Metal Hammer's 50 best albums of 2023 (and the stories behind them)

2023 end of year
(Image credit: Future)
Metal Hammer's 50 best albums of 2023

2023 is over! Well, almost, anyway if you're reading this on the day it goes out. It was the year that brought back Ville Valo, gave us new records from massive acts like Avenged Sevenfold, Metallica and Within Temptation and brought a whole new dimension to the fan culture of Babymetal and Sleep Token

And like many years before, we've also had a tonne of brilliant new records to dive into. We already asked for your votes to crown the very best metal album of 2023 - Sleep Token's breakthrough success Take Me Back To Eden taking top spot - but below you'll find the official Metal Hammer Top 50 albums of 2023,  assembled by our contributors and representing a cross-section of the very best metal had to offer in the past 12 months. 

2023's been a wild ride - here's to another brilliant 12 months in 2024. Happy Holidays!  

Metal Hammer line break

Metal Hammer's 50 best albums of 2023: 50-41

50. Blood Ceremony - The Old Ways Remain (Rise Above)


Blood Ceremony had always been a unique presence in the already niche doom-adjacent occult rock sphere. On their fifth album, the Canadian quartet expanded their palette even further, with vibrant shades surfacing through pop, folk, psychedelia and even jazz-tinted songs. Appropriately though, the old ways remained, and the core sound continued to be riff-driven witch-rock infused with vocalist Alia O’Brien’s glorious, otherworldly flute and a penchant for folklore and fuzzy 70s horror. Eldritch vibes had never been so smart, swaggering and sexy.

49. Cannibal Corpse - Chaos Horrific (Metal Blade)


Those who crown rock royalty and decide Hall Of Fame inductions will never deign to include death metal oozing zombies, gore and inky darkness. But we dare their high foreheads to name any other band who’s consistently issued decades of top-tier material without an ounce of let-up while improving each and every time? Any other band whose 16th album was a late-career high point? The answer, written in blood, can only be Cannibal Corpse!

48. Burner - It All Returns To Nothing (Church Road)


Before they released their debut in June, you could have described Burner as death metal and hardcore crashing together. It All Returns To Nothing maintained the South Londoners’ core sound of casting tremolo-picked riffs against scurrying drums and pinch harmonics, yet it also forced their vision even further. With An Affirming Flame and Waco Horror pushing into post-metal and grindcore respectively, Burner sounded both incensed and mature, instantly reaffirming them as ones to watch in the stacked UK metal scene.

47. Horrendous - Ontological Mysterium (Season Of Mist)


Evolving into a fully kitted-out prog unit since their death metal inception in 2009, Horrendous attracted a lot of chat in 2023 with their most impressive and experimental album to date. Ontological Mysterium played to the US quartet’s myriad stylistic strengths, combining their honed death metal tropes with kaleidoscopic flavours, from atmospheric doom to jazzy prog. Collaborative, precise and ambitious, the album represented a significant step up in exploration, raising the question: is there anything Horrendous can’t do?

46. Ahab - The Coral Tombs (Napalm)


These German ‘nautical doom’ obsessives had been rising in stature and greatness since 2006. With their latest concept album, based around Jules Verne’s subaquatic classic 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, they’d spent eight years honing a masterwork that is the very definition of immersive (or should that be ‘submersive’?). A gripping artistic achievement, bringing atmospheric post-rock textures, emotional nuances and dark jazz inflections to bear on their progressive death-doom fundamentals, Ahab reached their tempestuous apotheosis aboard Captain Nemo’s Nautilus.

45. Spirit Adrift - Ghost At The Gallows (Century Media)


Five albums in, Nate Garrett’s band of misfits continued to find redemption in the all-conquering riffs of trad metal. Ghost At The Gallows may have been written amid one of the most testing periods of Nate’s life – lockdown, family deaths and an ongoing medical issue leaving him “near-paralysed” – but …Gallows nonetheless saw the Texans triumph anew. A packed tent at Download Festival attested to their status as leading lights in the New Wave Of Traditional Heavy Metal.

