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March 2012 Best Heavy Metal CDs

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When it comes to new metal releases, the first quarter of 2012 was above average. Let's hope it stays that way for the remainder of the year. March was no exception. There were several good releases (OSI, Sigh, Pharoah) that didn't quite crack this month's top 5. Here are our selections for the best metal CDs released in March.

1. Meshuggah - 'Koloss' (Nuclear Blast)

Meshuggah - Koloss
Nuclear Blast Records

There is a bleakness to Koloss that penetrates the musical complexity and grabs the gut as well as the head. The churning, laborious ache of “Break Those Bones Whose Sinews Gave It Motion” is an excellent example – here, the dense, shifting tempos and syncopated riffs are harnessed to convey a sense of shuddering, faltering struggle. The trembling, almost tentative sound of the last instrumental track, “The Last Vigil,” ends the album with a pervasive feeling of regret and melancholy, casting a pleasurably miserable pall over Koloss.

Koloss is a monster, a shambling giant of a record that is somehow as pitiable as it is gargantuan. There is a misery tempering the majesty of this record, and that sets it apart. Meshuggah have retained everything about their sound that defines them and makes them great while simultaneously digging deeper to present a more visceral, emotionally authentic listening experience.

Read the complete Meshuggah - Koloss Review

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2. Barren Earth - 'The Devil's Resolve' (Peaceville)

Barren Earth - The Devil's Resolve
Peaceville Records

As soon as monumental opening track “Passing Of The Crimson Shadows” leaps from your speakers like a tech-metal Rush, you suspect you’re in for one hell of a ride. And so The Devil's Resolve turns out, as Barren Earth leads you on an intriguing journey which calls at many familiar stations, yet dares to venture well off the beaten track with a limitless sense of adventure.

Elsewhere, there are regular nods to the type of Scandinavian folk influence familiar to fans of Moonsorrow and Amorphis. It goes without saying this is highly recommended to fans of that style, but it would be wrong to limit the potential audience in such a narrow fashion – fans of traditional prog are, bizarrely, not the most open-minded of listeners, but beyond the harsh vocals, there is a world of melodic musical invention for them to enjoy too.

Read the complete Barren Earth - The Devil's Resolve Review

3. Black Breath - 'Sentenced To Life' (Southern Lord)

Black Breath - Sentenced To Life
Southern Lord Records

Vicious doesn’t do justice to Black Breath’s second album Sentenced To Life. It has a basic premise; to slaughter and maim as many innocent people as possible through sonic anger. The lack of diversions amplify this goal, save for the brief foray into melody with the clean introduction to “Endless Corpse.” There aren’t any filler instrumentals or songs that take a minute to get going - issues that Heavy Breathing had - and this focus is further employed by blood-thirsty screams and razor-tipped riffs.

“Feast Of The Damned,” the title track, and “Forced Into Possession” are the best series of opening tracks heard so far this year. If someone is left standing motionless after these three songs are done, they should be punished and ridiculed.

Read the complete Black Breath - Sentenced To Life Review

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4. Borknagar - 'Urd' (Century Media)

Borknagar - Urd
Century Media Records

Borknagar have always defined themselves as an alternative filter through which black metal aesthetics could be refined. They take the spirit of that musical tradition and spiral out with it, making it more clear, complex, and grand. Where black metal is concerned with heaven and hell, Borknagar looks out over the shape of the galaxy and the sprays of stars. There is a broadness to Urd, a sense of vastness and immense scope, that both celebrates the best parts of Borknagar's early work while stretching outward into a much larger soundscape to express it.

With some of a great symphonic black metal bands of past years releasing every more tired and insipid records as time goes on, it is wonderful to hear Borknagar challenging themselves. Staying true to form with tracks like “The Winter Eclipse,” which drip black metal meltwater and pay homage to their origins, Urd also includes with material that reaches every outward into new and more complex territory. This record is both innovative and deeply satisfying.

Read the complete Borknagar - Urd Review

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5. Cannibal Corpse - 'Torture' (Metal Blade)

Cannibal Corpse - Torture
Metal Blade Records

Fear not gore fiends; for all their admirable longevity, even the most cursory listen to this latest offering quickly confirms Cannibal Corpse is not for easing off the gas and cruising into mainstream acceptance. Torture, like anything bearing the Cannibal Corpse name, is still the sonic equivalent of having your face rearranged by a claw hammer.

Each of its twelve tracks is an exploration of heavy artillery rhythms; precise, powerful riffs and trademark guttural vocals. Although largely a retread of every other Cannibal Corpse album, this still sounds remarkably fresh and vital, the expert production of Erik Rutan ensuring absolute clarity and definition throughout, and allowing each instrument the room to breathe during even the most technical of passages.

Read the complete Cannibal Corpse - Torture Review

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