Amesoeurs - Amesoeurs
A depressing slab of post-industrial bleakness from the now-defunct French outfit featuring members of Alcest and Peste Noire. Ethereal shoegaze-influenced sections placed side-by-side with black metal make this a unique and compelling release that combines the best of both genres while retaining a feel of absolute originality.
Amorphis - Skyforger
Absolutely beautiful stuff. Without a question, this is the best album Amorphis has put out in their newer, mellower style, and personally I think it rivals some of their old classics. Lush and gorgeous folky melodies entwine with clean vocals with perfect flow and pacing, while progressive and gothic undertones emerge at unexpected junctures. Though this is probably their most "mainstream" release to date, it isn't at all devoid of intensity and technical capacity.
Baroness - Blue Record
Proggy sludge metal from Savannah, GA. A little more eclectic than their equally good Red Album, this album is as fun to listen to as it is rewarding. As dedicated metalheads, we know that sometimes the most worthwhile albums are the ones that require some work on the part of the listener-- not so here; this is an album you can either throw on during a party or listen to in the middle of the night on headphones. Also, if you get a chance to see these guys live, DO IT. You won't regret it.
Be'lakor - Stone's Reach
Melodic death with a touch of prog. They've put out some good stuff in the past, but this album really cements their position as one of the more innovative and creative melodeath bands out there. Fantastic melodies, proficient guitar-work, and interesting song structures.
Between the Buried and Me - The Great Misdirect
If you've been dismissing these guys are a mere metalcore band, you've been missing out so hard it's not even funny. I remember when I first heard Colors, I thought that would be the best thing ever to come out of the metalcore genre-- I'm now thrilled to announce that I was wrong. While some of the progressive elements occasionally felt a little artificial and strained on Colors, they're melded in seamlessly on The Great Misdirect, and even come to dominate most of the songs. If you only listen to one metalcore album from the past decade, make it this one.
Cobalt - Gin
Experimental American black metal. This album kicks my ass every time I listen to it. The monumental build-ups that dominate several of the songs are simply epic, and Jarboe from Swans does some great guest vocals on a few of the tracks. It's also interesting to note the singer/lyricist was deployed in the front lines of Iraq for some time, which lends a somewhat disturbing realism to some of the more violent, aggressive lyrics. Fantastic release from an exciting band.
Diablo Swing Orchestra - Sing Along Songs for the Damned & Delirious
Another exciting, unique release from the Swedish avant-garde band and their talented frontwoman (probably one of the best operatic singers in all of metal), combining elements of opera, swing, and spaghetti-western. If that sounds ridiculous, well, it is-- but at the same time they're quite accessible and far more than a novelty band. I didn't find it quite as compelling as The Butcher's Ballroom, but if you're new to the band, this is a perfectly fine point of entry.
Drudkh - Microcosmos
From what I've seen of this community, this band needs no introduction. Personally, I don't think this is one of their best albums, but it's quite a solid listen. And a mediocre release from Drudkh still tops stellar releases from most other bands.
Epica - Design Your Universe
I don't listen to much female-fronted symphonic metal, but from my limited experience Epica is a true standout and their newest album capitalizes on the potential they showed in The Divine Conspiracy. Majestic and gorgeous, yet never shying away from occasional heaviness, their sound is melodramatic and bombastic in a way that should be over the top, but somehow isn't-- a fact that can probably be attributed to Simone's compelling vocals.
Exivious - Exivious
HOLY SHIT AMAZING jazz metal, featuring members of Cynic and Textures but BETTER. Wait, BETTER THAN CYNIC? YES!!!... maybe. It's definitely more complex and jazzy and entirely instrumental to boot. The improv sections here are absolutely breathtaking. Too often there are math or jazz metal bands that either sloppily insert a few inept polyrhythms into a metal song and call it a day, or else throw a bunch of weird stuff together that doesn't form a comprehensible whole, but Exivious strikes the perfect balance. Possibly one of the best jazz metal releases of all time. (Also, this album was released independently, so if you like it and have the funds available, do consider buying it.)