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


Coloured by the passing of Dave Grohl’s mother and Foos’ long-time drummer Taylor Hawkins, But Here We Are nonetheless felt more like a celebration of life and the healing power of music. Foo Fighters rode out a tide of emotion for their 11th studio album, focusing on their core of enormous singalongs – Rescued, Under You, Show Me How and The Teacher all radio hits – to offer their strongest album in more than a decade, continuing their international chart-topping form in the process.

43. Hellripper - Warlocks Grim & Withered Hags (Peaceville)


James McBain’s Hellripper is the best one-man blackened thrash band since Midnight. His third record, Warlocks Grim & Withered Hags, trounced peers again with more grotesque odes to the Devil and other deities, this time steeped heavy in Scottish folklore. The result was more black metal-oriented without dumping the fun; Goat Vomit Nightmare was a riot indebted to Maiden more than Mayhem, there was enough Motörhead to perforate your septum, and the title track’s bagpipes were genuinely stirring. All hail the goat.

42. Khanate - To Be Cruel (Sacred Bones)


They say time heals all wounds, but 14 years after their last album, these drone/doom legends sounded more bitter, distressed and unhinged than ever. Backed by their most enveloping production to date, these three lengthy tracks felt like classic Khanate while also pushing their torturous sound into more unnerving and desolate places. It got under your skin like no other album this year.

41. KK's Priest - The Sinner Rides Again (Napalm)


With Judas Priest set to drop a new studio album within weeks, the comparisons will be inevitable, but why settle for one blazing classic metal band when you can have two? KK’s Priest’s second release dispelled any idea that they’re a dodgy counterfeit. There were few surprises but they proved that they do heads-down heavy metal supremely well, whether it’s the searing lead guitars or ‘Ripper’ Owens’ acrobatic vocals. KK’s Priest remain a holy thriver.

Metal Hammer's 50 best albums of 2023: 40-31

40. Orbit Culture - Descent (Seek & Strike)


Orbit Culture’s 2020 album, Nija, was ace. Their 2021 EP, Shaman, was even better. The Swedes followed form again with Descent, a formidable entwining of modern metal’s most effective and exciting strands into an impressive milestone. Incorporating massive grooves into their melodeath blueprint alongside huge choruses and a fearless sense of enterprise, it delivered some of 2023’s most exhilarating anthems.

39. Mutoid Man - Mutants (Sargent House)


Mutoid Man deserve all the props there are to give. For any band to harness the hallmarks of impenetrable tech metal and prog rock – endless swarms of hammer-on/pull-offs, fretboard tapping, dizzying time changes and the erasure of genre boundaries – into a collection of hooky earworms was a masterstroke to start. That this feat was accomplished by a stripped-down trio made Mutants worthy of all the accolades and repeated spins the future brings.

38. Zulu - A Better Tomorrow (Flatspot)


The LA black-powerviolence crew’s debut was a singular experience in 2023. It merged savage hardcore, warp-speed grind and crushing riffs with the sound of classic soul, pure old-school funk grooves and NOLA jazz, and then gave it a searing, uncompromising political message and musings on what it is like to be a person of colour operating in the alternative music scene. A New Tomorrow was the sound of a new and essential voice in the realm of heavy music.

37. Voyager - Fearless In Love (Season Of Mist)


Eurovision heroes Voyager had a helluva year, finishing ninth place in Europe’s favourite talent show with their progressive synth hit, Promise. Released soon after their televised triumph, Fearless In Love channelled every bit of the Aussies’ love of pop and stylish 80s synth, wrapping it around crunchy guitars and proggy hooks. Also featuring the djenty disco thumper Dreamer, their 2022 Eurovision submission kiboshed by a so-called expert panel, Fearless In Love glistened with glamour, independence and retrowave energy.

