The 10 best black metal albums of 2023

Black metal
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Black metal might be notorious for its purists - and sensationalist headlines - but that hasn't stopped the subgenre from producing some of the most boundary-pushing acts within the extreme metal sphere over the past 40-plus years. 

In 2023 the genre remains one of metal's most beloved - and fiercely defended - subgenres, its sound subsuming everything from symphonic grandeur to shoegaze melody and all the way back to old school, Motorhead-style rock'n'roll. With so much ground to cover, it can be almost impossible keeping up with everything great in the world of black metal - but that hasn't stopped us from digging deep to find some of the finest BM records 2023 has had to offer. 

Metal Hammer line break

Blackbraid – Blackbraid II

Blackbraid’s 2022 debut album was the black metal sleeper hit of the year. Despite being released entirely independently, Blackbraid I earned serious press with its melodic songs, pro-nature and anti-imperialist ideas, and Native American folk flourishes. II expanded the one-man project’s scope, presenting more adventurous compositions while also shooting straight for the jugular on the more succinct The Spirit Returns. As such, the band’s growth has only accelerated in 2023. MATT MILLS

Blut Aus Nord – Disharmonium: Nahab

Last year, Blut Aus Nord knowingly betrayed the atmospheric and melodic excellence of their 2019 masterpiece, Hallucinogen. Disharmonium: Undreamable Abysses was a fever dream of disorienting black metal progressions, and its 2023 sequel, Disharmonium: Nahab, doubled down on those nightmarish tendencies. The Frenchmen’s new album was dissonant and screaming with noise, making it as confusing as it was addictive: after each listen, it dared you to return and unravel its musical mysteries. MATT MILLS

Dawn Ray’d – To Know The Light

With the surprise announcement that the band had decided to split in September 2023, Dawn Ray'd's third full-length To Know The Light now serves as their swansong. Thankfully, the band have ended on a colossal high, taking the atmospheric approach of their previous releases and torching it atop a pyre of explosive blast-beats and melancholic strings that add a poignance to the release. With the likes of Ashenspire, Underdark and more taking up the charge for explicitly anti-fascist black metal in their wake, Dawn Ray'd will be greatly missed, but leave behind a creative legacy worthy of celebration. RICH HOBSON

Dodheimsgard – Black Medium Current

On their seventh album, Dødheimsgard perfected the sonic universe they’d been building since the mid-’90s. Black Medium Current presented a unique fusion of extreme metal with post-rock melodies, alongside dazzling electronica and incomprehensible prog. Few bands could make such a mixture coherent, but these Norwegians’ always-atmospheric vision tethered their disparate parts together. Dødheimsgard are one of those rare acts where you can genuinely say, “No one else does what they do.” MATT MILLS

Immortal – War Against All

Over 30 years since they first invited us into the frosty realms of Blashyrkh, Immortal remain stalwarts of no-frills second wave Norwegian black metal. Demonaz might be the sole remaining full-time member of the group, but the sheer force of War Against All is proof that you don't particularly need more to capture the sheer tooth-gnashing fury of the band's best days, their raging blizzard of riffs and frenetic blasts as potent as it's ever been. RICH HOBSON

Laang 冷 – Riluo 日落

Laang 冷 describe themselves as “black metal based on the trauma of a survivor”. The duo’s leader, Haitao Yang, was shot in the head during a 2017 car-jacking, and their music screams for relief from the mental turmoil that tragedy’s caused. Although Riluo 日落 used the sunset as a metaphor for Haitao saying goodbye to the man he once was, it still snarled for catharsis over nine high-octane, folk- and melodeath-tinged songs. MATT MILLS

Mental Cruelty - Zwielicht

"Symphonic blackened deathcore" might be a bit of a mouthful, but it's a school that has gained traction in recent years thanks to the likes of Lorna Shore, Black Tongue and Shadow Of Intent. Germany's Mental Cruelty certainly ensured their name should be upheld amongst the genre's best and brightest with Zwielicht, their fourth album embracing the imperious maximalism of bands like Emperor and Dimmu Borgir with a sense of grandeur and undeniable brutality that shows just how well they can bridge the worlds of black metal and deathcore together. RICH HOBSON

The Sun's Journey Through The Night - Worldless

UK newcomers operating under a veil of anonymity, The Sun's Journey Through The Night have been quietly bubbling in the underground since their 2020 debut Eternal Black Transmissions. Album no. 4, Worldless marked the first time the project had expanded to a full band however, trading out the low-fi approach of their early releases for a more realised, explosive sound that evoked a sense of atmospheric mystery whilst blasting harder than a stick of TNT in a fireworks factory. RICH HOBSON

Underdark – Managed Decline

On 2021 debut album Our Bodies Burned Bright On Re-Entry, Underdark introduced an antifascist and atmospheric-sounding manifesto that made them cult darlings in the UK. Followup Managed Decline reinforced both their thematic and musical direction. While its lyrics raged against neoliberalism by narrating the generations-spanning decay of a British town, its songs stretched into full-on post-rock as well as unabashedly muscular black metal riffs. Hopefully, Underdark’s future momentum reflects their ever-strengthening prowess. MATT MILLS

Wayfarer – American Gothic

In a world where blackgaze has spawned an entire movement of new acts and acts like Zeal And Ardour are able to enjoy massive success, it shouldn't come as a surprise that Wayfarer's mixture of tanging Americana and bilious black metal works as well as it does. And yet, with their fifth full-length the Denver-based band offer the most cohesive vision of their fused styles yet, trading frost-bitten Norwegian forests for desolate, dusty plains but losing none of the scope and viciousness that has made BM so enduring these past four decades. RICH HOBSON

Rich Hobson

Staff writer for Metal Hammer, Rich has never met a feature he didn't fancy, which is just as well when it comes to covering everything rock, punk and metal for both print and online, be it legendary events like Rock In Rio or Clash Of The Titans or seeking out exciting new bands like Nine Treasures, Jinjer and Sleep Token. 

With contributions from