The Top 20 Albums of January | 2023

THE TOP 20 ALBUMS OF THE MONTH should be self-explanatory, an ordered ranking of twenty albums that’d resonated most throughout this month. If you’re new to the site, the tendency is heavy and/or surreal music. Choices are selected based on temporal immersion, personal connection, impressive style, point of view, aesthetics and with consideration for the lasting value of each selection. All choices are ultimately personal and come without consideration for populism, nepotism, cronyism or perceived “relevance”. Any records left off this list will still be considered for end of the year lists. I am just one man, writing about music is a passion I afford as much time as is manageable and I am grateful to have so much to choose from. Thank you.

I. Roughly ~30 full-length releases are already in consideration for full review in February, though that number may shrink down to 25 or so since I am working on several new projects in the meantime.

II. At the start of each year I reconsider my approach to longform reviews, consider different types of coverage, and generally aim to expand my skill set. In 2023 most written reviews will now also have an additional video component. Both edited and off-the-cuff videos will now be embedded or posted to the site regularly. A full revision of An Exhaustive Study: Melodic Black Metal will begin regular installments shortly. It won’t replace the existing feature, instead it will be a second pass which aims to solidify the sub-genre down to its most defining traits and variations in order to illustrate its evolution over time. Other changes, such as the rating scale/rubric, will be otherwise self-evident as they arrive in February.

III. Each day I meditate with all-consuming gratitude aimed toward the bands, labels and PR firms who choose to work with me — Not to mention the kind few readers who donate to the site intermittently. The goals and ethos of Grizzly Butts have not changed in 2023 but I will be looking for ways to more efficiently cover music worth talking about on a regular basis. Thank you.

#1Album of the Month
TITLE:Liber Lvcifer II: Mahapralaya
RECORD LABEL(S):World Terror Committee

“To not only desire but manifest the fatal shroud of darkness upon all knowable existence, the energetic death that’d free all flesh and bodily fires into extinction, is to embrace the current of the great adversary. In doing so Athens, Greece-borne black metal duo Thy Darkened Shade embody the wisdom of the dead as a consciousness enhanced rather than one that’d cultivate superstitious hope, freeing themselves from the strictures of timeliness as the continuum is breached. ‘Liber Lvcifer II: Mahapralaya‘ is a second excerpt from the continuing education these enlightened folks would allow the general public to shine and suffer within per their own worthiness, a great work of black metal which soars in spiritual empowerment rather than scour the usual barrels of enduring psychopomp.”

With this third album Semjaza (Acrimonius, ex-NadiwrathΑχέροντας) has reinforced the consensus among the well-informed that his perfectionism, stunning musicianship and grand visionary embrace of the impossible Luciferian idyll belongs in mention along with some of the best works of black metal related media. This month there was no contest for the absolute, and all that comes next in 2023 must contest with the enormous shadow cast upon the future herein.

TITLE:The Oath
RECORD LABEL(S):King Volume Records

Every man will meet his end. — The throes of determinism felt within themes of duty, loyalty and sovereignty ensures the high fantasy setting of Santa Rosa, California-borne heavy/doom metal quartet Lord Mountain‘s debut full-length album strikes the keen ear for the bardic heavy rock tradition in profound statement. A serious and loftily considered feat which serves this crucial, pristine entrance from the band well, ‘The Oath‘ is an unexpectedly fine and complete transformation of a project that’d previously appeared as a long dormant, kinda stoney whim. Herein every moment is now entirely considered and countable as enhancement upon the whole enchanting oft memorably achieved feat, serving well the ‘epic’ story spun in succinct terms.”

It may very well sound odd to present Lord Mountain‘s debut full-length as a leap forward, access to an unexpected evolutionary event, yet it presents a complete transformation from basic soulful ideal to full-fledged high fantasy concept-bearing epic heavy/doom metal sojourn. ‘The Oath‘ is a brilliant medium offered in between the lost-in-time traditions of heavy metal and the modern stone-faced surrealism of todays doom metal and this blend comes without any real compromise to the songcraft itself.

TITLE:Into the Void
RECORD LABEL(S):Dying Victims Productions

“Clutching their throats, unable to stifle the screams which call from beyond this speeding raw madness from disturbed minds arrives by way of the adept hands of Santiago, Chile-based thrash metal quartet Trastorned, who scratch and strangle out their beast-like reaction to a world gone insane on this long-awaited debut full-length album. Through eight sermons, tales and hallucinations of anxietous death ‘Into the Void‘ curses all witness with calculated exaggerations of the traditional thrash metal form, bending its steel with molten claw and wraith like screams into their own vessel of maniac guile while still upholding the best of the late 80’s tradition in excessum. The result of all this mayhem is inarguably one of the best thrash metal albums you’ll come across this year, a personae rich and riffing-hot hammer upon unwitting mankind.”

