Tragedy in the metal community overshadowed a year rife with economic hardship and political instability. Three stars of the genre lost their lives prematurely in various ways: Metal legend Ronnie James Dio died from stomach cancer, Type O Negative icon Peter Steele died from heart failure, and Slipknot bassist and songwriter Paul Gray died from an overdose. But between the disasters, numerous bands released powerful and cathartic albums. Some reinvented themselves, others forged new ground. The best of the batch didn't stem from one scene or one subgenre. In many cases, they weren't even the bands that sold the most albums.

'Scenes From Hell'
Japan's finest experimental black metal band, Sigh, trumped 2007's 'Hangman's Hymn' with an album that relied equally on strong songwriting, blasphemous ferocity and orchestral embellishments heavily influenced by opera. Adding to the chaos for the first time on record is saxophonist Dr. Mikannibal, whose playing melds and clashes with frontman Mirai Kawashima.
'Hellbilly Deluxe 2'
Rob Zombie
More carnivalesque, campy and joyous than the largely introspective 'Educated Horses,' Rob Zombie seems to be having fun making music again. He's crafting songs that are sleazy, spooky, stomping and instantly recognizable. Enhancing the production is guitar virtuoso John 5 (ex-Marilyn Manson), who is capable of matching Zombie's twisted creativity.
'Axiom Ethica Odini'
Enslaved have come a long way since their birth in 1991 as a traditional Norwegian black metal band. Still, after a few experimental and psychedelic albums, they returned to the hellfire of earlier offerings with 'Axiom Ethica Odini.' Crushing, atmospheric and structurally solid, songs like 'Ethica Odini,' 'Raidho' and 'Giants' are simultaneously feral and melodic.
Fear Factory
Even the band's most devout fans didn't expect Fear Factory guitarist Dino Cazares to reunite with vocalist Burton C. Bell and return to the type of industrial wrecking-ball metal they pioneered. To the uninitiated, the way the band combines death metal verses with melodic choruses might seem unoriginal, but Fear Factory were one of the first to successfully employ the formula.
Don't mistake Norway's Shining for the Swedish group of the same name that plays suicidal black metal and encourages fans to hurt themselves. 'Blackjazz' is caustic and disarming but hardly crass, combining industrial, jazz, progressive and avant-garde metal into an explosive package that should appeal equally to fans of Ministry, Frank Zappa and Nine Inch Nails.
'The Final Frontier'
Iron Maiden
Iron Maiden are still firing on all cylinders. Their latest album combines the experimental and progressive leanings expressed over their past few albums with the urgency, immediacy and heaviness they expressed earlier in their career. Half the songs are well over seven minutes long and feature more rhythm changes than Dream Theater and Rush combined.
'Eparistera Daimones'
After dissolving Celtic Frost for the second time -- seemingly for good, this time -- frontman Thomas Gabriel Fischer assembled Triptykon to continue expressing the misery, hatred and bleak spirituality he has specialized in since the mid-'80s. Lucky for fans of black doom, that well never seems to run dry.
'Remember Who You Are'
With original guitarist Head and drummer David Silveria gone -- and with bassist Fieldy sober and born again -- the members of Korn decided it was high time to reevaluate what they were doing. So they brought back original producer Ross Robinson, who pushed them into expressing the pain, insecurity and belligerence that multimillion-dollar record contracts can't erase.
'Option Paralysis'
Dillinger Escape Plan
To even open-minded listeners, the Dillinger Escape Plan are an acquired taste. The band's spazzcore outbursts, crooned melodies, electro-tinged segues and storming hardcore/metal riffs are as schizophrenic as they are chaotic. But while they're always unconventional, they're never random. This is truly alternative music, carefully conceived and brilliantly executed.
'Diamond Eyes'
After spending nearly two years working on an album with producer Terry Date called 'Eros,' bassist Chi Cheng was severely injured in a car accident, remaining in a semi-conscious state. After mourning their bandmate, Deftones decided to scrap the album and create a new record on the fly. Instead of laboring over their songs the way they usually do, they jammed them out in the studio.
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