Top Ten Of 2023: Martin Williams

It is pretty hard to believe that this is my third Top Ten list for The Sleeping Shaman, but it speaks to how time moves for me now, post-turning fifty, and post-Covid. Somehow, I experience time both lightning fast, yet simultaneously super slow in real-time. 2023 has been an unusually difficult year as I’ve had quite a bit of upheaval, and turmoil in my life, both personally and professionally, as well as some unexpected health issues that I’ve had to contend with. However, as always, I find gratitude in life under trying circumstances, knowing that things can always be worse.

Martin Williams - 2023

On the musical front, this was yet another stellar year for music and I must confide I had a very difficult time narrowing down my choices, re-writing my list multiple times the last few weeks, as anxiety began to settle knowing I needed to get this list solidified, and submitted. So, here we go, here are my top ten favorite albums, and five honorable mentions, of 2023.

10. Borracho ‘Blurring The Lines Of Reality’

Borracho 'Blurring The Lines Of Reality' Artwork

DC riff-wielding, fuzz-overlords Borracho return with an exceptional follow-up to 2021’s Pound of Flesh, which incidentally made my top ten list of that year as well. The power trio took their sound in a more psychedelic direction with hints of an Eastern influence on Blurring The Lines Of Reality but the political lyrics were still mostly intact, as was the band’s mastery of the fuzzy riff, and the rumbling groove. The album could have easily been higher on my list, but coming in at ten doesn’t diminish the records impact, it instead exemplifies the massive amount of quality releases in 2023.

Label: Kozmik Artifactz

9. KIND ‘Close Encounters’

KIND 'Close Encounters' Artwork

The Boston stoner rock, sort-of, supergroup returned with their third album (get it? Close Encounters of the Third Kind?) and reinforced themselves as one of the best newer bands of the genre, despite the members being around the scene for a long time in their previous/other bands.

KIND presents a clinic in grunge-tinged stoner rock, sounding like a cross between rumbling, Swedish stoner rock that’s mixed with the awesome vocal harmonies of vintage Alice In Chains, and I don’t just toss that comparison out lightly. Close Encounters sounds absolutely massive throughout with the music performed by seasoned veterans. Truly an unstoppable, heavy rock album from start to finish.

Label: Ripple Music

8. Sandrider ‘Enveleration’

Sandrider 'Enveletration'

Seattle’s Sandrider are always a good time, and as I predicted, they wound up on my year end list with their, let’s call it what it is, fucking ripping fourth LP Enveleration. As is always the case with these guys, two thirds of which were in late 90’s heavy hardcore legends Akimbo, they tear through their music with a raucous, manic, riff-heavy charge and thrust that is always both completely crushing and totally creative.

Couple this with a healthy sci-fi obsession, and a good sense of humor, the praise these musicians receive is well-deserved. Their sound and tone are, as always, impeccable, owing in no small part to another Seattle legend, the band’s longtime producer, and the man responsible for the sound on piles of legendary albums, Matt Bayless.

Label: Satanik Royalty Records

7. Kadabra ‘Umbra’

Kadabra 'Umbra' Artwork

This year, we have two Pacific Northwest bands crack the top ten, back-to-back no less, as Spokane Washington’s occult-tinged stoner and doom power trio Kadabra returned with their highly anticipated sophomore release Umbra. This release was on my radar early this year as I loved their debut Ultra, which also made my top ten list back in 2021. The band really have the blueprint for lock-down with their occult-imbued heavy, psychedelic stoner rock and doom metal.

As witnessed prior, their execution, tone and overall presentation are practically flawless, and that’s all the more impressive, seeing as they’re a newer band. Guitarist/vocalist Garrett Zanol’s talents are plainly evident, and frankly jaw dropping, but the band’s secret-weapon is drummer Chase Howard, whose crashing, behind the beat, Bill Ward-ian thud is the hard-hitting backbone of Kadabra.

Label: Heavy Psych Sounds

6. Mutoid Man ‘Mutants’

Mutoid Man 'Mutants' Artwork
Mutoid Man ‘Mutants’ Artwork

Upon first listen, hell, upon first hearing former Zeke, and current High On Fire bassist Jeff Matz had joined the band, I simply knew Mutoid Man’s new LP Mutants was going to be an absolute burner and would undoubtedly make my top ten, and it didn’t disappoint in the slightest.

Stephen Brodsky (whose main band, Cave In, made my top ten list last year with their stellar Heavy Pendulum album) is quite simply untouchable at crafting heavy, whacky, bizarre riffery and cosmic lead work, all the while complimenting it with impossibly catchy vocals. Add the next-level percussive mastery of Converge’s Ben Koller behind the kit, and the aforementioned Matz as the rhythm section, and the ingredients are in place for one of the best, and most original metal albums I’ve heard in the last few years.

Label: Sargent House

5. Negative Blast ‘Echo Planet’

Negative Blast 'Echo Planet' Artwork

This was one of those rare records that came out of nowhere with the end result being the listener is left with their jaw on the floor, utterly pulverized. San Diego’s Negative Blast completely laid waste to all comers with their debut full-length Echo Planet, a totally unstoppable, charging, ripping, blast of uncompromising punk rock ‘n’ roll fury.

Negative Blast’s sound is like a furious, raging version of The Bronx, but way more pissed off. Add elements of garage rock and you have an album that literally made me want to run through a wall. It’s a total face melter from start to finish that I spun countless times since its release, and I simply cannot champion these guys enough.

