The Top 20 Albums of March | 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 in consideration for full review coming up in April, with several already published or in-process right now. // 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 (every Thursday). If you enjoy these please consider following on YouTube.

II. 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:Pulsations From the Black Orb
RECORD LABEL(S):Me Saco Un Ojo Records,
Pulverised Records

Pulsations of the Black Orb‘, is the debut LP offering from Costa Rican ‘old school’ death metal quartet Astriferous who’d appear before us as possessed spectres of the old guard at its most ripened peak, a deep world-spanning connection with the ancient ones that’ll act as a pillar of insight into the real thing. With great formative precedence set in the past we now find these folks forging their own voice within the form, blessed by the strictures of high-rate and high value riffcraft from end to end. This goes above and beyond all expectations for a debut from a nowadays classics obsessed band, delivering a spectacle which devastates the sluggish thought-void rifflessness abounding in today’s death metal deficit. It was the album I’d picked up most this month, the one I’d obsessed over from the most angles, and the one that’d inspired most per my own taste.


TITLE:Vast Reaches Unclaimed
RECORD LABEL(S):20 Buck Spin

If I could reach for the most connective take manageable: This album communicates melodic death metal how you remember it rather than how it actually was and while this disallows some much due credit for their own point of view, which is fully here, it achieves a remarkable communal glow amongst the greater fandom which is yet valuable in and of itself. — For the keenest eared listener with a mind for the provenance and history available to their exploration of underground music the unattainable substance, or, quinta essentia which briefly afflicted melodic death metal is an obvious, glaring feat when it too-rarely appears in earnest. Minneapolis, Minnesota-based trio Majesties surely have this quintessential spark on the tongue yet they offer more than the plaintive reprisal the surface-level types will insist is a warmly hugging nostalgic trip on their debut full-length album. In fact ‘Vast Reaches Unclaimed‘ is a proper evolutionary thought utilizing the still-charming lilt of an old language to forge new wares. Beyond any attempt at intellectualizing it this debut is appreciably emotional in its performative delivery and lovingly approached nostalgic values, the right sort of self-awareness.


TITLE:Sage of Shekhinah
RECORD LABEL(S):Willowtip Records

“The iconoclast remains entranced by perceived miracles, alternate visions and heretical thoughts that’d reveal immanence beyond the unsightly veil of the mundane. — Rochester, New York-based progressive death metal quartet Contrarian have yet to be phased by frequent change in thier ranks, less an observation of adaptation than it is me championing the consistency of their admirable classic-yet-modern vision which continues to pull exceptional talent in for spellbinding prog-death feature on the regular. ‘Sage of Shekhinah‘ is cumulative yet not exaggerative of what they’ve learned over the course of nearly a decade, finding a strongest-yet point of finesse which still speaks to the heavy, very human element of otherwise unreal virtuosic feats. There is a purposing of turn-on-a-dime quick changes and infectious guitar progressions here which speaks in a very classic transcendental voice rarely available to the sub-genre today, making for a record which is not only steeped in fascinating meaning but delivered via an approachable yet well above-average medium.”


TITLE:Deranged [mLP]
RECORD LABEL(S):Dark Descent Records,
Me Saco Un Ojo Records

If you have not yet realized just how superior this band is, take ~20 minutes with this mLP and get with it nerd. — “Danish death metal quartet Hyperdontia must’ve been listening to a ton of death-thrash and ‘Human Waste‘-era Suffocation while putting this latest 12″ mLP together because ‘Deranged‘ manages to be some of their most charged, riff-choked chunks of wrathful ‘old school’ brutality to date. Though I wouldn’t say Slayer-esque guitar progressions weren’t ever on the table within their sound in the past this is an especially stoked nod to the late 80’s rhythmic strike of death metal and how it’d spread beyond Florida.”


TITLE:On Tenebrous Wings
RECORD LABEL(S):Duplicate Records

Back in the earlier days of the site I’d done a quick and messy review of Norwegian thrash metal band Shakma, soon realizing I should have spent more time with the record and fully appreciated it beyond the clear ‘old school’ thrash references that were all over their style. A full five years later (!) they have finally returned with a second full-length and this one undeniably smokes from start to finish. Less a “blackened” thrash metal group and rather one in tune with the raw, aggressive striking of peers Nekromantheon and Inculter this is a band tailor made for folks who’ve reached expert level status within the classics of evil thrash metal, we who haunt the hall waiting for the riffs to return. The full review is still in the works, this will be updated when it publishes.


