The aftermath of the Coronavirus pandemic and the cost of living crisis made life tough for artists and fans. Yet 2023 saw the rock and metal scenes hit back in defiance, with acolytes flocking to shows and the underground crackling with creativity.
Some heavyweights returned, others bowed out. But there was a constant stream of high grade rock and metal to indulge in this year.  
So grab a beer or a brew, and check out 40-21 in Rushonrock’s best albums of 2023…

40. Terminalist – The Crisis as Condition (Indisciplinarian)

Danish/American ‘hyperthrash’ unit Terminalist dropped some technical ecstasy on their second opus.

And it was one hell of a rush.

The band lashed out with cerebral thrash metal that fired up the synapses and rode the psychic wave of bands like Voivod and Confessor.

From Mutating Fractures’ florescent, proggy forays to Last Remains’ ice-waste atmospherics, The Crisis as Condition was a feast for thrashers hungry for a new fix. Rich Holmes

Explore our Best Thrash Metal Albums of 2023 here.

39. Jim Kirkpatrick — Dead Man Walking (US One/Proper Distribution)

FM’s riffmeister general took time out from the day job to drop a record rich in blues, Americana, country and Southern rock.

Kirkpatrick revelled in the opportunity to spread his wings and the late Bernie Marsden was one of a number of hired hands invited to up the creative ante.

Dead Man Walking took a circuitous route towards rock and roll perfection but it was well worth the journey. Simon Rushworth

Read the full review here.

38. Godthrymm – Distortions (Profound Lore)

A collective CV that boasts My Dying Bride, Anathema, Vallenfyre and Solstice should be a seal of quality.

And thankfully, Yorkshire gloom architects Godthrymm have lived up to their musical heritage.

They proved that on 2020’s Reflections… and they proved it once again on Distortions.

The arching, organic doom of opener As Titans set the tone for an album of deep sonic canyons and mist-soaked misery.

But there was beauty here too: Follow Me, for instance, saw supremely talented vocalists Hamish and Catherine Glencross combine over a twinkling dreamspace.

A towering record, Distortions was paradise found for doom fans. RH

37. Kezia Gill – Misfit (w21 Records)

Sounding more downtown Nashville than suburban Derby, the breakout star of British country captured hearts and minds on the meandering Misfit.

Gill dazzled from start to finish as she mixed trademark humour with some seriously affecting storytelling on a predictably unpredictable record.

Whiskey Over Ice, Like I Did Before and Price Of Loving were the liquor-soaked highlights on an album that kicked US rivals into touch. SR

Check out The Best Country Albums Of 2023 here.

36. Spirit Adrift – Ghost At The Gallows (Century Media)

Ghost At The Gallows was the sound of a band hitting back after personal tragedies and the Coronavirus pandemic.

And it showed how far Spirit Adrift have come since the doomed out Chained To Oblivion and Curse Of Conception albums, with chief writer Nate Garrett now mining the rich seams of 70s rock, 80s metal and thrash for inspiration.

Indeed, on gargantuan riff-fests like Death Won’t Stop Me and Give Her To The River, the Texas-based band gave us heavy boogie, Bay Area chug, British steel and Southern sass… and it was a winning combination. RH

Check out the full review here.

35. Robert Finley – Black Bayou (Easy Eye Sound)

It’s amazing to think Finley was the ripe old age of 62 when he dropped his critically acclaimed debut Age Don’t Mean A Thing.

Now nudging 70, the late blooming, Louisiana-born underground legend showed no signs of taking his foot off the pedal on Black Bayou.

Guest drummers Patrick Carney (The Black Keys) and Jeffery Clemens (G.Love & Special Sauce) added the thrust to Finley’s cut. SR

Check out The Best Blues Albums Of 2023 here.

34. Krieg – Ruiner (Profound Lore Records)

It may have been nine years since the release of Krieg’s last full-length, Transient. But Krieg haven’t exactly let the grass grow under their feet. A string of EPs, splits and even a collaboration with The Body, have emerged since 2014.

