Top Ten Of 2023: Sandy Williamson

Well, 2023 has been a very good year, mostly in the world of music, but in a few other places too. I’ve managed to convert my four-year-old to rock and roll (Thunderstruck is the one folks, the gateway drug!), and despite ups and downs in other parts of my life, I shouldn’t complain. Life is a lot worse for others at the moment.

Sandy Williamson - 2023

I’ve been flooded with so many great records in the past twelve months it has been unbelievably difficult to nail it down to a mere ten, but I’ve done my best. I’ve rarely had as hard a fight for my number one spot as this year. Here we go! Oh, and fuck fascism.

10. Hellripper ‘Warlocks Grim & Withered Hags’

Hellripper ‘Warlocks Grim & Withered Hags’ Artwork

Hellripper have always lived up to their name; tearing the nastiest of riffs from the bowels of Satan’s home and then rippping killer solos over the top to the chagrin of all who would challenge. But the new direction that this album suggests is a very interesting proposition. I genuinely thought they would struggle to top Affair Of The Poisons, but clearly I was wrong. Warlocks Grim & Withered Hags is a whole new level for Hellripper, taking the burning old school attack and forging a new, more potent weapon from the flames.

Label: Peaceville Records

9. Phantom Winter ‘Her Cold Materials’

Phantom Winter 'Her Cold Materials' Artwork

Her Cold Materials is a purposeful, striding behemoth of sludgy doom, layered with a sense of black metal atmospherics and a bleak, dark aesthetic. Phantom Winter’s versatility is their strength, giving us an album that can satisfy many masters at once, while losing nothing of an identity. ‘Winterdoom’ is a real genre, and here are its fathers.

Label: This Charming Man Records

8. Eremit ‘Wearer Of Numerous Forms’

Eremit 'Wearer Of Numerous Forms' Artwork

A three-track, two-hour plus death/doom/sludge/drone/noise record sounds like career suicide for most bands, but Eremit are not most bands. As their previous records signalled, Wearer Of Numerous Forms seemed almost inevitable in the band’s search for meaning and true heaviness in the riff. If you have the time and the patience, this album unlocks itself in layers, piece at a time, and when you can take it as a whole, then you cannot help but wonder just how Eremit did it. But they did, and it is glorious. A magnificent tribute to the power of the riff.

Label: Fucking Kill Records | Drei Gleichen

7. Church Of Misery ‘Born Under A Mad Sign’

Church Of Misery 'Born Under A Mad Sign' Artwork

Church Of Misery’s legacy is complete at this point as one of the world’s best doom bands when in full stride. Their music has never necessarily challenged genre archetypes, nor has it sought to. At this point, Born Under A Mad Sign is more of an educational piece, reminding us about the evils of the human race through the power of groovy, bluesy doom brutality. They’ve been making great records for so long now that we may be able to grant them the honour of being Sabbath’s true heirs as certainly they’ve got a shout.

Label: Rise Above Records

6. Sorrowful Land ‘Faded Anchors Of The Past’

Sorrowful Land ‘Faded Anchors Of The Past’ Artwork

Death/doom today seems to suffer from a quagmire of sameyness; bands repeating the same slow riffs, bleak melody lines and massive growls without putting any real heart into it. Sorrowful Land do not have that issue; each song drips with a genuine heartache and cold grasping sadness. You cannot help but wonder if what is going on in his homeland has given new weight to Max Molodtsov’s compositions here, adding poignancy to an already weeping monolith of crushing moroseness. Whatever it is, Faded Anchors Of The Past is a record coloured richly in shades of grey where both misery and hope lie entwined in a fatal embrace.

Label: Black Lion Records

5. Incantation ‘Unholy Deification’

Incantation 'Unholy Deification' Artwork

Incantation have no interest in just retreading their classics, continuing to push their blasphemic fury as hard and as fast as possible. Unholy Deification shudders with an unseen power, an album you can feel trembling through your bones. Incantation’s work has remained at a consistently high level for a long, long time and it is their commitment to their vision that has always helped this. Unholy Deification is a worthy addition to a discography that contains very few weak points.

Label: Relapse Records

4. Tribunal ‘Weight Of Remembrance’

Tribunal ‘Weight Of Remembrance’ Artwork

As the crumbling edifice of The Path snakes its way through mournful atmosphere, weeping riffs and morose melodies to a titanic conclusion, I can safely say that The Weight of Remembrance had cemented its place at the top of my albums of 2023 back in January, and while it didn’t quite retain its top spot throughout the year, it came damn close. There have been few things that can top the generational talent sweeping across death, doom and gothic splendour that is Tribunal. A masterpiece of emotive, haunting gothic doom.

Label: 20 Buck Spin

3. Bell Witch ‘Future’s Shadow Part 1: the Clandestine Gate’

Bell Witch 'Future’s Shadow Part 1: The Clandestine Gate' Artwork

I read in the promotional material that Future’s Shadow Part 1 was inspired by the minimalist films of Andrei Tarkovsky as well as the concepts of eternal return, where time never ends, and death is not the end of life but the beginning of a new infinite cycle. You can see exactly how, in the planetary, cosmic expanses of Bell Witch’s soundscaping abilities; if this is the first part of a triptych that is destined to loop back upon itself like a titanic ouroboros of doom, then it foreshadows a truly time rending masterpiece. We are witnesses to funeral doom’s rapture.

Label: Profound Lore Records

2. Obituary ‘Dying Of Everything’

Obituary ‘Dying Of Everything’ Artwork

Dying Of Everything has all you could want from an Obituary record in 2023. Massive riffs, tortured howls, thrashy old school death and doomy stomps through poisonous swamps of filth. At the end of the day though, trying to fill a full review with variants of ‘It sounds like fucking Obituary therefore it fucking kills and you should buy it’ is not as easy as you’d think but it is the honest truth. Turns out that death metal legends are really hard to keep down these days, and with Autopsy crushing 2022 and Obituary starting 2023 like this, who can possibly stop them?

Label: Relapse Records

1. Nine Altars ‘The Eternal Penance’

Nine Altars 'The Eternal Penance' Artwork

Nine Altars The Eternal Penance is proper doom; a rich tapestry of soulful blues riffs soaked in a morose melancholy and given voice with full, powerful vocals. It reminds me a lot of Twilight Of The Gods, the epic heavy metal/doom project of Primordial’s Nemtheanga, and their 2013 release Fire On The Mountain. That was ‘proper metal’, brought back to the fore in a big way and given a place again This is what The Eternal Penance is, an album that feels out of time and yet still stunningly contemporary because, let’s face it, metal like this is fucking forever. I love this record and it sits proudly atop my list this year.

Label: Good Mourning Records | Journeys End Records

Honourable Mentions:

Helms Deep ‘Treacherous Ways’
Dwelling Below ‘Dwelling Below’
Impalement ‘Dawn Of The Blackened Death’
Nytt Land ‘Totem’
Coffin Mulch ‘Spectral Intercession’

Scribed by: Sandy Williamson