100. Avenged Sevenfold, City of Evil (2005)
Avenged Sevenfold’s third full-length was an intentional move away from their OC metalcore roots, and yet nothing about it sounded forced or calculated. Rather, the band’s decision to embrace classic metal tropes resulted in the most fun and freewheeling effort of their career. Leadoff track “Beast and the Harlot,” a goth-glam-speed-power-metal romp replete with ridiculously over-the-top imagery and a singsong-y chorus ornamented with pop-classical guitar arpeggios, was the standout, but the entire album was a blast from beginning to end, all rollercoaster riffing, tumbling drums and warp-speed shredding. And there was nary a scream from frontman M. Shadows, who took that whole “lead singer” thing literally. At the time, this sort of wholehearted celebration of bombastic metal conventions was a musical taboo. Now, it’s not hard to notice Avenged Sevenfold’s look and sound in scores of proudly glammed-up, guitar-shredding modern melodo-metal acts like Black Veil Brides. As for Avenged themselves, City of Evil became the first in what would be a string of platinum-selling efforts. But back in 2005 that success was hardly a certainty. “Some people thought we sold out, but more people liked it,” Shadows recalled. “But you know what? If the record had failed, we still would have been happy with it because it’s exactly what we wanted to do.” R.B.
99. Evanescence, Fallen(2003)
From the moment the haunting, moody and cinematic “Bring Me to Life” broke into the mainstream via the Daredevil soundtrack, Evanescence became the new face of the gothic metal movement and also one of the biggest bands in the world. With Amy Lee’s operatic voice piercing through the band’s heavy crunch, the group brought theatrics and a much-needed femininity to the hard-rock boys’ club of the early 2000s. With themes of alienation, depression, suicide and death, Fallen still managed to become one of 2003’s best-selling albums, going on to move 17 million copies worldwide. Lee and co-writer Ben Moody found a perfect niche, crafting a horror-movie-level ambience that was as chilling as it was campy, as on album opener “Going Under,” where Lee shifts from a deeper register to her piercing soprano above bracing nu-metal riffs. Nearly 15 years out, Fallen is an unlikely classic, capturing the ever-evolving idea of what heavy metal could sound like without sacrificing the band’s more theatrical aspirations. B.S.
98. Sunn O))), Monoliths and Dimensions (2009)
“I would never claim that Sunn O))) is a jazz band, but I think there are elements of jazz, if it’s not the tone, it’s the theories and the openness,” Sunn O)))’s Greg Anderson told The Wire. While no one will confuse Dave Brubeck with Sunn O)))’s signature roar – wall-rumbling slabs of drumless, heavily amplified electric-guitar drone – the open-ended platform allows the avant-metal duo to collaborate and experiment with ease. Over the years they’ve teamed with indie-rock violinist Petra Haden, shoegaze-metal stalwarts Boris, noise artist Merzbow and a parade of black-metal vocalists. Inspired by the free-form/longform work of Miles Davis’ electric era, sixth album Monoliths & Dimensions is their most expansive to date. Here, the band opens their dark drones up to string, brass and choir arrangements courtesy of Seattle composer Eyvind Kang, giving their long-held notes cinematic drama. For album closer “Alice,” a 16-minute sun-dappled meditation that stands as the band’s best song, John Coltrane/Duke Ellington trombonist Julian Priester adds a gorgeous coda as the heavy-metal textures fade into mellow ambient twinkle. “I literally almost cried when I heard it,” said Anderson. “It’s so moving. I was so blown away.” C.R.W.
97. Gojira, From Mars to Sirius (2005)
Gojira emerged in the early 2000s – a time dominated by black-metal purists and emo-metal crossover scenesters – with a guts-meets-brains combo of rock, thrash and death metal. The group was based around brothers Joe Duplantier on vocals and guitar and Mario on drums. The pair drew inspiration from early Sepultura (and its Cavalera brothers), and the band crafted a sound that owed a debt to the sludge and string scraping of later Morbid Angel. Their third album, From Mars to Sirius, also had a message as heavy as its music: “Ocean Planet” and “Flying Whales” address ecology, and sea metaphors and themes of marine-mammal preservation rounded out the band’s massive, natural sound. An immediate hit in their native France, the band soon became spokespeople for environmental causes and Joe became the country’s first bona fide guitar hero in decades. Their success led Gojira to the world stage: The band has become a frequent stadium opening act for Metallica and cracked the Top 40 of the U.S. albums chart with their recent releases. “I cannot imagine the career of the band without this album,” Joe Duplantier told EQPTV of From Mars to Sirius. “It would be science fiction, almost.” I.C.
96. Kvelertak, Meir (2013)
Metal in the 2010s is almost absurdly balkanized, a sea of disconnected subscenes. Think of Kvelertak as the genre’s loutish, lovable unifiers, smashing through metal’s stylistic barriers, Kool-Aid Man–style, and bringing the fun back. These hard-touring Norwegians – whose name means “Stranglehold” – started strong with their self-titled 2010 debut, but their second LP, Meir (“More”), felt like a benchmark for contemporary metal as a whole, an album that playfully, raucously muddied lingering distinctions between mainstream and underground styles. Throughout the record, vocalist Erlend Hjelvik screams and bellows exclusively in Norwegian, but the band’s riffs speak a universal language: “Spring Fra Livet” (“Run From Life”) juggles rough-and-tumble boogie rawk and hurtling tremolo-picked black metal, while “Bruane Brenn” (“Burning Bridges”) charges ahead like a bruising, midtempo hardcore pit-starter before making way for a shamelessly bombastic hair-metal guitar breakdown. It all culminates in closing track “Kvelertak,” a slab of stomping scuzz rock delivered with Twisted Sister–level abandon. “Our guitarist [Bjarte Lund Rolland], who is the guy who pretty much makes all of the music, is a living music library,” Hjelvik said in 2013. “He listens to everything from Marvin Gaye to Beach Boys to Darkthrone to Rush. He cherry-picks all the good parts and puts it in our music. That approach seems to be working so far.” He’s right: Despite the singer’s unwaveringly raw delivery, Meir topped the Norwegian charts and earned the band a Spellemann award (Norway’s equivalent to a Grammy) for best metal album. H.S.
95. Dream Theater, ‘Images and Words’ (1992)
By 1992 Dream Theater had already hit a low point in their young career, losing their label deal and their original singer. So the act of releasing a prog-metal opus, replete with virtuosic guitar acrobatics, Yes-like keyboard filigrees and quasi-operatic vocals, at the height of Nirvana-mania would seem a good way to pound the final nail into the coffin. And yet, Images and Words (on new label Atco, and with new singer James LaBrie), did quite the opposite. Dream Theater’s commercial breakthrough, the disc became their first – and only – gold-selling record, largely on the strength of an unlikely hit single, the hard-rocking, Hamlet-referencing “Pull Me Under.” Elsewhere, Images laid out the various sides of the band’s musical personality, from anthemic prog rock (“Take the Time”) to racing, metal-tinged workouts (“Under a Glass Moon”) and New Age–y power balladry (“Another Day”). But it was with gonzo epics like “Metropolis – Part I: ‘The Miracle and the Sleeper’” and the 10-minute-plus closer “Learning to Live” that Dream Theater fully flexed their musical muscle, demonstrating an awesome instrumental facility and power. The band carried the prog torch through the Nineties, and these days their influence can be heard in a new wave of guitar-geek acts like Periphery and Between the Buried and Me. But as guitarist John Petrucci recalled, at the time of Images and Words, “There were no guitar solos anymore and we kinda had this feeling like, ‘Oh, we’re too late.’ But somehow the album stood out and we broke through.” R.B.
94. Deafheaven, ‘Sunbather’ (2013)
Deafheaven guitarist Kerry McCoy and singer George Clarke grew up together in Modesto, California – they met in high school when McCoy spotted Clarke wearing a Slayer T-shirt, while Clarke noticed McCoy was wearing a Dead Kennedys patch. Naturally, they had to start a band. That blend of influences has made Deafheaven one of the most polarizing and controversial metal bands of recent years. As McCoy put it, they claim “this triangle of extreme music, experimental music and very sad indie rock. That’s what we were into.” The San Francisco band blew up with their second album Sunbather, the 2013 breakthrough that defined their expansive style of black metal. In fiercely emotional tracks like “Dream House” and “The Pecan Tree,” they weave in elements of post-punk indie noise bands like Mogwai, along with shoegaze elders like My Bloody Valentine or Slowdive. “Sunbather musically and lyrically sums up what we were thinking; it’s very hopeful and bright and fast and energetic,” McCoy said. “Lyrically, it’s very yearning.” And it sounds like nothing else, though Deafheaven make no apologies for that. As McCoy told Rolling Stone, “That mixture of influences has kind of always been our thing, much to some people’s annoyance.” R.S.
93. White Zombie, ‘La Sexorcisto: Devil Music Volume One’ (1992)
According to legend, Black Sabbath borrowed their name from a horror film that was playing across the street from the band’s rehearsal hall. Taking that a few steps further, White Zombie nabbed their aesthetic and even some of their sound from horror movies, sprinkling their songs with choice snippets of dialogue and a few well-chosen screams. But the net effect isn’t one of unearthly dread; instead, White Zombie played the gore for giggles, interspersing their riffs with soundbites from sexploitation flicks like Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! The band’s masterstroke, though, was the music. Instead of pummeling the listener with metallic fury, White Zombie went for the sort of groove that evoked go-go dancers in the disco of the damned. Not only did tracks like “Thunder Kiss ’65” or “Spiderbaby (Yeah-Yeah-Yeah)” have a pronounced shimmy, but Rob Zombie’s semi-sung vocals put more emphasis on the beat than on anything resembling a melody. You could headbang to it, but somehow your hips kept wanting in on the action. It may not have been standard metal, but it was loud, creepy fun. As Zombie told The Baltimore Sun, “Metal kids will listen to anything as long as they think it’s cool.” J.D.C.
92. Eyehategod, ‘Take as Needed for Pain’ (1993)
There’s always been a darkness underlying the jubilation of New Orleans music, but it took a band of drug-crazed outcasts to elevate the Big Easy bummer vibe to mythic proportions. Weaned on Black Sabbath and Melvins’ lumbering 1987 debut, Gluey Porch Treatments, the band initially set out to “play as slow and aggravating as possible and just destroy people,” as vocalist Mike Williams put it in Decibel. Their second full-length retained that raw, confrontational M.O. while refining their punk-blues bludgeon into something almost stylish. Standouts, such as “Blank” and the title track, hammer the listener with turbulent riffs before downshifting into heaving swing rhythms that drive home the band’s fluency in the funkier aspects of NOLA’s musical culture. “Sister Fucker (Pt. 1),” meanwhile, marries vile imagery with hip-shaking boogie rock. The band found the perfect foil in engineer Robinson Mills, whose warm, no-frills tones complemented Williams’ acrid screech, the menacing swells of feedback on tracks like “30$ Bag” and unsettling police-scanner-inspired noise piece “Disturbance.” While bands such as Crowbar and the Southern supergroup Down (which featured Eyehategod guitarist Jimmy Bower behind the drums) would also serve as able ambassadors for New Orleans metal, none of them would capture the city’s seedy rebel spirit quite as effectively as Eyehategod did here. Eventually, these one-time pariahs became local legends, even winding up with a cameo on Treme. H.S.
91. Naked City, ‘Torture Garden’ (1990)
Iconoclastic jazz rebel John Zorn has always embraced any influence, no matter how extreme: In the Seventies and Eighties, he could often be found honking through a duck call, sowing dizzying chaos through “game”-based improvisation or channeling the turn-on-a-dime schizophrenia of Carl Stalling’s Warner Bros. cartoon music. His most notorious project, Naked City, followed a love affair with the furious grindcore blastbeats spilling from England (score sketches had things like “NAPALM BLAST” scrawled on them) and the chaotic noise-punk gargling from Japan. For an album of 26 grind-length songs (longest track, 79 seconds), Zorn’s pained sax, a crew of seasoned downtown jazzers and Boredoms vocalist Yamatsuka Eye screech, gurgle and spray through heavily composed, ADD freakouts. Zorn concocted a blend of extreme metal and out-jazz that was as rigorously structured as contemporary classical music, resulting in brutally disorienting, genre-defying bursts that can make Dillinger Escape Plan sound like disco. Describing the 52-second “Speed Freaks” to NPR, Zorn said, “I think there’s something like 30 or 40 different styles of music in less than a minute. Each one is one bar long.” Zorn’s deranged, often perversely loony, switches of time and mood can still be felt across the high-minded, no-holds-barred slice-and-dice of avant-metal’s composer class: Mike Patton, Kayo Dot, Yakuza and others. C.R.W.
90. Body Count, ‘Body Count’ (1992)
The triumph of Ice-T’s metal group Body Count was one-upping the mediated and vicarious experience of Eighties thrash, a genre built on the novels of Lovecraft and King, the atrocities of history and the dispatches of TV news. Instead, Body Count presented street-level reportage, showing life in contemporary South Central Los Angeles as a house of horrors: nights erupting with the sound of gang warfare (“Body Count”), a prison system devouring black males (“Bowels of the Devil”), friends ravaged by crack cocaine (“The Winner Loses”) – not to mention venom directed at the “stupid, dumb, dick-sucking, bum politicians” blind to it all. Plus, guitarist Ernie C.’s Iommi-esque riff to “There Goes the Neighborhood” is one of the best of the Nineties – instantly classic enough to be chanted by Beavis and Butt-Head. Most notoriously, “Cop Killer” – “dedicated to some personal friends of mine, the LAPD” – appeared in the wake of the Rodney King video, turning the very real threat of police brutality into a bloody revenge fantasy. The record was decried by the likes of President George Bush, Vice President Dan Quayle, New York governor Mario Cuomo and 60 members of Congress in a letter to Warner Bros. “It’s a protest song,” said Ice. “I told a group of reporters, ‘I’m singing in the first person as a character who is fed up with police brutality. … If you believe I’m a cop killer, you believe David Bowie is an astronaut.’” C.R.W.
89. Nightwish, ‘Once’ (2004)
A direct descendant of the power metal pioneered by Eighties heavyweights Helloween, Savatage and Blind Guardian, the subgenre of symphonic metal juxtaposed explosive sing-along hooks with lavish orchestration, whether produced via synthesizer or, in the case of a lucky few like Nightwish, full-scale orchestras. Fronted by classically trained soprano Tarja Turunen, the Finnish band embraced metal’s operatic side, and their contrast of arias and power chords turned out to be a popular one. But on their fifth album, Once, the band achieved their most pristinely balanced blend of force and melody. Backed by a full symphony, Turunen and lead songwriter and keyboardist Tuomas Holopainen indulged their classical and pop sides with equal success: “The Siren” and “Ghost Love Score” soar with Wagnerian power, while the gorgeous “Nemo” shows how accessible this music could be in expert hands. “I have obviously listened to my Panteras and Metallicas and you can hear it in the riffs of Once,” Holopainen stated in the band’s official biography, Once Upon a Nightwish, “but it wasn’t premeditated. I look for new ideas mainly from movie scores.” A.B.
88. Pig Destroyer, ‘Terrifyer’ (2004)
Other grindcore records have come faster, noisier, more precise and far gorier – but there may never have been one as savage as Pig Destroyer’s third LP. The Virginia band, then a raw trio, harnessed the blur of blastbeats and hyperspeed riffs, but those elements were blown through the gnash and gnarl of Nineties alt-metal bands like Helmet and Unsane. “On a sheer sonic level, Pig Destroyer tries to create a lot of fast and dirty head dirt,” guitarist Scott Hull told CMJ New Music Report in 2003. “Not clean, not polished, but fast enough to make you irritated and dirty enough to make you want to take a shower.” Part of that resides in the lyrics of vocalist J.R. Hayes, inspired by transgressive authors like William S. Burroughs and Dennis Cooper, and shadow-lurking songwriters like Leonard Cohen and Nick Cave. But Terrifyer pummels with dynamic range, breaking up the bulldozer with noise-punk (“Thumbsucker”), Melvins-style churgle (“Gravedancer”), a hardcore breakdown (“Restraining Order Blues”), triumphant doom (“Crippled Horses”) and a bonus disc featuring 37 minutes of sludgy metal and ambient noise. C.R.W.
