The Best Rock from 2023 – Veterans? Newcomers? We Got it All!

Best of 2023

By “Tampa” Earl Burton

Rock music had one of its best years in recent memory in 2023. At the start of the year, the venerable Ozzy Osbourne raided the Grammys, winning two awards; the “Prince of Darkness,” however, couldn’t make it to the biggest rock show of the year, the inaugural Power Trip festival. We also saw the departure of legends, including Jeff Beck, Jimmy Buffett, and Shane MacGowan of the Pogues.

Whether at our highs or our lows, we had outstanding music throughout the year. It was spread across the field, veterans and newcomers, and each brought us great entertainment over the last twelve months. Here is a list of the best from the world of rock…perhaps you’ll come across these in your music collection!

Mammoth WVH, Mammoth 2

Wolf Van Halen of Mammoth WVH. Photo by Chyrisse.

A couple of years ago following Wolfgang Van Halen’s debut as Mammoth WVH, I stated that I was skeptical about him. I have always said that the most difficult thing for an artist to do is to follow up a debut album, one which they have had their entire life to create, with a new effort in only a couple of years. Suffice it to say that Van Halen, with Mammoth 2, eclipsed that first album in spades.

From the opening track of “Right?” to the big hits “Another Celebration at the End of the World” and “I’m Alright,” Van Halen once again effortlessly handles every instrument on the disc, wrote and produced the album. It is an outstanding collection of tracks and shows exceptional growth in Van Halen’s performing abilities and songwriting skills. If you don’t have both Mammoth WVH discs in your library (or your streaming database), then you’re missing out on a talent that is going to be around for some time.

Sleep Theory, Paper Hearts

I normally don’t touch on EPs – I’ve always thought if you can do three or four songs, go ahead and fill out the rest for a full-fledged album – but this band was just too monstrous in 2023 to ignore. At the start of the year, the band was banging around the Memphis rock scene, with no label, and no notice by the radio stations, but with a solid backing by the fans. By the end of the year, Sleep Theory had a record deal (with Epitaph Records), massive amounts of touring, and two contenders for Song of the Year (“Another Way” and the monster hit “Numb”). Those are the types of success stories you do not hear of much in the music business anymore.

It would be easy to dismiss the band as a flash in the pan, but then they come out with an excellent EP in Paper Hearts. Yes, both “Another Way” and “Numb” are here, but the other tracks on the disc, especially “Gone or Staying,” keep you entranced with the band. As we have moved Wolfgang Van Halen off the “let’s see what they do on Album #2” list, let’s put Sleep Theory on there to see what they do the next time around.

Beartooth, The Surface

Beartooth. Photo by Chyrisse.

Caleb Shomo and his band, Beartooth, were on the precipice of major success at the start of 2023 and, with the release of The Surface, they fulfilled all those expectations and then some. Shomo, who has admitted in the past to less-than-healthy mental health issues, took the time to address

those issues after the band’s last album, Below, and moved out of Ohio to the climes of California. It turned out to be one of the best moves that Shomo made.

He would document his mental health journey throughout the tracks on The Surface, especially with the debut single “Sunshine!” and the hits kept coming throughout 2023. Of special note was the biggest song off the album, “Might Love Myself,” which told the story of Shomo’s mental health journey and the bright outcome. While Beartooth kept up their aggressive musical approach, the growth by Shomo and the band was a significant part of their success and, with a major tour set for 2024, bodes for bigger things with the band.

Tamar Berk, tiny injuries

Tamar has been a fixture of our “Best of the Year” list. In both 2021 and 2022, Berk made it with excellent releases (2021’s the restless dreams of youth and 2022’s start at the end). In 2023, Berk completed the trilogy with her latest release, tiny injuries, which continues to show the growth musically, and particularly emotionally, in the artist’s style and approach.

Berk has always been one to wear her heart on her sleeve, but she also comes from a voice of experience. She is not some twentysomething that is trying to share her limited knowledge of life; Berk has actually experienced many of the things that she is singing about. This particular release came following her father’s passing, so it does have genuflections on the past (“1997” and “sunday driving” are particularly noteworthy) and thoughts on how to move forward. If you want to hear from someone who can relate to being an adult in the 21st century, then Berk and tiny injuries are something you should be listening to.

