The 50 best rock albums of 2023

Starbenders, Wolfgang Van Halen, The Rolling Stones, Grace Potter and Skindred
(Image credit: Press materials / Future)
The Best Rock Albums of 2023

Following the strangeness of the covid years, it's been a gratifyingly rock-stuffed 2023. Across rock'n'roll's diverse sonic subtrates, we've celebrated 12 months of albums from new artists, retiring artists, returning artists and reuniting artists.

Between them they've given us some brilliant collections of songs, and Classic Rock's writers ranked The Rolling Stones' Hackney Diamonds – their first album of new material from the band in nearly two decades – to be the album of the year. Two albums from two more big names, Metallica's 72 Seasons and Foo Fighters' But Here We Are, filled the medal positions.  

The full list of Classic Rock’s 50 Best Albums Of 2023 follows. And you can read about all of them in the bumper brand new issue of Classic Rock, alongside new interviews with many of the musicians who made the albums.


50 best rock albums of 2023: 50-41

50. Paul Rodgers - Midnight Rose (Sun Records)

<a href="" data-link-merchant="Amazon UK"" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">50. Paul Rodgers - Midnight Rose (Sun Records)

It is an event when one of the greatest voices in rock releases his first solo album of new material in almost 25 years. Paul Rodgers sings of still living it up, having a little fun and loving the blues. But memories of Free and Bad Company are a distant echo on a collection that places his gilt-edged rock tone in a mellow musical zone.

Killer track: Living It Up

49. Green Lung - This Heathen Land (Nuclear Blast)

<a href="" data-link-merchant="Amazon UK"" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">49. Green Lung - This Heathen Land (Nuclear Blast)

Snapped up by Nuclear Blast Records after two acclaimed albums, Green Lung are bringing thunderous occult vibes to the mainstream. This Heathen Land is their most refined effort to date: a “journey into occult Albion” that takes in grandiose anthems like The Forest Church and Mountain Throne, psych-rock curio Maxine, and doomed-out epics One For Sorrow and Oceans Of Time. Should be huge. Probably will be.

Killer track: One For Sorrow

48. The Defiants - Drive (Frontiers)

<a href="" data-link-merchant="Amazon UK"" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">48. The Defiants - Drive (Frontiers) 

Hair-metal is alive and well in a band featuring three veterans of Danger Danger, whose peacocking was cut short by grunge in the early 90s, but whose party-animal spirit remains strong. There is an irresistible joie de vivre in the top-down anthem 19 Summertime. And the big ballad, Miracle, will have prom queens from the 80s crying their hearts out. 

Killer track: 19 Summertime

47. Brothers Osborne - Brothers Osborne (EMI)&nbsp;

<a href="" data-link-merchant="Amazon UK"" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">47. Brothers Osborne - Brothers Osborne (EMI) 

On the back of an emotionally weighty, soul-bearing period (with guitarist John opening up about mental health struggles, and singer TJ coming out – making him the first openly gay man signed to a major country label), it’s not surprising that the brothers’ latest album is their self-titled one. Full of soaring, Springsteen-esque textures, warm southern rock storytelling and, ultimately, celebration. 

Killer track: Nobody’s Nobody

46. Ann Wlson &amp; Tripsitter - Another Door (Loujon)&nbsp;

<a href="" data-link-merchant="Amazon UK"" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">46. Ann Wlson & Tripsitter - Another Door (Loujon) 

The voice is familiar, the band less so, but there’s a lot to like here. The hypnotic, borderline proggy groove of opener Tripsitter sets the scene before the Wilson roar really kicks in on Rain Of Hell and soars on What If. The 80s-style radio moments (Stranger In A Strange Land), stabby rockers (Rusty Robots) and love songs (Still) prove that the Heart singer can still deliver the goods. 

Killer track: Rain Of Hell

45. DeWolff - Love, Death &amp; In Between (Mascot)&nbsp;

<a href="" data-link-merchant="Amazon UK"" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">45. DeWolff - Love, Death & In Between (Mascot) 

The most classic classic rock album of 2023 comes from Dutch band DeWolff. From the pumping brass and organ on Night Train, via the sultry Will O’ The Wisp to the 16-minute rock-blues-soul-gospel blowout Rosita – which sounds like a rock opera written by <a href="" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant="Amazon UK"">the Black Crowes – it’s an album that appears to have been piped in directly from 1973. 

Key track: Rosita

44. Black Spiders - Can’t Die, Won’t Die (Spinefarm)&nbsp;

<a href="" data-link-merchant="Amazon UK"" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">44. Black Spiders - Can’t Die, Won’t Die (Spinefarm) 

It feels like we’ve been under a constant cloud of bad news over the last few years –what with the misery of war, plague and pestilence making headlines on what feels like a daily basis, so the return of Black Spiders is just the jolt of positive rock’n’roll energy we all need. Cant Die, Won’t Die is a shimmering galaxy of old-school riffs, cheeky humour and good ol’ rock’n’roll attitude that proclaims that anyone’s welcome to join the party – as long as they’re bringing good vibes like these. 

