Τρίτη 2 Ιανουαρίου 2024

Top 10 (+20) metal albums of 2023


The usual long prologue. Don't scroll down, read.
Lists suck! Is there any meaning to having a Top-20, Top-30, Top-100 list for one year? In a Top-20 list what's the actual difference between number 14 and number 17? And is number 19 better than an album that didn't make it to the list even if it was considered? Lists suck because they have transformed music in a fake contest game and in the era of the social media reign a majority of fans consumes music instead of listening (and feeling) to music. Hundreds of albums with a quick listen on YouTube or digital platforms, most of the time with a lesser quality than the physical product. I would dare to say that besides the first 5 (maximum 10) albums in every list, most of the rest are almost equal with minor differences. There are also some factors outside the actual music that affect some editors' lists in media. Someone might like more a person/musician from a band, or doesn't like someone else from another. A musician's character and the list-writer's connection or the lack of it, affects some people, while sometimes there are deeper things involving record labels, producers, events, actions, and many other things we might discuss in the future. Everyone can fall on it sometimes, even the author of this article. Let's be honest.

Boomers, Zoomers and the different generations: There will always be people saying that no new album can reach the heights and the value of the past. By past they mean the '70s, mostly the '80s, and the '90s. Bullshit. Keeping in mind that sometimes the passing of time adds (or deducts) value to albums, we should not ignore that there will always be great music coming out but the change of the music industry doesn't really allow to most of the new bands and albums to make a breakthrough and reach the sales and exposure that bands in the '80s had. Pardon me, for preferring Eternal Champion, Atlantean Kodex, Crypt Sermon and Sumerlands over Rhapsody, Medieval Steel, Tankard and Krokus, but no matter how hard you will yell, you will be just a brief note on social media. That's modern life. On the other hand, yes, it can sound annoying to me that one might also say that Sabaton, Amon Amarth and Ghost are better than Saxon, Accept and Dokken. Overall, it can be apples and oranges but also a different music taste and one's failure to understand the difference between "I prefer" and "it is better". There will always be great music but the amount of albums coming out today is huge, while the easy way music is available to you, it can distract you without allowing many individuals to dive deeper, listen deeper, feel it deeper. Music today is trapped in the "fast-food" way of modern life. Do you believe that if The Number of the Beast would have been released today, it would have the same impact like 1982? Different times, different views, different industries and the evolution of music. Each album of the past was released and set in a different time within a different moment during the evolution and change of music, so if you just bring it in today, you might lose its flame, its actual impact, you might miss its value, or there will be a devalue. You just need to understand the past, the story, the evolution, the present, (feel) the actual music/album, the different genres and subgenres, but also the standards and the albums/bands that will always be the reference for reasons beyond each individual's personal taste

Lists rule! It is always entertaining reading other people's lists, websites and magazines, and it is truly amazing reading a list and discovering something you might have missed. Actually, at some point, we should make a list with "the best albums we missed and you didn't see them on last years' lists". With lists, sometimes you also understand the other's music taste and you can even get a glimpse of one's character. For people you already know, or authors/editors you follow, you can even figure some records that will be on their lists without even reading them because you know their taste or a small part of their character, and this is beautiful because music is part of them. Music is life, so enjoy life, don't be a toxic and sad person. Listen to what you like and don't waste your time yelling at clouds for things you don't like. No matter how old or young you are, because it is not just old people yelling at clouds, it is also youngsters yelling on TikTok and Facebook without understanding the past and all of those things that make the music they know today.

Lists can change! Accept that lists are a glimpse of the present time and the author's view on that specific time. No one can claim that they have listened to everything, and if some people do, don't trust them, ignore them and their lists. Lists are fun and are just a starting point for discussions and spreading music. If you take them only seriously, you're missing the point, you're missing the music. And it is not a shame to admit after a few years that you overestimated or underestimated an album or a band by putting or not putting them on a list.

Well, lists rule!

For this year, we did what Crystal Logic firstly introduced years ago. The interaction of musicians of the feature. We invited musicians of albums included in the list (plus a few more), commenting on other albums of the list. With that, we're offering to the readers of Crystal Logic something more than just placing albums in a list and adding a few words or just reposting part of reviews, something that's usual to the majority of similar end year's lists on most media. We're always trying to make a difference and present something new and unusual, so let's go!