36. Maggot Heart - Hunger (Svart/Rapid Eye)


Maggot Heart’s third LP got weird, marking the Berlin-based trio unique to a hilarious degree. Their noisy post-punk was dunked in ample buckets of brass (why not?!); choruses came in with Turbonegro levels of urgency, dirt under the nails and quips for days; and tracks like Parasite and Archer were given space to marinate in their wonkiness, never losing what initially endeared Maggot Heart to us: frontwoman Linnéa Olsson’s knack for a tune and disregard for convention. What a treat.

35. Sylosis - A Sign Of Things To Come (Nuclear Blast)


For Sylosis’s sixth album, mastermind Josh Middleton pulled the band away from their usual progressive approach, emphasising songs and hooks. The result was the best music they’d made in a decade. Deadwood opened A Sign… with a rampage of masterfully catchy thrash, before Absent, Thorns and Eye For An Eye dabbled in more synths and melodic singing than the Brits had ever used before. Progressive it was not, but it offered a collection of addictive metal songs regardless.

34. Within Temptation - Bleed Out (Force Music)


Between Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the protests about women’s rights in Iran, Within Temptation had no shortage of global events to inspire them when it came to writing their eighth studio album. Bleed Out represented the band at their most fired up politically and sonically, themes of freedom and unity powering some of the heaviest and most impactful songs they’d ever written, with Wireless, Ritual and Entertain You built for the arenas WT now comfortably inhabit.

33. KEN Mode - Void (Artofact)


Released a year after companion piece Null, KEN mode’s ninth LP was a masterclass in jarring post-pandemic psychosis. The band’s talent for top-tier metallic noise-rock has been proven time and again, but this go-around saw them take full advantage of Kathryn Kerr’s talents as a multi-instrumentalist to explore ever-stranger terrain. Elements of no wave and industrial spidered in through the cracks as the album jolted and spasmed, colliding to form a challenging slab that was both exhausting and exhilarating.

32. Blackbraid - Blackbraid II (Self-released)


Blackbraid’s second outing fired an audacious salvo across the extreme metal landscape. Sgah’gahsowáh, the prodigious talent behind Blackbraid, masterfully blended the raw intensity of Norwegian black metal with nuanced touches of Native American culture. It was no rehash of their groundbreaking debut; Blackbraid II uncorked thrilling riffs and innovative structural twists, notably in A Song Of Death On Winds Of Dawn and The Spirit Returns. Revelatory and deeply evocative, Blackbraid II emerged as an indispensable chapter in this year’s metal narrative.

31. Oxbow - Love's Holiday (Ipecac)


Like a butterfly with impeccable music taste, San Francisco’s Oxbow slipped another leg out of their cult-status chrysalis on album eight. Love’s Holiday stacked noise rock beside empyrean piano ballads and bluesy flights of jazz and fancy, pulsating, bludgeoning, hurting. They seemed intense as ever, Eugene S. Robinson’s wails and croaks abetting the tone – but something had changed. More energy was spent on heart-tugging than nosebreaking, with sorrow – Lingua Ignota guest vocal, anyone? – and hookiness in equal measure. Unbelievable.

Metal Hammer's 50 best albums of 2023: 30-21

30. Grave Pleasures - Plagueboys (Century Media/Secret Trees)


Grave Pleasures had always partied at the precipice of doomsday, but here the scenereviving post-punk collective let their undercurrent of anxiety seep to the surface. If Plagueboys was more rueful than its predecessors, this was the party reaching the weary early hours when all the really interesting conversations take place. No band could make the wracked, luminous nature of 80s dancefloor hits more immediate, but this was a deeply affecting tour of our parallel age of unease.

