Despite being a relatively new genre, metal has not only become one of the fastest growing genres of music, it has also become the damn greatest form of music to ever be created. Everyone from the grandparents, to the middle-aged, to the spotty faced teenagers can relate to the music on some level. Why? Possibly because of the vast evolution of Metal over the years, spawning a wide and diverse array of subgenres. Whether you enjoy an evening of drinking goat’s blood, dressing up in your finest spandex and playing dungeons and dragons, skateboarding with the local hipsters, or engaging in a casual spot of church burning, you can be sure there’s something in metal for you.
With over 40 years of existence, Metal can be credited for creating some of the greatest albums in history. Let’s take a look at the albums that have defined the genre. Before you make the jump though, remember that there are hundreds and thousands of phenomenal albums, but only 42 were chosen. Some of your favorites will go without a mention, I’m sure, but no doubt all of us can agree on the importance of the following albums. So without further ado, make the jump my friends.
Black Sabbath – Black Sabbath (1970)
Building on the fusion of blues and hard rock popularized by bands like Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, The Who and The Kinks in the 60s, Black Sabbath used this style as a foundation to build a lower, gloomier, doom sound, creating what would later be coined Heavy Metal. Black Sabbath‘s debut is one of the most important albums of all time, and perhaps the most iconic record in Metal, as it is responsible for creating the greatest genre of music of all time.
Black Sabbath – Paranoid (1970)
The music industry has changed a hell of a lot in recent times, meaning it’s hard to believe that not only did bands used to release multiple albums in the same year, but in the case of some artists, they actually released more than one indisputable classic in the very same year. A mere seven months after Black Sabbath‘s debut, they released another iconic album. Paranoid is the band’s most critically acclaimed album to date and contains some of their biggest hits, including ‘War Pigs’, ‘Paranoid’ and ‘Iron Man’, amongst other greats.
Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin IV (1971)
And begins the age old argument…. “Led Zeppelin aren’t Metal!” Well, Metal or not, they have undoubtedly influenced just about every metal band that followed them. IV is perhaps the most influential record of the band’s discography, featuring the classic ‘Black Dog’ and ‘Stairway to Heaven’. The untitled, four symbol album is tighter than a nun’s vay-gay.
Deep Purple – Machine Head (1972)
Like Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple aren’t regarded as Metal by a lot of metalheads. However, Machine Head is a hugely influential album and features the infamous ‘Smoke on the Water, which is responsible for persuading a legion of long-haired teenagers to take up guitar lessons and annoy their neighbours.
Led Zeppelin – Physical Graffiti (1975)
The second Led Zeppelin album on the list, Physical Graffiti was an ambitious double album. Because unreleased tracks from previous album sessions were used, however, it doesn’t always quite flow as well as the previous records. Regardless, there is some fantastic music present, including the fan favorite, and one of my favorite songs, ‘Kashmir’.
Judas Priest – Stained Class (1978)
Judas Priest are on of the original Heavy Metal bands, and themselves even believe they may actually be responsible for creating the genre (feel free to disagree with them there…). Stained Class is a landmark album for the band, and in my opinion, is superior to the overrated British Steel.
Van Halen – Van Halen (1978)
Pushing the boundaries of what a guitar can do, the debut of Van Halen is unquestionable an incredibly important album in the history of Metal. Unpretentious, cheesy and good fun. This album was perhaps the catalyst that instigated the 80’s Hair Metal influencing a range of acts, including, of course, Motley Crue.
AC/DC – Back in Black (1980)
Rewind to what was said about Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple, and the same applies to AC/DC. Despite the tragic death of original singer, Bon Scott, the band decided to continue, recruiting Brian Johnson as the band’s new vocalist. The results was one of the best selling and most influential albums of all time. In fact, Back In Black is the third best-selling album worldwide, behind only Michael Jackson‘s Thriller and Pink Floyd‘s Dark Side of the Moon.
Black Sabbath – Heaven and Hell (1980)
After some questionable efforts from the Sabbath, and the firing of frontman Ozzy, many would be forgiven for thinking this would be the end of the band. However, it was not. After hiring Ronnie James Dio as the new singer, it was like the band had found a new source of energy. Sounding fresh and re-energized, the band explored a more upbeat Metal sound that helped influenced legends like Iron Maiden.
Motorhead – Ace of Spades (1980)
Motorhead‘s fourth album was released to critical acclaim and has been described by some as the best Metal album of all time. In addition, the landmark record is considered highly influential in the development of Thrash Metal in the 1980s.
Ozzy Osbourne – Blizzard of Ozz (1980)
As well as Black Sabbath‘s brilliant album with Dio, Ozzy went his own route and released an equally fantastic album. Despite all the crap faced from the controversies of ‘Suicide Solution’ (the lyrics were blamed for instigating the suicide of 19-year-old John McCollum in 1984), and the whole fiasco of removing Daisley and Kerslake’s contributions in the re-release, Blizzard of Ozz remains a classic regardless.
