Suggested Listening ’23: Nicholas Kobe

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It’s that time again! WOUB Culture asked people involved in music and arts across WOUB’s coverage area what they’ve been listening to this year. Check out their answers on WOUB Culture all through December.

Nicholas Kobe's headshot. He is wearing a blue checked shirt and posing against a white background.

Nicholas Kobe was born in Indian Trail, NC right outside of Charlotte. He’s a sophomore at Ohio University and he’s been working with WOUB for a year now. He loves a variety of music, but especially hard rock and heavy metal. Most of his WOUB content relates to the latter, including his coverage of events like Sonic Temple 2023 and his interviews with bands like Avenged Sevenfold, Mastodon, and Gwar. Outside of music, he’s passionate about things like martial arts and video games.

List season is upon us, and I have returned for my second annual year-end list. While last year I delivered an extremely sappy list of sentimental songs, this year we’re sticking with a more traditional formula. Getting to double down on my love for metal with WOUB has been a highlight of my year and I feel more passionate about the genre than ever. I haven’t been able to listen to everything this year, so if you have a favorite that did not make the cut, I’m sorry. This was – by now -an easy list to make.

Almost all five of these records could make the case to be at the #1 spot, but that being said, I’m feeling fairly confident with this list. Without further adieu, here are the five best metal albums of the year.

5. AutopsyAshes, Organs, Blood, and Crypts: Putting Autopsy at the “bottom” of the list feels criminal because there’s really not a whole lot – if anything – to criticize about Autopsy’s new record Ashes, Organs, Bloods and Crypts. Autopsy has been around in the death metal world for a long time, and as of late, they’ve come back with a vengeance. Last year’s Morbidity Triumphant was the band’s first record since 2014, and like Ashes, Organs, Blood, and Crypts it was another one of the best metal records of that year.

Following it up with a record just as good a year later is insane, but, alas – here we are. Autopsy took the death metal formula that has made them so successful and ran with it again, giving us another batch of bloody, heavy tracks. There’s not much more to say about this record. Across the board, Autopsy delivers the exact type of record any old-school death metal fan dreams of: another impeccable addition to an underrated legacy.

4. King Gizzard and The Lizard WizardPetroDragonic Apocalypse or Dawn of the Eternal Night: An Annihilation of Planet Earth: King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, as a band, just feels unfair. If you’re not familiar, King Gizzard isn’t a metal band; hell – they’re barely a rock band. Gizzard has released over 25 studio albums ranging from garage, shoegaze, electronic, folk, prog, and more.

What makes King Gizzard feel unfair, in this instance, is that whenever they simply feel like it, King Gizzard can causally be one of the best modern thrash metal bands. On PetroDragonic Apocalypse, King Gizzard mostly picks up where they left off sonically from 2019’s Infest the Rat’s Nest. The grumbling vocals, slamming riffs, and unmatched speed all return in glorious fashion. The drive and ferocity of PetroDragonic Apocalypse is one of the key factors in making this easily the standout thrash offering of the year. Another is its fantastic lyricism. While not as conceptual as Infest the Rat’s Nest, PetroDragonic Apocalypse remains a much more politically conscious record than many of their metal peers, along with Cattle Decapitation’s Terrasite. Gizzard’s dark and industrial take on climate change and environmental messages is very well done and I always find aggressive music, like metal, easier to get behind when there’s a substantive message.

Along with their classic over-the-top fantastical imagery, you have a record that is lyrically and aesthetically one of a kind. There’s a certain level of all-around musical proficiency King Gizzard has to have to even attempt the musical experiments they’ve tried in recent years, much less succeed with flying colors. That proficiency is very noticeable in the PetroDragonic Apocalypse. Gizzard’s non-metal experience affords them a unique approach to song structures, riffs, and solos. Still, they do not divert too heavily from the tenets of what makes thrash so good. King Gizzard once again tears the house down with PetroDragonic Apocalypse, and while their second record of 2023 The Silver Cord took them very far away from metal, I’m holding out hope that they’ll return to their one-of-a-kind take on metal sooner rather than later.

