The UK and US scenes were hotbeds of creativity this year, and gave us works of richly diverse black metal.
Here, we take you through our best black metal albums of 2023 – and there’s barely a smudge of corpsepaint in sight…

10. The Sun’s Journey Through The Night – Worldless (Church Road Records)

The UKBM breakthrough act of 2023, The Sun’s Journey Through The Night already had two albums under the belt before Worldless emerged this year.

But this record’s combination of pitch dark atmosphere and pin sharp songcraft made the black metal scene take notice.

Mainman No One’s command of stygian dynamics was astonishing.

And Worldless should see The Sun’s Journey Through The Night burn bright in the coming years.

9. Tsjuder – Helvegr (Season of Mist)

With celebrated sticksman Jon Rice in tow, Draugluin and Nag detonated this blasphemous warhead back in the summer. And it was a welcome return from an act synonymous with infernal, uncompromising Norse BM.

Eight years on from Antiliv, Tsjuder hit their stride again as the planet killing blasts of Iron Beast and the barbed wire riffs of Chaos Fiend erupted from the album.

There was a ravenous hunger behind Gods of Black Blood and the apocalyptic Prestehammeren.

You just felt Tsjuder needed Helvegr.

We certainly did.

8. Spirit Possession – Of the sign… (Profound Lore Records)

Portland duo Spirit Possession tore through any notion of modern-day black metal orthodoxy on their second album, just like they did on their debut. Mind-bending riffs carved their way through Practitioners of Power and Hierarchical Skin. The world burned as Second Possession torched the atmosphere.

However, Of the sign… was no journey into the proggysphere, or portal to the void. It was rough, organic and coated in Celtic Frost.

In its own, unhinged way, this album rocked.

7. Underdark – Managed Decline (Church Road Records)

Underdark’s debut, Our Bodies Burned Bright On Re-Entry, made our Best Black Metal Albums of 2021 list for its politically charged “sonic boom of acerbic black metal and raging crust”.

The Nottingham act’s stock has risen even higher since that breakthrough and Managed Decline confirmed their status as one of UKBM’s most exciting prospects.

Cascading, cold blasts met rivers of molten post-rock across Enterprise and Employment.

Managed Decline I played out under the grey skies of post-industrial Britain.

And the emotional intensity of Matrimony was almost overwhelming.

An evolutionary leap? Not quite. But Underdark lit up 2023 with this opus.

6. Calligram – Position | Momentum (Prosthetic Records)

Calligram don’t really think of themselves as a ‘black metal’ band. But tough shit, we’re including Position | Momentum in this list anyway, as it was one of the most intense works of blackened carnage we’d heard all year.

The London-based, multinational crew wanted to “celebrate chaos” on their second full-length.

And they did that just that with enthralling songs such as Ostranenie and Frantumi In Itinere, where Matteo Rizzardo screamed over a tornado of lacerating riffs, and now-departed drummer Ardo Cotones pushed himself to superhuman efforts.

Balancing intelligence and instinct in their writing, Calligram made a huge statement with Position | Momentum.

Read the full review here.

Check out our interview with Matteo and Ardo on the making of Position | Momentum here.

5. Fen – Monuments to Absence (Prophecy Productions)

Fen’s wanderings have entranced us ever since The Malediction Fields emerged in 2009. The East Anglian dusk came down on ancient waterways as the band wove earth magic into their expansive black metal tapestries.

On Monuments to Absence, those roots remained strong.

But the trio’s seventh album carried with it a fearsome rage. There was real melancholy at its heart.

And that generated some of the most vicious material we’ve heard from the band to date… and some of their most scintillating riffs.

Yet even the apocalyptic Scouring Ignorance carried Fen’s elemental melodies beneath its ire.

4. Krieg – Ruiner (Profound Lore)

Ruiner, Krieg’s first full-length in nine years, felt like a genuine ‘we’re back’ statement. And it had Krieg’s charred essence right at its heart.

That essence permeated every passage of searing tremolo picking, every dramatic flourish and every moment of transcendence.

Fragments of Nothing and Bulwark were prime examples of Krieg’s ability to balance hellfire black metal with spectral post punk, but there were many more highlights on the soul-searing Ruiner.

A hypnotic sonic assault wrapped in claustrophobia and dread, Krieg’s eighth studio album was just what they (and we) needed.

Read the full review here.

3. Dawn Ray’d – To Know The Light (Prosthetic Records)

Little did we know back in March that Dawn Ray’d’s third album would be their swansong.

In September, the anarchist trio announced that they were bowing out, after nearly nine years of ferocious black metal resistance.

And with To Know The Light, their most accomplished work to date, the Liverpool act ensured their legacy would remain intact.

Dawn Ray’d spread their wings on this record. Clean vocals – and even a pipe organ – were employed to intriguing effect for the first time.

But songs like Ancient Light still raged with the hellfire that drew so many fans to their banner.

They’ll be hugely missed.

Check out the full review here.

2. Panopticon – The Rime Of Memory (Bindrune Recordings)

Panopticon founder Austin Lunn is the gift that keeps on giving. Every couple of years or so, he releases a record of such astonishing depth that you risk never finding your way out (not that you’d want to).

The man’s creative wellspring just seems never to run out. Merging traditional instruments and folk music into cathartic black metal soundscapes is just second nature. Cedar Skeletons and An Autumn Storm felt like you were riding the wind.

Lunn claimed that you could see this album as “a rant about the climate crisis and wilderness advocacy,” as a “coming to terms with the aging process”, or both.

We saw it as another demonstration of Panopticon’s astonishing prowess.  

1. Wayfarer – American Gothic (Century Media)

American Gothic was the realisation of Wayfarer’s unique vision for black metal. It was an album caked in the dust of the old American frontier… and haunted by the ghosts of long-forgotten prospectors and rapacious oilmen.

Carrion birds circled as the Colorado quartet told tales of bloody revenge and broken dreams, to a widescreen soundtrack of charred riffs and spectral Americana. Want to know just how good a slide guitar can sound on a BM tune? Check out The Thousand Tombs Of Western Promise.

Black Plumes Over God’s Country struck gold in a triumphant expression of Wayfarer’s music ambition, To Enter My House Justified was exquisitely ornate and False Constellation closed the band’s fifth album with a scintillating flourish.

It was one hell of a ride from black metal’s four horsemen.

Read the full review here.

Enjoyed our Best Black Metal Albums of 2023 list? Check out our Best Death Metal Albums of 2023 here and our Best Thrash Metal Albums of 2023 here.

Spirit Possession photo (middle) by B.W.

Wayfarer photo (top) by Frank Guerra.