JONATHAN “DOC” SWANK: Top Releases 2023

2023

Personally, this year has been a challenge on so many levels. Yet, despite an almost 11 month drought of contributions from yours truly, I was enabled to push out 14 reviews in 30 days. (Thank you, Lord!) Still, there is so much music I haven’t even heard, and for that I apologize to the artists not given a fair chance at representation here.

Sadly, for some of the albums on this list I had every good intention of writing a review when they were originally released (Dynasty, Bride, Ritual Servant and Wytch Hazel for instance). But for whatever reason, it didn’t happen.

Thankfully, the flood gates opened … and for that I credit Theocracy – with the release of Mosaic – for breaking the ice of my writer’s block. (Thanks also to Emil Westerdahl who encouraged me this past year as well). Hopefully, this list – which just touches on the tip of the iceberg – will recognize some of the artists who have worked hard to deliver inspiring music this past year, and the labels who have supported them.

Additionally, I’ve once again included my rating numbers. As I explained last year, I’ve grown less fond of ratings with age, but I do recognize the value of objective description as a way to “give credit where credit is due.”

Enjoy … and Happy New Year!

[Note: Each album title features a link to the review and where applicable, the HERE button will link to a feature interview. Please also note that Undivided was reviewed by myself and Brad Bowman and links to both are included.]

The Best of the Best

1. Signum Regis – Undivided (9.5)

Honestly, it was somewhat of a toss-up between this and Mosaic, but since Undivided (Brad Bowman review) is the only release this year “double-reviewed” by our karew I put it in the #1 slot. Seriously, though, this is the band’s best release ever – melodic power metal bliss!!

2. Theocracy – Mosaic (9.5)

The album of the year that wasn’t the album of the year? Honestly, this is probably the best line-up the band has enjoyed – their heaviest metal output to date. However, Ghost Ship for me still represents the band’s high-water mark in terms of song composition. Nevertheless, Mosaic is essential listening, and no fan of prog/power metal will be disappointed.

3. Testimony of Apocalypse – The Offering (9.25)

Extreme metal release of the year!! Simply obliterating! Click HERE for the in-depth interview with the band by Chris Gatto.

4. Ritual Servant – Albus Mendacium (9.25)

Holy thrash, holy metal! One review, two interviews!! No white lies here, these guys are the real deal! [See links to the interviews within the review]

5. Applehead – The Light Side of the Apple (9.25)

Such an amazing collection of diverse rock/metal songs. “Pretty Creepy” is likely one of the most outrageously insane songs I’ve heard this year! Thanks to Keven Crothers for the great review (see link above) and to Chris Gatto for the excellent interview HERE.

6. Wytch Hazel – IV: Sacrament (9.25)

These U.K. rockers have a unique style and sound reminiscent of those wonderful ‘70’s classic rock and metal bands, but their 4th album – while not quite as heavy as their first three releases – may be their most accessible.

7. Preterist – Blood Moon Rising (9.25)

Surprise of the year release. Finland’s Simon Kok’s nearly one-man show echoes back to the glory of Matt Smith’s debut Theocracy album. Fantastic melodic progressive metal ala Dream Theater Images and Words/Awake era.

8. Martin Simson’s Destroyer of Death – Eternal Reign (9)

This one was one of the most anticipated releases this year – with Rob Rock and Jorn Lande on vocals. While a bit predictable and “same-y” at times, Eternal Reign is representative of the highest quality melodic metal on the planet! And “Master of All” (Jorn Lande) wins my award for the best metal song of the year!

9. Diviner– Avaton (9)

Same vocalist (Yiannis Papanikolaou) + totally new band = Greek power metal bliss! While the endearing qualities of the debut album make it a favorite, Avaton surpasses what the band has accomplished to date!

10. Narnia – Ghost Town (9)

Veteran Swede melodic metallers stay relevant, consistent and uplifting as always. While not as heavy as some of their signature releases, they still deliver a high-quality set of songs.

11. Dynasty – Back to the Past (9)

Brazil’s premier melodic power metal band may have crafted the most comprehensive and well-executed “cover” album of Christian metal artists of all time!

12. AfterWinter – Paramnesia (8.75)

This one would be my “alternate” for surprise of the year. While this group of musicians made their mark known with BioGenesis, they’ve established themselves as a force in the genre with their dynamic, complex and well-executed debut.

13. Bride – Are You Awake (8.75)

What else can be said about these veteran rockers that hasn’t already been said? They are still in the fight!

14. Deny the Fallen – Echo Chamber (8.75)

EP’s don’t usually garner much in the way of accolades, but this brief collection of songs finds this band swinging for the fence. They’ve improved in every way from their debut and show tremendous promise with their “old meets new” metal formula.

15. Paradox – The Wrath (8.5)

Long overdue, final collection of songs from this San Antonio power metal band released in glorious fashion on Retroactive Records with extensive liner notes.

Honorable Mentions

16. Exodus A.D. – Anthology Vol 1 & 2

I love this unique collection of songs from Kevin Ayers pre-Haven band Exodus. Rarely do we see a “first-time” release consisting of recently recorded – for the first time ever! – songs.

17. Vultures Gathering – The Hunt

I expected a bit more from this release given the credentials of the players, but the musical explorations/ideas are fascinating. Click HERE for Chris Gatto’s interview.

Roxx Records

Retroactive Records

Ulterium Records

Narnia

Atomic Fire Records

Martin Simson’s Destroyer of Death

Bad Omen Records

Rock of Angels Records

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