A Year In Review: Our Favorite Rock and Metal Albums of 2023

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The first days of 2024 are now behind us, and as album releases begin to pick up in late January, this is the perfect time to reflect on the greatest albums that were released in 2023. Whittling down the veritable buffet of new releases from 2023 to a list of 20 albums was a daunting task, as both rock and metal were inundated with the talents of acts both new and old. There were delightful comebacks from seasoned veterans like Metallica, but there were also debuts like the promising album from the newly formed Asinhell. Rock and metal alike were able to bask in the return of music industry staples, like collaborating in-studio rather than over Zoom while sitting a world apart. They have also been able to rekindle their passions by taking to the live stage in earnest. Above all else, 2023 was a breath of fresh air and gave an enthusiastic injection of invigoration that the heavy music scene has needed for years.

For an overview of progressive metal or progressive rock, check out the other Sonic Perspectives list for Prog Metal AOTY 2023 and Prog Rock AOTY 2023. For everything else, spanning from classic rock revival to black metal, this list will highlight this last year’s most exceptional efforts. Take a walk back through the lush gardens of 2023 and soak in its sonic reverie – this is the very best of the best.

OUR TOP 20 ROCK AND METAL ALBUMS OF 2023

20. Winger – Seven (Frontiers Music)

Winger may have been one of the first acts to fall prey to the hard rock whiplash of the 90s, but today, they remain one of the only acts that’s not just still relevant, but continue to evolve and make better music. Kip Winger and company have matched and possibly exceeded their previous album with a variety of well-written songs and world-class musicianship. These are musicians that have continued to hone their skills, and “Seven” is an album that is written to accentuate those strengths. “Seven” is unafraid to be as soft as it is heavy, and as tender as it is angry, showing of all possible angles to maximize this showcase of skill. Great singing, catchy choruses, wicked guitar solos, you name it. This one really has it all.

If you haven’t yet heard, Winger will be doing an exclusive set at ProgPower USA this year, performing their influential album “Pull” in full. ProgPower USA days 3 & 4 are currently sold out.

19. The Winery Dogs – III (Three Dog Records)

Although its title may not inspire confidence in the group’s creativity, “III” is a satisfyingly rich exploration of sound by hard rockers The Winery Dogs. This power trio – a supergroup in its own right – consists of drummer Mike Portnoy, bassist Billy Sheenan, and guitarist/vocalist Richie Kotzen. The Winery Dogs deliver exactly what’s expected of them on their third album: catchy hooks and riffs, funky and soulful moments, with jaw-dropping shredding in-between. The production is organic, crispy and clear, and the fun that the trio seems to have while playing together is ultimately contagious. Above all else, this seems to be a group of friends having fun, which makes the music exceptionally light and enjoyable. This isn’t Portnoy’s only entry on the Sonic Perspective’s recaps this year, but it’s one of the most memorable.

18. Nita Strauss – The Call of the Void (Century Media Records)

There are few places that this firecracker hasn’t touched in recent years, lighting up the work of rock and metal with her skill and charisma. Nita Strauss gained her footing alongside the legendary Alice Cooper, and struck out to conquer the world in her own way. Countless days spent on stage and as a guest musician didn’t stop Strauss from finding the time to make her tremendous new album “The Call of the Void.” Not only has Strauss begun to master her craft and become a top lead guitarist in the rock and metal scene, but she has proven to be an accomplished producer and songwriter. This second solo album from Strauss has assembled some of the greatest talents in the business to make music that is compelling, captivating, and studded with stars. Dazzling in the studio and on stage, hats off to Strauss for making yet another work of art that is sure to endure and impress.

17. Night Demon – Outsider (Century Media Records)

The vintage and the new wave collide with “Outsider,” the latest offering from increasingly-acclaimed Night Demon. This album recaptures the original spirit of early 80s metal and brings it into the 2020s with a fresh coat of sonic paint and a diverse array of stylistic devices. It’s as catchy as it is intriguing, with threads of nostalgia that interlock to form a warm embrace. At its heaviest moments, it’s also amazing to remember that this level of skill is accomplished by a trio of musicians, including Jarvis Leatherby handling both vocals and bass with expert grace. With a touch of inspired magic, “Outsider” shows that Night Demon is worth keeping an eye on as the decade progresses.