10. MARCH TO DIE - Tears of the Gorgon

Formed by members of Mirror, Friends of Hell and Solitary Sabred, the debut album of the Greek/Cypriot band delivers aggressive and raw epic heavy metal inspired by Manowar and the Asatru period of Bathory. Coming out of nowhere, they might lack authenticity but their iron will and strength bows to none. Swords, chains and metal, blood, smashed helmets and decapitation, this is raw, epic heavy metal by fans, for fans.

- "True metal to the end! Glorybound metal that I have really enjoyed since its release day. Bathory meets Manowar, fabulous guitar thunder, tremendous battle roaring vox, amazing bass lines straight from Valhalla and the great cannons on drumming Be sure you won't miss it... March to Die!" - D.K. Krasonis (Darklon)

Check also:

DARKLON - The Redeemer: With Omen singer Nikos Migus A. the sophomore album of the Greek-based band is an ode to the US heavy and power metal legends of the olde like Omen, Armored Saint and Attacker. The kind of vocals we're missing nowadays, a suitable metal production and riffs to die for. Strong metal.

- "Riff-driven, Americanized bullying-metal, culminating in one of the best choruses of the decade in 'Way Back Home'!" - Petros "Asgard Lord" Leptos (Solitary Sabred)

JAG PANZER - The Hallowed: A strong return with their best studio album since "Mechanized Warfare", dominated by a solid sound, flaming guitars and titanic vocals.

9. VARATHRON - The Crimson Temple

One of the leaders of Hellenic Black Metal (next to Rotting Christ and Necromantia, but also Zemial and Agatus) return with an album that grabs you by the throat. Somehow I missed them in the last many years, so The Crimson Temple caught me by surprise. Committed to the unholy past, the new album feels like a glorious return to the spirit of the olde with the advantages the present day and the musicians' experience can add, without missing a beat in terms of passion. With effective, melodic riffs and guitar parts that pierce your mind, Cimmerian strength and a cinematic approach, this temple is built by stones of glory. This is a 100% Hellenic Black Metal record.  

- "The same killer sound that they've been developing over the last couple albums but with a taste of extra grandiose bombast- what's not to love?" - Brandon Corsair (Serpent Rider, Draghkar, Drawn and Quartered)

Check also:

MALOKARPATAN - Vertumnus Caesar: The occult journey to the esoteric arts of the past through '70s art rock, pure heavy metal riffing, renaissance melodies and first wave black metal. That's (more or less) something you will mainly read in most of the reviews but the latest diverse, dynamic and sinister offering of the Slovakian band continues their unique way of expressing their creative mysticism in a parallel world with all of their influences.

- "Heavy Metal absolutely dripping with the occult and an overtly sinister atmosphere. A special, special offering, from a generationally great band." - Klauf (Morgul Blade)

THRONEHAMMER - Kingslayer: Heavier than Godzilla and stronger than Kong, this is a monster doom metal album with a diversity that flies higher than Mothra.

8. LEGENDRY - Time Immortal Wept

Established in the underground metal with three full-lengths and an EP, the fourth album Time Immortal Wept gathers all the elements that make Legendry distinguish from the current epic heavy metal scene. The use of mellotron, acoustic guitars and synths, the diversity of influences and sounds adding elements from the '70s prog rock, Rush, Eloy, Uriah Heep, up to Manilla Road, Bathory and even Warlord (listen to the beginning of the 12-minute same-titled track) and Basil Poledouris' Conan the Barbarian soundtrack, creates a unique album that offers to the listener a magical quest since this is also a concept album. With Arthur Rizk's production adding the archaic soundscape and feeling this concept requires, be sure that this brave, mystical and original album can be equal to the journey your favourite sword & sorcery books can offer.

Check also:

GATEKEEPER - From Western Shores: A step forward from the previous album, with dynamics and songs such as "Shadow and Stone" that give the band their own identity. Gatekeeper is a heroic band and From Western Shores is a beautiful, ear-pleasure, nerdy underground heavy metal album for all of us enjoyers of this kind.