Killer track: Destroyer

43. Royal Thunder - Rebuilding The Mountain (Spinefarm)

<a href="" data-link-merchant="Amazon UK"" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">43. Royal Thunder - Rebuilding The Mountain (Spinefarm)

A combination of alcohol abuse, drug addiction and the pandemic nearly finished off Atlanta’s Royal Thunder. Instead they shook off their personal demons and regrouped for their first album in five years. Rebuilding The Mountain is shot through with pain, doubt and redemption. Its blend of grunge, doom and classic rock is lent an urgency by frontwoman Mlny Parsonz’s powerhouse voice and an overriding sense that it’s all too valuable to fuck up again. 

Killer track: The Knife

42. Yes - Mirror To The Sky (InsideOut)

<a href="" data-link-merchant="Amazon UK"" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">42. Yes - Mirror To The Sky (InsideOut) 

Band linchpins such as Jon Anderson and Rick Wakeman may have moved on, and Chris Squire and Alan White sadly passed on, but under Steve Howe’s leadership the <a href="" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant="Amazon UK"">Yes flame endures, as frontman Jon Davison once again stamps his own vocal identity on the band, co-writing much of the band’s 23rd studio album and jousting with lively licks from Steve Howe (who also produced) and Billy Sherwood’s reliably limber bass lines. 

Killer track: Cut From The Stars

41. Jethro Tull - Rökflöte (InsideOut)&nbsp;

<a href="" data-link-merchant="Amazon UK"" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">41. Jethro Tull - Rökflöte (InsideOut) 

This isn’t the only concept album ever made about Norse mythology, but we don’t know of any better ones than these prog legends’ 23rd studio set. The selfmocking title (Rock Flute – does what it says on the tin, with added umlauts, yeah?) belies a record full of Ian Anderson’s trademark maverick intelligence allied to exuberant, idiosyncratic art rock – with Scando attitude shot through it.

Killer track: The Navigators

50 best rock albums of 2023: 40-31

40. Vega - Battlelines (Frontiers)&nbsp;

<a href="" data-link-merchant="Amazon UK"" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">40. Vega - Battlelines (Frontiers) 

On this eighth Vega album there’s a new-look line-up behind singer Nick Workman, but the band’s actual MO hasn’t changed one iota: channelling peak-era Def Leppard and Bon Jovi into a throughly contemporary style. As Workman puts it, Battlelines is all about “songs with massive choruses”. It also proves how Vega have developed a distinctive signature sound, asillustrated by the album’s emotionally charged title track and the euphoric 33’s And 45’s, a celebration of the life-affirming power of vinyl. 

Killer track: 33’s And 45’s

39. Grace Potter – Mother Road (Fantasy)

<a href="" data-link-merchant="Amazon UK"" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">39. Grace Potter – Mother Road (Fantasy) 

Mother Road is the album <a href="" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant="Amazon UK"">Grace Potter was born to make. The title track is a stunning piece of songwriting craft and womanly attitude distilled from a 21-year recording career that feels as if it’s only just getting started. On Lady Vagabond and Rose-Colored Rearview she yokes a blend of hardass country and rock to penetrating lyrics redolent of the great <a href="" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant="Amazon UK"">Lucinda Williams. ‘The thing that scares me the most is me,’ she sings on All My Ghosts. Without doubt, Mother Road is a self-defining masterpiece.

Killer track: Mother Road

38. Starbenders - Take Back The Night (Sumerian)

<a href="" data-link-merchant="Amazon UK"">38. Starbenders - Take Back The Night (Sumerian)

As befits a band who’ve released 25 singles since 2016, Atlanta glam-goth sensations Starbenders truly understand songcraft, and their third album <a href="" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant="Amazon UK"">Take Back The Night is packed with mammoth choruses. It’s a more aggressive collection of songs than 2020’s <a href="" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant="Amazon UK"">Love Potions, but the added crunch hasn’t diluted the band’s natural spookiness or flattened their euphoric peaks, and songs like Cherry Wine, Seven White Horses and the majestic ballad Say You Will all sparkle and soar with arena-filling potential.

Killer Track: If You Need It

37. Peter Gabriel - i/o (Peter Gabriel Ltd)&nbsp;

<a href="" data-link-merchant="Amazon UK"" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">37. Peter Gabriel - i/o (Peter Gabriel Ltd) 

Outfoxing social media’s daily tidal waves, Gabriel teased out this new album – his first collection of originals in twenty years – by releasing a single with every full moon. And appropriately, the songs, full of grace and gravity, surround his age-defying voice with reflective halos and glowing arrangements, harkening back to everything from Lamb-era <a href="" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant="Amazon UK"">Genesis to the world beats of Security. ‘Stuff going out, stuff going in/I’m just a part of everything’ Gabriel sings. Indeed, a record of profound connection.

Killer track: Olive Tree

36. The Inspector Cluzo - Horizon (Fuck The Bass Player)

<a href="" data-link-merchant="Amazon UK"" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">36. The Inspector Cluzo - Horizon (Fuck The Bass Player) 

True to an intrinsic blues tradition (‘our natural musical anchor’) this ninth from Mont-de-Marsan duo Laurent Lacrouts (guitar/vocals) and Mathieu Jourdain (drums) is as close to an untrammelled cri de coeur as recorded 21st century rock’n’roll gets. Both band members double as organic farmers, and environmental concerns are central to Horizon’s lyrical content, but a transcendent passion and power redolent of <a href="" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant="Amazon UK"">Led Zeppelin candy-coats the activism as every last crescendo chimes emotionally. It’ll leave you weeping for baby swallows. Seriously. 