Iron Maiden – Iron Maiden (1980)
A new decade, and a new sound. The debut from one of the most important bands in Metal ever showcased a group of musicians full of energy and life like no other. The production may not be the best, and Maiden may have superior albums out there, but Iron Maiden is undoubtedly a landmark record and kick started what would later be referred to as the ‘New Wave of British Heavy Metal’.
Iron Maiden – The Number of the Beast (1982)
By album number three, Iron Maiden had really come into their own. An undeniable classic featuring many of the band’s greatest songs. From ‘Children of the Damned’ to ‘the title track, to ‘Run to the Hills’, to the epic album closer, The Number of the Beast is full of Metal anthems. And if the opening to ‘Hallowed Be Thy Name’ doesn’t give you chills, I don’t know what will.
Venom – Black Metal (1982)
Venom should be placed hear for coining the phrase ‘Black Metal’ alone. Luckily, however, this album is also damn good, so deserves its place for the music as well. Not actually Black Metal, but more akin to Thrash Metal, but overall has influenced the growing scenes in Black, Death and Thrash Metal in the 80s and 90s.
Dio – Holy Diver (1983)
The debut from Dio is the band’s best work and a Metal classic. ‘Holy Diver’ has become one of the most infamous and instantly recognisable tracks.
Metallica – Ride of Lightening (1984)
It’s hard to believe now, especially for the young, but Metallica were once actually a Thrash Metal band. The band’s sophomore album stepped everything up a gear and contains some absolute classics (see ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’, ‘Creeping Death’ etc). It may be heavy, but the ‘Tallica were also capable of writing a strong ballad in the shape of ‘Fade to Black’ without resorting to quite the cheesiness of songs like ‘Nothing Else Matters’ etc.
Mercyful Fate – Don’t Break the Oath ( 1984)
Musically, Mercyful Fate may have more in common with Iron Maiden and Judas Priest than Emperor, Mayhem or Burzum, but with heavy themes on Satanism and the occult, as well as King Diamond’s iconic falsetto vocals, this album really helped influence the Black Metal scene and proved to be a legendary record.
W.A.S.P. – W.A.S.P. (1984)
Any albums with songs about fucking like a beast, and cause this much controversy, are cool with me. Cheesy, catchy and undeniable fun, W.A.S.P. influenced a huge array of bands.
Exodus – Bonded by Blood (1985)
Legendary San Francisco Thrash act, Exodus, released their debut Bonded By Blood in 1985, and it became one of the most influential Thrash albums of all time. And for good reason too, as it kicks fucking ass.
Metallica – Master of Puppets (1986)
Perhaps the most influential Metal record of all time, at least according to some, Master of Puppets has to be mentioned. Metallica pretty much reached their peak here, musically, and honestly not many albums have come close to it since. Claimed by many to be Metallica‘s greatest achievement.
Slayer – Reign in Blood (1986)
And in the same year as Metallica, another quarter of the Big Four, Slayer, also released one of the finest Metal albums of all time. Darker in sound and theme than Metallica, Reign in Blood has been described as one of the heaviest albums of all time, influencing much of the Death Metal scene. Nothing symbolises and represents Metal better than the sound of the beginning of ‘Raining Blood’.
Anthrax – Among the Living (1987)
And another member of the Big Four make their entry into this list. Anthrax released, what is considered by many, their finest work in 1987. The record is considered their breakthrough and highly influential in Thrash scene.
Napalm Death – Scum (1987)
Inventing Grindcore in the process, the brummy legends, Napalm Death released an outstandingly heavy album, containing short bursts of pure brutality. A combination of Death, Thrash and might I even say Punk? A classic nonetheless.
Guns N’ Roses – Appetite for Destruction (1987)
The debut album from the legendary GnR may not necessarily be Metal to some, but like AC/DC and Led Zeppelin, their influence cannot be denied. Appetite for Destruction is a classic, but it’s surprising that the band (or Axl rather) manage to sell out arenas and headline festivals around the globe, when since this landmark record, all the band have done is release shitty EPs, an overblown double album, lose all their members, and spend 14 years writing an ‘above average’ album. The only thing I can think of, is it must show just how important and influential this album is.
Helloween – Keeper of the Seven Keys Part I (1988)
Hugely influential in the formation of Power Metal, Keeper of the Seven Keys Part I is some of Helloween‘s finest work, containing some immensely impressive solos and incredibly catchy riffs. Keeper of the Seven Keys Part I is without question one of the greatest Power Metal albums ever.
Testament – The New Order (1989)
The New Order brought Testament into the mainstream, with the band only getting bigger on subsequent albums. However, to many, The New Order represents the band at their peak.
Pantera – Cowboys From Hell (1990)
Pan-fucking-tera. What can I say about Pantera that hasn’t been said already before? The band were to the 90s what Metallica were to the 80s, only better (in my biased opinion). Vulgar Display of Power is considered the band at their best by most, but I have a huge amount of love for Cowboys From Hell and is perhaps my personal favorite. The band’s groovier take on Thrash (coined Groove Metal) was a welcome change in style, and the album is near perfect. From the title track, to ‘Domination, to close-to-ballad ‘Cemetery Gates’, there’s little to fault here.
