While its only half over, in many ways 2023 already feels like a landmark year for heavy music. In January, Sleep Token unexpectedly became metal's next marquee act on the strength of a genuinely wild viral groundswell. A couple months later, Metallica returned with their first album in seven years. Two months after that, Avenged Sevenfold did the same thing.
Meanwhile, hardcore bands like Drain and Scowl are spearheading the genre's vital new wave, death metal is thriving thanks to a much-needed burst of youthful imagination, and veteran acts across deathcore, groove-metal, black metal and more dished out the goods.
Below are the 25 greatest albums so far in a year that's already worth celebrating.
100 gecs became the accidental posterchildren for genre-adverse hyperpop with their 2019 breakthrough, 1,000 gecs. After four years and much anticipation, they returned with 10,000 gecs, and it truly is 10 times more batshit insane than its predecessor. Nu-metal, ska, emo-rap, Wiggles-esque kids music and Patton-style goofery abound on this head-spinning trip through memes, melodrama and frogs. No, it's not metal, we know, but if you listen with an open mind, it will get blown.
The Acacia Strain have two decades worth of chugging mosh material behind them, and they still know how to pull off a surprise. Step Into the Light — the evil twin to the doomy, three-songs-in-38-minutes Failure Will Follow — is 23 minutes of the fastest, most barreling songs they've ever written. Frontman Vincent Bennett goes toe-to-toe with Sunami's Josef Alfonso ("Sinkhole") and Chamber's Jacob Lilly ("Chain"), and otherwise dominates these sub-three-minute bursts of unholy heaviness. It's some of their best yet.
Avatar's "metal circus" continues with Dance Devil Dance, the Swedish troupe's ninth album and their most wonderfully weird. On the one hand, it opens with three of the band's heaviest songs yet: the epic title track, the aptly named "Chimp Mosh Pit" and the thrashing "Valley of Disease." On the other, there are plenty of the odd, carnivalesque swerves that fans have come to love: the oldies quote in "Gotta Wanna Riot," the pop swing of "The Dirt I'm Buried in," the Nick Cave-esque murder blues of "Train." Dance with this devil and you won't be bored.
Throughout their career, no two Avenged Sevenfold albums have ever sounded alike. On Life Is but a Dream…, no two songs sound alike. The Deathbat crew's wildly adventurous eighth album is an existentialist, psychedelic head-trip that bridges metal, pop, electronic music and experimental rock in a way no heavy band of their caliber ever has. With 10 middle fingers proudly raised in the face of regressive musical purists, Avenged Sevenfold are taking the opposite course most aging bands fall into — embracing big risks and taking 10 tons of fun over easy crowd-pleasers.
BABYMETAL — the teen kawaii-metal sensations who broke the internet with 2014's "Gimme Chocolate!!" — are all grown up. Not only are the band members now in their twenties, but BABYMETAL's music, too, has evolved and matured. The Other One is the group's first concept album — as well as their first record with lyrics by singer Su-metal — and it tells its tale of the Metalverse by swapping some of the band's signature dance-y cheeriness for brooding prog passages ("Divine Attack") and djenty balladry ("Monochrome"). Think you know BABYMETAL? Think again.
The long-overdue sequel to 2020's Dealing With Demons Vol. I, DevilDriver's latest is the heavier of the pair — which is not a bad thing. There are no Sisters of Mercy-esque goth love songs ("Wishing") this time. Vol. II is venomous groove-metal from back to front, the only experimental flourishes being the occasional dips into black metal ("Through the Depths"), melodeath ("Bloodbath") and wailing A7X-style leads ("If Blood Is Life"). It's a mic-drop conclusion to a double-album that will surely stand as DevilDriver's most ambitious and epic statement.
Drain's 2020 debut, California Cursed, launched them into hardcore's upper echelons, and Living Proof is, as its name implies, a testament to their staying power. Songs like "Run Your Luck," "Evil Finds Light" and "Imposter" hit the Santa Cruz's sweet spot between thrashy riffage and moshy heaviness. Dripping with charisma, stuffed with razory guitarwork and bolstered by Sammy Ciaramitaro's infectious wild-man screams, Living Proof is a worthy follow-up to Drain's breakout debut, and a collection of songs that already sound like live classics for decades to come.
