With Jan. 26 being heavy on metal releases, fans responsed by picking up nearly 9,000 copies of Alesana's 'The Emptiness,' which was enough to propel the album to secondd on the hard rock sales charts for the week. Living Sacrifice's 'The Infinite Order' also shifted nearly 3,000 units its first week on shelves, while newbies Taking Dawn sold nearly 1,400 copies of their debut, too.

Annotations of an Autopsy, 'II: Reign of Darkness' (Nuclear Blast America): These Brits have chosen an apt name. 'II: Reign of Darkness' is as visceral and 'br00tal' as a corpse on a coroner's table. This is 100 percent trend-free death-grind, sans any 'core.' No singing, no melodic vocals. Just all death metal, all Cookie Monster vox, all blast beats, all super fast riffs, all of the time. 'In Snakes I Bathe' and 'Born Dead' are my recommendations.

Arsis, 'Starve for the Devil' (Nuclear Blast America): 'Starve for the Devil' represents a new, improved Arisis. This year's model features James Malone and a recently-returned Mike Van Dyne as the only original members. Arsis, who play faster than a loose woman around sailors, haven't missed a beat with the album. A new lineup is in tact, and the band still shreds like an old pair of jeans. 'Forced to Rock' and 'March for the Sick' are thrash-death hybrids, loaded with blast beats and intensity that will make your head do 360 degrees like Reagan in 'The Excorcist.'

Fear Factory, 'Mechanize' (Candlelight): Portly guitarist Dino Cazares is in; former drummer Raymond Herrera and former bassist-turned-guitarist Christian Olde Wolbers are out, as Burton C. Bell remains the sole constant at vocals. 'Mechanize' demonstrates that Cazares and Bell are the driving songwriting forces behind Fear Factory. The band's industrial-aggro blend is as potent as ever; it's like steel gnashing against steel. The duo always provide heat, preventing the music from adopting a cold, sterile tone. This is some of their heaviest work since 1998's 'Obsolete.'

Orphaned Land, 'The Neverending Way of ORWarriOR': While Israel isn't known for exporting metal bands by the tonnage, check out Orphaned Land, who hail from the region, and their latest, 'The Neverending Way of ORWarriOR,' an album that dabbles in exotic instrumentation ('Sapari') one minute and barking like a demon the next ('Broken Vessels'). The album plays with sweeping melodic textures and moments throughout. No wonder they attract Arabs and Christians to their shows; they dabble in prog and death metal in a fashion similar to Opeth on 'The Path Part I: Treading Through Darkness.'

Overkill, 'Ironbound' (E1): The old saying goes, 'As I got older, I got better.' Sounds like Overkill took those words to heart. Two decades into their career, the East Coast thrash lords still have it, the 'it' being vicious guitars, Bobby 'Blitz' Ellsworth's commanding vocals and a hunger normally reserved for young'ins. With 'Ironbound,' Overkill show the kids how to thrash and burn. 'The Green and Black,' the title track and 'The Goal is Your Soul' bulldoze their way through your speakers/earbuds with no caution. Overkill invade your brain with well-constructed, two-horns-up thrash!

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