- "Jeff Black and crew show why Canada remains at the top of the game and how metal should be written!" - Jeff Young (By Fire & Sword, Weald and Woe)

SMOULDER - Violent Creed of Vengeance: Many men-singers claim to be the Conan-type of frontman, wielding a sword and yelling tales of sorcery and brave quests. Asides Eric Adams, probably Jason Tarpey is the barbarian king, but there is no question that Sarah Ann is the one and only Red Sonja, singing tales of vengeance, bravery and witchery. Theatrical and more diverse, Smoulder's sophomore album is not just about escapism, but also about true strength, with sharp songwriting and intense performances.

- "Tighter and harder than ever, if Violent Creed... doesn’t make you want to smite your enemies, nothing will!" - Jeff Young (By Fire & Sword, Weald and Woe)

- "Smoulder are raising their speed and offer us an absolutely rich musical masterwork with a voice who overflows with passion and energy." - Mars Triumph (Triumpher)

7. AIR RAID - Fatal Encounter

Six years after their previous album Across the Line, Sweden's Air Raid returned with a fatal album of majestic guitar virtuosity and thunderous songs. Bringing the retro '80s & '90s Malmsteen-ish guitar aesthetics and style to the present day, they're offering to us one of the most feelgood heavy metal albums of 2023. Recommended for fans of Maestro Yngwie (at his glorious days) and a more European power metal version of '80s Rainbow and '90s Riot. Don't sleep on that one, this is fantastic!  

- "Air Raid's Fatal Encounter is a heavy metal boulder with incredible guitar ideas and catchy as f... vocal lines!" - Mars Triumph (Triumpher)

Check also:

BY FIRE & SWORD - Glory: One of the most original melodic heavy power metal albums of 2023, an album that can only be more appreciated in the future. Purely entertaining and catchy, with vocal melodies to die for, magnetic riffs, glorious and full of light. The lyrics and the concept seem to confuse a few of the listeners that can't truly get it but everything is there for you. Just listen, feel, and tap the conduit.  

MDXX - MDXX: Can you imagine Ghost playing like Eternal Champion? That's the mystical debut album of Sweden's MDXX. Authentic, with fantastic guitars and melodies, it dwells deep in the underground, waiting for you to discover it.

6. LAMP OF MURMUUR - Saturnian Bloodstorm

Lacking the raw sound and the gothic atmosphere of previous releases, the mysterious M., the mastermind behind the US entity known as Lamp of Murmuur, presents one more stellar album with a strong Immortal vibe and his best production to date. Saturnian Bloodstorm strays from the underground black metal labyrinths M. used to deliver in the past few years but his black metal gaze into the past and the future of the genre remains unmistakable and authentic.

Check also:

FAIDRA - Militant : Penitent : Triumphant: Heavily inspired by the one that cannot be named and deeper than it seems, Faidra's sophomore full-length is the orthodox atmospheric black metal album that requires your attention.

MOONLIGHT SORCERY - Horned Lord of the Thorned Castle: We loved the two EPs they released in 2022 but the surprise those face-painted fellas from Finland are offering with their debut full-lenght is of a "good-new-Malmsteen-album" status. Unexpectedly. Melodic black metal with neoclassical guitars? Yes, that's it. I understand that some black metal fans won't like it, but this is beautiful and unpredictable.

5. BLOOD STAR - First Sighting


One of the best newcomers out there with one of the most catchy debut albums released over the past few years. Melodic heavy metal with fantastic vocals by Madeline Smith, amazing guitars by Jamison Palmer (Visigoth), warm rhythm section and deadly hooks, inspired by W.A.S.P., Dokken, Saxon, Dio, '80s Riot, Judas Priest and Scorpions. Songs like "Cold Moon", "Fearless Priestess" and the Blackie-Lawless'd "Going Home" could have been huge hits if they were released in the '80s. With a bittersweet melancholy in some parts but with a completely enjoyable and positive aura, First Sighting is an album that plays on repeat and Blood Star is a band to watch for the future.

- "First Sighting is a great record front to back, made by some of the best people I know. I'm truly a huge fan!" - Cale Savy (Riot City)

Check also:

TOWER HILL - Deathstalker: Ticking all the boxes of the NWOTHM fans, the Canadian band offers what a straightforward metal fans asks for, spicing up things with epic metal lyrics and European power metal influences.