Thrash metal constitutes my first love in heavy metal, I am a complete ape for it and admittedly a complete snob/elitist when it comes to bands getting it absolutely right or not doing it at all. Trastorned nail the late 80’s blackened thrash metal sound while bringing their own coloration and “modern” edges to the German and Bay Area schools of peak thrash/speed metal evolution and they do so in a little over a half hour. Compact, memorable, brutal, and surging with a possessed energy which I’m still stuck on.

RECORD LABEL(S):Extremely Rotten Productions

The orgiastic climax of a doomed, sunken species. — For a set of old skulls with strong hippocampal nodes intact the true magick of Sjælland Djævleøen-based death metal trio Deiquisitor is reserved for the sweated-out rifling of the rehearsal room. This is where pure ‘old school’ underground death metal events occur in truth, wherein the reverberation of ideas meet the hideous bluntness of a well shattered space in real time to conjoin the physical act of brutality at a fleet standard with the wreckage of their diabolic machinations. Having deeply breached a certain level of uncompromising craftmanship over the course of several releases, a thus far difficult beast to contain within a studio recording, we find the band approaching with a fourth full-length album, ‘Apotheosis‘, which reflects the genuine experience of being shredded to death by the very real and raw presence of their sound. Expect outrageous ancient brutality and miserable filth within the vortex of their apocalyptic cult-lair as its mysteries are revealed.”

Deiquisitor once again deliver death metal with a deep-set bestial violence at its core, elite aggression built from percussive mutiny and given muscle by brutal death assault. Sitting with ‘Apotheosis‘ the first thought that’d struck me was this sense that the album was finely produced and precisely performed with plenty of personality but more importantly it’d felt “real” in its approximation of the rehearsal space and the interaction of the musicians.

TITLE:One Nightmare Unto Another
RECORD LABEL(S):Nuclear War Now! Productions

Pure bloody shrapnel, atomic noise from wings of infernal death. — As was prophesied by their first mLP and debut LP this latest full-length from Canadian bestial black/death metal band Profane Order cements their status as one of the best, certainly most exciting spins in the war metallic space. This one is still making my head spin for the sake of the drummer being a complete animal, the vocals squirting blood from the deepest pocket of dude’s lungs, and the riffs… I mean this thing has -riffs- and should definitely appeal to folks who only get geared up when this sub-genre headspace leans toward death metal’s riff-obsessed sentience. I’ll have a review up for this one shortly.

TITLE:The Parasitic Chambers
RECORD LABEL(S):Memento Mori

“San Diego, California-based death metal quartet Conjureth return with a direct follow up to their well-received 2021 full-length debut, holding fast to their late 80’s death metal influenced sound while pushing the riff count to an impressive standard beyond the last. Instead of pandering to the devolution of the artform unto the laughable standard of so many others theirs is a craft in serious assembly, a reach for the higher standards of death metal proper before it’d been entirely dismantled and commodified. ‘The Parasitic Chambers‘ tributes the true elite standard of death metal as a frantic and dangerously violent act, blazing through its corridors and tunneling minutiae for the sake of an overwhelming, riff-crammed cataclysmic event. In other words, it is very much in line with the quality records they’ve put out thus far.”

Conjureth continue to get better and better with each release. If I spend the whole review talking about riffs, death/thrash, and barely manage to make a point beyond “This shit rules” it is because I’d been having a great time sitting with the record for a few weeks. Been a huge supporter of these guys projects for a long while and I feel like I know what they’re all capable of but I have to admit, this one especially impressed as it racked up the rhythm guitar flow to the point of, I guess kicking my ass more than expected.

TITLE:The Consecratory Secretion
RECORD LABEL(S):Hessian Firm

“A corpse stuffed into a castle wall does little to reinforce a freshly built kingdom as it rots within. The wronged, irrational curse of the dead is all that escapes dissolve over time unto a brittle pocket of desiccation, haunting its structural integrity with inevitable topple if we consider how many hundreds or thousands of bodies might’ve been buried beneath slurry and stone to craft any empire. In the case of Phoenix, Arizona-based melodic blackened brutal death metal project Apokatastasis‘ debut full-length album we find the structure of their music strangely reinforced by the haunting corpse-touch of black metal rather than weakened by its ghastly haunt, pulling considerable attention away from the imposing and guttural facade of United States death metal it presents as imposing-yet-pocked defensive structure. From a morbid perspective ‘The Consecratory Secretion‘ insists the cursed magickry which seeps from the cracks of every brick lain in the fortress of man rests an additive weight to spurn on their coming divine retribution, that all will be breached and impaled by brimstone and fire soon enough. Alas, it is all for the sake of the mad deathcult of Christ that we consider ye Old Testament armageddon as the artist warns the listener of the coming wrath of divinity, a rapture to kick off endtimes long overdue.”

