1. Trap Them - ‘Darker Handcraft’ – Prosthetic Records – Producer: Kurt Ballou
With guitars slicing, drums pummeling, and vocals howling, ‘Darker Handcraft’ is nothing short of a full American hardcore realization of the terrible fun promised by Entombed’s ‘To Ride…’. I loved that album, I love this one too. It came closest this year to matching the sounds in my head. It wins.
2. Red Fang – ‘Murder The Mountains’ – Relapse Records – Producer: Chris Funk
I went back and forth about 15 times between this record and ‘Darker….’ for the top spot. ‘Murder The Mountains’ could well be the more important of the two records over time, and might even be the most complete record of the year in terms of combining metallic might, hook laden song-craft, retro-aesthetics, and state of the art sonics.
3. Hail!Hornet – ‘Disperse The Curse’ – Relapse Records – Producer: Vince Burke
With a line-up featuring Dixie Dave (Buzzov*en, Weedeater), Erik Larson (Parasytic, the Might Could, Alabama Thunderpussy), Vince Burke (Beaten Back To Pure), and T-roy (Sourvein, Buzzov*en), the potential for ‘Disperse The Curse’ was off the charts. It delivers, conjuring perhaps the best example of heavy rock heard all year.
4. Michael Monroe – ‘Sensory Overdrive’ – Spinefarm Records – Producer: Jack Douglas
‘Sensory Overdrive’ is a perfect blend of polished garage and guitar-driven power pop. Having Jack Douglas (classic-era Aerosmith producer) at the helm helped with the former, while bringing Ginger (the Wildhearts) into the fold definitely beefed up the latter.
5. Brutal Truth – ‘End Time’ – Relapse Records – Producer: Doug White
‘End Times’ continues to strengthen Brutal Truth’s stature as the Stones of grind. Sub-genres come and go, styles change, and BT roll through it all with nary a scratch. The compositions are typically short and brutal, but they always complete the circle of full composition and the album functions as a whole better than perhaps any BT offering since ‘Sounds Of The Animal Kingdom.’
6. Weedeater – ‘Jason…the Dragon’ – Southern Lord – Producer: Steve Albini
Dixie Dave makes his second appearance on the charts with his day gig’s brilliantly titled and executed ‘Jason….The Dragon.’ With enough metal thrown into the sludge to catch the ear of anyone happy to throw the horns, ‘Jason….’ also does a very good job capturing what life is like standing in a dark room watching Weedeater on stage. Play very loud.
7. Mastodon – ‘The Hunter’ – Reprise Records – Producer: Mike Elizondo
‘The Hunter’ is Mastodon’s best album since ‘Leviathan.’ It returns the focus to songs and in so doing actually magnifies the band’s peerless riffs and musicianship. The record is heavy enough to remain metal, but also opens the band up to new ears easily. Sveti can’t get enough of it back at the castle, and she used to not give a shit one way or another about this band.
8. Lo-Pan – ‘Salvador’ – Small Stone Recordings – Producer: Benny Grotto
With ‘Salvador’ Lo-Pan takes the exo-skeleton of stoner rock and imbues it with other-worldly flesh and intellect. Spaced-out prog definitely makes an appearance, but as only part of the equation. The band’s groove in unstoppable by any but themselves, and when they do take their foot of the gas you end up squarely in the neighborhood of vintage Tool and Monster Magnet.
9. Freedom Hawk - ‘Holding On’ – Small Stone Recordings – Producer: Vince Burke
On ‘Holding On’ Freedom Hawk is more comfortable hurtling through stoner space than wallowing in it. Atmosphere is almost always second fiddle to the riff on this one, and the riffs are almost all top shelf. Heavy rock is what this band produces. Put it on and drive. You won’t stop until it does.
10. Black Tusk – ‘Set The Dial’ – Relapse Records – Producer: Jack Endino
Though definitely part of the post-Metal scene, on ‘Set The Dial’ Black Tusk are completely comfortable bringing in aspects of hardcore, riff rock, stoner, and just plain old heavy metal into their stew; sometimes even in the same song. The band’s sound is singular enough, however, that it never sounds like a patchwork or derivative of either past or present.
11. Skeletonwitch – ‘Forever Abomination’ – Prosthetic Records - Producer: Matt Hyde
‘Forever Abomination’ blends black metal vocals, chugging guitar, and galloping drums into heavy metal at once completely modern and timeless. Listen closely to the riffs and you can travel back to the dawn of trad metal. Add the swirling but crystal clear guitar solos, speed it all up just a touch, and you end up with a metal blend that would make Judas Priest itself proud. All of this is helped greatly by a production so transparent it allows each stroke of every instrument to be heard, but forceful enough to tear through your ears instead of merely tickling them. Oh yeah, and it sounds super-Euro but hails from Ohio.
12. Crowbar – ‘Sever The Wicked Hand’ – eOne Music – Producer: Kirk Windstein
The fathers (grandfathers?) of NOLA sludge came back furiously on ‘Sever The Wicked Hand.’ Previous patterns are not broken, but the urgency of performance captured here is such that you’d be forgiven for thinking the band were new practitioners of the art. Then again, it would be difficult for any newbie to practice the riff-craft displayed here, Crowbar reminding one and all once again to put substance over style.