16. Uriah Heep – Chaos & Colour (Silver Lining Music)

Yes, believe it or not, Uriah Heep are still alive and kicking. Not only are they still alive and kicking, 2023 saw the release of their monumental 25th studio album, “Chaos & Colour.” This British rock band is all but incapable of slowing down, and have delivered an opus that is robust in spirit, heavenly in its soaring melodies, and crisp with pointed guitar lines. That is not to mention its foundational keyboards that elevate each song with unique elation. There is something for longtime fans – who have now been tagging along since the 60s – and new fans alike in the bright light of “Chaos and Colour.” Long live Uriah Heep!

15. Tomb Mold – The Enduring Spirit (20 Buck Spin)

2023 seems to have been the year of the power trio, and with a spotlight on tremendous three-pieces, one would be remiss not to mention Tomb Mold. The Torontonian death metallers show off their ambition and tenacious spirit in their aptly named latest release, “The Enduring Spirit.” Although death metal is its foundation, Tomb Mold isn’t afraid to push the boundaries of their sound, taking flavors that span from jazz to prog as they stretch their skills further than ever before. Unique stylistic proclivities make “The Enduring Spirit” a fascinating, dazzling, and attention-grabbing opus. Listeners may find themselves torn between the need to dissect this album’s layers and the need to simply sink beneath its murky depths. Go forth into the catacombs that Tomb Mold have chiseled with their earth-ripping riffs – who knows what you’ll find?

14. Prong – State of Emergency (Steamhammer / SPV)

The 13th release in the Prong discography, “State of Emergency,” is a clear showcase of the unmistakable Prong sound that fans have come to know and love. This is an album that turns its back to the whims of the world and focuses instead on its own heart, the steady percussion of identity that keeps the project going. Thrashy undertones carry a punky and rock-forward album through its carefully crafted tracks. “State of Emergency” highlights the many talents and quintessential skills that have defined Prong thus far, including deliciously groove-infused metal numbers, and it ends with a cover of Rush’s “Working Man” in an homage to Tommy Victor’s early inspirations. As enduring as the band that created it, “State of Emergency” is a must-listen for Prong fans and its skeptics alike.

13. Pyramaze – Bloodlines (AFM Records)

In a year packed with tremendous power metal – including the latest from Elvenking, Lovebites, Sacred Outcry, and Kamelot, just to name a few – it is the hook-laden, vocal-forward, enchantingly-bright “Bloodlines” that takes the cake as this year’s greatest entry in the genre. To say “Bloodlines” has polished production would be an understatement: this album is so polished and well-produced that it shines like a mirror. The catchy choruses reflect bright rays of light and are then carried heavenwards by vocalist Terje Harøy’s soaring voice. From front to back this album flows tremendously, carrying tracks that are fueled by pure adrenaline alongside the classic power ballads that Pyramaze has long excelled at. This time, Harøy is joined by Melissa Bonny for a feature that is truly out-of-this-world. For power metal fans, “Bloodlines” is a must-listen, and for those that are a bit more hesitant, this is a decadent dessert that just might win their favor. This opus is nothing short of brilliantly, spectacularly, radiantly beautiful.

12. KK’s Priest – The Sinner Rides Again (Napalm Records)

Firing on all metallic cylinders and proving to be as prolific as his name suggests, K.K. Downing and his flock of professional sonic slayers unleash a volley of explosive anthems in “The Sinner Rides Again.” Reminiscent of the glory days of heavy metal, this sophomore outing is a fitting opportunity for KK’s Priest to spread its wings and begin to take flight, as well as begin to truly cement its staying power. The flame of heavy metal burns bright and forevermore, and “The Sinner Rides Again” reinforces the enduring power of this style of music, particularly in the bright spirit of passionate musicians who embody it. This is as much a tribute to classic heavy metal as it is a continued revival of the same. Heavy metal never dies, and KK’s Priest breathes new life into the scene with each riff.

