Best Metal of 2023: 10 albums selected by 10 STL metal musicians

Blackbraid live at Red Flag in September. Photo by Zach Johnson. Click here to see the whole photo gallery.

The past year offered an embarrassment of riches for great music across a variety of genres, and metal was certainly no exception. There was a glut of fantastic releases within every one of the many sub- and sub-subgenres of metal, including both the traditional and the experimental. We were treated to fresh and original albums from relative newcomers, along with several excellent additions to long-running discographies.

Although metal music is loved across the globe, anyone who has caught a local show at the Sinkhole, Pop’s, or your local VFW hall knows how passionate the metal love is in our own corner of the Midwest. The many metal fans and musicians in our city are what make being part of the metal community such a fulfilling pastime. Consequently, when reflecting on the best releases of 2023, I could think of no one better to consult than the experts of our very own metal scene—so in keeping with my (as of 2022) annual tradition, I tracked down ten metal musicians from St. Louis bands and asked them for their personal picks for the year.


Blackbraid | Blackbraid II(Self-distributed)

Genres: Melodic black metal, atmospheric black metal

Released on July 7th, 2023

Selected by Matthew Washausen, vocalist and songwriter for Kodiac

2023 was a busy year for Blackbraid, a Native American black metal band from New York’s Adirondack Mountains. In July, they released the heavily anticipated and critically acclaimed Blackbraid II, a follow-up to their 2022 debut album [Blackbraid I]. A few months later, Blackbraid joined Seattle’s Wolves in the Throne Room on their fall 2023 tour, which included a stop at St. Louis’ Red Flag. From the top of the card to the bottom, every band on this tour was excellent. Blackbraid played their latest album in its entirety in a flawless performance that left the attendees in awe. For a band that formed as recently as 2022, Blackbraid is on its way to becoming one of the most promising projects of its kind.

Blackbraid’s latest release demonstrates the band’s desire to leave a legacy within the North American black metal community. One of the most admirable characteristics of Blackbraid’s writing style is the catchiness of their riffs: the album’s lead single, “The Spirit Returns,” immediately draws the listener in with fast, heavy riffs and black metal blast beats. The album is filled with high-energy tracks that keep you headbanging throughout, and while heavy, there is also a great emphasis on atmosphere. Certain moments take the listener to the darkened, suffering Adirondack Mounts, and others reflect a nature-like beauty, such as the song “Spells of Moon and Earth,” which introduces woodwind instruments and flutes. These moments were real highlights within the album, providing authenticity and elevating its storytelling. This album will leave an impression on listeners both for its traditional black metal elements as well as the indigenous storytelling and traditional Native American instrumentation, courtesy of project mastermind Jon Krieger.

Cattle Decapitation | Terrasite(Metal Blade)

Genres: Technical death metal, brutal death metal, deathgrind

Released on May 12th, 2023

Selected by Logan Fields, bassist for Abadonnia

Terrasite is, without a doubt, the best album that came out this year. It has a little bit of everything for every kind of metal lover. Clocking in at just over 52 minutes, it somehow doesn’t feel that long. Every song flows together well, blending the melodic with the brutal to perfection, with no filler songs. This album is worth the full playthrough every time—even the 10-minute closer flies by. If you haven’t heard it yet, I highly recommend it.

Church of Misery | Born Under a Mad Sign (Rise Above Records)

Genres: Stoner metal, doom metal

Released on June 30th, 2023

Selected by Jeremiah Patton, songwriter and guitarist for Ceremony of Darkness

I have been a fan of Church of Misery for 25+ years at this point. The band always writes solid riffs, their tone is big and thick, and no matter who is playing on their albums, their music is fun to play loud and easy to groove to. (There have been 15 or so rotating members, aside from bassist and songwriter Tatsu Mikami, who’s been the sole consistent member throughout.) 

The band’s most recent effort, Born Under a Mad Sign, is yet another fun, doom and groove-filled album that feels familiar. That said, there seems to be something “extra” on this record – the songs just hit harder. The tone is massive and thick, and the production sounds huge. Similar to prior efforts, the songs are on the longer side, allowing the listener to really delve into the groove and get lost in the fuzz. Mikami has a knack for writing tunes that would be right at home on a Black Sabbath, Sir Lord Baltimore, or Pentagram album.

The album’s opening track, “The Beltway Sniper (John Allen Muhammad),” is my favorite of the 7 songs, with several movements in the song including a tasty solo starting around the 5:50 mark. Did I mention that the tone on this album is crushing? While I don’t partake, I can imagine many a listener could light up a joint or eat some edibles and get lost in this album on repeat. I put this album on for road trips and work flights. I highly recommend adding this to your travel music playlists.

