The absolutely abysmal Super Bowl halftime show just goes to show how low the standards of most American music consumers has sunk. But metalheads and rockers the world over have taken a stand for better music and higher standards, demanding that their performers be better than the nonsensical drivel the world bore witness to on Sunday. Bands have responded in droves, with plenty of veteran acts revitalizing their careers in an effort to meet the demands of their fans. It has also led to a large genre reshuffling, with lots of newer genres reorganizing themselves and changing their image, as less-popular genres simultaneously came to the forefront of the metal world’s attention. The bottom line of this is that metal fans can celebrate their music being at a peak level of quality right now, especially since much of the rest of the music world is in the dregs of stagnation and imitation.

Today rewards metal fans with a treat in diversity. Veterans of sludge gift us with their grimiest album yet, up-and-coming “battle metal” artists from Finland strike up the war cry again on their third full-length, and underground veterans of blackened death metal release their ninth opus of evil. Enjoy your options on today’s list!

Crowbar, Sever the Wicked Hand (eOne Music)

I will admit, when Kirk Windstein sat out Kingdom of Sorrow’s run on Ozzfest to enter rehab and AA last summer, I was worried about the impact that might have on this album. I shouldn’t have worried, though. In fact, I daresay that this album would have been less enjoyable if Windstein hadn’t taken his break. This album blows away the excellent Lifesblood for the Downtrodden, and showcases some of Crowbar’s best-sounding work since Odd Fellows Rest. The kings of sludge are back and better than ever.

Turisas, Stand Up and Fight (Century Media)

If one thing about Turisas serves as proof that they are the real deal, it is the live show they put on and how well they manage to upstage other bands. When I saw them on tour with DragonForce in 2008, Turisas easily stole the show. That may not seem like too difficult of a feat, but reports I’ve heard about their participation in other tours says they have shown up more serious bands, such as Ensiferum and Moonspell, and may be doing the same to Cradle of Filth on their current US tour. However, The Varangian Way is solid evidence of Turisas’ energy, and Stand Up and Fight only furthers that statement. Be ready for “battle metal” to quickly become a new buzz term in the metal community.

Belphegor, Blood Magick Necromance (Nuclear Blast)

Belphegor gets compared to Behemoth more often than not in their music, but where their Polish counterparts lean more towards the black metal end of the spectrum, these Austrians are more into death metal. Regardless, their lyrical rhetoric is an easy sign as to why Deicide chose them for main support on their upcoming “God is Dead – To Hell With God” tour. That tour and their Spring time run with Sepultura will expose many people to this album, a crushing slab of blackened death metal that will leave your eardrums in tattered ruins.

Battlelore, Doombound (Napalm)

Battlelore is fantasy fiction’s answer to Sabaton. Instead of playing metal with lyrics based in history like their Swedish brothers, the seven Finns in Battlelore have managed to base all five of their previous albums on the collective works of J.R.R. Tolkien, most notably his world-famous Lord of the Rings trilogy. Doombound sees Battlelore branching out their Tolkien love to create a concept album about Túrin Turambar, a tragic hero from the First Age of Middle-Earth. And for all the non-Tolkien scholars out there currently pointing at their computer screens and shouting “NERD!” at me, know that Doombound is the third excellent album of epic, grandiose metal to come out of Finland in the first six weeks of 2011, alongside Turisas’ aforementioned new album, and Stratovarius’ new album that was released three weeks ago.

Onslaught, Sounds of Violence (AFM)

Onslaught was one of the many unfortunate casualties of the decline of thrash in late ’80s and early ’90s. After releasing three quality albums, including the 1986 classic The Force, Onslaught couldn’t find a label that would give them a deal. However, well over a decade later, Onslaught came back and finally released the long-awaited fourth album, Killing Peace, an album that showed that the band still had it, even after spending such a long time away from music. Sounds of Violence is a surefire continuation of that, led by lead single and Motörhead cover “Bomber”. The track also features cameos by Motörhead guitarist Phil Campbell and Sodom vocalist Tom Angelripper, only giving Onslaught more credence as a successful comeback band.

Helstar, Glory of Chaos (AFM)

Another sadly forgotten thrash group from the glory days, Helstar seems to have found some appreciation overseas, since they’ve stayed signed to AFM Records since 2006. 2008’s The King of Hell was an electrifying thrash album that showed a lot of promise for the veteran group. Glory of Chaos looks to have a lot of the same quality for the Houston-based group. And while they may never replicate the success of Nosferatu, I will still be happy if Helstar can top their last album and show some signs of consistency.

Next Week: We get our first real “flood” of new releases, as over twenty new albums grace us with their metal presence. Let the headbanging commence!