11. Wytch Hazel – IV: Sacrament (Metal Blade Records)

As its name suggests, “IV: Sacrament” is the fourth outing from this ever-inventive hard rock and heavy metal crossover, and it follows three years after the band’s beloved “III: Pentecost.” Wytch Hazel are not just British in origin, but have developed a sound that captures all the signatures of British proto-heavy metal that built the scene as we know it today. Excitement escalates with the addition of medieval melodies wrapped in an accessible folk-tinged exterior. The many textures and influences built into the fabric of “IV: Sacrament” allow it to be an exciting listen no matter how many times one returns to its depths. There is also the added appeal of honest, raw conviction, coming from the deep-seated faith of Wytch Hazels members. Such authenticity and tradition meld beautifully alongside one another to create an album that absolutely should not be overlooked.

10. Blackbraid – Blackbraid II (Independent)

Would there be any use in begging bands to stop numbering their albums in place of crafting a proper title? Blackbraid’s naming sins are forgiven, however, if just for the raw skill that made “Blackbraid II” draw eyes from around the globe. A solo indigenous black metal project from the Adirondack mountains, Blackbraid seemingly exploded into notoriety overnight, but “Blackbraid II” shows just why this project was soon the hottest commodity on the market. Not only is Blackbraid unique and uncompromising, it is a genuinely skillful endeavor, using the tenets of black metal to create tales of epic proportions. Traditional Native American drums and flutes marry seamlessly with blood-boiling riffs. Familiar and uniquely novel at once, black metal fans owe it to themselves to try the delightful ingenuity of “Blackbraid II.”

9. Dirty Honey – Can’t Find the Brakes (MRI)

Dirty Honey returns with a powerful new album, poised to infuse their unique twist into the enduring classic rock genre. Their latest offering is a thrilling and emotionally charged experience that brilliantly showcases their musicianship. Marc LaBelle’s vocals are a sheer delight, and “Can’t Find the Brakes” is like opening a box of exquisite chocolates, each track a delicious treat in its own right. Dirty Honey has not only resurrected classic rock, but has infused it with a modern edge, making it feel fresh and invigorating. This album is a must-listen for anyone yearning for the unadulterated spirit of rock ‘n’ roll. It finds its own space in the modern day quite craftily and brings the joy of rock to new listeners with ease.

8. Insomnium – Anno 1696 (Century Media Records)

Insomnium has spent years entrancing audiences with their dark and poetic delights, and “Anno 1696” is perhaps one of the band’s darkest tales yet. “Anno 1696” is rich in melancholy and despair as it tells the conceptual story crafted by bassist and vocalist Niilo Sevanen. The concept draws from the same year as the title, and in doing so recounts a gruesome witch hunt, as well as the famine and unrest that clung to the same era. There is no better vehicle than Insomniums heavily ominous music to deliver such a ghastly tragedy with all of the emotion, sorrow, and torment such a tale deserves. Insomnium has mastered the careful balance between the necessary fire of metallic fury and the liquid shadows that bleed from their poetry. Hope has been extinguished like a candle in a blazing gale, and all that remains is the beautiful desolate expanse of nature’s majesty.

7. Atavistia – Cosmic Warfare (CSquared Music)

Epic, symphonic, uncompromising death metal that has the strength to span galaxies in a single breath. It’s the sort of music that pulls fans deep into its gaping maw and refuses to let them leave, forcing them into a constant state of yearning for the next release. It’s also a sonic formula that is difficult to master, so bands that excel in this genre tend to excel in the extreme. And unfortunately, it’s a narrow niche to fill, which leaves much of Atavistia’s published praise rife with comparison. Such comparisons truly downplay the excellence that “Cosmic Warfare” has offered up the world. This is an album that stands strong on its own, with its very own exquisite chops, and its own creative vision that needs no comparison to be beautiful. Explosions of blast beats converge with bombastic symphonic elements. The songwriting is virtuosic, as power-inspired guitars entangle with technically excellent screams and growls. There is a certain air of triumph and victory that carry the never-ending barrage of extremity from the instrumental opener all the way to a star-splitting finale. This opus is a massive force of gravity that threatens and elates in equal measure The sheer breadth of “Cosmic Warfare” cannot be understated. Go forth and let the black hole swallow you as you stare upwards at a sea of stars, and thank Atavistia for the pleasure.

