Top Ten Of 2023: David J McLaren

Life continues to get busier and busier, which means that inevitably more and more new music passes me by as I have less time to explore. One other factor that I hadn’t really considered until I started to look backwards, is that I’ve bought less CDs and vinyl in 2023 than I have for years – I wonder whether subconsciously the economic bite that’s affecting 99% of us has impacted my listening and buying habits too?

David J McLaren - 2023

There is certainly one factor that has limited the breadth of my listening this year, and that’s the fact that one band has dominated in a way that no other band has for years… but I’ll get to that later and here’s my roll of honour for 2023…

10. Wodorost ‘From The Depths’

Wodorost 'From The Depths' Artwork
Wodorost ‘From The Depths’ Artwork

This is weird – I have three nautical themes albums in one top ten list – and I get seasick! To my ears, of the three, Wodorost‘s From The Depths is the one that feels most of the sea. Each track has a wave-like quality which gets me doing that stoned-headbanging thing which I first explicitly remember doing along to Smashing Pumpkins’ Mayonnaise… those were the days. Incidentally, an arena tour for the Pumpkins and Weezer next year? Really?!

Label: Independent

9. Narrow Head ‘Moments Of Clarity’

Narrow Head ‘Moments Of Clarity’ Artwork

Pure late-nineties alt-rock worship – what’s not to like?! Somewhere between Deftones and Buffalo Tom lies Narrow Head, and Moments Of Clarity really does find them upping the songwriting quality and delivering a full album of tunes that have stayed with me since February.

Label: Church Road Records | Run For Cover Records

8. Paradise Lost ‘Icon 30’

Paradise Lost 'Icon 30' Artwork

Icon was always my Paradise Lost album of choice. I always preferred it to Draconian Times – the riffs are better in my opinion. However, one aspect of Icon that never quite felt at strong as it should have been, was the vocals – Holmes sounds strained at times on the original recording. Imagine my excitement when I first listened to this celebratory/Taylor Swift-style-commercially-driven re-recording of the classic album, and I find that the vocals are better whilst the instrumentation is almost identical. Winner!

Label: Independent

7. Godthrymm ‘Distortions’

Godthrymm 'Distortions' Artwork
Godthrymm ‘Distortions’ Artwork

From the masters to the young (or maybe just fresher) pretenders. Godthrymm absolutely nail the latter-day Paradise Lost sound without being slavishly similar, and whilst I feel the album is a tad unbalanced, that hasn’t stopped me returning to it regularly. Is it a better album than Icon?… don’t be silly. But in this context, it’s been a more impactful album this year, so it sneaks ahead in the pecking order.

Label: Profound Lore Records

6. Oceanlord ‘Kingdom Cold’

Oceanlord 'Kingdom Cold' Artwork
Oceanlord ‘Kingdom Cold’ Artwork

This is my second favourite nautical doom album of the year. How unlucky does a band have to be to pick up that accolade? The Oceanlord trawlermen from down under have done themselves proud with this release though. It’s probably my favourite sounding album of the year from a production point of view, and the songs aren’t too shabby either!

Label: Magnetic Eye Records

5. Prong ‘State Of Emergency’

Prong 'State Of Emergency' Artwork

Where did this come from? Prong were always a strong second-tier band and I really enjoyed their purple patch in the mid-nineties. I’ve always liked Tommy Victor’s guitar playing; even quite enjoying his contributions to Danzig. I certainly didn’t expect them to release an album this good in 2023 though! The quality of this record, for some reason, makes me even more sad that Helmet (who were a top-tier band for me) continue to release albums that make me physically disappointed!

Label: Steamhammer

4. Khan ‘Creatures’

Khan 'Creatures'
Khan ‘Creatures’ Artwork

My biggest regret this year is missing Khan when they played in Manchester recently… but to be fair it was on Guy Fawkes Night (non-UK readers – look it up and be prepared to be baffled!) and the idea of me not being with the kids that particular night is anathema. Thankfully, my Khan-shaped void has very successfully been filled by Creatures. Dreamy Australian stoner vibes have never been so inspired. It gets my award for best album art of the year too!

Label: Full Contact Safari Records

3. Peter Gabriel ‘I/O’

Peter Gabriel 'I/O' Artwork

Peter Gabriel is about as prolific as planetary evolution. His discography as a solo artist covers forty-five years and includes just nine core albums – six of them coming in the first decade. So (no pun intended), when he bothers to release a new record, it amounts to a bit of an event for those of us that are still bothered – and to be fair he’s still selling out arenas, so there’s a lot of us! I/O is a beautiful ode to growing old gracefully. Well worth a visit after a hard Sunday listening to black metal. Oh, and there are three different mixes of the whole album, so it’s manna from heaven for us audiophile nerds.

Label: Real World Records

2. Svalbard ‘The Weight Of The Mask’

Svalbard 'The Weight Of The Mask' Artwork
Svalbard ‘The Weight Of The Mask’ Artwork

This came as a complete surprise. In total honesty I’ve known the name Svalbard for a few years, but for some reason my brain unconsciously decided that it wasn’t for me. Well, my brain was wrong – this is awesome, heavy, melodic and cathartic noise. I’ve gone backwards from this release and found that their previous album is just as good – bonus.

Label: Nuclear Blast

1. Ahab ‘The Coral Tombs’

Ahab 'The Coral Tombs' Artwork

I don’t remember ever listening to an album in January and almost instantly thinking ‘this will be my album of the year’, but that’s exactly what happened with The Coral Tombs. I’ve been on the good ship Ahab since The Giant, and this is maybe the natural destination of the journey they’ve been on ever since. Their Damnation show didn’t happen in the end, but hopefully they’ll visit UK shores again in ’24. Mesmerising stuff!

Label: Napalm Records

Honourable Mentions

On to my honourable mention, which isn’t an album, it’s a band. For those of us of a certain age that continue to explore new music to the point of lunacy, the reason we do it is to (often fruitlessly) try and recapture that primal link we had with the bands and records that we devoured in our formative years. Well, this year (ironically, from two days after my 2022 top ten was written) High Vis have captured my imagination like no other band has done for years!

Is it the hardcore versus Stone Roses musical style that attracted me? Is it the brilliant lyrics, combined with the fact that someone is singing in my accent? Or is it the live show that made me stage dive for the first time in literally two decades? It’s all of those things.

Their shows have grown massively over the last eighteen months. If you’re gonna catch them live I’d say see them as soon as possible. They’re playing Hellfest next year – I’ll see you down the front.

Scribed by: David J McLaren