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Looking back on the last 11 months or so, I’m not so much concerned with what album got which score where, but rather, I think about the albums that made me feel wide-eyed and psyched. I think about the records that I texted and emailed my friends about, and waxed poetic about after a few rounds. In my mind, what follows are those albums.

—Chris Brown

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10. Valkyrie – Shadows (Relapse, USA)

Full disclosure: I am a total sucker for gnarly guitar work that makes me want to dive headfirst into a six-pack. The sound of big-time hanging out is something I can’t resist. Over the course of seven tracks, this album is just towering riff after towering riff. Admittedly, this is way closer to hard rock than it is to metal, but it’s totally worth it to hear Pete and Jake Adams actively try to out-duel one another on each song. These dudes worship at the altar of the glorious power of the riff, and the conviction of their beliefs spools out in the form of hairy rock ‘n roll.

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9. Crypt Sermon – Out of the Garden (Dark Descent Records, USA)

By now, you’ve surely heard the story of Crypt Sermon (and if you haven’t, rectify that immediately). Five dudes hailing from Philadelphia find themselves immensely disappointed by the seemingly endless number of Sleep and Electric Wizard knockoffs populating the internet, so they decide to form their own doom outfit and bury the chumps. The snark in me loves the “we’re going to beat you at your own game” approach, but more importantly, the listener in me adores the colossal dual guitars and righteously clean vocals.

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8. Deafheaven – New Bermuda (ANTI-, USA)

It’s not lost on me that this is probably an unpopular pick, but honestly, I’m not too worried about it. Once again, Deafheaven have crafted an inventive, thoroughly engaging album that sounds spectacular. Darker and more aggressive than its predecessor, one can almost hope that now the “not metal” complaints will just fade away. For my money, what they do sonically has always been far more interesting than anything else related to the band, whether it be lyrics or vocals or how they look. Over the course of 45 minutes, guitarist Kerry McCoy shreds and lays waste to ideas about how heavy music “should” sound. Seriously, the guitar work on display here is top-shelf (Shouts to “Baby Blue”) It still shimmers at times, and sure maybe the alt-rock sensibility is still too off-putting for some, but man, this record rips.

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7. Elder – Lore (Armageddon Shop, USA)

Put simply, this is just a mammoth album. Over the course of five tracks, gargantuan, pristine guitar leads the charge; an awe-inspiring feat on its own and all the more impressive when you consider that four out of five songs on the record soar past the 10-minute mark. For the longest time, their last album, Dead Roots Stirring, used to pop up in my Spotify recommendations, and while it’s perfectly fine, it doesn’t come close to the contemplative, progged-out ruminations that are conjured up here.

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6. Acid King – Middle of Nowhere, Center of Everything (Svart, USA)

For as much as I may ramble about my love for killer guitar, I do appreciate some standout work from behind the kit, and drummer Joey Osbourne keeps this thing trucking right along, even as the track lengths swell. Any talk about Acid King has to also offer up praise for vocalist Lori S. and her ability to sweep you out of your headspace and on a trek through doomy meditative landscapes where “Silent Pictures” and “Infinite Skies” reign supreme. Fellow IO scribe Chris Rowella nailed it in his review of this record when he stated that “the tenth spin is just as enjoyable as the first.” This album truly does not get old, if anything, it feels a bit timeless.

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5. Krallice – Ygg huur (self-released, USA)

The latest offering from these New York standouts absolutely bowled me over when it arrived this summer. At first, my gut reaction was that this was the sound of an especially fierce freak-out, but that seriously sells short how textured and deliberate these sounds prove to be. Every blistering riff and on-a-dime change has a purpose, and while this record flies by at just 36 minutes it’s the sort of deal where you find yourself constantly pressing play all over again to try and pick up on something that you missed before.