TITLE:Reaching Beyond Assiah

The connective value of this melodic black metal record marries so well with its charismatic presentation that my admiration only continues to grow with each listen. — “Anthems of disturbing finality flung at a recklessly paced abandon indicate a self-directed freeing as part of Brazilian-borne anticosmic black metal band Outlaw‘s rejection of all borders, repeatedly striking at the throat and the crown above it over the course of this impressive third full-length album. An indefatigably inspired font of fluidic transport for nearly a decade now, we find the artist ever embroiled in the process of improving their craft with each release as ‘Reaching Beyond Assiah‘ takes a well-established melodious voice to cinematic atmospheric heights on this loftily ambitious record. In fact they’ve applied so much bluster ad gloriam that it nearly begins to detract from the intimate, conversational nature of melodic black metal for the sake of outsizing all past heraldry from the troupe. Nonetheless the greater effect is richer for its inspired presentation and yet melodically charged and blister-paced anthemic values.”


TITLE:Lamentation of Immolated Souls
RECORD LABEL(S):Chaos Records,
Burning Coffin,

Instantly engaging, packed with riffs, and all the right style this early Morbid Angel-tinged record has plenty else up its sleeve that’ll thrill and entertain with its attack. — “Cancerous skulls, limb-chopping maniacs, septic innards exploding into noxious gaseous heaps amidst the violence of the insane… all driven by the cruel hand of death as Puerto Montt, Chile-based ‘old school’ death metal quartet Sepulcrum sharpen their scythe upon this classics inspired debut full-length album. ‘Lamentation of Immolated Souls‘ isn’t a knot to untie, a taxing task to explore, or a mystery to solve so much as it presents an exemplar study of traditional death metal at its most ex-thrashing peak beyond advent. In this sense it’ll feel entirely natural to approach their craft and immediately recognize the brutal heat pissing off of their riff-obsessed kinetic death metal grooves and ragged, ghoulish attack. It’ll be a gem for those seeking exemplar records in the tradition of pure death metal.”


TITLE:Of Existential Distortion
RECORD LABEL(S):Dark Descent Records

Though I saw very little hype around this release, it may very well be a true gem for folks who end up giving it a chance. — Reykjavík, Iceland-based melodic blackened death metal quintet Úlfúð throttle us a few riffs at at time into this impressive debut full-length album. ‘Of Existential Distortion‘ is a clustered-up rasp of enthusiasm for all things extreme metal which has been honed into a single wide-angled channel ’til it reads as a slick and sublimely obsidian undertaking, one which side-steps the meandering, strident spirit of the band’s formative material for the sake of a strong melodic focus. Groove-paved landscapes cut into a desolate black plane by way of an insistent, ever-escalating sense of movement which characterizes their introduction in the midst of the greater scene illustrated, a cinematic ride wherein the full listen is dense with interest yet eternally occupied with puzzling together greater purpose.


TITLE:Saturnian Bloodstorm
RECORD LABEL(S):Argento Records,
Not Kvlt,
Wolves of Hades

From the moment I’d seen this gorgeous album cover artwork I knew this would be something different than before but there’d been no way to predict that this Los Angeles-based artist would end up kicking mountains, hailing the Ravendark rather than sticking to the drying-up raw black metal niche that’d birthed his notoriety. — ‘Saturnian Bloodstorm‘ reads to me as a strike upon something molten, an artist readied-up to new possibilities who’d first choose to launch his banners within a niche of black metal which is not only well-celebrated but inherently driven by personality. I wouldn’t have expected M. to nail this aspect, the arrogant yet intelligent fixation of epic heavy metal in strident black metal formation and especially not with programmed drums… yet it’d been too good of an album to pass up, and one that’d proven hard to walk away from. Perhaps the bigger point to make here is that while this referential inspiration (per Immortal) is clear as the night sky in starless Blashyrkh we couldn’t accuse this work of plainest cloneage, there is enough of their own input here to create a Lamp of Murmuur specific melodic voice even if the bombast of it all will be ridiculously familiar to start.


TITLE:Of the Sign…
RECORD LABEL(S):Profound Lore Records

Show up for the finessed, irrational guitar prowess but stick around for the bolt of black electricity that thrashes through this thing. — It isn’t a major step beyond their debut but Spirit Possession‘s second full-length does ultimately achieve a solidifying statement as to what they are and why this is something different in the crowded black metal hellscape with ‘Of the Sign…‘. Theirs is yet an explosive sound which is still beyond likely to pull many an ear towards its warbling necro-thrashing by sheer instinct alone and, again, if you’re prone to pick away at the details these folks still have their maze-mapping skills entirely intact enough to keep the prying ear chasing around every bend for many listens.


