(Nuclear Blast) These Scandinavian black-metallers get ridiculed for their excessively KISS-like corpse paint and pro-wrestling poses in promo pics, but one listen to this astonishing comeback album, their first release since 2002, will call a halt to any and all snickering. The production gives them the epic power they've always sought, while the songs are some of their most aggressive, and yet catchy...in an extreme-metal way. If your ideal weekend is spent wandering amid snowdrifts, furiously headbanging, you've got a brand-new life soundtrack.4 (tie). Job for a Cowboy
(Metal Blade)SkeletonwitchBreathing the Fire
(Prosthetic)Job for a Cowboy
overcame derision from purer-than-thou metal bloggers and message-board trolls to release a genuinely ferocious death-metal album that, from its blitzkrieg opener to its death-march closing title track, proved they were far more than a MySpace sensation. These Arizonans are serious comers, with chops and riff-carving skills to spare, and in years to come, they'll be a band to beat. Skeletonwitch's second full-length mixed thrash guitars with black-metal vocals and death metal's pummeling force, and their live shows are rapidly becoming a must-see.3 (tie). Born of OsirisA Higher Place
(Sumerian)RevocationExistence Is Futile
(Relapse) It was a great year for young bands, too. Revocation's second album, following a self-released 2008 CD, blended technical thrash and shredding guitar solos with addictive riffage worthy of Lamb of God. Born of Osiris, while more unrelenting, is also more progressive, stacking keyboard solos atop complex guitar interplay and raw-throated death-core vocals.2 (tie). MardukWormwood
(Norma Evangelium Diaboli) In 2004, Marduk hired Daniel "Mortuus" Olsson as their new frontman, and this year they released their greatest studio work to date. This is not a coincidence. Like its predecessor, 2007'sRom 5:12
builds on the blasting black metal of the group's 1990s catalogue with complex songwriting and more thoughtful lyrics. The same qualities were also present on Mortuus's second solo album, the breathtaking, thoroughly blasphemous (yet deeply philosophical)Maranatha
, released under the name Funeral Mist.1 (tie). MastodonCrack the Skye
(Relapse) 2009 was Georgia's year. Atlanta-based Mastodon released a prog-metal epic that holds its own with the most ambitious hard rock of the '70s, combining lyrics that told the most bizarre, convoluted story (it involves astral traveling, the Russian monk Rasputin and more) since Genesis'sThe Lamb Lies Down on Broadway
. The music was brilliant, too - less assaultive than earlier efforts, but just as awesome. No wonder they played the whole album on tour this year. Meanwhile, their friends in Savannah's Baroness issued a sophomore full-length that displayed a rare combination of ambition and restraint, building on the successes of 2007's
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without feeling pressured to go as prog as Mastodon, or get heavier for heaviness sake.Blue Record
is unashamedly beautiful.