With a little over a month left to go of 2023, we're still seeing plenty of brilliant albums pop up on the calendar, even as the threat of end of year lists looms. In a year that began with Ville Valo making his comeback with Neon Noir and has since seen everyone from Metallica to Babymetal, Avenged Sevenfold to Within Temptation offer massive new records, it can be hard to keep up.
That in mind, you can consider this a handy guide - and End Of Year primer - for some of the biggest and best records we've seen in 2023, covering genre giants, ascendant newcomers and veterans who continue to raise the bar for everything from death metal and doom to metalcore and symphonic metal. Without further ado, these are the best metal albums of 2023 so far...
Arkona - Kob' (Napalm)
Almost 20 years since their debut album, Russia's Arkona have straddled the lines between folk, pagan and even black metal across their career. The band's ninth album, Kob' embraces all of their multifaceted brilliance in a sprawling 1 hour package, reviewer Joe Daly ruling that "Kob’ is a spiritually transcendent synthesis of all the styles laced throughout Arkona’s storied career. Standard black metal brutality segues into synthy interludes, spacey atmospherics and clean, mournful vocals on tracks like Mor and Na Zakate Bagrovogo Solntsa".
Avatar - Dance Devil Dance (Black Waltz)
In the run-up to Avatar's ninth studio album, frontman Johannes Eckerström said the release would "save heavy metal". It was a bold statement from a band given to theatrical grandstanding, but we'll be damned if Dance Devil Dance didn't deliver some of 2023's most fun metal anthems thus far, Holly Wright noting that, "just when it feels like there’s nothing left to explore, their ninth studio album pulls [Avatar] in new and surprising directions".
Avenged Sevenfold - Life Is But A Dream... (Warner)
The seven-year wait for a new Avenged Sevenfold album was at least somewhat vindicated by the fact Life Is But A Dream... is surely the band's most ambitious release to date. Prog, heavy metal, thrash, psychedelia; A7X well and truly pushed the boat out with their eighth album, Dave Everley assessing "Avenged Sevenfold have scaled the mountain and looked out over all that surrounds them, then plunged headfirst into the void, not knowing where, when or even if they’ll land. What kind of madness is this? The very best kind."
Babymetal - The Other One (Babymetal/Amuse)
Since returning from a twelve-month hiatus in October 2022, Babymetal had been drip-feeding fans a new single each month from their fourth album. Even that couldn't prepare us for the sheer scope they had embraced on new concept album The Other One, dispensing some of their earlier hyperactivity to create what Alec Chillingworth judged "unquestionably their strongest compendium of delirium to date."
Baroness - Stone (Abraxan Hymns)
A steer away from the colour-coded theme that had marked their albums thus far didn't mark a drastic departure in John Baizley's approach to his craft, but it certainly reaffirmed Baroness' position as one of the most vibrant and vital bands of their generation, and snuck in some subtle new shades, "Stone is a monument to ambition and heaviness, and to refusing to rest too long in one place lest roots or languor take hold," said Hammer's Alex Deller.
Blood Command - World Domination (Hassle)
Having finally established a lineup that can go the distance, Norwegian/Australian disco-black metal firebrands threw the kitchen sink at their fifth album, producing one of 2023's wildest and yet most beautifully realised albums in the process. "This is a band and an album that’s almost impossible to second guess," said Hammer's Stephen Hill in his 9/10 review. "That’s more than reliable – that’s essential."
Blut Aus Nord - Disharmonium - Nahab (Debemur Morti Productions)
The follow-up to 2022's Disharmonium – Undreamable Abysses, French avante-gardists Blut Aus Nord swung for the fences on another disorienting, 44-minute journey into the deepest, darkest recesses of black metal on Disharmonium - Ahab. Spencer Grady writing that, "crawling with a palpable sense of terror and unease, these are majestic symphonies of mindaltering cosmic horror. At the album’s densest moments, BAN seem to shape air itself, sculpting ethereal portals for an army of cephalopod feelers filtering through the swirling fug. It’s potent nightmare fuel, and another hallucinogenic instalment from the best black metal band on this world, or any other."
Bury Tomorrow - The Seventh Sun (Metal For Nations)
Tired of being called the underdogs of British metalcore, Bury Tomorrow's seventh album was all about showing just how massive their sound had become whilst losing none of the sheer ferocity at their core. Stephen Hill ruled that, "the easy career path for Bury Tomorrow would be to pander to the rock audience. Their popularity may still surge off the back of The Seventh Sun, but that they’ve arguably got even heavier says everything about their attitude and commitment to making the music they love."
Cannibal Corpse - Chaos Horrific (Metal Blade)
"In truth, Cannibal Corpse have been going at it with such ferocity and force for so long that they really should be knackered by now," suggested Hammer scribe Dom Lawson in his review of the death metal legends' latest slice of brutality. No chance: Corpsegrinder and his merry men remain on as crushing form as ever, delivering blow after blow of gruesome heaviness with zero signs of slowing up any time soon. Long may it continue.
Cattle Decapitation - Terrasite (Metal Blade)
Eight albums in, and Cattle Decapitation are still finding unique new ways of turning stomachs with unrelenting, chaotic brutality as they incorporate the twists and turns of prog alongside surprisingly melodic sensibilities. Hammer writer Dom Lawson acknowledged as much, explaining that Terrasite "is still vicious, skullclubbing brutality, but with atmosphere and intelligence in abundance."
Cirith Ungol - Dark Parade (Metal Blade)
While Cirith Ungol may have announced their impending retirement from touring, the heavy metal veterans are still flew the trad metal flag loud and proud with their sixth record, Dark Parade. Built on triumphant riffs and wailing war cries, Dark Parade was hailed by reviewer Chris Chantler, who wrote: "with an innate understanding of what made their early work so special, Dark Parade rivals past glories for sheer arcane power and passion."
Code Orange - The Above (Blue Grape)
How do you follow up one of the most intense, exciting, daring and forward-thinking metal albums of recent years? You release another one, of course! The Above shone some lighter tones onto Code Orange's spectrum than fans were used to, the hooky alt-rock of Circle Through and eerie electro-pop of Mirror adding some welcome new shades amongst the jarring noise and pummelling breakdowns. As Hammer's Dave Everley put it so succinctly: "The Above is everything modern heavy music should be but all too often isn’t."
Creeper - Sanguivore (Spinefarm)
Creeper's penchant for theatricality was established long before the band even released their debut album, their early EPs showing a Bowie-like sensibility for fusing reality and fiction. Their third full-length, Sanguivore brings that vision forth in all its Jim Steinman-worshipping glory, with a tale of love and vampires offered through a filter of massive, grandstanding goth rock, Merlin Alderslade ruling that Sanguivore "isn't just the most spectacular work of their career, but the most irresistibly anthemic, fabulously flamboyant rock opera you’re likely to hear this year."
Cryptopsy - As Gomorrah Burns (Nuclear Blast)
Cryptopsy's first studio album in 11 years was more than worth the wait, the Montréal brutal tech-death veterans delivering an almighty slab of scything riffs and relentless beats at high velocity. "A half-hour of complex explosiveness of the sort that will have nearby bomb squads donning protective suits," said Hammer's Kevin Stewart-Panko.