-coloured light render it one you’ll want to return to again and again. (SC)
Listeners usually have to dig deep into a Queens release to work out what’s been happening in the life of their lynchpin, Josh Homme. Not so on album number eight, though. An intensely personal offering and the band’s first in six years, In Times New Roman… was made following a period defined by Josh’s cancer diagnosis, familial discord, and the death of several friends including Mark Lanegan and Taylor Hawkins. It’s bleak, then, but this being QOTSA, not in an obvious way. The likes of Carnavoyeur and Straight Jacket Fitting lumber along, circling and working on you, not with the iconic riffs of yesteryear but an intoxicating sense of atmosphere. Has existential dread ever been so damn danceable? (JH)
After the grungier, dreamier left turns of 2021’s Flux and 2022’s Stagger EP, it was time for Poppy to shapeshift again. This time around, her output is shinier, more maximalist and even more layered, and while she’s already shown herself to be capable of multitudes, Zig represents Poppy at her most far reaching. Yet amid the floaty synth-pop and adrenalised EDM-esque beats, the brief flashes to the sounds of Poppy’s past – in the form of the spiky alt.pop of Church Outfit and the scuzzy Hard – anchor the record and make it more individual. There’s a lot that Poppy can juggle, and its individual pieces still fit together perfectly. (EW)
‘Where do the memories go?’ asks Joe Nally on The Flood Came Rushing In. This question cuts to the core which defines Urne’s outstanding second album. A Feast On Sorrow is a brave reckoning with dementia, informed by a family member’s experiences and communicated via knotty, progressive but often accessible and huge-sounding heavy metal. Epic in scope and delivered with utter conviction, the band navigate a cathartic journey into grief and loss that does total justice to its challenging subject. A moving, inspirational record from one of the UK’s most deserve-to-be-heard-by-everyone outfits. (OT)
Dream Nails have hit upon a deceptively simple formula: tunes that make you tap your toe + lyrics that punch you in the face = punk rock nirvana. In a year blighted by right-wing idiots trying to start culture wars, it’s refreshing to have some DIY righteous punks to cut through the crap but, as befitting a band called Dream Nails, their truth is never completely unvarnished. Instead, hard-hitting polemics on the likes of Good Guy and Femme Boi are all wrapped up in irresistible bops, meaning life with Dream Nails is never less than an absolute riot. (MS)
One Day’s simple experiment forgoes the infinite monkey theorem and instead asks: what would happen if a group of Canadian punks were locked in the studio for 24 straight hours with nothing but their instruments and creative minds to pass the time? The answer is not so much the complete works of Shakespeare as one of punk rock supremacy. Twelve years ago, Fucked Up mastered the art of the sprawling rock epic on the concept album David Comes To Life; with One Day, they conversely captured a purity and immediacy of thought and feeling in a taut, effervescent 40-minute thrill-ride. (SC)
There’s not much you can trust in Broken Britain 2023, but You Me At Six are one of the few great UK institutions you can still rely on to deliver. And that’s precisely what they did on their eighth album, which contains everything you could ever want from a YMAS record, plus a little bit more. There are all the blistering anthems (God Bless The ’90s Kids, Breakdown) and emotional ballads (Mixed Emotions, Traumatic Ironic) we’ve come to expect, this time around enhanced by barnstorming guest appearances (Rou Reynolds, Cody Frost) and some unflinching lyrical frankness. Perhaps we should give Josh Franceschi and co. a go at running the country next? (MS)
For a collective who revel in misdirection and the obfuscation of reality, the commitment of The Armed to wringing provocatively brilliant sounds from heavy music’s bleeding edge remains startlingly steadfast. Perfect Saviors isn’t just their fifth album, of course. It’s the new frontier of an ever-expanding world, ostensibly a coming out party for the real creatives behind the colourful aliases, part of a wider social commentary on the measurement of accomplishment and the ownership of art. But, even boiled down to their sonic essence – all groovy, synth-stained stomp and fuzzy garage-rock revival – bangers like Sport Of Form and Liar 2 are easily amongst 2023’s most unforgettably mercurial. (SL)
