In Flames - Foregone (Nuclear Blast)
Ever since In Flames unveiled State Of Slow Decay in June 2022, fans have been abuzz at the prospect of the Gothenburg melodeath pioneers returning to the sound that made them so iconic. Thankfully, Foregone delivered on that promise and then some, keeping some of the scope of more recent In Flames whilst delighting in the visceral pleasure of epic, sweeping melodic death metal.
Stephen Hill acknowledged that "the arrival of former Megadeth and Nevermore man Chris Broderick as a full-time member has re-sharpened one of the most essential attacks the band have in their arsenal. The riffs on The Great Deceiver are sharper than the tip of a samurai sword, and on Forgone Pt. 1 both Chris and Björn Gelotte brilliantly duck, weave, pound and thrash along in awesome style."
Katatonia - Sky Void Of Stars (Napalm)
Katatonia have come a long way from their doom metal roots, embracing goth metal and prog across their career to ensure their sound remains an ever-evolving entity. Twelfth studio album Sky Void Of Stars offers a stunning vision of the wide scope of their sound amidst some of the most enchanting melodies the band have ever written, Dom Lawson ruling that "Katatonia sound as absorbed in their meticulous, mercurial work as they ever did. The only predictable thing about Sky Void Of Stars is how absurdly fucking great it is.
Metallica - 72 Seasons (Blackened/Universal)
Metal's biggest band ride again. A new Metallica album is rare enough these days that it always warrants fanfare, even if said album wasn't delivered with unrelenting pace that threw back to the band's thrash roots.
But 72 Seasons also arrived with an added sense of poignance as it followed a turbulent period for frontman James Hetfield. Stephen Hill acknowledged as much in his Metal Hammer review of the album, judging that "rarely has [James Hetfield] laid himself so bare as he does here."
Obituary - Dying Of Everything (Relapse)
Since 1989's seminal Slowly We Rot, Floridian death metal stalwarts Obituary have stayed the course when it comes to lumbering, mid-paced death metal. The approach hasn't always served them amazingly well, but when the band settle into a groove there's no denying they tap a vein of old school death metal magic.
Dom Lawson offered favourable comparisons to 2017's self-titled predecessor, saying that "killer songs stack up throughout, with more substance and detail than the last LP’s smash-and-grab volley. Both records contain 10 tracks, but Dying Of Everything is more varied, more considered, more dynamic… and possibly Obituary’s strongest album in 30 years."
Overkill - Scorched (Nuclear Blast)
East Coast thrash may not always get the same reverence as its Bay Area counterpart, but New Jersey thrashers Overkill showed the magic is still alive and well on their twentieth studio album, Scorched as Bobby 'Blitz' Ellsworth and co delivered another masterclass in old school thrash.
But as Paul Travers points out, "What makes Scorched really stand out are the moments that reach out in new directions. Wicked Place has a slow-burn build-up reminiscent of Diamond Head’s Am I Evil?, but when the dam bursts, it releases a rollicking bluesy riff like something from Metallica’s Load/Reload era. Won’t Be Coming Back packs in Iron Maiden levels of clean guitar melodies and there are several points throughout the album where they lean towards classic metal rather than straight-ahead thrash."
Periphery - V: Djent Is Not A Genre (3DOT)
Tongue-in-cheek album titles aside, Periphery have delighted in pushing boundaries and being an all-round unpredictable force even in the ambitious confines of prog metal.
V: Djent Is Not A Genre sees the band veer off in wildly different directions as they incorporate everything from jazz to electronica whilst creating a surprisingly cohesive and hook-laden release, Adam Brennan remarking that "a key part to Periphery’s enviable run over their recent output is the self-aware undertone that permeates the polished mix of scintillating heaviness, fiendish dexterity and seductive earworms. It’s these standards by which V is judged, and the album could usurp some of its forebears from the podium."
Pupil Slicer - Blossom (Prosthetic)
With their debut album Mirrors, Pupil Slicer arrived as a whirlwind of mathy, grind-adjacent metalcore with a sound as chaotic as their name is brutal. Second album Blossom doesn't dial back, as such, but rather expands the band's repertoire, Stephen Hill explaining that "the band have also decided to explore far more subtle, elegant and soaring emotional territory as well, indulging in elements that would seem comfortable on an Alcest, Chelsea Wolfe or even My Bloody Valentine album."
Royal Thunder - Rebuilding The Mountain (Spinefarm)
Royal Thunder have always traded in emotional, soulful doom-adjacent rock, but Rebuilding The Mountain feels especially poignant given the band effectively broke up in the five-year gap between releases. Catherine Morris acknowledged as much in her review, summarising that "Rebuilding The Mountain is a record that you sense the band have bled for, but it’s their sheer talent and tenacity that make it such a triumphant return – and not a moment too soon."
Sleep Token - Take Me Back To Eden (Spinefarm)
Perhaps the biggest metal success story of 2023, Sleep Token's ascension has truly come about on third album Take Me Back To Eden. Amidst feats like their streaming stats ballooning to over 2 million monthly listeners and selling out Wembley Arena in under 10 minutes, the band's third record perfects their mixture of soulful R'n'B and tech metal.
Dannii Leivers assessed as much in her review, summarising that, "…Eden is Sleep Token’s strongest effort to date. And, while they’ll always be Marmite, there’s no question it will delight those already onboard. This is a record that not only expands the band’s universe and continues to prod metal’s boundaries, but considers what it means to be human. Otherworldly they may be, but there’s the deepest empathy within."
Therapy? - Hard Cold Fire (Marshall)
Almost 30 years since Troublegum established them as Britain's answer to the oncoming tide of 90s American alt-metal, Therapy? are still delivering consistently high quality anthems on their sixteenth studio album. Stephen Hill assessed that "Hard Cold Fire features another 10 sublime, short, sharp blasts of jagged, riff-heavy noise rock, expertly juxtaposed with Andy Cairns’ trademark knack for penning bleakly melancholic, yet hugely anthemic hooks and choruses."
VV - Neon Noir (Heartagram)
Five years since he laid goth metal icons HIM to rest, Ville Valo's long-awaited solo project finally arrived right at the start of 2023 to kick the year off with flair and panache. Neon Noir is effectively a continuation of the singer's work from the past 30 years, romantic, anthemic goth metal, Dannii Leivers admitting that "as the glorious melodies of these songs start to imprint themselves on your soul, like faded memories rising to the surface again, the heart-shaped hole he left five years ago begins to heal. It’s good to have him back."
Zulu - A New Tomorrow (Flatspot)
As hardcore tears its way into the mainstream consciousness in the most vital way since its inception in the 1980s, acts like Zulu show just how far the genre can go as they mix beatdowns, social-polticial messages and colossal riffs into an unstoppable, vital package.
Stephen Hill was effusive in his praise, writing that Zulu's "lineage belongs alongside the revolutionary likes of Sly And The Family Stone, Rage Against The Machine and Public Enemy. Big words indeed, but A New Tomorrow is unquestionably cut from the same cloth as those bands at their best; the mutinous spirit of those artists, both in their refusal to be sonically pigeonholed and in their pure defiance against the system that tried to marginalise them, is the thing that makes Zulu so special and singular."