AlesanaAlesana -- 'The Emptiness' (Fearless): Androgynous, concept-driven metalcore that's ripe for every single date of Warped Tour. That's 'The Emptiness' in a nutshell. High-pitched, sometimes femme vocals live alongside some guttural growls, layered harmonies and metal riffage. The album is centered around a sketch artist from the 1800s whose lover is slaughtered in his bed, next to him. It's heavy, but compelling stuff. 'Curse of the Virgin Canvas' and 'The Artist' roar with thunderous, 'right now' conventions and plenty of quiet-loud dynamics. If Thursday and Atreyu made their own Frankenstein, it'd be Alesana.

IshahnIshahn -- 'After' (Candlelight): Ishahn needs no introduction. The black metal visionary who fronted Emperor has enjoyed a brisk and successful solo career that's nowhere near as nefarious as the band that launched his career. Experimental ambience (and a whole lotta speed) defines his a la carte work; the songs were written with eight-string guitars. 'After' is nowhere as extreme as Emperor, but it's every bit as feral. There's plenty of texture and dynamics throughout the whole of the album. Opener 'Barren Lands' has a almost a mellow vibe, but it's followed by the particularly nasty 'A Grave Inversed,' which flies by at dirty punk rock speed and is steeped in Ishahn's snarls. It's also got an unusual riff pattern two minutes in. The shreddy, semi-epic 'Frozen Lakes on Mars' demonstrates Ishahn's refusal to align himself to a single genre.

Living SacrificeLiving Sacrifice -- 'The Infinite Order' (Solid State): It's hard to believe that it's been eight long years since Living Sacrifice, one of Christian death metal's most seminal bands, released 'Conceived in Fire.' Time, age and life haven't blunted the band's edge, as 'The Infinite Order' doesn't hop on any bandwagons or follow any of the genre's current changes. 'Overkill Exposure,' 'Rules of Engagement' and 'Unfit to Live' are demonically delightful and could veritably have scaled the bowels of hell. But they didn't. They reigned down from the heavens. Who says heavy metal isn't fit for heaven? 'The Infinite Order' certainly makes an argument for such.

MnemicMnemic -- 'Sons of the System': Mnemic are Denmark's answer to Fear Factory. It's semi-industrial, crunchily metallic metal that, despite its mechanized sound, never sounds cold or sterile. The riffs provide the heat and the drumming feels like automatic rifles being fired, while vocalist Guillaume Bideau, formerly of Scarve, sings and screams and employs multiple ranges. The title track, 'Diesel Uterus' and 'Mnightmare' kick off the album, mixing maelstrom and melody seamlessly.

Taking DawnTaking Dawn -- 'Time to Burn': The irreverence of Skid Row, minus the glam, and the young turkdom of Black Tide give way to Taking Dawn. The Las Vegas quartet's debut is a whole lotta rawk, with a capital 'R.' The band is doing 85 down a desert highway, top down, stereo cranked and a pack of hot, bikini clad girls in the back seat. It's fun without being frivolous.

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