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The 10 Greatest Metal Albums Of All Time

March 30, 2017

As part of Noizze's ever expanding reach, we here at the site have decided to compile some of our water-cooler conversations and turn them into an article for your enjoyment. One of our favourites are "Top 10's", a debate that has haunted popular culture since we had charts, mouths and music. 

 

The focus of today is the crux at the heart of every reasonable rock and metal fan. Which of those thrashing, crashing and moshing masterpieces truly resonate with the most ardent fans on a consistent basis? Which metal albums tie together the fabric of our movement tighter than the others, now endlessly seamed into the heavy metal flag as the horns that emblazon it? Too many metaphors? Fine. 

 

Before beginning, it is appropriate to set the guidelines that have led to the selections of the 10 albums we shall see below. First of all, the question is "greatest" - not fastest. Not most popular. Greatest. Greatest is a combination of musical appeal, cultural significance and impact on the genre as a whole. For example, Opeth's Blackwater Park is regarded as one of the most musically ambitious and astonishing metal albums in any era, but unfortunately didn't have as much cultural swing as say, Linkin Park's Hybrid Theory, an album that brought metal into the 21st century and kept it breathing until the return of metalcore brought the glorious return of the guitar solo. 

 

Additionally, an album that carries a ridiculously impactful song or song(s) does not necessarily hold up as well to an album that is consistently great and impactful. If you put 'Highway To Hell' on AC/DC's 1985 album Fly On The Wall, an album that is largely considered to have the musical appeal of mashed lettuce, it doesn't make the "Top 10 greatest Rock Albums of all time" list, understand? That list is coming soon, by the way. 

 

Finally, cultural impact is something that is difficult to judge before a certain amount of time. It is hard to say an album like Brainwashed by While She Sleeps, which is one of the best metal albums of the last 5 years, is as culturally significant or even culturally significant at all; given that we are living in the present tense, the era in which it was released. As a result, as a general rule of at least a decade is a good amount of time in which to measure the impact an album had on an era, its fans or the genre on a wider scale. 

 

Albums that have recently entered the 10 and above club? Avenged Sevenfold's City Of Evil, Trivium's Ascendancy, Bullet For My Valentine's The Poison, Slipknot's Vol.3: Subliminal Verses and Machine Head's The Blackening. Quite a list. 

 

10. Machine Head - The Blackening (2007)

 

 

 

First up, and the most recent addition to the list in terms of time released, Machine Head's opus is the freshest face in this list. Following from the progressive From The Ashes Of Empires, came an album that exploded with jaw-dropping dexterity and brutality. From the opening salvo of the politically charged 'Clenching The Fists Of Dissent', Machine Head introduced its listener to a seamless combination of razor sharp and sledgehammer riffs alongside a somewhat newfound melodic presence; high pitched harmonies intertwining against a backdrop of crushing power.

 

Head spit out bile on songs like 'Aesthetics Of Hate' and 'Now I Lay Thee Down' while the concluding opus 'A Farewell To Arms' and masterpiece 'Halo' attest to the band's ability to forge power alongside undeniable song-writing craft.

 

9. Black Sabbath - Black Sabbath (1970)

 

 

Not quite the 'greatest' by our pre-defined markers of consistent quality alongside consistency across an album, but Black Sabbath's self-titled record is here almost purely for cultural significance alone. The opening song, (also creatively named 'Black Sabbath') set the template for heavy metal; featuring the notorious 'Devil's trident' of notes emerging sinisterly from Iommi's now world famous axe. 

 

Everything about the song - the distant, foreboding drums, the pathetic fallacy of the rainfall at the outset and Ozzy Osbourne's pained cries at the 'thing', the 'figure in black' with 'eyes of fire' was classic heavy metal cliche before we had heavy metal, iconic before we had icons and that addictive cocktail of unnerving and exhilarating that only metal seems to concoct. It was written and released in 1970 and still, 47 years later, we're still talking about it. The moment metal began.

 

Alongside the opener there are instant classics "The Wizard" and "N.I.B", putting Sabbath out of the 'one-hit metal wonder' category (a box later inhabited by Europe and Lordi).

