Our favorite albums of 2004, part one: the best of metal

As we do every year at this time, we've polled our music geeks to find out what their favorite albums are from 2004--not necessarily what they think the best ones are, but the ones they found themselves returning to time and time again throughout the year. Because 2004 was an unusually fruitful year for great albums, they've been squirming a bit more than usual--exactly how we like to see them--and we also had too many lists to fit into just one issue this time around. Thus, we begin with a list from our resident heavy metal expert, Jon Hobson. Our other music writers' lists will appear in next week's issue.

1. Machine Head

Through the Ashes of Empires

Calling the fifth Machine Head studio effort "Album of the Year" almost doesn't do it justice. The Bay Area legends had their backs against the wall when it came time to lay down the album's original 10 tracks in the summer of 2003. Without an American label, frontman Robb Flynn produced TTAOE and extracted the finest performances from his bandmates, and himself. Through the Ashes was originally released in October 2003 to all territories outside the United States; Roadrunner Records (America) came back to Machine Head, and the album was released in this country in April of this year, after the band went back into the studio and recorded a new track, "Seasons Wither," for the U.S. release.

2. Slipknot

Vol. 3: (The Subliminal Verses)

The nine-piece masked madmen recruited legendary producer Rick Rubin to helm the recording sessions for their eagerly awaited third release. Proving their unpredictability, Vol. 3 is the group's most complete offering yet. Displaying the talents of each member respectively, this effort is a masterpiece--and that's an understatement.

3. Exodus

Tempo of the Damned
Nuclear Blast

Following the unfortunate passing of reunited vocalist Paul Baloff, the Bay Area thrash pioneers recruited Baloff's replacement, Steve "Zetro" Souza, for their first studio album in 12 years. Old school, indeed, but it's thrash metal at its finest.

4. Shadows Fall

The War Within
Century Media

Ready to lead a new revolution of heavy metal, Shadows Fall is the closest thing to pure, old-school thrash metal of any newer band today. Bigger things definitely await this band, and it will all be well deserved.

5. Lamb of God

Ashes of the Wake

Thanks to their underground following, the first major label release from the Virginia slammers was eagerly anticipated and well-hyped. The result: a sonically brutal and crushing effort.

6. Killswitch Engage

The End of Heartache

Vocalist Howard Jones possesses the most notable throat in the new era of heavy metal. From blood-curdling screams to grunts to vocal harmonies, Jones is a badass who can do it all. The album reflects the group's live performances--hardcore and filled with drive and mayhem.

7. Death Angel

The Art of Dying
Nuclear Blast

Bonded by blood, the Bay Area thrash metal legends reunited for their first album in 15 years. Death Angel combine their traditional thrash metal roots with pure hard rock and acoustic ballads on The Art of Dying.

8. God Forbid

Gone Forever
Century Media

The New Jersey quintet combines various elements of hardcore, thrash and pure heavy metal in their new release. While displaying the aggression of their past records, God Forbid puts down nine tracks that are more crafted than anything they've done before.

9. 36 Crazyfists

A Snow Capped Romance

Alaskan-bred 36 Crazyfists matured greatly for their sophomore album. Lacking the ever-present trend of constant cursing, A Snow Capped Romance focuses on positive subject matter.

10. Otep

House of Secrets

Simply put: Don't piss this woman off!

Thank you.

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