87. Manowar, ‘Hail to England’ (1984)
After cutting his teeth with Bronx junk-culture punks the Dictators, guitarist Ross “The Boss” Friedman made a surprising stylistic U-turn when he co-founded one of the most self-serious and gloriously over-the-top acts in metal history. Formed in tandem with one-time Black Sabbath bass tech Joey DeMaio, Manowar began life as an upstate-New York free-livin’ and -lovin’ biker-metal outfit dedicated to “ridin’ on two wheels” and “giv[ing] some square the finger.” But by the time of this, their third album, they had evolved fully into the loin-cloth-wearing, sword-wielding, “death to false metal”–proclaiming band they’re known as to this day. With songs like the towering, Wagnerian call-to-arms “Blood of My Enemies” and the fan-hailing “Army of the Immortals” (“We were brought together/’Cause we’ve got the balls!”), Hail to England set the template for Manowar – if not the then-nascent power-metal genre as a whole – going forward. It’s all ridiculously over the top, but also incredibly focused and undeniably catchy – the title cut in particular packs excessively epic gestures into an airtight, hook-filled arrangement. An ex-member these days, Friedman once said of Manowar, with characteristic bare-chested bravado, “All our records have been cited as influential.” But, he added, “Basically, I thought that the version of the band that played on Hail to England was one of the best metal units of all time – period.” R.B.
86. Lamb of God, ‘As the Palaces Burn’ (2003)
After two raw but promising albums (one released under the name Burn the Priest), Virginia’s Lamb of God took their sound to the next level with 2003’s As the Palaces Burn. Devin Townsend’s production helped sharpen Mark Morton and Willie Adler’s razor-wire guitar riffs on tracks like “Ruin,” “11th Hour” and “Vigil,” while drummer Chris Adler pushed the music like a coachman whipping a team of hysterical horses, and vocalist Randy Blythe simply roared bloody murder into the maelstrom. Groove-oriented and jacked up to the extreme, this was thrash metal for a new generation, though a guest solo by former Megadeth guitarist Chris Poland on “Purified” also underscored the band’s debt to the style’s originators. “A lot of these songs really pushed the limitations on what we were capable of,” Chris Adler recalled to Revolver in 2003. “Once we got into the first couple tunes, we realized that this is not an easy record; there’s not gonna be kids playing this [on guitar] the week it comes out, you know? But at the same time it was pretty thrilling. Because once you got through the part that was just driving you crazy, when you went back and checked it out, it was just like, ‘Oh man, that is everything we wanted it to be, and more!’” D.E.
85. Darkthrone, ‘Transilvanian Hunger’ (1994)
To the ears of Darkthrone’s Fenriz, who performed the guitar, bass and drums on the group’s fourth LP, Transilvanian Hunger, the record is “die-hard monotony.” “It’s for those who are really fucked up,” he told Decibel in 2009, “’cause there’s not really any entertainment there.” But there’s a depth to the LP, which also features the growls of his bandmate, frontman Nocturno Culto. Fenriz built its atmosphere with cold, almost classical riffs, played through fuzzy distortion, at a constant, methodical mid-tempo, giving it a hypnotic quality. The paper-thin production, shredded by Fenriz’s youthful inexperience and low-quality equipment (he recorded it on a 4-track in the band’s own studio) makes it so the guitars sound tinny, the drums muffled, as if under frozen soil, and the bass is an elusive question mark. Transilvanian Hunger’s raw, slapdash aesthetic subsequently served as ground zero for a legion of black-metal bands who copied the record’s lo-fi approach, aiming to sound “grim.” But the LP also courted controversy. Convicted murderer and Burzum frontman Varg Vikernes contributed some lyrics and cast a shadow over the record, which also initially bore the slogan “Norsk Arisk Black Metal” (“Norwegian Aryan black metal”) before pressure from distributors led to its removal; the band later disavowed their earlier statements, calling them “disgusting.” Conversation about the album has since reverted to being about the music. “Transilvanian Hunger [is] so fucking cold,” Fenriz said in another interview. “The sound was fucking perfect.” K.K.
84. High on Fire, ‘Blessed Black Wings’ (2005)
Hailed by Dave Grohl as “the most brutal metal album I’ve heard in years” upon its release in 2005, High on Fire’s third full-length marked a major step forward for Sleep frontman Matt Pike’s stoner/sludge spinoff. The involvement of former Melvins/Sunn O))) bassist Joe Preston (on what would be his only album with High on Fire) and Steve Albini (whose mid-range–y production gave Des Kensel’s pummeling drums a serious tribal/industrial whomp) was certainly part of the equation: “We wanted a little more of a live, upfront, in-your-face sound, instead of like we’re playing in a canyon with a big low-end rumble,” Pike told the East Bay Express in 2005. But the album also found Pike pushing himself further as a guitarist, vocalist and lyricist, especially on tracks like Lovecraft-influenced “The Face of Oblivion,” the Motörhead-indebted “Cometh Down Hessian” and the epic “Crossing the Bridge,” which was far more self-analytical than your usual stoner fare. “I was going through really weird times when I was wandering around homeless and on a drunk binge,” Pike reflected at the time. “I just felt like I had fallen, and when I say [on ‘Crossing the Bridge’] ‘The warrior’s chains are self-inflicted,’ well, that’s me keeping myself down.” D.E.
83. Baroness, ‘The Red Album’ (2007)
Baroness had already released a handful of EPs by the time The Red Album appeared in the fall of 2007, but this full-length debut was what really put the Savannah band on the map, effectively serving notice that Mastodon and Kylesa (whose leader Phillip Cope produced the album) weren’t the only Peach State purveyors of contemporary progressive-metal brilliance. Expertly arranged tracks like “Rays on Pinion,” “Wailing Wintry Wind” and “Wanderlust” belied the band’s sludgy rep, utilizing nimbly twisting riffs, melodic guitar harmonies and dreamy, almost Pink Floyd–ian instrumental explorations that made the songs’ heavier passages – and John Baizley’s hoarse holler – sound that much more striking in contrast. “People’s reactions to The Red Album were pretty drastic compared to our earlier EPs,” Baizley reflected in 2008. “The thing is, though, at the core of it we’re not doing anything different. We’ve just logged more hours on stage so our writing faculties have broadened.” Baroness would further broaden their reach on subsequent color-coded records, but The Red Album remains a stunning testament to their original vision. D.E.
82. Entombed, ‘Left Hand Path’ (1990)
By the time Entombed released their debut full-length, they had primed the nascent death-metal scene for an auspicious arrival with a series of demos under the name Nihilist. What set them apart from bands like Morbid Angel, Autopsy and Death, though, was how the band members – who were still teenagers at the time of album’s release – homed in on the floor-shaking rhythmic grooves hiding within more straightforward Nihilist songs like “Supposed to Rot” and “Abnormally Deceased,” both of which resurfaced on Left Hand Path. The band’s syncopated gait and deep, volcanic guitar distortion, now known as the “Sunlight Sound” in tribute to the studio where they recorded, showed a deeper awareness of rock & roll than their gore-and-gristle–obsessed lyrics let on. “We were really young,” drummer and co-songwriter Nicke Andersson told Decibel of the Left Hand Path era, “and without knowing it, we did something that nobody had really done before. It never became that fun again.” Although the band’s 1993 major-label debut, Wolverine Blues, brought them to U.S. shopping malls, Left Hand Path remains the infernal northern light that inspired thousands of bands in Scandinavia and beyond. I.C.
81. Bathory, ‘Under the Sign of the Black Mark’ (1987)
After summoning two albums of dirty, Venom-inspired punk-metal bombast, Bathory discovered high drama and a sense of subterranean evil on Under the Sign of the Black Mark. In the process of speeding up for hyper-fast “Equimanthorn” and slowing down for the regal subterranean processional “Enter the Eternal Fire,” the band inscribed the blueprints and morbid dimensions of what would come to be known as black metal. Thirty years later, bands like Emperor, Satyricon, Darkthrone and just about every other torch-bearing group of miscreants in white face paint resound the echoes of Black Mark. Bathory mainman Quorthon claimed to have arranged his shrieked vocals; blurred, repetitive guitars and drums; and eerie choral sound effects by trial and error. “We had a bit higher ambitions, making longer songs, better songs,” he told Slayer Mag. “I ended up as far away from rock & roll as possible.” Sadly, he died of heart failure in 2004 at age 38 just as a new generation was beginning to discover black metal. I.C.
80. Ministry, ‘Psalm 69: The Way to Succeed and the Way to Suck Eggs’ (1992)
The New Wave–gone-industrial malcontents of Ministry improbably managed to break into the mainstream by ditching their synthesizers for guitars and crafting a dense, nightmarish sound collage for their fifth LP, Psalm 69. Beneath torrents of rapid-fire riffs, mastermind Al Jourgensen spliced sounds together the way a stock villain crafts a ransom note – sampling George H.W. Bush speeches in the dystopian “New World Order,” and spoken word by Beat legend William S. Burroughs, who asked to be paid in heroin before his feature on “Just One Fix.” But the album’s true MVP may have been wasted Butthole Surfers frontman Gibby Haynes. To the dismay of their label, Sire, Jourgensen and the band blew all $750,000 of the album’s budget “up [their] noses” before finishing a single song. At the last minute, Jourgensen invited Haynes to lay down vocal tracks for what became Ministry’s first hit single, “Jesus Built My Hotrod.” The frontman recalled the night in his memoir: “Gibby came in absolutely shitfaced … babbling some incoherent nonsense. ‘Bing, bang, dingy, dong, wah, wah, wah, ling, a bong …’ But I knew there was something there. If only I could extract the magic, it would be like pulling a diamond ring out of a septic tank.” The result was a manic drag race into a swampy hellmouth of thrash Americana – and it worked. Psalm 69 went platinum and peaked at Number 27 on the Billboard 200, allowing other industrial acts passage into the charts, including Marilyn Manson, Rammstein and Orgy. S.E.
79. At the Gates, ‘Slaughter of the Soul’ (1995)
The relentlessly prolific Swedish death-metal scene of the late Eighties and early Nineties revolved around dueling power centers. To the east sat sleek Stockholm, with its dirty, punk-informed take on the genre, as gurgled forth by Entombed and Dismember. To the west lay the bleaker port city Gothenburg, where abiding love of Iron Maiden and classic heavy metal spawned a melodic revolution in Satan worship spearheaded by Dissection, In Flames and At the Gates. Early releases by At the Gates were more expressive and drastic, but Slaughter of the Soul was a sinister precision attack, thriving on flawless melodic muscle: Frontman Tomas Lindberg’s tortured howl soared over triumphant double-time riffs on surprisingly athletic songs like “Blinded by Fear,” “Nausea” and “Cold.” Unfortunately, the band split before its legacy could be fully reckoned. By the early 2000s, the reaping of Slaughter of the Soul‘s remains reached a fever pitch, as the album’s sound was replicated on literally millions of albums sold by American metalcore bands, particularly As I Lay Dying. “At the Gates were a big influence on us,” Lamb of God’s Mark Morton told The Quietus. “They just had ‘that’ sound.” I.C.
78. Voivod, ‘Dimension Hatröss’ (1988)
One of metal’s most idiosyncratic bands, Voivod was the product of four fertile young imaginations from the remote reaches of Northern Quebec. Drawing equally from hardcore (Discharge), post-punk (Killing Joke) and classic prog (King Crimson, Van der Graaf Generator), the foursome made a name for themselves with a series of three ferocious, speed-riddled albums powered by sci-fi themes and the warped riffs of guitarist Denis “Piggy” D’Amour. It was on Dimension Hätross, however, where the band’s reputation as innovators truly took flight. While recording in Berlin in winter 1987, the band devoured anarcho-punk and industrial music, namely the work of avant-garde legends Einstürzende Neubauten, and hatched a dystopian concept album that shocked the metal underground the following summer. While the speed and abrasiveness remained, the band coupled these elements with a remarkable sense of discipline, making room for industrial samples, shifting time signatures and memorable vocal melodies. Led by “Tribal Convictions” and “Psychic Vacuum,” this landmark album had a profound impact on heavy metal, pointing the way for the ambitious likes of Tool, Opeth and Dream Theater. “We had discovered what industrial and electronic music could do if put together with metal,” drummer Michel “Away” Langevin told Metal Hammer in 2005. “In the process, suddenly we weren’t the thrash band of old.” A.B.
77. Meshuggah, ‘Destroy Erase Improve’ (1995)
The title of Swedish juggernaut Meshuggah’s second album reads like a Terminator-age manifesto, and the contents live up to the challenge. A savage combination of death-metal ferocity, thrash precision, vocalist Jens Kidman’s hoarse hardcore bark, Fredrik Thordendal’s quicksilver jazz-fusion guitar solos, and mind-melting rhythmic complexity, Destroy Erase Improve formed the template for all subsequent Meshuggah albums. From the opening alarm klaxon, mechanical gear-grinding and drummer Tomas Haake’s whiplash-inducing beat on “Future Breed Machine,” the album seldom dips in intensity. There and on the subsequent “Beneath,” fluid guitar solos complement jagged, robotic rhythms, while fittingly titled instrumental “Acrid Placidity” highlights Thordendal’s elegant flow, set against a spare, moody pulse. The band would continue to evolve with down-tuned seven- and eight-string guitars, computerized drums and album-length compositions but never strayed significantly from the signature sound it unleashed with this still-dazzling creation: the foundational text for “djent,” a new mutant strain of math-infused hypermetal. It’s no great stretch to suggest that one factor contributing to the overwhelming vitality of Meshuggah’s latest album, 2016’s The Violent Sleep of Reason, was the decision to record with all band members in the studio simultaneously for the first time since Destroy Erase Improve. S.S.
76. Twisted Sister, ‘Stay Hungry’ (1984)
By the early Eighties, Twisted Sister were the undisputed kings of the New York/New Jersey club circuit, and yet were unable to land anything resembling a real label deal. “We were turned down more times than a bed sheet in a whorehouse,” remarked guitarist Jay Jay French. By the time they finally did nab that elusive contract, with Atlantic Records, the band were a good 10 years into their career, and their trademark glam look had been usurped by a new crop of younger (and prettier) L.A. acts. But none of those bands had Twisted’s knack for writing insanely hooky three-minute anthems like Stay Hungry‘s “We’re Not Gonna Take It” and “I Wanna Rock.” The two songs, paired with goofy yet brilliant music videos that starred the band members, led by scenery-chewing frontman Dee Snider, in a Wile E. Coyote/Road Runner–style standoff with actor Mark Metcalf, launched Twisted Sister into the pop-culture stratosphere. The band appeared in mainstream movies like Pee-wee’s Big Adventure (performing the doom-rocking Hungry standout “Burn in Hell”) and, after “We’re Not Gonna Take It” caught the ear of the PMRC, on the United States Senate floor, where Snider, curly mane, ripped T-shirt, fangs and all, read the riot act to Al and Tipper Gore. Meanwhile, Stay Hungry’s deeper cuts – such as the menacing “Captain Howdy” section of the two-part “Horror-Teria (The Beginning),” on which Snider portrays a demented killer; and the dramatic, Dio-era-Sabbath–esque “The Beast” – flexed real heavy-metal muscle. Overexposure and infighting led to Twisted’s downfall soon after, but not before Stay Hungry sold a few million records and altered the mainstream face of hard rock – and MTV, where Snider hosted the Headbangers Ball precursor Heavy Metal Mania – for the rest of the decade. Posited Snider: “What happened? ‘We’re Not Gonna Take It’ happened, that’s what. Game changer.” R.B.
