10. Black Breath—Heavy Breathing (Southern Lord)
After their scorching debut EP, I wasn't sure that Black Breath could sustain the energy and interest over a full length. I shouldn't have doubted their abilities, as these Bellingham burnouts take to the album format with ease, with a raft of great punk/metal tunes and a surprise or two (most notably the blackened blues of "Unholy Virgin"). Kurt Ballou records them with the same fat tones as their debut. It's pure rock 'n' roll; so inspiring that yes, I will take them up on that offer to "Spit on the Cross" and then "Eat the Witch." Tasty.
9. Stargazer—A Great Work of Ages (Profound Lore)
Leave it to Profound Lore to unearth a tech-death band with a captivating twist. A Great Work of Ages has a severe, murky atmosphere, while showcasing great songwriting and serious chops (bass shredding abounds). It all works, at both an intellectual and a visceral level. Stargazer take great satisfaction in mucking up the sterile, cookie-cutter prog-metal aesthetic, marching forward with power and stern pride.
8. Agalloch—Marrow of the Spirit (Profound Lore)
While you can debate whether this is Agalloch's best album, you can't deny that this album brought some interesting new elements to their sound. I think it's their best album from the point of view of start-to-finish flow. I'll remember Marrow of the Spirit for that flow, as well as the darkness that permeates the entire work.
7. Kylesa—Spiral Shadow (Season of Mist)
Kylesa, with their Static Tensions album, was a big discovery in 2009, and Spiral Shadow is a walloping follow-up. I'm willing to toe the party line on it. Yes, I do hear some indie/alternative rock influences in their still-weighty approach—some Sonic Youth here, some Superchunk there. That's not a bad thing, and a perfectly logical direction when a band's starting to craft such tuneful material. Phillip Cope's attention to tones (well-documented on the DVD included with my deluxe edition) makes this the most ear-pleasing album on my list. It almost gives me hope for modern production techniques.
6. Triptykon—Eparistera Daimones (Century Media)
The best thing T. Warrior's done since Into the Pandemonium? Perhaps.