Two bands dominate the list of the best metal CDs of the 2000s. Opeth topped the annual list three times in the decade, and Mastodon twice. Those yearly best-of lists from 2000 to 2009 were used as the basis to compile the best of the decade, which is why some artists are heavily represented. Here are our choices for the best heavy metal CDs released in the 2000s.
On their fifth album, everything came together for Opeth. Blackwater Park is the optimal mix of melodic death metal and prog. The songwriting is superb, especially on tracks like "Leper Affinity" and the title track. Porcupine Tree's Steven Wilson produced, and Opeth delivers intricate arrangements and excellent musicianship. It deserves the title of the best heavy metal CD of the 2000s.
Mastodon's greatest strength is their ability to explore the experimental side of the metal coin while keeping the power and intensity of more traditional metal. When it comes to musicianship, Mastodon is unparallelled. Guitarists Brent Hinds and Bill Kelliher are able to weave intricate and complex riffs and solos along with more standard metal riffs. Blood Mountain is an epic album of power and creativity that pushes musical boundaries while still staying true to Mastodon's sound.
After being dominant in the '80s, Iron Maiden wasn't as successful in the '90s. The decade saw the departure of vocalist Bruce Dickinson, but as a new decade dawned, he returned for Brave New World. Guitarist Adrian Smith also rejoined the band, and this CD featured a triple guitar attack. Maiden's sound revisited the glory days of the '80s, but also had a modern punch and some epic tracks. Dickinson's voice sounded better than ever, and songs like "Wicker Man" and "Blood Brothers" are highlights.
Oceanic is a very atmospheric album. The sophomore effort from Isis delivers heavy guitar riffs along with lengthy ambient instrumental sections. The aquatic theme to the lyrics applies to the music as well, with sonic ebbs and flows washing over the listener like an ocean wave. In addition to Aaron Turner's harsh vocals, female singing is included on a few songs, adding an extra dimension to the music.
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 lengthy progressive and experimental sections. There are more of those progressive and experimental parts than ever before. Their sonic palette is a large one, going from a single sparse acoustic guitar to layers of guitars, keyboards and other instruments. Subtleties abound, and you'll hear new things with every additional listen.
Albums like Isa take black metal to the next level. Enslaved utilizes the dark and cold atmosphere of traditional black metal, but adds their own progressive spin resulting in a unique and compelling sound. From the efficient title track to the 12 minute epic "Neogenesis," Enslaved showcases creative songwriting along with quality musicianship. Isa is sometimes thoughtful, other times aggressive and in places downright unusual; but it's always interesting.
Crack The Skye is more polished than their past CDs, but Mastodon's traditional experimentation and quirkiness is fully intact. The band always opens strong, and "Oblivion" is no exception. Their skills are pushed to the limit on "The Czar," an 11 minute epic with layers of keyboards, and guitars that are sometimes funky, other times very technical. The vocals are mostly melodic singing, with less screaming than ever. Mastodon also adds some vocal harmonies, which is one of the elements that makes it more polished and accessible.
Leaning towards the progressive side, the influences that bands like Camel had on Mikael Åkerfeldt growing up shine through in tracks like “Atonement” and “Hours Of Wealth.” Closer “Isolation Years” is a wonderful ballad and the one-two punch of “Ghost Of Perdition” and “The Baying Of The Hounds” stands as one of Opeth’s finest moments. Heavy riffs, acoustic interludes, tempo and key changes, screaming and clean vocals, Ghost Reveries has it all. You'll hear something new every time you listen.
With a Dillinger Escape Plan CD, you expect technical and complex mathcore/grindcore. Ire Works delivers that in spades. The brutality begins with the opening track "Fix Your Face," which features a guest appearance from former vocalist Dimitri Minakakis. But DEP shows they are about a lot more than technicality and anger. Songs like "Black Bubblegum" are as mainstream as the band has ever done, with melodic vocals and a catchy, radio-friendly chorus.
ObZen is more traditional in terms of structure, but with Meshuggah there's always something unique. The songs have mind-bendingly complex riffs and technicality along with unusual time signatures and clever song structures. There are also plenty of progressive sections. And while it's easy to marvel at Meshuggah's technical prowess, the songs are groovy and catchy and hold up well upon repeated listens. Jens Kidman's vocals are fierce, an angry dose of raw emotion. And that's what makes Meshuggah so good. They are able to skillfully blend the technical and the emotional into a razor sharp musical weapon.