This past week saw Disturbed have their fourth consecutive #1 debut of their prolific career, an amazing feat in the era of file sharing and iTunes. Equally amazing is that Asylum is the third hard rock/metal record to debut at #1 in 2010, a year dominated by the likes of Eminem, Katy Perry, Usher, Lady Antebellum, and the child terror Justin Bieber. Following in the footsteps of Avenged Sevenfold and Godsmack, Disturbed has once again proven that fans of hard rock and metal are a force to be reckoned with. And when one also includes the number of top ten debuts from hard rock and metal bands this year, it’s becoming more and more obvious that heavy music is much more popular than mainstream America would like to believe.

This week assaults us with yet another overflowing list of new releases. There are actually two releases battling for the top spot in terms of appeal and significance. One is a reissue of one of metal’s defining albums, a record that defined an entire decade and kick-started the legacy of a fallen hero of metal. The other is from a band that many would dispute as being metal, though they are definitely rock, and they have a history of debuting at #1 as well. Following behind these two albums are a multitude of amazing bands from all over the genre map. Much like the beginning of June, everyone should find at least one album on this list that they will like, so start reading and allocating your paychecks accordingly!

Pantera, Cowboys from Hell [Reissue] (Rhino)

The album that made Pantera into the biggest metal band of the ’90s is being reissued in a number of different formats. The 2-disc version will feature a number of live tracks, including the entire Alive and Hostile EP, in addition to the regular album tracks. The 3-disc version has all that, plus a third disc of demos, highlighted by the never-before-released “The Will to Survive”. The 3-disc version also comes in two deluxe editions: a “Texas-shaped box” set (recently delayed until October 22nd) and an “Ultimate Boxed Set” scheduled for November 22nd.

Linkin Park, A Thousand Suns (Warner Bros.)

Feedback so far is mixed on this album, with some calling it brilliant and others saying that it’s horrendous. But one thing is undeniably clear: with 2007’s Minutes to Midnight, Linkin Park fans have proven that they are behind the band until their career is over. The fact that an album that’s so drastically different from their older material could still reach #1 and earn such high praise speaks volumes about the band’s talent and their fans’ devotion. Expect A Thousand Suns to perform excellently on the sales charts, no matter how mixed the reviews are.

Death Angel, Relentless Retribution (Nuclear Blast)

When Death Angel toured with Soilwork this past summer, they played the new song “River of Rapture” (likely to be the first single from Relentless Retribution) in their live set, and it was greeted with unanimous approval. This should not be a surprise, though. Since re-forming in 2001, Death Angel has been one of the most consistent and most underrated thrash bands in the country. Expect Relentless Retribution to contain many of the same key elements that made The Art of Dying and Killing Season fan favorites.

Kamelot, Poetry for the Poisoned (Kamelot Media Group)

It is unfortunate that the band was forced to cancel their upcoming North Amercian tour to support this album, due to Roy Khan falling ill and needing to return home to Norway for medical treatment. We wish him all the best and hope he heals quickly so that Kamelot can play this amazing album live in the US. As with Relentless Retribution, Poetry for the Poisoned is another album that builds on its predecessors – in this case, the critically-acclaimed albums The Black Halo and Ghost Opera. And as with both of those albums, the guest cast on Poetry for the Poisoned is an all-star group from all over the metal spectrum, including Simone Simons (Epica), Björn “Speed” Strid (Soilwork), Jon Oliva (Savatage), and Gus G. (Firewind, Ozzy Osbourne), among others.

Accept, Blood of the Nations (Nuclear Blast)

The veteran German act has returned with their first studio album in fourteen years. However, the band is once again without founding vocalist Udo Dirkschneider, who has decided to focus on his own band, U.D.O. Replacing Dirkschneider is ex-TT Quick singer Mark Tornillo, an excellent performer that has already proven his worth in the band’s multiple live shows this year. The intense video for “Teutonic Terror” has already raised plenty of anticipation for this album, which should be a huge hit with fans and critics.