Mixing classic melodic black metal with brutal death metal and throwing in keyboards for good measure has been a wretched disaster for so many bands that it comes as a bit of a surprise that this fellowe has managed such a fine work from said ingredients and, seemingly out of the blue. Not only that but Apokatastasis is, well, goddamned memorable stuff which balances out the introspection available to melodic black/death traditions with brutal, savagely roared Immolation-esque death metal that likewise touches upon full-on brutal death metal in a less ancient context. It is a fine work which is well worth many listens though I’m almost equally excited to see the artist continue to grow beyond this point.

TITLE:The Fires of Heaven
RECORD LABEL(S):Armageddon Label

Let the fuming channels of Hell sort out our charred. — The delusion of piety, the mental illness of hyperreligiosity in its recklessly seizuring godliness, is a plague which leaves dents and craters in the history of mankind. It is the prime dysfunction and storied source of exploitation which defines the cluelessly slow-crumbling state of western civilization. As the firmament trickles beneath the feet of human capital the death knell of an enslaved society will never include a moments reflection upon the follies of belief as victims increasingly succumb to unchecked power. Incensed by pointed reflection upon the history of religious corruption and the divisive mutilation of innocents by the self-appointed divine Boston, Massachusetts-based black/heavy metal quartet Malleus shine a black mirror upon the fields of burning sheep around them, horrifying the herd with their debut full-length album. ‘The Fires of Heaven‘ pulls us deep into the dark past of religious zealotry in the original colonies and right upon the pulse of the Puritans as they command the blazing traditions of first wave black metal and its speed metalpunk girded heft ’til the pyre resultant manifests a striding heavy metal epic eager to call for war.”

While it would be fair to appoint Malleus this months great black/thrash metal record and find that suffice enough I’d argue that these guys have a bit more to offer than a typical sub-genre tic. 80’s extreme metal from folks typically associated with hardcore punk acts is an exciting prospect in the sense that bands like Celtic Frost and Bathory tend to be best translated by folks equally interested in heavy metal niche and the greater aggressive punk lexicon. Beyond that this was the sort of record I’d look forward to each successive listen throughout the review process for the interesting split between sides.

RECORD LABEL(S):Shadow Kingdom Records

“We get a bit of protest, leering psychedelia, and plenty of existential dread creeping up the clenched neck of humanity on the verge as West Yorkshire, England-based doom metal trio Iron Void wheel through this finest fourth full-length album. All matters on the vexed mind of modern man pour from ’em in the best tradition as they arrive upon ‘IV‘ having never sounded sharper, warmer and loosened from the burden of time as a point of peak reflection radiates in action. Though existing fandom and the already attuned will find the classic doom metal soul the band are yet known for intact throughout this record there’ll be no denying the sense of movement in their veins, an oeuvre expanded as the trio rides through these nine alternately swinging, crushing and surreal songs.”

Now on their fourth full-length we find this traditional doom metal outfit inspired and overflowing with an expanded oeuvre, superior production values, and a particularly good drummer on hand. Their sound isn’t so much a tour of British doom metal but rather a lifetime of heavy/doom metal appreciation informing songwriting that begins to reach for the ages. “She” is such a moment on the album yet it is just one of many which still stick in mind beyond the review process.

RECORD LABEL(S):Everlasting Spew Records

Dangling on the threshold in morbid apprehension. — Minneapolis, Minnesota-based death metal abstractionists Nothingness paint in a quasi-blinded state, shading automatic ideas into three-dimensional shapes from an elemental palette while only accepting the one major stricture of “death metal” as a point of format. Their name considers a state of void as a point of modus, the blankness of the mind simply flowing without predetermined grasp or premeditation until it arrives upon a salvageable idea. In plainest terms, the main songwriter becomes inebriated and by coincidence and muscle memory alone creates. The phenomenon resultant, pulled from a point of loosened meditation, is communicated less as a state of non-being, or, “something out of nothing” but instead an apeiron in the purest sense — A font of creation and dissolution where the mindset is a destination from which all things are sourced and where they will all eventually fade. In the case of their second album, ‘Supraliminal‘, the collective entity no longer represents a corridor of ambition but instead collates a bolder exploratory voice which is necessarily bridled by the need for technical grooves, blunted tones, and anxiously emergent tangent. The philology inherent to a motoric feat given structure begets no meaningful translation beyond a swarm of identifiable actions and in this sense the identity of such a band is potently experiential for its lack of limitations beyond the ‘self’ in the process of eternal rediscovery.”