Killer track: Swallows – Where Are Swallows Gonna Build Their Nest

35. The Cold Stares - Voices (Mascot Records)

<a href="" data-link-merchant="Amazon UK"" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">35. The Cold Stares - Voices (Mascot Records) 

Album six is the Indiana band’s best yet. With its buzzsaw bluesrock riffs, opener Nothing But The Blues is quite the red herring. What makes Voices so captivating is the nuanced approach where every single note earns its place. The Joy’s dusty, dive bar blues leak out like a cloud of cigar smoke. A spellbinding ballad, Sorry I Was Late is desolate and cinematic all at once. 

Killer track: Lights Out

34. Måneskin - Rush (Epic)

<a href="" data-link-merchant="Amazon UK"" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">34. Måneskin - Rush (Epic) 

This Eurovision-winning, continent conquering glam-metal monster for the TikTok generation continue to show they can rock as irresistibly as they can plant earworms under the skin. Their genre-agnostic approach is in evidence again on the Italians’ third album, in the party-starting stomp of Honey (Are U Coming), the lusty strut of Feel, the vampish, Scissor Sisters with studded wristbands Own My Mind and even the madcap, <a href="" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant="Amazon UK"">Sleaford Mods-echoing Kool Kids. They defy the sniffiest rock purist to remain unmoved. 

Killer track: Honey (Are U Coming)

33. Black Stone Cherry - Screamin’ At The Sky (Mascot Records)

<a href="" data-link-merchant="Amazon UK"" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">33. Black Stone Cherry - Screamin’ At The Sky (Mascot Records) 

Over the years, the Kentucky titans haven’t always been able to tap into the explosive energy of their 2006 debut, but they mean serious business here. Revitalised with newish bass player Steve Jewell Jr – who replaced co-founder Jon Lawhon in 2021 – <a href="" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant="Amazon UK"">Screamin’ At The Sky thunders by in a ferocious, fat-free 40 minutes. From The Mess You Made’s mountain-moving guitar attack to the riff-loaded post grunge of You Can Have It All, Black Stone Cherry come out throwing haymakers from first to last. 

Killer track: Screamin’ At The Sky

32. The Hives - The Death Of Randy Fitzsimmons (The Hives AB)

<a href="" data-link-merchant="Amazon UK"" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">32. The Hives - The Death Of Randy Fitzsimmons (The Hives AB)

Refreshingly dismissive of ‘grown-up’ rock’n’roll even as they approach middle age, these garage-rooted Swedes continue to mine their own self-mocking creation myth (which has it that they were manufactured by the titular svengali) for inspiration on this sixth album, but more importantly, they still drink heavily from the well of high-octane punk that first wired them up back when they formed 30 years ago. Heavy psych with hardcore punch and breezeblock boots on. What’s not to love? 

Killer track: Crash Into The Weekend

31. Def Leppard - Drastic Symphonies (Bludgeon Riffola)

<a href="" data-link-merchant="Amazon UK"" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">31. Def Leppard - Drastic Symphonies (Bludgeon Riffola) 

This collaboration with the Royal Philharmonic isn’t as OTT as <a href="" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant="Amazon UK"">Metallica’s S&M or as hifalutin as <a href="" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant="Amazon UK"">Deep Purple’s Concerto For Group And Orchestra. But as bassist <a href="" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant="Amazon UK"">Rick Savage told Classic Rock during the recording sessions at Abbey Road studios, “It is pretty drastic!” There is no Rock Of Ages or Photograph – in this context, such songs didn’t work. The standouts are Switch 625, now sounding like a James Bond theme, and Love Bites, the classic ballad subtly and beautifully enhanced. 

Killer track: Love Bites

50 best rock albums of 2023: 30-21

30. The Answer - Sundowners (Golden Robot Records)

<a href="" data-link-merchant="Amazon UK"" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">30. The Answer - Sundowners (Golden Robot Records)

Seven years filled with uncertainty had passed since 2016’s Solas, so Sundowners felt like something of a free swing for The Answer. Fortunately for the Northern Irish classic rockers, they hit it out of the park and roared back to life. Want You To Love Me rumbles along with bluesy aplomb, while guitarist Paul Mahon’s winding riffs lend Oh Cherry a sense of sonic mischief. Frontman Cormac Neeson remains an underrated gem – a singer blessed with both vocal ability and personality.

Killer track: California Rust

29. Alice Cooper - Road (EarMusic)

<a href="" data-link-merchant="Amazon UK"" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">29. Alice Cooper - Road (EarMusic) 

The reason Alice’s 29th album sounds so fresh is because he’s tweaked his M.O. Sure, reliable A.C. producer Bob Ezrin’s on hand to translate the veteran showman’s vision into sonic gold, but this time The Coop involves long-serving band members (guitarists Ryan Roxie, <a href="" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant="Amazon UK"">Nita Strauss and Tommy Henriksen, bassist Chuck Garric, drummer Glen Sobel) in the creative process and it certainly pays off in spades. Road – its core concept touring – crackles with hard-rocking <a href="" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant="Amazon UK"">Detroit energy and finds good ol’ Vincent Damon Furnier completely revitalised. 

