The year 2023 marks the second year of the full-scale russian invasion of Ukraine. You might be thinking that in these circumstances our musical scene is depressed, but actually it’s rather the opposite. Somehow a big war has turned into a much-needed call to develop our own Ukrainian culture at such a pace that on some Fridays we now have up to 500 new releases only, whilst before 2022 this could sometimes be a result of those worse and less productive summer months.
But music is never only about numbers on Spotify. So the progress reveals itself in the rapid growth of the young indie scene, totally unheard of before last February, with big soldouts at local concerts in Kyiv or Lviv.
There is also a focus on Ukrainian language we haven’t probably seen since the 1990s, when Ukraine has only gained its independence. And then there is a rising interest in our own music heritage that we observe on Tik-Tok and other platforms. People, music and creativity, all melt into one big cluster of pulsating energy that shapes a new wave of Ukrainian culture right here and now.
And though it’s hard to express all the current cultural processes in one article, we can definitely share 20 Ukrainian releases that came out in 2023 and represent the diversity and current trends in our underground and indie musical scenes.
Words by Denysiuk Yaryna
1. IGNEA — Dreams of Lands Unseen (modern metal)
Ukrainian metal-scene is historically dominated by men, so IGNEA with their fierce and hard-working frontwoman Helle was one of the two bigger metal bands that managed to leave the country after martial law deprived most of the men of this possibility. Having established the contract with Napalm Records label, the band managed to go on a big European tour with Fear Factory, Butcher Babies and Ghosts Of Atlantis, performing their new album ‘Dreams of Lands Unseen’.
This is a double win for Ukrainian culture, as our country was not represented at the European metal festivals in 2023 due to the aforementioned law, and communicating with listeners and fans about what is going on in our country is very important. ‘Dreams of Lands Unseen’ is a high-quality melodic modern metal album with lots of oriental vibes and electronic components, but its concept is no less important. This LP tells about the prominent life and exotic adventures of the Ukrainian writer, photographer and documentalist Sofia Yablonska, born in the early 1900s. It’s a great page of our history to share with the rest of the world, especially now when we’ve finally got the chance to tell our story with our own words and not through the former imperial perspective.
2. 0%Mercury — We Should Definitely Do This! (mathcore)
Another example of the successful female fronted band is 0 %Mercury that combine mathcore, modern metalcore and just a tiny bit of hardcore elements in their songs. This year the band was particularly active with lots of new videos, dozens of live performances in Ukraine and even the proud third place on the world final of Wacken Metal Battle.
Their newest longplay ‘We Should Definitely Do This!’ sums up all the previous band’s singles whilst combining slower melodic parts with more extreme and dynamic ones. The genre mix is just perfect to get a crowd dancing under the scene. And the album is short enough to avoid getting bored in this era of very limited attention span.
3. Wiseword.Nidaros — Хроніки (dark folk)
But what if you actually enjoy being bored? What if you do miss those long, slow albums with lots of details and nuances? We got you here!
Wiseword.Nidaros is a Ukrainian darkfolk project that stably produces the most whimsical mix of Christianity, historical facts and the chaotic music elements themselves. Their newest album, ‘Хроніки’ (‘Chronicles’), pushes this combination even further, basing its storytelling on ‘The Chronicles of Narnia’ saga, which has also influenced the sound of the LP. A great representative of the Ukrainian darkfolk scene and a delightfully complicated piece to try to wrap your mind around.
4. Kadaitcha — tramontane (industrial)
While still on the weird note, let me introduce you to the Nova Kakhovka scene and one of its most prominent representatives, industrial project Kadaitcha. This small town near the Dnipro river gave birth to probably the greatest experimental music community in Ukraine.
Although since the full-scale invasion Nova Kakhovka is occupied by russia, the musicians themselves managed to flee to Europe. As a result, we got several releases both from Yurii Samson and Andrii Kozhukhar, with Kadaitcha’s ‘tramontane’ being their most outstanding mutual work this year.
In ‘tramontane’, released by German ant-zen label, Kadaitcha explores organic aspects of noise, post-industrial and archaic aesthetics, thus creating extreme experiences for their listeners. Although compared to some previous works by the Nova Kakhovka duo, this album is much more structured and friendly to unprepared ears.
5. renie cares — Легка нестерпність буття (indie pop)
Now let’s have a rest with something much easier and airy.