“The floodgates are now completely open regarding what I can speak about in this band,” Graphic Nature frontman Harvey Freeman told K! this time last year, gearing up to the release of the Kent metallers’ debut album. He was certainly true to his word; a mind waiting to die is an intense exploration of mental health and the challenges that come with possessing a brain chemically predisposed to inflicting pain upon its host. Such unflinching insights might seem a tricky proposition, but when they’re wedded to crushing breakdowns influenced by a formative diet of Korn and Slipknot, it’s a journey you’re willing to take. (JH)
With a title paying nostalgic homage to the much-loved emo forbears’ roots (the number appears on all of their album covers) in tandem with daring musical explorations of fresh creative ground, Taking Back Sunday’s eighth studio effort is an unexpected delight. Growing up with grace while embracing a wider pool of influences, the band’s first full-length since 2016’s Tidal Wave invites long-time listeners along on an open-minded trek through AM radio rock terrain that aims for the sweet spot between arena-friendly and adult-oriented, without sacrificing the core characteristics that have set them apart for over two decades. (DM)
WARGASM aren’t afraid to wear their hearts on their sleeves. Their boisterous punk-meets-nu-metal noise has had people talking since bursting onto the scene five years ago. After relentless touring, a clutch of EPs, and a very long wait, the duo stepped up to the plate to knock out a debut full-length so fired up even Godzilla would struggle to torch them away. From the explosive, Tasmanian Devil-like nature of Outrage, to the nu-metal ode of Bang Ya Head, featuring none other than Fred Durst, Venom's ultra-pissed off energy is the perfect accompaniment to those moments of pure rage. Already one of the fastest-rising bands in Britain, this will surely springboard them even higher. (JHing)
2021’s Below was one dark record that chronicled the debilitating impact COVID and lockdown had upon Caleb Shomo’s mental health. For its follow up, Beartooth’s mastermind wanted to do something different, to break free from those ink-black depths and swim upwards to show everyone what his experiences have taught him. No-one could have anticipated just how different The Surface would end up being. Brighter of outlook, as Caleb advocates the self-empowerment that’s improved his life no end, and musically lighter on its feet, it’s as big and catchy as we’ve come to expect from Beartooth, but more profound as it asks how to love one’s self in a world so geared towards hate. Listen and learn. (JH)
Ten songs. Sixteen minutes. One hardcore debut that’s had our ears ringing since the start of spring. If New Jersey quintet GEL had already put their name on the map with 2021 EP Violent Closure and the 2022 Shock Therapy split, Only Constant tattooed it indelibly close to the top of the list of the most exciting outfits in modern heavy music. Packing the sub-90-second runtimes of almost every track with caustic, visceral purpose, but also an exhilarating catharsis, it’s a record that reveals itself, over multiple spins, as a masterclass in chucking sonic Molotov cocktails, then basking in their searing heat. Don’t you dare sleep on this convulsive quarter-hour of power. (SL)
‘How I’ve missed you,’ sings Brian Fallon on triumphant lead single Positive Charge, which opened the way for The Gaslight Anthem’s return in April, ‘and feeling good to be alive.’ A reflection on his own mental health as well as a love letter to his back-from-hiatus band and their fans, it set the tone for what followed on TGA’s excellent sixth album. As well as a long-awaited collaboration with Bruce Springsteen on the title-track, History Books hears New Jersey’s finest happily cranking up their guitars (Spider Bites, I Live In The Room Above Her) while also enjoying the chance to get playful in the studio on the album’s beautiful softer moments. Yeah, we sure did miss you guys, too. (EC)
Indonesian trio Voice Of Baceprot charged forwards with their debut album, with a message that weighed heavier than many protest bands of their ilk. Though there was ferocity and a touch of flamboyance to their stylish metallic tirades against war (What’s The Holy (Nobel) Today?), sexual violence ([NOT] PUBLIC PROPERTY) and more, it became even more potent with the knowledge that so many in the band’s home country would rather them be silent. Indeed, the majestic God Allow Me (Please) To Play Music is a more moving, personal protest as the group plead simply for the right to express themselves. This, paired with angular, spirited riffs reminiscent of System Of A Down, makes Retas a compelling debut. (EW)
