THE CATCH-UP: Rock In 2023 (January – June)

So here we are—back with The Catch-Up. Last year, we focused exclusively on what went on outside the rock realms, but for 2023, we’re going back to our roots a bit more. We’ll still be taking our look through pop at the end of the year, but we’re also doing our due diligence to all things rock. With that in mind, let’s take a look at what we’ve missed over the last six months, for some highs, some lows (like, really low lows), and everything in between…


Another January, another Anti-Flag album to start it off that likely won’t stick in the memory for too long. Still, LIES THEY TELL OUR CHILDREN is yet another continuation of one of punk’s most consistent names—politically charged; anthemic; and though chock-full of guest performers, straightly and succinctly Anti-Flag. It wasn’t 2023’s first big release though, as New Year’s Day saw Fireworks go off in more ways than the usual. Surprise-released after being teased since 2019, Higher Lonely Power is Fireworks’ emo morphing, ravaged by a world that’s only gotten more hostile in the near-decade since their last album. Clearly currying widespread attention isn’t high on the docket (the release date could tell you that), and so the freedom the skirt through genres and beat down with real intensity translates to a highly rewarding listen all the way down. Funeral Plant and Blood In The Milk flirt with their previous accessibility, but they’re just parts of a makeup that’s fresher and fiercer than ever.

But come January’s second half, all eyes were on RUSH!, the first post-Eurovision album from Måneskin who, in their bid to capitalise on their newfound enormity and take it globally, have basically removed every interesting edge and quirk they had. When they’re mostly singing in English instead of Italian (i.e., the thing that made them stand out to the largest catchment), anything distinct is all but abandoned, now for bland, pop-washed glam-rock gruel that has no business going on for the best part of an hour. Måneskin themselves clearly think otherwise, meaning that when the workmanlike guitar and bass performances do click into something actually cool, it’s most likely by accident. That’s RUSH! at its best too; at worst, it’s the curdling of the preening rockstar attitude that becomes actively embarrassing (BLA BLA BLA and KOOL KIDS are both totally wretched all the way down). Most of the time though, it’s just not much of anything.

The sad thing is it wasn’t the only hugely lacklustre offering that January brought. On Sting, Emarosa continue in their vein of ‘80s pop pastiches, only feeling dramatically more stiff and weedy. If you’re wondering why this barely-over-half-hour album feels like it’s wheezing along basically from the start, it’s probably because Emarosa aren’t keeping shy about how shallow their well of influence here has become. Meanwhile, on Never Going Under, Circa Waves end up finding it too difficult to juggle flavour, smart composition and memorability outside of in-the-moment flashes within indie-rock, so instead opt for none of the above.

But as far as bad releases go, they’re mere drops in the bucket compared to Aryia’s Viral EP, titled probably because Gen Z-pandering pop-punk as ruthlessly cringe as this remains about as appealing as gonorrhoea. The hardiness to sprout from the genre’s salted earth is one thing, but there’s nothing even approaching quality on these five tracks. It’s produced like garbage; the lyrics are generic, self-flagellating mush at best and “holy fuck, what was that?”-level embarrassing at worst; and Aryia himself has the snivelling anti-charisma and lack of personality of someone who discovered what pop-punk is via Machine Gun Kelly. The fact there’s a song on here called Sugar, I’m Goin’ Down should be definitive proof of how much of a cheap, cynical, soulless bilk this whole endeavour is. At least there is one good thing to come from this—a reminder that, if you’re unhappy with your path in life or feel unsure of where to go, you could always be like Aryia, spending your mid-20s shitting out swill like this. Things could be much, much worse.