29. Periphery - V: Djent Is Not A Genre (3Dot)


Whether it’s a genre or not, Periphery had long been the frontrunners of all those associated with the scandalous ‘d’ word. The Washington DC natives’ super-technical playing, haphazard delivery and knack for catchy hooks were again writ large over album seven. Wildfire, Atropos and Everything Is Fine! delivered a sense of fun in a style that is often too serious for its own good, while Dying Star and Thanks Nobuo revealed beauty to go with the boisterousness.

28. Pupil Slicer - Blossom (Prosthetic)


Pupil Slicer’s second album saw the band’s sound mature. Emerging from the turbulence of 2021’s Mirrors into more sharply drawn, videogame-inspired atmospheric mathcore, they continued to push boundaries and instigate excitement in the heaviest alternative genre spaces. Vocalist Kate Davies introduced moody clean vocals and the former abundant grindcore influences were instead spread sparsely throughout Blossom. Breakdowns punctuated the cosmic horror concept, fusing the personal and the otherworldly into a viscerally cathartic whole.

27. Enslaved - Heimdal (Nuclear Blast)


As with 2020’s Utgard, Enslaved’s 16th album found new ways to map Norse mythology onto the deepest realms of the human psyche. Themed around the titular keeper of the rainbow bridge and harbinger of Ragnarok, Heimdal was a rite of passage into the unknown, steeped in the belief that magic happens in the places in between. That sense of openness to possibilities pervaded the album as vast sonic vistas lurched into urgent, psychedelic quests with an adventurism undimmed over three decades.

26. Tomb Mold - The Enduring Spirit (20 Buck Spin)


Tomb Mold’s journey to the top of the death metal dung pile has been steady and grotesque, like the inexorable crawl of plump white maggots squirming from the bin you kept forgetting to empty. Rather than wallow in fetid familiarity, The Enduring Spirit saw the Canadians inject their savage OSDM with sticky, stringy gobbets of prog. The results were as compulsive as they were gruesome; odd, silvery melodies illuminated the album’s sticky crevices while patches of unnerving spaciousness made the stagnant air almost breathable.

25. Dodheimsgard - Black Medium Current (Peaceville)


Ever since 1999’s landmark 666 International album, Dødheimsgard have been at the vanguard of black metal’s lurch into the avant-garde. With Black Medium Current, band mastermind Yusaf ‘Vicotnik’ Parvez revealed what a deeply personal endeavour it had become. Segueing from spidery incantations to industrial beats and Pink Floyd-style washes, this was a finely tuned emotional barometer whose scope and ability to surprise and resonate at every turn was a mark of Vicotnik’s fearless approach to self-examination. A singular artistic statement.

24. Blood Command - World Domination (Hassle/Loyal Blood)


For 15 years, Blood Command had made eclecticism their calling card, but the Norwegians’ fifth album considerably upped the ante. Even by previous standards, World Domination’s mix of grindcore, G-funk, hardcore punk, thrash metal, shoegaze and dream-pop was a ridiculously wild ride. It could have been an absolute mess in the hands of lesser bands, but Blood Command had such a strong grasp of all genres that they easily nailed every style they tackled. One of 2023’s weirdest, but most exciting albums.

23. Obituary - Dying Of Everything (Relapse)


“You can enjoy it without having to think too much about it,” was the amusingly modest self-assessment of much-loved frontman John Tardy. While that’s been true of every Obituary record, Dying Of Everything packed more substance than 2017’s eponymous LP – a return to form advanced on the Floridian death gods’ 11th offering. Refreshingly simple riffs were dispatched with blunt-force groove, breaking down into sludgy realms of atmospheric horror. Obituary remained masters of their time-honoured MO after 35 years.

22. Twin Temple - God Is Dead (Pentagrammaton)


Devilish doo-wop couple Alexandra and Zachary James revelled in their roles as Old Nick’s slinkiest emissaries on their second collection of songs for swingin’ Satanists. Gloriously retro vamps Burn Your Bible, Let’s Have A Satanic Orgy and finger-snapping empowerment highlight Be A Slut were diabolically good fun, as provocative as any metal band and made all the more alluring by the periodimmaculate Wall Of Sound production, right down to their vintage, dust-on-the-needle sound.