In addition to the Church of Misery masterpiece, some St. Louis bands put out solid records this year, my favorite of which is Nolia’s 5 track EP Rest in All but Peace. That album isn’t long, but it hits you in the face out of the gate and keeps pummeling you throughout. Other solid local releases include The Gorge’s Mechanical Fiction, Summoning the Lich’s single “The Forest Feasts,” and of course, Ceremony of Darkness’ The Lesser Key (although I hear their writer/lead guitarist is a massive loser).

Health | Rat Wars (Loma Vista Recordings)

Genres: Industrial metal, electro-industrial, EBM

Released on December 7th, 2023

Selected by Rick Giordano, guitarist and vocalist for The Lion’s Daughter

This band gets better, and somehow even heavier, with every release. Like this is seriously speakers falling off the shelves, neighbors calling the cops, headbutt a wild gorilla-fucking-HEAVY. There’s even a Godflesh collaboration/remix on this album, if you need proof that this band means business.

Katatonia | Sky Void of Stars (Napalm Records)

Genres: Alternative metal, progressive metal, gothic metal

Released on January 20th, 2023

Selected by Brian Fair, vocalist for Hell Night and Shadows Fall

The Swedish masters of bleak metal return with Sky Devoid of Stars, their latest offering of riffs and depression. Katatonia has always forged their own path through the metal landscape: beginning with doom-filled, death metal-tinged early albums like Brave Murder Day, to the minimalistic dirge and morose vocals of Discouraged Ones and Tonight’s Decision, they pushed the boundaries of underground metal and challenged listeners at every turn. Sky Devoid of Stars not only showcases all of those styles, but adds new elements into the mix, pushing Katatonia’s sound even further into the future.

The aggression is definitely kicked up a notch with some huge riffs, and they are not afraid to add some serious chugs to the guitar parts. The drums also have a bit more technicality to them, with some killer off-time beats and double bass work that rarely appeared in their earlier works. Combine all of that with Jonas Renske’s goth-inspired vocals, and his gift for writing hooks that are perfect for a dark rainy day, and you have an album that is truly engaging and inspiring. A very pleasant surprise in 2023, and I cannot wait to see where they head next.

Mutoid Man | Mutants (Sargent House)

Genres: Stoner metal, sludge metal, post-hardcore

Released on July 28th, 2023

Selected by Manny Watts, guitarist and vocalist for Voidgazer

Stephen Brodsky has been in the game for a hot minute, and he’s been better at it than pretty much everyone else the whole time. Brodsky’s ability to rip the guitar so hard and also deliver a high-caliber vocal performance is heartbreaking. Every single Mutoid Man release has been an absolute scorcher, and Mutants is no exception: wall-to-wall with extremely tasty riffs and staggering vocal chops. I love how Mutoid Man always walks the line of smart, heady musicianship while keeping it catchy and listenable. It’s a hard line to ride. Jeff Matz [bassist for High on Fire] is an excellent addition to the lineup: he’s a proven master of expertly complimenting a big, bombastic power-trio sound.

The singles were great, but the real standout track to me is “Unborn.” That stilted chug-groove is intoxicating. The single “Call of the Void” is an earworm with a seriously cool music video to boot.

Overkill | Scorched(Nuclear Blast)

Genres: Thrash metal, heavy metal

Released on April 14th, 2023

Selected by Joey Saturn, vocalist for Stormrazor

When I was asked to choose my top metal album of 2023, I really had to give it some thought. This year seemed to fly by so fast I didn’t even recall what records were released. My first thought was The Sinner Rides Again by KK’s Priest—not necessarily because it’s my top album for the year, but because their vocalist Tim “Ripper” Owens (who has also worked with Judas Priest, Iced Earth, Yngwie Malmsteen, and many others) appeared on our single “The Overture of the Fallen,” which will be on our forthcoming album.

Once I put just a little more thought in it, I had to go with Scorched. I love thrash, and I love Overkill. There’s nothing about the album that makes it a standout among their others, but that is exactly what makes Overkill, OVERKILL! If you want thrash and speed metal with no frills and no bullshit, Overkill delivered, and have been doing so for over 40 years. You know what you’re getting, and it’s always quality.

Overkill may not be for everyone, especially with the unique texture of vocalist Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth’s voice, which is definitely an acquired taste. Bobby will never be compared to the likes of Rob Halford, Freddie Mercury or Ronnie James Dio as far as his vocal technique, but what Bobby Blitz does have tickles that same funny bone that the sound and feel of breaking glass does. If that’s the type of buzz you’re looking for, Overkill’s Scorched brings it, from front to back, track to track, Green and Black!