75. Morbid Angel, ‘Covenant’ (1993)
With a guitarist known for slashing his arms with a razor before gigs and an overtly satanic image, Morbid Angel hardly seemed like a band destined for the big time. But music-industry legend Irving Azoff saw it differently. “They had developed a rabid grassroots following with only the resources of a smaller label,” he said in the book Choosing Death of his decision to sign the Florida death-metal outfit to his major-label imprint. “I was intrigued with what they could accomplish with the larger resources Giant had to offer.” What they accomplished was the darkest album of their career. In the hands of Metallica producer Flemming Rasmussen, the band’s churning, blasphemous attack – already fully formed on their classic 1989 debut Altars of Madness – took on a hulking new dimension, as mad-genius guitarist Trey Azagthoth’s gnarled riffs and spasmodic leads swarmed the mix, drummer Pete “Commando” Sandoval’s snare blasted with merciless speed and frontman David Vincent growled out proclamations of white-hot hatred (“Open wide the gate/Stain the world with the blood of man”). Somehow the band found a way to channel these chaotic elements into its catchiest songs to date, including the furious plea for possession “Rapture,” the dirge-paced, two-part Devil’s ode “God of Emptiness” and roiling rocker “Sworn to the Black.” Credit the Eagles’ manager for singling out Morbid Angel as the band best situated to take death metal to a fearsome next level. H.S.
74. Venom, ‘Welcome to Hell’ (1981)
Forget about British punk; true musical anarchy arrived in the U.K. with the emergence of Welcome to Hell, a debauched celebration of Devil worship, drinking and wanton women by Newcastle trio Venom. Outpacing and out-trashing even the mighty Motörhead, the sweaty, shirtless trio of Conrad “Cronos” Lant, Jeffrey “Mantas” Dunn and Tony “Abaddon” Bray saturated every instant of this classic collection with filth, senseless bombast and undying charisma. Hits from hell like the title track, “Schizo” and the wildman anthem “Live Like an Angel (Die Like a Devil)” all seem to double in tempo before collapsing in a cacophony of string abuse, cymbal bashing and howls. The effect is beautiful. Worldwide, Venom remain a classic band on par with the Ramones or Motörhead, and that status owes much to Welcome to Hell, an album duly credited as a key forerunner of black metal and death metal – fringe subgenres that have since become their own musical universes. “We are a brick,” the “rabid captor of bestial malevolence,” vocalist and bass abuser Cronos told an interviewer in 1985. “You take the brick and throw it and it goes bang. That’s how Venom works.” I.C.
73. Scorpions, ‘Blackout’ (1982)
Germany’s Scorpions spent the 1970s in relative obscurity (on these shores at least), churning out somewhat eccentric hard-rock albums that spotlighted the neo-classical/Hendrix-ian six-string work of Uli Jon Roth. It wasn’t until the end of the decade, when their lineup solidified around the guitar team of main songwriter Rudolf Schenker and new recruit Matthias Jabs, that they became, in the words of singer Klaus Meine, “more focused on the ‘Scorpions DNA,’” streamlining their sound and making a serious bid for the American metal market. Blackout, their eighth album overall, was the one where it all truly came together, its songs powered by lean, no-frills riffing, crisp production and a straightforward rhythmic thrust, with Meine’s banshee howl and Jabs’ bluesy leads adding a measure of personality and flash. Songs like the title track, “Can’t Live Without You” and the power ballad “You Give Me All I Need” were as direct and unadorned as they were insanely hook-y. And then there was “No One Like You,” which, in part due to its memorable Alcatraz-featuring video, hit Number One on Billboard‘s Mainstream Rock chart and launched the Scorpions’ golden Eighties run – while also helping to pave the way for an entire era of hard-rock hits that were both tough as nails and disarmingly melodic. R.B.
72. Isis, ‘Oceanic’ (2002)
Although its members came up in the same New England hardcore/metal hotbed that spawned Converge, Cave In and Killswitch Engage, Isis charted their own path. Fronted by singer, guitarist and conceptualist Aaron Turner, the band took its leads from Melvins, Swans and especially Neurosis, whose mix of punishing heaviness, surprising delicacy and avant-garde sound design would prove strongly influential. Oceanic, an archetypal 2002 saga about a desperate man seeking a female counterpart, was a decisive turning point, its songs endowed with atmospheres and textures so imaginative you practically could see them. The album’s front half packs an irresistible tidal surge behind Turner’s desolate howl. But the band’s sense of dynamic variety was never keener: The first half of “Carry” drifts in slow-moving stasis, trading on the sharp contrast of Turner’s and Michael Gallagher’s guitars, swelling to a massive climax as Maria Christopher’s backing vocals come into focus. Instrumental tracks, infused with Bryant Clifford Meyer’s electronics, lend a cinematic quality; on “Weight,” ghostly chants from Christopher and Ayal Naor assume the main focus. The climax comes in “From Sinking” and “Hym,” an overwhelming one-two punch of desperation and transcendence. “Oceanic was the first record that we had written with what became the permanent lineup,” Turner said in 2010. “With Oceanic people felt more comfortable with expressing their ideas and working together. That was in a lot of ways, a point of solidification for us.” A cornerstone of what would be termed post-metal, Isis and Oceanic would have a tremendous impact on a new wave of bands like Pelican and Cult of Luna. S.S.
71. Living Colour, ‘Vivid’ (1988)
The double-platinum debut from New York’s Living Colour is one of the smartest, heaviest, most uncompromising rock records to hit pop paydirt in the pre-Nevermind Eighties, a psychedelic explosion of downtown art-funk grooves, avant-jazz-trained filigrees, furious thrash shredding and vocalist Corey Glover, who sounded like Otis Redding trying to out-shout Axl Rose. Four African-Americans bumrushing the Aqua-Net age with prog chops, punk cred and pop smarts, there was no place to easily market Living Colour, but their singular sound was so powerful, especially on the breakout hit “Cult of Personality,” it ended up everywhere from Headbangers Ball to Arsenio Hall, Art Ensemble of Chicago shows to a Rolling Stones tour, Casey Kasem’s American Top 40 to Lollapalooza. Over the effortless, off-kilter riffing of Vernon Reid, the polyglot stew of Vivid gets extra urgency with sociopolitical lyrics about racism, gentrification and consumerism. “They play with feeling and conviction,” no less an authority than Little Richard told Rolling Stone in 1990. “The same thing that started in the Fifties with me, they are taking it through the Nineties. And God bless their souls. They are keeping it alive.” C.R.W.
70. Death, ‘Human’ (1991)
Death frontman Chuck Schuldiner helped define the primal, relentless sound of death metal on early demos (under the name Mantas) and on the band’s 1987 debut, Scream Bloody Gore. But on Human, the group’s fourth LP in as many years, he threw a wild curveball, enlisting guitarist Paul Masvidal and drummer Sean Reinert, a pair of young jazz-fusion-obsessed hotshots (and co-founders of the influential band Cynic), for an album that seamlessly reconciled the intensity of early Death with prog’s chops-mad technicality. Gone were Scream‘s pet themes of zombies and bloodshed; in their place were songs that dealt with “mysteries of our life” (“Flattening of Emotions”), the power of the subconscious (“See Through Dreams”) and man’s mistreatment of the environment (“Vacant Planet”). Songs like “Secret Face” matched Schuldiner’s raspy growls with dazzlingly intricate arrangements and proudly virtuosic playing, while instrumental “Cosmic Sea” sounded like a moody film score arranged for a metal band. In later years, bands such as Gorguts, Cryptopsy and the Faceless would push death metal’s mutant complexity even further, but Human remains a shining example of how heavy music can evolve without forsaking its core principles. “People unfortunately think that if you progress as a musician you are wimpy,” Schuldiner said at the time. “I don’t get that.” H.S.
69. Soundgarden, ‘Louder Than Love’ (1989)
Five years before Soundgarden broke into the mainstream with the moody psychedelic sound of “Black Hole Sun,” they were a nasty, flagrantly uncommercial heavy-rock band. They fused punk and metal on their earliest releases to make their own brand of primal-scream therapy (witness Chris Cornell’s three-octave caterwauling and Kim Thayil’s guitar noisemaking on “Beyond the Wheel,” from their 1988 debut Ultramega OK), but it was on Louder Than Love that they fully embraced their metal side. Standout “Gun” starts with a Sabbath-styled sludge riff that increases in speed like a freight train, as Cornell sings menacingly, “I’ve got an idea of something we can do with a gun”; there’s even a guitar solo break where Cornell, at his most metal, shouts, “Fuck it up.” There’s a perverse confrontational nature to songs like “Power Trip” and “No Wrong, No Right,” and a sick sense of humor to “Big Dumb Sex” with its full stereo “I’m gonna fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck you” chorus (later covered by sometime tourmates Guns N’ Roses) and the self-explanatory “Full on Kevin’s Mom,” which even gets a ballad-y reprise at the end of the record. But what makes the album unique in the metal canon is the pain and emotion in Cornell’s voice; he screams in unison with Thayil’s guitar on “Power Trip” and sounds possessed as he yowls, “I love you, loooove you,” on “I Awake.” The album is thrilling and scary in the way Black Sabbath had originally intended metal to be, and it also carries an importance as it inspired Metallica’s biggest hit. “Soundgarden had just put out Louder Than Love,” Kirk Hammett once said of how he wrote the main riff to “Enter Sandman.” “I was trying to capture their attitude toward big, heavy riffs.” K.G.
68. Marilyn Manson, ‘Portrait of an American Family’ (1994)
“I am the God of Fuck.” Has there ever been a more perfect declaration of menace than this whispered statement in the early seconds of “Cake and Sodomy,” the lead track from Marilyn Manson’s debut? And the most delicious part of the song’s blasphemous send-up of sexual hypocrisy and religion was the exquisite camp of Manson’s delivery, which never let on if he was serious or sarcastic. In his autobiography, The Long Hard Road out of Hell, Manson describes that song as a turning point in his career. “If televangelists were going to make the world seem so wicked,” he wrote, “I was going to give them something real to cry about.” Yet as head-turning as Manson’s sacrilegious smut was, it was Trent Reznor’s production (plus the assistance of various Nine Inch Nails) that ultimately put teeth behind the album’s leering smirk. Driven by the throbbing swirl of tom-tom and hi-hat, the searing, feedback-tinged slash of power chords, and the ingenious use of movie dialogue (much of it from John Waters movies), tracks like “Organ Grinder” and “Dogma” reeked of sex and social deviance, and proved irresistible to anyone with newly arrived hormones. J.D.C.
67. Queensrÿche, ‘Operation: Mindcrime’ (1988)
Although Bellevue, Washington’s Queensrÿche wouldn’t hit mainstream pay dirt until the power ballad “Silent Lucidity” pushed their fourth album, Empire, into the Top 10, it’s the band’s third release, the ambitious concept album Operation: Mindcrime, that stands as their magnum opus. And nearly 30 years after its initial release, Mindcrime feels eerily relevant. The interstitial dialogue sections have all the grit of modern video-game cut scenes and the story line, which follows an assassin who tries to save the life of the nun he has been instructed to kill, addresses themes like opiate addiction, religious corruption and the “one percent’s” ability to misbehave with impunity. The production of Peter Collins (Rush, Alice Cooper) is tight and timeless, while the precision of the musical performances – drummer Scott Rockenfield and bassist Eddie Jackson seem to have been telepathically linked when they recorded the album’s raging title track and the string-embellished “The Mission” – is astounding. But it’s singer Geoff Tate who really steals this show, by summoning the the best of Queen’s Freddy Mercury, Judas Priest’s Rob Halford, and even Bauhaus’ Peter Murphy. From guttural growls and baritone incantations to glass-shattering high notes, the singer tirelessly plays the vast field of his vocal range, imbuing the album’s characters and storyline with an exhilarating life and engrossing depth. T.B.
66. Deftones, ‘White Pony’ (2000)
By forging an unprecedented blend of shoegaze, trip-hop and metal, Deftones’ third album would forever shift the trajectory of rock in the new millennium – just don’t call it nu-metal. With frontman Chino Moreno now complementing the steely Stephen Carpenter on guitar, and Frank Delgado enlisted full-time on turntables and synths, the band mastered an equilibrium between mayhem and melody on White Pony. Gauzy, ambient overlays gave more room for Moreno to indulge the softer end of his vocal range, careening from a guttural roar to a honeyed yet menacing sensuality in “Change (In the House of Flies).” It’s matched by the wicked lilt of Maynard James Keenan in “Passenger,” and by Rodleen Getsic’s Andalusian serenades turned to screams in the erotic bloodletting track “Knife Prty.” White Pony could have shed the rap-rock typecast entirely, had it not been for the tardy rascal anthem “Back to School (Mini Maggit)” – which Maverick Records appealed for after White Pony‘s release. “I remember them sitting me down and pointing [out that] Papa Roach and Linkin Park had sold six million albums while [White Pony] hadn’t sold a tenth of that,” Moreno said in 2010. “To me, they were saying they wanted some rap-rock, and at the time I was already way over making music like that. They kept hounding [me] so I was like, ‘Watch this.’” S.E.
65. Faith No More, ‘Angel Dust’ (1992)
After 1989’s “Epic,” Faith No More could have easily eked out a few more years as alt-rock’s other resident funk-rap-metal goofballs. But they chose a different path with their fourth full-length, delivering an audacious modernist-metal masterpiece that was as gorgeous and alluring as it was confrontational and subversive. Or, as singer Mike Patton put it at the time, “I think we would all be really happy if people took this record home and went, What the hell is this?!” Like its title and album art (a resplendent white egret on the front, a cow’s head on a meat hook on the back), Angel Dust was a study in contrasts: Swelling, stately rockers (“A Small Victory,” “Everything’s Ruined”) sat next to corrosive industrial-doom freakouts (“Jizzlobber,” “Malpractice”), demented death-disco (“Crack Hitler”), country/show-tune pastiches (“RV”) and accordion-laced movie-theme covers (“Midnight Cowboy”). The rhythmic thrust of first single “Midlife Crisis,” meanwhile, was powered by a Simon & Garfunkel percussion sample, while “Be Aggressive” paired funk-rock riffing and a cheerleader-chanting chorus with lyrics about man-on-man fellatio. The result was an album that may have sold less than its “Epic”-boasting predecessor, but whose influence can be heard in the sound of practically every darkly weird metal band since, from the Deftones to System of a Down to Slipknot. R.B.
64. Godflesh, ‘Streetcleaner’ (1989)
Officially terminating metal’s historical aversion to instruments other than guitars and drums, Godflesh’s abrasive samplers and thudding drum machine gave the rapidly evolving late-Eighties metal scene a titanic and revolutionary clobbering. Like guitarist-vocalist Justin Broadrick’s prior band, Napalm Death, Godflesh drew inspiration from such caustic industrial cults as Young Gods, Big Black and New York City’s nightmare-inducing Swans. Heavy metal’s riffs, screams and guitar solos were all jettisoned to make room for punishing mechanical rhythms, percussive bass guitar and gritty monochromatic guitar scrapes. On the surface, there was almost nothing traditionally metal about Godflesh beyond the distorted guitars, yet they were a product of the same bleak Birmingham environs that had spawned Black Sabbath two decades earlier. “Godflesh was trying to communicate this sense of frustration,” Broadrick told Trebuchet, “living in urban hell in the 70s in Birmingham. My own upbringing was pretty confused and chaotic … it was all part of the process that went into making that album.” After pushing Godflesh to its logical extreme, Broadrick left the likes of Neurosis and Sunn O))) to carry on his expansive legacy as he softened his approach in the long-running post-metal project Jesu. I.C.