TITLE:Threatening Skies
RECORD LABEL(S):Into Endless Chaos Records

Deepening their sound, polishing their skills, and making a mountain of it. — Leipzig, Germany-based quartet Goat Explosion return for a much anticipated second full-length, bringing a refined and ambitious version of their desert-stoked heavy/doom metal sound to freshly ‘epic’ highs-and-highers herein. ‘Threatening Skies‘ arrives as a proper storm should, with little warning and plenty of pressure applied to the greater atmosphere it scourges with an ante-up beyond their already mind melting beginnings. Without belaboring any intentional weather-related puns this record is well worth chasing down as the second point of reveal for this increasingly impressive boon for the greater German doom metal sphere.


RECORD LABEL(S):Agonia Records

It is just a… a beautiful “thing.” — This record leaves me in a difficult spot when attempting to elevator pitch its sound to others, since a “psychedelic post-black metal” mention is far too abstract in any real conversation. It isn’t exactly post-metal, not a typically psychedelic form of heavy music, not exactly post-black metal nor is it black metal (or prog-black) enough to sate the more traditional threads of those forms but fans of any (or all) of these things will inherently understand the greater verve of ‘Total‘ in patient witness. The congealed mass of Entropia is yet recognizable and effectively captivating in the moment.


TITLE:Vortex of Disgust
RECORD LABEL(S):Pulverised Records

“Caves painted in crap, worm-riddled stew stirred with a still yellow femur, the uncivil stench of the primitive veneer which Helsingborg, Sweden-based death metal quartet Bastard Grave wears does a fine job of charging the senses with repulsion before the intelligent grinding of the machine reveals its sophisticated pollution of ‘old school’ forms unto ominous, horrified presence. This predatorial club-wielder does not stalk its prey, though, ‘Vortex of Disgust‘ flushes out its catch by intimidation: Grooves inherent to their maniac interiors hurtle as if traditional Swedish death metal wares yet we soon find ourselves immersed in a more imposing register, a worldly rhythmic design informed by more than the hardcore punk and thrashed whirr of the late 80’s unto an infamous territorial beast, soon renowned for its prolific slaughter.”


RECORD LABEL(S):Self-Released

In positing the essence, implications and existence of “freedom” Dresden, Germany-based atmospheric black metal quartet Nemesis Sopor weigh multiple angles of spiritualist and pragmatic course, ultimately delineating the presence of the ‘Firmament‘ as their thesis of conflict. This unspecified spiritual boundary between mankind and the nature of their own existence, an unknowable point of passage, is the uncertain variable which allows the muse to run-on through the possibilities. This is fitting now that the band’ve reached a point where it seems the leash of obvious inspiration has been long chewed off and their shoulders rest squarely in the shape of decisive oration and identity. Expect a high modern standard for atmospheric black metal with some unexpected influences on this fourth full-length album but, do not expect any answers as to what holds humanity back from attaining the idyll of freedom beyond a resounding, er, implied “knowledge“.


TITLE:Prophecies Ablaze
RECORD LABEL(S):Invictus Productions,
The Ajna Offensive

It thrashes, it grooves, still has all their old moves and yet this is the here and now in their wizened grasp. — “The way they’d tell it Unpure are cursed to misadventure, label follies and terminal patience unto no great reward but for our purposes today we’ll call them a still vigorous blazon to Swedish black metal, heralding their cause as they return intact and still rallying nearly two decades later. With this fifth full-length album, ‘Prophecies Ablaze‘, we cannot escape the cyclone of inspiration that’d been rampant in their heyday wherein the distinctions between extreme metal sub-genre were yet righteously unclarified and workshopped into the status quo as they are today. In their hands the “old ways” are merely heavy metal of the extreme kin, and this allows even the familiar rub of olden mastery to not only feel surprising and urgent in delivery but attached to decades held meaning which still carries on rather than simply holds up.”