Killer track: White Line Frankenstein

28. Geese - 3D Country (Partisan)

<a href="" data-link-merchant="Amazon UK"" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">28. Geese - 3D Country (Partisan)

Progressing in leaps and bounds since their ’21 debut Projector, peculiarly ingenious Brooklyn quintet <a href="" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant="Amazon UK"">Geese deliver a second set that captures their assured transformation from prodigious Television-styled alt. NYC neophytes to mainstream-ready hottest new band on the planet. So what’s so great about it? Vocalist Cameron Winter’s stylised ennui drips with street-sharp soul, dual guitarists Gus Green and Foster Hudson intertwine like anacondas on date night against a jazz-level rhythmic backdrop, while Strokes-meets-Steely Dan material constantly surprises. A future drivetime classic. 

Killer track: 3D Country

27. Uriah Heep - Chaos &amp; Colour (Silver Lining Music)

<a href="" data-link-merchant="Amazon UK"" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">27. Uriah Heep - Chaos & Colour (Silver Lining Music)

<a href="" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant="Amazon UK"">Uriah Heep rolled back the years and conjured some of their most vibrant material in decades on Chaos And Colour. From rambunctious rockers like Save Me Tonight and Freedom To Be Free, to prog-tinged adventures Silver Sunlight and One Nation, One Sun, the band’s 25th echoes their early seventies heyday but with the power of a gleaming modern production. Bernie Shaw has never sung better. Mick Box still rules. Classic Heep, in other words.

Killer track: Hurricane

26. Joe Bonamassa - Blues Deluxe Vol. 2 (J&amp;R Adventures)

<a href="" data-link-merchant="Amazon UK"" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">26. Joe Bonamassa - Blues Deluxe Vol. 2 (J&R Adventures)

The sequel to JB’s breakout covers album of 2003 came with a dilemma: could a guitar-hoarding superstar match the charm of the kid gunslinger with his back to the wall? While there’s less at stake on Blues Deluxe Vol. 2, Bonamassa’s song choices are impeccable, his guitar skills cask-aged and his interpretive talents much advanced. All three qualities come together on the powerhouse take of Bobby Bland’s Twenty-Four Hour Blues – a song which he couldn’t have done justice to 20 years ago. 

Killer track: Twenty-Four Hour Blues

25. Creeper - Sanguivore (Spinefarm)

<a href="" data-link-merchant="Amazon UK"" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">25. Creeper - Sanguivore (Spinefarm) 

Be honest: who had a goth punk band from Southampton delivering the greatest album <a href="" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant="Amazon UK"">Jim Steinman never made on their 2023 bingo card? But in Sanguivore, Creeper serve up a fangtastic vampire-themed eighties inspired rock opera that doesn’t just channel the berserk genius spirit of the late, great Meat Loaf/The Sisters Of Mercy songwriter, but actually comes close to matching his greatest moments. <a href="" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant="Amazon UK"">Creeper know that rock’n’roll is best when it’s at its most ridiculous and over-the-top, and here they sink their teeth all the way in.

Killer track: Cry To Heaven

24. Extreme - Six (EarMusic)

<a href="" data-link-merchant="Amazon UK"" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">24. Extreme - Six (EarMusic) 

By the end of the <a href="" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant="Amazon UK"">Six press cycle, Nuno Bettencourt sounded a little weary of being told he’d saved rock’n’roll with his absurdly technical guitar solo on lead single Rise. For sure, it’s one of the year’s most jaw-dropping instrumental moments, but the Bostonians’ sixth album is no one-trick pony, with the fiery strut of Banshee demanding kinetic energy from its listener and the glistening acoustic strum of Small Town Beautiful conjuring a little of the angel-hair beauty of Pornograffitti’s More Than Words

Killer track: Rise

23. Duff McKagan - Lighthouse (BFD/Orchard/Sony)

<a href="" data-link-merchant="Amazon UK"" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">23. Duff McKagan - Lighthouse (BFD/Orchard/Sony) 

The <a href="" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant="Amazon UK"">Guns N' Roses man will always be best known for his day job, but Lighthouse further enhances <a href="" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant="Amazon UK"">Duff McKagan’s songwriter status. He’s said that ‘hope’ is an underlying theme, and it’s obvious that these country-punk-flavoured songs were a labour of love. The piano-driven Holy Water builds nicely with powerful lyrical imagery. Just Another Shakedown is a raucous burst of dynamic rock’n’roll. McKagan drafts in old pals <a href="" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant="Amazon UK"">Slash, Jerry Cantrell and <a href="" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant="Amazon UK"">Iggy Pop for well-founded guest spots, but at this point his own star power is ample. 