21. Vexed - Negative Energy (Napalm)


Following on from their 2021 debut, Culling Culture, Vexed ruthlessly amped up the vitriol on Negative Energy. This H-bomb of alt metal fury saw vocalist Megan Targett condemning abusers to the gallows with guttural urgency, bolstered by brutal djent-tinged breakdowns and scraping distortion. In their refusal to sugarcoat trauma, Vexed wrenched skeletons out of closets, drowning listeners in the resulting malice that each memory evoked. Scathingly intense, Negative Energy cemented the Hertfordshire harriers as a resolute new voice in modern metal.

Metal Hammer's 50 best albums of 2023: 20-11

20. Primordial - How It Ends (Metal Blade)


There’s something about Primordial’s world-weary anger, dirt and sorrow that only seems to get more profound and intense with the advent of middle age. That was all here in spades on their ominously titled 10th album, but it shared space with some of their most gorgeous, upbeat melodies and good old-fashioned heavy metal heroics. Viewing contemporary traumas through the prism of historical tragedy has been Primordial’s stock in trade since the mid-90s, but How It Ends proved we need them more than ever.

19. Katatonia - Sky Void Of Stars (Napalm)


More than three decades of making music together hadn’t sparked a drop of complacency from these sullen Swedes. Indeed, the past 10 years produced some of Katatonia’s most confident material to date, with Sky Void Of Stars no exception. Elegantly yanking on heartstrings and soulfully weaving in intricate melodies, the album defined another chapter in their post-progressive era, where big choruses and skin-tingling pop leanings featured effortlessly alongside Jonas Renkse’s entrancing missives, resulting in a relaxed, rock-driven and reliably moping act of smouldering wonder.

18. Skindred - Smile (Earache)


The UK’s most reliable party-starters dug deep into their reggae roots for Smile, bringing Jamaican-style sunshine while not skimping on the riffs to craft anthems worthy of the arena venues the band increasingly appear in. Narrowly missing out on a UK No.1, Smile was nonetheless an affirmation of everything brilliant about Skindred: distinct, fun, catchy and unafraid to address tough subjects, inviting everyone to party under a banner of unity. In 2023, was there a more desperately needed message?

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


With their fourth album, tunic-clad Lancastrians Wytch Hazel made one of the best records of 2023 and 1983. IV: Sacrament felt like a visitor from a vanished age, one that placed a premium on the genre’s most traditional values: rich, melodic songs and soaring harmonic guitars. But this was no Campaign For Real Metal throwback; songs such as Angel Of Light and A Thousand Years were a battleground between mainman Colin Hendra’s Christian beliefs and a cruel, unforgiving modern world.

16. Godflesh - Purge (Avalanche)


Summoning the iconoclastic dystopia of 1992’s Pure for their latest wasn’t what Godflesh fans were expecting, but it was what the field medic ordered. Polar-cold mechanised beats with equal ties to classic hip hop and industrial wastelands set the table for a chest-caving bass thump and guitars that drove a shoegazing stake into doom metal’s heart, as mainman Justin Broadrick tersely spilled his guts. Kudos all round for making a 30-plus-year-old blueprint work to stunning effect on Purge.

15. VV - Neon Noir (Heartagram)


Ten years after Him’s final album, frontman Ville Valo returned with a record that sounded… well, like Him. Good job, then, that nobody does this shtick quite like Ville. Neon Noir was a yearning, goth rock injection to the heart and loins, covering everything from upbeat bangers to strung-out, doomy epics. The velvet-red thread? Your boy Ville Valo: crooning, undulating, going ‘uh!’ in that goosebump-inducing timbre. The king of Love Metal was back, and it felt so good.