6. In Flames – Foregone (Nuclear Blast Records)

These legendary Gothenburg metallers are back, and after becoming some of the definitive faces of the death metal scene, they still prove to be at the top of their game. In fact, “Foregone” is perhaps the closest In Flames have come to their classic sound in more than a decade. “Foregone” features the same infectious grooves and crushing brutality that made their early rise to fame in the 90s so memorable. The tempo varies throughout, making for some headbanging hits that easily impress, and downtempo breathers that entrance with seemingly effortless melodies. Creative solos are just the icing on the cake that welcomes In Flames back to the forefront of death metal’s modern arc.  

5. Spirit Adrift – Ghost at the Gallows (Century Media Records)

Nate Garrett and the boys of Spirit Adrift continue to evolve not only their own metal sound, but also the state of metal as we know it today. This record sets a new standard, doing a little bit of many kinds of metal, and doing it very well. The eight tracks are deceptively simple in appearance but turn out to be a whopping smorgasbord of metallic bliss. In fact, there’s so much going on between the hooks, riffs, grooves, that it demands multiple listens to fully appreciate the ambition that Garrett has brought to the table. The compositions themselves are like carbon fiber: their strength is in how the various threads, themes, and styles are woven tightly together into something that exceeds the sum of its parts. What are you waiting for?

4. Orbit Culture – Descent (Seek & Strike Records)

Undeniably, “Descent” encapsulates what modern metal is meant to be and can be. There is intricate songwriting matched by skillful layering and production, the instruments in a carefully choreographed interplay. Orbit Culture has become a household name in almost record time, and “Descent” is a certain showcase of why. Orchestration creates a luscious backdrop to hypnotic guitar, its melodic ascension adding great depth and dynamic flux to an already engaging album. There is intensity that creates intrigue, inviting repeated listens. For those looking for something a bit heavier, there are also breakdowns that are among the best of the year, their aggression unmatched. A rhythm-heavy and bass-focused approach is the fabric that unites the tracks of “Descent” together and makes it a centerpiece among this year’s offerings.

3. Obituary – Dying of Everything (Relapse Records)

Distance makes the heart grow fonder, and with four years between “Dying of Everything” and its predecessor, Obituary makes this statement shine true. Each track on this latest opus arrives with the bite of well-aged liquor, its shredding continuously aggressive and sure to leave a smoldering bed of ashes in its wake. It’s also an album that is delightfully old-school death metal without any modern distractions to pull attention away from its brutality. This is metal that comes straight from a barbed-wire heart, meant to thrill and amuse longtime fans with familiar metallic touches, and bring everyone to headbanging across its earth-shattering verses. There is subtle evolution in style as Obituary enters their third decade, but even more so, there is a sense of certain identity that makes “Dying of Everything” unmistakably Obituary. Another job well-done from the enduring Obituary camp.

2. Cattle Decapitation – Terrasite (Metal Blade Records)

Deathgrind at its most gruesome and brutal, with writhing flesh and the horrific stench of the obscene imbued into its very core, “Terrasite” is Cattle Decapitation at the top of their game. Their approach is not tired, not even after all this time – if anything, “Terrasite” invigorates like never before. Apocalyptic dread coalesces with unyielding brutality, creating a soundscape that feels as suffocating as the inevitable death of man. The melodic moments are little more than brief respites between crushing minutes of brutality, each new wave of percussion like a chasm splitting the earth wide open. Grotesque visions have never been quite so enlightened as they are when brought to life (or death?) by Cattle Decapitation. Let the masters of this art fill you with unease, and get ripped apart by “Terrasite” and its piercing fangs – this is, after all, the inevitable.

