Since we somehow managed to complete another trip around the sun recently, I’ve seen a lot of those anticipatory posts flying around where people share what albums they’re looking forward to in the year ahead. And I get it. Lists are clickbait-y, and there actually is a lot of stuff to look forward to in Metal: 2023. Being one to regularly cave to peer pressure, I figured we could jump on that train as well. And by “we”, I mean your Nine Circles editing staff, also known as the Top Brass, and also known as the Benevolent Overlords to at least one person. See, I personally didn’t want to write up on nine different albums that don’t even exist yet. It’s hard for me to explain why I’m looking forward to something beyond simply saying “I like that band, so I hope the new album doesn’t suck”. But two or three albums? I can bullshit my way through that, no problem. And wouldn’t you know it? Other members of the editing team were willing to drop some words on a couple albums of their choosing, as well. That, my friends, is how we got here. So without further delay, starting with my picks, here are nine albums the Nine Circles Top Brass are looking forward to in the year ahead.
In Flames — Foregone (Corey)
The trajectory of the In Flames discography is well-documented. Trust me, everyone has been bellyaching about the same stuff for… how many years and albums now? It’s a bit of a tired dialog at this point. While I have personally found something to appreciate on each and every In Flames album (yes, obviously some more than others), there is no doubt that the singles taken from Foregone are legitimate cause for excitement regardless of which In Flames era you prefer. When “State Of Slow Decay” emerged, the hype started building pretty damn quickly, and the subsequent release of the “The Great Deceiver” and both parts of “Foregone” only furthered that momentum. They all have a certain bite and raw aggression we haven’t really seen consistently from the Swedish death metal masters for some time. I try not to use the term “return to form” because evolution in sound is inevitable over 13 studio albums, but there’s no doubt that I prefer some of their earlier material, and what I’ve heard from Foregone calls back to that same energy for me. And considering Clayman, arguably my favorite metal album ever, was released before I even started listening to metal in any serious capacity, this is the most I’ve ever anticipated an In Flames record, and why it ends up on this list. I like this band, so I hope the new album doesn’t suck. Look out for Foregone on February 10.
Katatonia — Sky Void of Stars (Corey)
As it happens, a lot of what I’m looking forward to in 2023 comes early in the year, something I am definitely not complaining about. The arrival of Sky Void of Stars, the next installment from the Swedish melancholic metal masters Katatonia, is fast approaching, and marks the first real release date I had circled on the calendar. I think it’s been made pretty clear over the years that I adore Katatonia. While their trajectory is marked by a significant change in sound early in their discography, they’ve settled into a style and energy that they have truly made their own. And despite their consistency, each release has a distinct emotion and feel to it, always expertly crafted. It’s truly incredible how much ground they’ve covered over the years while keeping to their definitive brand. As far as Sky Void of Stars is concerned, my expectations are sky high (semi-pun intended? sure). For context, I really enjoyed City Burials. In fact, it was one of my favorite albums of 2020. But so far I have enjoyed each of the three new singles more than anything on their previous album. Trust me, that’s saying something. None have impressed me more, however, than “Birds,” which you can check out below. I like this band, so I hope the new album doesn’t suck… But I am also more than certain it will very much not suck. Sky Void of Stars lands January 20.
Insomium — Anno 1696
My third pick is another early 2023 release, and another band that really can do no wrong. Insomnium have nailed the melodic death metal sound perfectly over their eight previous studio albums, yet despite having a reliable system in place, we’re always offered a few new wrinkles with each release. Insomium have managed to remain consistent in (very high) quality, while still allowing themselves to grow their style as the years roll on. There is absolutely no reason to think Anno 1696 would break these trends. As impressive as “Lilian” is, the first single I heard from the new album, “White Christ” took things to an entirely different level. There’s a certain darkness to the track that really piques my interest, and then the impact of Sakis Tolis takes this thing to heights I never could have anticipated. We’ve once again been offered something both familiar, and completely new, in a way that only Insomium can… and it’s only been two new tracks. I cannot wait to hear this thing in all its glory. I like this band, so I hope the new album doesn’t suck… but let’s be real, we know it won’t. The latest from Insomnium is out on February 24.
Sanguisugabogg — Homicidal Ecstasy (Josh)
Based on some recent reading on the subject of Homicidal Ecstasy, Sanguisugabogg’s second full length (technically third when you count their one-hell-of-a-rush demo): “It goes deeper this time, into the psychosexual, body horror, why what some people see as perverse or fetishistic can also be perfectly normal” and “It’s not just a bunch of dick and fart jokes,” the immediate thought is a somewhat matured outing sidestepping tomfoolery. We’ll see but based on the embed below, there’s definitely been some evolving going on (this thing sounds MASSIVE). However, no matter what we get it will be explosive, brutal, gory, full of death, grind, sludge, and all those things that go bump late at night in your bedroom…wait…or is that just me? Seriously, this band has more than proven their position amongst the kings of filthy death metal with the erotic buzzsaw that was Pornographic Seizures and the savage approach on Tortured Whole. I’m extremely excited to hear what we get and will more than likely be talking ad nauseam about it for god knows how long. Out February 3 on Century Media.