14. Empire State Bastard - Rivers Of Heresy (Roadrunner)


We always knew Simon Neil had a penchant for awkward noise, but no one was prepared for the sheer extreme metal viciousness of Empire State Bastard. The project was birthed through late-night chats on the Biffy Clyro tour bus between Simon and live guitarist Mike Vennart. Add Slayer legend Dave Lombardo on drums and the result was a suitably towering skyscraper of a debut album, falling somewhere between Converge and Fantômas but with its own unique flavours.

13. Urne - A Feast On Sorrow (Candelight)


The London trio’s 2021 debut album, Serpent & Spirit, was incredibly promising, but surely no one could have seen the gigantic leap in quality to A Feast On Sorrow coming. The riffs were more complex, the production from Gojira’s Joe Duplantier sharpened their attack, but it was vocalist Joe Nally’s emotional performance, palpably channelling the confusion and frustration of grief and loss, that was the key element. Heartbreaking and crushing in equal measure, A Feast On Sorrow was the perfect modern metal album.

12. Cattle Decapitation - Terrasite (Metal Blade)


Cattle Decapitation hadn’t played pure grindcore for ages, yet there was something just as extreme about their eighth album, Terrasite. Teetering between tech-death, black metal, grind, and whatever Travis Ryan had lodged in his throat, it furthered the fucked-up foundations established on latter-day records The Anthropocene Extinction and Death Atlas. Terrasite caterwauled with strangled anthems, destructive breakdowns, and even some bleak-asthe-news clean vocals punctuating the coda Just Another Body. Harrowing but insanely catchy, Terrasite sounded like nothing on Earth.

11. Myrkur - Spine (Relapse)


Clocking in at a mere 34 minutes, Spine arrived like a star shooting across the skies in a short yet magical moment of cosmic wonder. An ode to the joys and anxieties of motherhood, the album saw Amalie Bruun range through a spectrum of sounds both old and previously uncovered, lacing together black metal and Scandic pagan folk with flashes of classic metal and even glimmering synth pop. Celestial and wonderfully ethereal, Spine birthed a host of new sonic possibilities.

Metal Hammer's 50 best albums of 2023: 10-1

10. Royal Thunder - Rebuilding The Mountain (Spinefarm)


With broken relationships and substance abuse all but ending the band following their last album, 2017’s Wick, the fact that Royal Thunder were still going in 2023 was a cause for celebration in itself. Yet in typical fashion, the Atlanta natives used the fuel from their uncertain times to craft another stunning addition to their perfect discography. 

While the band’s emotional songs have always had a knack for hitting the sweet spot, the tales of hope, redemption and healing spread across Rebuilding The Mountain were given that much more clout. Josh Weaver’s gorgeous melodies painted the most perfect landscape for Mlny Parsonz to break your heart with the honesty and darkness of Pull, Drag Me and Live To Live.

9. Baroness - Stone (Abraxan Hymns)


Breaking away from their established colour-coded nomenclature, Baroness carved out a seminal moment with their sixth studio offering, Stone. Its name signalled more than simply evolution, but a decisive intent. While listeners found an ineffable homage to the lavish textures of 2019’s Gold & Grey, Stone daringly charted new landscapes, melding sludge, prog and the undeniable swagger of late-70 classic rock. 

Tracks like Last Word and Shine thundered with driving riffs, while Under The Wheel teased brooding post-hardcore menace. Frontman John Baizley’s dynamic vocal range, paired with Gina Gleason’s lush harmonies, offered a riveting contrast, bridging potent metal anthems and spectral acoustic ballads. More than a mere throwback, Stone boldly reaffirmed Baroness’s commitment to innovation, and critics responded with high praise and horns raised high.

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


After igniting the underground with two albums of folk-tinged stoner/doom, Green Lung dared to dream bigger on album number three. Approached with the theatrical bombast of your average Marvel movie, This Heathen Land was an epic worthy of the big screen, weaving a lyrical narrative around British folklore and tales of the occult, while writing some of the catchiest doom-adjacent songs since Tobias Forge stuck a pope hat on and demanded everyone call him Papa. 

