My albums of 2023

Screenshot of a lot of album covers
Season 79—the seventy-nine albums I acquired in 2023

My annual review of what I’ve most enjoyed listening to during the last 12 months, and my albums of the year.

  1. Prong—State of Emergency
  2. Aortha—Monolit
  3. Godflesh—Purge
  4. Metallica—72 Seasons
  5. Ropes Inside a Hole—A Man and His Nature
  6. What the Five Fingers Said to the Face—Endless
  7. Steven Wilson—The Harmony Codex
  8. Amplifier—Hologram
  9. Obituary—Dying of Everything
  10. She Burns Red—Out of Darkness

Honourable mentions:

  • Artificial Sun—The Giants Collapse
  • Blessed Black—Seasons: Vol 1
  • Derision Cult—Mercenary Notes pt 1
  • DespiseD—Scortched Earth
  • Dog Tired—The Red Verse

With more of a focus on writing reviews on my 195 metal CDs site, 2022 was a much better year in terms of the number of albums acquired. This year I added 79 new releases to my collection, compared with 45 last year. A far cry from the 123 I acquired in 2005—three years before I had children, mind! A personal crisis halfway through the year and then poor health put a stop to my review writing.

Number of albums per year

According to my end-of-year report from Last.fm, I listened to a total of:

  • 515 artists
  • 941 albums
  • 6,700 individual tracks
  • 10,775 total tracks

That worked out at 34 days 7 hours of music listened to, which would take up around 548 cassettes or last ten trips to the moon and back.

My top categories were rock, metal, hard rock, alt rock, heavy metal and (surprisingly) pop and I listened to the most music on Monday 25 September 2023.

Before launching into my top 10 albums though, I’ve just taken a look at my Last.fm top 20 artists over the last 12 months. This reflects what I’ve actually been listening to over the last year, mostly on my desktop PC but also on my Android smartphone.

These were my top 20 artists listened to throughout the year:

  1. Sepultura (234 tracks)
  2. Metallica (211)
  3. Steven Wilson (207)
  4. The Smashing Pumpkins (201)
  5. Depeche Mode (167)
  6. Pearl Jam (162)
  7. Slayer (147)
  8. Alter Bridge (146)
  9. Iron Maiden (145)
  10. Sting (141)
  11. Jars of Clay (138)
  12. Paul Weller (129)
  13. Fun Lovin’ Criminals (127)
  14. Denison Witmer (126)
  15. Fish (122)
  16. Seal (118)
  17. God Forbid (117)
  18. Motörhead (115)
  19. Godflesh (114)
  20. Stone Sour (107)

Entries above in bold indicate artists that also feature in this year’s top 10 of new music.

Reflecting on the past 12 months, I clearly extended my listening beyond my usual metal and prog leanings. Positions 15 to 20, however, are among my go-to artists. Again, The Smashing Pumpkins makes a strong presence as does Depeche Mode, but there are new entries for Alter Bridge (“Watch Over You” was my most-played song, which isn’t surprising as I was trying to learn it on guitar) and rediscovering the Fun Lovin’ Criminals, which is great music for doing the housework to, I discovered.

I need to check if my smartphone is submitting tracks to Last.fm, because I do listen to a lot of music in bed and it would be a shame if these are missed, along with the tracks played in my car.

Anyway, on to my top 10 albums/EPs of 2023…


10. She Burns Red—Out of Darkness

Album cover shows someone holding a candle

Blending hard rock with an alternative vibe with punk and pop smarts; She Burns Red have delivered an album that is energetic, emotional, anthemic and at all times, authentic. Out of Darkness (2023) is a guitar rock album that sits comfortably between melody and heaviness without getting lost in complex sonics and confusing musicalities. It is immediate, it is exciting, it is fun. The only problem with this album is after the final track rings out… I just want more. This was by far my feel good album of the summer.

9. Obituary—Dying of Everything

Album cover shows a tower

Obituary are one of the last bands that I saw live before the Covid-19 pandemic. Like Slayer, while their albums are often very same-y, oh! but what power and style they have. There is a consistency to everything they put out and this album is no different.

8. Amplifier—Hologram

Album cover shows red clouds and pyramids

Ever since first seeing Amplifier live in Glasgow supporting Melissa auf der Maur, I have been hooked on musical outputs of this Manchester-formed prog rock band. While I’ve not completely connected with a few of their recent offerings, Hologram hits the spot with their gentle, twisting melodies and creativity.