Judas Priest – Painkiller (1990)
Who would have thought it could happen? After 21 years activity and some truly brilliant albums, Judas Priest managed to release their greatest. Still now, there are few bands that can match the energy and intensity of that shown on Painkiller. The title track to this day remains one of my favorite Metal tracks ever.
Megadeth – Rust in Peace (1990)
Finally, the final element of the Big Four make their appearance. As fantastic as Peace Sells is (and yeah, it should have been mentioned), Rust in Peace is better. Album opener ‘Holy Wars… The Punishment Due’ is Megadeth‘s greatest track.
Deicide – Deicide (1990)
I couldn’t list 42 albums that define Metal and forget about Death Metal, could I? Perhaps the greatest (and best-selling) album in the genre, belongs to the debut of Deicide. The album was made instantly recognizable by Glen Benton’s infamous guttural, deep growls and the overwhelming feeling of evil the record infuses.
Metallica – The Black Album (1991)
Metallica finally reached the mainstream and joined Pop stars at the top of the charts with this hugely successful album. The album faced backlash from long-time fans for being a ‘sell out’, and I must admit it’s far from my favorite either, but regardless, the Black album was huge and tracks like ‘Enter Sandman’ and ‘Sad But True’ are considered classics by near all.
Pantera – Vulgar Display of Power (1992)
Pantera again, with their greatest accomplishment yet. The band influenced just about every single person into Metal that picked up a guitar, a bass, drums or a microphone following it. If you can’t listen to ‘Walk’ without banging your head, or ‘Hollow’ without singing every word, you have no soul.
Carcass – Heartwork (1993)
One of the earliest examples of Melodic Death Metal here, Carcass created one of the finest Metal albums ever, but not just that, also helped influence acts such as At The Gates and In Flames, who in turn, also influenced a huge number of bands. Heartwork is near flawless from start to finish.
Machine Head – Burn My Eyes (1994)
Those that know me will be aware of just how much I love Machine Head. Burn My Eyes started it all, combining the best elements of Thrash and Groove to create their unique take on the genres. The album was a hugely important and impressive one in the 90s, with the line “Let freedom ring with the shotgun blast” from leading track ‘Davidian’ now being infamous.
Mayhem – De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas (1994)
Probably one of the finest Black Metal albums ever. Although being released late into the scene’s history, songwriting actually started as early as 1987, but due to the suicide of vocalist Per “Dead” Ohlin and murder of guitarist Øystein “Euronymous” Aarseth, the album’s release was delayed until May 1994. The bleak and dark atmosphere of De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas make it synonymous with the Black Metal genre.
At The Gates – Slaughter of the Soul (1995)
Ever hear any Metalcore bands? If you have, you probably would have heard at least 2 or 3 dozen riffs from this album. Pretty much every Melodic Death Metal or Metalcore band that followed At The Gates, ripped them off, making them one of the most influential Metal bands of the 90s.
Fear Factory – Demanufacture (1995)
One of the most influential Metal albums of the 90s, Fear Factory have never quite matched the brilliance of their second album, but if 2009’s Mechanize and the latest The Industrialist are anything to go by, the band still have a lot of life left in them. Fear Factory inspired and influenced a wide array of bands within genres as wide as Groove Metal, Industrial Metal and Nu Metal, amongst others.
In Flames – The Jester Race (1996)
Like At The Gates, pretty much every Metalcore and Melodic Death band have ripped off this album since. Hugely influential, whether you’re particularly a fan of those two genres or not…
Slipknot – Slipknot (1999)
Controversial choice, I know. Are Slipknot Metal or are they just “Metal for kids”? Regardless, they have become one of the biggest selling Metal bands of the last decade, took heavy music to the top of the charts and were undoubtedly far heavier than many of the bands in Nu Metal, of which the band found themselves lumped.
Opeth – Blackwater Park (2000)
Opeth helped popularize the heavier Progressive Metal movement and created one of the best albums of the decade. An instant classic, that has yet to be bettered by the band.
Killswitch Engage – Alive or Just Breathing (2002)
The second album by Killswitch Engage was huge enough to put the final nail in the Nu Metal coffin and kick started a new generation and Metal trend. Metalcore is despised by a lot of metalheads, but Alive or Just Breathing was a genuinely good album and came before the sub-genre became over saturated and boring. Hell, it was so good I even had the title as my ‘Myspace alias’ back in the day, because I was just that damn cool.
Machine Head – The Blackening (2007)
Initially, this final album was going to be Lamb of God‘s As the Palaces Burn, but something about it just didn’t seem right. I’m not the biggest Lamb of God fan, if truth be told. They just aren’t my thing, and frankly they bored me when I saw them live. That said, I did enjoy As the Palaces Burn a lot when I first heard it. Instead however, I took my ‘being objective’ cap off for the final minute to describe an album that defined the last decade for me. To many, this was the 2000s’ Master of Puppets, but to other’s it was vastly overrated. If it wasn’t obvious already, I agree with the former opinion. Epic and masterful, Machine Head may have created their best album ever.