A lot of the time the start of the journey is the most exciting part of the whole thing. The future is wide open with promise and no one really knows what the rest of the path will end up looking like once all is said and done. The untapped potential that still waits to be called upon holds promises of glory yet to come or ruin lurking in the shadows. For bands, that debut LP or EP is the genesis of what the musicians that made it hope will be a long and fruitful career. Many times, bands never match that first release, at least in terms of ferocity or honesty, and that debut becomes the calling card that they continually fall back on. For others, that first time out lays a foundation that they continue to build on for decades to come.
This past year saw many exciting bands take that first step on their metal journey. From teens just starting out to industry veterans starting up a new project or taking a solo venture, there were a ton of worthy debuts this past year. With so many memorable releases, compiling a list of the best ten of them was no easy task and plenty of solid records were left on the table. That being said, year-end lists are not for the faint of heart so now, without further ado, here are the best debuts that Metal Plague heard this year.
Maurizio Iacono is not a man who knows the meaning of downtime. Fronting melodeath masters Kataklysm and Roman history based Ex Deo would be enough for most musicians out there but not Iacono, who used some rare time between projects to put together this year’s debut for his new outfit, Invictus. If you’re familiar with Iacono’s work, Unstoppable probably won’t make you do a double take but it will probably make you take a second listen. Longtime Kataklysm and Ex Deo guitarist Jean-François Dagenais is along for the ride, helping to keep a bit of cohesion between the three bands. Although the album doesn’t come out of left field, it offers fans a more personal glimpse at Iacono through lyrics that hit a little closer to home than those of his other two bands. For anyone chomping at the bit for more Kataklysm or Ex Deo, Unstoppable should give you plenty to chew on in the meantime.
It wouldn’t be a good year if someone didn’t start a new quest, would it? With the Magic of Windfyre Steel, the debut from Power Paladin, is the start of what I hope will end up being a long journey. Owing plenty to classic power metal bands, Power Paladin carves its own path on their debut by marrying the heavy riffs to timeless tales of swords and sorcery. The power metal revivalists of the last few years have been legion, but Power Paladin stands out from the pack with their impressive instrumentation and lyrics and by just being a goddamn blast to listen to. Metal doesn’t always have to be dark, dreary, and caked in layers of viscera. Sometimes you just want to gather up your party, have some laughs, and slay some orcs after a long day of working in the real world that we unfortunately inhabit. If you’re looking for a soundtrack to those fantastical adventures, you could do a lot worse than With the Magic of Windfyre Steel.
Nurser is an album that does not fuck around. At less than 20 minutes, Nurser get in and out on their self-titled debut while managing to leave an impression that’ll last way longer than the record itself. Across its ten tracks, Nurser makes no mistake about being a pummeling chunk of deathgrind with enough blackened influences thrown in to keep things fresh. There’s decent variety here too, with some mid-paced tracks thrown in, that keep the record from feeling too repetitive throughout, a common pitfall of a lot of deathgrind. If you’re looking for a tight, feedback-heavy blast of discordant deathgrind, these Seattle pain purveyors have got you covered. Nurser, the band and the album, might have come out of nowhere during the pandemic era but, with a start this strong, it’s a good bet that we will be hearing more from these guys for years to come.
Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of solid death-doom bands and albums out there but sometimes the combination can feel a little like Jeff Dunham: not good enough to stand alone as a comedian or ventriloquist so why not smash them together? It’s a little harder these days to find a band that actually blends death and doom into a package that fans of both can appreciate but the debut from Grand Harvest fits that bill. The Swedish five-piece’s Consummatum Est is a collection of nine songs of atmospheric, brutally heavy songs about the end of all things and the downfall of man. It’s not light fare but vocalist Dr. Häll’s varied vocal attack of deep bellows, high shrieks, and spoken word interludes would sound pretty odd belting out tracks about love and friendship. In general, this is a pretty weighty grouping of music, both from a compositions and lyrics standpoint, and it is one that is sure to appeal to the more introspective members of the metal community. With everything seeming like the world is ending sooner rather than later, hopefully there’s enough time left so that the debut from Grand Harvest isn’t the swan song as well.
So George “Corpsegrinder” Fisher’s first solo album might not have been anything out of left field but, when you do it as good as Corpsegrinder does, that’s not a bad thing. Corpsegrinder definitely won’t confuse any Cannibal Corpse fans checking out their favorite vocalist’s first solo outing but I can’t see many death metal diehards complaining about Corpsegrinder doing what Corpsegrinder does best. The record is a pretty straightforward death metal release, but there are some passages that manage to distinguish itself from the Cannibal Corpse mold. There are some spots where things slow down a little and take an almost doom metal approach to tracks. It’s not much, but it does serve to make this stand out as being more than just a Cannibal Corpse clone. I don’t think anyone was expecting Corpsegrinder to put out an industrial record or anything but for the people out there complaining that it’s not different enough, what did you really expect? For the rest of us, it’s just nice to have another dose of Corpsegrinder this year and hopefully the man will unearth some more solo adventures soon.
