So here it is, the third and final installment of our Most Anticipated Albums Of 2023. Didn’t see some big ones that you’re looking forward to? By all means, let us know in the comments, and here we go into another year of great heavy metal…
BIG|BRAVE – Nature Morte
February 24; Thrill Jockey
The first thing you’ll likely notice when comparing Nature Morte to 2021’s Vital is the substantially more colorful artwork. Vital was as stark as its black-and-white artwork, but that didn’t mean that Robin Wattie’s intense vocals or the pulsing doom of the band lacked emotion or color. Does Nature Morte, however, provide a brighter burst of color than its predecessor?
If lead single “carvers, farriers and knaves” is indicative of the full album, then probably not. The element of the cover the opening track draws on most is the clustered chaos of the flowers in the center. There’s a greater sense of looseness with notes and a greater emphasis on coating the full track with noise. It opens with booming pulses like a dramatic movie trailer, but each guitar pluck drips with feedback, distortion and extra notes that ring out past their initial hiti. Matthieu Ball’s backing vocals create another layer of gruff distortion to Wattie’s striking wails. The song remains busy, but the sound is crisp, powerful and dark, like the black background accompanying that somber bouquet.
Vital made it very high on my year-end list in 2021, and based on this first track, there’s no reason to think Nature Morte won’t make for a strong contender in 2023. [SPENCER HOTZ]
Quality Confidence Factor: 95%
RIVERSIDE – Id.Entity
January 20; InsideOut
ID.Entity, Riverside’s eighth studio album in 21 years, is already in the can and ready to hit the streets in late January, so the only speculation here is what surprises it might have in store. It’s been six years now since the sad, untimely passing of the band’s co-founder and wonderful guitarist Piotr Grudziński. Riverside has released a new album in that time, Wasteland (2018), a meditation on real and metaphorical apocalypse that reflected the powerful grief in the wake of their loss, as well as a number of extras, including live albums, acoustic and ambient interpretations of past works, and a pair of compilations.
So what we’ve got to go on in anticipation of ID.Entity is a couple of reliable indicators in Riverside’s overall quality of melancholic prog metal, which has never dipped below very good, and the tone set by Wasteland, which suggests a more active role and more time for the band’s heavier, darker side.
But then there’s a wild card in the addition of Maciej Meller, touring guitarist since 2016, to the official Riverside lineup, which included a hand in writing the new songs. And then there’s a shift in the artwork away from the muted palettes of the past couple albums to something brighter, bolder, though familiar in subject and composition.
And then, we’ve got a good lot of words from the band themselves on what they call “Our Identity,” which is probably all we need to guess that ID.Entity will be reflecting at least a little new and brighter light from the band. Referring to the new single, “Self-Aware”: “Has the dam of sorrow, darkness and mourning finally broken? Yes. With this song we are finally drawing the line and leaving all that in the past. We were already really tired of it. Fuck it. We don’t care what some will think, let’s do it, let’s have fun with it. What do we have to lose? Career? :))”
Sounds like a brave move, and the right one. [LONE WATIE]
Quality Confidence Factor: 90%
…And Oceans – As In Gardens, So In Tombs
January 15; Season of Mist
Finland’s …And Oceans released an incredibly riffy symphonic black metal album in 2020 that rightfully floored many, not only because it was the band’s first full-length in eighteen years but because it was such a striking return to form after releasing several electronic/industrial metal albums.
From Last Rites to online forums, Cosmic World Mother was quite the celebrated release, and deservedly so. At a time when it felt like every other new band was playing keyboard-heavy black metal, a veteran band wiped the floor with most of them by taking a somewhat simpler approach that pushed the guitars to the forefront and used the symphonic elements as accents. Though the album was forty-seven minutes long, it felt much shorter thanks to stellar songwriting with tracks that never overstayed their welcome — no riff was milked and the atmosphere was consistently aggressive and icy.
Judging by the four songs the band has released thus far, we can expect much the same from As in Gardens, So in Tombs. Despite the considerably less frosty (but similarly excellent) cover, it’s safe to say that …And Oceans likely has another winner on its hands. Everything appears to be there, from the laser-like focus on riffs to the trimmed songwriting. Who knows where it will land by year’s end, but As in Gardens, So in Tombs certainly looks poised to receive the same warm reception its predecessor did three years ago. [CHRIS C.]
Quality Confidence Factor: 95%
NILE – TBD
Since last summer, Egypt’s biggest fan Karl Sanders has been touting that Nile has enough songs ready to launch metalheads across the world into a snake pit mating frenzy in 2023. There have been no pieces of artwork, songs or even tracklists released, so including them here is more of an attempt to speak this album into existence. Shai is the Egyptian god of good luck and fate, so be sure to spend each of your evenings making offerings to blessed Shai.
We all need a new sitar-crushing track to accompany us on our summer vacations. What’s a beach trip without learning about dung incantations or tempting fate by reading a papyrus containing a spell to protect you from he who is in the water as you slowly acquire sun poisoning while laying next to that very water? What’s a family-packed van careening down the highway without making the children recite vile Nilotic rites to one another from memory? Is your summer school really legit if reading the Oxford Handbook of Savage Genocidal Warfare isn’t on the syllabus?
Even Nile’s weakest album would get a passable grade, but after being treated to a relentless ass-kicker like Vile Nilotic Rites, there’s no reason to think Sanders and crew are about to take a dip. If we make it to the halfway point of the year without any new developments, feel free to channel your inner Kratos and start offing gods one by one until Nile gets the message and put tunes to tape. [SPENCER HOTZ]
Quality Confidence Factor: 80%
Confidence Factor In A Song Title Having At Least 15 Words: 95%
JAG PANZER – The Hallowed
TBD; Atomic Fire
After a busy late Nineties / early Aughts run, Jag Panzer hasn’t been exactly prolific in the last decade, releasing only two records between 2011 and now, but the good news is that they aren’t wasting anyone’s time whenever they do get together long enough to grace us with some metal. Both Scourge Of The Light and The Deviant Chord showed zero signs of the Panzers slowing their attack.