Label: Quiet Panic Records                                             

4. Dorthia Cottrell ‘Death Folk Country’

Dorthia Cottrell 'Death Folk Country'

Death Folk Country was another record I listened to constantly in 2023, in fact I spun this practically nightly upon its release as it turned out to be one of those perfect, chill-out, late night albums. Dorthia Cottrell, best known as the ethereal vocalist and front woman for Richmond Virginia doom metal front runners Windhand, has crafted an absolutely amazing, beautiful, haunting, tripped out, acoustic masterpiece.

Her voice is perfect for this type of mellow, powerful, emotive music and her lyrics complement the overall sound and vibe, as they conjure up all sorts of atmospheric southern images, sorrow and regret with just a hint of evil and malevolence. Death Folk Country is such a fantastic album, I had a hard time keeping it out of the top spot. I’m positive I’ll be spinning this album for years to come as it’s sure to become an all-time chill-out favorite.

Label: Relapse Records

3. Acid King ‘Beyond Vision’

Acid King 'Beyond Vision'

2023 saw the triumphant return of a handful of original stoner rock and doom metal bands after lengthy hiatuses, none more essential than San Francisco’s legendary Acid King, who reappeared after an eight-year absence to remind the faithful how to expertly craft a psychedelic, cosmic, stoner metal master stroke. Founder Lori S, she of the impeccable next-level guitar tone and airy, sublime vocals, recruited new musicians for Beyond Vision, and the end result is a powerful, sonic evolution, while still showcasing all that Acid King has been known for since the late 1990’s.

The album is a true sonic experience, rewarding the listener with new sounds and textures with repeated listens. It also forces the listener to absorb it as an entire immersive, aural experience, rather than skipping songs while looking for a catchy riff. Acid King’s return was one of the real musical highlights of 2023, and Beyond Vision is quite simply one of the best psychedelic stoner metal albums I’ve ever heard.

Label: Blues Funeral Recordings

2. Frankie And The Witch Fingers ‘Data Doom’

Frankie And The Witch Fingers 'Data Doom' Artwork

I have three of the first six Frankie And The Witch Fingers albums, and dug them well enough, putting them on various themed playlists and thought they were OK, but the band really kicked up it up to the stratosphere with Data Doom that’s a psychedelic, garage, downstroke, rock ‘n’ roll barnburner of the highest order. From start to finish, it’s manic, immediate, creative, urgent, psychedelic, weird and utterly ripping.

You want downstroke, sax-infused craziness? Check. You want riffed-out garage psych? Check. You want ass-shaking funk punk? Check. You want Suicide (the band) style, synth infused punk? Check. There are so many killer moments as Frankie And The Witch Fingers stuff as many strains of the highest quality rock ‘n’ roll into this album as possible. I listened to the shit out of it and not only is it among my top two records of 2023, it’s among my favorite albums of the last ten years.

Label: Greenway Records | The Reverberation Appreciation Society

1. Dozer ‘Drifting in the Endless Void’

Dozer 'Drifting In The Endless Void'

This was an absolute no-brainer for me. In fact, I had Drifting In The Endless Void as my album of the year, sound unheard, the moment it was announced that Dozer’s long-awaited return was happening in early 2023. Full disclosure, as I consider the Swedish stoner rock legends to be among my favorite bands of all time, and among the very best the entire genre has to offer as part of European stoner rock’s first wave. Dozer had not released an album since 2008’s Beyond Colossal, so this was an excruciatingly long wait, and like Acid King, their return was welcomed with open arms.

To the music, the album did not disappoint in any way, sounding exactly like the progression Dozer would’ve made even without the fifteen-year hiatus. There were rumblings that it sounded too much like Greenleaf, but the fact that guitarist Tommi Holappa is in both bands makes that point obvious, but it’s the return of vocalist/rhythm guitarist Fredrick Nordin that sets Dozer apart. Nordin and Holappa’s musical partnership has always been among the genre’s very best, and those years between albums didn’t diminish the duo’s impact in any way. Drifting In The Endless Void is a clinic in stoner rock by any measure, and the band’s return was the cherry on top of a truly memorable year for rock and roll.

Label: Blues Funeral Recordings

Honourable Mentions

Black Rainbows ‘Superskull’
I really wanted to put the new Black Rainbows into my top ten as the Italian stoner/heavy garage psych veterans put out an absolutely killer record in Superskull, but alas, they missed it just barely. Nonetheless, the album is essential listening for fans of fuzzed-out, catchy riffery.

Hippie Death Cult ‘Helichrysum’

I have no doubt that Hippie Death Cult’s stellar third full-length Helichrysum would’ve made my top ten If I’d had a little more time to absorb it. The band’s recent lineup changes did nothing to diminish their impact as this record was heavy, epic, creative, and totally original.

The Great Machine ‘Funrider’
I was a fan of this whacky, heavy, Israeli power trio from the first moment I heard them, and even though their entire discography is killer, Funrider just might be their best. It’s a weird, bizarre, punked-up steamroller of an album, and the title couldn’t be more accurate in describing the sounds within these grooves.

Yawning Balch ‘Volumes One’ & ‘Volume Two’
I’m cheating a little by adding both volumes from Yawning Balch, Fu Manchu’s perpetually underrated, yet completely amazing lead guitarist Bob Balch’s improvisational collaboration with Gary Arce and his current Yawning Man band mates, as these records should be taken as a single, indistinguishable aural experience. Both volumes are clinics in late night, tripped-out, desert psych.

Graveyard ‘6’
It says a lot about the quality of releases in 2023 that Graveyard, one of my favorite bands of the last decade and a half, found themselves in honorable mentions. However, while 6 is a fantastic album and a nice return, it lacked the punch of their last release Peace, to say nothing of their immortal second LP, Hisingen Blues.

Scribed by: Martin Williams