Here we are, everyone—In Flames are back! Yay? Well, the wider response to Foregone has been a lot brighter than one might expect coming from a band as maligned in their later years as this, though that seems more an indication of how starving the listener-base has been for a good In Flames album than any judgement on its own quality. Like, yeah, it’s not bad, and it’s nice to see they’ve woken up a bit after however many albums, but more turgid pacing and mushy production touches (and just some pretty forgettable songs overall) take away from the stronger swings back to melodeath. It’s more middle-of-the-road than anything, a criticism which In Flames are clearly yet to escape after fielding it for more or less the entire 21st Century. Speaking of which, there was also Inhaler’s Cuts And Bruises, an opportunity to be more than just a vehicle for indie’s most visible nepo baby that none of their work has so far exhibited. Not the case though, it seems, and the distinction of being sequestered into the role of ‘Bono’s boy’s band’ remains intact thanks to a dearth of any sort of colour or kick, and Elijah Hewson being a chronically weak singer, to put it charitably.

As for GorillazCracker Island, they still aren’t living up to the best of their earlier work, but at least it’s more pleasant than what either Humanz or The Now Now brought on the whole. Damon Albarn tilts most into strains of psychedelia and neo-soul for this one, notably with a pop finish that does a lot to accentuate a fairly full suite of good qualities. It’s lean without being underfed, in some brighter tones and excellent guest turns from Thundercat and Bad Bunny that solidify the most approachable and workable Gorillaz formula in years.

Meanwhile, shame largely keep on the same post-punk wavelength on Food For Worms, even despite the Phoebe Bridgers cameo which, yes, is exactly as secretive and hidden as made out to be. Still, with an uptick in roiling energy and even some coquettish glances at classic rock on songs like Six-Pack, it might just be their strongest effort yet. The same emphatically cannot be said about Steel Panther’s On The Prowl, in which their initial line between glam-metal parody and the inability to stop running their one joke into the ground is basically nonexistent at this stage. If anything, this might be the nadir as far as disgusting sex references and ‘comedy’ misogyny goes, particularly when the band can’t even commit to sound like they’re having fun anymore. Perfunctory and going on for-fucking-ever with no payoff, there’s not much other reason you need to avoid this.

In any case, it elevates MOD SUN’s God Save The Teen to borderline unforeseen heights by comparison. He’s still on the pop-punk bandwagon, and to his credit, this is better than his 2021 detritus Internet Killed The Rockstar, by virtue of feeling a bit more comfortable with wriggling outside of the rigid boundaries placed by the scene’s current influencers. Still, it says a lot that its most noteworthy moments are its heaviest faceplants—Courtney Fucked Kurt is exactly in the pocket of ‘proper’ punk that MGK throws out to fill a couple of extra minutes; way too many songs are laced with unctuous sentimentality and sappiness (including the cover of Iris, likely to the shock of no one); and the pair of Avril’s Song and Shelter have aged like milk even in just the few months since release. At least the better moments show up more frequently, but MOD SUN’s recorded output remains pretty disposable overall.


Punk had a particularly busy time in March, or more accurately, the areas around it did. As far as straightforward genre albums go, the most notable was probably The Bouncing SoulsTen Stories High, in what started out as a means of fanbase connecting over Zoom turned into a project built around songs about said fans’ own experiences, albeit sounding unwaveringly like The Bouncing Souls. Theirs is a stripe of punk not big on variety whatsoever, but with the vim, verve and very brisk runtime to make up for it.

Skating over to pop-punk though, Meet Me @ The Altar arrived with their debut full-length Past // Present // Future, and came out with quite the strong little listen. It’s a shame they’ve scaled back some of their earlier easycore leanings, but in their place stands one of the catchiest, most caffeinated high school soundtracks you’ll hear this year. Questionable single choices aside (seriously, Kool is the worst song here and it’s not even a contest), Meet Me @ The Altar know this stuff intimately, and click into an early-Avril-shaped rhythm on songs like T.M.I and A Few Tomorrows that’s as squeaky-clean as it is addictive. It’s just so easy to like and enjoy, and a noteworthy bright spot in an era where pop-punk has been anything but. Speaking of which, Punk Rock Factory continue to flog their particular dead horse on It’s Just A Stage We’re Going Through, this time with covers of songs from musicals. So if you ever wanted to hear a pop-punk version of Rewrite The Stars, you might want to get your head checked but here you go. To anyone else, maybe stay away.

