Harkonin earned "Best Metal Band" honors each of the past two years, but instead of resting on that skull-decorated throne, the quartet engineered a massive 2006. The group cleaned up its 2005 album Sermons of Anguish
, ensuring that its bleak guitar tones ring with blatant menace and its vocals communicate malicious intent without having to slice through a mire. (Black-metal bands once took pride in their brutally awful production, but with pioneers such as Darkthrone and Satyricon remastering their back catalogues, pristine is the new muddy.) In July Harkonin released its third full-length disc, Ghanima
, which will require no retroactive polish. Singer Jason Barron's Hades-spawned hiss epitomizes evil, but he enunciates clearly, ensuring that all within earshot learn the secrets of the "Mystic Gates of Sorrow." Propelled by an unrepentantly rock & roll rhythm section, Harkonin is the rare black-metal group that sounds right at home in Midwestern bars.