Between its galloping riffs, towering hooks and flamboyant keys, This Heathen Land made the rooms Green Lung previously packed seem impossibly small – the likes of Mountain Throne, Maxine (Witch Queen) and One For Sorrow suggested their own apotheosis into bona fide metal gods must surely be at hand.

7. Tesseract - War Of Being (Kscope)


When Tesseract released their fifth album in September, it was their first in more than five years. Fortunately, the Brits compensated for the half-decade dry spell with their most all-encompassing material to date. War Of Being summarised every era and evolution they’d been through since their 2011 debut album. 

While the 11-minute behemoth of a title track reintegrated the progressive scope of One and Altered State, the likes of The Grey – with its skull-caving seven-string riffing and meticulously honed melodies – maintained the accessibility of their later material. With the addition of singer Dan Tompkins belting out the vocal performance of his life on top, War Of Being saw the UK’s prog metal kings reclaim their throne.

6. Svalbard - The Weight Of The Mask (Nuclear Blast)


Svalbard have never been afraid to veer into the darkness. While they’ve been no strangers to looking outward at the realities of an unjust world, album number four instead saw the band focusing inward via this devastatingly beautiful untangling of what it means to live with poor mental health. 

Intricate and gorgeously intense, The Weight Of The Mask felt as viscerally raw as an open wound, flushed with sweeping blackgaze guitars, juddering percussion and lyrics so richly emotional that tears almost pooled on our cheeks. Bleak though it may have been, this album was proof of that innate human ability to find beauty in the things we often leave hidden in the shadows.

5. Metallica - 72 Seasons (Blackened)


Conceived and largely created during the dark times of the pandemic, Metallica’s much-anticipated 11th album was the last word in lockdown records: a sprawling, self-lacerating, soul-baring journey that actively challenged the listener not to flinch during its epic 77-minute running length. Joyous throwback single Lux Æterna was a red herring; the rest of 72 Seasons veered between the merely intense and the downright harrowing, James Hetfield mining his own childhood traumas to deliver something that was both universal and ultimately cathartic. 

Yet for its length, 72 Seasons was the most musically focused Metallica had been since The Black Album. The likes of Shadows Follow, Crown Of Barbed Wire, unheralded gem Too Far Gone? and 11-minute closer Inamorata showed that, 42 years after they started, the band were still blazing with creativity.

4. Sleep Token - Take Me Back To Eden (Spinefarm)


Sleep Token were one of the most talkedabout bands in heavy metal before Take Me Back To Eden even came out this year. When the masked cult’s third album dropped in May, it only deepened everybody’s love for the rising stars. Anthems like Chokehold and the ultra-viral The Summoning not only broadened the band’s eclectic palate – featuring djent, pop, rap and funk – but carried an emotional authenticity even listeners outside the metal sphere could relate to. 

Frontman Vessel’s croons about love, loss and remorse were both beautifully written and gorgeously sung, giving the inevitable chunky riffs that followed an extra, cathartic heft. No doubt, Take Me Back… will be remembered as an essential work in the Sleep Token canon as they continue to ascend.

3. Code Orange - The Above (Blue Grape)


Following the brilliance of Forever and Underneath, and the nu metal vibes of surprise standalone single Out For Blood, everyone had to once again prepare for the unexpected on Code Orange’s fifth effort. And once again, the Pittsburgh collective met the massive expectations they had set for themselves, further delving down the rabbit hole to uncover all manner of new ideas before seamlessly tying them all together into a whole that was unmistakably them. 

The alt metal anthems Take Shape (featuring Billy Corgan) and Circle Through sat next to the exhilarating rush of Snapshot, with multi-instrumentalist Eric ‘Shade’ Balderose utilising an even bigger bag of tricks. Right through to the title track’s closing string-led descent, The Above was another defiant statement of a band light years beyond the competition.