3. Cannibal Corpse Chaos Horrific: Few bands have this kind of longevity and consistency. Over 15 albums deep Chaos Horrific reigns as one of the best death metal releases of 2023 and a statement of the band’s continued power. Cannibal Corpse isn’t anywhere near reinventing the wheel on brutal death metal. They already were fundamental to its creation, and now, they’ve got it down to a science. Just like always, Chaos Horrific features the deep, iconic growls of George “Corpesgrinder” Fisher, instantly headbangable riffs, and lyrics filled with a ludicrous amount of gore. The lyrics on this record don’t pull any punches, as Cannibal Corpse never has, but I appreciate more robust concepts and narratives on songs like Vengeful Invasion and Summoned for Sacrifice.

It keeps the record interesting in a way other than sheer shock value. While a lot of what I had to say about Autopsy also applies to Chaos Horrific, Cannibal Corpse gets the edge simply due to more inventive lyrics, and slightly more memorable riffs. That being said, these two records are a perfect death metal double feature. At the end of the day, Chaos Horrific is just a legendary band putting their talents to use to make another fantastic record. Cannibal Corpse has been one of the forerunners of extreme metal for years, and that hasn’t changed one bit all these years later. (Check out Nicholas Kobe’s WOUB interview with Paul Mazurkiewicz of Cannibal Corpse at this link)

2. CryptaShades of Sorrow: I’m not just saying this because it’s my second year in college, but I have to note that the two best metal records of the year are also sophomore releases from their respective bands. If you were getting sick of me talking up new releases by old legends, that stops here. In a very narrow second place is Crypta with Shades of Sorrow. One of the most important things extreme metal bands can do for me is take you on a sonic journey, and I have a hard time thinking of a better example than Shades of Sorrow.

The record varies from blisteringly fast to slow and heavy and every area between in a way that appears effortless. While some people may see this as a downside, Shades of Sorrow is a very well-mixed album, especially by extreme metal standards. That isn’t to say it lacks brutality, but the vocals stick out more from the instruments, the lead guitar cuts through the mix and the bass is full and pounding. Most importantly though, this is top-tier musicianship all the way through. Crypta tackles their sophomore record with the confidence of veterans. Shades of Sorrow will get your head pounding and arms swinging, no matter what type of extreme metal you are into. Shades of Sorrow is not just an infinitely exciting listen, it’s an exciting showcase of what Crypta is bringing as the future of extreme metal. If they keep this up, that future looks very promising.

1. BlackbraidBlackbraid II: “Best metal album of the year” was fought for by a quite narrow margin, and while you could make a good argument that any of the top five listed above deserved to reign at the top of this list, the more I think, the more I return to the idea that Blackbraid’s Blackbraid II can’t be topped by any other metal record I’ve heard this year. If last year’s Blackbraid I was the jab to the face to introduce you to the power of this black metal solo act, Blackbraid II is the knock-out cross that’ll knock you off your feet and leave a lasting mark. Blackbraid II is a delightfully progressive black metal album that is equal parts beautiful, brutal, and infectious.

Blackbraid II provides my favorite instrumental work of the entire year. A majority of these tracks are long, but they are so expertly crafted that no second feels wasted. While remaining thoroughly rooted in black metal, Blackbraid II has a variety of instrumental moods and tempos to an unmatched extent anything on this list. That’s all without mentioning the use of non-traditional black metal instruments that spice up this record without ever feeling out of place. This album’s best riffs on songs such as The Wolf That Guides The Hunter’s Hand have remained ever since this album dropped almost half a year ago. Lyrically I also think this is a very strong record. Nature-oriented lyrics have been part of black metal since its inception, but Blackbraid puts a unique twist on the concept that makes it new and refreshing.

While I’d argue this year has been great for black metal, including some of the albums we’ve discussed, and some very hard cuts, like the new Enslaved record, Blackbraid II thoroughly dwarfs them all. It’s not only the best metal album of the year, but I’d argue the best album of the year. Period.

As I’ve already said, 2023 has been such a great year for metal, and there’s so much more than I talked about today that’s worth celebrating. Thank you to all of the WOUB readers and listeners who have kept showing up for my conversations with so many awesome bands this year. Thinking about how I got to interview two of the three artists behind my favorite records of the year is absurd and I couldn’t do it without every one of you who chooses to read.

Thanks for an incredible 2023. There’s a lot I’m excited about in 2024, so here’s to a year that hopefully kicks as much ass.