Artemis Sere's Best Music Albums of 2023
This list is not genre or market specific. This list reflects the diversity of my interests. This list is not based on listening to any radio, podcasts, or influencer pundits. My appreciation for music is relatively broad, but you'll find a heavier edge to recent lists - reflective of the seasons of my life.
This list is my 13th attempt to catalog, track, and recommend the best music of the previous year. If you're interested in what I've ranked in previous years, check out this page where all years are available.
Please spread the word and share this guidance with your network, and pay forward these suggestions of high quality, relatively underrated music and musicians.
Check out my YouTube playlist featuring clips from every album, linked at the end of this list.
And if you're feeling bold, drop a comment on this blog and let me know what you think. What's on your list of favorite albums for 2023?
I appreciate your interest in my Art and music opinion. Enjoy!
NOTE: I reserve the right to revise this list as necessary. I know I've probably missed some great albums in 2023, and will be sure to update this list to accommodate those next year - as I have done and will do with lists from previous years. Check back for updates!
Update 12/14/23: Added Cannons - "Heartbeat Highway"; moved Old Gods of Asgard - "Rebirth" to Honorable Mention
Update 12/28/23: After listening to the EP "The Forgotten", moved Orbit Culture to #3 position of 2023.
Holy Wars Cult Classic
At 4 songs and clocking in around 10 minutes, their new EP is strong on composition and style, with impressive art and smart packaging, but short on substance. If they would've took the gas off the EP and pushed more songs into it, it would've been a Top 2024 release. Instead, it's an EP that shows their potential. I believe Kat Leon will be the next big thing in rock music, but I'm a bit disappointed that "Cult Classic" takes the focus off of the truly great album they released last year, "EAT IT UP, SPIT IT OUT".
Cannons Heartbeat Highway
You have to love the ethereal, dreamy, electropop sound of Cannons. Led by the seraphic Michelle Joy, this three piece from California knows how to lay down a slow, soulful jam. One of two bands on this list that put out albums in back-to-back years, I didn't love this album as much as last year's "Fever Dream", but vibing with Cannons is always a chill, 1970-esque ride.
Missio I Am Sad EP & I Am High EP
These EPs are classic Missio - electronica fused with rap, dub, and other genres. "I Am Sad" EP is a journey through depressed sounds and tones, as sad as "pop rock synth pop" can be; "I Am High" EP sounds more what I have come to expect from Missio - a trippy synthetic experience which sounds like (and is) influenced by smoking marijuana.
Unearth The Wretched; the Ruinous
Admittedly, I haven't kept up with Unearth since their second studio album, 2004's "The Oncoming Storm". I reconnected with them on this, their 8th album, and was impressed by their consistent sound and power. But, if I have to compare them to other metalcore bands like Parkway Drive or Suicide Silence or Trivium or Bleed From Within, they don't differentiate well. That aside, this album is far from wretched.
Delerium is the ambient electronic music side project of Bill Leeb and Rhys Fulber, who are some of the godfathers of modern Industrial Music with their band Front Line Assembly. I will probably lose some kudos for admitting that I'm not a huge Front Line Assembly fan. But I am a huge Conjure One fan, which is also the side project of Rhys Fulber, and Delerium is rooted around the same dreamy concept that Conjure One brings to life. Delerium has been around since 1987 and this is their 16th release. It is a beautiful, atmospheric album that inspires me greatly.
Filter The Algorithm
I've been a fan of Filter since the "Hey Man, Nice Shot" days, and their last album, "Crazy Eyes", made it to #6 on my Best of 2016 list. This album may not rank as one of their best, but it's got solid heart and soul. Richard Patrick's sound is maturing with his age, yet he still manages to channel all that has been best with Filter over the years. There's definitely the signature edge to the album, but also great reminders that Filter just makes great electro rock music. A favorite line from song "Command Z": "I want to be high as fuck". I totally can relate to the vibe and message exuding from their algorithm.
Red Rated R
Red is my rare foray into Christian rock/metal. Preaching and positions aside, they make great music (and are amazing live). I've been a fan since their first radio success with "Breath Into Me" and even though my faith has diverged since then, I still think they make great music. "Surrogates" is one of the heaviest songs they've made in their decades-long history. It's addictive, infectious, and poignant: "Say what you will, anything for a kill". Every Red creation involves brilliant songwriting, and "Rated R" is filled with powerful, heartfelt rock tunes. They may not stand out as commercially as they once did, but they're still cranking out amazing, inspiring music with tight guitars and soaring vocals.
