Celtic Frost, Monotheist (Century Media): All the classical aspirations, esoteric mysticism and electronic twitchery Celtic Frost flirted with in its long-ago youth finally come together, girded around brutal, beautiful, thrashing metal. Magnificent from start to finish, Monotheist demands to be taken as a whole; one surrenders to the world and philosophy of the Frost once "play" is pushed. As the last strains of "Triptych: Winter" fade, the world you return to feels changed. Less interesting, less majestic, lessened on all counts simply because this wondrous sound has been stilled.
Khlyst, Chaos Is My Name (Hydra Head): Guitar sorcerer James Plotkin allies with Nordic warrior-seer Runhild Gammelsaeter to create a sophisticated vision of internalized, relentless torment. Gammelsaeter's phenomenal pipes serve as your eyes in the endless dark. She wails and screeches, growls and keens, chanting a saga of death and loneliness that festers in the pit of your stomach. Plotkin's guitar spurts and staggers into blind corners, scrapes against beslimed things, splinters fingernails on the unyielding stone of the sarcophagus that the duo has built in the cold heart of a lost barrow.
Motorhead, Kiss of Death (Sanctuary): Lemmy is 60 years old and an admitted Viagra user and still still! the most metal person on the planet. Consider Kiss of Death: rude lyrics, killer riffs, Phil Campbell's finest guitar work in his long tenure with the band, and the boozy rasp that is Lemmy's head-toward-Valhalla vocal style. Fuck Dick Clark and his antiseptic "eternal teenager" shtick; Lemmy is the eternal teenager. Almost every song he writes is about booze, pussy, fighting or rock and roll itself all gloriously raucous and loud. In 2007, let's discard the term rock and roll entirely and simply say Motorhead.
Harkonin, Ghanima (self-released): Meaner and more ambitious than anything Harkonin has done to date, Ghanima bristles and slays with inventive songwriting, drop-dead-killer riffing and the jaw-dropping drum work of Clayton Gore. From the blistering vitriol of "L.ost C.ause" to the sardonic cruelty of "Caligula" to the epic "Sons of War," Harkonin has never sounded better or more determined to bang your head than on this glorious, profane album.
Gorgoroth, Ad Majorem Sathanas Gloriam (Candelight): Sathanas Gloriam is another maelstrom of whirling steel and steaming blood half-seen in the long twilight of the far North. Infernus' hack-and-slash guitar slows briefly during "Sign of an Open Eye" as he churns out a martial riff that swells pagan hearts and kindles a fire in the liver. This is followed by the merciless "White Seed," a scything, shrieking attack propelled by the hammers of demon-drummer Frost. Gorgoroth's blend of sinister majesty and raw-boned hate mark them as Satan's most zealous shock troops, even after 15 years in the trenches.
Lair of the Minotaur, The Ultimate Destroyer (Southern Lord): If you open your album with "Juggernaut of Metal" and close with "The Hydra Coils Upon this Wicked Mountain," you'd better bring it like a goddamn apocalypse in between. Indeed, Lair of the Minotaur stomps its collective iron hooves up and down the craggy slopes of Mount Olympus, pulping skulls and grinding the gods to powder with its thrashy, ancient-war-metal-meets-filthy-black-metal overload. Oh, and "Hydra Coils" is vicious and exhausting, a running battle fought in slow-motion, nightmare speed the perfect end for a grisly Minotaur outing.
Katharsis, World Without End (Southern Lord): A chaotic, bleary, cacophonous riot of an album, purely evil and brilliant. In a swirling fog of distortion and catacomb-grade reverb, the vocals and guitars hiss wickedly, and the drums thud and snap like a distant murder and this makes Hellhammer sound polished. Yet there's a sophisticated intelligence to these songs, which shudder toward the 10-minute mark with malicious intent.
The Melvins, Houdini Live: A Live History of Gluttony and Lust (Ipecac): So they're more postpunk than metal. What do you want? Dale Crover remains one of the world's brilliant percussionists; Buzz Osbourne hews the strangest riffs out of congealed tar and poisoned candy floss; and limited-edition bassist Trevor Dunn unkinks the Gordian knot in God's balls with his seismic intro to "Night Goat," the Melvins' most claustrophobic and sensual love song. If this were the only song on the album, the Melvins could have called it a century. Instead, they gang-cuddle us with a smooth, sweaty "Set Me Straight/DCH," a reverse-cowgirl "Joan of Arc" and, in fact, the whole dang Houdini album, done over and done louder. They should change their name to the Menschvins.
Ahab, The Call of the Wretched Sea (Napalm): As Mastodon re-imagined Moby Dick as a prog-metal Leviathan, German trio Ahab took Melville's big hit and transformed it into a wildly sprawling doom album. Daniel Droste's guttural vocals roar with a grinding Teutonic dourness, bass lines groan like hawsers stretched taut in a Cape Horn gale, and the rhythms yaw and wallow as songs surface and dive like the mighty cetacean who inspired it. Wretched Sea is not a perfect album, but it's a powerful album, compelling in its alien nature and gargantuan proportions it blows the hatches off Mastodon's flashy and ultimately sterile competition. This is the one for people who've actually read Moby Dick.