63. Sodom, ‘Agent Orange’ (1989)
At a time when Metallica were exploring proggy odysseys like “Blackened” and Slayer were plumbing the doomy nether regions south of heaven, Sodom were still thrashing like it was 1983 – maybe even harder. The German trio’s 1989 high-water mark, Agent Orange, is a taut, straight-for-the-throat masterpiece that sounds dark and dangerous in a distinctly non-American way, thanks to frontman Tom Angelripper’s seedy-sounding accent and uniquely ESL lyrics, and the viciousness of Frank Blackfire’s guitars. On standouts “Ausgebombt” and the title track, Angelripper revels in wartime suffering with odd turns of phrase (“A fire that … doesn’t … burn!”); on the plodding “Incest,” he lasciviously exalts bedding his sister with a bluntness that would make Prince blush; and on the dirty, blatantly Motörhead-like Tank cover “Don’t Walk Away,” he and his bandmates play revved-up rock & roll while he grunts about rejecting a woman’s advances. Although Sodom’s thrashing countrymen in Kreator and Destruction also put out brilliant Eighties LPs that still hold up (witness the former’s Pleasure to Kill, the latter’s Release From Agony), the sheer over-the-top, unapologetic audacity of Agent Orange, which made it into the German Top 40 at the time, makes it the best of the bunch. “[The record] changed my life in one important way,” Angelripper once said. “That album came at the right time and sold well. I was able to quit my job in the coalmine, where I had been since 1979. My dream came true to live just from the music and [spend] all my time for touring and rehearsing with the band.” K.G
62. Sleep, ‘Jerusalem’ (1999)
After releasing the stoner-rock landmark Sleep’s Holy Mountain in 1992, this supremely heavy Bay Area trio decided to follow it up with an album consisting entirely of one relentless, pot-exalting hour-long song. Though the concept was simple, the execution proved even more punishing than the music itself; guitarist Matt Pike would later recall that the band worked on the song “for like four years” while it steadily mutated into something even slower, trippier and more complex than they’d originally imagined. “They had names for the riffs, like ‘Blackened,’ ‘Reversed Flight,’ ‘Hotel Room,’” producer Billy Anderson explained to Willamette Week in 2015. “We’d get a version of it, we’d cross it off a dry erase board, and then I’d be like, ‘Maybe we should try an alternate version of that section,’ with a different feel or whatever. … We had at least 10 reels of 2-inch tape. Some of those reels had 10 or 15 edits in them. But then, they’re only 17 minutes long. So we didn’t actually hear it as an entire song until well after it was mixed. It was like going to math class.” Though the strain of its creation contributed to Sleep’s breakup, the album – first released in 1999 as Jerusalem, and reissued in 2003 as Dopesmoker – still serves as a fittingly weighty monument to a legendary band. D.E.
61. Converge, ‘Jane Doe’ (2001)
New England hardcore-scene veterans Converge reached a precarious new perch on the 2001 tour de force Jane Doe. Heavy metal had always had the power, now it found the pain, via this highly charged quintet’s excursion through the emotional wringer. Unpredictable and elegant, and even – in a dirty DIY way – progressive, the album channeled the precision of Slayer to capture the caustic mood of Black Flag, creating a potent real-world counterpoint to the prevalent black-metal escapism of the times. Vocalist Jacob Bannon, who sounded like a small animal caught in a terrible machine, increasingly became an idol due to his heart-tearing vulnerability and searing anguish, while guitarist Kurt Ballou’s beefy, unadorned production perfectly complemented the breathless catharsis of songs like “Concubine” and “Heaven in Her Arms,” impressing his future recording clients such as Isis, High on Fire, Nails and Darkest Hour. “Writing Jane Doe was about the hope and desperation that I was trying to search for. I thought it would help,” said Bannon, “but it didn’t.” I.C.
60. Melvins, ‘Bullhead’ (1991)
For much of their first decade as a band, Montesano, Washington’s Melvins replaced the antipathy and anomie of sludgier punk bands (Flipper, Fang, My War–era Blag Flag) with a Beefheartian push-pull. Their magma-toasted textures – like Black Sabbath convulsing in a warehouse space, usually in three minutes or less – would prove to be a crucial influence on the early works of buddies Nirvana. However, the band’s third full-length, Bullhead, is almost like their coming out as a metal band: The songs are longer, the feel more precise, the production not as fried. The hypnotic, bending, sloth-speed three-note riff of “Boris” would obviously inspire the Japanese band of the same name, grindcore gnashers Brutal Truth couldn’t resist covering the razor-sharp “Zodiac,” and the optimistic churn of “Your Blessened” would point the way to sludge-pop bands like Torche and Baroness. Said leader King Buzzo to Flipside in 1991: “People in Germany said it was a sell out.” C.R.W.
59. Napalm Death, ‘From Enslavement to Obliteration’ (1988)
When Napalm Death burst out of Birmingham, England, with a throat full of anarcho-punk polemics and a sound like a Vickers machine gun, they cemented “grindcore,” a sound marked by the comically fast drumming of Mick Harris and notoriously short songs. Second LP From Enslavement to Obliteration is the only full Napalm Death album to feature their classic lineup and classic sound: the iconic blastbeats of Harris, the crust-gnarled gurgle-bark of Lee Dorrian, the jet-engine guitars of Bill Steer, and bassist Shane Embury, who would spend the next 30 years following the band through various strains of extreme metal. Enslavement is as much a magnum opus as an album of 22 songs lasting under 30 minutes can rightfully be, a blueprint-making blur that raged for animal rights, savaged racism and skewered the patriarchy. “They just put hardcore and metal through an accelerator – no one could be sure what the results were gonna be,” Earache Records founder Digby Pearson told Spin, “and we just went for it.” C.R.W.
58. Life of Agony, ‘River Runs Red’ (1993)
Life of Agony plumbed the depths of depression for their 1993 debut, River Runs Red, which unfolds as a concept record about suicide. There are bleak odes to misanthropy (“Underground”), parental neglect (“This Time”), regret (“Bad Seed”) and killing yourself (“River Runs Red,” which begins with the line “I’ve got the razor at my wrist ’cause I can’t resist”). To make it all the more impactful, the group set the tracks, sung passionately by frontwoman Mina Caputo in her unique baritone, to a pastiche of gloom metal and hardcore punk, and they interpolated hip-hop–style theatrical skits telling the story of a man driven to take his own life, all produced by one of Type O Negative’s doommaster generals, Josh Silver. Bassist Alan Robert wrote the songs – which contain morbid one-liners like “Smiling’s just a phase and nothing can phase me” (from standout single “Through and Through”) and “Give me one good reason to live; I’ll give you three to die” (from “My Eyes”) – unsurprisingly during one of the lowest points of his life. “[It] was basically my diary,” he told Rolling Stone in 2017. The band has since seen the unifying nature of their lyrics, connecting with fans who say Life of Agony’s music helped them deal with tough times. “A lot of people go through the same struggles as us, and they have the same fears and insecurities, so our message is, ‘Come join us,’” guitarist Joey Z. once said. K.G.
57. Emperor, ‘Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk’ (1997)
Three years after Emperor released their stunning debut, 1991’s hyper-speed black-metal statement In the Nightside Eclipse, the band was in a sorry state. Two members had been serving prison sentences, one for arson, the other for murder, so singer-guitarist Ihsahn had to soldier on with a new lineup until his guitar foil, founding member Samoth, was released from behind bars. Once reunited, the guitarists penned an LP that retained its predecessor’s grandiose atmosphere but added greater focus and darker textures that cast long shadows. Most impressive is how Ihsahn’s neoclassical ambitions became more apparent, with theatrical warblings about Satanism and aggressive keyboard flourishes. Ethereal atmospherics soar over “The Loss and Curse of Reverence,” enmeshing themselves with his harsh vocals and drummer Trym’s incessant blastbeats. An imperial klaxon opens “Thus Spake the Nightspirit” before Ihsahn’s vocal croak and panicked synth lines stir up a sonic snowstorm; “Ensorcelled by Khaos” kicks straight out into pure black-metal savagery before a carnival-esque melody gives way to gothic triumphalism. Each song is a journey through curious sounds and grim moods that most extreme-metal bands only hint at, and the album ultimately represented a sea change, inspiring a new generation of extreme-metal acts to experiment with classicism and cite Emperor as an influence, bringing them to a larger audience. “Some people aren’t too into our lyrics, but they enjoy the extremity of our music,” Ihsahn said around the album’s release. “So they can listen to both Machine Head and Emperor, because it is the aggression that appeals to them. There was a point in time where [we] felt that certain people didn’t deserve to listen to Black metal, but the fact is that the people who really understand the music will get the albums anyway.” K.K.
56. The Dillinger Escape Plan, ‘Calculating Infinity’ (1999)
Rock bands had been experimenting with unconventional rhythms for decades – see: King Crimson’s Larks’ Tongues in Aspic (1973), to cite just one example – but it never added up to a movement until the Dillinger Escape Plan released Calculating Infinity. Maybe that’s because nobody had ever pushed the idea to such extremes before. “Calculating Infinity was us effectively ripping up the music theory book,” guitarist Ben Weinman told The Independent. “It sounded disgusting, but we did it, and maybe we finally took that to the nth degree with this album.” But the album’s greatness didn’t just stem from the lurching, spasming rhythms, or the disjointed harmonies, or the way Weinman’s guitar sometimes sounded like a circular saw cutting steel. There was an underlying logic, a sense of structure that lifted songs like the cathartic, improbably catchy “43% Burnt” to a realm above the noise and fury of everyday hardcore. Adherents called it “mathcore,” a nod to the music’s constantly changing time signatures. Yet however much Calculating Infinity defined that movement, the movement never defined the Dillinger Escape Plan, as the band continued to alter strategies and subvert music theory right up through last year’s farewell effort, Dissociation. J.D.C.
55. Opeth, ‘Blackwater Park’ (2001)
Through the 1990s Swedish band Opeth had steadily built a reputation for their unique hybrid of death metal, doom and progressive rock, but it wasn’t until fifth album Blackwater Park that those elements truly coalesced. Much of the credit goes to the increasingly mature songwriting of guitarist-leader Mikael Åkerfeldt and the chemistry of the entire four-piece band, but the influence of producer Steven Wilson cannot be ignored. The mastermind behind popular prog-rock band Porcupine Tree, Wilson harnessed Åkerfeldt’s myriad influences and shaped the record into an immaculate, spellbinding whole. While there are more than enough moments of power and fury, the album’s melodic passages create a graceful ebb and flow throughout Blackwater Park‘s 67 minutes. It all makes for a haunting, labyrinthine journey, from the pastoral “Harvest” to the somber “Bleak” and the astonishing 11-minute opus “The Drapery Falls.” “I believe that if you are confined to one type of music, then you are missing out on so many worlds and colors,” Åkerfeldt told Metal Hammer in 2005. “You are depriving yourself of some great experiences, and if there is a message in Blackwater Park, then that’s what it is.” A.B.
54. Helmet, ‘Meantime’ (1992)
Meantime sliced away the excess of Eighties metal while adding a streetwise, cruelly sardonic edge. By the time of Helmet’s second album, guitarist-bandleader Page Hamilton – who had a master’s degree in jazz and an association with avant-garde composer Glenn Branca under his belt – was well situated to give the genre a radical facelift. “In the Meantime” featured a towering staccato groove and stun blasts of noise guitar, while minor MTV hit “Unsung” blended a memorable stop-start riff with Hamilton’s eerily composed croon. Even on odd-time rhythmic workouts like “Turned Out,” a track that finds Hamilton howling out the name of noted VJ Downtown Julie Brown, bassist Henry Bogdan and drummer John Stanier (later of avant-rock luminaries Tomahawk and Battles) powered through with a crisp, borderline-funky drive. Meantime‘s taut, downtuned signature sound would influence everyone from Pantera to Deftones, Bush and Linkin Park, but Hamilton always seemed uneasy about his status as a genre-bound innovator. “I think it’s really destructive to draw lines of snobbery between jazz, classical and rock,” he told Guitar World in 1992. “Guitar players should get information from every source possible, whether it’s a George Russell or Charlie Parker book, a Bartók string quartet, or a Mötley Crüe album.” H.S.
53. Type O Negative, ‘Bloody Kisses’ (1993)
When Type O Negative emerged from the ashes of the New York thrash band Carnivore, their sound, as manifested by the pummeling drums and reflexive sexism that riddled 1991’s Slow, Deep and Hard, wasn’t much different from its predecessor. Three years later, the band followed its debut with a radically different sound, one that wrapped the guitar crunch in gauzy synths and recast frontman Peter Steele as a deep-voiced crooner. “After Slow, Deep and Hard I realized anybody can scream their head off,” he later told Grimoire. “It takes not so much more talent, but at least more effort to attempt to sing on key and try to work out a melody that people might remember.” Some listeners took its nods to religiosity (the pipe organ on “Bloody Kisses,” the monkish vocals on “Christian Woman”) as evidence of a goth sensibility, while others pointed to the deadpan cover of Seals & Crofts’ “Summer Breeze” and “Black No. 1” – an anthemic ode to a hair-dye-obsessed girlfriend – as proof that Steele and company were simply taking the piss. Either way, pop culture hadn’t seen anything this devilishly droll since the days of the original Dark Shadows. J.D.C.
52. Def Leppard, ‘Pyromania’ (1983)
“We wanted an album that sounded the way Steven Spielberg’s movies looked,” Def Leppard vocalist Joe Elliott has said of the band’s vision for Pyromania. To achieve that end, the band and uber-producer Mutt Lange (AC/DC, the Cars, Shania Twain) spent nine months and nearly a million dollars recording the Sheffield heavy-metalists’ third full-length, employing the latest synthesizers (courtesy of “She Blinded Me With Science” star Thomas Dolby), bleeding-edge recording techniques like the use of drum samples, and heavily stacked, pitch-perfect vocals to bolster the album’s unprecedentedly massive sonics. But ultimately, it was Def Leppard’s evolution from a rough-around-the-edges hard-rock band into a unit capable of seamlessly melding heavy riffs with anthemic, mainstream-friendly melodies that pushed Pyromania into the sales stratosphere. The summer of 1983 saw the album moving more than 100,000 units per week, and deservedly so: Songs like “Photograph,” “Rock of Ages” and “Foolin’” didn’t just pack one hell of a wallop; they were world-class earworms. T.B.
51. Carcass, ‘Heartwork’ (1993)
Even now, it’s hard to summarize the quantum leap forward that Heartwork represented for Carcass. Originally a pioneering grindcore trio from Liverpool, guitarist Bill Steer, bassist-vocalist Jeff Walker and drummer Ken Owen had made a splash with raw, writhing blurts like “Genital Grinder” and “Manifestation of Verrucose Urethra,” featuring gruesome lyrics lifted from a medical dictionary. With the addition of second guitarist Michael Amott in 1990, Carcass grew more sleek and streamlined, and by 1993 complexity and gore had run their course. “On Heartwork – and this sounds embarrassing to say now – we took a stylistic cue from Metallica’s “black” [album] and Nirvana’s Nevermind,” Walker told Decibel in 2013. “We tried to make the songs more straight to the point. … I’m not trying to say we were influenced [by] or tried to sound like those bands, but we definitely wanted to cut the crap.” Factor in the band’s interest in classic and contemporary hard rock, Steer and Amott’s growing prowess with tightly wound riffs and freewheeling leads, a turn toward social commentary in Walker’s lyrics, and Colin Richardson’s stellar production, and what resulted was a collection of songs both uncompromising and instantly appealing – and an album that moved more than 80,000 units in a short-lived major label alliance with Columbia Records. S.S.
50. Slipknot, ‘Iowa’ (2001)
After Slipknot’s self-titled debut catapulted the mask-wearing, percussion-heavy nonet from Midwest obscurity to stardom, the band nearly imploded in a maelstrom of self-destructive indulgence. Instead of the cathartic release of the first album, singer Corey Taylor told Revolver, “Doing Iowa, I wasn’t letting anything go. It was just rage for the sake of rage. … Luckily, we got a dark, brutal, amazing album out of it.” For all its aural intensity – the breathlessly chugging guitars, the roiling swirls of snare and tom-tom, Taylor’s throat-rending vocals – what stands out about isn’t the emotional negativity but the perversely hook-heavy writing. Sometimes the two are wrapped together, like on the misanthropic chant-along “People = Shit”; sometimes they’re in opposition, as when sweetly melodic vocals float through the chorus of “My Plague.” It’s as if the band wanted a way to make its pain palatable – even addictive. J.D.C.
49. Neurosis, ‘Through Silver in Blood’ (1996)
Neurosis, a San Francisco hardcore punk band formed by singer-guitarist Scott Kelly, bassist Dave Edwardson and drummer Jason Roeder in 1985, had trended slower, heavier and deeper over the course of several successive LPs, so when they went full bore into an even weightier sound it wasn’t without warning. With the arrival of keyboardist Noah Landis in 1995, the group’s mature lineup jelled, and a year later, the band dropped its transformative masterpiece: a titanic mix of hardcore, industrial and sludge-metal notions and sampled soundbites, balancing oppressive heaviness, hypnotic repetition and surprising vulnerability. “This was a difficult time for people, personally, and it all led to what would become this music that was really gut-wrenching to create,” guitarist and singer Steve Von Till told Decibel in 2016. “[W]e were going to take this to the deepest, darkest place we could find. And we had to live there to find it.” S.S.