Within Temptation Bleed Out
It is always a treasure to get new Within Temptation music. Sharon den Adel is one of my favorite vocalists in music right now, and seeing WT live at an intimate setting in 2022 was a true treat. "Bleed Out" has been called a "heavier" WT album, but I don't think it is much heavier than previous. If it's heavy anyplace, it's with the topics connected to the tunes. I applaud their stances against the war in Ukraine, and other injustices around the world. The song "Bleed Out" is signature Within Temptation and definitely ranks as one of their best (and the video is amazing). The art of the album is genius, and the production is tight. It is possible that this album will grow on me over the next year, and I'll adjust its ranking.
I discovered this band on the soundtrack to a favorite game that I played a couple of years ago, "Othercide". They are a metalcore band from Paris, France, with a vibe similar to both Gojira and Orbit Culture without the huge fanbase and exposure. They certainly deserve a wider appreciation, because this album is filled with brutal tracks that stand tall against any of the metal greats on this list.
Sevendust Truth Killer
This album was in my Top 5 until recently. "Truth Killer" is one of Sevendust's most complete and powerful albums in their long history. I fell in love with this album quickly. The topics, the vocals, and the tones are perfectly Sevendust. "I Might Let the Devil Win" is a great reflection on whether or not we succumb to our lesser selves. "Everything" is one of my favorite tracks of 2023 and one of my favorites from Sevendust. The issue I have with the album is that it feels a bit too "preachy", with too many references to God and Religion. To me, all "truth" is subjective, so their intent to "kill" a certain kind of truth, or argue that a certain type of truth is currently under attack, is a mantra that is repeated too often by certain cults in this country. There is a lot of great music on "Truth Killer", but when I started to reflect on the lyrics, I didn't see myself reflected in the message. This would be a top 5 album on my list if the message in front of the music was different.
Grandson I Love You, I'm Trying
Grandson fell to Earth a bit with "I Love You, I'm Trying", though that's no slight to the rapper in any way. Seeing him live was one of my favorite experiences of 2023 and it drove me to give this album another try. This album is full of heart and positivity and honesty that I didn't fully connect with at first. He was my soundtrack to 2020 and 2021 and resonated with some of my darkest moments of the last 5 years. In truth, his angle on "I Love You, I'm Trying" is a breath of clear air. His close friendship and partnership with K. Flay has influenced my passion for him. On this album, he sounds a bit like an older school Eminem, and even though it doesn't have the hooks like "Death of an Optimist", it does paint a brighter picture of his persona and the messages he supports.
Health Rat Wars
Health is a fun band. From social presence to personality, they exude confidence, swagger, and sonic excellence. I'm relatively new to the Health catalog, having only discovered them last year. However, I became quickly addicted to their airy, dreamy industrial electrorock sound. You have to give them props - releasing two major albums in back-to-back years is a feat that few bands can achieve. On the flip side, I don't think this year's release is better than last year's, and can't rank them higher than last year's #8 spot with "Disco4: Part II". I personally enjoyed last year's album more, but I totally love what Health does on "Rat Wars". I've seen them classified as darkwave, synthmetal, and industrial metal. They're certainly the sum of all parts - one part NIN, one part Godflesh, one part emo, and lots of techno. If they're considered metal, then they should be a sound easy for anyone to swallow.
3Teeth is a very fun adventure into apocalyptic, hypnotic industrial metal. Sarcastic, futuristic, and brutally honest, "EndEx" is a seething soundscape featuring "DOOM" composer Mick Gordon and English horror rappers Ho99o9. They remind me of a "less metal" version of Fear Factory with a stronger opinion of what's shitty about our world. "EndEx" is filled with dark charisma and attitude, exuded perfectly on their cover of Tears for Fears "Everybody Wants to Rule the World".
Bassnectar The Golden Rule: Part 1: Unlocked
The dubstepper in me just won't die. No matter how much metal I listen to, I still find myself gravitating back to Bassnectar for inspiration and levity. If you've followed Bassnectar, you know that he's struggled with an image issue over the last few years; evidently, he's been accused of doing some shady things with women. If any of that is true, it is certainly regrettable and deplorable. However, I do my best to separate the art from the artist. Bassnectar returns to vibrant form on "The Golden Rule" with collaborators Rye Rye, Gnar Gnar, Azzem, Dorfex Bos, and Ashel Seasunz among others.
IAMX Fault Lines 1
I will always be a champion and supporter of IAMX's Avant Garde style, message, and sound. Hands down, he is the most artistic musician on this list. "Fault Lines" took some time to grow on me, but I have come to appreciate its sexuality, mystery, and honesty. There are new IAMX classics on the album, and I would've ranked it higher if it met the highs of "Metanoia" or "Alive in New Light". It makes me supremely curious where he'll go with "Part 2", and how that complements this oily, edgy, technofunky trip. "Oh mirror, give me back my time."