2. Avenged Sevenfold - Life Is But A Dream... (Warner)


Inspired by a profound existential crisis and its DMT-fuelled aftermath, Avenged Sevenfold’s eighth album was one of the weirdest records ever made by a huge, mainstream band. A decade ago, they were riding high with Hail To The King’s on-the-nose homages to Metallica and Guns N’ Roses. In stark and wondrous contrast, Life Is But A Dream… had more in common with Disco Volante-era Mr. Bungle and the multigenre madness of hyperpop icons 100 gecs than any conventional metal band. 

From opener Game Over’s scattershot circus thrash and the lurching, industrial grind of Nothing, to (O)rdinary’s beatific funk-pop and the title track’s florid piano epilogue, it unfolded as a single, 53-minute blizzard of joyous, liberated creativity. The dream lives.

1. Creeper - Sanguivore (Spinefarm)


Vampires never get old, and Creeper know it. The cryptdwellers’ third album was a charismatic, be-fanged gothpunk rock opera high on blood and its own vaulting ambition. Running counter to modern metal’s prevailing wear-your-trauma-on-your-sleeve trend, Sanguivore was defiantly dramatic, swooningly romantic, frequently over-the-top and full of the kind of old-school, air-punching tunes that most other bands who aren’t called Ghost have apparently forgotten how to write. 

The headline news was that this tale of undead beloveds Spook and Mercy channelled the genius of the late Jim Steinman, the visionary behind Meat Loaf’s Bat Out Of Hell and a man who was to restraint what cows are to Olympic high jumping. Death-or-glory nine-minute opener Further Than Forever and show-stopping piano ballad closer More Than Death lived up to that billing – epic tunes that didn’t so much lean into the ridiculous as embrace it and wrestle it naked on the floor. 

There were other reference points, too, such as The Sisters Of Mercy (Black Heaven), Danzig (Lovers Led Astray), The Damned (Chapel Gates) and even Billy Idol (dancefloor banger Cry To Heaven), not to mention classic 80s and 90s fang-flicks Near Dark, Fright Night and Interview With The Vampire. So far, so eldritch. Yet Sanguivore was more than just a copy-and-paste homage to an era that none of the members of Creeper, or most of their audience, are old enough to have seen.

 Frontman and blood-drinker-in-chief Will Gould – aka William Von Ghould to give him his full nom de vampire – and his bandmates had taken the anything-goes spirit of their illustrious forebears as much as their sound and turned it into something fresh and new. This was no dumbly reflexive attempt to ape the past. Every skyscraping chorus, every throbbing, black-hearted bassline, every dramatic vocal that sounded suspiciously like it was being sung through fanged incisors was perfectly considered and even more perfectly executed. 

Ironically for a record centred around the undead, Sanguivore felt alive. It’s no coincidence that Will had held up The Rocky Horror Picture Show as a key touchstone – not the latterday, middle-aged-accountants-dressing-as-Frank-N-Furter-on-a-Friday-night, but the original’s gleefully freaky, wilfully transgressive spirit. It was a circus of vampires, with the singer as ringmaster in midnight-black shades and a leather biker jacket. 

It all sounded cartoony, but part of the joy of Sanguivore was that it was cartoony. However, there was another, less flippant story lurking beneath the recently disturbed soil on its surface. Just as Spook and Mercy’s story was one of redemption and healing, so was Creeper’s. The band’s last album, Sex, Death & The Infinite Void, was recorded amid guitarist Ian Miles’s well-publicised mental health struggles, a situation that couldn’t help but impact on both the band and his relationship with them. 

Appropriately, Sanguivore was the sound of a band resurrected. In a world that’s stuck in a spiral of shittiness, it’s the job of music now more than ever to provide escapism. With Sanguivore, Creeper offered a way out of the grimness of life and into an altogether more alluring darkness. Listen to them, the children of the night. What music they make.

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.