Killer track: Longfeather

22. Sparks - The Girl Is Crying In Her Latte (Island)

<a href="" data-link-merchant="Amazon UK"" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">22. Sparks - The Girl Is Crying In Her Latte (Island) 

Age be damned. Septuagenarian brothers Ron and Russell Mael are still making the kind of audacious musical statements to put most others to shame. Their 26th album marked a return to Island Records – scene of their biggest 70s triumphs – with the effervescent Nothing IsAs Good As They Say It Is and We Go Dancing sounding like ageless progeny from <a href="" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant="Amazon UK"">Kimono My House. Elsewhere, boldly adventurous art-pop rules, from the strafing electronica of Elevator to the hilarious When You Leave

Killer track: The Girl Is Crying In Her Latte

21. Avenged Sevenfold – Life Is But A Dream… (Warner)

<a href="" data-link-merchant="Amazon UK"" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">21. Avenged Sevenfold – Life Is But A Dream… (Warner)

Droning metal. Daft Punk vocoder funk. Kaleidoscopic lounge jazz. Classical cabaret. Nobody expected <a href="" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant="Amazon UK"">Avenged Sevenfold to return in 2023 with an album like <a href="" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant="Amazon UK"">Life Is But A Dream…. Unapologetically undefinable, and fuelled quite openly by copious amounts of psychedelics, not one track on it walks a straight line, with the Californians stirring hip-hop, pop and prog into a pot that sets out to be as bewildering and experimental as possible. Surely the biggest risk a metal band have taken since <a href="" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant="Amazon UK"">Metallica’s Lulu.

Killer track: Cosmic

50 best rock albums of 2023: 20-11

20. Wytch Hazel - IV: Sacrament (Bad Omen)

<a href="" data-link-merchant="Amazon UK"" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">20. Wytch Hazel - IV: Sacrament (Bad Omen) 

Tunic-clad Lancashire crusaders <a href="" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant="Amazon UK"">Wytch Hazel have quietly become the best new pure heavy metal band in the UK. Their fourth album encapsulates their what-if-a-NWOBHM band-was-around-in-the-Middle-Ages? concept, going hard on the kind of twin-guitar harmonies and soaring melodies that went out of fashion with Biff Byford’s silver Spandex trousers. Singer/guitarist Colin Hendra’s Christian beliefs lie at the centre of The Fire’s Control and Angel Of Light, but proselytising takes a backseat to the kind of all-too-human doubt and defiance to which believers and nonbelievers alike can relate. 

Killer track: Angel Of Light

19. The Damned - Darkadelic (EarMusic)

<a href="" data-link-merchant="Amazon UK"" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">19. The Damned - Darkadelic (EarMusic) 

Having dispensed with a bunch of reunion shows at the tail end of 2022, a revitalised <a href="" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant="Amazon UK"">Damned (with Dave Vanian and Captain Sensible the last original members) hit the ground running in some style with <a href="" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant="Amazon UK"">Darkadelic. A more ferocious affair than 2018 predecessor <a href="" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant="Amazon UK"">Evil Spirits, it rocks like a dervish on The Invisible Man and Follow Me, while carrying echoes of their gothy eighties pomp on Wake The Dead. There’s an experimental edge too, as evinced on nocturnal symphony Roderick

Killer track: The Invisible Man

18. Those Damn Crows - Inhale/Exhale (Earache)

<a href="" data-link-merchant="Amazon UK"" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">18. Those Damn Crows - Inhale/Exhale (Earache) 

Wales’s biggest band since <a href="" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant="Amazon UK"">Bullet For My Valentine – and arguably its most beloved since <a href="" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant="Amazon UK"">Budgie, The Alarm and the Manics – TDC joined the big league with their third album, armed with stirring arena-ripe anthems and total bangers; taut, muscular yet super-melodic music that cries out for airplay on US rock radio. All that and they’re still some of the nicest folk in the business. Tidy. 

Killer track: Man On Fire

17. Danko Jones – Electric Sounds (AFM)

<a href="" data-link-merchant="Amazon UK"" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">17. Danko Jones – Electric Sounds (AFM) 

Album number 11 for Toronto’s finest, Electric Sounds is an absolute riot of enormous tunes and power-trio punch. <a href="" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant="Amazon UK"">Danko Jones has always known his way around an exhilarating three-minute rock song, and these are among his band’s catchiest creations yet. It starts with the snotty stomp of Guess Who’s Back, and ends with the venue-levelling riff-up of Shake Your City. In between, everything rocks. 

Killer track: Good Time

16. Ayron Jones - Chronicles Of The Kid (Big Machine)&nbsp;

<a href="" data-link-merchant="Amazon UK"" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">16. Ayron Jones - Chronicles Of The Kid (Big Machine) 

“I want to be our generation’s guy,” <a href="" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant="Amazon UK"">Jones told us earlier this year. “We don’t have a guitar player; we don’t have that one guy that everybody can just get behind. I want to be that guy.” Such unbridled ambition emanates in big, dark strokes from the Seattle firebrand’s fourth album – a thrillingly intense, dynamic leap forward from 2021’s Child Of The State. Jones flits easily between moods, just as comfortable on the deep, sexy groove of Filthy as the stunning heartbreak of mega-ballad Living For The Fall. Diverse, fearless, brilliant. 

Killer track: Living For The Fall

15. The Cadillac Three - The Years Go Fast (Big Machine)

<a href="" data-link-merchant="Amazon UK"" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">15. The Cadillac Three - The Years Go Fast (Big Machine) 

He might be one of his generation’s sparkiest interviewees and most successful schmoozers, but <a href="" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant="Amazon UK"">The Years Go Fast serves as a reminder that <a href="" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant="Amazon UK"">Cadillac Three mainman Jaren Johnston is at heart a generational songwriter. He writes ’em for everyone, but saves the cream for his Nashville trio, and The Years Go Fast is a stunner, its hard-driving anthemics on highlights like Young And Hungry tempered by the wistfulness of age. The sound of a band growing beautifully and comfortably into their skin.

