As we have previously stated, 2023 was an exceptional time for black metal. There were so many remarkable records that we never even got to talk about, like Watain’s Die in Fire — Live in Hell and Marduk’s Memento Mori. But what about the albums that ruled but didn’t fall in our beloved genre?
Obviously, genre distinctions can pose an unnecessary obstacle to music aficionados. But you don’t have to seek out only black metal to get that special “black metal feeling.” That can clearly be found in material that wouldn’t typically be considered part of the movement. Thus, here’s a list of our favorite non-BM releases of 2023. All of our picks are extremely dark and many of them are related to black metal in one way or another, so at least there’s that.
We expect that while some of our varied selections will be familiar, there are offerings that the majority of our readers probably haven’t heard yet. Roughly half of the works below just happen to be debuts.
Paradise Lost’s Icon 30
Paradise Lost’s Icon 30 is, of course, the re-recorded version of the beloved Icon (1993). Icon 30 is a glorious must-hear. The production gives this classic new life, though we must emphasize that the original production was excellent as well. Greg Mackintosh’s outstanding songwriting has more than stood the test of time. The album’s guitar work truly shines. Meanwhile, Nick Holmes gives a stellar performance on vocals.
Named after Paradise Lost’s sensational yet initially polarizing 1999 record, HOST is a duo consisting of Greg Mackinosh and Nick Holmes. In my view, HOST’s debut, IX, and our next pick were the two most refreshing albums of 2023. Although IX definitely dishes up plenty of ear candy, this catchy offering is also incredibly weighty, introspective, and depressing.
We will refrain from pigeonholing IX. As Mackintosh told us earlier this year:
“… I think the album is an interesting mix of styles. I know the label wanted to try to pitch it in with the synthwave stuff, but it’s not really anything to do with that. It’s a mixture of all kinds of stuff: goth, synth, cold wave, even stadium rock from the ’80s all kind of mingled together and hopefully translating into a way that speaks today.”
Katatonia’s Sky Void of Stars
Katatonia’s Sky Void of Stars is a spectacular cinematic triumph. Everything about this opus hits its mark. Frontman Jonas Renkse wrote all of the mesmerizing music as well as the terribly unique lyrics. The other musicians involved also amazed us — Daniel “Mojjo” Moilanen on drums, Anders Nyström and Roger Öjersson on guitars, and finally Niklas Sandin on bass. (We are particularly impressed by the fact that Moilanen played on Craft’s White Noise and Black Metal .)
Of course, Katatonia began as black/death/doom pioneers. Sky Void of Stars certainly fills listeners with a greater sense of blackness than most BM releases. Yet, the songs are ridiculously infectious earworms.
VV’s Neon Noir
Neon Noir, the debut album by ex-HIM’s Ville Valo, quickly became one of my most listened to records not only of the year but in general. Neon Noir has earned a huge amount of support from fans and magazines, resulting in much touring, which will resume this year. The excellence of Neon Noir should not have been a surprise, however. Three of Neon Noir’s tracks premiered on the eargasmic EP Gothic Fennica Vol. 1 in 2020, giving us a mysterious foretaste of what was to come. Like HOST, Valo mined much inspiration from the ’80s for Neon Noir, granted the result is completely different. That said, we expect that Neon Noir will prove timeless just like HIM’s material.
Shining’s Lots of Girls Gonna Get Hurt (Expanded Reissue)
As previously stated on this column, Lots of Girls Gonna Get Hurt is my very favorite EP. For me, the only other EPs that even deserve a place beside this masterpiece are Mayhem’s Blasphemer-era Wolf’s Lair Abyss (1997) and Dødheimsgard’s Satanic Art (1998). Alongside Ville Valo, Shining’s Niklas Kvarforth has what is, in my unerring opinion, the sexiest voice in the music industry. Yet, Kvarforth’s vocals also have an incredibly haunting quality that will ensure that “you will never sleep at night.” This is because Kvarforth is a totally authentic individual who has completely devoted himself to the Darkness. Shining may be categorized as über-black metal insofar as their work surpasses the genre. Lots of Girls Gonna Get Hurt showcases Shining’s masterful reinterpretations of non-BM songs by Katatonia, Kent, Imperiet, and Poets of the Fall. This expanded 11th-anniversary reissue includes bonus tracks that were originally performed by Placebo, Rammstein, The Coffinshakers, and Gerard McMahon. It was remastered by King Diamond’s legendary Andy La Rocque, who handled the original production, and features a beautiful cover by Cold Prophet’s Tuomas Tahvanainen of Nucleart Design.
Of course, we truly appreciate Kvarforth’s attention to his female audience. Lots of Girls Gonna Get Hurt has effectively hooked countless young female fans on Shining, and thus encouraged them to explore the band’s noble message. Thanks to The Sinister Initiative, the reissue was made available digitally on International Women’s Day, though we encourage you to buy your girlfriends, mothers, daughters, and preferred sex workers their physical copies here.
