Feature: Top Five Albums of 2023

It’s been a bumper year for album releases with many artists brimming with creativity. How to pick just five then? It’s a tough ask but Devolution’s Nickie Hobbs and Gary Trueman managed to get there after much deliberation.

Nickie’s Top Five:

Sleep Token – Take Me Back To Eden

The most anticipated album of the year – ‘Take Me Back To Eden’ genuinely transcended the band into new musical realms with deserved acclaim. The teasing of each single, which dropped in the lead up to the album’s release, alongside epically enchantingly creative music videos all weaved together to truly heighten the hype – which turned out to be very real. ‘Chokehold’ and The Summoning’ became epic metal infused anthems nestled in with the more poignant and softer tracks ‘Are You Really Okay?’ and ‘Ascensionism’. Vessel and his cohorts have their work cut out for them with the follow up but I, alongside millions of others, are already invested in seeing what comes next.

Desert Storm – Death Rattle

Having followed the Oxford doom prog metallers for over fifteen years it’s been a genuine pleasure to watch these talented men flourish throughout their career. Death Rattle is the bands most experimental, mature sounding and heaviest record yet. From the crushing bars of the opening track ‘Master of None’ the tone is justifiably set, and the following songs take you on an emotional and immersive ride. Desert Storm have always been known for their extensive touring schedule and with them already confirmed for Takedown Festival, Bloodstock and Buried in Smoke Festival there will be plenty of opportunities to catch these masters of metal in 2024.  

Avatar – Dance Devil Dance

The flamboyant swedes ramped up the ante with their ninth album ‘Dance Devil Dance’ which gave us a beefed up melodic theatrical offering earlier this year. It steadily became a favorite for its fun quirkiness armed with communicable grooves, chunky basslines and catchy hooks. Vocalist Johanne Eckerstroms disturbing prowess to lead you down the rabbit hole both visually and musically is one of the most endearing things about Avatar. Tracks ‘Valley of Disease’ and ‘Do You Feel in Control’ rely on power riffs and tumultuous drums and instant hit ‘Violence No Matter What’ featuring Lzzy Hale concludes the offering. Dance Devil Dance was a triumphant and valiant offering with something for everyone.

REN – Sick Boi

We are a grassroots magazine that gets incredibly excited and inspired by watching independent artists push their art the extra mile and then spectacularly succeed. Ren reached the UK Chart number one mainstream spot with his second album ‘Sick Boi’ without a label and the journey of this happening was one of the most thrilling things to have happened this year and he absolutely deserves a spot in this roundup. A creator in every true sense of the word Ren is a creative maestro that combines rap, hip hop, funk, blues, acoustic, spoken word, poetry, metal, dance and creates a refreshing fusion. Topics of misdiagnosed illness, mental health, love, lust, suicide, murder, death, money and sin it’s a powerful concoction that is only cemented with each musical visual that goes with each track. Already being described as iconic – the world will be watching in 2024 to see where this journey trails off to next.

Gel – Only Constant

The New Jersey Quintet fronted by vocalist Sami Kaiser have made my list with their corrosive hardcore heavyweight offering which comes in at just under seventeen pummelling minutes. But that’s how raucously good this is and why it deserved to be highlighted. Each tune is tightly wrapped ready to detonate and grapple you by the throat. Unleashing a unified aggression, oppression and frustration through blistering music ‘Only Constant’ nostalgically and metaphorically drags you back into every mosh pit that has given you a sense of absolute freedom and true catharsis. Labelled as “Hardcore for the freaks” you will find all manner of acceptance here with Gel and have a damn good stomp and raw emotional release in the process.

Gary’s top five:

Wargasm: Venom

Already making a mark as a fine live band Wargasm needed to produce something that imitated that raw energy but also worked when you’re listening through a set of headphones, or blasting the neighbours at home. Venom delivered and then some with a set of songs that mixes 90s dance vibes with metal and punk. Wargasm look set to fly in 2024

Delain: Dark Waters

Big question marks hung over Delain following their dissolving as a unit in 2021. Martijn Westerholt decided to keep the name going and kept writing new material. Now with a new line up they are back to their best on this record. The key to why Dark Waters is so strong is new vocalist Diana Leah. She has a voice that fits Delain so perfectly fans were won over immediately.

Hawxx: Earth, Spit, Blood And Bones

Every so often a band will transition from good to something special. This is exactly what Hawxx have done over the last couple of years or so, moving from solid hard rock with a twist to a pioneering amalgam of alt metal and punk with feminism at its core. Topped off with some witchy undertones Earth, Spit, Blood And Bones is a genuine trail blazer.

Skindred: Smile

It’s difficult to write something new about Skindred. We all know who they are and what they sound like. Smile though just saw the Welsh funsters take it up yet another notch. ‘Gimme That Boom’ threatens to top even the anthemic ‘Warning’ as Skindred’s signature tune. And here we have an album full of such bangers. Smile makes you do just that.

Saint Agnes: Bloodsuckers

Dark, vibrant and utterly unique Saint Agnes were never going to be one for trends. Here they’ve just torn up the manual on rock music with a belter. It helps that they have a nutter up front in the form of the enigmatic Kitty Austin. Look beyond her though and what you have is a fine team effort with superb writing and memorable songs.

Honourable Mentions:

It’s so difficult to discard truly epic work so here are a few bands who could, and some will say should, have been in our combined top fives. Pulverise, Baby Metal, SiM, Twin Temple, Green Lung, Lovebites, Within Temptation, September Mourning, Hex Poseur, Diablofurs. Foo Fighters, Rancid and Dead Lights all released brilliant records in 2023. And there are many others too. Let’s hope 2024 is just as fruitful.