When the second album from 100 gecs took almost two years – between a July 2021 announcement and March 2023 release – to arrive, it was hard not to wonder whether their manic moment had passed. Turns out they were only getting started. The Missouri duo – who began the year by flying K!’s Emily Carter 5,000 miles for an interview in their local McDonald’s – absolutely drip ‘IDGAF’ attitude, but the 10 tracks and 27 minutes of 10,000 gecs could hardly be more perfectly constructed. Building on 2019 debut 1,000 gecs with not only 10-times the number of, um, ‘gecs’, but also far more psychedelic inspiration and anarchic momentum, everything from the absurdist indie-folk of Frog on the floor to Doritos & Fritos’ glitchy dance-rock leaves us crying out for more. (SL)
Southampton metalcore geezers Bury Tomorrow started their new chapter with new members Tom Prendergast on keyboards and vocals and Ed Hartwell on guitar in a blistering, career-affirming style here. Their aptly-named seventh album stays true to their metalcore blueprint while maturing gracefully, reaching the potential that was promised from them ever since 2012's The Union Of Crowns. From ultra-riffy anthem Abandon Us, to the ballad-like Majesty, The Seventh Son cements Bury Tomorrow as the big boys of UK metalcore, and it catapulted them into a new era with a sense of ferocious determination. (JHing)
On A New Tomorrow, LA heavyweights ZULU prove themselves one of the most creative crews in modern hardcore, as well as standard bearers for Afrocentric culture far beyond genre boundaries. Musically, their powerviolence-derived blasts of fury line up alongside passages and samples of jazz, reggae, soul, hip-hop and poetry. Lyrically, they’re uncompromising in exploring the African-American experience from all angles, with an emphasis on celebrating Blackness in all its multi-faceted glory. Currently one of the most unique bands on the planet, their passion and innovation make ZULU as irresistible as they are important. (OT)
It was a bit like bumping into an old friend. Former HIM frontman Ville Valo’s solo debut sounds almost exactly like the fabled Finnish band that ended their days in 2017. It’s sensuous goth-lite, songs like the title-track (shades of Nightwish in its bombast, echoes of HIM classics elsewhere), Run Away From The Sun and Salute The Sanguine manage to make even the darkness in life sound alluring. It is sombre and sexy at the same time – sombre because the end’s coming; sexy because we are still living, sentient, sensual beings. That’s the thing about old friends; returning to what you enjoyed together makes it feel like they’ve never been away. (SB)
“I know I’ve been needing to make a record like this for a long time,” Simon Neil told Kerrang! upon the announcement of Rivers Of Heresy. You could believe him, too. Empire State Bastard, after all, has been in the minds and on the lips of Biffy Clyro frontman Simon and former Oceansize frontman / long-time Biffy touring guitarist Mike Vennart for the best part of a decade. Such a long incubation period clearly served the project well, too, allowing the nascent project to sit stewing in its own dank squalor, the embittered, feral music maturing ever filthier with every passing year in the dark. With Slayer’s Dave Lombardo bringing his own unmistakable groove to proceedings, Rivers Of Heresy is a work of such layered accomplishment that it renders even Empire State Bastard’s labelling as a ‘supergroup’ reductive. (SC)
Proving that 2021’s Fragments Of A Bitter Memory was no fluke, Dying Wish bounced to the head of the metalcore revival pack on their follow-up. Showcasing Emma Boster’s wide-ranging vocal power, more melodic hooks are on the menu now alongside a calorific stew of savage, old-school breakdowns that go reassuringly hard and heavy. Matching the musical muscularity pound for pound, the thematic content grasps for sense and reason through the darkest of traumatic experiences and bigger picture, everything-is-fucked bleakness, ensuring that the Portland, Oregon five-piece solidify their status as a band worthy of all the spoils surely coming their way. (DM)
