It was a very good year for metal, but the top spot came from out of nowhere.
Scale the Summit -- The Collective. Instrumetal. I hate the word, but that's exactly what it is. I really liked their debut, but this one feels like it will stay with me longer. And the production? Top-notch. Favorite Track -- Whales
Mastodon -- The Hunter. Their last album made the top of my list in 2009. Perhaps it was a bit pretentious, but they had never been more ambitious. When it worked, it really worked. So it was impossible not to compare their new album to it. It's more of a step backward in scope, and more inconsistent. But it's still got some great jams on it. Favorite Track -- Stargasm
Crowbar -- Sever the Wicked Hand. Their first album in six years also happens to be one of their best. No experimental song structures or covers, just a really good sludgy hard rock album. Favorite Track -- Liquid Sky and Black Earth
Animals as Leaders -- Weightless. More instrumetal! I've written about Tosin Abasi twice on this site in the last year, and for good reason. He's the most talented guitar player in metal today. And that probably makes him the most talented guitar player on the planet. This record isn't as shreddy as his debut, but it's probably more tasteful and inspired. Years from now, I'll still reach for his debut first, but this one deserves to follow it. Favorite Track -- Isolated Incidents
Opeth -- Heritage. The two-decade long transformation from death metal to prog-rock is now complete. Gone are the growling vocals. Gone are the 15-minute long songs. Stripped down, jazzy, and something your parents might actually like. And that's not meant to be an insult. Having said that, I still miss the Watershed / Ghost Reveries style of prog-death, but Akerfeldt's talent and craftsmanship cannot be denied. Favorite Track -- I Feel the Dark
Anthrax -- Worship Music. Finally, a true follow-up to Persistence of Time. I like John Bush's voice, and I like some of the songs they wrote with him, but it just didn't feel like "Anthrax". Now with Joey Belladonna back for the long haul, they sound re-energized. A couple of riffs may sound recycled from older stuff ('Fight 'Em Till You Can't' is an awful lot like 'Gridlock'), but no matter. Of the Big Four, they're the band that's still writing and recording the strongest material. Favorite Track -- The Devil You Know
Amon Amarth -- Surtur Rising. This band has perfected their sound, no doubt. With Odin On Our Side was the beginning of their ascent (and still my favorite of theirs), but this one is a close second. I think the songwriting is tighter than their last one too. And on top of all of that, they even stepped out and wrote a song that wasn't about Norse mythology. Favorite Track -- Slaves of Fear
Decapitated -- Carnival is Forever. This Polish death band was starting to climb the ranks a while back, but then their insanely-talented drummer (and brother of the guitarist and chief songwriter) Vitek died in a bus accident. They disbanded for a couple of years, but then Vogg decided they needed to continue, since it's what his brother would've wanted. It's also what the fans wanted, and they deliver their most focused album yet. Favorite Track -- Homo Sum
TesseracT -- One. A good vocalist can make or break a band. This is true in most genres, but not quite as much in metal .... until now. This album defies so many metal rules, and gets away with it. The vocalist could probably go on American Idol and make the finals. There isn't a single guitar solo on the entire album. The lyrics aren't about death or evil demons. But it's all about the hooks, and this album is full of them. Think of what Meshuggah would sound like if Jeff Buckley were their vocalist. It shouldn't work, but oh does it ever. It's just too bad that they now have a new vocalist. Favorite Track -- Concealing Fate Pt 1: Acceptance
Anathema -- We're Here Because We're Here. Buy this album. Find a quiet corner where you will be undisturbed for an hour. Put on a good pair of headphones. Listen.
Released in the UK last year, it finally saw an official release here in the U.S. last April. While they started in the early 90s as a doom metal band, they no longer feel bound to any specific genre. If Pink Floyd were raised on trip-hop and prog-rock, this is what it would sound like. The lyrics are as hopeful as any album I've ever owned. It is beauty stacked on top of beauty.
A great work of art can change the way you look at the world. When I play this album, I feel that there might still be hope for the human race.
Favorite Track -- Thin Air
P.S. -- With all the metal on the list this year, you might be wondering where the new Devin Townsend Project album is. The readers on Metalsucks.net voted it the best metal album of the year, but I found it to be overproduced and lacking. It pains me to say it, as someone who absolutely loves Devy's work.
P.P.S -- I also didn't include the new Cynic EP because well ... it's not a full album. But if you've followed them over the years as I have, you have no excuse for not buying it.