After the full-scale invasion, Ukrainian pop-scene has found itself in deep trouble, mostly due to the fact that many of the singers were strongly affiliated with the russian market, with most of their popular songs being written in the enemy language. And while some wealthier pop singers and their producers were reloading their image (not always successfully), young and self-reliant indie artists took their place, at least among their peers.
On this renovation wave, renie cares presented a truly amazing piece ‘Легка нестерпність буття’ (‘The Light Unendurableness of Being’). Nine songs of the album are divided into three logical units concerning some existential questions of a human being, and are split by fitting quotes by Czech writer Milan Kundera about love, death and fear. Not sure how much of the texts Polish listeners will understand, but hope the general vibe of this melancholic album will create a pleasant atmosphere for self-reflexion, just as planned by its creators.
6. Electrobirds — Чарівний замок (shoegaze)
Moving forward with the topic of Ukrainian indie-scene, we should definitely refer to the shoegaze and post-punk niches, highly centralized around electricity label but also represented with many more independent artists.
Electrobirds and their latest album ‘Чарівний замок’ (‘A Magical Castle’) would be a great example of the modern Ukrainian shoegaze and postpunk scenes that get their influences from all possible sources. As a result, this particular LP also shows strong indie rock vibes, while occasionally diving into synthpop and even funk. All the genre variety is still tied together by the general mastering, and also by some great vocal melodies the band successfully provides on each song. With all their diversity, Electrobirds show a great potential for future releases.
7. Morwan — Світає, Палає (post-punk)
While the previous release in this list manages to balance on the verge of different genres, Morwan, on the other hand, tends to work more purely with the folk-influenced post-punk. Actually, it is so great that it has got right to the Bandcamp Navigator ahead of hundreds, if not thousands of releases all over the world this July.
This cold and gloomy post-punk with ethnic motives combines the feeling of natural rawness and some meditative ritualness, yet manages to remain somewhat danceable, and all despite the war being its main topic. In this album Alex Ashtaui concentrates mostly on abstract and emotional themes like pain of loss, sadness, fear, hatred, anger, and aggression. Hope you can hear it and feel it despite the album written fully in Ukrainian language.
8. Three Eyes of the Void — The Atheist (black metal)
Now, after all these monoliths, let’s make another 180 degrees turn and get back to Ukrainian metal and hardcore, as this niche stably produces English-language albums that can easily compete for your attention with their foreign counterparts.
Three Eyes of the Void would be a great example of Ukrainian black metal, because firstly, they demonstrate a high quality of Ukrainian black metal scene, and secondly, they are easily accessible from abroad as the project members live in Poland nowadays.
This album shows a great balance of melancholic post-black sound that reminds us of their successful Ukrainian colleagues White Ward, but also preserves enough of a brutal sound familiar to more classical Ukrainian black. Musicians worked on the LP since 2018 to gain perfection, so consider checking it live at some of their European performances.
9. Mulification — Swamped in Forlorn Misery (death metal)
This year was truly great for Ukrainian death metal. Heruvim, Wormitorium, Perimortem to name just a few, all of them had significant releases, but the representative for the scene this year will be Mulification band. These are quite young musicians who appeared out of nowhere with their heavy, even swampy sound, and after numerous live performances won the hearts of many local metalheads.
‘Swamped in Forlorn Misery’ became the first longplay in the band’s discography, and it combined the best musicians could give to this music world. It is their specialty old school death metal that merges low growl with heavy and aggressive, but at the same time viscous sound, and, of course, gloomy atmosphere. The best possible work to put your band on pause, just as Mulification did.
10. Azimut — Stuma (post-metal)
And while we slow down, let’s listen to some Ukrainian post-metal. Balancing on the verge of post-metal itself, but also sludge and black metal, the ‘Stuma’ album became a great step ahead for the Azimut band. And being released on the well-known niche label Robustfellow only confirms this status.
‘Stuma’ brings up the themes of change, decay, and the acceptance of reality, which are intricately woven into every note, resonating with listeners’ own experiences and emotions. Heavy and thick sound even manages occasionally to prompt an analogy with Neurosis band. Overall, it’s a great work to start your journey into the world of rare Ukrainian post-metal masterpieces.