Killer track: Young And Hungry

14. Greta Van Fleet - Starcatcher (Lava/Republic)

<a href="" data-link-merchant="Amazon UK"" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">14. Greta Van Fleet - Starcatcher (Lava/Republic) 

Strictly speaking, the Kiszka siblings bottled this third album at Nashville’s fabled RCA Studios, but their mission to “bring our heads back to that garage time” bleeds into songs that feel raw, ragged and alive in your headphones. The prizing of spit over polish is summed up by Runway Blues (a whiplash-inducing blaster lasting less than a minute, that you can imagine being jammed by teenage longhairs as these words are written), but the frequent flashes of sophistication include The Archer’s winsome folk rock.

Killer track: Runway Blues

13. Rival Sons - Darkfighter (Low Country Sound/Atlantic)

<a href="" data-link-merchant="Amazon UK"" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">13. Rival Sons - Darkfighter (Low Country Sound/Atlantic)

Just in case any dullards were dusting off the ‘next Zeppelin’ tag, the West Coast’s finest struck back with an album that feels a long way from the old riff-and-shriek, instead evoking the atmosphere of late-night drives across America, one arm dangled from the car window, flicking a cigarette (perhaps guitarist Scott Holiday said it best when he offered the keyword “cinematic”). In their most prolific year yet, Rival Sons struck back in October with classy companion piece <a href="" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant="Amazon UK"">Lightbringer, appropriately described by the guitarist as“watching the same film”.

Killer Track: Darkside

12. Crown Lands - Fearless (Spinefarm)

<a href="" data-link-merchant="Amazon UK"" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">12. Crown Lands - Fearless (Spinefarm) 

With their stellar second album, <a href="" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant="Amazon UK"">Crown Lands fill the Rush-shaped gap in music with a person to spare. Fearless finds the duo venturing light years away from their blues rock roots into sonic deep space. Reference points span The <a href="" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant="Amazon UK"">Mahavishnu Orchestra, <a href="" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant="Amazon UK"">King Crimson, <a href="" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant="Amazon UK"">Magnum and every album Geddy Lee and co released between 1975 and 1985, but Dreamer Of The Dawn, Citadel and bejewelled 18-minute standout Starlifter: Fearless Pt. II transcend the Canadians’ influences to become their own unashamedly and outrageously ambitious things. 

Killer track: Starlifter: Fearless Pt II

11. Iggy Pop - Every Loser (Gold Tooth/Atlantic)

<a href="" data-link-merchant="Amazon UK"" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">11. Iggy Pop - Every Loser (Gold Tooth/Atlantic)

Just when he seemed content appearing on other people’s records and picking up Lifetime Grammys, the Ig confounded expectations by teaming up with producer du jour Andrew Watt to deliver his best and rowdiest album for some time. A starry cast – Duff McKagan, Chad Smith, Dave Navarro and the late Taylor Hawkins included – offer commendable support, but it’s very much Iggy front and centre, be it tearing into the aptly-named Frenzy or wrapping his weathered baritone around Strung Out Johnny.

Killer Track: Frenzy

50 best rock albums of 2023: 10-1

10. The Pretenders - Relentless (Parlophone)

<a href="" data-link-merchant="Amazon UK"" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">10. The Pretenders - Relentless (Parlophone) 

Chrissie Hynde is at her most potent with an ace guitarist by her side, and James Walbourne, her foil since 2008, has brought out the best in her, co-writing all 12 of the songs here. Reflective and intimate, and standouts include the the retro chime of A Love, the brash, punky Vainglorious, slowburn vocal showcase The Promise Of Love (does Chrissie’s miracle voice ever age?) and the fuzzed-out rip ‘n’ roar of Losing My Sense Of Taste, on which the 72-year-old Hynde sings, ‘I don’t even care about rock’n’roll.’ Don’t believe it. 

Killer track: A Love

9. Skindred - Smile (Earache)

<a href="" data-link-merchant="Amazon UK"" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">9. Skindred - Smile (Earache) 

A staggeringly great live band for the last 25 years, <a href="" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant="Amazon UK"">Skindred have long needed a studio album that accurately captures the euphoric vibes of their gigs. Smile is it. Stuffed to the gills with oven-ready anthems and audacious acts of cross-pollination, the band’s eighth album is their best. 

Preceded by explosive singles Gimme That Boom, Set Fazers and the joyous, bubbling reggae of L.O.V.E. (Smile Please), Smile is full of everything that Skindred have assimilated into their sound over the years, but with more dub, breakbeat and pop influences than ever before. Life That’s Free and If I Could are immaculate, futuristic pop-rock; Our Religion, Mama and the magnificent This Appointed Love dig deftly into British reggae; Unstoppable and Black Stars are fiery rap-rock rallying cries. 

12 songs, 12 bangers: Smile is a hopeful, life-affirming and fervently British response to the toughest of times. Smile, damn you. 

