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The COVID-19 pandemic rages on, and we're all shuttered inside and anxious as well. Stay safe and healthy, everyone, and be sure to keep occupied during these times of self-quarantine. We will make it. And until then, we have these tunes to soothe our minds.

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Andrew Rothmund

Huntsmen -- Mandala of Fear

What can I say other than this: goddamn, Huntsmen has it all. From downright rock to moody ambiance to progressive licks that boggle your brain, Huntsmen weave their way in and out of sensational auras of sound as they summon their righteous jam seemingly without effort. It was a joy to participate in their livestream set (to replace a show that had been canceled due to COVID-19) -- you can watch the entire performance below, and trust me, Huntsmen are all things to all people who love heavy music. Their new album is a beast to behold -- there's lots to take in for sure -- but sink into it like you'd sink into a big novel, and you'll have an experience you're not able to forget. You can also check out our video interview with the band to learn more about this killer release (streaming below the live video).

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Ted Nubel

Bone Church -- Acid Communion

I'm a sucker for riffs, especially colossal ones with a stature mighty enough to cast everything else into shade. Bone Church's Acid Communion, a surprise hit for me this month, delivers these monoliths in prodigious volume, packing thick and memorable licks that can scarcely be contained. Their heavy, blues-driven stoner rock isn't outlandishly novel in its conception, but it's been executed so well as to banish any thoughts of competition in the riff-rock arena this year. Every time you might think a song has run its course and depleted its ammunition, it'll hit you with a new section that grooves even harder -- it's an arms race of righteousness that packs imaginative solos and top-tier riffs in the vein of both The Sword and Danzig. The muscular, bluesy rhythm section and impressive vocals on display are a nice topping too, but it might take you a few listens to get enough of the guitarwork before appreciating the rest of the record.

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Joe Aprill

Malokarpatan -- Krupinské ohne

I was a few months late to Malokarpatan’s big break into the metal world via their 2017 album Nordkarpatenland, but I soon enough became obsessed with them over their musical affection for regional early black metal forefathers like Master’s Hammer and Root along with the riffing wizardry and dark progressive flourishes found in Mercyful Fate. Malokarpatan have now returned with their third album Krupinské ohne, a concept album on witchcraft and paranoia within the rural Slovakian town of Krupina. Musically the album continues the band’s previously established hallmarks, including their more delectably weird aspects (obscure cinematic samples, ancient synth melodies, and varied woodwind and percussion instrumentation), but with an altogether more funereal atmosphere and epic scope suiting the more serious subject at hand. I also have to commend the band for composing the beginning and ending of the album as glorious callbacks to Bathory’s masterful epic work from the Hammerheart/Twilight of the Gods era. Krupinské ohne forms a perfect vektor, intersecting primal black metal malice with both classic 1980s heavy/speed metal exuberance and 1970s progressive rock ambition. Let this album transport you to a realm seemingly occult and exotic but all too human in it’s tragic drama.

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Ivan Belcic

Violet Cold -- Noir Kid

Was there any question as to which album would be my March pick? Not since the first of the month, when Violet Cold dropped his latest record Noir Kid. When covering the project's prior release kOsmik as part of my best albums of 2019 writeup, I described the overall work as one great crescendo leading up to the pop vocals at the end of the title track. And with Noir Kid, it's as if Violet Cold -- a.k.a. Emin Guliyev -- took that glorious moment as a starting point and then built a whole new record as an expansion of that mood. This album is just as poignant and powerful as Guliyev's previous work while reaching farther into pop territory than ever before, marrying his now-signature strain of blackgaze with club-ready synths, dance breaks, and tons more of those captivating vocals that made "kOsmik" such a standout track. If blackened dance pop wasn't a thing before, with the arrival of Noir Kid, Violet Cold has just birthed it into existence.

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Andrew Sacher

Code Orange -- Underneath

Code Orange made their best album yet by pushing their sound to the extreme in all kinds of different directions. It's their catchiest and most accessible album so far, but it's so glitchy and experimental that it makes "Bleeding in the Blur" sound like standard radio rock in comparison. It's the deepest dive into industrial music that Code Orange have done yet, but it rarely stays within one subgenre for long. Instead, it swiftly cruises through industrial, nu metal, hardcore, pop, electronic music, alternative rock, and more, and Code Orange play all this stuff like they invented it. And I know this roundup is about albums, but I'd be remiss not to point out that Code Orange celebrated the release of Underneath with a live-streamed album release show (in an empty venue), which is basically a pro-shot concert film, complete with all kinds of music video-style visuals. The film -- which marks the debut of drummer/vocalist Jami Morgan handing over the kit to a new touring member and assuming the role of center-stage frontman -- is a piece of art of its own, and it made me fall even more in love with this release.

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Greg Kennelty

Aktor -- Placebo

What would happen if the Melvins went in a slightly thrashier direction, bought a few keyboards, and threw in some Devo choruses? You'd have Aktor's sophomore effort Placebo. Spread across nine tracks and 39 minutes, Aktor manages to get angular (maybe even atonal) riffs drive toward surprising melodies that will absolutely get stuck in your head.

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Langdon Hickman

Sweven -- The Eternal Resonance

I know I've gone on and on about this album here and elsewhere, but I couldn't not pick Sweven's debut The Eternal Resonance. This is a record I've listened to every day since getting the promo, one that stays in constant rotation now. As COVID-19 anxieties worsened, as I lost my job, as I read news reports of Pentagon orders for 100,000 body bags, it was there, thick like incense smoke and death's dream-door. It's become an almost embarrassingly personal record to me already; I've cried to it, read to it, slept to it, meditated to it, had gentle and intense conversations to it. That is the mark of a great record to me; not one that functions in some abstract and immaterial way but enmeshes itself into the flesh of my life in some indelible way. April has two heavyweights aiming for this one's head, but it's quickly becoming my absolute favorite of the year. For now.

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Everyone

Mare Cognitum + Spectral Lore -- Wanderers: Astrology of the Nine

Bonus. We all adore this release from Mare Cognitum and Spectral Lore. It blew all of our minds to fucking smithereenes. Langdon did a full review.

I’ll cut right to the chase: as of this moment, Wanderers: Astrology of the Nine is tied for first place for my album of the year. This may sound presumptuous, but know that we get promos at least a month or two out, so while the year is clearly far from over and many surprises lay in wait, this is neck-and-neck for the absolute top spot. (As for the other two, you will be hearing about them very soon, one of them as early as next week.) There are, of course, other thoughts regarding this record to discuss, but it felt imprudent and almost disrespectful, both to you and to the artists behind this incredible record, not to open with the news of my favoritism plainly and directly.

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