HITTEN - While Passion Lasts: '80s hair metal, night games, watts and overdrive from Spain, including a few moments that if they were released by an American band in the '80s, now you would listen to them in every night metal party.

4. THY DARKENED SHADE - Liber Lvcifer II - Mahapralaya

Thy Darkened Shade's latest magical album is a Luciferian black metal masterpiece that transcends the limits of the genre in a metaphysical way. Deeply spiritual and focused on the left hand path and its creator's mindset, Liber Lvcifer II - Mahapralaya is hypnotic and sinister, bringing the unconscious (darkness) to the conscious (light). Passionate, perfectly executed and faithful to the Black Metal flame of the past, this is a rare case of a modern album of this genre, capturing what it truly means and what it is.

- "By far my favourite extreme metal release of the past few years, everything here screams attention to detail and dedication to their uncompromising vision. Thy Darkened Shade are masters of their craft and their latest album is a testament to their talent. Out of this world." - George Apalodimas (Sacred Outcry)

Check also:

DODHEIMSGARD - Black Medium Current: A band that never ceases to amaze the audience. An album that in a few years I might regret I didn't put it in the top albums of this list, or I will wonder what the hell is doing here anyway.

WAYFARER - American Gothic: What a captivating album this is! Gunpowder'd black metal americana soiled with oil, blood and you can even smell the ashes from the funeral of the American dream. Produced by Arthur Rizk and using each and every inch of the musicians' talents, this atypical album is a brave survey of violence and destruction, beauty and sadness, of the American heart.

A few honourable mentions: CIRITH UNGOL - Dark Parade, COVEN JAPAN - Earthlings, CRUEL FORCE - Dawn of the Axe, ENFORCED - War Remains, ENFORCER - Nostalgia, HELLRIPPER - Warlocks Grim & Withered Hags, KERRIGAN - Bloodmoon, MACE 'N' CHAIN - Among Ancient Pillars, MILLENNIUM - The Sign of Evil, NIGHT DEMON - Outsider, OWLBEAR - Chaos to the Realm, RAGE AND FIRE - The Last Wolf, SATAN'S FALL - Destination Destruction, STRAY GODS - Olympus, THE NIGHT ETERNAL - Fatale, TOMB MOLD - The Enduring Spirit, VALDRIN - Throne of the Lunar Soul, WEALD AND WOE - For the Good of the Realm, WYTCH HAZEL - IV: Sacrament.

3. HEAVY LOAD - Riders of the Ancient Storm

That's a still from the new video of Heavy Load for "Ride the Night", their first new song people listen to, after 40 years. That's a still of a man that's nearly 70 years old and in his face and eyes, you can see an ocean of passion, originality and emotional power. Heavy Load's comeback is not another comeback just like the countless ones we're used to. This is something special. This is the true power of heavy metal music from musicians that live for it. Live and feel the passion and power of music, their legacy, the adventure, the inner strength.

Riders of the Ancient Storm is a comeback album that makes those 40 years look like a few months. A warm and analogue sound, one of the best productions for 2023, and an honest feeling of music from the heart. Songs like "Ride the Night" and "Slave No More" are masterpieces that could be included in the classic Heavy Load albums of the past, while "Sail Away" is like an ocean of emotions, a song to cry for, something we will listen to forever; a song where once the time will put its weight upon us, we will listen to and remember the past, the joy, the life we lived. Riders of the Ancient Storm is not just a comeback album, is not just a good album, is not just music. This is a longtime friend, for now, forever.

- "If you would have told me a few years ago that we would have a new Heavy Load album in 2023, I wouldn't have believed it. And yet, here we are. Not only is it a reality, but it is one where it falls directly in line with their classic albums, both in production and songwriting." - Vidarr the Silent (Legendry)

- "In many years as a heavy metal listener, I found only two songs that carry such overwhelming emotion that, every single time, they drive me to tears: one is "Dragon Star" by Manilla Road and the other is Heavy Load's "Sail Away". Riders of the Ancient Storm has something for everyone and then some. For most records, it's a matter of tastes, but for this one you need to think in terms of absolutes, this is a timeless masterpiece in a league of its own." - Mark J. Dexter (Dexter Ward)

Check also:

CENTURY - The Conquest of Time: Swedish hard and heavy metal has an undeniable legacy, starting from Heavy Load, continuing with all of those successful Swedish hard rock and heavy metal bands like Europe, more bands such as 220 Volt, Universe and Mindless Sinner, down to all of those underground legions like Gotham City, Wizzard and Parasite. Century continues that legacy with their debut full-length, a strong statement of passionate and true heavy metal.