48. Rainbow, ‘Rising’ (1976)
Unhappy with Deep Purple’s increasingly funk-oriented direction, Ritchie Blackmore left his band in 1974 and formed Rainbow with Ronnie James Dio. And with Rising, Rainbow’s second LP, they produced an album that rivalled (some would even say surpassed) Purple’s finest work. “Everybody who’s heard it thinks it’s my best playing in a long time, which I suppose is a compliment,” the famously testy guitarist remarked in 1976, at the time of the album’s release. “Then again, what do they know?” But it didn’t take a musicologist to appreciate the quasi-mystical power of “Tarot Woman” (which featured an unexpectedly futuristic-sounding synth intro from Tony Carey), the arena-ready boogie of “Starstruck,” the twin Tolkein-esque epics “Stargazer” and “A Light in the Black,” or the fiery, dynamic fashion in which Blackmore and Co. dished them out. Sadly, Rising would mark Rainbow’s artistic peak, as Blackmore would soon steer the band in more commercially oriented directions. “He was perturbed that he wasn’t being played on the radio, and decided to go a different route,” bassist Jimmy Bain lamented to Classic Rock in 2014. “He didn’t think we were going to get successful, because Rising was too heavy.” D.E.
47. Slayer, ‘South of Heaven’ (1988)
After Reign in Blood marked them as the fastest, most fearsomely furious band in thrash, the question facing Slayer was, “What next?” “We knew we couldn’t top Reign in Blood, so we had to slow down,” guitarist Jeff Hanneman recalled to Decibel. “We knew whatever we did was gonna be compared to that album, and I remember we actually discussed slowing down. It was weird – we’ve never done that on an album, before or since.” It definitely was slower. Even when the title track shifts into double-time, its tempo seems a comfortable trot compared to the double-kick fury that was Reign in Blood‘s “Angel of Death.” Yet the stately, sitar-like riff that opens the song is more ominously creepy than anything on its predecessor, and there’s something memorably morbid about the harmonized, twin-guitar hook that opens “Mandatory Suicide.” This was where Slayer proved that it was the writing, not just the band’s speed and stamina, that made its music matter. That the slower tempos gave Hanneman and fellow guitarist Kerry King a platform for more varied and expressive solos was just icing on the cake. J.D.C.
46. Mastodon, ‘Leviathan’ (2004)
Although their most recent album, Emperor of Sand, cracked the Top 10, a decade and a half ago progressive metallists Mastodon were still relative unknowns. On a break from the band’s relentless touring regimen, drummer Brann Dailor happened to read Herman Melville’s 1851 whaling epic Moby-Dick, and he was struck by the parallels between his experience and that of the novel’s narrator and of the revenge-obsessed Captain Ahab. “Mastodon were like sailors as we drove around and played basements and clubs for years. We were on a quest for something that might not even be there, and we were sacrificing a lot by leaving our families and friends behind. It was a mixture of Ahab’s craziness and Ishmael’s lust for life and adventure,” he told Modern Drummer. The idea was hatched to make Mastodon’s second release a concept record about the novel, an album that would have to be big and mean enough to be worthy of the murderous white whale it celebrates. Mere seconds into Leviathan’s heaving opener, “Blood and Thunder,” it’s clear that the group succeeded: The listener is buffeted by surging waves of guitars, guttural screams and relentless squalls of drum fills. Deeper tracks like the fully unhinged “Megalodon” and the slow-building opus “Hearts Alive” only drag us deeper into Mastodon’s dark sound and vision. T.B.
45. Exodus, ‘Bonded by Blood’ (1985)
If the so-called Big Four thrash bands – Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer and Anthrax – expanded to five, Exodus would complete the cadre, simply because of the way their debut, Bonded by Blood, explodes from the stereo. Frontman Paul Baloff, who, as legend has it would rip Mötley Crüe and Ratt T-shirts off fans at Exodus shows, wrapping them around his wrists as “war trophies,” sounds like a man possessed by mayhem, wreaking comic-book carnage all over the record. On one song he promises to teach doubters “A Lesson in Violence”; on the title track he urges fans to bang their heads against the stage until they bleed (“Murder in the front row!”); on another, he prays to Lucifer to “Deliver Us to Evil.” Meanwhile, the rest of the band – led by guitarist Gary Holt and foil Rick Hunolt (who eventually replaced Kirk Hammett after he left for Metallica in 1983) – provided melodic, tough-guy gang vocals to “And Then There Were None” and plied whiplash-inducing, breakneck-paced riffing on anthems like “Strike of the Beast” and the galloping “Piranha.” Exodus were so raucous while making the LP that the owner of the studio where they recorded claims that they caused more damage there than any other band. “You get a bunch of kids together with loads of alcohol and shit, and what do you think will happen?” Holt once said. “We had a party every night, invited up our friends from the Bay Area, and there’d be some drunken brawls. … It’s great to know we made such an impact.” Ultimately, Baloff’s alcohol consumption became too much for the band, which kicked him out in 1986, and, even though he returned in 1997 for intermittent live performances before his death in 2002, the group never again made a record as ragged and vital as Bonded by Blood. K.G.
44. Mötley Crüe, ‘Shout at the Devil’ (1983)
Two years after shaking up the Hollywood metal scene with Too Fast for Love, Mötley Crüe took on the world (and Lucifer) with Shout at the Devil. With a pentagram emblazoned on its album sleeve and an over-the-top glam-metal look that came off a bit like what would happen if the New York Dolls made it with a football team, the band went to great lengths to establish themselves as the tough, bloodthirsty new faces of metal. They also had a heavier sound. Starting with “Shout at the Devil” – a fist-banging anthem urging listeners to resist sin (something Crüe failed miserably) – and moving directly into “Looks That Kill” and “Too Young to Fall in Love” (and its overtly misogynistic “I’m killing you/See your face turning blue” couplet) the band custom-made each prospective single to be gritty enough to sit next to Judas Priest on the radio and exist in its own teased-hair universe on MTV. Elsewhere, they courted not Beatlemania but Mansonmania with a “Helter Skelter” cover, painted a gory tableau with the murderific “Bastard” and declared their own greatness on “Red Hot.” “During the period that we were writing songs like ‘Red Hot’ and ‘Shout at the Devil’ and ‘Bastard,’ we were really frustrated,” Nikki Sixx said around the time of the album’s release. “It was during Too Fast for Love, and we had a lot of problems. ‘Bastard’ was about an old business acquaintance that really hurt us. … Financially [he] took our tour money and ran with it.” Shout at the Devil, now certified four-times platinum, was Mötley Crüe’s revenge. K.G.
43. Judas Priest, ‘Stained Class’ (1978)
A crucial turning point in Judas Priest’s career – and in the history of metal – 1978’s Stained Class was where the British band jettisoned the last remaining vestiges of their early progressive-rock leanings, and went for the jugular with faster, tighter and more menacing songs like “Exciter,” “White Heat, Red Hot” and “Invader”; even the album’s lone power ballad, “Beyond the Realms of Death,” sounded downright economical compared to their previous work. Although Stained Class would later be used as Exhibit A in an infamous “backwards masking” court case (brought against the band by the family of a teenager who killed himself after allegedly listening to the track “Better by You, Better Than Me”), the album put Priest on the U.S. charts for the first time, and helped steal the thunder of British punk by igniting what would become known as the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. “It was an exciting time for the band,” frontman Rob Halford told Classic Rock in 2011. “There was a lot of self-belief in what we were about to do and a sense of adventure. When you think about the intensity of tracks like ‘Exciter,’ for example, or ‘Invader’ or ‘Savage,’ maybe it was a reaction to what was going on around us. It kind of turned the fires up under our feet: ‘We’re a fucking metal band, mate, and this is what we love to do. Get an earful of this.’” D.E.
42. Diamond Head, ‘Lightning to the Nations’ (1980)
First issued in a plain white sleeve with no song titles, Diamond Head’s debut album rode alongside the tidal wave of landmark New Wave of British Heavy Metal releases in 1980. Unique among peers like Saxon and Def Leppard, Diamond Head cleaned up hard rock’s sweat and excess, trimming song lengths and providing a streamlined answer to Led Zeppelin’s Page and Plant in the plaintive wails of Sean Harris and the muscular, stadium-ready guitar riffs of Brian Tatler. For Lightning to the Nations, the pair crafted intricate, almost orchestrally structured songs such as “The Prince,” “Sucking My Love” and “Am I Evil?” that went through riffs like they were a dime a dozen. Although ill-fated business luck hampered their progress, fans rated them highly. Lars Ulrich has called Lightning‘s highly memorable collection of straightforward riff-based anthems, “some of the greatest songs of all time.” Indeed, Metallica went on to cover five of the album’s seven tracks, notably “Helpless” and “Am I Evil?” in the recording studio as well as stadiums worldwide for more than 30 years. I.C.
41. Kyuss, ‘Blues for the Red Sun’ (1992)
Other guitarists had reveled in deafening low-end, but Kyuss co-founder – and future Queens of the Stone Age leader – Josh Homme made the practice into something almost scientific. His guitar, tuned down and fed through a bass cabinet, delivered a sound that would best be described as the crushed velvet of fuzz guitar tones, as luxurious was it deafening. Homme’s sonorous rumble may have been the cornerstone of the Kyuss sound, but the real strength of Blues for the Red Sun was the band’s alchemical ability to transform old-school blues licks into hallucinogenic epics like “Freedom Run” or “Thumb,” where the riffs seemed to stretch into the horizon. Driving riff workouts such as “Green Machine” rounded out the album’s heady blend. Homme credited the band’s songwriting chops to its early days playing “generator parties” – so called because the electricity came courtesy gas-powered generators – in the desert outside their hometown of Palm Desert, California. “There’s no clubs here, so you can only play for free,” he told Billboard. “If people don’t like you, they’ll tell you. You can’t suck.” And Kyuss didn’t. J.D.C.
40. Mayhem, ‘De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas’ (1994)
Has any metal album been overshadowed more by the circumstances surrounding its making than De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas, the debut LP from seminal Norwegian black-metal quartet Mayhem? Dead (Per Yngve Ohlin), vocalist during the album’s gestation, committed suicide before it was recorded. And despite early claims to the contrary, you’re listening to a convicted killer, bassist Count Grishnackh (Varg Vikernes, also of Burzum) playing alongside his victim, guitarist Euronymous (Øystein Aarseth). Yet despite the unthinkable causes for its notoriety, Mysteriis remains a singularly potent document, its expressions of alienation and nihilism lent an icy severity by Aarseth’s lacerating guitar buzz, session vocalist Attila Csihar’s arcane croak and presentation of Dead’s lyrical gothic terror and the pummeling drums of Hellhammer (Jan Axel Blomberg). “We were repulsed by music about love and kindness – we just hated it,” Blomberg told Rolling Stone in February, when the present Mayhem lineup was playing Mysteriis complete on tour. “We wanted to make music that was the extreme opposite of that.” Mission accomplished. S.S.
39. Pantera, ‘Far Beyond Driven’ (1994)
Pantera bassist Rex Brown once told Rolling Stone that with Far Beyond Driven, “the record company was pushing for something like [Metallica’s chart-topping] ‘Black Album.’” Pantera, of course, did not comply with this request, instead coming up with a record that boasted some of their fastest (opener “Stronger Than All”) heaviest (the Sabbath-y “I’m Broken”) and most downright misanthropic (the utterly depraved “Good Friends and a Bottle of Pills”) jams. At times – witness Dimebag Darrell’s Whammy pedal abuse on “Becoming,” Phil Anselmo’s wretched exorcising of paternal demons on “25 Years” or Vinnie Paul’s click-y bass drum sound all over the album – it seemed as if the band was attempting to inflict actual pain on the listener. And yet, shockingly, Pantera’s record company did in fact get their Number One album. To this day, Far Beyond Driven stands as indisputably the most extreme effort to have reached the top spot on the Billboard 200, not to mention to have debuted in that position upon its release. Credit the album’s success to Pantera’s undeniable dominance of the metal landscape in the mid-Nineties, as well as, in the words of Paul, their commitment to making a “balls-out heavy-metal record with no compromising.” And that they did, though with one concession – ditching the original cover art, which showed a massive drill bit penetrating an unlucky recipient straight up the ass. R.B.
38. Iron Maiden, ‘Powerslave’ (1984)
By the time Iron Maiden released their landmark fifth LP, Powerslave, in 1984, the British metal group had four seminal albums under their studded belts and had become such a powerful touring force that they were already planning to record a live album – what would become the epochal Live After Death – on their next world tour. “We took what was best from [our last record, Piece of Mind] and gave it the aggressive style of [1982’s] Number of the Beast,” lead singer Bruce Dickinson said at the time of Powerslave‘s release. “We’ve made a high quality record … artistically speaking, of course!” Dickinson’s pride in the album is justified: The singer’s stunning skill is evident throughout, as when he soars above tracks like the aerial-combat–inspired “Aces High” and the anti-war screed “Two Minutes to Midnight,” as bassist Steve Harris and drummer Nicko McBrain weaponize their trademark rhythm-section gallop and guitarists Adrian Smith and Dave Murray hand each other the shred baton like Olympian relay racers. Powerslave culminates with the classic 13-minute–plus opus “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” (based on the Samuel Taylor Coleridge poem of the same name) but not before Dickinson summons his inner Egyptologist for the album’s title track, which examines the inescapable mortality of even the most exalted and revered. T.B.
37. Black Sabbath, ‘Heaven and Hell’ (1980)
Black Sabbath without Ozzy Osbourne was a nearly unimaginable thought during the first decade of the band’s existence, but by 1979 the group was running out of patience with the singer’s growing unreliability and chronic drug abuse (two closely related issues), so they fired him. Virtually nobody on earth was qualified to fill his shoes besides former Rainbow singer Ronnie James Dio, a diminutive man with one of the biggest voices in metal. “He could get really high and clear, but it always sounded thick and powerful,” James Hetfield told Rolling Stone after Dio’s death in 2010. “He sounded like he was eight feet tall even though he was quite the opposite.” Dio’s presence breathed new life into Black Sabbath – who had been slowly fading throughout the late Seventies – and led to incredible new tunes like the regal “Heaven and Hell,” the hard-charging “Neon Knights” and the dramatic “Die Young.” Dio was a lyricist, so he took some of the pressure off bassist Geezer Butler, and in the process gave the band an unprecedented grandeur. Suddenly, the group had a whole new generation of fans too young to remember the original Ozzy era in the early 1970s. “Everyone had that record,” Hetfield said. “Everyone was playing the cover songs in garage bands, including me. ‘Neon Knights’ was like the school anthem.” Black Sabbath carried on for decades more, with an endless parade of singers, but they never again quite recaptured the rejuvenated spirit of Heaven and Hell. A.G.
36. Van Halen, ‘Women and Children First’ (1980)
With a high-powered electric piano, a hearty serving of pyrotechnic guitar and David Lee Roth’s lighthearted snark (“Have you seen junior’s grades?”) on lead track “And the Cradle Will Rock … ,” Van Halen introduced an amplified take on their trademark party-metal aesthetic on Women and Children First. The band, whose Eddie Van Halen originally wanted to name the group after Black Sabbath’s “Rat Salad,” had first appeared as usurpers to Sabbath’s throne in 1978 when they opened up for the metal progenitors on tour, nimbly going lick for lick with their forebears on heavy hitters like “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love” and Eddie’s stunning “Eruption” solo, which inspired generations of young guitarists to shred. By 1980, they were headlining arenas with a harder, more metallic sound – without losing any of their looseness. “The music has grown and evolved but it hasn’t matured,” Roth said in a promotional interview for the LP. Women and Children First was Van Halen’s heaviest album at the time, thanks to the tribal drumming and guitar noise of “Everybody Wants Some!!”; the bass-heavy plunder of “Fools” and interlude “Tora! Tora!”; the technical guitar chugging of “Romeo Delight” and “Loss of Control”; and Eddie’s unabashed guitar expressionism on “Take Your Whiskey Home,” amid a few lighter, acoustic moments. Throughout, Roth, rock’s greatest jester, hoots, hollers, scats and squeals – something he’d scale back slightly on the group’s next LP, the typically darker Fair Warning. It all culminates with “In a Simple Rhyme,” a multi-movement track that contains the best of everything Van Halen offered in their early years – flashy guitar, softer moments and metal riffs, and Roth’s brilliant narration of his everyman spirit (“Ain’t love grand when you finally hit it?/I’m always a sucker for a real good time”), which perfectly set up the freewheeling ethos of mainstream metal in the Eighties. K.G.
