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(Live Reviews) TOP 40 LIVE BANDS OF 2023 (The Beard) - Part 1 (40-31)


The Beard

Well, here we are good readers. It is the end of a long and busy year. After 36 ½ years working for the government, The Beard retired last January and started writing full time. One of my favorite organizations to write for is right here at The Mighty Decibel, where Little Johnny and I attended 69 live shows and got to see and review 296 bands this year.

Trying to come up with “just” the top 40 sets (out of almost 300) was difficult and the lad and I could NOT reach consensus on our favorites. So, after much discussion, (and several IPA’s), we have decided to each do our own end of the year lists. Today is part one of mine. We will briefly re-cap my favorite live acts of the year from #40-#31.

Anyone following me this year is familiar with my phrase of praise “Crack a cold One for a 90+ score.” That phrase meant I really liked your show, and your set, and it took that score of 90+ to make the top 40 this year, so EVERYONE on this list should be proud of their live performances, as they were in the top 13% of all 296 acts.

Factors that I considered:

· How you sounded. (Duh) I know that’s obvious, but technical difficulties sometimes came into play. It might not have been the band’s fault, but it may have affected the show and the grade.

· How you looked. (Some venues had better lighting. Some bands had better lighting. Some bands had special effects. In the end appearance does matter at a live show and it was considered.)

· Slotting: At a festival, you might have followed a dud of a live set, or you might have been up after a knock-them-dead killer set just ended. Slotting can affect the grade.

· Icon Rule: There is a curve depending on whether this was the first time I’ve ever seen you, or whether I have seen you ten times before. It’s easier sometimes to impress me when I have nothing to go on, than if I’ve seen you be GREAT before and tonight you were only good.

· Crowd Response: I don’t like every genre and sub-genre equally, so if I wasn’t sure. I looked to the crowd. At a live event, did you “have them?” Were they “popping” for you? Was there energy going back and forth between stage and audience? These things raised and lowered point values.

· Intangibles: Sometimes crazy stuff happens. This can make or break a live set by adding points or pulling them away from the final grade.

After applying the standards to each band, I arrived at a final score. Ties were broken by virtue of the intangibles. Clearly I took way more time to figure this out than I probably should have, but I wanted the final list to truly reflect the plethora of styles and bands I got to experience this year. Honestly, anyone on this list is worthwhile even if it might not be “your” favorite type of metal.

So, without further ado, here are bands #40-31 for 2023.

#40: VRSA (Maryland Doomfest Day #4 6/25/23 in Frederick Maryland)

Four days of Maryland Doomfest inundates viewers with every type of doom & stoner music. Some I liked, some I didn’t, and occasionally one I never gave a thought to won me over. VRSA was a sludge/doom band that played the smaller of the two venues at the festival. They played to a small audience (as most were watching a different band in the main room), but VRSA’s semi-clean vocal style and mix of speeds from slow to fast reminded me of The Melvins meets High on Fire. They were a surprise hit with me and thus here they are on the year end list.

#39: Dying Fetus (Chaos & Carnage Tour 4/22/23 in Joliet Illinois)

Seldom will a death metal band as intense as Dying Fetus find their way onto my end of year list. These guys are as heavy and brutal as their band name implies. That said, on a night of bands just like them, Dying Fetus stood tall in terms of style. Their set was more than “just” a hammer to your skull for 45 minutes. Songs had structure, and the band came off as professional and committed to the show. A rare entry and a worthy set.

#38: Jungle Rot (NYDM Festival night #2 8/5/23 in Cudahy Wisconsin)

Jungle Rot were another death band, but with a big dose of thrash (which made them more palatable.) Good vocals, aggressive guitar player and they stole the two-night show at this intense metal festival for bikers from the New York Death Militia. I didn’t think I’d have as good a time there as I did. Intangibles.

#37: Thunderbird Divine (Maryland Doomfest Day #4 6/25/23 in Frederick Maryland)

Playing in the main room on the final night of Doomfest, this band merged Hawkwind with Monster Magnet to create an excellent sound and set. Visually, singer Eric Caplan had dreads that dragged on the floor. Longest hair I have ever personally seen. Great sound, great visuals, great set. Boom, you guys made the list.

#36: Messiah (Metal Threat Festival Night #3 4/16/23 in Lombard Illinois)

Messiah plays music that touched on death, black, thrash and Viking metal. Their songs can’t be pigeonholed into any one genre. While mostly a late 80’s to early 90’s band, they reformed to play this festival and I was glad to get the opportunity to see them live. Intense set at an intense festival.

#35:Acid Mother’s Temple (5/7/23 in Chicago Illinois)

This Japanese acid rock band played unique and free form style. Like the metal Grateful Dead. The drummer was always hammering away and the guitar player, sometimes looked like he was mentally on a trip somewhere other than the stage he was playing on. This was one of those sets that got more interesting the longer you watched it.

#34: Sacramentum (Metal Threat Festival Night #2 4/15/23 in Lombard Illinois)

This Swedish black metal band won me over in two ways; one, best visuals of the fest. Great backdrop and a singer with wrist to elbow nail gauntlets who by sets end was bathed in blood. The music was black metal, but was also melodic and made sense with the visuals for the story they were telling. In a slew of intense bands, these guys stood out and thus here they are getting a year end mention at #34.

#33: Insomnium (4/11/23 in Chicago, Illinois)

These guys from Finland were the middle band, but they stole the show with their melodic death/prog approach to performing their concept album about witchcraft. Although I admit the vocals were virtually impossible to follow along with, (in the same way you can watch an Opera and not speak Italian but sort of understand anyway), I was able to follow along with the story and that made it both a musical set, and a visual show. Nice job guys. Clearly you were memorable.

#32 SATAN (Hells Hero’s Festival Day #3 3/25/23 in Houston Texas)

On one of the longest days of music all year, (and that is saying something THIS year), the English NWOBHM band SATAN, (who have been around since 1979), played a very good set. The reason they made the list were two intangibles; one, a fan dressed as a giant banana was in the mosh pit, (which just goes to show even produce worships SATAN), and two, singer Brian Ross kept yelling at the Crowd Surfers and Mosh Pitters prompting Little Johnny to utter the classic line, “Man, SATAN is kind of a dick.”

#31 Nanowar of Steel (11/10/23 in Chicago, Illinois)

This Italian group was a parody of power metal bands. Dressing like odd characters including a Chippendale Santa, and a homosexual Cthulhu, their songs of power were dedicated to Odin & IKEA. During one song, they even made a table (during the song) and then threw it out to the crowd. Metal meets the Rocky Horror Picture Show.

All right, that concludes part one of the countdown. Be sure to tune in tomorrow (when Little Johnny drops his #40-31), and next week for part II #30-21.)

I hope you enjoyed our craziness this year each time you visited your home for Metal, The Mighty Decibel.

Catch all the videos of these bands on our TIKTOK page by searching thebeard0728 or #thebeardandlittlejohnny. Until next time.

Stay Heavy


Horns Up!!!


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