Got that? The gist of it is that this weird death metal band kinda rules and Nothingness‘ve skilled up since their self-released debut a couple of years ago. While I didn’t find ‘Supraliminal‘ memorable upon reflection that doesn’t mean its curiously woven tracts of death weren’t exciting to rediscover. In fact that is kind of part of the appeal, the unpredictable nature of the full listen kind of scales between moment-to-moment eerie and song-to-song level juxtaposition in a way that feels emergent but still girded by an estranged ‘bigger picture’ continuity.

TITLE:Repulsive Nature
RECORD LABEL(S):Translation Loss Records

“Retching at the rancidity of putrescine and trimethyltin chloride oozing from every frightened, dying pore the noxious atmosphere of the near-dead repels and frustrates the human mind by instinct, a neurochemical reflex beyond the average person’s control. The measurable severity of this response depends entirely upon a neuro-normative specimen, one who fears death by instinctive reaction when faced with signs of impending death, inner decay and mortification en masse. We reach the precipice of unthinkable co-existence with the horrors of rot and decay as we step into the realm of the carrion huffing crew behind Seattle, Washington-borne death metal quartet Re-Buried as they relish in disgust, suffering, and mental collapse amidst their nigh scientific observation of the process of decay. This unconscionably brutal debut full-length album from these folks, ‘Repulsive Nature‘, documents an epicurean scintillation with the odorous, the surreal, and the unjust nature of death itself as these impresarios of putridity land their first full-bodied tackle upon ‘old school’ minded death metal pulverization.”

Dogged by the splendor of decay. — While so many death metal kids these days remain stuck in a simple groove metal/hardcore modus it is great to see a band like Re-Buried show such finesse for every single moment of their debut full-length. It is kind of insane how much they pack into each moment of this record without making it feel like a twitching tech-fest and it all works for the sake of a ‘old school’ feel and some strong bursts of deathgrind-adjacent brutality throughout. This one was generally a grower for me and took a few listens to start sinking in.

TITLE:Rituals of Mass Self-Ignition
RECORD LABEL(S):Willowtip Records

Belarusian quintet Ominous Scriptures speaks to me on such a fundamental level as this early 2000’s influenced brutal death metal band with shades of Morbid Angel, Krisiun, and Deeds of Flesh in their repertoire. But hey, they aren’t necessarily a throwback group. Instead we find ’em punching at an un-fucked with take on classic brutal death metal at a menacing mid-to-fast pace which keeps it interesting by way of “modern” influences, something nearby the register of Disentombed. I’ll have more to say about this one when I review it, normally I would have reviewed an album like this the week before release but I’d lost the entry for this album in my itinerary when replacing my computer last month.

TITLE:Arcane Diabolism
RECORD LABEL(S):Iron Bonehead Productions

“The essence of the old Gods has neither faded nor died off but this quintessence instead remains a brilliant striation layered beneath the heaping dimness available to the shite-ridden legacy of mankind as it continues to pile. It is only by possession willfully channeled from the crevasse of obscurity that minds avert themselves from the terminal failures of the present unto upheaval, achieving unreal yet familiar feats of grotesque fortitude along the lines of Brazilian black metal solo act Cursed Excruciation‘s debut full-length, a bloodred temple built in honor of undying maledictions. ‘Arcane Diabolism‘ seethes with the must of a thousand year old cave unsealed and delivers horror from its echoing mouth for the duration of its first ~45 minute statement. Typical as it might appear at face value there is some truly engrossing pitch black and doomed terror available to this exceptional debut.”

TITLE:Länge Leve Döden
RECORD LABEL(S):Avantgarde Music,
The Sinister Initiative

“Though Høstsol formed during cursed plague year zero there is little indication that their work has been an outsized struggle to construct or complete into formation, the collaboration at hand is impeccably achieved, steeled and inspired in its shared miseration. I say this because the line-up here comes from established, well-proven and generally known entities from Scandinavian black metal (and adjacent) circles who haven’t treated their debut full-length ‘Länge Leve Döden’ as a plain or halfway-formed pandemic ‘roused side project. The collective work of these Norwegian, Swedish and Finnish folks manifests as highly professional from every angle without polishing away the unique grisly character black metal requires to stain the mind. Songwriting entirely considered, performances pristine, and arrangements engaging in their dreadful travialles the group endeavors to craft a modern-yet-classicist form of atmospheric black metal which rings with the sickening morbidity of ancient mastery — odes to Death from mind palace(s) depressurized and rotting in solitude.”