35. Metallica, ‘Kill ‘Em All’ (1983)
Metallica forged a new metal subgenre in the early Eighties by combining the speed of Motörhead with the intricate arrangements of New Wave of British Heavy Metal groups like Diamond Head and Venom, making for the supremely headbangable style known as thrash. Their first LP, Kill ‘Em All, is ground zero for the genre: nine shit-kicking rockers custom-designed to rattle brains, served alongside one bass solo (take one). Nearly three decades later, the million-notes-per-minute “Whiplash” still best describes just what the band was trying to achieve: “There’s a feeling deep inside that drives you fucking mad … /Adrenaline starts to flow, you’re thrashing all around, acting like a maniac – whiplash!” Frontman James Hetfield and drummer Lars Ulrich had written and revised many of the songs from its early demos with original lead guitarist Dave Mustaine (now of Megadeth), and on the LP, the jagged riffs of “The Four Horsemen,” stomping drums of “Jump in the Fire” and locomotive-chugging “Metal Militia” charge out of the speakers sounding fresh. These songs inspired bands like Slayer and Exodus to take thrash into rougher, faster territories. Yet Cliff Burton’s imaginative, guitar-like bass lines – check out the wah-wah on “(Anesthesia) Pulling Teeth” – and Kirk Hammett’s impassioned solos made Kill ‘Em All more than a speed test; it was a new way of life. “It wasn’t until 2013 when we played it that I realized Kill ‘Em All had a cohesiveness,” Lars Ulrich said in 2016. “It had its own thing with the speed, but it’s simpler – the songs are longer but not quite as progressive. It’s a world all its own.” K.G.
34. Black Sabbath, ‘Master of Reality’ (1971)
After recording what was more or less their live sets in the studio for their first two records, Black Sabbath faced a unique challenge on Master of Reality: actually writing an album. As with the LP’s predecessors, they teamed with producer Rodger Bain, who encouraged them to create a sound that was both nuanced and direct. Drummer Bill Ward played a timbale on the pulsating “Children of the Grave,” and the song was much funkier because of it. Meanwhile, guitarist Tony Iommi toyed around with noise on the outro of that song, flute on the ballad “Solitude” and synths on “After Forever” (which incidentally may be the first Christian metal tune, courtesy of chief lyricist, bassist Geezer Butler). He also tuned his guitar down on some songs to make it easier on his digits, some of which lacked fingertips after an industrial accident early in his adult life, leading to one of metal’s heaviest-ever riffs on “Into the Void.” But he still managed to make a classic in standard tuning: “Sweet Leaf,” the premier stoner-metal anthem, which features Ozzy Osbourne singing “Come on now, try it out” and begins with the sound of Iommi hacking up a lung while smoking a joint before giving way to a riff so massive it sounds as if it’s collapsing on itself. “I was outside recording an acoustic thing, and Ozzy brought me a joint,” Iommi once said. “I had a puff and nearly choked myself, and they were taping it.” Peer pressure never sounded so heavy. K.G.
33. Megadeth, ‘Countdown to Extinction’ (1992)
By the Nineties, thrash bands were straying from breakneck, double-time tempos and experimenting more with radio-friendly riffs that grooved like hard rock, but with a harder bite. Although the shadow of Metallica’s game-changing Black Album loomed over the entire genre after that LP’s 1991 release, Dave Mustaine and Megadeth streamlined their sound without coming across as imitators. Balancing accessibility and thrash street cred with dazzling skill, Countdown to Extinction was less complex than their previous LP, the virtuosic Rust in Peace, yet it feels like a natural progression from that record. The smash “Symphony of Destruction” remains the wickedest hook frontman Mustaine has written, a well-earned crossover success, but Megadeth’s trademark blend of lurching riffs, nimble solos and precisely executed rhythms dominates the bulk of the record. As illustrated by the manic psychodrama of “Sweating Bullets,” the tense “Skin O’ My Teeth” and the ornate title track, Countdown was a perfect blend of mainstream-ready hooks and metal cred, and it scored the band a Number Two album on Billboard. The success led Mustaine to dabble more with writing accessible rock, something he’d later regret after making concessions on 1999’s misstep Risk. “Countdown came in at Number Two on the Billboard chart, so we thought, ‘Wow, this feels great,’” Mustaine once said. “‘Now we’re starting to get some direction. This is how you’ll be great. You listen to [music-industry] people who have some credibility.’ And we did, but it didn’t work. And you don’t realize that people that have credibility aren’t always right.” A.B.
32. Black Sabbath, ‘Sabotage’ (1975)
Black Sabbath were in rough shape by early 1975, ravaged by substance abuse and in the midst of an arduous legal battle with their ex-manager. “We were literally in the studio, trying to record, and we’d be signing all these affidavits and everything,” bassist Geezer Butler once said of the making of their inauspicious sixth LP. “That’s why it’s called Sabotage – because we felt that the whole process was just being totally sabotaged by all these people ripping us off.” Strangely, the band’s haggard, decadent state only gave their music an added psychological depth. Although it lacks the clarity of their early classics, Sabotage captured a desperation unmatched by any of their other Ozzy-era LPs. The frontman holds nothing back, shredding his throat on lumbering opener “Hole in the Sky” and perfectly embodying the mentally addled narrator of “Megalomania.” Tony Iommi steps up with some of his all-time nastiest riffs on “Symptom of the Universe” – a clear thrash-metal precursor – while suite-like epics such as the synth-accented “The Thrill of It All” and litigation-inspired “The Writ” find the band putting its own demented twist on prog. In hindsight, Sabotage‘s weird sprawl forecasted the original Sabbath’s eventual decline, but it just might be the most darkly engrossing full-length they ever made. H.S.
31. Slayer, ‘Seasons in the Abyss’ (1990)
Although it wasn’t the sort of genre-defining or landscape-changing work that 1986’s Reign In Blood was, Slayer’s fifth LP, 1990’s Seasons in the Abyss, might actually be the most focused start-to-finish album the band has made to date. Seasons seamlessly blended the thrashy aggression of their early work with the doomy swagger of 1988’s South of Heaven. Themes of violence, death and gore permeated the lyrics of tracks like “War Ensemble,” “Expendable Youth,” “Hallowed Point” and especially “Dead Skin Mask” – the Ed Gein–inspired meditation that remains Slayer’s quintessential serial-killer song – while bassist Tom Araya, drummer Dave Lombardo, and the peerless guitar tandem of Kerry King and Jeff Hanneman matched that intensity in songs that ranged from the frenzied (“Born of Fire”) and eerily atmospheric (the title track, for which the band would issue an evocative video, set at the foot of the Sphinx). “I just think we just wanted to keep being Slayer,” King once said. “There were a lot of bands that had built careers by copying what we had done and we wanted to show everyone we could still do it better.” D.E.
30. Korn, ‘Korn’ (1994)
Korn helped launch the nu-metal subgenre with their 1994 self-titled debut, unwittingly paving the way for bands like Deftones, System of a Down and Limp Bizkit. The band’s seamless integration of beefy, bass-y metal riffs with rap rhythms and Jonathan Davis’ experimental yelps, which sound like uncontrollable spasms of anger and disenfranchisement, spoke to a generation of metalheads that dug Nirvana and Tupac as much as Metallica. “We were trying to sound like a DJ had remixed our guitars,” James “Munky” Shaffer explained in an interview with Rolling Stone. Lyrically, Davis tackles tough, personal subjects, like his addiction to amphetamines (“Blind”) and his experiences being sexually abused as a child (“Daddy”). They didn’t play the latter song live for two decades following the album’s release due to the trauma attached to its creation and only brought it back when the band began to commemorate the LP’s anniversary with live shows in 2014. The type of vulnerability Davis tackled head-on is what set Korn apart from the nu-metal spawns that followed their wake, though none of them ever quite tapped the same intensity as the songs on Korn. B.S.
29. Sepultura, ‘Chaos A.D.’ (1993)
After years of dabbling in thrash and death metal, Sepultura broke free of rigid orthodoxy on their fifth album, Chaos A.D. This time out, they channeled slower, heavier grooves in the vein of Metallica’s Black Album, tapped into rhythms from their native Brazil, experimented with operatic vocals (“Amen”) and focused on the textures of their sounds, such as the sound of frontman Max Cavalera’s unborn son’s heartbeat before “Refuse/Resist.” They also added hardcore, punk and industrial influences to the mix and went for a cleaner production, allowing the singer’s sociopolitical lyrics to shine through. “You try your best to carry your life in a positive way, but there’s always something or someone to fuck it all up and make you pissed,” he told Thrasher in 1994. “That’s where my ideas for lyrics come from.” Even in Chaos A.D.’s most obtuse moments, such as former Dead Kennedys frontman Jello Biafra’s zany cameo on the conspiracy theory–themed “Biotech Is Godzilla,” politics make up the heart of the LP. The gut-rattling “Refuse/Resist” rails against overzealous police, the swelling “Territory” puts dictators in the crosshairs, the bass-heavy “Propaganda” carries the message “don’t believe what you see” and the thrash-y “Slave New World” rages against state repression. Meanwhile, Cavalera’s drummer brother Igor ratcheted up the band’s grooves with tribal-sounding percussion, and the whole group explored indigenous music on the acoustic instrumental “Kaiowas,” which would foreshadow their next album, 1996’s daring and equally influential Roots. K.K.
28. Celtic Frost, ‘Morbid Tales’ (1984)
The first band that frontman Tom G. Warrior and bassist Martin Ain formed, death-metal forerunners Hellhammer, was a humiliating experience. Underground zines of the time had panned their demos, saying they couldn’t play their instruments. Citing a review in the zine Metal Forces in his book Only Death Is Real, Warrior wrote, “[It] was a severe blow, and we felt our pride slighted to no end.” So when they put Celtic Frost together, they had to prove themselves. What they made with their debut LP, Morbid Tales, would shape extreme metal for years to come. Chunky, muscular riffs like the one in “Dethroned Emperor,” which has a unique, almost Southern rock–inspired groove, would influence death-metal bands like Obituary, while the galloping rhythms and gritty guitar sound of “Into the Crypts of Rays” would inspire black-metal acts like Darkthone, whose A Blaze in the Northern Sky sounds like a black-mirror reflection of Morbid Tales. Celtic Frost never adhered to a specific genre; they played fast like thrash groups but also wrung out their riffs slowly like doom acts. “Danse Macabre” is more like a Dario Argento horror-soundtrack work than metal, and they enlisted a creepy-sounding female vocalist for the spoken invocation in “Return to the Eve.” Moreover, Warrior had a personality and tough-guy singing style all his own. Between his oft-mimicked “Ugh” grunts, he wasn’t afraid to get corny and ask, “Are you morbid?” in the song “Morbid Tales.” The album is fun, heavy and spooky all at once, but more than that, for Warrior and Ain, it was a vindication. “To me, it’s the essence of my musical life and the essence of Celtic Frost,” Warrior said of the album in 2007. K.G.
27. System of a Down, ‘Toxicity’ (2001)
Skittish, temperamental, emotional and purposefully unhinged, System of a Down’s exquisite 2001 sophomore release provided a perfect soundtrack to post-9/11 anxiety. Turn on the LP and a chunky riff drops in between drawn-out pauses before singer Serj Tankian whispers, “They’re trying to build a prison.” The Armenian-American band touched on everything from Charles Manson’s stances on the environment (“ATWA”) to the United States’ faulty justice system (“Prison Song”), as each song creatively explores musical moods, variously evoking jazz, Middle Eastern and Greek music, as well as all known subgenres and mutations of hard rock. Beyond System’s political statements, the ever-entertaining Tankian sang about group sex (“Bounce”) and groupies (“Psycho”), but the band’s unique musical spasticity (on glorious display on signature single “Chop Suey!”) makes Toxicity feel like a cohesive work. “I don’t understand why we have to be just one thing,” Tankian told Rolling Stone in 2001. “If I write on one side of this lampshade, ‘The metropolis is too dense. It causes fear,’ that’s a social statement. And on this side I write, ‘Blow me.’ And then here it says, ‘I’m hungry.’ And here it says, ‘Gee, what a splendid day.’ Now those are four different things. We’re all just turning the lampshade.” B.S.
26. Alice in Chains, ‘Dirt’ (1992)
Before grunge hit the mainstream, the movement owed more to metal than any other rock subgenre. The heaviness of Black Sabbath and Metallica directly informed how the leaders of the Seattle scene approached songs that tackled depression, drug addiction, death and disillusionment. While Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden expanded beyond metal, Alice in Chains remained the grittiest and most true to the genre’s influence, crafting the dark, weighty and foreboding Dirt. From the fierce, nightmarish riffing of “Them Bones” to the eerily anthemic “Would?” (released earlier in 1992 on the Singles soundtrack), the album is an intense listen, with Jerry Cantrell’s steely guitar often melding with singer Layne Staley’s raspy belt. Songs like “Sickman” and “God Smack” lumber forward with jarring art-metal rhythms, while hit single “Rooster” channels the album’s brooding vibe into an unexpectedly poignant ballad about Staley’s Vietnam-vet father. A few years later, the singer would come to regret addressing heroin use and addiction on songs like “Hate to Feel” and “Junkhead,” telling Rolling Stone that the fan response to his lyrics is what caused him to rethink his approach. “I didn’t think I was being unsafe or careless,” he said, before noting that he felt like he was “walking through hell” in the years following his descent into addiction. “I didn’t want my fans to think that heroin was cool. But then I’ve had fans come up to me and give me the thumbs up, telling me they’re high. That’s exactly what I didn’t want to happen.” B.S.
25. Metallica, ‘Metallica’ (1991)
Metallica’s first Number One album came a decade into their career. On their self-titled fifth LP – whose nearly pitch-black cover design earned it the nickname “the Black Album” – the band took a 180 from thrash metal without abandoning their core ethos. For the album that would catapult the band into the rock mainstream, they turned to producer Bob Rock, whose work on Mötley Crüe’s pristine and massive Dr. Feelgood caught Metallica’s attention. With Rock’s help, the band members honed a slower, more contemplative sound that stretched their musical range, and though the process of recording the album was often strenuous and fraught, their perfectionism created a monster. The LP features some of Metallica’s most universally recognizable hits, including the nightmarish “Enter Sandman” and its iconic central riff; powerful and brooding ballad “The Unforgiven”; “Wherever I May Roam,” where guitarist Kirk Hammett utilized a sitar-like guitar tone; and perhaps most strikingly, the delicate, acoustic-guitar-led “Nothing Else Matters.” “I know we’re Number One completely on our own terms,” drummer Lars Ulrich told Rolling Stone at the time. “This whole thing was done our way. There is an inner satisfaction about that, to give a major ‘Fuck you’ to the business itself and the way you’re supposed to play the game and the way we dealt with all that shit up through the mid-Eighties.” B.S.
24. Rage Against the Machine, ‘Rage Against the Machine’ (1992)
Nobody was quite ready for Rage Against the Machine when they exploded onto the rock scene in 1992 with their self-titled debut, least of all their record company. “I believe it was Nirvana that convinced record companies for the first time in their history to just leave the artist alone,” Tom Morello told Rolling Stone in 2012. “I’ll tell you, they sure as hell didn’t understand Rage Against the Machine, but they knew that if they got out of the way, it was going to be best for everybody.” By getting out of the way and letting Rage fuse hip-hop with metal and punk, they unleashed a volatile force that produced instant classics like “Killing in the Name,” “Bullet in the Head,” “Bombtrack” and the almost Sabbath-y “Freedom,” tracks that still sound stunningly powerful and potent all these years later. “I had been in a lot of bands before Rage Against the Machine, bands that had tried hard to make it, and with that band, with Rage, it just spontaneously combusted,” Morello said. “It immediately connected with something in the reptilian brain of fans of rock, hip-hop, punk, metal, activists in a way that was global right off the bat.” A.G.
