METAL - Balls to the Wall

1. Mars Volta, De-Loused in the Comatorium (Universal): A redefinition of prog rock that pries the scene from the death grip of pasty dudes in Rush shirts, De-Loused adds swing to the most stilted of subgenres and gets it laid for the first time. Santana, King Crimson, and Fugazi all figure into this explosion of the bounds of progressive hard-core. Yeah, it's pretentious. So was Led Zeppelin, bitch.

2. Dimmu Borgir, Death Cult Armageddon (Nuclear Blast): Taking its cue from the scene in Apocalypse Now where trigger-happy G.I.s gun down women and children to the tune of Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries," Death Cult Armageddon blends incredible beauty with incredible sadism. Black metal's black sheep continue to piss off the purists with an album that has as much in common with Genesis as Gorgoroth. Hell, the album's first cut, "Progenies of the Great Apocalypse," contains more movements than most of Dimmu's peers partake in over the course of an entire career.

3. Cradle of Filth, Damnation and a Day (Epic/Red Ink): Not since Japanese Dada core extremists the Boredoms became the world's loudest tax write-off at Reprise has a band as over-the-top as Cradle of Filth inexplicably found itself on a major label. Cradle didn't miss the opportunity to fully indulge in the coffers that Beyoncé's backside built, hiring a 40-piece orchestra and a 32-piece choir to fill Damnation with grandiose, haunted house harmonies. The result is one of the most opulent metal albums ever -- the headbanger's equivalent of 20-inch rims.

4. Led Zeppelin, How the West Was Won (Atlantic): John Bonham plays like a cannonball with a beer gut. His pneumatic pounding on "Moby Dick" is an inspiration to fat guys everywhere. Jimmy Page's solos never end and you never want them to. His leads on "Heartbreaker" will either make you want to pick up a guitar or never attempt to play one again. Robert Plant is an orgasm incarnate who wants to make love to you 25 hours a day. He sounds perpetually in the throes of the kind of climax that wakes the neighbors. Captured at the peak of the band's powers at a pair of California gigs in 1972, this package is the best thing to happen to stoners since the advent of pizza delivery.

5. Morbid Angel, Heretic (Earache): Listening to Pete Sandoval's jaw-dropping drum work on Heretic, you'd swear Mountain Dew courses through his veins. Sandoval takes his craft to new heights on Morbid Angel's latest, sounding more like a hot-wired drum machine than a rubber-armed hesher. Sandoval's absurdly overdriven playing fuels Morbid Angel's most blistering, needle-in-the-red album since 1998's classic Formulas Fatal to the Flesh.

6. Superjoint Ritual, A Lethal Dose of American Hatred (Sanctuary): With an ego rivaled in size only by his long-suffering liver, Phil Anselmo has finally dropped an album worthy of his near incessant chest-pounding of late. With Pantera officially over, and Down on hold, Anselmo concentrates all his energy on Superjoint's sophomore LP, and the results are overpowering at times. Revisiting the halcyon days of crossover, when bands like D.R.I., Cryptic Slaughter, and the Cro-Mags wed speed metal's buffet of riffs with hard-core's lack of pretension, Dose is a bar fight set to wax.

7. Vital Remains, Dechristianize (Olympic): Deicide front man Glen Benton was allegedly so cheesed off at the band's label, Roadrunner, that he pocketed the album's recording budget and cut the disc on the cheap for two grand. The outcome was the half-assed Incineratehymn, where Lucifer was clearly out to lunch. But on Dechristianize, Benton teams up with underrated New Jersey death squad Vital Remains for a tasty hunk o' goat cheese. Blending NASCAR velocity with melodic riffing that sounds like Iron Maiden rocking out at a church burning, the album comes with dynamic, epic death and hammed-up hellfire.

8. Children of Bodom, Hate Crew Deathroll (Century Media): Heavy metal can be surprisingly stone-faced considering that it's a genre where the codpiece is king and grown men have been known to rock loincloths. Leave it to the happy hair farmers in Children of Bodom, though, to add some levity to metal while still bringing enough brute force to KO a rhino. These Finns spike high-octane Euro thrash with keyboards as ostentatious as Elton John's stage garb.

9. Pestilence, Consuming Impulse/Testimony of the Ancients (Roadrunner): You can almost feel your brow thicken and chest hair grow while spinning this pair of overlooked death-metal classics reissued on a single disc. Bursting with devolved, old-school masochist metal, these records rival Death's one-two punch of Leprosy and Spiritual Healing as the finest blend of primal death and technical thrash. One of the first bands of such a brutal, unrelenting nature to incorporate keyboards and lush instrumental passages in its paint-peeling charge, Pestilence struck a near perfect balance between violence and virtuosity.

10. Skinless, From Sacrifice to Survival (Relapse): Despite being the only death-metal band ever to thank the George Foreman Grill and Quaker Oats in the liner notes of an album, Skinless' sophomore effort is no joke. After establishing itself as a solid, if unspectacular, death-metal troupe that got all Mickey Rourke on your ass live, Skinless far exceeds expectations on Sacrifice, a sociopolitical slam dance that combines anti-war activism with dexterous, polyrhythmic savagery.

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Jason Bracelin