Blackbraid I is the kind of debut that it’s really hard not to get excited about. First off, it’s just a straight-up great black metal record. Sgah’gahsowáh, the man behind the band, flat out gets what makes black metal such a powerful genre and crafted six varied, atmospheric, and memorable tracks for the first record. That he was able to meld black metal hallmarks so effectively with traditional Native American instrumentation and lyrical themes makes this stick out a little more than your average release. Too many extreme metal genres end up stagnating when creators feel comfortable pumping out the same release time and time again so to have someone that’s not only inspired by the genre itself but also by his own heritage, and then to successfully combine those influences, that’s something special that the genre desperately needs. Here’s hoping that Blackbraid II and III aren’t far behind.
With Corpsegrinder putting out his own solo record and Paul Mazurkiewicz getting his hard rock project Umbilicus up and running, 2023 was the year of cannibal corpses striking out on their own. Just like Corpsegrinder’s solo project, Mazurkiewicz’s Umbilicus is a worthwhile use of time away from the Cannibal Corpse flagship. Unlike Corpsegrinder, however, Mazurkiewicz’s new band strays pretty far afield from the death metal sound with 10 tracks of ’70s inspired hard rock. Outside of Mazurkiewicz, the band is rounded out by Taylor Nordberg on guitars, Vernon Blake on bass, and Brian Stephenson on vocals. The group meshes together incredibly well and crafted an impressive collection of songs that sound like they could have been right at home on a 1978 release. Between the trippy cover, the hard rockin’ tunes, and the lyrics that reflect a little more of the real world than we are used to from Mazurkiewicz’s other band, Path of 1,000 Suns gives hard rock fans plenty to dig and plenty of reasons to hope a follow-up happens sooner rather than later.
It was a bit of a journey for Fargo’s Maul to get their debut, Seraphic Punishment, out but man was the wait worth it. After five years of EPs, demos, splits, singles, and compilations, Maul finally unleashed their first LP upon the world in 2022 and it was every bit as glorious as fans were expecting. Across ten beastly tracks, Maul puts their fuzzy brand of death metal on full display with giant riffs, vocals that swing between guttural depths and screaming heights, and lyrics that won’t make it into a Hallmark movie any time soon. The band’s love of classic death metal bands like Autopsy and Incantation is readily apparent on the record, but Maul are far from copycats as they let their influences be felt without overpowering the compositions. From a production standpoint, it’s impressive how crisp this sounds without feeling too polished. With a band like Maul, you want to feel the rawness of the recordings a bit and that definitely comes across here without feeling cheap or unprofessional. After such a long wait for the first dose of punishment, let’s hope that Maul gets our next bit of abuse to us quicker!
It’s really easy to tell when a band just flat out understands what makes a genre great and Cryptic Hatred definitely knows death metal. Nocturnal Sickness, the debut album from the Finnish foursome, is brimming with classic old school death metal riffs, ferocious vocals, and lyrics that would make a gore hound blush. That the band members are barely adults should give fans of Nocturnal Sickness plenty to look forward to as it seems pretty apparent from the record that these dudes are going to be dominating the death metal scene for some time to come. It’s hard to listen to the ten tracks on Nocturnal Sickness and not feel like the album could have come out of 1988 and not 2022. There’s an energy to the performances and a deceptive simplicity to the compositions that harken back to classic OSDM releases of the ’80s and ’90s. If you’re reminding me of classic era Obituary and Monstrosity, you’ve damn well done something right.
To paraphrase The Big Lebowski, sometimes there’s an album for its time and place. For the shitshow that was 2022 America, Pillaging Villagers was that album. The self-titled debut from mastermind David Frazer is that rare concept album that actually works as a story. No surprise that the album’s storyline about the greedy and corrupt sucking the life out of the people they are supposed to care for struck a chord during this chipper year. It is way too easy to lose yourself in the world that Frazer is presenting on this album and there’s more than a little wish fulfillment at the end when the pillaging villagers get down to the righteous pillaging. Musically, there’s very little here that is expected or predictable. Tracks that switch between melodeath, hardcore influenced bits, folk metal passages, and crossover thrash fury keeps listeners guessing what’s coming next but it all works and flows together. On paper, it’s easy to understand why this album sounds like it very easily could have been an overly ambitious mess but Frazer pulls off the Herculean task of melding this all together into a package that is not only a gripping story but a hell of a collection of music. If you haven’t checked out Pillaging Villagers yet, fix that now and join the rest of us in waiting for the next story-time.