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4. Khemmis – Absolution (20 Buck Spin, USA)

This is the album for those Friday nights when the work week has sucked and everyone is hung up on some sort of bullshit, but you just want toss a few back and maybe get a little weird. In another era, this is a band whose logo you’d scrawl on your notebook. Opener “Torn Asunder” starts out unassuming enough with a heavy percussive thud, but slowly the dual guitar attack of Phil Pendergast and Ben Hutcherson begins to bubble up and then then Pendergast’s honey-sweet vocals announce their arrival. Over the course of the remaining five tracks, Khemmis pull off that rare feat sounding both seeped in the past and wholly fresh and vital at the same time. It’s probably also important to point out that this is the outfit’s debut full-length. In the doom/sludge arena, all too often do tropes get played out and lose their punch after repeat listens, but there’s none of that with Absolution. Whether it’s the instant head-nod inducing “Ash, Cinder, Smoke” or the achingly devastating closer “The Bereaved,” this is the record that stands tall and intact amidst an ever-growing crowd of broken bodies.

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3. Slugdge – Dim and Slimeridden Kingdoms (self-released, UK)

In a world where Mastodon may very well never make another truly great and heady record, it’s comforting to know that there are still acts out there who aren’t afraid to swing for the fences and tell a story that no one else would. Such is the case with the unsigned two-man outfit known as Slugdge. Drawing from a playbook that contains elements of black metal, death and sludge, guitarist Kev Pearson and vocalist Matt Moss craft intricate, unrelenting sagas about impending doom caused by slugs hailing from outer space and do so without pulling any punches. In the wrong hands, this would play just like a straight gimmick, but here on the group’s third long-player, these songs are too damn strong and well-crafted to be pinned down by any sort of hang-ups from the listener. Pearson’s guitar work feels too vital and important to even allow that. The tracks demand your attention, and lines like “From a swallow hole black as the void, gore drenched tendrils reach, revealing a gaping maw filled with innumerable iron teeth” make your utter “holy shit.” On “Suffering Quahog,” there’s a line that goes, “Suddenly man takes an interest in me; I’m swept and caged.” One can only hope that this under-the-radar act won’t be getting reigned in by formal convention anytime soon.

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2. Panopticon – Autumn Eternal (Bindrune Recordings, USA)

A few months back, the film “The Assassin” arrived in smaller theaters. It’s a methodical, gorgeously-shot drama revolving around, well, an assassin experiencing a crisis of conscience with regard to her next assignment. Part of what made the film so striking was director Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s choice to let the silver birch forests of northeastern China serve as its own sort of character. Time and time again, the camera would just rest on the sway of the trees while the audience scrambled to catch their collective breath. This may sound a bit existentially heavy, but the idea of letting one’s surroundings guide the direction of their art is something that comes up in another gorgeously-rendered piece from this year: Panopticon’s Autumn Eternal [Further coincidence: the two were released in America on the same day, October 16 -Ed.]. Once again, Austin Lunn has tapped into the serenity and majesty of the outdoors, and created a record that defies categorization. The descriptor “atmospheric black metal” hardly seems to do it justice. For one man (plus Johan Becker on violin for two tracks, and Nostarion on cello as well) to conjure up such a sweeping and affecting recording is a wondrous thing to behold. Part of me didn’t want to write about this record at all because, in my mind, to try and pin it down or explain it would just take away from it. Just hit play and “let it enfold you.”

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1. High on Fire – Luminiferous (eOne Music, USA)

When Luminiferous was released over the summer, a lot of people were quick to point out that it seemed like frontman Matt Pike had added a tinfoil hat to his ensemble. (Admittedly, parts of that Rolling Stone interview were pretty out there.) Personally, I saw that there was a track called “Carcosa” and just chalked it up to immense True Detective fandom. All of which is to say, lyrics about extraterrestrial threats aren’t exactly a deal-breaker for me. Like with any other High on Fire album, I find myself way more concerned if the gallop is there (“The Black Plot,” “Slave the Hive”) and how often Pike breaks off an earth-shattering solo (Take your pick. He puts on a clinic over the course of the album’s 53-minute runtime.) While Pike receives the bulk of attention, it’s worth pointing out that the rhythm section of bassist Jeff Matz and drummer Des Kensel are going just as full-bore, and that might be the key to the whole thing. A supremely consistent band, on their seventh full-length, firing on all cylinders and striving to reach a point set by their own extraordinary ambitions.

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