I’ve heard some sludgy music in my time, but “Surrounded By Thieves” is damn near impenetrable. The songs here are about as fast and lively as a funeral dirge, not to mention as heavy as the Oakland Raiders’ offensive line (average listed weight of a Raider offensive lineman: 322 pounds). On this album Matt Pike continues to cement his place among metal’s reigning guitar heroes, and the band’s epic sound gives him plenty of opportunities to show what he can do. His twisted, mammoth riffing makes for one of the heaviest albums of the year, and he’s well accompanied by Des Kensel on drums and George Rice on bass. Despite the obvious skill of the musicians, “Surrounded by Thieves” is far from a wankfest. Heaviness is the objective here, not speed or technicality, and every song thumps along very nicely, with some of the deepest and thickest grooves around. Still, for all the heaviness it’s the nuances that make this a great album: Pike’s screaming solos, Kensel’s occasional drum rolls, and Rice’s pummelling bass notes. I’ll be the first to admit Pike’s vocals are a little odd, and may take some getting used to, but with music this good it’s easy to be patient. One of the most epic metal albums around, “Surrounded by Thieves” is sure to please even the most discrimating headbangers.