- "Sweden has an imposing history in terms of Traditional Metal and continues to impress me to this day. Century's full album was probably the best Heavy Metal album of 2023 for me. The band is influenced by bands like Heavy Load and Satan (Brian Ross screams are always a must) and expands their own style. Last but not least, they are really convincing live as well. A must have for traditional Heavy Metal maniacs this year." - Semjaza (Thy Darkened Shade)

HIGH SPIRITS - Safe on the Other Side: Multi-instrumentalist Chris Black returns with a new High Spirits album, probably the best since the Another Night debut full-length of  2011. High Spirits' hard-rockin' metal is always a pleasure to listen to, and the new album is once again a hook-driven addiction with fantastic songs like "Lonely Nights".

2. TRIUMPHER - Storming the Walls

Breaking the walls of Troy, Jericho, mediocrity and different metal genres, Triumpher's debut album is a clashing-of-swords statement that even today, there are albums that can make the difference. With the power of Manowar's Triumph of Steel and a variety of elements from true epic metal, extreme metal, Dissection, Slayer and Primordial, Storming the Walls is entering the Pantheon of Epic Metal. Passionate, powerful, with attention to every detail, forged in the wisdom of ancient philosophers and wizards, the strength of giants and the beauty of Olympian Goddesses, this is an album for now and forever. The future belongs to the brave.

Check also:

PRIMORDIAL - How It Ends: While once again some songs (probably) would sound better if they were shorter, Primordial still do what they're doing better than many others, with their gloomy, battle, victory metal, and Nemtheanga proves again that he is a strong performer.

SOLITARY SABRED - Temple of the Serpent: The titans from Cyprus return with their over-the-edge US-inspired power metal that sounds better from many albums of bands which inspired them.

- "One of my favorite bands, and they did it again! The Temple of the Serpent is out there and I can say until the next one that this is the band's magnum opus, my personal favourite album of 2023 for many reasons... Real played, non fake tuning on vocals, non fake drums, great songwriting, everything I love in the vein of US Metal. All hail!" - D.K. Krasonis (Darklon)

1. SACRED OUTCRY - Towers of Gold

There are so many things you probably have read about the second Sacred Outcry album. Everything is true. All of them and more, because there are not many words to describe the Towers of Gold. This is an album that every hyperbole written about it can be true and in the future you will see it mentioned next to the classic ones of what we call Power Metal. Yes, when I say "classic ones" I mean the ones that instantly come to your mind. A glorious album with a divine voice, riffs after riffs, transcending acoustic guitars, intriguing basslines, solid drumming and a cinematic structure with twists and a colourful orchestration that transforms the dramatic concept to a godly opera-like storytelling. Each song can be a web of god-like moments like the Warlordian part at "City of Stone" that guards William's majestic lyricism. With every listen, secrets will be revealed to the listener and if you dive deep in the concept and the music you will enter a realm of an impeccable enlightenment. Mastermind George Apalodimas is pushing the power metal songwriting to the sky and this is one of the rare cases that you listen to a divine album, knowing there is no limit for the future, expecting the unexpected.

- "Kick ass songwriting, musicianship, and production. Epic atmosphere and great balance of variety, dynamics, and cohesiveness throughout every song. Personal favorite track: 'The Sweet Wine of Betrayal'" - Parker Halub (Wings of Steel)

- "Towers of Gold is that rare combination of being both fun and interesting to listen to. Album of the year for me!" - Darin Wall (Greyhawk, Glyph)

"The songwriting intelligence of George Apalodimas leads us to an apocalyptic power metal album." - Mars Triumph (Triumpher)

Check also:

PROTEAN SHIELD - Protean Shield: Guitars, riffs, escapism, epic stories, true passion, guitars, solos and riffs. Elite metal for the few.