It’s well-established by now that Code Orange thumb their collective nose at linear songwriting. Aggrocore stomping and glitchy industrial about-turns have defined their sound since 2017’s Forever, and these modes of attack remain present on The Above. However, the curveballs this time round come in the form of generous helpings of grunge melodies, nu-metal grooves and a Billy Corgan guest spot, adding up to something midway between a bold reinvention and a confident assertion that nobody can ever predict what these Pittsburgh powerhouses are gonna do next. Still heavy, still ignoring the rules, still a cut Above. (OT)
2023 was another banner year for Californian hardcore, and with their second LP, Drain stepped out as one of the very best in the scene. The chainsaw Slayer-esque guitars, the cool-as-shit basslines, the all-out groove that underpins the entire record, Living Proof speeds past in a blur of balled fists and gnashing teeth, and yet is brimming with so much joy. It helps that frontman Sammy Ciaramitaro is one of the nicest dudes on the planet, but he’s also an unstoppable force, spin-kicking his way through tracks that address everything from straight-edge to posers infiltrating the scene with caustic, gob-covered lines like ‘I’ll never fucking respect you’. Because Drain are as real as they come. They had nothing to prove with this record, but have shown everybody what is up and how to take hardcore forward without compromise or ever losing that most important factor – having fun. (LM)
Six albums in, it came as no surprise that This Is Why is Paramore’s most mature and accomplished album yet. What is more notable, though, is the sheer ease with which Hayley Williams, Taylor York and Zac Farro leapt into the realm of art-rock. Led by a formidable title-track that contains a chorus up there with their best, This Is Why showcases just how much Paramore have grown as songwriters since they formed as teenagers. There’s loads to love here, from the angst-laden The News to quirky rocker Running Out Of Time and the gorgeous Crave, where Hayley delivers a tender performance that’s demonstrative of her status as one of rock’s best vocalists. It’s a thoughtful, intelligent album but one that packs a punch when it needs to. That is why it’s great. (JR)
Following the experimental pop of their past few albums – which have all been killer and you can’t convince us otherwise – So Much (For) Stardust is the sound of Fall Out Boy lovingly returning to their pop-punk and emo roots, but armed with the world-conquering songwriting experience of their past two decades. Teaming up once more with producer Neal Avron, its 13 tracks are at once relatably existential, brilliantly smart and unbelievably catchy, and find each member of the band consistently firing on all cylinders. Basically, it’s pretty much everything you could possibly want from a FOB album in 2023. As Patrick Stump belts out in the song of the same name: ‘What a time to be alive…’ (EC)
Be honest now: did anyone really think blink-182’s first album with returning frontman Tom DeLonge in 12 years was actually gonna be any good? Not only is it good – fucking fantastic, in fact – it’s also set up this next chapter for the pop-punk legends perfectly. From getting closure on their earlier band fall-outs with the beautiful title-track, to writing some of the most infectious bangers of their entire career (DANCE WITH ME and BLINK WAVE, we’re looking at you especially), this record instantly became one of 2023’s most joyous surprises. One more time? How about lots and lots more times, plz… (EC)
They might’ve only existed as a band for three years, but Militarie Gun’s first full-length is undoubtedly one of the best debuts of the year. Blending traditional hardcore values with slacker ’90s alt.rock sensibilities and Britpop’s obsession for gargantuan choruses, it’s an infectious listen, chock-full of bellow-along choruses, leaning into melody but never compromising on impact. Across the record we’re given glimpses into mainman Ian Shelton’s psyche, and the anxieties of everyday life that we all feel on some level, adding yet more catharsis and human connection to the knockout vocal hooks littered across the dozen tracks. From the downtrodden release of My Friends Are Having A Hard Time to song of the year contender Very High, this isn’t pit fodder, but the perfect example of arms-around-your-mates-and-belt-it-out brilliance. (LM)
