We’ve listened to hundreds of records spanning genres throughout the year and it’s never easy to wrap up the best of the best.
But as we prepare to kiss goodbye to 2023, the Rushonrock team’s honed in on the 20 rock and metal albums that proved impossible to put down.
Check out the cream of the crop and find out who came out top.

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

Weaving traditional instruments and folk music into evocative black metal soundscapes is just second nature to Panopticon’s Austin Lunn. The USBM woodsmith has been doing it for well over a decade. 

But there were still moments on The Blue Against The White and Cedar Skeletons which took the breath away… and made you wonder what’s in the Appalachian water. 

Lunn claimed that you could see the record as ‘a rant about the climate crisis and wilderness advocacy’, as a ‘coming to terms with the aging process’, or both.

But however you interpreted its message, there was no doubt that The Rime Of Memory was a force of nature. Rich Holmes

19. Ole Lonesome — Tejas Motel (Gulf Coast Records)

Like your retro and modern blues served with a hearty side of sleaze? Ole Lonesome tickled the tastebuds on this feast of an album.

Tejas Motel was the go-to destination for fans of perfectly crafted, rootsy melody wrapped in wholesome Southern rock goodness.

Rushonrock’s Best Blues Album Of 2023 was the sound of a genre in rude health and refusing to be stifled. We never checked out of the Tejas Motel. Simon Rushworth

Check out the Best Blues Albums Of 2023 here 

18. Fuming Mouth – Last Day Of Sun (Nuclear Blast)

Last Day Of Sun was shaped by frontman Mark Whelan’s battle with Acute Myeloid Leukemia. A battle that nearly cost him his life.

But from that place of darkness came a record of pure defiance and primal fury. The walls came crashing down as Fuming Mouth unleashed I’ll Find You and The Sign of Pain, and the mix of Stockholm-rooted death metal and hardcore proved irresistible.

There were also some real surprises from the Massachusetts crew: The Silence Beyond Life, for instance, shifted from Swedish melancholy to an arena-level chorus, and Leaving Euphoria was a soul-searing anti-ballad, steeped in decay.

Back from the abyss, Whelan and co. sounded unstoppable. RH

Check out the full review here 

17. Overkill – Scorched (Nuclear Blast)

Thrash metal’s a broad church and Overkill’s congregation only grew on the back of this career-high bible of loud.

Bobby ‘Blitz’ Ellsworth’s brain curdling sermons cut through the background noise to build a compelling call to arms.

Scorched fired the imagination and ignited debate as an album fuelled by ambition exploded into life. SR

Check out The Best Thrash Albums Of 2023 here 

16. Obituary – Dying Of Everything (Relapse Records)

Whatever Obituary did to upgrade their Redneck Studios HQ seems to have worked. Dying Of Everything sounded like it was spawned from the same ooze as Slowly We Rot and The End Complete.

Indeed, Dying Of Everything ran those Floridian classics close.

And as strong as 2014’s Inked In Blood and 2017’s self-titled effort were, Obituary’s 11th opus was simply unstoppable.

That primordial groove, the primal fretwork, those noxious guitar tones, they were all there.

And they were used to devastating effect over War, Without a Conscience and The Wrong TimeRH

Check out the full review here 

15. Restless Road — Last Rodeo (Sony Music Nashville)

When Kane Brown pulled in enough cash to launch his own record label, he already had one stellar launch signing in mind.

Restless Road brought good looks, heartache hooks and a healthy TV following to the table but the Dan Huff-produced Last Rodeo was the missing piece.

Stuffed with radio-friendly rockers and showcasing some of the sweetest vocal harmonies we heard all year, this was the Hysteria of country music. SR

Check out The Best Country Albums Of 2023 here 

14. Horrendous – Ontological Mysterium (Season of Mist) 

“Ontological Mysterium is partly our love letter to the bombastic spirit of heavy metal from the ’80s and early ’90s,” said Horrendous’ guitarist/vocalist Matt Knox.

And that spirit was captured across an album which pushed at the boundaries of progressive death metal, yet was still rooted in classic DM.

Horrendous explored a multiverse of sonic pathways on their fifth opus, from the contorted mutations of Neon Leviathan to the gene-splicing groove of the title track.