Killer track: This Appointed Love

8. Mammoth WVH - Mammoth II (BMG)

<a href="" data-link-merchant="Amazon UK"" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">8. Mammoth WVH - Mammoth II (BMG) 

Having established his brand of triumphant communal rock on <a href="" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant="Amazon UK"">his 2021 debut, musical prodigy <a href="" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant="Amazon UK"">Wolfgang Van Halen takes everything up a notch on his second solo album. From the prog metal influences of Like A Pastime, to the glorious, sky-scraping chorus of Erase Me and slow-burn closer, Better Than You, Mammoth II is a heavier, more expansive effort than its predecessor with Wolf once again playing all the instruments himself. 

The songcraft is elevated across the board, but the main event is a seven-minute epic, Take A Bow. Building steadily to a glittering solo, it sees Wolf tap comfortably into the rock icon dazzle flowing through his veins, and he delivers a genuine arena-filling moment that could stand shoulder-shoulder with anything now peers <a href="" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant="Amazon UK"">Alter Bridge have in their arsenal. This is the sound of an artist forging his own path with aplomb. 

Killer track: Take A Bow

7. Queens Of The Stone Age - In Times New Roman (Matador)

<a href="" data-link-merchant="Amazon UK"" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">7. Queens Of The Stone Age - In Times New Roman (Matador)

Some of the pun-heavy titles may be borderline excruciating, but <a href="" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant="Amazon UK"">Queens Of The Stone Age are very much back at the peak of their powers on their first album in six years. It’s no secret that <a href="" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant="Amazon UK"">Josh Homme’s life has been something of a car crash in the run-up to In Times New Roman, with bitter custody battles, restraining orders and a cancer diagnosis creating an ugly backdrop for the record, and here they have not so much embraced the darkness as swallowed it whole, particularly on the nightmarish closing track Straight Jacket Fitting, in which Bowie and Iggy Pop influences meet pure haunted horror.

Of course, the strutting stoner rock that made them such a super-cool breath of fresh air in the first place is alive and well, but with nosebleed-heavy chords screaming against nods to glam rock, <a href="" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant="Amazon UK"">The Beatles, post-punk and western soundtrack flourishes, this is Queens Of The Stone Age at their most experimental and emotionally raw. 

Killer track: Carnavoyeur

6. The Struts - Pretty Vicious (Big Machine/John Varvatos)

<a href="" data-link-merchant="Amazon UK"" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">6. The Struts - Pretty Vicious (Big Machine/John Varvatos)

The Struts have always been old souls… well kind of. Pushing classic rock tropes, except with the kind of glossy production favoured by pop stars, they spent years finding their niche in a world that wasn’t interested in guitars. Now with all that somewhat changed (look at Greta Van Fleet, Dirty Honey, Måneskin, and many others) they’ve nailed a career-topping rock album on their terms. In some ways, Pretty Vicious feels like a return to the hits of 2014 debut, Everybody Wants, stuffed as it is with bright, fizzling anthems that’ll crack the hardest of cynics. 

Only now it all comes with an emotional depth and nuance that gives Pretty Vicious real substance to match the style. Tenderness and heartache sit alongside Slade-meets-Liberace glitter. The title track is all Wicked Game-esque new-wave. Do What You Want and Rockstar are the party tracks of the year. And in Bad Decisions, singer Luke Spiller turns the darker side of his success into an emotionally searing ode to human fallibility. 

Killer track: Do What You Want

5. Steven Wilson - The Harmony Codex (SW Records)

<a href="" data-link-merchant="Amazon UK"" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">5. Steven Wilson - The Harmony Codex (SW Records)

<a href="" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant="Amazon UK"">Steven Wilson often gives the impression of a man determined to deliver what his audience least expect. He’ll troll the prog rock zealots by making music that gambols happily off in the direction of pop, then he’ll go and reform <a href="" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant="Amazon UK"">Porcupine Tree just as they're begrudgingly getting used to the idea. <a href="" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant="Amazon UK"">The Harmony Codex, on the other hand, sounds like Wilson operating at his least contrarian, just doing whatever the hell comes naturally, and doing it extremely well. 

Best in class for this, his seventh solo album, are Rock Bottom – which sounds like a deliberate, fanboy attempt to combine both The Great Gig In The Sky and Comfortably Numb into the best song <a href="" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant="Amazon UK"">Pink Floyd never got round to recording – and the multi-part <a href="" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant="Amazon UK"">Impossible Tightrope, which races from one state of transcendence to the next via a series of stuttering riffs and scattergun rhythms, embellished by strings, seagulls and choirs of celestial angels. 

Killer track: Impossible Tightrope

4. Ian Hunter - Defiance Part 1 (Sun Records)&nbsp;

<a href="" data-link-merchant="Amazon UK"" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">4. Ian Hunter - Defiance Part 1 (Sun Records) 

At 84, <a href="" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant="Amazon UK"">Ian Hunter is older than his heroes Dylan and the Stones, yet retains the attitude of a much younger contender. ‘Me and the world ain’t on speaking terms’ he barks on Defiance, a street-tough overview of a life during which he ‘Took no advice, gave no consent’. The man who sang <a href="" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant="Amazon UK"">All The Young Dudes in 1972 is now joined by a stellar cast of old dudes, including Billy F Gibbons, Slash, Robert Trujillo, Joe Elliott, Mike Campbell, Ringo Starr, Todd Rundgren and the now sadly deceased dudes Jeff Beck and Taylor Hawkins. 