More than 20 years after their debut, Britain’s unique ragga-metal collective Skindred turned their signature brand of street-beat heat higher still. It's life in 2023 mashed into one 42-minute treat, the good, the bad and the infuriating. Led by Benji Webbe, one of rock’s finest ringmasters, Smile brought us visceral ragga-stamped metal, blissed-out reggae, plus ska, rock and dance-fused anthems. Everyone with an open mind got it – the album was by far Skindred’s highest charting, reaching Number Two, and they've announced not only a debut Wembley Arena show but a headline slot at 2024’s Steelhouse Festival in their South Wales stomping ground. Tidy. (SB)
One of the most exceptional oeuvre’s in modern metal continues with Stone, Baroness’ sixth album. Breaking with the tradition of naming records after colours – their last effort was 2019’s Gold & Grey – this time around they’re immortalising that most immovable of materials. You’ll have had a hard time shifting this musical material from your left temporal lobe, too, though breaking down what makes it so special is just as tricky a task. A sumptuous tapestry of galloping riffs, old school solos, spellbinding melodies and unexpected elements you’d need a more luxurious word count to scratch the surface of, Stone is an album you’ll still be poring over when Baroness gift us with their next outstanding opus. We’re lucky to have them. (JH)
The music on The Weight Of The Mask is some of the best Svalbard have ever written. Moving further into expertly-crafted, glacial blackgaze while also making their more blunt moments as immediate as a fist, it continues their run of albums that are as fierce and raging as they are delicate. But it is in the lyrics, a deeply personal, unvarnishedly honest and occasionally unsettling look at depression through raw, naked language that it finds its soul. Case in point: opener Faking It, an account of forcing a smile and pretending everything's fine. Then there's the beautiful and bleak November, which begins as a desolate piece of gentle guitar, before exploding into a black metal second half, perfectly capturing its feelings of isolation and frustrated anger. Svalbard were already one of British metal's best bands. Here, they outstripped even themselves at their finest. (NR)
Having explored their pop sensibilities on 2020’s Nothing Is True…, Enter Shikari mastered the art of infectious electronics and monumental choruses on their seventh full-length. Every millisecond has been sweated over with high-energy punk colliding with shimmering production flourishes, densely packed into 34 minutes and destined to be belted out in arenas across the world – no wonder it’s the band’s first-ever UK Number One album. Deftly wielding brass, strings and synthesisers across one of the most joyous records of the year, it’s prime Shikari, bringing the rave to Bloodshot, cacophony to the title-track, and one of the all-time top-tier mosh calls in ‘bring your water to the boil’ on Leap Into The Lightning. One of the very best bands in the UK completely off the leash and entering their second act with adrenalised, starry-eyed smiles. A gift for the whole world. (LM)
Already established as homegrown metal’s most intriguing prospect, Green Lung came of age in spectacular style this year. Their dark metal comes from the woods; This Heathen Land is an album primal, pagan and organic, both purifying and eerie in equal measure. You could lose yourself – and the troubled part of your mind – to the soul-freeing, Sabbathy riffs that roll Mountain Throne and One For Sorrow into the long-term memory. You also have Maxine (Witch Queen), Hammer Horror retro organ and all, which can be stripped down to its bones and remain fabulous. Simply put, This Heathen Land turned Green Lung into classic British metal’s hottest new ticket. (SB)
It's hard to believe that A CALL TO THE VOID is Hot Milk’s debut album, partly because they’ve been kicking around the scene for so long, and partly because said album sounds so polished. This was the Manchester quartet’s opportunity to showcase just how many solid-gold bangers they can churn out, and many of these tunes are so infectious they feel like dopamine personified. It’s a record made for raging, partying, and everything in between, and these songs are practically begging to be played again and again at a volume that would get complaints from the council. (EW)