Fen - The Malediction Fields
Bleak and beautiful English black metal interspersed with atmospheric soundscapes. I'm really not a fan of the clean singing, but the lovely acoustic and ambient passages more than make up for it. Check it out if you haven't already.
Insomnium - Across the Dark
Solid, emotionally-competent melodic death with influences from folk, doom, and prog. Beautiful melodies and fantastic production. It gets a little same-y in parts (part of the price of being consistently good, I suppose) but certainly a gem for any fan of melodic death.
Isole - Silent Ruins
Epic doom metal. Personally, I find this to be their best, and I think it will appeal to more than just fans of doom. Really outstanding clean vocals, and plenty of interesting elements to hold your attention.
Kylesa - Static Tensions
More proggy sludge metal from Savannah. Spin actually ran an article on the Savannah metal scene not too long ago, and here in St. Louis the indie kids seem to be all over it. Weird. To put it succinctly, Kylesa = Baroness + a whole lot of weed. They bring in some psychedelic elements (I detected echoes of Black Sabbath and Pink Floyd) and a solid grounding in hardcore punk that is unrelenting and catchy as hell. Also their guitarist (and sometimes singer) is female. Represent!
Madder Mortem - Eight Ways
Experimental progressive metal drawing from a diverse catalogue of influences from jazz to Gothic metal. The female singer adeptly covers a remarkably wide range of styles and emotions with an amazing raw intensity. The only band I can really think to compare them to is Diablo Swing Orchestra, minus the carnivalesque atmosphere. Undeniably weird, yet strangely infectious and catchy-- and not in that "guilty pleasure" kind of way, either.
Mastodon - Crack The Skye
More metal from Georgia! Either this was a ridiculously good year for prog-sludge albums, or I just suddenly started being aware of them. Of the three on my list, Crack the Skye is, in my opinion, the best. It seems Mastodon has an unfortunate reputation of being the metal band for people think they're too cool to like metal-- and it doesn't help that they toured in support of Dethklok-- but it would be a mistake to dismiss them as sell-outs-- their new stuff is just as good as, if not better, than Leviathan. Also Crack the Skye wins hands-down for the most absurd concept ever-- something about Rasputin and a astral-travelling paraplegic... I don't even know.
Minsk - With Echoes in the Movement of Stone
Compelling post-metal from Chicago. They used to sound a lot (maybe too much) like Neurosis, but it appears they've finally broken into new ground with this stellar release, their heaviest yet.
Obscura - Cosmogenesis
Brilliantly executed progressive/technical death metal from former members of Necrophagist and Pestilence. They've drawn pretty favorable comparisons to Death, particularly in terms of the solos. Amazing bass as well, unlike anything I've hear in this genre. Cosmogenesis is not as brutal as most of the tech death out there, but the stellar song composition and interesting melodies make this release appealing beyond the confines of any single sub-genre.
The Ruins of Beverast - Foulest Semen of a Sheltered Elite
I'll admit I've never heard of this band until I saw sigrdrifumal's post-- shame on me! Slow, bombastic, EVIL black metal, absolutely dense and cavernous and challenging. It's really expanded my conception of what black metal can be and do. Probably most remarkably, it's all the work of one person-- the former drummer of Nagelfar. Crazy talent.
Russian Circles - Geneva
Brooding instrumental post-metal/post-rock from Chicago. On this album, they've added violins and the occasional trombone to their dense, entrancing layers. Beautiful and emotionally compelling.
Swallow the Sun - New Moon
Depressing and absolutely elegant Finnish progressive doom. Characterized mostly by down-tuned guitars and harmonic keyboard passages, the album edges into upbeat black metal here and there on some of the longer tracks, balanced by the addition of ethereal female vocals. The clean vocals, when used, are haunting and lovely. Will appeal to fans of Opeth and Amorphis.
And a quick shout-out to some other artists who released quality albums this year: Blut Aus Nord, Peste Noire, Wolves in the Throne Room, Sonata Arctica, Crimfall, Skyfire, Stream of Passion, Slayer, Dream Theater, Altar of Plagues, Animals as Leaders, Beherit, Isis, Sunn 0))), Goatwhore and more...