Top Ten Of 2023: Will J

2023 has certainly been a busy year for me! My daughter turned a year old in April, and just a month prior to that we had relocated from the UK to Sweden. Most of the year after this has been settling in and catching up on life, in particular music.

It’s been another great year for heavy music, with so many bands releasing brilliant debut or sophomore albums, while others took their sound to whole new levels. Even with my time so limited, cutting it to just ten was not easy.

Will J - 2023

10. Woe ‘Legacies Of Frailty’

Woe ‘Legacies Of Frailty’ Artwork

For over fifteen years now, highly underrated US black metallers Woe have been consistently setting a high bar for the genre. Their style has always balanced modern and traditional black metal sounds, and this is no different on Legacies Of Frailty. But Woe also have the ability to consistently find melodies that twist their way into your brain and burrow in deep. The balance of sounds on the record is excellent, so that even when it sounds quite familiar it still also feels like something new.

Label: Vendetta Records

9. Catafalque ‘Dybbuk’

Catafalque ‘Dybbuk’ Artwork

British band Catafalque have for spent the last few years quietly crafting an impressive discography in the noise music underground. Their music though is anything but quiet. Dybbuk is a ferocious blend of harsh noise, industrial doom and atmospheric drone designed to evoke some truly disturbing feelings. It’s a mesmerising, if somewhat an uneasy listen, and it stands as Catafalque‘s best album yet.

Label: Aural Music

8. Dawn Ray’d ‘To Know The Light’

Dawn Ray’d ‘To Know The Light’ Artwork

The recent end of Dawn Ray’d came as a shock to many, especially as their star seemed to only be increasing in brightness. As an anarchist, anti-fascist black metal band who made it to the front cover of Kerrang, they must be highly commended. Equally, you can understand how it may be better to burn out brightly than potentially have such a radical message watered down in the mainstream. But what a way to burn out! To Know The Light is their best and most diverse album, perfecting their combination of raw black metal and passionate dark folk, and from it, creating something full of hope, inspiration and determination.

Label: Prosthetic Records

7. Sunrot ‘The Unfailing Rope’

Sunrot 'The Unfailing Rope' Artwork

There’s something about Sunrot that just makes me smile, even if their music is often quite devastating. Their blend of dirty sludge riffage, atmospheric melodies and passionate vocal performances is crafted to utter perfection on The Unfailing Rope. At times the emotion is almost overwhelming, and it’s amazing that Sunrot can deliver such powerful music that also makes you bang your head and grin from ear to ear.

Label: Prosthetic Records

6. Body Void ‘Atrocity Machine’

Body Void 'Atrocity Machine' Artwork

Body Void have always been crushingly heavy, yet their sound has also maintained a distinctive rawness. Following on from their excellent 2022 EP Burn The Homes Of Those Who Seek To Control Our Bodies the band have fully embraced the elements of harsh noise which they had previously hinted at. It gives Atrocity Machine a whole new layer of sonic savagery, making it simultaneously one of the hardest and most satisfying listens of the year.

Label: Prosthetic Records

5. Divide And Dissolve ‘Systemic’

Divide And Dissolve 'Systemic' Artwork

Systemic is a continuation of Divide And Dissolve’s wholly unique style across three albums, mixing raw, instrumental, guitar and drums drone metal with otherworldly saxophone and synths. Even though the template remains similar, there is subtle progression from each record, with more electronic elements coming into play. The way that Divide And Dissolve manage to convey their political and social message so wonderfully within instrumental music is continuously impressive. Seeing the band live takes this to a whole new level, and it was for me a beautiful and inspirational experience. Turn this album up loud enough and you might capture that experience.

Label: Invada Records

4. Kvelertak ‘Endling’

Kvelertak ‘Endling’ Artwork

Perhaps it’s the language barrier, but I do feel that Norway’s Kvelertak are one of the most underrated bands in metal today. They are masters of their craft, utilising a highly melodic triple guitar attack in an unparalleled combination of black metal, punk and rock ’n’ roll. Their songwriting, and their ability to craft an unstoppable hook is simply incredible. Combine this with their most expansive sonic palette yet, and it makes Endling a glorious listen. While previous album Splid might have had a bit more emotional attachment to me, from an objective viewpoint Endling is Kvelertak’s finest effort to date.

Label: Rise Records

3. The Hirs Collective ‘We’re Still Here’

The Hirs Collective ‘We’re Still Here’ Artwork

I’m not usually one for big projects with a vast amount of features. But then not every album comes with a list of collaborators such as this: Geoff Rickly, Nate Newton, Justin Pearson, Frank Iero, Anthony Green, Thou, Sunrot, The Body, Full Of Hell, Soul Glo, Escuela Grind, Melt Banana, Gouge Away. Oh, and of course Shirley Manson from Garbage!! That’s to name just the few that stand out to me. What’s more impressive is that The Hirs Collective have produced a stunningly cohesive album, where even the most radical detours fit beautifully within their vicious metallic hardcore framework. And to have all of these artists coming together on a project with such a crucial social message of LGBTQ+ rights makes We’re Still Here a thing of remarkable beauty.

Label: Get Better Records

2. Zulu ‘A New Tomorrow’

Zulu ‘A New Tomorrow’ Artwork

Zulu are a truly unique band, regardless if you focus more on the music, the message, or if you see the two as irrevocably linked. On A New Tomorrow the band produce a wild combination: brutal metallic hardcore, with riffs and rhythms that make you want to jump up, stomp around, and scream with violent joy; and black empowerment anthems, both of their own making in the form of instrumentals, raps and spoken word pieces, as well as samples from classic soul, reggae and hip hop.

As a white person I can’t relate directly to the specifics of what Zulu discuss, but I find both their music and message to be utterly brilliant and truly powerful. Life doesn’t have to be defined by tribulations; joy, pride and empowerment are things to behold.

Label: Flatspot Records

1. Fever Ray ‘Radical Romantics’

Fever Ray 'Radical Romantics' Artwork

I’ll admit, I had a bit of trepidation about putting this record as my number one, seeing as it falls far outside the listening scope I expect of most Shaman readers. But the more I thought about it, the more I realised that I had to be honest.

Usually, there’ll be a few electro albums that make it into my favourites of the year, but rarely does an album stun me in the way Radical Romantics does. The songwriting is flawless, and the sound-craft is captivating, all while being full of undeniably gripping pop tunes. Fever Ray conveys so many different emotions and evokes so many colourful visions, often within the space of one song, and I just couldn’t get enough of it.

Fever Ray‘s previous two albums were brilliant, but they didn’t quite grab me in the same way as their work in The Knife did. This time it absolutely does. There’s been some incredible heavy music this year, but Radical Romantics is so phenomenal that I simply couldn’t place it anywhere else.

Label: Rabid Records

Honourable Mentions

My honourable mentions go to Full Of Hell, who produced two excellent collaboration albums with Primitive Man and Nothing; and to Underdark, Svalbard, Ragana and Panopticon – their records were all amazing, but having been released only in the last month or so I simply haven’t had time to properly delve into them.

Scribed by: Will J