Meanwhile in hardcore, all ears were on ZULU and their undeniable breakthrough on A New Tomorrow. They’re one of 2023’s highest-profile hardcore graduates, and it’s not hard to see why thanks to a debut full of brusque viciousness collaged with various flavours of historically black music. Perhaps some of it could do with a bit more cohesion to really strengthen what’s here, but the volume of ideas and willingness to dive headlong into them speaks for itself. For something a bit more straight-to-the-point though, GEL’s Only Constant is the absolute essence of hardcore punk distilled into a 17-minute rager, and topped off with a vocal performance from Sami Kaiser to place her among the best risers in the game. There’s really not much more to say; it’s about as pure and visceral as this sort of thing gets.

March also saw a couple more significant releases on top of all that—Black Honey dish out their brightest, punchiest indie / garage-rock concoction to date on A Fistful Of Peaches, but still miss a real angle to draw you in instead of warranting just one or two glances from afar. Conversely, Dallas Green’s voice will never not be spellbinding, and against more beautifully produced, heart-rending folk and alt-country that captures such tremendous depth and pathos, City And Colour’s The Love Still Held Me Near is another monumental winner. But of course, the month’s biggest story was Babymetal, continuing their excursion through the metal multiverse on THE OTHER ONE, while also growing even more tight and refined. No longer do the J-pop and metal elements clash like they did at first; the melding is smooth and concise, now augmented by dancing electronics on Time Wave and METALIZM, and a truly excellent sense of scale, heaviness and empowered creativity. It’s arguably the most opulent that a Babymetal album has felt to date, and for a band who’ve always specialised in musical gigantism with no corner left unfilled, that means something.

But d’you want a real surprise to close March up? The new nothing,nowhere. album is actually really good! Yes, VOID ETERNAL, in smashing every previous notion that Joe Mulherin has laid down for himself as an artist, winds up being the best nothing,nowhere. release yet. A lot of that is to do with it being a complete overhaul, moving entirely from emo-rap to 2000s screamo and post-hardcore; there is still rapping (and it’s probably the weakest part of the album overall), but more comes from cranking up the melodrama, and letting the stacked cast of guest stars inform the direction. This is a murderers’ row of talent here, ranging from Pete Wentz, to Underøath and Silverstein, to Static Dress and SeeYouSpaceCowboy, all of whom practically lay down the foundations for the crushing guitars and cold, monochrome tone that’s actually a rather good fit for Mulherin’s openly emo impulses. It’s certainly not for everyone (especially if you’re more prone to cringing at particularly histrionic lyrics), but credit where it’s due—it’s by far the most compelling that nothing,nowhere. has ever been, even just on principle alone.


Oh, look—that band from Stranger Things released a new album! Metallica, is it? Though, even for the uninitiated or those who came onboard via that recent spike of exposure, it’s not hard to tell that 72 Seasons is no Master Of Puppets. More so, it’s very late-period Metallica, emblematic of a band who are still the biggest thing in metal, and really just need to punch the clock to get by. Thus, 72 Seasons is emphatically an example of thrash legends resting on their own legacy, to where what they’re producing isn’t exactly objectionable, but isn’t ranking among their best any time soon. When it’s comfortably over an hour and struggles to hide its depleting gas levels towards the end, that tells you pretty much everything you need to know, even if any long-lasting damage to Metallica’s top-dog status will be all but nonexistent.