Yes, there were nods to Death, Cynic and Pestilence, but Horrendous have an overactive imagination of their own. And it spawned a masterwork in the form of Ontological Mysterium. RH

13. Def Leppard — Drastic Symphonies (Universal)

Def Leppard’s dalliance with orchestral music could have been a disaster. Of course, it was a triumph.

Joe Elliott and co. rarely make a wrong turn and Drastic Symphonies gave old favourites a new lease of life — not least on the laid-back Pour Some Sugar On Me.

Layering new melodies on top of original recordings, an album of surprising twists and reassuring turns did ample justice to Leppard’s dizzying legacy. SR

Check out the full review here 

12. Svalbard – The Weight Of The Mask (Nuclear Blast)

2020’s When I Die, Will I Get Better gave Svalbard the lift they needed to hit those headline slots – and a full performance of that album at 2021’s Damnation Festival will live long in the memory.

So going into the writing of The Weight Of The Mask, the Bristolians had a lot to live up to. They’d raised their own bar by several notches. They’d also signed for mega label Nuclear Blast.

But as soon as the gut-punch metal crust of Faking It blasted out of the traps, you knew the quartet had crafted something special – while staying true to themselves.

Svalbard’s fourth opus bristled with anthems, just as its predecessor had done. And in the seismic Pillar In The Sand, they gave us one of their most impressive songs yet. RH

11. Graveyard — (Nuclear Blast)

More than five years since Peace topped the Swedish charts it felt like the time was right for a fresh take on psychedelic-tinged, blues-infused heavy rock.

Graveyard didn’t disappoint — they never do — and if 6 was slightly darker in tone than the band’s previous work then the lyrical content was typically illuminating.

Joakim Nillson’s ability to mix the soulful with the strident never ceases to impress.

Sad Songs and Bright Lights added a new level of vulnerability to Graveyard’s weighty timbre. SR

10. Wayfarer – American Gothic (Century Media)

Caked in the dust and oil of the old West, Wayfarer’s fifth album was the realisation of the band’s unique musical vision.

The Colorado act had been building up to this since 2016’s Old Souls. This was black metal born of blood drenched sands, where the spectres of Bathory and Satyricon drifted through clouds of gunsmoke.

Black Plumes Over God’s Country struck gold, False Constellation took us deep into the night, The Thousands Tombs Of Western Promise was sliced through by arcing slide guitars, and all the while, you were entranced by Wayfarer’s exquisite musicianship. 

American Gothic couldn’t have been a better title. RH

Read the full review here 

9. Andy Taylor — Man’s A Wolf To Man (BMG)

It was almost a decade ago that Rushonrock called in to Andy Taylor’s Ibiza HQ to get the lowdown on the former Power Station rocker’s brand new album.

Ricky Warwick had just laid down some vocals and the rough tracks sounded killer. Man’s A Wolf To Man (it wasn’t called that back then) was in the works.

Taylor has since battled writer’s block, his own pursuit of perfection and debilitating prostate cancer on the way to completing a classic rock masterpiece. 

Earlier this year he also found time to squeeze in a live performance of Stairway To Heaven alongside Robert Plant. As you do.

For many reasons Man’s A Wolf To Man was a powerful return to form from the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame inductee. SR

Check out our Andy Taylor exclusive here 

8. Enslaved – Heimdal (Nuclear Blast)

In keeping with the Enslaved’s strong bonds to Norse mythology, Heimdal shared its name with the gatekeeper between the nine realms… and the god of dawn.

For an album of unfathomable layers and endless possibilities, it was a fitting title.

On their 15th full-length, the Norwegians sailed to the outer edges of extreme music, where black metal and kaleidoscopic prog rock surged into each other.

Few bands would even attempt songs like Behind The Mirror and Heimdal’s titanic title-track.

But adventurism is part of Enslaved’s DNA.

And metal’s great explorers continued their voyage of discovery on Heimdal. RH

Check out the full review here 

7. Avenged Sevenfold — Life Is But A Dream (Warner)

In an age when streaming individual tracks is all the rage this was a monumental effort best enjoyed as one swaggering, meandering whole.

Life Is But A Dream was almost Def Leppard-like in its painstaking development — four years of blood, sweat and tears went into recording A7X’s first album since 2016.

Blurring genres and blazing a trail for heavy music’s limitless potential, it wasn’t the soundtrack to your next circle pit.

