As for my upper echelon, I would say these 5 made it in with the rest of the list being stunning follow-ups as well:
Thrice - Vheissu: I was far more into pop-punk & emo (e.g. TSL, STD, TBS) with Thrice being the only "heavy" band I really enjoyed. This album, however, made them my all-time favorite band and forever set me on new musical paths. I will forever be attached and indebted to this album and band for raising music to a new, previously un-reached level.
Underoath - Define The Great Line: Sure, I liked a few songs on Chasing Safety but it wasn't my cup of tea although it seemed to be just about EVERYONE elses... then this dropped on my head like a ton o' bricks! I had never felt the depth and complexity from any of their "metalcore" contemporaries and feel the same way today about their subsequent releases.
Brand New - TDAG: From June 2003 until November 19, 2006 I told myself "They hit their watermark on Deja and that was it." I thought they would continue to chase that sound the rest of their careers and they would continue to fall short. Just like a few months before though (see: above), I was proven wrong 100x over. This album redefined the band in my eyes as a group that could shrug off an entire scene and do what they wanted.
The Snake The Cross The Crown - Cotton Teeth: In a way, I feel like this album's keeper. I felt they had taken a bigger leap from album to album than any other band I’d followed. Sonically, it wasn’t a step away from but rather a giant leap forward. A lot of artists hyped this album but I feel like it went under the radar and to this day still is.
The Dear Hunter - Act II: The Meaning Of, And All Things Regarding Ms. Leading: The theatricality of Act I was original (as it could be) and interesting but sounds like a shotty 4-track compared to this truly amazing piece of work. It is a fully realized masterpiece in every sense of the word.
Saves the Day - In Reverie: Yeah, I said it!
Name Taken - Hold On: A quantum leap forward and a classic as it stands IMO
Finch - Say Hello to Sunshine: I had grown out of screamo after loving
their debut and this hit the spot
The Bled - Found in the Sound: They expanded their sound while still equaling their beloved debut
Portugal. The Man - Censored Colors: Went to a level I didn’t think they could
Manchester Orchestra - METN: A stunning debut overmatched by its successor
Rx Bandits - Mandala: I still think Battle is my fav but I didn’t think they’d match it
Grizzly Bear - Veckatimest: Yellow House was fantastic but they really stepped up
Thursday - No Devolución: One of my fav bands stepped up and equaled their classics with their swan song
I Am the Avalanche - Avalanche United: It was quite a wait but they did it... and then some
O'Brother - Garden Window: While I tried not to be too “prisoner of the moment” (while a couple from last year snuck in there) but this already feels like it will be a true classic for years (and years and years) to come!
Color Revolt - The Cradle
After the lineup change I was not sure what I was going to get, but this album killed it
I Am the Avalanche - Avalnche United
This album was many years in the making and was clearly worth the wait.
Agree whole-heartedly with both of these; props!