The same can most definitely not be said about Atreyu, whose EP The Hope Of The Spark finds them still languishing in the metalcore banality they once had the style to avoid. It’s the lyrics that really do this one in—gems include “Is it just me or are we all capital-F fucked?” and an honest-to-goodness “caught in the undertow” hook in 2023—but it’s such a leaden, clattering, woefully generic listen all the way down that you’d be hard pressed to find any hope here, let alone a spark. No, for the real cool heaviness, Scowl have got you covered. Psychic Dance Routine might only be ten minutes long but it packs a lot in, a combination of Flatspot’s no-longer-than-necessary hardcore, a rock ‘n’ roll hip-swing, and in Kat Moss, a singer lifted right out of the ‘90s alt-nation’s top talent. The title track is where everything is the most tightly knit together, but passing up on any facet of Scowl at this point seems foolish. The intense hype around them this year is not for nothing, and being able to illustrate exactly that in just ten minutes—especially in hardcore—is a key skill to have.

Really, when wrapping up April and its remaining releases, the strength really does fall out pretty easily. Well, okay, maybe not with The Hara, whose debut full-length Survival Mode seems to exist for the sole purpose of keeping parity with Yungblud in the stakes of obnoxious, oversold edge-rock. The album’s pretty bad, so safe to say it’s working. LakesElysian Skies, on the other hand, couldn’t be more of the opposite—glittering, gorgeously harmonic emo anchored in real humanity and an impeccable ear of melody. The peaks aren’t quite as high as its predecessor Start Again, but it’s another great addition to a robustly growing catalogue nonetheless.

There’s also the singer-songwriter front turning up with great force—while Ruston Kelly might be a bit outside the rock wheelhouse with The Weakness, the emo heart inside this brand of alt-country keeps that mood alive if nothing else. Again, the emotions aren’t as crushing as some of his previous works, but as a post-divorce album where lyrical detail is king, he’s just as enthralling a presence, even at his absolute poppiest on Breakdown and Holy Shit. Meanwhile, Dave Hause reaffirms his position as one of the most solid punks-turned-troubadours around on Drive It Like It’s Stolen. Some additional Springsteen-like gloss now augments Hause’s routinely stellar writing, loaded with an aching, weathered age that just as attuned to moonlit urban reflection as an unbridled gallop through the heartland. As always, Hause delivers both in spades, and with songs like Damn Personal and Hazard Lights under his belt, there’s not even a hint of him wavering on that.


Honestly, we actually got around to quite a lot of May’s main releases in a timely manner, meaning that it’s largely just some odds-and-ends to put together for this section. And even then, there’s not a ton to really talk about when the main sources of quality are a handful of brief EPs that just self-evidently land. If you’re after something that’s the most out of leftfield, it’d likely be Tokky Horror’s KAPPACORE, though even then, it just reinforces how routinely they continue to be one of the coolest bands around with another blitz of Prodigy-worshipping, rave-ready punk. They’re by far at their best when they embrace the breathless, sweaty club hedonism of Jazz Music and Tranmere Raver, but spacier introspection on Toilet adds another string to a bow that’s quickly become fairly robust, almost completely off its own back.

Conversely, Ghost are offering absolutely nothing new or intuitive on Phantomime (mostly due to it being a covers EP), but know how to wring the fun from everything they do regardless. The obvious attention-grabber is their take on Iron Maiden’s Phantom Of The Opera, where they jubilantly bound through seven-and-a-half minutes of classic metal accented by their own gothic glee, but it’s Genesis’ Jesus He Knows Me and Tina Turner’s We Don’t Need Another Hero that place the true beauty of Ghost and their unshakable pop deftness in full view. As for HotWax, their debut EP A Thousand Times arrives to cap off a pretty unanimous band-of-the-moment declaration, and proves that it’s not without merit. Even if their indie-grunge style could do with some of the added muscle it’s got live, there’s a lot to be hopeful about here as far as dual ears for melody and fat riffs go. Still some development to be done, but not bad at all.