Cyanotic The After Effect
If you've followed me for a while, you know I have a deep love and passion for the band Cyanotic, an industrial, angry robot industrial metal band from Chicago, IL. I know and respect their lead singer Sean Payne for his amazing talent, his ability to help coordinate major shows (Cold Waves music festival), and for being the main man behind a record label (Glitch Mode Music, Bit Riot Records). Earlier this year, Sean and his wife Anastasia were in a serious car accident in Minnesota, and she passed away from her injuries. Out of that extreme tragedy, this album was born. Songs like "Crash Override", "Are We Still Alive?", and "Anastasia Ascends" resound of Sean's agony and catharsis in sonic form. My one minor complaint is that I wish there was more content; given Cyanotic's catalog, the album feels a bit too quick at 8 songs - but at least this wasn't released as an EP with extras.
K. Flay MONO
I can't say enough good things about K.Flay and her new album. I thought highly enough of her last album that it made my Top 20; this one is stratospheric on my chart. I have become very addicted to it, mostly because of its raw emotion and show of awesome strength. Over the last few years, K.Flay lost hearing in her right ear, and the album is touching slice of her life, her struggles, and how she overcomes hearing challenges as a human, an artist, and a musician. It is personal, touching, and relatable, especially as someone who overcome his own health challenges and told the story (see "Obscurious X"). It is sarcastic, vulnerable, and touching. I've been a fan of K. Flay since I discovered her via Tom Morello's solo albums, and I'm so thankful that I did. Her personal power is inspiring and helps drive me these days.
Orbit Culture Descent & The Forgotten (EP)
I was excited about the "Descent" album when I first heard Orbit Culture last year. The "Vultures of North" single was a powerful foreshadow of the "Descent" album, and I collected and consumed everything that I could find from Orbit Culture in a short period of time. I was convinced at the time that the "Descent" album would be my favorite album of 2023. Perhaps I gorged myself on Orbit Culture too much, too fast, because when I sat down and listened to this album, I was energized by some very powerful tunes. But I also feel that the album suffers from a bit of repetition and few of the songs truly stand out. That isn't a statement to diminish the album altogether, because the general sound of "Descent" crushes.
Their EP, "The Forgotten", was released December 1 and at the time of original writing of this list, I hadn't heard much of it. That changed quickly recently. "While We Serve" - the song and video- skyrocketed my respect for Orbit Culture, both in capturing the tenor of the present moment and the imagery of this world circus at brutal war.
Code Orange The Above
In a year without Sleep Token, "The Above" would be my #1 album of 2023. This is Code Orange's best, most mature, and most engaging album in their history. On their first album that I heard from them ("Forever"), there is a song entitled "dream2", which is an atmospheric, moody, mostly electronic trip featuring guitarist/bassist/vocalist Reba Meyers. "The Above" feels like a spiritual extension of that song in full album format. The vinyl album is a chaotic, compelling landscape of memories and snapshots featuring a meticulously-designed booklet. The album features Billy Corgan from Smashing Pumpkins, and after many spins of the album, I think the "The Above" has a very Pumpkins feel to it. "Underneath" was my #2 album of 2020, and this album is far superior to their previous work. Powerful progress to go from Underneath to Above in 2 albums, but Code Orange lands the artistic gymnastics well.
Sleep Token Take Me Back to Eden
If you've followed my social accounts, you know how much I loved this album in 2023. Upon discovering them earlier in 2023 with the song "Granite", I fell instantly in love with their sound, style, and concept. They are a unique intersection of darkness and light, metal and electronic, clean singing and death metal screeches, mystery and royalty. I've been a fan of masked bands ever since High School with Crimson Glory, and their aesthetic is very familiar to me. This was my undisputed favorite album and live show of 2023, and I deeply treasure every song on this album (except one - I'll let you guess which one, if you know the album). You can find clips of their live show on my YouTube Channel, and in the Annual Best albums playlist below. I've featured my video capture below of their hit "Granite" from their show in September 2023. According to YouTube, the songs off this album were the tracks I listened to most in 2023 - and with good reason: their dynamic talent can cover many different genres in a single song, while marrying them together in a macabre and thrilling manner. I will be listening to this album on repeat for a very long time.
2023 Honorable Mentions
I had a long list of albums to choose from for my 2023 list. Here are ones that were considered, but not chosen for the top 20. They may make it there someday.
Old Gods of Asgard - "Rebirth"
Mojave Phone Booth - "Hollow the Numbers" (Re-release of 2022 album on new label)
Pendulum - "Anima" (EP)
Godflesh - "Purge"
Mammoth WVH - "Mammoth II"
Evile - "The Unknown"
In Flames - "Forgone"
Duran Duran - "Danse Macabre"
Better Than Ezra - "Contact High"
Cavalera Conspiracy - "Go Ahead and Die"