7. Steven Wilson—The Harmony Codex

Album cover shoes colourful squares arranged like a staircase going up to the right

Let’s be honest, anything that Steve Wilson released would inevitably end up somewhere on my top 10 albums of the year. While The Future Bites (2021) took a more 70s pop approach, The Harmony Codex returns to a more prog rock arena. The Prog Report described this album as “an enormous and adventurous sonic journey that you are invited to join. On the voyage you’ll hear from a lot of musicians, different voices, and many different sounds and textures. In many places it won’t be what you’re expecting.” Sounds like a good journey to me.

6. What the Five Fingers Said to the Face—Endless

Album cover is white with WTFFSTTF on it

This album had been a companion to me over a few weeks, a background to trauma, a path into healing, a heartbeat, the whispering voice of hope, a tapestry in which to weave my own desires and let go of pain. This is an extraordinary work of art.

In it, I heard echoes of Tool, Opeth, Ulver and Meshuggah, Godflesh and Jesu. Wave after wave of throbbing bass, pounding drums and distorted guitars. As the storm swirls and rages it pulls you under to the calm, ethereal and other-worldliness beneath.

The band hoped that, “for those with the eyes to see and ears to hear it” this album could serve as a manual for how to heal. Well, I’m listening…

5. Ropes Inside a Hole—A Man and His Nature

Album cover shows a man looking up

This album revealed an introspective sound that incorporated a gentle acoustic guitar, the warm sound of the cello and a tender voice that slowly engulfs listeners and create a sonic landscape replete with nostalgia and gloominess, just before waves of colossal and monolithic guitars comes clashing in to provide opposite sentiments of anger and turmoil.

The chilling vibes emanated from the keyboards blend perfectly with the warmth of the saxophone, so uncommon in the post-metal genre, that it gives the songs a mood that is indescribably sinister and combines well with the grinding framework of drums and bass.

4. Metallica—72 Seasons

Album cover shows yellow background with burned cot and objects on the floor.

According to Last.fm, this was my most-played album of 2023.

Months after its release, I still really like this album. It has only taken a couple of decades, but Metallica seem to have found their confidence again and are comfortably embracing all eras of their history. They have certainly reconnected with their NWOBHM-influenced roots, but they have also effortlessly drawn on the complexity of …And Justice For All (1988) era, the melody of Metallica (1991), the bluesy-ness of Load (1996) and Reload (1997), and taken the best parts of their latter two albums. Gone is the solo-shyness of St Anger (2003) and Kirk Hammett has been set free to shred and wail to furnish the songs with subtlety and nuance.

3. Godflesh—Purge

Album cover shows dark image of a snake held in a hand

There is something quite meditative about Godflesh’s music. The repetition, the slow pace, the swirling overdriven feedback, the almost chanted vocals, the bass that hits you in the chest. This is powerful music that touches heart, soul and body. This music connects me to myself and to the world.

This album has immediately become my (admitted) second favourite Godflesh album, after the untoppable Streetcleaner (1989). Welcome back!

2. Aortha—Monolit

Album cover shoes a woman holding a heart surrounded by creatures

There is one word that kept coming back to me on each listen of this album: power! This a powerful album. With the ever revolving door of who is singing lead vocals on each track, there is a risk that this could have become a disjointed exercise, but it is credit to Predrag Glogovac and co. to have created a musical environment that makes the whole release feel that it has integrity and continuity and a consistent voice—when voice is the one inconsistency.

This album is wonderful! Check out their videos. Put their album on your wishlist. Back in June, this was my favourite album of 2023. It was only the release of Prong’s latest offering that knocked it off the number one spot.

1. Prong—State of Emergency

Album cover shoes a man with eyes bandaged

While the last few Prong albums haven’t exactly hit the spot, oh! this one did. From the opening riffs of “The Descent” to the mildly industrial cover of the Rush classic “Working Man”, this album delivers on every level. It ranks up there with Cleansing (1994), Rude Awakening (1996) and Scorpio Rising (2003). Just where does Tommy Victor dig up these extraordinary riffs?

Published by

Gareth Saunders

I’m Gareth J M Saunders, 52 years old, 6′ 4″, father of 3 boys (including twins). Enneagram type FOUR and introvert (INFP), I am a non-stipendiary priest in the Scottish Episcopal Church, I sing with the NYCGB alumni choir, play guitar, play mahjong, write, draw and laugh… Scrum master at Safeguard Global; latterly at Sky and Vision/Cegedim. Former web architect and agile project manager at the University of St Andrews and previously warden at Agnes Blackadder Hall.

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