- "The best bass parts I've heard in a very long while could only be one-up'ed by the spectacular performance on the guitars. Outstanding songwriting, some of the best lyrics the genre has to offer and a complete - in equal parts noble and savage - journey that I hold very dear." - George Apalodimas (Sacred Outcry)

WINGS OF STEEL - Gates of Twilight:
Now, that's an undeniable album that can catch the attention of everyone who loves heavy metal. Based in Los Angeles and built around singer extraordinaire Leo Unnermark and the talents of guitarist Parker Halub, Wings of Steel have a star quality you meet very rarely in a new and/or underground metal band, while at the same time they have everything needed to be the next big thing. The disadvantage that some people have brought upfront has nothing to do with the (top notch) musicianship, the songwriting and the performance but the direction of the band that is balanced between the US metal style like the early years of Crimson Glory, Queensrÿche and Jacobs Dream, and the more melodic approach that is closer to what we call '80s hair metal. If they had more songs like "Fall in Line" and less ballads, that would have been the masterpiece of 2023. Still though, this is one of the year's highlights you should not miss!

- "For me Wings of Steel is one of the hottest new bands around, and I can't wait to see how many great things will come from them. Parker's guitarwork is phenomenal (one of my 2 favourites this year) and I'm pretty sure Leo came to the 2020's on a time machine, because his vocals can only be compared to some of the legends from the 80s. Flawless, diverse songwriting with a keen sense of melody, and a voice to die for." - George Apalodimas (Sacred Outcry)


+ 1

DIAMONDS HADDER - Beyond the Breakers

We don't add to the year lists albums that are available only digitally, but with the physical formats coming out in 2024, John Evermore's Diamonds Hadder is one of the most emotional, unique and original albums you can listen to in 2023. A few might disagree due to the voice similarities with Ronnie James Dio, but no person with actual ears and heart can disagree with its passion. Coming from Los Angeles and travelling through mountains, dreams and visions, Diamonds Hadder can break the borders of normality with their soulful heavy metal. Follow this website.

Best demo of 2023:
TALES OF MEDUSA - The Titan Sun: Once there is new Tales of Medusa music, we need to make a caregory to include it. This is something special, true and passionate; one of the most original metal bands ever. With an attitude beyond trends and any hype, focused only on heavy metal and how to create it from the heart and the soul.

Best EP of 2023:
SAVAGE OATH - Savage Oath: With just two songs, an underground metal dream team lays the foundation for what we will praise in the future.

- "I can't recall hearing a more grand statement made in two songs than in this EP.  Thrilled to see what's next, as many are, and can't wait to see them live!" - Vidarr the Silent (Legendry)

Best live album of 2023:
TRIUMPH OF DEATH - Resurrection of the Flesh: Tom G. Warrior resurrects Hellhammer but what we have here is not a slumb zombie, but rotten darkness itself.


What do we expect in 2024? The new studio albums of Saxon, Traveler, Judas Priest, Morgul Blade, Crypt Sermon, Triumpher, Crimson Glory, Savage Oath, and we're praying to Lord Iommi for new music by Eternal Champion, DoomSword, Domine, Sumerlands, Riot City, Atlantean Kodex, King Diamond and Mercyful Fate.

IMPORTANT: If you reached the end, I hope you enjoyed what you read, you agreed at some parts, disagreed on some others, it's OK, this is healthy. Crystal Logic blog has been in the forefront for more than a decade, influencing similar blogs and websites, but as you noticed, there weren't any posts for almost a year. It has been a year full of work but also a year building a different environment where Crystal Logic will be evolved to a website, leaving the "blogspot" status. With many articles and interviews' parts spread and reposted by a few of the bigger media worldwide (from Bravewords and Blabbermouth, even Eddie Trunk), it was obvious that Crystal Logic can leave the "blogspot" status. Having almost half a million views in the last few years' articles we can make it bigger. But it will also be deeper, with more lengthy and detailed features and interviews. That will happen soon and we will continue from that point. I am sure you're gonna love it and there is going to be a lot of food for thought, provoking and out-of-the-box articles, interviews and stories you haven't heard before.

Andreas Andreou


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