Now that we’ve wrapped up looking backwards at 2022, and now that we’ve put away the Christmas albums*, it’s time to focus on the future, and we always start that process by thinking about all the great metal records to come. You know the drill here — we do this every year, so I won’t waste too much time on introductory remarks, except to say again: Thank you for reading; thank you for being here; thank you for loving heavy metal as much as we do; and thanks to all the bands who will make the music that will dominate the next twelve months of our lives, whether they’re on this list or not. (There are always more potential entries than there are slots, and while it’s not as hard to pare these down as it will be to pare down the end results into a Top 20 in 11 months, it’s still impossible to include everyone.)
So here we go… Onward into battle; let 2023 begin. [ANDREW EDMUNDS]
*Seriously, though — put away the Christmas albums.
ROTTEN SOUND – Apocalypse
March 15, 2023; Season Of Mist
The raging aggression of grindcore… The buzzsaw bite of Swedeath… Both are virtually irresistible to me. So put them together, and whaddaya got? Rotten Sound. And what does it do? Well, it goddamned RIPS.
For nearly a quarter century now, these Finns have been tearing shit up, an absolutely undeniably great combination of the relentless blastbeat and the HM2 fuzz. It’s been eleven years since the kingly Cursed, which remains my favorite Rotten Sound thusfar, but neither of the subsequent and circularly titled Abuse To Suffer and Suffer To Abuse showed anything less than Rotten Sound firing on all cylinders, even if neither was an improvement or expansion upon the band’s established sound. What matters here is what mattered then is what matters always: Rotten Sound forever brings the vicious, brings the savage, brings the raw-toned guitars and Keijo’s full-throated roar and all the riffs and blasts and anger that we all expect. I’ve said it before: All new Rotten Sound is cause for celebration.
And in case you missed that, I’ll say it again, with emphasis: All New Rotten Sound Is Cause For Celebration. So let’s celebrate. [ANDREW EDMUNDS]
Quality Confidence Factor: 95%
SYMPHONY X – TBA
TBD; Nuclear Blast
Symphony X’s ninth album, Underworld (2015), struck a near perfect balance between their classic symphonic prog metal roots and the darker, heavier metal emphasis begun on The Odyssey and then hammered home on Paradise Lost and Iconoclast.
And that was close to eight years ago. Since then, members of the band have released a bunch of solo and side-project albums, including two from guitarist Michael Romeo, four from vocalist Russell Allen (plus about a dozen guest spots on others’ records), a couple from bassist Mike LePond, and one from drummer Jason Rullo. Add to all that extracurricular activity Allen’s serious injury in a vehicle accident while touring with Adrenaline Mob (which resulted in injury to several other band and crew members, as well, including two who lost their lives), still another injury to Allen after a fall during Trans-Siberian Orchestra rehearsals, and the familiar impact of COVID, and it’s easy to see how we’ve gone this long.
The critical effect of that stretch and its various circumstances is probably best summarized by Romeo, who said that the process of finding a collective creative spark is slower this time around after so much time apart. That said, Romeo, Allen, and LePond have all spoken directly in the last few months to Symphony X’s intention of releasing their tenth studio album in 2023. The band has also announced their involvement in several high profile festivals, including Monsters of Rock and Cruise to the Edge (2024), which suggests a shared commitment that can only bode well.
Considering the uncertainty of recent times specific to Symphony X but also just, you know, generally, it’d be easy to dismiss the idea of a great new album. Given this band’s history, though, the track records of its members, and their current coalescence, the smart money is surely on 2023’s offering to be a mark of great resurgence for one of heavy metal’s most important progressive acts. [LONE WATIE]
Quality Confidence Factor: 90%
ENSLAVED – Heimdal
March 3, 2023; Nuclear Blast
Once among the most shapeshifting and exciting bands to emerge from the Norwegian black metal second wave, Enslaved has been in a bit of a rut for the better part of a decade now. This rut is relative to their typical greatness, of course, as not even career low In Times is a truly bad record, but they haven’t offered anything particularly thrilling or fresh in a good while.
It’s the opinion of yours truly that part of the issue is that Enslaved lost that weirder, wilder edge. Below the Lights and Isa are commonly considered modern classics at this point, but when listened to in comparison to the more streamlined records the band has released since, both are a bit out there! Monumension and Mardraum were even stranger. Last year’s Caravan to the Outer Worlds EP saw them flying their freak flag a bit more than usual, and at times brought a violence factor Enslaved rarely offers on their more proggy records. It was refreshing, but it was just an EP, and we all know that EPs are often ways for bands to get out some material that doesn’t always fit with their current direction.
With the EP’s title track set to also appear on their upcoming 16th (!!!) album, Heimdal, the hope is that they’re getting back to spreading their wings a bit. The other early release tracks are also quite promising, especially the nutty and intensely blackened “Congelia.” The riffs are harsh, the drums relentless, the keyboard parts trippy, and Grutle Kjellson’s vocals positively malevolent. Then there are the statements from the band members stating how much Ivar Bjørnson really pushed himself as a songwriter in these sessions. Yes, pre-release hype statements are often the emptiest of words, but when taken with what we’ve already heard, it seems like it might just be true.
