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June 2008 Best Heavy Metal CDs

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Now that the summer is heating up, so are the releases. June was the strongest month so far when it comes to the depth and breadth of really good CDs. This month's number one is also my top CD so far this year. There were a bunch of releases that received 4 out of 5 stars, and it was extremely difficult to narrow them down to the best five. Here's my list of the best metal CDs released in June, 2008.

1. Opeth - 'Watershed' (Roadrunner)

Opeth - Watershed
Roadrunner Records
Opeth has developed a distinctive style over the years, and Watershed continues the development and refinement of that style. Beautiful acoustic passages lead into intense death metal, with all kinds of lengthy progressive and experimental sections. There are more of those progressive and experimental parts that ever before.

Watershed kicks off with "Coil," a quiet acoustic song featuring melodic vocals from Akerfeldt and guest female vocals from Nathalie Lorichs. The next song is "Heir Apparent," a louder and more extreme song that leads the album into the diverse ebbs and flows we expect from Opeth. Their sonic palette is a large one. Subtleties abound, and you'll hear new things with every additional listen.

2. Keep Of Kalessin - 'Kolossus' (Nuclear Blast)

Keep Of Kalessin - Kolossus
Nuclear Blast Records
Kolossus is Keep Of Kalessin's most diverse effort so far. Along with traditional black metal you'll also hear thrash metal, black and roll, death metal and a lot of progressive influences. Atmospheric, symphonic songs shift into evil black metal. Groovy, melodic songs transform into epic progressive tunes with great guitar riffs and solos.

There are a lot of different vocal styles utilized as well. Thebon does a typical black metal rasp, combination thrash style yelling/singing and regular melodic singing. Keep Of Kalessin is quickly becoming one of the rising bands in black metal, and Kolossus, with its excellent musicianship, songwriting and variety will take them to even higher levels.

3. Judas Priest - 'Nostradamus' (Epic)

Judas Priest - Nostradamus
Epic Records
Nostradamus is an epic double album, clocking it at 100 minutes. It's definitely not the typical Priest album, and after the first listen I wasn't overly impressed. It seemed there was a lot of unnecessary interludes, and there were a lot of mid-tempo songs and only a few up tempo rockers. But after a few listens I began to absorb what Priest was trying to do, and began to appreciate it more and more.

The typical Judas Priest guitar attack is there, but it's fully unleashed only on a few songs. The rest of the time it's more subdued, with acoustic guitars and guitar synths taking front and center on many of the tracks. When taken in context with the epic album storyline, the orchestral elements and interludes fit in well.

4. Aborted - 'Strychnine.213' (Century Media)

Aborted - Strychnine.213
Century Media Records
Aborted has always delivered punishing and ferocious death metal, and Strychnine.213 is no exception. Pummeling blast beats and squealing guitars make this plenty brutal. However, this is probably the grooviest Aborted album yet. They inject a surprising amount of melody and groove into the songs. By dialing back the extremity just a tiny bit and increasing the melody, they've made the songs much more memorable.

Another area where Aborted has improved is diversity. If not done right, songs on death metal albums can sound very similar. By changing tempos and textures, they've done a nice job of differentiating the songs. Strychnine.213 is a potent dose of death metal, and even though the title is toxic, the music is anything but.

5. Amaseffer - 'Slaves For Life' (Inside Out)

Amaseffer - Slaves For Life
Inside Out Music
Slaves For Life is progressive metal with an orchestral flair. The songs play out like a movie score, with layers of keyboards and strings and epic arrangements that stretch out for over 10 minutes on several tracks. In addition to prog metal, Amaseffer utilizes Middle Eastern and world music that adds their own unique flavor to the proceedings.

This is the band's debut CD, the first in a trilogy about the Israeli people as portrayed in the Old Testament. Leven's voice fits in perfectly with this epic style. He has great range and power, and is able to sing with a lot of dynamics and emotion. The Israeli vocalists add more unique flavor, and guest vocalist Angela Gossow's distinctive screams are perfect for the 12 minute "Middian."

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