Angerot — The Profound Recreant (Josh)
Album numero two from Angerot landed on my Best of 2020 list and in the top ten. Full stop since you pretty much know where my head’s at with this band based on that. However, for a band that debuted with full on HM2 worship then flipped the script with straight ahead American death metal on said sophomore effort, and both albums were great, I’m hedging my bets that The Profound Recreant is going to dive deeper into the coffin than ever before. The below video is a bit of a leg up on that bet since it’s a masterclass in 90s era brutalism yet brushed off and with their own coat of paint slathered all over it. And I’m sure they’ll figure out a way to make the slight blackened aspect of their sound even more dangerous than on The Divine Apostate. Theirs is a sound that’s unique to me in an extremely crowded genre; it’s the kind of heft that ‘roids did to the bodybuilding world, the kind of supercharged horsepower that put John Force on the map, and the kind of death metal that new fans will look back on like us old heads look back on Once Upon The Cross. Out March 24 on Redefining Darkness.
Periphery — Periphery V: Djent Is Not A Genre (Josh)
I’ll admit a truth here: before Periphery IV: Hail Stan I was just a casual listener and even more casual admirer of the band’s wizardry in all things catchy and extreme. Something changed for me post IV and while I initially thought that album was really good, the time since has proved it to be an album I simply cannot live without. And if there’s anything I’ve learned from going back and correcting my ways with everything previous to IV, it’s that this band never, ever makes the same album twice and every album they make is a KILLER. They just have this way with crazy ear worm pop hooks, technical precision that would make a brain surgeon jealous, out of nowhere heavy-as-hell tantrums, and they’ve got one hell of a sense of humor and an even bigger middle finger for anyone that bemoans those insane pop hooks. So, honestly I don’t know exactly what to expect from the entirety of Periphery V: Djent Is Not A Genre but based on the track below I already know that it’s going to be at least the kind of experience I’ve had with IV once again. Can’t ask for anything more than that. Welcome back g(dj)ents. Out March 10 on 3DOT Recordings.
Metallica — 72 Seasons (Chris)
Hi. Resident Metallica fanboy here, so the news that the band was coming back after seven years with a new full length was good news indeed. Couple that with the release of “Lux Æterna” and I was double pumped: the lead single brings to mind their classic set of covers from the original Garage Days sessions, and it sounds the band is once again giving no fucks and simply having fun. So striking my nostalgic nerve and keeping the fresh production thanks to the continued relationship with Greg Fidelman behind the boards? Very much yes, please and thank you. I know one song doesn’t make an album, and truth be told the yellow and black scheme reminds me a little too much of Stryper (not that there’s anything wrong with that – last year’s The Final Battle kicked ass) but I’m always willing to give the band the benefit of the doubt – especially since rumor has it Kirk didn’t lose his phone full of riffs this time. We don’t have to wait too long, because 72 Seasons is coming just in time for Spring, with an April 14th release date.
Enslaved — Heimdal (Chris)
Look, while my name is the one the new Enslaved is listed under, I can safely say this is one the entire staff is looking forward to. But for me it’s gotten personal: I came into the band with 2003’s Below the Lights and they fast became one of my favorite extreme bands. But since 2012’s astounding RIITIIR everything fell into a morass of considerate prog with some heavy moments that left my head just as quick as it entered. I haven’t felt that spark with them in over a decade…and then came “Congelia.” This was the band I remembered completely obliterating my brain back in the day. Those final moments with Håkon Vinje’s clean vocals overlaying the martial guitar attack and the solos are the sweetest spot in a fantastic track. Second single “Kingdom” bites more deeply into the prog with front loaded solos and clean vocals, but there’s a sense of dissonance behind the rhythms and when it gets more aggressive you can hear how invigorated Ivar Bjørnson and Grutle Kjellson are. Heimdal is coming faster than you think, arriving on our shores March 3rd.
Lamp of Murmuur — Saturnian Bloodstorm (Chris)
The first thing I noticed when I heard that M., the anonymous mastermind behind Lamp of Murmuur was releasing a new full length was that album art. Gone was the second wave black metal aesthetic that permeated previous releases. Here was a bold, colorful and downright badass piece of art (courtesy of Karmazid). And that album name! I have no idea what a Saturnian Bloodstorm is, but it doesn’t sound like I want to get caught in one. Lead track and single “Conqueror Beyond the Frenzied Fog” feels like the cover: there’s a newfound maturity and exploration in the song – buoyed by a great production – that keeps the foundation of the black metal sound while giving it enough punch and dynamic to sound fresh. Lamp of Murmuur have steadily been pushing that exploration on each release, whether it was their last full length Submission and Slavery or the splits and singles released in the last year. Long a cult experience, it feels like Lamp of Murmuur are taking a cue from bands like Immortal and crafting epic, majestic black metal that’s sure to burst into the wider metal consciousness. We’ll see if that’s the case come March 26.
Alright then, there’s nine album picks for everyone to look forward to. Just us? FINE, more copies for us then. Obviously, there’s several more coming that we absolutely could have included here, but then it wouldn’t be a Nine Circles ov… anymore, would it? Since brand is king, for now, nine will do it. Rules are rules even if they are our own.
– Top Brass