Pairing metallic hardcore with unerring East Coast attitude, Philadelphia’s Jesus Piece roared back into action on their towering second full-length. Across 10 blasts of unrelenting assault, frontman Aaron Heard confirms he has the most fearsome vocal presence in metal, exorcising demons both personal and existential as the band tightly coils around him with expert precision amid the tumult. …So Unknown successfully transfers the band’s notorious live prowess onto wax, but builds on the template with deft touches of groove and nuance, rarely heard in an all-too-often one-note genre that sometimes falls flat on record. Jesus Piece did not come to play. (DM)
If you only took one thing away from Metallica's 11th album, it is just how much fun they appeared to be having simply being Metallica. Having long passed the need to prove anything, and too big to fail anyway, it's refreshing to hear them at times screaming along like teenagers again. Lux Æterna has them back in full-on NWOBHM-worship mode, with unsubtle nods to Diamond Head in the riffs and James Hetfield's 'Lightning the nations' line, as well as referencing his own old 'Full speed or nothing' lyric from 1983's Motorbreath, but it's also a record that looks forward more than back. But the enthusiasm and no-bullshit passion makes them sound less than half their age. Even in Papa Het's dark lyrics, there's a sense of power, of the boiling, uncontrollable energy of life. Knocking on for an hour and a quarter, it's a three-course meal-with-second-helpings of an album, but it still packs the almighty wallop of ’Tallica in their prime. (NR)
We thought that Avenged Sevenfold’s superb seventh album The Stage marked the pinnacle of their commendably weirdo excess. We were wrong. Returning after almost seven years with heads in the clouds and LSD pumping through their veins, in Life Is But A Dream… the Huntington Beach heavyweights delivered a follow-up that’s up there with the oddest ‘mainstream’ metal records of all time. Haters hated, obviously. The unhinged blend of ideas and genres – from scattergun System Of A Down-style aggro to rump-a-pump brass riffs and pulsating techno – simultaneously overwhelmed small minds and infuriated big brains by dent of its sheer randomness. For everyone in-between, though, it proved to be a gleefully chaotic trip worth taking over and over again. (SL)
Giving Kerrang! the first details of Pupil Slicer's second album late last year, singer/guitarist Kate Davies teased “weirder riffs, harder breakdowns, much more post-y post songs, more shoegaze-y shoegaze songs”. Promising all manner of madness – “There's a tambourine and an egg-shaker! There’s a song with 909 trap drums, and one with purposefully obvious Auto-Tuned vocals. There’s 20 layers of synths, there’s mad harmonies… there’s everything!” – what the Brit metal surgeons delivered was a stunning display of ideas and artistry. And riffs. Pinballing between chaotic metal and lush melodic parts, with a nifty line in big choruses, we eventually had to ban ourselves from listening to it for fear of spoiling it through overplay. Creatively brilliant, sassily executed, and an absolute riot of colour throughout, Pupil Slicer very loudly announced themselves as one of the finest young metal bands in the UK here. (NR)
Holding Absence delivered the best moment of their fledgling career yet with astounding third LP The Noble Art Of Self Destruction. Thematically focussed on a philosophical notion of self-improvement and the belief that it’s our imperfections that make us who we are, this 10-track collection is a thriller throughout, with the powerful vocal lamentations of frontman Lucas Woodland augmented by a gargantuan musical backdrop. It’s also the album where Holding Absence showed off their musical dexterity, effortlessly jumping between rampant post-hardcore (Scissors), heartfelt love ballads (Honey Moon) and potent emo ragers (Her Wings). The Noble Art Of Self Destruction cements Holding Absence’s status as one of the UK’s very best. (JR)
There’s no denying that Sleep Token’s impact on music this year was not only seismic, but unprecedented – when was the last time a band started the year playing the Hammersmith Apollo and ended it at Wembley? They accomplished that with their most ambitious, multifaceted and unpredictable body of work to date in the form of Take Me Back To Eden, which zig-zags from simmering jazz-pop (Aqua Regia) to seething black metal (Vore) via stadium balladry (Are You Really Okay) and eight-minute multi-movement epics. Then there's The Summoning, which could have single-handedly written their place in rock history with its ingenious saunter from metal to funk and its mission to make rock music horny again. Sleep Token participate in worship, and Take Me Back To Eden sparks even more devotion than ever. (EW)