Grace Potter, Mother Road

There was another artist who took time to examine life in 2023, and it was the highly underrated Grace Potter. Stepping away from the Nocturnals, Potter instead hit the road down the legendary Route 66 on the way to California. The journey inspired Potter to pen the album Mother Road, documenting the stories that she encountered along the way. From the title track to the lamenting “Rose Colored Rearview,” Potter brings her deft touch and musical sensibilities to what is one of her best efforts, either with or without the Nocturnals.

boygenius, the record

When three of the biggest forces in alternative rock – Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers, and Lucy Dacus – join forces, the resulting effort cannot be anything but outstanding. It would have been easy for these women to mail it in and go back to doing their own thing, but uniting under the banner of boygenius saw them enjoy each other’s talents and allow each of them to shine. Noteworthy tracks from the album include “Not Strong Enough” and “Cool About It,” but it is best to take in this record in one setting, as the ride with Baker, Bridgers, and Dacus is one worth taking.

Avenged Sevenfold, Life is But a Dream

Avenged Sevenfold

The concept album is a device that has lost its appeal in the 21st century, but Avenged Sevenfold attempted to bring it back with Life is But a Dream. That album also allowed A7X to experiment quite a bit, delving into some different sounds and musical approaches that they haven’t touched on previously. It was a daring step by the band, but one that paid off in the end.

Exploring themes of life, death, and how the human being exists in the space between, singer M. Shadows and guitarist Synyster Gates step away from the normal hard rock sound and

experiment heavily with symphonic and electronic sounds. “Mattel” in particular was notable, examining how people put on facades that they show the public, like the plastic Barbie dolls created by the company. Overall, the record wasn’t well received by many fans, but Life is But a Dream was a case of a band not playing it safe – we need more of that in rock and roll!

The Fixer, Your Lie

One of the great young acts I found in 2023 came from Canada, The Fixer, who have created bold music and an even bolder look. Led by vocalist Melladonna, the band tries to give the look of a goth outfit. The music, however, tells a different story, as the band rocks as hard as anything you might hear out there now (if not more aggressive).

The hook song was “Smoke Show,” but there were quality tracks all through the record. I enjoyed “Ghosts Will Talk,” which presents a spookier sound, and the bookends to the album, the title track and “Your Truth,” which gives a storytelling aspect to the album. I will be interested in seeing where this band goes, and I certainly hope they can get down to the southern tip of North America to bring their sound to an audience that would enjoy them!

Sevendust, Truth Killer

Sevendust. Photo by Gus Samarco.

It would be easy for a band that has been around since the mid-Nineties to just sit back and live off their past work. The band Sevendust, which dates to 1994, wasn’t satisfied with that. They gave instead one of the most powerful efforts of 2023 in Truth Killer, which is a fitting inclusion into the Sevendust discography.

It all started earlier this year with “Fence,” a hard-driving metal tune that stomped the gas and never let up. The tune that radio caught on to was “Everything,” which is still banging on many a station. Overall, the band has never sounded better, and vocalist Lajon Witherspoon has never sounded better. This is another band that will be hitting the road in 2024 (with their old friends Static-X), so crawl inside Truth Killer, brush up on the catalog, and enjoy Sevendust to the fullest.

Crazy Mad Ride, Life, Liberty, Death

Once again, we’ll hit on an EP because it was just that impressive an effort that it needed some love. Crazy Mad Ride is a Georgia band that encompassed several different musical stylings with their EP Life, Liberty, Death, demonstrating the versatility of the band. The highlight of the four-song EP was “Bayou Bounty,” but each of the tracks brings something to the listener. “Lunacy” was the heavy hitter on the EP, while “Scorpio” continued the blitzkrieg. “The Deceiver” (alongside “Bayou Bounty”) brings a slower tempo but still contains some powerful missives.

Unfortunately, the band recently separated (amicably) with their drummer, so the New Year is a bit of a mystery. The band states they are gearing up for a big 2024, so could we see Crazy Mad Ride appear next year with a full-fledged album on the “Best of” list? Whether they do or don’t, I’ll be looking forward to seeing what they, and many other artists and bands in the world of rock, have in store for us.

Tampa Earl

Forest Live Festival – UK

Forest Live Festival – UK