Candlemass - King Of The Grey Islands. Unquestionably the album of the year for me. The previous album was very average, so I had no expectations for this one. Boy was I pleasantly surprised. Lots of energy, Lars putting in his best ever lead guitar work, and a vocalist that slays everyone that came before him. I've bought this album 3 times, in mp3 form when it first came out (yes, I pay for mp3s), then on CD when it arrived here 6 weeks later, and just recently on vinyl (with an exclusive bonus track). It's been totally worth it.
Nightwish - Dark Passion Play. So the band kicked out their vocalist and got a new one, and all the fans of the old one said it was the end of the band being any good. Sorry, but Nightwish just went and did maybe their best album. End.
Paradise Lost - In Requiem. Pretty much carries on from where their last s/t album left off. Their return to the metal fold has continued to the point where this album would've been a great follow up to Draconian Times, and we could all just forget about those gothy albums that happened over the last 10 years (which would actually be a shame, since some of them were pretty good).
Dimmu Borgir - In Sorte Diaboli. A mess. There's too much going on, and no real hooks to the riffs to keep things grounded. The entire album basically merges into one big, uninspired noise.
Ulver - Shadows Of The Sun. My fault for buying it, given that Ulver have been playing shitty electronic music for years now, but I thought it was worth a try, since Garm was going to sing on it for once, and I used to love his voice. None of his old glory or tone are present sadly, it's all very subdued. As I said, my fault for expecting something that Ulver were unlikely to deliver anyway.
Darkthrone - F.O.A.D. I like modern Darkthrone, possibly even more than I like their 'classic' early 90's material, but something about this album doesn't quite feel right. There's some good songs as always, but the songs that fail, fail badly. The likes of "Canadian Metal" and "Raised On Rock" are just a little too tounge in cheek for their own good.
Vintersorg - Solens Rotter. The album was billed as a return to his "folk metal roots", which was an exciting prospect, even though I've enjoyed the prog vein of the last 2 albums. Something went horribly wrong though, and this wound up sounding almost exactly like his prog albums. Only weak. In trying to have clever instrument arrangements, Vintersorg has overlooked the key to strong songwriting - being catchy. Too many of the songs wander around aimlessly in the vocal department, which blows me away, since he's been my favourite singer for the last 5 or so years. Atleast he's back to singing in Swedish exclusively, so we don't have to deal with shitty lyrics about philosophy and stars.
Winds - Prominence And Demise. First up I must say, their debut album "Reflections Of The I" was brilliant. A laid-back, final maturing of the neoclassical metal style spawned by the likes of Yngwie Malmsteen in the early 80s. It was perfect. Which is what makes this, their 3rd full length, so frustrating. They've upped the aggression and heavyness of the guitars, which is cool, but it's rendered half the band useless. This thing's like Metlzer's Justice League- you've got Superman on drums, and Batman on guitars, both kicking major ass. Then there's Geoforce on piano, who just sounds totally out of place and does nothing for the music except get in the way. The vocalist can be Red Tornado, someone who can deliver the goods, but wanders around aimlessly for the most part. Seriously, it's like the band split in half and wrote their own parts without checking back to see what the others were doing. And whoever wrote the lyrics needs to just stop it.
Ava Inferi - The Sillhouette. This is without doubt the best The 3rd & The Mortal album since 'Nightswan' in 1995, heh. I never thought I'd hear someone reproducing T3&TM's sound so effectively, but there it is. Sure it's not perfect, but it's just so nice to see the 'return' of a sound that was so great, even if it's done by a bunch of completely different people. All this from the guitarist from Mayhem, which is the last person I'd expect to come out with a serene Doom album.
2nd Biggest Surprise
Mayhem - Ordo Ad Chao. Seriously, did anyone see this coming? It's just so dark and cold and daaaaamn, it's like black metal used to be 15 years ago. Atmosphere to burn.
Good Once More
Within Temptation - The Heart Of Everything. 2005's album was pretty bad. This one is pretty awesome. Catchy, decent vocals, good orchestral backing. Nice return to form.
Clawfinger - Life Will Kill You. Another band recovering from a weak 2005, they went back to what works- strong riffs with a dark edge. A fun band when they get it right, they keep up their track record of alternating between strong and weak albums.
Head Scratcher Of The Year
Agua De Annique - Air. So the vocalist from The Gathering decides to leave the band, citing a desire to try new things. Then she releases an album that sounds exactly like The Gathering (only not as good- guess the rest of the band actually did contribute to the songs). I don't get it.
Also a shout out to Funeral, Therion, and Rotting Christ, who all released good albums this year.