Flotsam and Jetsam, The Cold (Driven Music Group)

Jumping over to a new indie label, Driven Music Group, the old-school thrashers have returned to their roots on their tenth album. At this point, the only original member of the band is vocalist Eric “AK” Knutson, but the return of longtime second guitarist Michael Gilbert is a welcome lineup shift for the Phoenix-based group. If The Cold really is the return to form that the band says it is, expect this album to do a lot better than 2005’s Dreams of Death.

Lordi, Babez for Breakfast (The End)

The Finnish version of GWAR has made a ton of headway in the United States since the releases of The Arockalypse and Deadache. It’s hard to match the novelty factor of these albums, even for GWAR fans who are somehow not tired of the band’s shtick. If, after 15 years of being covered in fake blood, you want to try something new, Lordi is the band to check out. Granted, Lordi’s live show isn’t exactly unique either, but it’s still different and interesting enough to merit checking out.

Terror, Keepers of the Faith (Century Media)

Signing to Century Media Records was the best thing Terror has done in their career. Free of the financial black hole that is Trustkill Records (well, at least if you talk to their artists), Terror was able to capitalize by touring for most of the past two years. The recordings for Keepers of the Faith apparently took next to no time, because the band has taken very little time off from touring in the past few months. This album will continue Scott Vogel’s love for mosh-worthy hardcore, and further cement Terror as one of the leading hardcore bands of the decade.

System Divide, The Conscious Sedation (Metal Blade)

The newest creation from the mind of Aborted frontman Sven de Caluwé, System Divide also features Caluwé’s wife, Miri Milman, as co-vocalist. The pairing of these two on vocals is extremely powerful; more so than most other bands that have utilized a female clean singer with a male screamer in the past. Add to the mix a highly talented lineup that includes members of Abigail Williams, Malignancy, and Antenora, and you get one of the potential huge breakout bands of 2010.

Valient Thorr, Stranger (Volcom)

With four albums and a DVD under their belt, the North Carolina rockers don’t look to slow down anytime soon. Nor should they, since 2010 has seen Valient Thorr reaching new audiences through touring with Mastodon, Between the Buried and Me, and Baroness. The band is currently traversing the eastern parts of North America with Howl and Junius as supporting acts.

The Absence, Enemy Unbound (Metal Blade)

Enemy Unbound has been in the works for way too long, with the band twice delaying their studio time for the album. However, if this album can match the reputation produced by 2005’s From Your Grave and 2007’s Riders of the Plague, expect to see a resurgence of the death metal scene in the band’s hometown of Tampa. Ironically, though, support for this album will start in a completely different scene, as The Absence were recently announced as the opening act for a quartet of dates with Greek power metallers Firewind in November. However, more touring will likely follow soon after.

Oceansize, Self Preserved While the Bodies Float Up (Superball)

A band named after a Jane’s Addiction song releasing an album with a name that sounds like a Cannibal Corpse song. What kind of music will you get here? Spacey, progressive, post-rock, of course! As you might have guessed, Oceansize makes as little sense to me as it likely does to you, unless you’re a fan of the band already. The English quintet does seem to be heavily influenced by the work of their countryman, Steven Wilson, so if you’re a fan of Porcupine Tree, then this album should merit a listen or two.

Dawn of Ashes, Genocide Chapters (Metal Blade)

Newly signed to Metal Blade, the EBM/dark electro group has evolved heavily in their sound since 2007’s The Crypt Injection. They are now playing a blackened melodic death metal style, not unlike the works of Abigail Williams, Zonaria, and This Ending. Fans of the band have been crying foul since the change in sound occurred in 2008, but the band has pushed forward relentlessly. The new sound is starting to pay off already, as Dawn of Ashes was recently tapped to open Dimmu Borgir’s upcoming North American tour with Enslaved and Blood Red Throne. These guys will be making a big splash in the next few months.