All signs are pointing to the most exciting album from these legends in years. [ZACH DUVALL]
Quality Confidence Factor: 90%
GATEKEEPER – From Western Shores
March 1, 2023; Cruz del Sur
Following a notably grand introduction via their 2015 split with Eternal Champion, Gatekeeper’s debut full-length East of the Sun was one of my most anticipated releases of 2018. Unfortunately, despite ticking essentially every box necessary to get a boiled leather underpants-wearing mark such as yours truly properly ablaze with exhilaration—epic [CHECK], trad [CHECK], melodic [CHECK], fantasy [CHECK], Duncan Storr’s involvement [CHECK]—the record didn’t manage to stick to the ribs nearly as much as I’d hoped. I really don’t have a great explanation for this, so best to simply attribute it to yet another case of insufferable assholishness on my part and move forward. Secretly, however, and without the benefit of another dip in to prep for this, I would say that something felt weirdly “off” to have music so pleasantly epic and melodic tied to the raspy yowl of Jean-Pierre Abboud, a feller I have very much enjoyed hearing at the helm of bands such as Borrowed Time and Traveler.
With full-length numero two-o, From Western Shores, we get our first introduction to NEW vocalist Tyler Anderson, a feller who, unbeknownst to me, has already spent a good deal of time honing his cords under the ol’ radar with another band called Odinfist (don’t you love it when you discover new bands this way?) Right off the bat, I would say Anderson is a very good fit for Gatekeeper’s sound—clean, but not too clean, and certainly worthy of providing a soaring narrative for a band that serves as a fitting crossroads between, say, Manilla Road, Adamantis, and the more classic form of US power metal provided by a band like Warlord. [CAPTAIN]
Quality Confidence Factor: 90%
SUOTANA – Ounas I
March 17, 2023; Reaper Entertainment
Aside from Kalmah, Whispered, and Frosttide, very few active bands play Suotana’s brand of harsh and speedy melodic death metal. And even fewer bands so deftly combine hooks and harshness. Yet Suotana managed exactly that five long years ago with their sophomore effort, Land of the Ending Time.
Given the surprising amount of likes the announcement of their upcoming album received, I don’t think I am alone in anticipating Suotana’s Ounas I. Though I am interested in the concept, apparently based in stories related to the Ounas River, I am quite a bit more interested in hearing more insane riffs from guitarists Ville Rautio and Pasi Portaankorva. Give “Into the Ice” or “Troutrace” from Land of the Ending Time a listen and you’ll get it, too.
The Kalmah and Norther influences are irrefutable to some degree but what sets Suotana apart is the band’s subtle use of symphonic black metal elements such as Tommi Neitola’s keys and Tuomo Marttinen’s cutting vocals. Though that sounds somewhat messy on paper, the band’s execution of this hybrid style is flawless. In fact, this isn’t even a style I am normally drawn to but their take on it is so well done that Land of the Ending Time became a quick favorite. I don’t doubt that Ounas I will be much the same. [Chris C]
Quality Confidence Factor: 80%
ANGEROT – The Profound Recreant
March 24, 2023; Redefining Darkness
Angerot has already released lead single “They Shall Take Up Serpents” and it includes the line “They swallow his mucus, drink the spit from his liiiiiips.” One of the perks to having a vocalist/guitarist like Chad Petit, who bellows with such clarity, is you needn’t wait for a CD release to enjoy all the foul lyrics. Petit’s mighty roar was one of the standout elements of Angerot’s sophomore album The Divine Apostate as well as on Empty Throne’s 2021 EP Glossolalia, on which he also added his forceful bellows.
Aside from a killer voice, the lead single also leads with, well, a lead. Sure, there’s 30 seconds of pummeling drums and some growls but the song really takes off once that quick lead comes in before unleashing a twisting descending riff. The production is big and no one player is overly flashy. Everyone is locked into a meaty sound that rides the core of death metal into hellish glory. It would seem Angerot has picked up right where they left off and no one should be asking for more.
Granted, if you are asking for more, there just so happen to be guest contributions from the likes of Steve Tucker (Morbid Angel), Andy LaRocque (King Diamond), Jack Owen (Six Feet Under, ex-Cannibal Corpse, ex-Deicide), Sammy Duet (Goatwhore) and several others. [SPENCER HOTZ]
Quality Confidence Factor: 85%
7 H. TARGET – Yantra Creating
February 24, 2023; Willowtip
If you are of sound mind and hearing, I can’t think of many legitimate reasons not to be giddy with excitement at a new album from Russia’s 7 H.Target. I mean, maybe you’re worried that you’ll be lost if you didn’t see 1 H.Target through 6 H.Target, but this is not that kind of franchise. 7 H.Target describe themselves as a “technology obsessed freak-out brutal death metal band,” but I think it is more apt to say that they are the technology obsessed freak-out brutal death band,” given the singularly destructive (and, frankly, ridiculous) path they have carved out for themselves.
The upcoming Yantra Creating will be their first album in nine years as well as their first on Willowtip. To add another tantalizing bit, 7 H.Target’s new vocalist is Igor Filimontsev, also of the uproariously fun tech-knuckle draggers Katalepsy. The lead track, “Creating Gods Arms,” is a ferocious and punishing tune, spacing out some of the band’s signature slam with tech-ier brutality. Throughout its 5-minute runtime, the song can barely sit still, and even when you think you know exactly what kind of slamming groove it’s about to settle into, it pulls out a low-down dirty curveball (check out 2:15).
The guitars are a stampede, the vocals are a blast furnace, the drums are a tornado. The singer wears an L.A. Kings hockey jersey. The cover art looks like approximately three or four different covers got in a car crash. Bandcamp user Asstastic is “stoked for this album.” What the shit is YOUR problem? Get hyped. [Dan OBSTKRIEG]
Quality Confidence Factor: 100 Slams out of 85 Blasts to the Power of FHWOOOOOORGH-jud-dun-dun-dun-KSSSSSSSSSSSH%