Norway's Enslaved have come a long way across their 32 years and 16 albums. Evolving from Viking black-metal roots, the group have embraced more and more progressive elements — clean vocals, psychedelic keys, jammy digressions, spacey atmospherics — and the pieces haven't always fit so seamlessly. On Heimdal — named for a Norse deity who looks out for Ragnarök from a burning rainbow bridge — Enslaved bring it all together beautifully, much like Opeth at their death-prog best. It's a burning rainbow bridge between their blackened past and kaleidoscopic present.
Frozen Soul positioned them at the forefront of death metal's new wave with their 2021 LP, Crypt of Ice. Glacial Domination assures they'll stay there. The Texas band sound like every riff they play is literally encased in frozen-solid blocks of ice, adding a bulldozing weight to their burly attack that punches them a cut above other modern Bolt Thrower worshippers. Plus, the production from Trivium's Matt Heafy adds the right amount of sheen to buff up their sound out, without making it overly glossy. Grab your ice picks.
GEL are filling the void that's been empty in the broader hardcore landscape since the early days of Trash Talk. Fast, noisy and uncompromisingly energetic, the New Jersey outfit make "hardcore for the freaks" that basically any fan of aggressive music could appreciate. Only Constant proves the hype is real, a relentless assault of reverb-coated guitars and snarling vocals that shape into a noxious cloud of asphyxiating old-school hardcore — but with a distinctly new-school spirit.
Godflesh's first album in six years, and third since their 2009 reunion, Purge "revisits and updates" the concepts of the industrial-metal pioneers' 1992 opus, Pure — particularly, the Nineties hip-hop grooves of that classic album. But the caustic, pummeling Purge is no nostalgic throwback. Packing a distinctly modern punch, it sounds as relevant today as Pure did 30 years ago, a testament to Godflesh's generation-spanning influence on everyone from Korn to Code Orange.
Tobias Forge's occult-rock phenomenon has always excelled when it comes to reimagining other artists' songs, and their latest covers EP lives up to that legacy and then some. On Phantomime, Papa and the Ghouls hail wide-ranging influences, putting their satanic spin on classic cuts by everyone from Iron Maiden and the Stranglers to Genesis and the late, great Tina Turner, who passed shortly after the EP's release. Ghost's reverent rendition of her "We Don't Need Another Hero" serves as a bittersweet, if unintended, epitaph.
Sweden's In Flames have become one of the biggest names in heavy music with a catchy, Korn-esque alt-metal approach honed since the early 2000s, but their roots lie in the Nineties' Gothenburg melodic death-metal scene, and so Foregone represents something of a homecoming. Re-embracing their old-school extremity and even their formative folk-metal inclinations ("Foregone Pt. 2"), vocalist Anders Fridén and Co. sound more vital and invigorated here than they have in years.
Metallica's Robert Trujillo says 72 Seasons is the best album he's made in his two decades with the band. We agree. Maybe more impressive, the epic-length LP serves as a rip-roaring survey of the metal giants' 42-year career. There's the speedy thrash of Metallica's early days ("Shadows Follow," "Too Far Gone?"), the Black Album-era groove metal ("You Must Burn!," "Sleepwalk My Life Away"), lively NWOBHM nods ("Lux Æterna") plus the group's longest song to date (the 11-minute "Inamorata"). Call it 168 Seasons.
On Outcry, Never Ending Game perfected the delicate balance between torn-muscle-shirt heaviness, pile-on-your-friends catchiness and cry-yourself-to-sleep sensitivity. One minute, these Detroit bruisers are churning out the most bloody-knuckled breakdowns in recent memory, and the next, they're chanting out a big sing-along ("Tank On E") or firing off melodeath lead licks (the shreddy intro of "Down There (With You)"). Dynamic, memorable and lyrically vulnerable in a way few other hardcore bands truly are, Never Ending Game are one of modern hardcore's greatest bands, and Outcry proves why.
Nothing, nowhere. (a.k.a. Joe Mulherin) became a star in emo-rap, but as he told us earlier this year, deathcore, hardcore and post-hardcore are where his heart's always been. On Void Eternal, he finally did what he "always wanted to do" and embraced his heavy side, drafting members of Underoath, Lorna Shore, SeeYouSpaceCowboy and more to round out a star-studded collision of high-energy post-hardcore and glitchy pop-punk. Old-school nothing, nowhere. fans might raise eyebrows, but we're raising our devil horns.
