This year, I’m continuing on my quest to produce a Top 10 Albums Of The Year based on only things that came out in that year. But so far, 2023 has been somewhat lacking in music that’s really grabbed me by the throat and caught my attention. In my looking around, I find other things. Things I wish I’d listed before.

Here’s a sample of a few that are in my mind right now. In no particular order…

Chat Pile // God's Country (Sludge / Noise Rock)

I was first alerted to God’s Country at about the same time I stumbled across Ashenspire. And at first, the two albums seem worlds apart. Chat Pile play a very sludge-y, noisy style of Rock/Metal. They bring a wall of sound, with a mix of clean and frenetic harsh screams. It almost feels like the instruments are played almost deliberately sloppily. Ashenspire, on the other end, bring a chaotic but very calculated sound, with all of the many instruments given their place to shine. Ashenspire hail from built up Glasgow, and Chat Pile from Oklahoma.

However, the more I listened to God’s Country, the more the similarities in tone brought them together in my mind. Both albums bring bleakness, a sense of despair about the state of the world, and an angry retrospective on it. But where Hostile Architecture brings its rage to a glorious crescendo and a call to action, God’s Country tells a more individual story - of someone who not only sees the problems in Rural America but is immersed in it, unable to escape, and slowly breaks down. Listening to God’s Country, you can feel the deterioration in the mental state of the protagonist - from the incessant sound and noise of working in Slaughterhouse, to heroin abuse and hallucinations in grimace_smoking_weed.jpeg (sic). Rather than waxing lyrical, God’s Country thrives in using repetition to hammer its point home and show the state of the protagonist.

At least, that’s my interpretation.

God’s Country is not an easy album to listen to, for many reasons. But with a bit of patience, this album will open up to you.

For the most accessible start, try Anywhere (about the impact of gun violence on the survivors), and the aforementioned Slaughterhouse.

結束バンド // 結束バンド (Rock)

結束バンド (pronounced “Kessoku Band” - the band name is a pun in that “Kessoku Band” literally translates as “Zip Tie”) is a fictional band formed for the creation of the 2022 Anime series Bocchi The Rock!. Fictional/Virtual bands have brought the worldwide pop artists like Gorrilaz and K/DA, to beloved metal bands like Dethklok and Belzebubs. 結束バンド do not get bogged down in Anime tropes which lead to cheesy and sometimes artificial optimism in music designed to last about a minute during a TV intro sequence.

This is, at its core, just a really good rock album. It’s mixed beautifully to highlight each musician - the bass rings through clearly (and some of the bass is just awesome), and there’s some wonderfully shreddy guitar which brings it to the ‘heavier’ side of the rock spectrum. It has its fair share of earworms, and whilst I don’t understand enough Japanese to speak to the content, there’s plenty of moments that I look forward to on each listen. The tracks play with speed and intensity nicely to produce mini build-ups and climaxes in each song which make them super entertaining to hear. 結束バンド has an almost indefinable quality that means I get absorbed, deeply enjoy, and keep coming back to it.

Try ギターと孤独と蒼い惑星 (Guitar, Loneliness, and the Blue Planet), or あのバンド (That Band”).

Fires in the Distance // Echoes from Deep November (Doom / Death Metal)

I was alerted to Fires in the Distance by the upcoming release of their new album, Air Not Meant For Us. Unfortunately, I was alerted to this album about a week before its release. So, unable to listen to the music that the reviewer was so excited about, I took a step back in time to FitD’s 2020 album, Echoes from Deep November. The music instantly blew me away.

The music that Fires in the Distance are putting together here I would almost describe as “Atmospheric Death Metal”. Whilst the word Atmospheric often denotes a snooze-fest, that could never be said about Echoes from Deep November. What FitD do specially here is perfectly and uniquely blend melodic death/doom metal with piano and synths in the background to build layers and to act as a compliment to the Death Metal style. I use the word “blend” very deliberately here - this is not your metal band trying to sound interesting by stopping the guitars for a bit to add some synth or orchestral elements. How they’re woven together makes the music interesting, but simultaneously makes it smooth - the album’s 40-minute runtime zooms by because each track blends together so nicely, with a gentle progression through each song to never jump out at you.

The new album did not blend the two elements as well, so I doubt it’s going to hit my end-of-year list. But I couldn’t not recommend Echoes from Deep November. Normally, I’d recommend a track - but this album is almost designed so that no one track stands out. Start at The Climb and go from there.

Other gems that I would recommend, but don’t have quite as much to say about:

  • The Midnight // Heroes (Synthwave, Pop): Sing-along, poppy synthwave. I discovered this 2022 album too late for it to list, but it has a very strong first half, with a wide mix of emotional styles. Try “Heartbeat”, or “A Place of Her Own” for something more down-tempo.
  • VOLA // Witness (Progressive Metal): ‘Modern’ progressive metal. It has all of the ingredients you expect from such a label - “djent” style guitars, slightly crooning clean vocals, and even a rap interlude. But VOLA craft great songs that don’t try too hard to be too Metal, and instead focus on hooks. This album was a grower for me - but grow it did. If I were to rewrite my 2021 Best Of List, this album would be firmly in the Top 5. Try “Straight Lines” or “These Black Claws” or anything else from it.
  • First Fragment // Gloire Éternelle (Technical Death Metal): Gloriously ‘noodly’ tech-death. It opens with some classical-style acoustic guitar which, surprisingly, sets the scene really nicely for the dense metal to come. If you like slightly masturbatory fretless bass / guitar, I have good news for you. HERE’S A 19-MINUTE SONG FULL OF IT.