23. Danzig, ‘Danzig’ (1988)
By the time he formed his eponymous band in 1987, Glenn Danzig was already an underground hero, having spent the prior decade grinding it out with horror-punks the Misfits and gothic hard rockers Samhain. But Danzig’s self-titled debut was the album that signified the frontman’s arrival as a full-on metal icon, with its stark cow-skull cover art, greaser-gang-style band photo and bone-dry production by Rick Rubin, which accented the swaggering wallop of drummer Chuck Biscuits and squealing riffs of guitarist John Christ. “What he saw in the band is exactly the same things I saw in the band; the aggressiveness, the attitude, the whole deal, so it worked out very well,” the singer said of working with Rubin. But what made Danzig an instant classic was the sturdiness of the songs, which definitively demonstrated that he was moving closer to the hallowed territory of idols like Elvis and Bo Diddley. The brooding parents’-worst-nightmare rallying cry “Mother,” which targeted Tipper Gore, is just one highlight: Songs such as strutting death-blues opener “Twist of Cain,” eerie power ballad “Soul on Fire” and the “Black Dog”–gone-biker-rock stomper “Evil Thing” – all bellowed out by Glenn like an undead Jim Morrison – signaled a brilliant new phase for this still-vital lifer. H.S.
22. Mötley Crüe, ‘Too Fast for Love’ (1981)
In 1981, the rock world was dominated by Foreigner, Styx and REO Speedwagon, reliable FM hitmakers without even a hint of danger or sex appeal. The four L.A. gutter punks that stormed the Sunset Strip as Mötley Crüe that year wanted to change all that. Bassist and primary songwriter Nikki Sixx was infatuated with Seventies glam rock acts like Sweet and David Bowie, but he took their formula and added in punk energy and gallons of testosterone, yielding songs like “Live Wire,” “Too Fast for Love” and “Piece of Your Action.” “Too Fast for Love is my favorite album of ours because it is really raw,” guitarist Mick Mars once said. “For all intents and purposes, it was just a demo for us to try and get a record deal.” The LP originally came out on Lethür, the group’s own label, but it attracted so much attention that Elektra picked it up and released it all over the country, inspiring an entirely new generation of sleaze rockers to flock to the Sunset Strip. The imitators would sell millions of records and wind up all over MTV, but none of them came close to capturing the startling originality and energy of Too Fast for Love. A.G.
21. Metallica, ‘…And Justice for All’ (1988)
Released in August 1988, the hotly anticipated …And Justice For All was an album of “firsts” for Metallica. The band’s first double album, Justice was also their first full-length to feature new bassist Jason Newsted – though the record’s mid-range–y mix rendered much of his playing less than audible – and it was their first to land in the Billboard Top 10; it also gave them their first Top 40 single, the anti-war epic “One,” for which the band filmed their debut music video. The ambitiously sprawling arrangements of songs like “The Frayed Ends of Sanity,” “To Live is to Die” and the nearly 10-minute title track marked both the apex of Metallica’s progressive-thrash phase and its last gasp; worn out by having to reproduce the album’s complex material onstage, the band would shift to a more straightforward, stripped-down approach for 1991’s Metallica. “We took the Ride the Lightning and Master of Puppets concept as far as we could take it [with Justice],” drummer Lars Ulrich reflected in a 2008 interview with MTV News. “There was no place else to go with the progressive, nutty, sideways side of Metallica, and I’m so proud of the fact that, in some way, that album is kind of the epitome of that progressive side of us up through the ’80s.” D.E.
20. Anthrax, ‘Among the Living’ (1987)
Thrash metal wasn’t just about speed, volume and the adrenaline rush of bouncing off the walls and other fans in a mosh pit. It was also about equality. “Metal has always had this larger than life image. We’re more into being real,” Anthrax drummer Charlie Benante told Melody Maker. “We just try to be on the same level as our audience – except we’re onstage.” But what elevated the New York band’s third LP, Among the Living, to a thrash classic wasn’t just the way songs like “Caught in a Mosh” articulated the generational rage (“Get the hell out of my house!”) that made slam-dancing a necessary form of release. It was also the way the music churned and flowed, thanks to the sudden accelerations and rhythmic shifts found on songs such as “One World.” Benante and his bandmates may have been regular guys in other respects, but as musicians there was no denying the technical agility that went into each aural onslaught. Yet the album never lords that over the listener; instead, its best moments – “Efilnikufesin (N.F.L.),” “I Am the Law,” “Indians” – democratize that brilliance by attaching it to some of the band’s catchiest, most approachable material. J.D.C.
19. Megadeth, ‘Rust in Peace’ (1990)
No other band from thrash’s first wave combined airtight songwriting with sheer instrumental mayhem as creatively or skillfully as Megadeth did on Rust in Peace. From the rapid-fire descending lick that kicks off two-part opener “Holy Wars … the Punishment Due” to the final staccato rhythmic churn of “Rust in Peace … Polaris,” the album is a breathless 40 minutes of Dave Mustaine’s finger-twisting, labyrinthine riffage (check out “Poison Was the Cure” for just one of many bonkers examples), snarling war-and-religion obsessed lyrics – “It was a time in the world when the Cold War was still a real issue; we were pointing toward the East with our nukes out,” the singer has said – and neck-snapping, shift-on-a-dime arrangements, all of it delivered with fierce, punkish intensity and an unusually nimble rhythmic swing. Rust also marked the debut of soon-to-be-christened guitar hero Marty Friedman, whose technically adroit, exotic-scale-tinged leads served as an ideal foil for Mustaine’s ripping, New Wave of British Heavy Metal–style shred, as exemplified by the pyrotechnic six-string tradeoffs that highlight UFO-conspiracy-themed classic “Hangar 18.” Megadeth went on to greater commercial success in the next few years, but Rust still stands as the thrash summit all chops-crazed followers aspire to scale. R.B.
18. Tool, ‘Ænima’ (1996)
By definition, metal bands are heavy musically, but Tool is also heavy in the emotional sense. The title of their second album, Ænima, although invented by the band, is meant in part to evoke Jung’s concept of the “anima,” or life force, and the LP is riddled with existential ruminations on why we’re here and whether it’s worth it. “How could this mean anything to me?” mutters Maynard James Keenan’s protagonist in “Stinkfist,” and his delivery is so convincingly wolrd-weary you almost don’t notice that he’s singing about having his arm “shoulder deep” up someone’s rectum. Engaging, unrepentant creeps are a Tool specialty, and Ænima crawls with them. There’s the charismatic bully of “Eulogy,” the obsessed fan at the heart of “Hooker with a Penis,” the misanthrope in “Ænima” who, imagining California’s tumble into the sea, sneers, “Learn to swim.” Keenan illuminates the joy in malevolence, while the richly detailed thunder conjured by the prog-inflected drum and guitar parts only amplifies the twisted anima at work. The enthralling blend helped Ænima go double platinum, and turned Tool from alt-metal trailblazers to one of the staple heavy bands of the past 20-plus years. “There are a lot of metaphysical, spiritual and emotional changes going on right now, and we’re just trying to reflect that,” Keenan told Rolling Stone in ’96. “We’re not that different from Tori Amos in that sense.” J.D.C.
17. Mercyful Fate, ‘Melissa’ (1983)
The first 20 seconds of Melissa – featuring crunchy, pulsing guitar riffs pierced by frontman King Diamond’s impossibly high helium-voiced scream – make up one of the most captivating sequences in metal history. It hooked Metallica, who hung out in the Danish heavy metallers’ rehearsal studio when recording Ride the Lightning, and bewitched Slayer, whose Kerry King had called his band’s Hell Awaits “a Mercyful Fate record.” At the time, the band sounded like a steroidal Judas Priest leading a black mass. On “Evil” alone, the theatrical singer, whose wild face paint made him look like Gene Simmons on bath salts and whose mic stand was made of a human skull, sings about necrophilia amid Hank Sherman’s forceful, caffeinated “Eye of the Tiger”–like riffs, leading to a thrilling guitar showdown between Sherman and Michael Denner. Throughout the record, King pulls off incredible acrobatic vocal feats, thanks to his four-octave range, whether he’s wailing about Halloween (“At the Sound of the Demon Bell”), inviting you into his witches’ coven with a growl (“Into the Coven,” one of the PMRC’s “Filthy 15”) or invoking ancient Egyptian voodoo (“Curse of the Pharaohs”). “I know people like to be scared just a little bit and they like that because they go watching all the horror movies,” King Diamond said of his lyrical shock appeal, circa 1987. “Just take it as horror stories, that’s all.” Elsewhere, he hails Satan literally (“Black Funeral”) and whispers creepily about a dead witch named Melissa (“Satan’s Fall”), portending the spate of Norwegian black metallers who painted their faces and burnt down churches. Satan may not be real, but King Diamond is. K.G.
16. Dio, ‘Holy Diver’ (1983)
After establishing himself as a top-tier hard-rock vocalist via his late-Seventies/early-Eighties stints in Rainbow and Black Sabbath, Ronnie James Dio truly ascended into the metal pantheon with his 1983 solo debut. More bracingly metallic than anything he had done before – thanks in part to 20-year-old Irish guitarist Vivian Campbell, whose crunchy chords and squealing leads meshed perfectly with the paint-peeling intensity of Dio’s piercing wail – Holy Diver‘s stirring anthems like “Stand Up and Shout,” “Rainbow in the Dark” and the immortal title track found Dio planting one boot in Dungeons & Dragons–style fantasy and the other in contemporary social commentary. “My writing has always been medieval-flavored,” he told Artist magazine shortly after the album’s release, “but I’m concerned with what we’re doing with ourselves and our environment.” Although it reached only Number 56 on the Billboard 200 upon its release, Holy Diver would achieve platinum status by the end of the Eighties, and serve as an influential touchstone for everyone from Killswitch Engage to Tenacious D. D.E.
15. Ozzy Osbourne, ‘Diary of a Madman’ (1981)
A year after proving he was still a vital musical force on his first post–Black Sabbath solo LP, 1980’s Blizzard of Ozz, Ozzy Osbourne demonstrated it wasn’t a one-time fluke with an album of poppy and gothic anthems like “Flying High Again” and the almost classical closing title track. Guitarist Randy Rhoads, who died in a plane crash while touring for Diary in 1982, had already proven himself a virtuoso on Blizzard; here, he worked even harder to find the rare nexus between showboat chops and clever songwriting. Trippy opener “Over the Mountain,” which kicks off with a thunderous drum roll, chugs along at a furious pace, anticipating thrash metal. “Believer,” with its plodding bass line, allows Rhoads to play eerie, spidery riffs, which, when combined with Osbourne’s stentorian melodies, make for one of the weirdest yet catchiest songs in the singer’s catalogue. “Tonight” is a beautiful ballad with a soaring solo; the rapid-paced, almost psychedelic “S.A.T.O.” exudes mystery; and shadowy “Diary of a Madman,” with its acoustic intro and crushing electric-guitar licks, is the ultimate Ozzy track. “When we were working on that one, Randy came to me, ‘I’m not happy with the guitars,’ so I said to work on it until you’re happy,” Osbourne once recalled. “He’s in there for a couple of days and one day comes out with this big, shit-eating grin and goes, ‘I think I’ve got it.’ And when he played it, the hair on the back of my fucking neck stood up.” K.G.
14. Black Sabbath, ‘Vol. 4’ (1972)
On their fourth album, Black Sabbath departed from the straightforward bludgeon that defined their early career and arrived at a sound that was somehow even heavier. Coked out of their minds (they even thanked their dealers in the liners), the group recorded in L.A. for the first time and allowed themselves to experiment musically. Tony Iommi had tuned his guitar lower to make it easier to play on 1971’s Master of Reality, and on Vol. 4 the shift inspired drawn out, emotional riffs (the brilliant opener “Wheels of Confusion”) and freewheeling hippie freak-out grooves (“Supernaut,” “Cornucopia”), while making space for now iconic guitar solos (“Snowblind,” an anthem to coke the way “Sweet Leaf” praised pot). They recorded their first piano ballad (“Changes,” which Ozzy Osbourne revived for a live solo hit in 1993) and an acoustic guitar solo (“Laguna Sunrise”), and went full-on druggie with “FX” – 99 seconds of echoey bleeps and bloops that years later may have inspired artier bands like Neurosis to play outside the box. It was the sound of a band reborn, just two years after their debut, starting a new chapter that would inspire everyone from Trent Reznor, who covered “Supernaut” with Ministry’s Al Jourgensen, to soul belter Charles Bradley, who took on “Changes.” But Osbourne later said it was the “beginning of the end” of Black Sabbath. “Cocaine was the cancer of the band.” K.G.
13. Iron Maiden, ‘Iron Maiden’ (1980)
At the end of the Me Decade, the so-called New Wave of British Heavy Metal revitalized the genre with flashy use of speed, melody and aggression. One of the turning points in this upstart scene was Iron Maiden’s eponymous debut. Seasoned by years of club performances, the quintet combined the gritty heavy rock of UFO with the technical dexterity of prog groups like Genesis and Wishbone Ash. Steve Harris’ fleet-fingered bass lines carried the melody instead of traditionally anchoring the rhythm, while guitarists Dave Murray and Dennis Stratton alternated between abrasive riffs and intricately arranged dual harmonies. With singer Paul Di’Anno providing a swaggering growl, Iron Maiden was at the same time confrontational (“Prowler,” “Running Free”), moody (“Remember Tomorrow,” “Strange World”), and in the case of the Jethro Tull–esque “Phantom of the Opera,” theatrical. Iron Maiden set the stage for a glorious seven-album run in the Eighties that would see the band become one of metal’s biggest acts. “It was probably one of the worst-sounding albums and we weren’t happy with the production,” Murray once told author Martin Popoff, “but for that time, it really captured the raw energy of the band.” A.B.
12. Judas Priest, ‘Screaming for Vengeance’ (1982)
Just like its title suggests, Screaming for Vengeance was all about vindication, as this was where Judas Priest proved themselves once and for all as a force to be reckoned with. Where once the band hunkered in the underground, Priest were now storming the mainstream with platinum sales, an actual single on the Billboard charts (the aptly-titled “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’”), and a headlining slot at the US Festival. “It was a new generation, it was a new decade,” singer Rob Halford told Rolling Stone later. “Everybody suddenly looked at this music and said, ‘Yeah, this is exactly what I want because I can relate to it. It talks about what I want out of life, and what I do.’” It also talks a lot about love. That love may be tinged with S&M (“Pain and Pleasure”) or described in terms of human sacrifice (“Devil’s Child”), but the music on Screaming for Vengeance, which begins with the one-two punch of “The Hellion” and “Electric Eye,” comes from the heart. As such, it’s almost a pity that “(Take These) Chains” didn’t follow “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’” onto the charts, because the power-ballad formula has never sounded as deliciously malevolent as it does here. J.D.C.
11. Metallica, ‘Ride the Lightning’ (1984)
Recorded before the band had even secured a major-label recording deal, Metallica’s second album remains the purest expression of the band’s vision, a document of a group who has found their sound but is neither overly self-aware, nor able to spend too much time navel gazing in the studio. “I love the sound of that album and it holds up really well,” guitarist Kirk Hammett told Rolling Stone in 2014. “We just bashed it out, which lead to a more natural performance. By the time we recorded our next record, Master of Puppets, the days of just bashing it out were much fewer.” You can hear the pure adrenaline pumping through tracks like “Fight Fire with Fire,” a grim ode to an inevitable nuclear apocalypse, and the gruesome “Creeping Death,” which recounts the divine culling of Egypt’s first-born sons from the Book of Exodus. Meanwhile, bleak power ballad “Fade to Black” showed off the dynamic mastery the band would explore further on later epics like “Master of Puppets” and “One,” while instrumental “The Call of Ktulu” ended the record on a memorably spooky note. The immediacy of Lightning‘s strike is only heightened by the youthful whine of frontman James Hetfield’s voice, which had yet to drop in register to the lower growl he would use to equal if more mature effect on subsequent Metallica releases. T.B.
