1. Machine Head - The Blackening
Sample track: Halo
Machine Head's sixth album The Blackening was definitely the biggest triumph of the year. After releasing two impeccable masterpieces (1994's Burn My Eyes and 1997's The More Things Change...) and two rather crap ones (1999's The Burning Red and 2001's Supercharger), the mighty Head returned to form in 2003 with the blistering Through The Ashes Of Empires. That album was their first with guitarist Phil Demmel, who had played with frontman Robb Flynn in Bay Area thrash heroes Vio-Lence back in the day. Phil brought with him a new spark and an energy that the band so badly needed.
This new-found enthusiasm showed a lot of promise for their next album. And what an album it turned out to be. The Blackening is an epic metal masterpiece unlike any other released this year. Hell, there probably hasn't been an album quite like it since the 80's. With Demmel in the band fulltime, the guitar hero aspiration ran wild. Epic songs full of twists and turns that make you dizzy, twin guitar madness, the best metal drumming in ages, godly basslines, even godlier (is that a word?) harmonies, the best lyrics the band has produced this far... I could go on and on about every little detail that makes The Blackening such a milestone. In twenty years time people who talk about this album the way we talk about Reign In Blood and Master Of Puppets today. Mark my words.
2. Big Business - Here Come The Waterworks
Sample track: Just as the day was dawning
Their second album, somehow even better than the first. I didn't think it was possible, since their "gimmick" of being a bass & drums playing duo could get old pretty quickly. Big Business solved this by simply putting guitars all over it. Jared Warren's soaring voice and mighty bass grooves mix perfectly with Coady Willis' Keith Moon-esque mayhem from behind the kit (he's easily the best rock drummer since Dave Grohl). Since 2006 Warren & Willis are members of The Melvins, with whom they released last year's brilliant (A) Senile Animal, but Here Come The Waterworks somehow manages to be even more impressive than that one. Essential listening.
3. Deathspell Omega - Fas - Ite, Maledicti, In Ignem Aeternum
Sample track: Bread of bitterness
Black metal is at an all time high at the moments, bands are putting out great records left and right. Deathspell Omega is easily the best black metal band in the world at the moment. Someone referred to them as "the Isis of black metal", which isn't far off. The mystery surrounding the band (concept albums about metapsysics, no website, hardly any interviews, the fact that no one seems to knows who the members are) only add to the appeal.
4. Disfear - Live The Storm
Sample track: Get it off
Discharge and Motörhead combined? Oh yes. With former At The Gates vocalist Tompa Lindberg and former Entombed guitarist Uffe Cederlund in the band, how can you possibly go wrong? This rock hard slab of rocking crust, or crusty rock, is just about the most energizing album released this year.
5. The Dillinger Escape Plan - Ire Works
Sample track: Party smasher
I'm suprised this one gets as much grief as it does. I for one loved the last album, Miss Machine, and this is the natural continuation of that. I fucking love it, it's brilliant all the way through.
6. Clutch - From Beale Street To Oblivion
Sample track: Electric worry
With their eighth album Clutch ventured full on into a genre they've always dabbled with in the past: southern rock. And of course they did it better than everyone else.
7. Queens Of The Stone Age - Era Vulgaris
Sample track: Sick, sick, sick
Not only The Dillinger Escape Plan gets complaints, but Josh Homme too. I agree that Queens Of The Stone Age does lack a certain something since the firing of Nick Oliveri, but they're still of the best rock bands in the world. Sure, not as good as the first three albums, but still well and beyond most other bands.
8. High On Fire - Death Is This Communion
Sample track: Rumors of war
Although this is a great album, I must admit I was a little disappointed. After 2005's Blessed Black Wings, which was easily the best metal albums of that year, perhaps my expectations were too high. Maybe I just haven't listened to it enough. Who knows, after listening to it for a few more months I might wanna put it in the top 5.
9. Maylene And The Sons Of Disaster - II
Sample track: Dry the river
Southern rock/metal with raspy hardcore vocals screaming on top of it? It shouldn't work, but it totally does. If you think Christian rock means Creed and P.O.D., it's time to rethink. This fucking rocks, and it rocks HARD!
10. Gallhammer - Ill Innocence
Sample track: Killed by the queen
Perhaps Gallhammer belongs in the "novelty" category rather than the "good" category. Three young Japanese girls who dress in black and play crusty old school lo-fi black metal (complete with corpsepaint of course) is hardly something you see everyday, but Ill Innocence has been playing regularly in the Metal Bastard stereo for months. They manage to achieve that raw, punky feel of the black metal classics of the 80's, but without sounding like a rehearsal demo by fifteen year old kids in the parents' garage. Good stuff, can't wait to hear the next album.
Honorable mentions (in no particular order): Watain, Municipal Waste, Neurosis, Electric Wizard, Nifelheim, Witchcraft, Porcupine Tree, Down, Kongh, Taint, Tyrant, Behemoth, Today Is The Day, Wolfbrigade, Anaal Nathrakh, Pig Destroyer, The Ocean, Marduk, Coliseum, Primordial, Vicious Art, Skeletonwitch, Dÿse, Oxbow, Wolves In The Throne Room, The Hives, The Accidents, Hardcore Superstar, Sigh, Nine Inch Nails, Naglfar, Brant Bjork And The Bros, Dropkick Murphys, Entombed.
These guys (and gals) also released spectacular albums this year. Go investigate! There's gold in them hills!