DIMMU BORGIR: DEATH CULT ARMAGEDDON
2003 saw Dimmu Borgir break through to the mainstream. I actually bought this album at Target of all places. This is by no means a great album, though it is still my favorite from the Norwegian symphonic black metal band, but it was instrumental in my interest in black metal. It was an album that caused me to look deeper into the genre. There are some damn good songs on it though and I do remember it completely freaked out my girlfriend (who later became my fiancee).
ENSLAVED: BELOW THE LIGHTS
The seventh album by Enslaved is more of a mix of their earlier black/Viking metal style and their later more progressive sound. This album features the haunting "Havenless" which is my favorite song by the band. Enslaved was at the peak of their creativity on this album, crafting several classic songs while retaining the depth and atmosphere of their previous works.
LOST HORIZON: A FLAME TO THE GROUND BENEATH
Yes, the album cover is cheesy as hell, but this is easily one of the best power metal albums of the decade. The Swedish band has thus far only released two albums, this being their last, but it is an incredible album. The vocals really make the album, being technically impressive and incredibly emotive. The music is powerful, majestic, and epic. This is a brilliant power metal album that is unfortunately too often overlooked.
SWALLOW THE SUN: THE MORNING NEVER CAME
I have made my feelings on this album pretty clear for some time. One of my absolute favorite albums in the death/doom genre and a true blind buy. This is the exact opposite of the prior album as it is extremely dark and depressing. It crawls along at a snail's pace and leaves the listener feeling dread and darkness overtaking them. And this was just the band's first album. It also has one of my favorite album covers of all time, perfectly capturing the feel of the album.
THE CROWN: POSSESSED 13
The Swedish death/thrash band released their last album before going on hiatus, the horror-themed Possessed 13. This album featured the return of original vocalist Johan Lindstrand, but was otherwise more of the same from The Crown. Hyper-fast death/thrash that takes no prisoners and leaves the listener reeling.
HONORABLE MENTIONS: Akercocke: Choronzon; Arch Enemy: Anthems of Rebellion; The Black Dahlia Murder: Unhallowed; Children of Bodom: Hate Crew Deathroll; Dragonforce: Valley of the Damned; Lamb of God: As the Paces Burn; Moonspell: The Antidote; Overkill: Killbox 13.
BANDS THAT FORMED IN 2003: Abysmal Dawn, Korpiklaani, Through the Eyes of the Dead.