Florida death-metal OGs Obituary have been doing the thing for nearly 40 years now, but within the first five seconds of Dying of Everything opener "Barely Alive," John Tardy's swamp-monster howl reassures any skeptical listener that they've still got the juice. The band's first LP in six years has all the tenets of a great Obituary album: pulverizing grooves, buzzsaw riffage, bog-beast atmosphere and Tardy's maniacal vocals. It doesn't hurt that "The Wrong Time" is one of the catchiest bangers in their whole repertoire.
On Poison Ruïn' Relapse Records debut, Harvest, the Philly goons cross the barbed riffage and hoarse chants of Motörhead with the more jagged, less pretentious side of old-school post-punk. The production is oddly hard-hitting for how dirty, brittle and blown-out it is, and the songs are as understatedly catchy as they are loose and teetering. Lyrically, the band draw parallels between toiling medieval peasants and the stark economic inequality of today — and then encourage our generation to revolt as our ancestors did with steely scythes. Everything about this rules.
2021's Mirrors announced Pupil Slicer as leading contenders for the mathcore throne, but the U.K. trio's follow-up and second album overall, Blossom, suggests they're not even chasing that particular crown. Much like Dillinger Escape Plan shredded expectations with Irony Is a Dead Scene and Miss Machine, singer-guitarist Kate Davies and Co. have seriously leveled up their number-crunching sound with elements of grunge, shoegaze, electronic music and more on the ambitious concept record. True to the title, this is a band in full bloom.
With a name like Sanguisugabogg and an album cover as heinously NSFW as Homicidal Ecstasy's is, the music better sound like the death-metal equivalent of an alien snuff film. Fortunately, it does! Following their equally gurgling, wonderfully repulsive 2021 LP, Tortured Whole, these Ohio maniacs got even more stupidly grotesque on Homicidal Ecstasy, a relentlessly heavy death-metal assault that harkens back to the genre's gleefully offensive, gory, and obnoxious days of yore. Bang your head until you start losing brain cells.
Scowl's 2021 debut, How Flowers Grow, was a lean-and-mean barrage of hardcore punk, but if you listened closely, you could hear the sticky melodies bubbling just beneath the surface. The Santa Cruz outfit followed their collective sweet tooth on Psychic Dance Routine, fusing confectionary alt-rock à la the Breeders or Hole with gnarly, throat-searing hardcore. The whiplash effect on standouts like "Shot Down" and "Opening Nights" makes for Scowl's most unabashedly fun and visceral songwriting yet.
The meteoric rise of Sleep Token from anonymous cult band to arena-packing alt-metal phenomenon might be 2023's most improbable success story. But Take Me Back to Eden, the masked band's trilogy-completing latest LP, fully justifies their long-overdue ascension. The head-spinning, six-and-a-half-minute epic "The Summoning" is the viral hit — 40 million Spotify streams and counting — but the whole album dazzles and bewilders, brilliantly fusing R&B, EDM, djent and more in a startlingly singular sound.
Championed by Deftones, Melvins and Mike Patton, metalgaze trio Spotlights (featuring Revolver's own Chris Enriquez on drums) delivered a fourth album, Alchemy of the Dead, worthy of those big-name backers. There's the quiet-loud, beautiful-brutal dynamics of Deftones. The left-field noise-sludge of the Melvins. The left-field everything of Patton — with saxophone popping up on "False Gods" and an unexpected acoustic ballad (that ultimately gets heavy, don't worry) closing the album. This Alchemy is pure magic.
A New Tomorrow is a monstrously heavy metallic hardcore album that simultaneously subverts so many of that genre's predictable tropes. Righteous fury is transmitted alongside radical celebrations of Black love. Tidbits of old-school soul samples come wafting in after brutalizing breakdowns, lingering for longer than you'd expect and then tearing away as the chugga-chuggas return. Spoken-word poetry and lilting jazz-rap are stationed in between cement-smashing mosh ragers, breaking up the flow and therefore allowing your mind to focus in on Zulu's spirited lyrics. A New Tomorrow not only envisions a better future, it lives it.