RECORD LABEL(S):Self-Released

“Chicago, Illinois-based heavy psychedelic doom quartet Rezn transcend the usual stoner/psych derailments by way of their own lush and beaming thread, a most steady subconscious voice which carries strong through each of their four admirably crafted and independently released full-lengths to date. Simply put, their fourth longplayer ‘Solace‘ attempts to do more with less, seeking to displace the atmosphere they so deftly generate into a bigger and bolder step beyond the well-explored stoner doom trip and deeper into their own rift. For the riff motivated head it’ll be a sleepier, vexing trip through blurred visions and expansive landscapes which almost entirely escape the heavier rhythmic rush of past releases. In this way the focus turns to the increasingly potent psychedelia wafting off of their craft, an ethereal jazz-tinged calm which should still appeal to the already terminally chill following they’ve amassed.”


TITLE:The Malign Covenant
RECORD LABEL(S):Amor Fati Productions

Into the uncanny breach by way of members of PrimordialMalthusian, and Slidhr. — “Atomized and ghastly prevalent in its suffocating mist-bound haunt this debut full-length album from Irish black metal trio Verminous Serpent is itself the spittle rich livraison urgente direct from the forked tongue of the beast. ‘The Malign Covenant‘ is an unexpected excitation of bestial darkness buried within, an exhumation of the primal psychic state for the sake of transformative invocation wherein slow-blasted ritualistic doomed physicality acts as a hammer upon the mush of the hive and a call back to the cave for lost minds. Call it a punishing bestial black-doom record if you will, the immersive and appreciably memorable craft found herein is simple yet effective enough in its twisted stomp around the pyre that it’ll naturally goad countless repeat listens for its action and not its slotted readability or well-respected membership.”


TITLE:The Man in the Wood
RECORD LABEL(S):I, Voidhanger Records

An eerie rebirth, prog-doom exaggerations refashioned into a folken epic. — “We arrive upon the old world dioramic scene set by progressive rock/doom metal act Yaaroth with dread for the coming discomfort, settlement in a strange land. Yet it isn’t that we are unwelcome to the world of ‘The Man in the Wood‘ so much as the hidden primal force explored through bacchic tales of thy narrator et dramatist will be challenging as it is beauteous, a faun-guided presentation of weirding folk tales that’d foreshadow impending hallucino-faustian happenings within an abundant setting. Imperfect, outrageous, and impossibly entranced by its own lunacy this’ll be an album specifically for those aching for the unhinged wonderment studded within the forever-ignored forgotten past of heavy progressive rock interpreted by way of classic doom/heavy metal’s fascinating gaze.”


TITLE:When the Stars Are Right
RECORD LABEL(S):Xtreem Music

Though they were not the first death metal band to arise within France’s scene Catacomb are yet one of the more interesting unfinished drafts of the early 90’s per their set of estranged demo recordings wherein ‘Into the Maze of Kadath‘ was their best remembered state of Morbid Angel and Nocturnus influenced death metal. They’d had a false start in the late 90’s/early 2000’s but it’d be over twenty years (2022) before we’d gotten their re-recording of their infamous third demo/EP and this was attached to the news that a full-length album was in fact on its way. ‘When the Stars are Right‘ is a frankly somewhat surprisingly good result, a record which is perhaps more in line with the ’90-’92 realm of Florida death metal than many of the actual progenitors have been since. Eh, it is certainly still owing to its very clear influences but man, what a joy it is to see the band realize their old ambitions thirty years later and do it this well and with the organic character of their work intact. The full review is still in the works, this will be updated when it publishes.


TITLE:Heart of Silence
RECORD LABEL(S):I, Voidhanger Records

If you are willing to delve into unknown spiritual realms by way of an eternally curious mind let this inherently memorable yet experimental act be your portal into conversation with the primal man. — “Beckoning the chthonic wildman, waking the shadow animus. — In times where culture-sapped plebeian life appears to celebrate a common void of critical thought, much less face value inference, it should not go without saying that Madrid, Spain-based atmospheric black/ritual ambient project At the Altar of the Horned God is a spiritual summoning, a ritual d’arte crafted with great personal meaning which names itself with direct imagery and an exact point of worship. We can assume a variety of scenes envisioned and many panoptic angles arisen within each setting presented yet it all starts with the reverence of ritual in mind, an assumed posture at a singular altar vital to achieving the spiritual plane for the artist to web and weave outward from. On this second full-length album an entire clearing, a jagged stage cut from ancient stone, serves as upward-shot resonance within his canyon of summoning as ‘Heart of Silence‘ conjures by physical demand the beat of countless drums, giving way to fuming, sky-searching primal energy.”



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