"It's intriguing that so many of the best metal albums this year were the ones with no metal in them, by which I mean no guitars." I wrote that eight years ago, at the end of 2003, apparently impressed by certain gothic and/or ambient and/or keyboard-obsessed bands (whom I can no longer identify offhand) who'd taken their heaviness in a rather unexpected direction, to say the least. What I wrote then is certainly not true of metal albums now: my three favorite albums below are absolutely committed to overweight guitar riffs, as metal has been since the very dawn of time. Further down the list, though, there's still plenty of evidence of bands moving their music way beyond the genre's high-volume constrictions and into a territory that -- on entire albums in some cases and just a few tracks in others -- might make sense as relaxing background music on certain underworld elevators. So: a new age or an old one? Your choice.