1. Creeper – Sanguivore (Spinefarm Records)

Creeper’s latest and greatest album has seen its time on a fair share of Album of the Year lists, and for good reason. “Sanguivore” is a delightful vampiric rock opera that even managed to make the UK album charts. It is delightfully dark, and so lush that you can practically feel the crimson dripping between your teeth, its seduction almost overpowering. Desire and lust bleed from every note like an overwhelming piano-infused aphrodisiac. And it is also a splendid evolution from a band that always had its roots in excellence and undeniable skill – this seems like the album where Creeper has finally, at long last, found its heart. Beautiful cover art matches the horror-infused tone of the music, and its October release was fittingly close to Halloween. Dramatic touches of emo and moments of unadulterated rock ‘n’ roll make for an album that is as exquisite as it is accessible to the masses. This is a rare feat, and the kudos are owed to Creeper in full for finding their soul and sharing it with the world. As said in “Sanguivore” – get on your knees – and bow before these masters of rock.


SURPRISE ALBUM OF THE YEAR

Amun – Spectra and Obsession (Indepedent)

Spectra and Obsession” is the greatest album you’ve never heard of, and it may be the most genuine innovation that the black and death metal scenes have enjoyed in the past decade. Amun have dared to evolve black metal in a way that is boldly original while building on the foundational tenets of the genre with masterful skill. In just under two hours of mind-melting extremity Amun tell stories of grandiose proportions, music, and words meeting to create a work of art that is transcendent, and an atmosphere that is drenched in fervent devotion. Aggressive electronic and synth elements cleave chasms in expertly crafted black metal for an ambiance that is deeply unsettling and ominous. This marriage of almost alien electronics with organic and raw metallic elements makes for a sound that is like nothing else released in 2023, or perhaps ever before. To soak in the reverie of “Spectra and Obsession” is to watch a ravenous fire ravage a forest, enthralled by its absolute power and majesty, but similarly awed by its destructive force. It is beautiful, it is terrifying, it is captivating. Amun has concocted a novelty that matches virtuosity with passion for a creative vision like no other.


DEBUT ALBUM OF THE YEAR

Asinhell – Impii Hora (Metal Blade Records)

A debut though it may be, Asinhell benefits from the mature songwriting chops of Volbeat’s Michael Poulsen, and it delivers on the promises attached to that respected name. Reaching back into his death-metal past that few remember, this iconic Danish rocker delivers a truly gut-wrenching sonic assault in line with the glory days of early European death metal mainstays. Both his musicianship and songwriting skill lend Asinhell the credibility it needs to succeed, and as a debut, it serves to properly forge Asinhell as a force to be reckoned with. Hopefully “Impii Hora” is just the first of many such successes.


EP OF THE YEAR

Spiritbox – The Fear of Fear (Spinefarm Records)

2021’s studio album “Eternal Blue” rocketed Spiritbox to fame in a matter of months from its initial release, and that meant the stakes were high for Spiritbox to continue delivering that sound so many had come to crave. Fortunately, the bite-sized but ever-exciting “The Fear of Fear” is another installation that matches the high standards that Spiritbox has set for themselves. This is a band that builds new worlds with their music, each song a galaxy in itself, ferocious and cosmic with wonder. It’s a short, punchy outing, and while it’s not particularly inventive, it’s an exciting chapter in the Spiritbox story.


LIVE ALBUM OF THE YEAR

Obscura – A Celebration I: Live in North America (Nuclear Blast Records)

Journey through the expansive and heralded Obscura discography alongside an enthusiastic crowd for the exciting live release “A Celebration I: Live in North America.” Not only does this setlist traverse longtime favorites and deep cuts alike, but it also ventures into Obscura’s latest studio release, “A Valediction.” Some of these songs come to life like never before on the stage, and the vigor of an eagerly-wooed crowd adds to the excitement. The recordings on the album come from “A Valediction World Tour,” split across the USA, Canada, and Mexico in both 2022 and 2023. It is an exciting, electrifying performance, and it showcases what has made Obscura such a longtime staple over the years. Close your eyes and put on “A Celebration:” it’ll almost feel like you’re there.

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