11. Zombie Attack — Labyrinth (thrash metal)
To wrap up the conversation about the Ukrainian metal scene, let’s talk about Zombie Attack and their latest album ‘Labyrinth’. This band is one of the most famous Ukrainian thrashers, and they are well-known for their dynamic music that urges their fans to grow long hair, take beer into the circle-pit and have the best time of their life on Zombie Attack live performances.
It took a few years to release the ‘Labyrinth’, but the result was definitely worth it. Melodic guitar riffs with plenty of hooks, technical but soul-breaking solos, fast rhythmic sections with strong hardcore-punk vibes and aggressive vocals, and all this happy chaos fits into half an hour. A perfect album to cheer you up fast.
12. Subscum — Schism EP (grindcore)
So now, as we gain some speed, let’s move to grindcore. This genre is sporadically present in Ukrainian music, but not so many bands are playing it. That’s why Subscum as one of the younger scene representatives are quite important for our music culture.
Their latest EP ‘Schism’ released on the Acid Redux Productions label has only proved the band’s status. Here we have rather pure grindcore, noisy and aggressive, with quite a dirty but not too sludgy sound, blasting drums, buzzsaw bass, grinding riffs, and distorted vocals.
Acid Redux Productions actually calls it ‘grindcore for a better world’, and we as Ukrainians do hope these words will come true.
13. True Tough — Invaders Will Die EP (metallic hardcore)
While Subscum follows a more traditional route for underground bands working with foreign labels and relying largely on the foreign audience, a young band True Tough fully concentrates their energy on conquering the Ukrainian listeners.
Their EP ‘Invaders Will Die’ may not be long, because this year True Tough truly did a lot. The band released a few singles including a music video to one of them, recorded a big live video, performed a lot all over the country, sold out dozens of T-shirts, and even played on a big metal scene at the only large Ukrainian festival since 2022, Faine Misto.
Their only EP this year, balancing on the edge of hardcore and death metal, is packed with guitar solos, superfast blast beats, and classic True Tough pre-breakdowns, heavily filled with vocals. It sounds edgy and sharp, and simultaneously has a cold and even slightly fatalistic atmosphere, with main emotions being pain, anger, and hatred.
Combining the new music with all the named efforts, True Tough can easily be called one of the fastest-growing bands of the Ukrainian metal scene as of now, and also a symbol of Ukrainian metal industry being born.
14. Обрій — Імперія бидла EP (d-beat)
Another hard-working Ukrainian band combining elements of both metal and hardcore scenes is Обрій (Obrij), although this year musicians have fully embraced their punk background creating their new EP ‘Імперія бидла’ (‘Empire of Scum’). On the other hand, it was also the consequence of the full-scale war and its hard circumstances that Обрій sought for simpler and faster musical forms as opposed to their traditional death metal. As a result, four hardcore/d-beat tracks with a strong death metal influence and Boss HM2 sound appeared.
And while a lot of hardcore bands in Ukraine referred to different aspects of the war in their songs this year, Обрій concentrates mainly on the modern russian fascism that Ukraine and Ukrainians have faced in the 21st century, diving into historical parallels with the past. The EP brings up such themes as the cult of war and victory, constant search for the enemy and cahoot, mass repressions, forced resettlement, destruction of the national elites etc.
15. Death Pill — Death Pill (hardcore punk)
Another hard-working Ukrainian band, but with a different story. As an all-female trio, Death Pill had more freedom performing abroad in 2023. And although separated by war, these girls still managed to support the success of their debut album, released on London-based New Heavy Sounds label, with numerous live shows and interviews.
Self-titled LP, however, also concentrates all the experience and energy Mariana, Anastasiya and Nataliya have gained during the years of active live performances in Ukraine while pursuing their goal of becoming true rock stars. It is a great combination of classic punk like Black Flag or Circle Jerks with the fierce thrash metal of Nervosa or Exodus and general ‘Riot Grrl’ vibe. And numerous releases and sold-outs on vinyl, CDs and cassettes only prove this LP to be worth your attention.
16. dughouse — Falling Into Reality EP (hardcore punk)
For many years the Ukrainian hardcore scene tended to write lyrics mostly in English, sometimes in Russian, and even less often in Ukrainian. It started changing slowly since 2014, but only the full-scale war brought the radical change, with dughouse being one of its most fruitful results.
