5. Cannibal Corpse

Kill

(Metal Blade)

Kill contains the same blitzkrieg of searing guitars and Cookie Monster vocals for which Cannibal Corpse is known, only more gory and brutal than before. With song titles like "Five Nails Through the Neck," and "Submerged in Boiling Flesh," there's nothing quaint or kitschy about this kind of metal. Songs like the fast and furious "Purification By Fire" and "Brain Removal Device" (with its chaotic, crashing guitars) only further illustrate the sonic terror of which this band is capable. Every moment on Kill — with the exception of "Infinite Misery," a lurching instrumental that closes the album — is an ear-shattering, nightmare-inducing experience.

4. Mastodon

Call of the Mastodon

(Relapse)

Though press and fan anticipation was no doubt concentrated on Mastodon's Warner Bros debut this year, the acclaimed band managed to top itself via this reissue of some of its earliest recordings (essentially the Lifesblood EP expanded to include four songs from the same sessions). If Mastodon's praise ever seemed premature, this release should give you ample pause to reconsider. Mastodon's stock-in-trade has always been to blend thrash, extreme, stoner, and prog varieties of metal, and here the band distills them into a seamless, compelling whole.

3. Gojira

From Mars to Sirius

(Prosthetic)

Gojira's leading the latest wave of red-hot French metal bands, and one listen to this potent and progressive album shows why. This is a band that can create both extremely heavy, grinding, guttural songs ("Backbone") and gentler, technically-twisted tunes ("Unicorn," "From Mars") without sacrificing either power or precision. On From Mars to Sirius, the band expresses its concerns about our environment in almost every song, but takes a positive rather than apocalyptic stance. Gojira's often compared to Swedish tech metal band Meshuggah, which delves even deeper into experimental song structures, but Gojira's scorching compositions-wrapped-in-optimism make the band an anomaly in a genre characterized by darkness and violence.

2. Sulaco

Tearing Through the Roots

(Willowtip)

Sulaco re-creates grindcore as a fluid, forward-reaching form that will still sound vital and ultra-heavy a hundred years from now. Bandleader Erik Burke possesses jaw-dropping guitar chops, but it's Sulaco's imagination that yields song structures so staggeringly complex that your memory will go slack trying to grasp them. Throw in an unprecedented infusion of buzzing, darkly-colored melody, and the future of grindcore looks promising, indeed.

1. Lamb of God

Sacrament

(Epic Records)

Sacrament — which surprised a lot of people by debuting at #8 on the Billboard charts this year — is Lamb of God's most technical album to date, favoring atmosphere over aggression. The band still slays us with thundering thrash and death metal, but except for a few tracks — most notably "Foot to the Throat" and "Beating on Death's Door," which assail the listener with LoG's usual jackhammer-to-the-head vibe — Sacrament is a sonic step forward for the band, employing more guitar solos, more demonic vocal dubs, and more furious fills that show off skin hitter Chris Adler's dexterous drumming. Producer Machine (Clutch, King Crimson) helped clean up the band's usually raw sound, simultaneously capturing the group's mind-blowing musical prowess in layers of dark harmonies and monstrous melodies. Niki D'Andrea and Saby Reyes-Kulkarni

Snap to It: Comeback kids, rhymin' Limeys and songs about partying defined Hip-Hop Nation in 2006

It was, according to no less an authority than the New York Times, the year rap went regional.

There was plenty of recent evidence to support this claim, beginning with the suddenly paltry record sales racked up by some of hip-hop's heaviest weights. There was lots of historical evidence, as well: Ever since the Dirty South shook off the bicoastal stranglehold of the mid-'90s, hip-hop had developed burgeoning scenes in no less than a dozen major markets.

By 2006, most of those cities had mutated the music and culture beyond the recognition of all but the most dedicated hip-hop fan. These towns had their own sounds, their own slang, and even their own subgenres. A staple of late-night TV humor used to be exploiting a senior citizen's unfamiliarity with hip-hop; now you had to explain to Grandma the difference between the laid-back groove of "snap music" and old-fashioned, high-energy crunk. And the punchline was this: Her grandkids might not have been able to explain it, either.

But then along came Jibbs's "Chain Hang Low," jingling like the last ice-cream truck of the long, hot summer, and a lot of those feudal, walled-city lines seemed to fade. With a melody familiar to Grandma (it was drawn from the children's song "Do Your Ears Hang Low," which in turn took its melody from the traditional "Turkey in the Straw"), a G-rated lyric (the pimp reference notwithstanding), and a beat that repped the stuttering sound of St. Louis without shutting out fans from other locales, it was a reminder of hip-hop's power to unify.

In person, Jibbs isn't shy about expressing his ambition. He might have just turned 16, but he doesn't sound like he'll be satisfied hanging around the STL and disseminating new dance moves via YouTube. "I'm trying to hit every market, man. I mean, every market," he says earnestly. "I wanna get everyone involved, and not just try to sell my album to one particular group of people."

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