TITLE:The Weight of Remembrance
RECORD LABEL(S):20 Buck Spin

Vancouver, British Colombia-based gothic doom metal band Tribunal‘s debut full-length finds the relatively new group arriving upon a fairly unique approach. ‘The Weight of Remembrance‘ manages to be their own personalization of gothic metal per black/doom metal outliers, a certain era of gothic melodic death/doom metal melodrama, and “occult rock” revival applications. All of this accumulates in application of several generations of gothic and doom metal reverence which reads as their own virtuous semi-traditional doom metal songcraft. This approach successfully side-steps much of the forced self-indulgences typically associated with gothic metal and makes for a tuneful, richly presented debut. FFO: Occultation, Mourning Beloveth, Candlemass.

TITLE:Dark Steel and Fire
RECORD LABEL(S):Eternal Death

High-siding it into the fires of Hell. — Taking an all-gear, all the time approach to evil heavy metal the dark fantasy engineers of New Jersey-based solo first wave black metal project The Gauntlet wear their classicist influences as vestments of road-borne, and occasionally high speed, havoc. Rather than follow whatever false, dorky kit the black/heavy metal wheel is greasing out these days ‘Dark Steel and Fire‘ finds the artist intently focused on a steeled, road-hardened pocket of interest [see: Bathory] where their songwriting ideas begin to truly thrive. Despite leaning into a familiar sound which most heavy metal fans will appreciate within moments the results are undeniably inspired, kicking away at substantial, repeatable grooves and an overall memorable debut album with two very distinct sides of their gig explored.”

RECORD LABEL(S):Electric Valley Records

“The disintegrating limestone spires which grade the gate-like view of Monte Cancervo read as a rugged mass of opportunistic barnacles on the elbow of along dormant titan, not such an unusual sight in terms of the northern Italian alpine region yet one could easily be inspired by the way the wall of spearheaded crags greet the climber from various angles upon approach. Lombardy-based heavy psychedelic doom metal trio Cancervo certainly haven’t chosen their band name on a whim, aligning their own brand of sojourning “heavy funeral psych” with the atmosphere of the mountain itself as a point of grounding, a muse to pull from. As they grip the iron chains to assist their climb and skate foot-width uphill paths on the way to the top their second full-length album in two years, ‘II‘, cannot help but vocalize the view emergent. That is to say that the trio’s formerly instrumental stoner doom metal dirgecraft now steps into the realm of vocal expression, rendering their sound invigorated and now fully characterized unto excellent results.”

FFO: ZaumEthereal Riffian, and Om.

RECORD LABEL(S):Me Saco Un Ojo Records,
Caligari Records,
Pulverised Records

Southern Finnish trio Sonic Poison manage to deliver upon their previously indicated designation as a nuclear thrashing death metal kicked grindcore act. By way of a gnarled, manic rush of frenzied deathpunk idyll their debut full-length album, ‘Eruption‘, feels like an exacting study of the primal values found in classic late 80’s/early 90’s death metal adjacent grind, an experience packed with machine-gunned riff ideas which flow into a guitar driven ride. FFO: Filthy Christians, Noisem, Terrorizer.

RECORD LABEL(S):Self-Released

Vosbúð is an atmospheric black metal project from Icelandic musician Rune Lúðvíksson. Their style is defined by longform pieces which dance between pagan black metal’s valiant sentimental nature and sleepier touches of post-black metal’s postmodern defeatism. This makes for an experience which feels modern but not that far from the sentiment of certain Árstíðir Lífsins records, something like Fluisteraars (see “Aska Sigursæl”) in its reach for both modern and classic forms. You’re in for a long sitting for this one but I’d suggest it holds up well to repeat listens for the extended arc presented. Folken touches, vikingr chorales and some dissonant guitar work helped to pull me back in for repeat listens.

RECORD LABEL(S):Unorthodox Emanations

Swiss technical death metal band Anachronism return for a third full-length album now even more willing to experiment as they emit a broadened spectrum of dissonant, brutal, progressive and ‘Obscura‘-esque explorations which feels like a strong leap built beyond the successes of ‘Orogeny‘ (2018). Not only do the increasing ambitions of the band make for an inspired full listen but I’m left with the feeling that they’re deep on the path to something even more their own with each recording. I’ll have more to say about this record once I’ve finished the written review.

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