Putrid Omen’s Blasphemia
K.F.R’s Maxime Taccardi astonished us in November with the online release of Blashphemia, the debut effort by his one-man band Putrid Omen. Please look out for physical copies this year. While Taccardi ventures into new territory with Putrid Omen, the project clearly bears his artistic trademark. Although Putrid Omen is technically a death metal outfit, that label does not begin to do the experimental Blasphemia justice. It proves an incredibly innovative masterpiece. Characterized by its ritualistic and profoundly spiritual qualities, the immersive Blasphemia delivers what is lacking from the vast majority of modern releases. Despite its brutality and intensely disturbing soundscapes, Blasphemia is an elevated offering geared toward a sophisticated type of listener.
Blasphemia immediately hooks audiences with its eerie opening. Taccardi’s vocal performance is perfection throughout: his uncanny low growls and piercing shrieks strike a deep nerve. Blasphemia is hellish, divine, and also quite alien. The interplay of inhuman viciousness and beauty definitive of the album can very clearly be observed on “Under the Sign of the Pentagram,” for example, which includes some ethereal female vocals within the ambient/symphonic outro. Every track on Blasphemia is equally brilliant.
Spirit Tomb’s The Lotus of Dahlia (EP) & Spiritus Lacrimarum Dolorem in Lacrimas Profundere (Album)
Spirit Tomb is the solo project of veteran musician Leon Kristoffer, who astounds us with his unsurpassed artistry and remarkable charisma. Spirit Tomb’s sublime debut EP, The Lotus of Dahlia, was unveiled this past April via Apollon Records. It represents the first installment in the “Aandegrav Trilogy.”
The second installment, Spiritus Lacrimarum Dolorem in Lacrimas Profundere, premiered in August. Beyond the Gates held a listening party in honor of this album that was hosted by Finn Håkon Rødland and took place at Apollon Platebar. Spiritus Lacrimarum Dolorem in Lacrimas Profundere is a collection of flawlessly executed renditions of a carefully curated selection of poems by Edgar Allan Poe. This masterwork features a perfectly balanced blend of vocals, cello, and piano. Leon Kristoffer excels in the realm of elegant minimalism, yet his multi-faceted compositions overflow with luxurious textures and deluges of emotion. Gorgeous and otherworldly, they lend the impression of utter boundlessness. The track “A Dream within a Dream” features a memorable guest appearance by Lena, who possesses an impossibly angelic voice. We eagerly await Spirit Tomb’s next full-length record, The Haunted Palace.
Seigmen’s Rosa, Gul, & Beige (EPs)
Formed in Tønsberg in 1989, the Spellemann-winning Seigmen not only numbers among Norway’s greatest bands, but I consider them to be one of the most enjoyable acts in the industry. A true gift to fans, Seigmen’s newest trio of EPs — Rosa, Gul, and Beige — dropped this past December via Karisma Records. These vinyls are the perfect way to celebrate Seigmen’s phenomenal career. The live songs were recorded during four days of performances at Bergen’s Hulen in 2019 — shows at which ’90s setlists were reprised. The renditions of material from Radiowaves (1997) on Beige definitely serve as special treats. The EPs also feature some tracks, which date back to when Seigmen was called Klisne Seigmenn, that the band finally decided to record in the studio. The sound on the EPs is fantastic. To experience the magic, you’ll just have to purchase Rosa, Gul, and Beige here. For those unacquainted with Seigmen, however, we have included the original Total (1994) version of one of the compositions from Rosa below as an enticement.
Seigmen fans impatiently count the days until the release of the group’s forthcoming album, Resonans, on April 12 via Indie Recordings. In the meantime, we recommend checking out Ljungblut’s latest EP, Sauda, which was unleashed in March of last year. Ljunblut is, of course, the project of Seigmen’s bassist Kim Ljung.
Void ov Voices’s Void ov Voices : Baalbek
The experimental and ritualistic Void ov Voices : Baalbek marks the debut solo effort by Mayhem’s revered Attila Csihar. It was recorded in 2012 in Baalbek, Lebanon. This offering amounts to a highly rewarding and totally singular experience. According to Csihar himself, he founded Void ov Voices in 2006. Csihar has performed all around the world with this project. We should mention that Void ov Voices did release a live album in 2012.
Xasthur’s Inevitably Dark
Yes, Xasthur’s Inevitably Dark includes black metal — a fact that delighted long-time fans of this legendary band, given the departure of project mastermind Scott Conner from the genre. However, Conner also chose to incorporate death metal, dark ambient, dungeon synth, acid folk, doomgrass, discordant blues, and jazz. At 23 tracks long, the gorgeous, remarkably haunting, and potent Inevitably Dark creates a time warp. As Conner told us, he didn’t want to have one token track from each style, but rather: “I wanted the huge changes to keep on happening. You have something totally upbeat one minute, and then you have something dark as fuck for the next song. So, you’re wondering what just happened.”
We likewise emphatically recommend Menstrual Vampires, the eponymous debut album by Scott Conner’s death metal project with Randy Rhot. Menstrual Vampires came out on Valentine’s Day last year and should definitely conquer your heart.
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