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Let's start with our annual disclaimer: Per usual, this list of favorite metal albums of the year probably won't be confused with anybody else's list of favorite metal albums. Metal isn't just one of species of cacophony anymore -- hasn't been for forever. And where its myriad subgenres are concerned, every fan has preferences, prejudices and pet peeves. It's hard enough to get people to agree on what qualifies as metal, much less what qualifies as good metal. So among these selections you'll find only one album (Morbus Chron's Sweven) that Decibel magazine included in its year-end top 40, and only one (The Pretty Reckless' Going to Hell) that made Revolver magazine's top 20. Sometime in the next few weeks, Napster will round up metal-critic favorites from those and other lists. Meanwhile, here are 25 albums worth standing behind and pumping your fist to. If you wonder about the taste inclinations that helped single them out, consider the following statistics and logistics:

Five bands (Black Space Riders, Edguy, Mekong Delta, Stallion, Noneuclid) come from Germany. And of those, four are clustered among the top five albums overall. Of 10 bands from the U.S., four (Steel Prophet, Hirax, The Shrine, Bigelf) are based in greater Los Angeles, and most of the rest skew toward the west as well. There are twice as many bands from Sweden (Grand Magus, Spiders, Wolf, Morbus Chron) as from the U.K. (Electric Wizard, Dark Forest). Finland (Mausoleum Gate), Spain (Nigromante), Greece (Battleroar) and Denmark (Myrkur) are also represented. Four bands (The Pretty Reckless, Spiders, Witch Mountain, Myrkur) are fronted by women, a couple of whom play instruments as well; in fact, Amalie Bruun plays all of Myrkur's instruments. Electric Wizard's Liz Buckingham bangs guitar riffs, too.

Four of the albums are debut full-lengths (Mausoleum Gate, Stallion, Nigromante and Myrkur -- though the latter, at 24 minutes, is frequently called an EP); six more (The Pretty Reckless, Evil United, High Spirits, Spiders, Noneuclid, Morbus Chron) are bands' second albums, and eight or so additional bands here did not put out any albums before the 21st century. Only Mekong Delta and Hirax have album resumés dating back to the '80s. Five more (Edguy, Steel Prophet, Wolf, Electric Wizard, Slough Feg) started in the '90s. But generally this is a fairly fresh-faced bunch, as metal bunches go. Despite that, sounds here lean unapologetically toward the traditional. Bands classified as "power metal," "heavy metal," "speed," "thrash" and "doom" on the Encyclopaedia Metallum/Metal Archives website dominate the list -- so call it old-fashioned if you want. Noneuclid ("prog/death/thrash"), Myrkur ("black metal" -- of a decidedly ambient stripe), and Morbus Chron ("prog death metal") are probably the most extreme exceptions.

Six bands (Black Space Riders, The Pretty Reckless, Spiders, The Shrine, Dinner Music for the Gods, Bigelf) do not have Encyclopaedia Metallum entries at all, which means either they're too obscure (four of them also lack Wikipedia pages) or there's disagreement about their metal credentials; elsewhere on the Internet, they sometimes variously get tagged as industrial, post-grunge, garage punk, jazz fusion, space rock, skate rock, acid rock, stoner rock, hard rock, prog rock, just plain rock, and probably some other things. But if they're not metal (you decide), they're certainly close enough for discomfort.

Four albums (Mausoleum Gate, Steel Prophet, Battleroar, Dark Forest) came out on Italy's consistently excellent Cruz Del Sur label, which also put out worthy sets in 2014 by Apostle of Solitude, Vestal Claret, Shadow Host and Darkest Era. Metal label of the year! (Some more close-but-no-cigar also-rans: Nazareth, Uriah Heep, Opeth, Blues Pills, Kix, Death Penalty, Mägo de Oz, Sister Sin, Grave Digger, De La Tierra, Tankard, Gamma Ray, Arkona, Corrosion of Conformity, Godflesh, Behemoth, In This Moment.) Of the 25 chosen, all kick ass. Feel free to ring in winter solstice with them, loudly.

1) Black Space Riders, D:REI
2) Edguy, Space Police, Defenders of the Crown
3) Mausoleum Gate, Mausoleum Gate
4) Mekong Delta, In a Mirror Darkly
5) Stallion, Rise and Ride
6) Grand Magus, [Triumph and Power]
7) Steel Prophet, Omniscient
8) The Pretty Reckless, Going to Hell
9) Hirax, Immortal Legacy
10) Evil United, Honored by Fire
11) Nigromante, Black Magic Night
12) The High Spirits, You Are Here
13) Spiders, Shake Electric
14) Battleroar, Blood of Legends
15) The Shrine, [Bless Off]
16) Noneuclid, [Metatheosis]
17) Wolf, Devil Seed
18) Electric Wizard, Time to Die
19) Witch Mountain, Mobile of Angels
20) Dinner Music for the Gods, Beautiful and Treacherous
21) Bigelf, Into the Maelstrom
22) Slough Feg, Digital Resistance
23) Dark Forest, The Awakening
24) Myrkur, Myrkur
25) Morbus Chron, Sweven

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