The mood swings from reflective (No Hard Feelings – about his father) to romantic (Angel – about his wife) to truculent (Don’t Tread On Me) to nostalgic. ‘I was proud to be a thorn in the bed of roses’ he sings. Still a rock’n’roll rebel to the core. 

Killer track: Bed Of Roses

3. Foo Fighters - But Here We Are (Roswell/RCA)

<a href="" data-link-merchant="Amazon UK"" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">3. Foo Fighters - But Here We Are (Roswell/RCA) 

It’s not the first time <a href="" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant="Amazon UK"">Dave Grohl has turned the pain of personal, very public loss into a peerless collection of rock anthems. Twenty eight years after Kurt Cobain’s death and the <a href="" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant="Amazon UK"">Foo Fighters’ debut, he finds himself once more riding waves of grief – this time for both his mother and for his best friend, Foos drummer Taylor Hawkins – in a manner that’s raw, brave and artistically on-the-nose. 

With Grohl back behind the drum kit as well as behind the mic, there’s no hiding behind euphemisms here. ‘It came in a flash/ It came out of nowhere/It happened so fast’ he howls on powerful opener Rescued, his mourning out there as an act of therapy. But it’s testament to Grohl’s uncrushable spirit and a perfect tribute to the nature of the people he’s eulogising that, while death and grief shadow every moment lyrically, it all rides on a musical sense of positivity that utilises stacked guitars as armour. After all, this is a man, and a band, for whom stadium-ready anthems come easily. 

Blistering, rocking, and made for the supportive magic of the communal live experience, But Here We Are represents the Foos at their most engaging and defiant. It’s what Taylor would have wanted. 

Killer track: Rescued

2. Metallica - 72 Seasons (Blackened)&nbsp;

<a href="" data-link-merchant="Amazon UK"" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">2. Metallica - 72 Seasons (Blackened) 

For a long time, it was hard going. St. Anger was a mess, Death Magnetic a bore, Lulu bewildering. But with <a href="" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant="Amazon UK"">Hardwired… To Self Destruct in 2016, <a href="" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant="Amazon UK"">Metallica got back in the groove, and with <a href="" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant="Amazon UK"">72 Seasons they’re deep into it. Their best since the Black album? Possibly. Their best since Load, certainly. As frontman James Hetfield is so fond of saying: “Metallica gives you heavy!” And on 72 Seasons, this comes in various forms. 

The title track is razor-sharp thrash metal from the masters of the art. You Must Burn! is a punishingly slow grind reminiscent of Sad But True. The frenetic Lux Æterna carries such a heady whiff of the <a href="" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant="Amazon UK"">NWOBHM, it could be mistaken for another Diamond Head cover. 

And heaviest of all, for its dark atmosphere, is the 11-minute epic Inamorata, the longest track ever to feature on a Metallica studio album, with echoes of early Sabbath and Priest in its sombre mid-section, and lyrics wrought from brutal self-examination: ‘Comfort in the hell I know/Resentment like a cancer grows…Inamorata is Hetfield’s monument to misery, and a dramatic finale to the heavy metal album of the year. 

Killer track: Inamorata

1. The Rolling Stones - Hackney Diamonds (Polydor)

<a href="" data-link-merchant="Amazon UK"" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">1. The Rolling Stones - Hackney Diamonds (Polydor)

Sprung upon an unsuspecting public with all the attendant media hoopla that one might expect, Hackney Diamonds, the Rolling Stones’ first album of original material in 18 years doesn’t disappoint. Though many suspected it might. The Glimmer Twins were still trying their sixties on for size as they unleashed A Bigger Bang in ’05, but could they still cut it while teetering on the very brink of their eighties?

It’s exactly the sort of album that Rolling Stones’ fans want them to make. It’s got it all. There’s the insatiable attitude of the Get Off Of My Cloud Jagger (Bite My Head Off with <a href="" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant="Amazon UK"">Paul McCartney on loutish punk-literate bass), there’s the late Charlie Watts, funking up the backbeat on his last two Stones recordings (the slightly Chic-y Mess It Up, and the exceptionally Stones-y Live By The Sword with tight-but-loose handclaps stoking up the roll and cameos from <a href="" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant="Amazon UK"">Elton John on piano and, for old time’s sake, prodigal bassist, Bill Wyman).

Hackney Diamonds, contemporised by a masterful Andrew Watt production, brims with highlights, from the Stones-in-excelsis guitar catfight and mangled cockernee vernacular of Whole Wide World to the Lady Gaga/Stevie Wonder-featuring gospel magnificence of Sweet Sound Of Heaven. It’s a Rolling Stones album for the ages and undoubtedly an essential distillation of the most distinctive elements of The Greatest Rock ’N’ Roll Band In The World. 

Killer track: Whole Wide World

Fraser Lewry

Online Editor at Louder/Classic Rock magazine since 2014. 38 years in music industry, online for 25. Also bylines for: Metal Hammer, Prog Magazine, The Word Magazine, The Guardian, The New Statesman, Saga, Music365. Former Head of Music at Xfm Radio, A&R at Fiction Records, early blogger, ex-roadie, published author. Once appeared in a Cure video dressed as a cowboy, and thinks any situation can be improved by the introduction of cats. Favourite Serbian trumpeter: Dejan Petrović.