Now forty years into a career at the forefront of US power metal, they’ve built themselves a solid legacy and a strong foundation, which is another way of saying that you know what you’re getting with a new Jag Panzer, or at least, I hope so. What I’m looking for from The Hallowed are the usuals: soaring melodies courtesy of the ever-reliable Harry “The Tyrant” Conklin; ripping solos and fiery riffage from longtime leader Mark Briody (and undoubtedly also from new addition Ken Rodarte, replacing Shrapnel shredder Joey Tafolla); rock solid energy from the tandem of John Tetley and Rikard Stjernquist in the rhythm section, on bass and drums, respectively.
Not to put the pressure on Rodarte — after Broderick, Lesegue, and Tafolla, it’s clear that Briody knows how to hire a shredder, so if he’s here (and he’s been touring with them for a bit), then I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt — but still, replacing Tafolla won’t be easy, as his technical and fluid performance was a highlight of The Deviant Chord. The remainder of Jag Panzer has been doing this long enough to have it all nailed down (with a spiked bat, I’m sure), so the only other wild card is how good this particular batch of songs turns out to be.
Based on the last however many records since The Fourth Judgement brought them back 25 years ago… well, they’ve got that songwriting thing down pat, too, so let’s just sit back and let the power flow. [ANDREW EDMUNDS]
Quality Confidence Factor: 85%
BROTHERS OF METAL – TBD
TBD; AFM Records
Having adopted a “more is more” approach from the outset, the eight members of Swedish heavy/power metal band Brothers of Metal are poised to release their third album and follow-up to the stellar Emblas Saga this year.
More a tightening of the screws than a rebuild, Emblas Saga improved upon the band’s debut with tighter and catchier songs and cemented—or at least seemed to cement—the band’s sound. After listening to the debut only a handful of times, and mostly for “Yggdrasil” alone, I had “Chain Breaker,” “Powersnake,” “One,” and the like pretty much permanently engrained in my head by the end of 2020. Sure, I am not entirely convinced all eight members are absolutely essential, and the band’s sound is undeniably kitsch, but you’d be hard-pressed to find another band straddling heavy and power metal that writes tunes this catchy.
If last year’s new single, “Berserkir,” is at all representative of the band’s third album, there was definitely some sound-tinkering shenanigans going on in the studio. Whether said shenanigans were good shenanigans remains to be seen, but I am excited to find out. “Berserkir” is almost strangely heavy for Brothers of Metal, and though there’s only a hint of truth to the comparison, there is a slight feel of Sabaton in the pace. The breakdown near the end is perhaps the most perplexing element of the song. Yet all this still somehow works for me because Ylva Erikkson would sound great behind pretty much any music. Though “Berserkir” doesn’t make me any more confident about the record it may or may not be a part of, it does intrigue me. [CHRIS C.]
Quality Confidence Factor: 60%
TWILIGHT FORCE – At The Heart Of Wintervale
January 20; Nuclear Blast
The Kingdom of Blashyrkh has new neighbors, and those neighbors have big inflatable variants of Link, Ganon and Princess Zelda up in the front yard all year ‘round. They also never take down their Christmas lights, and they wear costumes when they leave for work in the morning, speeding away in neon green and lemon yellow Mitsubishi Mirages, and they’re still costumed when they come home late in the evening. On the night The Rings of Power premiered, there were fifteen cars parked out on the street, and I’m pretty sure actual ents paraded into the neighbor’s front door. The Kingdom of Blashyrkh has new neighbors, and those new neighbors are Twilight Force.
It’s been 4 long years since these piebald bards (piebards?) last blasted the world with their brand of insanely bright, absurdly buoyant, impossibly animated power metal, and whether or not you’re bouncing like a Corey Feldman check in anticipation for At the Heart of Wintervale’s pending liberation depends entirely on… Well, how you feel about the rest of the band’s releases. Or, if you’re somehow brand new to the band, I suppose it all depends on how you might feel about a metal band comprised entirely of 8-bit character representations of Black Mage Evilwizardington, Fighter McWarrior, Sarda, Red Mage Statscowski, Vilbert von Vampire, and Drizz’l. Still in the dark? Just think about the band Rhapsody through the eyes of Jim Henson, then pull 800 guitar and keyboard leads out of your Bag of Holding to fancify every last corner. Sound amazing? TO THE RAVENGATE! [CAPTAIN]
Quality Confidence Factor: 80%
INGURGITATING OBLIVION – Ontology of Nought
TBD; Willowtip Records
Germany’s Ingurgitating Oblivion took a big swing and aimed for the fences on their third album, 2017’s Vision Wallows in Symphonies of Light. Even more remarkable than how ambitious the album was, though, is how incredibly successful it was at delivering on those ambitions. While surely influenced by modern Gorguts (the shadow of Colored Sands loomed particularly large), Vision Wallows carved out its own impressive character by shifting through moods of dense, churning saturation to whiplash-inducing maelstrom to light, open passages of progressive experimentation. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the album is how it managed to pull off such heady acrobatics and punishing riffwork without becoming claustrophobic or monotonous.
No release date has yet been announced, but as of December 2022 the band has said their new album, Ontology of Naught, should be “coming soon” on their existing label Willowtip. Expect another album of long, winding compositions, compelling dynamics, and crushing death metal that is both technical and progressive without being “tech” or “prog.” Naught could be better, y’all(ntology). [DAN OBSTKRIEG]
Quality Confidence Factor: 90%