In terms of albums, there’s a noticeable dip, albeit not too critically at first. Not a single soul was even aware that WSTR’s Til’ The Wheels Fall Off existed given the total absence of hype, and while it’s some okay pop-punk clearly still lodged in its 2010s genesis period, that lack of awareness is unlikely to be assuaged. Likewise, Black SpidersCan’t Speak, Won’t Die kind of feels like its genre’s equivalent—fine enough swigging, swaggering hard rock that’s short on much longterm memorability. But to see where the average really begins to dive, look no further than grandson, who, on I Love You, I’m Trying, appears to have learned nothing since the pretty resounding shrugs that greeted his last couple of projects. It’s the same alt-rap shtick that already feels dated, complete with greasy, downtuned guitars, awkward glances at dubstep drops, and an ever-heinous vocal performance in which Jordan Benjamin’s sneering tone continues to be tainted by a defeatism that’s nothing close to suitably explored. Outside of the more propulsive Drones, there’s very little in the way of redeeming qualities, and by the time you get to the completely pathetic Murderer—in which Benjamin opts to spend the album’s by-far longest song bitching and mewling about how he’s not famous enough (with some oh-so-charming lines like “If Sean Evans don’t let me onto Hot Ones / I’ma give him hell, kill him and kill myself”)—you’ll wish to never hear a single peep from grandson from the rest of time. What a world it would be if that came true.

Oh yeah, and The Smashing Pumpkins finally released the final, collected version of ATUM, bringing together the three-album, three-hour wank-a-thon that you couldn’t pay us enough to care about.


To cap off 2023’s first half, the releases in June weren’t that big in terms of quantity, but certainly were in magnitude. Well, okay, maybe not Rival SonsDarkfighter, another sanctioned bout of fine-enough blues-rock for Rival Sons fans and no one else, but it’s definitely true elsewhere. Just take a look at the Foo FightersBut Here We Are, widely opined as their best album since Wasting Light, and while it’s perhaps not quite to that level, it certainly bears more weight that their catalogue has recently. Obviously, the deaths of both drummer Taylor Hawkins and Dave Grohl’s mother Virginia hang heavily over it, seen in relatively less bombast and fewer outright anthems than this band are known for, and more of a contemplative, pseudo-progressive bent that allows for more openness and humanity. But what it lacks in skyscraping arena-rock shtick, But Here We Are makes up for it in an emotional depth that’s seldom plumbed by this band, on songs like Hearing Voices and Show Me How, with the latter’s harmonies from Grohl’s daughter Violet really pushing it to that next level. Chiefly though, it’s the most purposeful the Foo Fighters have felt in, at the very least, a decade, and that alone is a big accolade for But Here We Are to attach on itself.

As for Grohl’s frequent friend Josh Homme, the reemergence of Queens Of The Stone Age saw the arrival of In Times New Roman…, which…is another Queens Of The Stone Age album. That’s not exactly a bad thing though, and off the back of Villains as an album that’s only drifted further and further out of view, this does seem to be more stably rooted. The weird, winding lyrics and sunburnt desert-rock grind remain peak QOTSA, particularly when twisted to reveal the tacit theatricality that’s always underscored some of their best work, this time coming on Carnavoyeur and Sicily. Otherwise, the blend of arena-rock blowouts with stoner-rock meat and gristle remains as solid as it was from day dot. That’s really all there is to say about Queens Of The Stone Age anymore—their wildest swings might be few and far between nowadays, but they aren’t crippled without them even slightly.

But y’know, a ‘big album’ isn’t always synonymous with a good album. Case in point—Avenged Sevenfold’s Life Is But A Dream… is certainly big, but it ain’t all that good. Conceptually, there’s something in going against the grain almost totally, and turning an otherwise straightforward brand of metal into some all-consuming colossus of styles and sounds, as avant-garde as compunctions towards keeping their huge status will allow. But the whole thing is just an absolute mess for it, full of half-finished, half-baked ideas, songs that rumble and wheeze on with barely any satisfying payoff, and a vocal performance from M. Shadows to prove that his voice is basically gone at this point. And yes, a swing-and-a-miss as planet-sized as this is preferable to some boring exercise in wheel-spinning, if only as something to talk about, but surely something more could’ve been done here. Some might see it as genius though, so why bother arguing with such evidently higher intellects as Avenged Sevenfold fans?

Words by Luke Nuttall

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