Standout tracks: “Goin’ Home,” “Twist of the Wick,” “Wicked Place,” “Fever”

Stortregn | Finitude (The Artisan Era)

Genres: Technical death metal, melodic death metal, progressive metal

Released on October 13th, 2023

Selected by Mike Kettlehake, guitarist for Ending Orion

With all the great music that came out this year, including some highly anticipated old-school comebacks, it was hard to narrow down a single drop of water in this great ocean of metal. That being said, Stortregn’s album Finitude just caught my attention and grabbed my soul. It’s super-polished and well-refined, bringing blackened, melodic technical prog to a whole new level. With its all-harsh vocals, twin blazing guitars, widely-wah bass, and full-on percussion, it’s hard not to get entranced by it. This album features everything from acoustic flamenco guitars, to fretless, sliding bass, to jazz fusion drumming performed at blazing speed.

Big shout-out as well to Job for a Cowboy, who released two excellent singles in advance of their first album in over a decade [to be released in February 2024], and Mithridatum’s Harrowing album for that atonal, dissonant grind.

Suffocation | Hymns From the Apocrypha (Nuclear Blast)

Genres: Brutal death metal, technical death metal

Released onNovember 3rd, 2023 through Nuclear Blast

Selected by Chad Killion, guitarist for Extinctionism

Death metal will never die, and legendary acts like Suffocation are the ones still keeping it afloat. In 2023 we celebrated the 35th year anniversary of Suffocation, and after all these years and lineup changes, this release is the closest “return to form” since they came back as a full-time band with 2003’s Souls to Deny. That energy may be attributed to the debut of Ricky Myers, drummer for Disgorge, now doing vocal duties for these GOATs of death metal. For any band, switching vocalists is going to be an uphill battle. Frank Mullen was Suffocation’s vocalist on every recording: would Suffocation still sound like Suffocation without him? Well, it absolutely sounds like Suffocation, and then some, on this record.

Upon hitting play, the first thing that will stand out to any listener is: THE BASS! The bass featured on this recording is so incredibly audible and over-the-top. Some fellow hardcore fans/musicians may say it’s too much, but not for Suffocation. It’s like Bob Rock’s complaining about …And Justice For All for years finally got through to someone!

The dizzying riffage of Terrance Hobbs, though, is still ultimately what makes a Suffocation record. A guitar player whose style has been mimicked for decades, but never truly emulated, Hobbs is technically not a founding member of Suffocation, although he’s the closest left to being one. The signature Hobbs/Suffocation sound is back on Hymns, along with slower breakdown parts. It’s these heavier, slower parts where new vocalist Myers really gets to shine. Although Myers’ performance is a bit monotone at times, sitting in a sort of fixed “Cookie Monster” range, these are still fantastic death metal vocals that very few individuals can perform, so it’s mostly a matter of opinion.

So what about the rest of the band? Hobbs is credited as the only lead guitarist on the recording. That makes it difficult to gauge the performance of the band’s current rhythm guitarist, Charlie Errigo, on a studio recording. Eric Morotti is back on drum duties as well, and is definitely no slouch when it comes to filling in for past Suffocation drummers. The snare, however, is either tuned, pitched, or replaced in such a way that it starts to occupy a lot of the sonic space the kick drum occupies too. This was the only thing that stood out as “odd.” Other than that, it’s pretty close to a near perfect death metal mix, and everything else sits very comfortably. The vocals aren’t over the top or buried, and that bass is, mwah, chef’s kiss!

There were definitely some other solid death metal releases this year: Cannibal Corpse made their second album with Erik Rutan [Chaos Horrific], and while it’s considerably better than their previous work with him, it’s still not quite dialed in yet. Another honorable mention goes out to Dead and Dripping for their release Blackened Cerebral Rifts. That album probably would have been reviewed instead, had Suffocation not dropped this instant classic right before the year’s end. Anyways, you’ve read enough words now. Go listen to Hymns From the Apocrypha!

Ulthar | Anthronomicon (20 Buck Spin)

Genres: Technical death metal, progressive metal, black metal

Released on February 17th, 2023

Selected by Kenny Snarzyk, bassist and vocalist for Fister

Ulthar released two albums simultaneously this year: Anthronomicon and Helionomicon. Rather than releasing a double LP, they chose to release two single LPs, and it’s a shame that I had to pick just one (Anthronomicon), because without it I’d definitely pick the other (Helionomicon).

Ulthar, in my opinion, is a perfect death metal band. They combine technical, old-school and modern approaches without overdoing any of these three styles. That being said, Anthronomicon is the most violent benefaction to death metal I’ve heard in years, and could only be possibly dethroned by Helionomicon. This isn’t chaos, by definition, but it could be its soundtrack.


With 2024 promising to be another banner year for metal—including long-awaited returns from bands like Darkest Hour, Job for a Cowboy, and King Diamond, to name a few—now is the perfect opportunity to catch up on what you might have missed in 2023! Check out our playlist compiling 50 of the best metal cuts of the year. | David Von Nordheim

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