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January 2011 Best Heavy Metal CDs

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After only a few metal releases in the latter part of each year, January brings a full plate of new music and anticipation of what the new year will bring.  At first glance, January's top 5 appear to be a nondescript lot, but that's not the case.  And while none of the groups are household names, that may change.  January 2011 saw a lot of lesser-known and up-and-coming bands release really good CDs.   The depth of quality releases this month was excellent, one of the strongest Januarys in a few years.  Here are our picks for January's best metal CDs, well worth checking out even if you're unfamiliar with some of the bands.

1. The Meads Of Asphodel - 'The Murder Of Jesus The Jew' (Candlelight)

The Meads Of Asphodel - The Murder Of Jesus The Jew
Candlelight Records

The Murder of Jesus the Jew is a concept album based on the life of Christ. The album features guest appearances by Hoest of Taake and Vincent Crowley of Acheron.  Their English quirkiness is mixed together with punk undertones and old school black metal, while experimenting with symphonic, orchestral, Middle Eastern and folk elements. The use of violin, trumpet, flute, cello and oboe gives the album an eclectic and interesting slant to their sound. The Meads of Asphodel definitely can’t be pigeonholed as strictly a black metal band — their sound has many different shades.

The Meads of Asphodel have come up with an interesting formula that is innovative and enjoyable, while still pleasing the old school black metal fans. The Murder of Jesus the Jew has so much to offer, even the most scrutinizing of metalheads should find it hard not to like something about it.

2. Inquisition - 'Ominous Doctrines Of The Perpetual Mystical' (Hells Headbangers)

Inquisition - Ominous Doctrines Of The Perpetual Mystical Macrocosm
Hells Headbangers Records

Inquisition have considerably raised the bar for the new year with Ominous Doctrines Of The Perpetual Mystical Microcosm. Previous albums were noteworthy for Inquisition’s unique touches in their approach to black metal, and not just for the air of orthodox authenticity projected by the band. Catchy songwriting with monstrous riffs from vocalist/guitarist Dagon were always the emphasis on prior full-lengths, along with surprisingly touches of melody and cascading percussion from drummer Incubus.

Simply put, Dagon seems to be all about riffs, and is not afraid to approach black metal with a degree of just plain old great rock n’ roll songwriting and accessibility. Enhancing the band’s uniqueness, Dagon’s mumbled, atonal rasp with understandable diction and a bemused attitude is another unusual touch that sets Inquisition apart from most black metal bands.

3. Mitochondrion - 'Parasignosis' (Profound Lore)

Mitochondrion - Parasignosis
Profound Lore Records

In musical terms, Mitochondrion are a beguiling and infinitely interesting musical act from Canada. On Parasignosis, vast and seemingly endless soundscapes of guitars race, halt and then steamroll into eternity on tracks like “Tetravirulence.”   Songs repeat a riffs for a trancelike effect as still-menacing voices rumble in the back. There are no breaks; merely bridges to another view of a bottomless chasm.

There are number of bands you can name check – Deathspell Omega and Profound Lore labelmates Portal and Vasaeleth for starters. But these are ballpark comparisons; this album is remarkably fresh.  This isn’t music that you read about; it is music you need to feel and experience.

4. Electric Wizard - 'Black Masses' (Rise Above/Metal Blade)

Electric Wizard - Black Masses
Rise Above/Metal Blade Records

England’s Electric Wizard hit the right combination of catchy riffs and exceedingly heavy, crushing weight on their latest album, Black Masses. A highly regarded band, Electric Wizard straddle the line between accessible stoner metal with catchy songs and great riffs, and crushing, funeral doom with a very heavy sound and drawled out, higher pitched vocals.

Black Masses has the right amount of accessible, catchy stoner laden riffs to go along with the generally heavy assault of Electric Wizard’s form of Black Sabbath-descended doom metal. With the exception of the final song, the ambient piece “Crypt of Drugula,” each of the album’s mid-paced songs feature a central riff or two that ebb and flow as the song progresses.

5. The Shadow Theory - 'Behind The Black Veil' (Inside Out)

The Shadow Theory - Behind The Black Veil
InsideOut Music

The idea of being trapped inside an endless series of nightmares is the theme behind The Shadow Theory’s grandiose debut Behind The Black Veil. This band is an opportunity to see notable figures like vocalist/guitarist/flutist Devon Graves (Psychotic Waltz) and bassist Kristoffer Gildenlow (ex-Pain Of Salvation) collaborate on an exciting new project. Four years of development has fine-tuned Behind The Black Veil into an engrossing treat for progressive metal fans.

The theme of being unable to distinguish reality from dreams has been interpreted in many books and films before, and The Shadow Theory aims for a darker approach. The whole album is submerged in a foggy trance, trapped in a lulling serenity that is both soothing and eerie.

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