Yet, Ruiner felt more like a genuine ‘we’re back’ statement from the US black metal pioneers. An infernal fusion of hellfire black metal, spectral post punk and claustrophobic atmospherics, it was a supremely confident record.

And as mainman Neil Jameson peeled back his soul, Ruiner really, really hurt. RH

Read the full review here.

33. Cassidy Paris – New Sensation (Frontiers)

Bold, brash and more than capable of belting out a retro-fuelled melodic rock anthem, Aussie star Paris purred on this dreamy debut.

Fusing old school with fresh ambition, the talented teen stepped back into mid 80s West Hollywood and delivered one of the most energetic records we heard all year.

Every song here was built around an earworm of a riff and a festival-ready chorus as Paris wore her Rock N Roll Heart on her sleeve. SR

Read the full review here.

32. Cattle Decapitation – Terrasite (Metal Blade)

Cattle Decapitation have come a long way since they were chewing on the deathgrind of Human Jerky, back in ’99.

And the band’s evolution has been especially startling since the towering Monolith Of Inhumanity rose up in 2012.

Much was expected of Terrasite.

And the Californians delivered something special on their 10th album.

There was nowhere to hide during Scourge Of The Offspring and no place of refuge as We Eat Our Young’s blastbeats flayed the skin.

Terrasite was a lament for a burning and broken world, and a masterwork of intelligent extremity. RH

Read the full review here.

31. Tailgunner – Guns For Hire (Fireflash Records)

What Cassidy Paris (see above) did for melodic rock, Tailgunner did for trad metal as the UK’s fast-emerging scene leaders proved the youth went wild in 2023.

All Maiden-esque riffs and Helloween-styled solos, Thomas Hewson’s mob moved majestically into metal’s big leagues on the back of a steel-plated debut.

Shadows Of War and Futures Lost could sit comfortably within Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son or either of the Keepers… albums. Yep, Guns For Hire was that good. SR

Check out The Best Trad Metal Albums Of 2023 here.

30. Calligram – Position | Momentum (Prosthetic Records)

Position | Momentum was rooted in quantum physics, the unpredictability of life and vocalist Marco Rizzardo’s reflections on troubled times. And those themes were articulated over 44 minutes of annihilation-level, blackened ferocity, where the edge of oblivion loomed closer and closer.

The London-based, multinational crew matched their extraordinary delivery with writing that was both intelligent and instinctive. Black metal, crust and cerebral post-rock formed the bedrock as Calligram let loose over songs like Frantumi In Itinere, Tebe and the extraordinary Sul Dolorem.

The band told us they wanted to “celebrate chaos” with their second album. And by Christ, they meant it. RH

Read the full review here.

Check out our interview with Calligram on the making of Position | Momentum here.

29. Luke Morley – Songs From The Blue Room (Conquest)

This midsummer treat recalled the lazy, hazy days of London’s vibrant late 60s/early 70s rock and roll scene as Thunder’s axe slinger channelled Cream, The Kinks, The Faces and more.

There were also lashings of Tom Petty as Morley mixed blues with Americana and pop with rock to create one of the throwback records of the year.

Newly installed as the latest Quireboy to flank Spike, one of the UK’s most beloved six stringers appears determined to keep busy while best buddy Danny Bowes continues his recovery from a serious fall. SR

Check out the full review here.

28. Nita Strauss – The Call Of The Void (Sumerian)

If a hotly debated hook-up with Demi Lovato threatened to dent Strauss’s heavy rock credentials, then The Call Of The Void set the record straight.

We described this bullish former Record Of The Week as ‘a self-confident, star-studded statement of intent from one of the most assured six stringers on the planet’.

The Wolf You Feed – featuring Arch Enemy’s Alissa White-Gluz – was brilliantly brutal and Dorothy elevated the visceral Victorious. SR

Check out the full review here.

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

In September, Dawn Ray’d announced that they were bowing out.

With To Know The Light, their most expansive and intriguing work to date, the Liverpool trio ensured their legacy would remain intact.