‘Listen to them, the children of the night, what sweet music they make…’ 126 years since Count Dracula first grinned at the wolves outside his window, Creeper were busy keeping his old adage alive. On one level, Sanguivore found the Southampton crew on familiar form: crafting a sumptuously layered concept album about doomed lovers – Spook and Mercy – with whom we’d develop an intimate bond by the time its 10 tracks had run their course. On another, though, this was the band shedding the soft outer shell to reveal the sex and violence, spiky edges and slick black leather that have always lain closer to their hearts. The dark romanticism and gleeful melodrama of songs like Further Than Forever and More Than Death invite inevitable comparisons to My Chemical Romance classic The Black Parade, but are were weirder, more wonderful influences at play, from the gothic swagger of Sisters Of Mercy to the high theatrics of peak Jim Steinman and even a little of the ghoulish majesty of Ghost – whose frequent collaborator Tom Dalgety even oversaw production duties here. From show-stopping lead single Cry To Heaven to the pulsating Teenage Sacrifice and whip-cracking banger Lovers Led Astray, this is very much the joyously campy, viscera-strewn sound of Creeper coming of age. And, if there’s any justice, it’ll be the platform from which they become one of the biggest bands in modern rock. Bloody brilliant. (SL)
In a just world, this album wouldn’t exist. And frankly, it’s staggering that it does. With wounds yet to heal – if they ever truly will – the fact that Foo Fighters were able to muster the strength and courage to make a record like this is testament not only to their friendship, but the restorative power of music. Coming as a direct response to the death of drummer and Dave Grohl’s best friend Taylor Hawkins, as well as the loss of his mother Virginia in the same year, grief encompasses But Here We Are in all of its confusing, consuming and confounding ways.
Rather than wallow and retreat into themselves – for which no-one would begrudge them – the band come out swinging, playing like their lives depend on it with a raging inferno in their bellies to make one of the best Foo Fighters albums in years. Taylor touched the hearts of millions and in tracks like Under You where Dave reflects on ‘pictures of us sharing songs and cigarettes’ and tries to navigate his mourning when it’s still so raw, he speaks for those unable to articulate their own feelings of loss.
Defiant in the face of adversity, the resilience in tracks like Nothing At All is palpable, and the stadium-sized title-track is the quintessential encapsulation of a band of brothers willing themselves to carry on – you can practically see the veins in Dave’s neck bulging at the ‘I gave you my heart, but here we are’ chorus. He needs to scream it to he heavens, giving it his everything, knowing he will get through this if he just pushes hard enough.
But there is also vulnerability to the point of devastation. In tracks like Show Me How with his daughter Violet on vocals, as both wonder who will show them the way now the family matriarch has passed, and the phenomenal 10-minute journey of The Teacher, Dave explores the countless challenging thoughts and emotions of the grieving process, admitting his own unpreparedness for the enormity of losing his mother, screaming goodbye as it descends into static.
Foos’ leader has been in the public eye most of his life, he’s experienced monumental loss in two of the most important bands in rock history, and we have all seen just how strong the bond was between he and Taylor. His death came out of nowhere, like Dave sings on Rescued, like it does for many of our loved ones. The world needs records like this, not just for the loss of a rock icon, but to be re-contextualised for our own heartache – to make us feel like we’re not alone, to be there in our time of need.
Whether you’re listening for the 10th time or the 100th time, there will always be one line or one moment that catches you, a lump in your throat, a quiver on your bottom lip, a slight gloss on the eye. Sure, there might be more experimental or adventurous records that came out in 2023, but no album has had the emotional impact or resonance of But Here We Are. It’s as pure as rock’n’roll comes and stands as a memorial to one of the all-time greats. (LM)
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