Here we go with my top 20...
20. Nachtmystium—Addicts: Black Meddle Pt. II (Century Media)
Based on Nachtmystium's ability to get purists all riled up, I sprung for the new album, only to be disappointed by the lack of anything truly radical. Remember 1997 and the Weirding of Norway? La Masquerade Infernale and Neonism represent the kind of stretch I'd like to hear Blake Judd make in the realm of NWOUSBM. If I shake off those hopes and expectations, I'll admit this is a pretty good rock album. The title track sounds like a charred BÖC (Black Oyster Cult?), although it's marred by a halfhearted ending. Other bits I like are the denouement of “Every Last Drop,” the tambourine on "Nightfall," and "No Funeral," with its Cars synth line. Those are moments when I go, "that’s cool, that’s somewhat brave." But there's a weird, unband-like vibe to it...maybe it's the direct-injection guitar tone (whether that's the method they used or not, that's what it sounds like). At least I can tell the songs apart, which is no small victory for me at this stage!
19. High on Fire—Snakes for the Divine (E1)
Blessed Black Wings made me a High on Fire fan. Death Is This Communion did a great job of building on its predecessor's relentless attack, adding some heaviness and perfecting the trio's chemistry. This new one rocks hard, but it doesn't take things over the top. "Bastard Samurai" and "How Dark We Pray" stand out as deep cuts that sustain the album after the opening duo of the title track and "Frost Hammer" kick things off with everything set at an unsustainable 11. High On Fire are one of the hardest working bands around; if it's possible to make a living playing metal these days, I hope they find a way to thrive.
18. Mares of Thrace—The Moulting (Arctopus)
I gotta say, Mares of Thrace didn't misrepresent themselves on their debut album. This is a raw, jolting record, sometimes almost too strict in its adherence to the single guitar/voice/drums format. I took this home after seeing them live, and yep, this kind of howling noise rock is what they're all about. If I had one wish, it'd be that they'd recorded these songs after honing them on their epic summer tour. As it stands, the album has some jagged edges that at least add an excitement you won't hear on 99% of records these days.
17. Algernon—Ghost Surveillance (Cuneiform)
Algernon are a crack outfit from Chicago who play a suitably spectral style of post-rock/prog on Ghost Surveillance. These instrumentals are based on strong rhythmic ideas, rich-sounding synths, and plenty of tuned percussion (vibraphone and glockenspiel). Great stuff that gets catchier every time I listen to it. Recommended if you like Tortoise; Ghost Surveillance makes a more stern, stately companion to Beacons of Ancestorship.
16. Worm Ouroboros—s/t (Profound Lore)
This album sounds like water to me—it surges, bubbles, and seeps into the corners of the patient listener's mind.