Dawn Ray’d spread their wings on this record. Clean vocals and even a pipe organ formed part of the album’s tempestuous interpretation of black metal.

But songs like Ancient Light and the aptly named Inferno still raged with the hellfire that drew so many fans to their anarchist banner. The band that took BM to the squats and DIY spaces of Europe and America still burned with anger.

They’ll be sorely missed. RH

Read the full review here.

26. Black Spiders – Can’t Die, Won’t Die (Spinefarm)

Our description of Black Spiders as ‘the Spandau Ballet of stoner rock’ aged well the more times we tuned into the reassuringly chaotic Can’t Die, Won’t Die.

Equal parts metal, punk, doom and disco, this eight-legged riff beast revelled in its reputation for producing genre-fluid noise of the highest calibre.

Hot Wheels and Make Me Bleed will live long in the Spiders’ back catalogue and represented the very best of the ‘comeback’ era. SR

Read the full review here.

25. Fen – Monuments to Absence (Prophecy Productions)

On Monuments to Absence, there was a new ferocity to Fen, a raging against the dying of the light, if you will.

Perhaps that’s no surprise, given that that on their seventh album, the trio despaired over a human race “hell bent on self destruction”.

The East Anglians have done much to shape UK black metal since their 2009 debut, The Malediction Fields, bringing elemental melodies and a pinch of earth magic to their music.

But they’ve rarely been this angry, or this direct. RH

Check out our Best Black Metal Albums of 2023 here.

24. Phil Campbell & The Bastard Sons – Kings Of The Asylum (Nuclear Blast)

It’s difficult to imagine the heavy rock scene without The Bastard Sons but it’s not even eight years since Phil Campbell introduced the world to his riff-fuelled take on the von Trapps.

Kings Of The Asylum was a bone-crunching collection of denim and leather clad fist-pumpers bristling with angst and ambition.

Schizophrenia was a Bay Area-styled thrasher but Hammer And Dance was like Dan Reed Network jamming with Danzig. Kings Of The Asylum was royally crazy in a very cool way. SR

Check out the full review here.

23. Tanith – Voyage (Metal Blade)

Russ Tippins knows a thing or two about classic heavy metal. The North Easterner’s sublime fretwork has graced the great works of Satan since 1981. When he puts his name to a record, you take notice.

2019’s deliciously retro Another Time, which saw Tippins team up with New York-based musicians Cindy Maynard, Keith Robinson and Charles Newton, was a sublime slab of proto-metal and 70s hard rock.

And Voyage was another trip you needed to take, as Tippins let rip with his multi-hued fretwork, and harmonised with Maynard over the glorious Olympus by Dawn and Flame.

There was even a tune about a wizard.

What wasn’t to like? RH.  

22. Royal Thunder – Rebuilding The Mountain (Spinefarm)

It took MIny Parsonz, ex-husband Josh Weaver and the recalled Evan Diprima some time to reprise the trademark Royal Thunder sound.

But six years on from the wonderful – if flawed – Wick, the band’s core members set aside any differences (creative and personal) to create something very special indeed.

Rebuilding The Mountain scaled new heights and the groove-laden Live To Live was one of the alt rock tracks of 2023. Rebuilding The Mountain rebuilt Royal Thunder’s reputation. SR

Check out the full review here.

21. Myrkur – Spine (Relapse Records)

The latest chapter in Myrkur’s spellbinding journey felt the most complete. Amalie Bruun has spent her career composing evocative works of black metal, folk and alt-Goth, all overlain with her ethereal vocals. And Spine, a richly diverse record, saw the Dane streamline her songwriting and simply make music her way: the black metal purists who panned her early material seem even more inconsequential now.

The ice-cold Valkyriernes Sang echoed Myrkur’s jaw-dropping first EP, Mothlike was a sumptuous dark pop anthem, Blazing Sky sent us into the stratosphere with its immense chorus… whatever Bruun turned her attention to simply soared. RH

Myrkur photo (top) by Gobinder Jhitta.