Vanisher, The History of Saints (Tribunal)

Featuring members of Bloodjinn and Glass Casket in their lineup, Vanisher is being heavily promoted by Tribunal Records as the future of melodic metalcore. The band certainly does have the genre nailed down, with a nice addition of European melodic death metal influence to the mix. It may not sound entirely original, but The History of Saints will be an enjoyable listen for those looking to check out a new band in the scene.

Father Befouled, Morbid Destitution of Covenant (Relapse)

On their second album, the Chicago and Georgia-based quartet is still reeling from the suicide of drummer Antichristus last November. It shows through the music, which harkens back to the infancy of death metal in its sound. With practically no production discernable through the chunky guitars and machine-gun drum lines, Father Befouled is a “back to the roots” death metal band. Fans of very early Deicide and Morbid Angel will like this. And by “very early”, I mean the demo tapes of those two bands.

Sully Erna, Avalon (Republic)

This is definitely NOT going to be anything that sounds like Godsmack. According to Erna’s own descriptions of the album, Avalon will feature Native American tribal rhythms mixed with blues-influenced vocals. The album personnel list includes a cellist, a keyboardist, an acoustic guitarist/bassist, and several other musicians in addition to Erna. The Godsmack frontman says that this album has taken over seven years to complete – whether or not it will sound that way is still up in the air.

Liv Kristine, Skintight (Napalm)

The Leaves’ Eyes frontwoman stepped into the world of solo recording in 1998 with Deus Ex Machina, but it wasn’t until 2006’s Enter My Religion that her solo career started receiving considerable notice. The latter album earned mixed reviews, with some only seeing it as a pop album, while others noticed influences of gothic and melodic rock, giving it a distinct flavor apart from the traditional, commercialized pop sound. Skintight will likely continue where Enter My Religion left off, and while many metal fans will reject this album outright for its lack of aggression, those with broader sonic palettes will find plenty to like here.

Beneath the Massacre, Marée Noire [EP] (Prosthetic)

With the imminent breakup of Despised Icon quickly approaching, bands are scrambling over their position as the leading technical death metal band in Canada. Beneath the Massacre is the clear-cut choice, showing off their amazing chops on 2008’s Dystopia. This EP is designed to be a stopgap while the band writes their next album. The song titles seem to relate to the recent oil spill in the Gulf, and given that “Marée Noire” is French for “Black Tide”, there is definitely an argument to be made for symbolism.

Dirge Within, Dirge Within [EP] (Koch)

This EP will be released exclusively on iTunes and will feature two songs from the band’s early days. Dirge Within is quickly becoming one of the most popular young bands in the metal scene, building up lots of touring credibility in the past year. Whether or not they maintain their success or hit a sophomore slump will depend mostly if they can stop losing members and squash the rumors of rock star ego BS plaguing their lineup.

Dragonforce, Twilight Dementia (Roadrunner)

This live album will be Dragonforce’s last official release with ZP Theart on vocals. The singer left the band in March due to “insurmountable musical differences”. One can only imagine how hard it will be to find a singer able to perform at Theart’s level. Regardless, though, those that never got to see DragonForce live with Theart should pick up this DVD just to see what all the hype is about.

Immortal, The Seventh Date of Blashyrkh (Nuclear Blast)

A traditional black metal band releasing a DVD is about as rare as a post-hardcore band with song titles that make sense, so you can guess just how special this release is. The main focus is Immortal’s headlining performance at Wacken Open Air 2007, the highlight of their triumphant reunion tour after a four-year hiatus. Featuring a setlist that spans their entire discography, this DVD is a must-buy for black metal fans around the world. It is unlikely such a DVD will be seen by this genre ever again.

Next Week: Everyone’s favorite System of a Down frontman delivers more harmonies on the imperfections of our world. Be prepared for as much social criticism as can possibly be delivered through music.