But that was the A7X of old. This was a band making its pitch for prolonged stadium status and a decade at the top of the game. SR

6. Green Lung – This Heathen Land (Nuclear Blast)

Green Lung promised ‘a journey into occult Albion’ on their third album. And the ley lines led them to a weird and wonderful place where arena-conquering rock anthems danced with vivid, Sabbathian tales of stone circles and ancient deities. 

If 2021’s Black Harvest made the Londoners one of the UK’s most in-demand acts, This Heathen Land should see them stride the globe, Ghost-like, if there was any justice. 

Frontman Tom Templar delivered the performance of his life on The Forest Church, Maxine drew you willingly into a velvet underworld and Hunters In The Sky celebrated the mythical wild hunt with a theatrical, exuberant rock soundtrack. 

With just one breath of This Heathen Land, you were completely intoxicated. RH

5. Rival Sons — Lightbringer (Low Country Sound)

Only Rival Sons could be bold enough to drop two long players within the space of five months but Jay Buchanan and co. have never lacked balls.

The follow up to Darkfighter was a delightful exercise in deconstructed heavy blues rock as Scott Holliday continued his ascension towards six string immortality.

The next gen Jimmy Page knows exactly when and where to take old buddy Buchanan to the next level and on Lightbringer the pair traded instinctive talent for fun.

Rival Sons are the best classic rock band on the planet. End of. SR

Check out the full review here 

4. The Defiants — Drive (Frontiers)

The clue’s in the name but this hair metal throwback doesn’t care if the critics insist cheesy pop rock belongs in the past: fans of 80s bangers love it.

Helmed by Danger Danger members past and present, The Defiants craft hook-laden melodic rock resonant of Bon Jovi, Def Leppard and Poison at their chart-busting best.

Frontman Paul Laine — let’s face it, he should have been a much bigger deal — shone on a swaggering career high that often beggared belief.

Go Big Or Go Home and What Are We Waiting For would have taken up residency in the Rick Dees Weekly Top 40 back in the day. SR

Check out our Best Melodic Rock Albums Of 2023 here 

3. Hellripper – Warlocks Grim & Withered Hags (Peaceville Records)

On Hellripper’s third album, mainman and multi-instrumentalist James McBain spread his black wings. 

The eight-minute plus Mester Stoor Worm – a song akin to Satyricon’s Mother North in its majesty – showed his determination to stretch his songwriting (and fretwork). It was a long way from Total Mayhem

But the slick tempo shifts and scintillating flourishes that have become Hellripper’s stock and trade remained on Warlocks Grim And Withered Hags

Indeed, the Scot has transmuted Bay Area thrash, Swedish BM and the works of Lemmy, Cronos and Algy into something glorious, hopelessly addictive and uniquely his, whether he was spitting Necrophobic-style melodies on The Nuckelavee or spewing out a Goat Vomit Nightmare

Heavy metal is a better place for Hellripper, that’s for damn sure. RH 

Read the full review here 

2. Crown Lands — Fearless (Spinefarm)

The only album in this year’s list that kicked off with an 18-minute prog rock epic deserved to be lauded for its ambition and ingenuity.

It can’t be a coincidence that Canadian duo Crown Lands have emerged at a time when Rush fans are desperately seeking to fill their Tom Sawyer-sized void.

You see the heirs apparent to Geddy and co. were born to pick up the baton for cerebral rock and Fearless was an in incredibly brave stab at rebooting the genre.

We claimed this aptly named record was ‘bereft of any caution and overflowing with glorious aspiration’.

Nine months down the line it still sounds like a wondrous amalgam of the past, present and future. SR

Check out the full review here 

1. Wytch Hazel – IV: Sacrament (Bad Omen Records)

Stratospheric choruses. Dazzling dual guitar licks. Stunning songcraft. Yep, IV: Sacrament was a tour de force from Lancastrians Wytch Hazel, a record that cemented the band’s status as trad metal standard bearers.

Lyrically rooted in mainman Colin Hendra’s Christian faith and sonically shaped by metal’s forebears, IV: Sacrament gave us timeless hymns such as Angel Of Light and Endless Battle

Yes, it owed a debt to the likes of Wishbone Ash, Thin Lizzy and the NWOBHM movement, but Hendra forged an immensely powerful spiritual force from his myriad influences. 

And the results were heavenly. RH

Check out the full review here 

Want to know who just missed the cut for this year’s Top 20? Check out the rest of this year’s Top 40 here