‘Falling Into Reality’ is the band’s debut EP, but don’t be fooled about it, because dughouse was formed by the highly skilled musicians who create the base of Odesa hardcore scene. And their vocalist is regarded by many to be the best in Ukrainian hardcore scene in general. Therefore, both this project and release represent the best combination of an experience of many years and a final turn to Ukrainian language. It’s a big win for our music culture and a great hardcore punk with quality melodies and perfect songwriting.
17. Тулим — Хмелі-сунелі (rap)
Let’s wrap our hardcore block with Тулим (Tulym). While being a classic representative of the boombap scene for almost two decades, this band was always much closer to the Ukrainian punk-scene than to their fellow rappers. Still, their high skill provided Тулим a high respect from rap scene as well, and not only Ukrainian one. Тулим spent a lot of efforts performing on foreign rap festivals, therefore some European listeners can recognize this band.
‘Хмелі-сунелі’ (‘Khmeli suneli’ — a popular Georgian spice mix) is the fourth LP by Тулим, and quite a spicy one, just as the name suggests. Old school boombap sound is naturally combined here with typical street themes, including a good piece of irony, a few apt skits and enjoyable guest parts from Zombo, Pero, Sensi and many others. Finally, the great artwork by Server Terlekchi, a hardcore scene artist, wraps it all together. Have a good listen!
18. Heinali — Kyiv Eternal (ambient)
Time to get into the chill out zone with other Ukrainian electronic artists. We will start with Heinali who was featured in ‘The Guardian’, and his ode to his hometown, Kyiv.
This Ukrainian composer and sound artist is well known for his work with generative modular synthesis and reinterpretation of historical musical instruments and techniques. But after February 24, 2022, Oleh Shpudeiko found himself in the situation where ambient sound and referring to the national symbolics became his priority. So instead of continuing the work on the follower of the majestic LP ‘Madrigals’, ‘Kyiv Eternal’ appeared.
To create this album, Oleh gathered all the field recordings he made in his hometown over the past ten years and recreated some of his typical city routes and favourite places. The musician called the result his own hymns and serenades to Kyiv, and the chosen genre allowed those to be quite personal and even intimate. So now all the listeners can also go on this journey throughout ephemeral but strong Ukrainian capital.
19. Yuvi — По тобі (breakcore)
‘По тобі’ (‘For you’) is the debut mini-album by the young producer Ulyana Avtenyuk. It is an intelligent glitch breakcore with bold and unexpected sound design decisions, and probably the most original electronic release of the year. The surprisingly diverse and harmonious 6-song album balances well between authentic and extremely modern elements: aggressive noisy synths here blend with folk elements, and jazzy saxophone samples mix with futuristic glitches.
At the very first listening, one can see how an intimate genuineness shines through. The artist herself notes that this release is about her personal story and self-reflection. It is Yuvi’s space for her aggression from grief, a way out in the face of external enemy aggression. And to the evident openness and fragility, attractiveness and provocative confidence are added, especially noticeable at the live performances influenced by Ukrainian electronic scene of the 90s.
20. Антон Слєпаков/ Андрій Соколов — warнякання (spoken wоrd)
And to the grand finale of our list. ‘Warnyakannya’ (а word play combining ‘war’ and ‘варнякання’, meaning ‘babbling’) is the long, detailed and acute album about the Ukrainian war, presented by the outstanding electronic label Dnipropop.
Anton Slepakov and Andriy Sokolov, being rather experienced musicians with great albums by their previous projects, started documenting the harsh reality in music after the full-scale war started in Ukraine. The first version of ‘Warnyakannya’ appeared back in March 2022 and was rather raw both in sound and the emotions it conveyed. Later new tracks were added, and musicians travelled a lot, giving more than 70 charity concerts with this material, while also writing the new one on the road. Finally, this year all the songs were re-recorded from scratch, getting the usual Dnipropop quality, but also preserving original raw emotions.
Artists themselves claim that ‘Warnyakannya’ is like a series of documentary short films but in music or a mobile memory machine, containing the life of our country over the past two years into 23 songs. We should add that it is one of the most complex musical works trying to reflect on our war and brilliantly succeeding in that complicated task.
You can find a long list of Ukrainian releases of 2023 in our playlists:
This publication was created with support of the Ukrainian Institute. The views and opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the institution.
The Ukrainian Institute is a state institution acting in the field of cultural diplomacy. The institution’s activities are aimed at improving the understanding and perception of Ukraine in the world and the development of its cultural ties with other countries. Established by the Government of Ukraine, the Institute operates under the administration of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.