10. Pantera, ‘Vulgar Display of Power’ (1992)
After spending much of the Eighties as a regional Texas glam band, Pantera redefined themselves as a thrashy, proto-groove-metal outfit with 1990’s Cowboys from Hell. But it was on the aptly named follow-up that they truly hit their stride. “The mindset we took on, going into Vulgar Display of Power … [was] take the money riff and fucking go,” Phil Anselmo once explained, “[and] beat it into the ground.” And that they did. Here, the band shed any last vestiges of their flamboyant past (gone for good was Anselmo’s Rob Halford–like howl, still in evidence on CFH) and distilled their sound down to the essentials – Dimebag Darrell’s serrated rhythms and squealing solos; drummer Vinnie Paul and bassist Rex Brown’s lock-step pummel; Anselmo’s gruff bellow – cementing the approach that they would more or less follow for the remainder of their career. Furthermore, the material itself was incontestable. From the antagonistic thrust of opener “Mouth for War” to the galloping power-thrash of “Fucking Hostile,” the creepy murder balladry of “This Love” to the hulking, two-note stomp of “Walk” (later covered by everyone from Avenged Sevenfold to Disturbed), Vulgar boasts a shockingly high number of tracks that have become more or less standards of the genre. Re-spect! R.B.
9. Ozzy Osbourne, ‘Blizzard of Ozz’ (1980)
Following his drunken, acrimonious exit from Black Sabbath, Ozzy’s music-industry stock was so abysmally low that he had trouble getting a new record deal – and not even his biggest fans would have guessed that he was on the verge of launching a major career comeback with his first solo album. Released in the U.K. in September 1980 (and six months later in the U.S.), Blizzard of Ozz was a remarkably strong and focused record whose highlights (including “I Don’t Know,” “Crazy Train” and the controversial “Suicide Solution”) were more modern-sounding than anything he’d done with Sabbath, yet still packed a serious metallic wallop. “The Blizzard stuff was a beautiful evolution from what was happening in the Seventies with metal to [metal in] the Eighties,” shred-guitar ace Steve Vai recalled in a 2011 interview. “It had a completely different attitude.” Much of the credit for that shift goes to the late guitarist Randy Rhoads, whose classically influenced fretboard acrobatics would profoundly influence an entire generation of metal guitarists. “The first album, none of us had played together,” he said in 1981. “We were putting the band together, writing the songs and being in the studio at the same time … the first album was, ‘Turn it up to 10 and if it feels good, just play it.’” D.E.
8. Megadeth, ‘Peace Sells … but Who’s Buying?’ (1986)
Three years removed from his dismissal from Metallica, Dave Mustaine still sounds like rage incarnate on Megadeth’s second LP, Peace Sells … but Who’s Buying? The band had tapped into an otherworldly fury on its debut, 1985’s Killing Is My Business … and Business Is Good – which balanced thrash with lead guitarist Chris Poland’s jazzy licks – but they’d blown their recording budget on drugs, leading to a shitty-sounding production. Peace Sells was their redemption: seven taut declarations of contempt for humanity and one tongue-in-cheek, extra-guitar-shreddy cover of Willie Dixon’s “I Ain’t Superstitious.” In the months between albums, they’d matured as musicians and had the quality sound to show it. The throbbing, bass-heavy title track showcased Mustaine’s mordant wit (“What do you mean I’m not kind?/I’m just not your kind”), and it was catchy enough to become MTV News‘ intro theme for well over a decade, mirroring the song’s video, which features with a teen in the middle of the clip defying his dad by putting on a Megadeth video and saying, “This is the news.” “I was living in a warehouse at the time I wrote ‘Peace Sells,’” Mustaine recently told Rolling Stone. “We were homeless, and I wrote the lyrics on a wall. I didn’t even have paper. And I’m sure once we moved out of there somebody probably carved that wall out and took it.” The rest of the record showcases Mustaine’s knack for intricate yet hard-hitting compositions and lyrical vitriol. “The Conjuring” contains a real black-magic spell in its lyrics (so says Mustaine) directed at one of the singer’s would-be girlfriends, while “Wake Up Dead,” with its lyrics about infidelity, explains why he may not be so good with the ladies. And musically, the classical-inspired “Good Mourning/Black Friday,” “Bad Omen” and “My Last Words” explode with Wagnerian triumphalism. Throughout it all, Mustaine barks his vocals like he’s going for the throat. Whatever inspired the record, this time, it was personal. K.G.
7. Motörhead, ‘No Remorse’ (1984)
Heavy metal has never been much of a singles genre, as most of its practitioners mark their growth and development in album-length increments. But Motörhead is the exception that proves the rule. Across its 40-year history, the band – essentially singer-bassist Lemmy Kilmister and a string of guitarists and drummers – hewed to a simple formula: vocals barked over the hyperactive throb of a bass line, hell-for-leather drumming, and bar-band-basic rhythm guitar. As Lemmy told Sounds, “Chuck Berry never changed. Little Richard never changed. I’d rather be like that and stick to a formula we’re happy with.” It seems more fitting, then, to represent Motörhead with an anthology. No Remorse may offer 29 versions of what is essentially the same thing, yet every track is singularly amazing: the yelping, bad luck refrain to “Ace of Spades,” the locomotive thunder beneath “Overkill,” the live-wire guitar on “Bomber,” the genius stupidity of “Killed by Death,” or the amphetamine overdrive of the live “Motorhead” from No Sleep ’til Hammersmith. Sometimes, a good formula is all you really need. J.D.C.
6. Slayer, ‘Reign in Blood’ (1986)
Reign in Blood, the first and last word on speed metal, starts at 210 beats per minute with the song “Angel of Death,” and it barely lets up for the next 29 blistering minutes. Its 10 songs are built on Kerry King and Jeff Hanneman’s rigid guitar riffs and abstract-expressionistic solos – metal’s equivalent to a Pollock paint splatter – all while drummer Dave Lombardo pounds out Olympic-ready tempos and singer-bassist Tom Araya hails Satan. But what set the band’s third album apart from Metallica, Exciter, Venom and all the other speed demons of the era was the way producer Rick Rubin, who’d made his name in hip-hop working with the Beastie Boys and LL Cool J, stripped the album of the echoey reverb in vogue at the time for a sound that seemed to punch you in the gut. “With their super-fast articulation in a big room, the whole thing just turns into a blur,” Rubin said in 2016. “So you don’t get that crystal clarity. So much of what Slayer was about was this precision machinery.” It’s what makes whirring declarations in the name of death like “Necrophobic” and “Criminally Insane” all the more impactful and the record’s final cut, “Raining Blood” – with its ominous intro – all the more terrifying. And it no doubt did them no favors with “Angel of Death,” a song about Nazi doctor Josef Mengele, which has lyrics that would have been incoherent with the typical rock production of the day; its lyrics outraged Holocaust survivors and cost the LP a distribution deal with Columbia, leading it to come out on Geffen. Writer Hanneman claimed the tune was a “history lesson.” Nevertheless, it solidified Slayer’s legacy of controversy and their need for speed. “We were young, we were hungry, and we wanted to be faster than everybody else,” Araya once said. K.G.
5. Black Sabbath, ‘Black Sabbath’ (1970)
A few years after guitarists first started cranking their amps to eardrum-rupturing volumes and singers started wailing about Valhalla, heavy metal as we know it today was ratified in 1970 on Black Sabbath’s debut. The band, which had started as a blues group in ’68, drew inspiration from giallo horror movies (like 1963’s Black Sabbath, featuring Boris Karloff) and figured it could deliver the same thrilling, terrifying experience through rock & roll, leading them to write “Black Sabbath.” The tune, inspired by a frightening experience bassist Geezer Butler had (“I woke up in a dream world, and there was this black thing at the bottom of the bed, staring at me,” he once said), featured some of Ozzy Osbourne’s most ominous lyrics (“What is this that stands before me?/Figure in black which points at me,” as well as “eyes of fire” and a laughing Satan), and an eerie riff courtesy of guitarist Tony Iommi that used a chord once shunned by composers, known as diabolus in musica (“the Devil in music”) – the rain, thunder and bell sound effects were just grim icing. A few tracks later, on “N.I.B.,” Osbourne – whose stentorian voice, with its matter-of-fact inflection, has a harsh timbre strong enough to cut through Iommi’s guitar – sings about a deal with the Devil set to a stomping riff that presaged Eric Clapton’s “Cocaine.” And elsewhere, the group flexes its blues chops on “The Wizard,” the morbid “Behind the Wall of Sleep” (“Sleeping wall of remorse/Turns your body to a corpse”) and especially on “Warning,” the last of which features a flashy, extended Iommi solo. And on the jazzy “Wicked World,” on the U.S. edition, Osbourne sang about politicians sending people to war and others dying of diseases – topics that have since become rock cliché but at the time represented a chillingly frank worldview. “We used to do these auditions for record companies, and they’d just leave after the third song or something,” Butler recalled of the days before the album came out. “I’ll always remember one producer told us to go away, learn how to play and learn how to write some decent songs. We were rejected again and again by company after company.” But once the album was out, Black Sabbath started a movement. K.G.
4. Iron Maiden, ‘The Number of the Beast’ (1982)
By the time Iron Maiden hit the studio with veteran producer Martin Birch to record their third LP in 1982, the English quintet had already clawed its way to the forefront of the so-called New Wave of British Heavy Metal. Having replaced gruff lead vocalist Paul Di’Anno with Bruce Dickinson, a charismatic performer with operatic pipes, the stage was set for a creative breakthrough. There was just one problem: The band had exhausted its backlog of tunes. “They’d used up all the good stuff they’d had and they’d been on the road ever since,” Dickinson told biographer Mick Wall. “So it was quite good, in that way, because I wasn’t going to be asked to sing words that had already been written by Paul or songs Steve [Harris, bassist and chief songwriter] had written with him in mind. … We had time to think about the songs first.” Harris and his mates (including Dickinson, uncredited for contractual reasons) rose to the occasion, producing complex songs and heady lyrics that ideally suited the new singer’s dramatic range. The resulting LP, recorded and mixed in just five weeks, is one of metal’s all-time milestones: Galloping single “Run to the Hills” charted practically everywhere but in the U.S., where the video nonetheless became an early MTV staple; the title track remains a set-list fixture; and the closer, “Hallowed Be Thy Name,” was the first of Iron Maiden’s signature epics – and among the most durable. S.S.
3. Judas Priest, ‘British Steel’ (1980)
In the Seventies, British metal – the down-tuned growl of “Iron Man,” the slow grind of “Smoke on the Water” – was about strength and heaviness, the sonic equivalent of I-beams. But as the cover of British Steel shows, Judas Priest was about to change that metaphor into something that cut like a razor. “When we first entered, our albums were very involved, our songs were very pre-arranged, a bit self-indulgent with the lead breaks,” guitarist Glenn Tipton told Musician. “But we shortened the length of the songs, we increased the excitement and the tempo in the songs, and we did something that everybody thought you couldn’t do, that was never acceptable as heavy metal: We introduced melody to it.” Despite the distorted roar of the guitars and the hectoring aggression of Rob Halford’s voice, the writing on British Steel was as lean and tuneful as any pop effort, from the power-chord refrain of “Living After Midnight” to the football-club sing-along that caps “United.” But the album’s most astonishing moment had to be “Metal Gods,” a swaggering evocation of rampaging robots driven by a drum and bass groove which can only be described as funky. For metal, slow and heavy would no longer win the race. J.D.C.
2. Metallica, ‘Master of Puppets’ (1986)
It begins like a Western with ominous acoustic guitars playing a triumphal, Spanish-sounding melody, but the intro to “Battery” is just a preamble to the galloping, crushing, grim and pugilistic riffs to come in the next hour. From start to finish, Master of Puppets is a masterpiece. Just two years after they introduced prettier melodies to the savage thrash they helped pioneer on Ride the Lightning, Metallica perfected the sound on Master with intricately arranged songs that ran a little longer and covered more musical ground. “Master of Puppets,” a tune frontman James Hetfield wrote after becoming disgusted from seeing junkies pass out at a party, stretches to eight-and-a-half minutes and fuses thrash with hardcore sing-alongs; jazzy, lyrical soloing; and maniacal psychodrama – it remains the band’s most requested and performed song at concerts. Meanwhile, “The Thing That Should Not Be” is a full-on sludge rocker, “Welcome Home (Sanitarium)” is the One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest of metal ballads and the lengthy instrumental “Orion” – which features roaring lead bass by Cliff Burton, who died while touring in support of Master in 1986 – plays out like a classical composition, so full of musical drama that lyrics would kill its effect. Meanwhile, heavy, mid-paced rocker “Leper Messiah,” whose title references David Bowie’s “Ziggy Stardust,” foreshadowed the more groove-oriented, radio-friendly path the band would take on the Black Album in 1991. Only three years removed from Kill ‘Em All, they’d even perfected the pure sound of thrash: “Battery” hurls by at 190 punishing beats per minute, closing track “Damage Inc.” blindsides listeners with walloping stop-start rhythms at a death-defying pace, and “Disposable Heroes” is like a master class in thrash with its militaristic rhythms, catchy hooks and Hetfield snarling “Back to the front!” Master of Puppets is the sound of a band in top form, and it’s the album that made Metallica. “When I listen to Master of Puppets now, I just sit there and go, ‘What the fuck? How do you do that?’” Lars Ulrich said with a laugh in 2016. “It’s very gutsy music.” K.G.
1. Black Sabbath, ‘Paranoid’ (1970)
It’s impossible to imagine what heavy metal would have become without the iconic gloomy riff of “Iron Man,” the musical thickness of “War Pigs” and the rapid-fire chugging of “Paranoid.”
“Paranoid is important because it’s the blueprint for metal,” Judas Priest frontman Rob Halford said in the liner notes for a 2016 reissue of the album. “It led the world into a new sound and scene.” From the first track to the last, Ozzy Osbourne’s cutting voice outlines any manner of topics that would feature in metal over the next few generations: imminent doom, drug casualties, nuclear war, brutality, uncaring autocrats, cosmically fated love and general disillusionment. The music is dark and gloomy with blues-inspired guitar riffs that other groups have Xeroxed into an unrecognizable oblivion. The album even has a drum solo.
The way the band members have told it over the years, they arrived at the sound of Paranoid through endless gigging before they were famous, playing several sets a night at residencies in Hamburg and Zürich to almost nonexistent audiences. They’d stretch out a tune like “Warning,” the epic blues guitar showcase on Black Sabbath, to the point that it proffered the main riff of “War Pigs” – a tune whose original lyrics under the title “Walpurgis” narrated a black mass. “Rat Salad” was Bill Ward’s drum solo in the early days and it could last up to 45 minutes. The ominous bass part in “Hand of Doom” by Geezer Butler, who also wrote the majority of Paranoid’s bleak lyrics, came from improvising. And the funky “Fairies Wear Boots” was loosely based on a real, incredibly violent fight the band got into with a group of skinheads after a gig in the north of England (the slur “fairy” was meant to emasculate their attackers, who wore boots). Butler wrote about his own disillusionment with a sci-fi twist in the lyrics to “Iron Man” (which had nothing to do with the Marvel comic-book character).
For the bassist, who, like the rest of the band grew up in a bleak postwar environment – bombed-out Birmingham, England – it was easy for him to describe dystopias like those in “War Pigs” and “Electric Funeral.” He even gave the hippie-ish love song “Planet Caravan,” with its bongos and jazzy flamenco guitar line, cold, distant, fantastical lyrics about feeling lost in space. And he simply described his own depression on “Paranoid,” a throwaway tune written at the last minute to fill out an LP side, with witty aplomb in turns of phrase like “Make a joke and I will sigh and you will laugh and I will cry.” Yet it resounded, becoming a huge hit and one of the group’s most-performed songs.
Paranoid was the sound of Black Sabbath’s reality, a plea for understanding that would resonate with millions of people feeling the same disaffection, many of whom would form groups like Metallica, Pantera and Slipknot – groups that would change the face of metal, as well as the world. “Bands on Ozzfest would tell me Sabbath was their biggest influence,” Osbourne once said. “I’d listen to them and go, ‘What part of that did Sabbath influence?’” “It doesn’t sound anything like heavy metal to me,” Butler once said. “But it’s better to be called inventors rather than followers.” Regardless, the album was metal’s call to arms, and it’s been answered loudly and passionately ever since. K.G.