Chimaira

On The Impossibility of Reason, Chimaira's sophomore record for Roadrunner, the band's songwriting chops have grown -- right along with their hair. Gone are the crew cuts, overplaying and rigid feel that characterized 2001's Pass Out of Existence. In their place are long, scruffy locks, more discernible, immediate tunes and an old-school metal aesthetic.

The biggest improvement comes in the vocal department. Front man Mark Hunter has broadened his range considerably; his hoarse, acidic delivery is laid over dark, Layne Staley-like harmonies and a deep death-metal growl. Guitarist Rob Arnold pulls off one dive-bombing solo after another, and the dexterous drumming of rubber-armed Andols Herrick continues to amaze. Their combined musicianship elevates such songs as the dirty dirge "Crawl," the soaring first single "Down Again" and the shockingly savage "Pure Hatred" into instant anthems.

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Jason Bracelin