 

 

8. System Of A Down - Toxicity (2001)

 

 

 

Released on September 11th, 2001 with a lead single concerning 'self-righteous suicide', System Of A Down were never going to go under the radar. Nor should they, as the Armenian foursome released one of metal's most original and instantly recognisable offerings; combining tribal, percussive instrumentation alongside knife-edge political commentary. 

 

Opening with the bludgeoning 'Prison Song', SOAD thrust their individual noise upon the listener with the subtlety of a screwdriver, the title track and the racing charm of anthem 'Chop Suey' - SOAD didn't sound like any other band and the resulting appeal thrust them into a wider audience and cemented their status as modern giants in the metal world. 

 

7. Pantera - A Vulgar Display Of Power (1992)

 

Pantera were already making a name for themselves after the success of Cowboys From Hell but it was Vulgar Display Of Power where the Southern metallers found a fourth and fifth gear; the band's trademark sound forged from the instantly recognisable sound of the late Dimebag Darrell's guitar alongside Vinnie Paul's punishing dexterity on drums. 

 

The album spurned several instant classics; the irrepressible 'Fucking Hostile' features a thrashing groove accented with Phil Anselmo's combination of gutteral growls and note bending cries while 'Mouth For War' blends grime and grit before a huge chrous lifts the metal to newer, powerful heights. 

 

The highlight, however, is the anthemic and unforgettable 'Walk' - a testament to loyalty that wraps itself around an unforgettable, impossibly memorable hooked riff that gave the band one of the all-time fuck-you-I'm-headbanging-regardless-of-social-context songs (a list also populated by several songs to come on this list). A brilliant, belligerent battering of an album. 

 

6. Slipknot - Slipknot (1999) 

 

 

Ah, 1999. Do you remember it? Spice Girls, Pokemon, and the entrance to one of metal's most unmistakable bands. 

 

Slipknot's first album, a self titled opus, began with a 30 second recording of various people claiming "the whole thing, I think it's sick", reportedly taken from interviews with members of the public about the Charles Manson murders in the late '60's.

And then, the sound hit you. A refined combination of the speed and thrash metal Slayer and Metallica had become famous for in the 80's, combined with the then modern advent of "scratches" on a DJ deck. And over the top of the musical brutality was a vocalist who could scream, sing and rap, as well as vocally replicate feelings of panic and delusion like no other.

 

It was a musical education in madness, a Bachelor's degree in brutality and a PHD in psychological torment. But also, the songs were sensational. The opening salvo of Sic-Eyeless-Wait and Bleed-Surfacing-Spit It Out is arguably atop the best six song succession in metal - pulling no punches, not holding back on any controversy and introducing a listener to a band where the fact that nine members in jumpsuits, masks while featuring three drummers and a DJ was one of the least surprising sections of the whole Slipknot experience. 

 

Slipknot single-handedly changed the metal landscape, giving a middle finger to any future qualms over metal individuality and sound, style or control. Slipknot didn't just break the rules, they created their own - a simple set of guidelines that seemingly began with the mantra "We are Slipknot, we are going to do whatever the fuck we want." 

 

Nothing in terms of an opening statement has ever been heard louder since the opening of Black Sabbath's first album, no band has mixed terror and talent quite like 'Knot. We are all better for it. 

 

5. Metallica - The Black Album (1991) 

 

 

 

After inventing and perfecting modern thrash metal in the 1980's with Kill 'Em All and Ride The Lightning and creating the blueprint for progressive metal in ...And Justice For All, it seemed Metallica had already played all the cards in their hand. Apparently world domination was next on the list. 

 

In context with reputation and prospective backlash; Metallica's self-titled 5th album is perhaps metal's boldest powerplay. Leaving the dexterity of Master Of Puppets and AJFA behind, the San Francisco foursome slowed themselves down and produced an album brimming with soon-to-be classic material that has since laid the marker for modern heavy production in terms of musical efficiency and sound production. 

 

From the moment the hypnotic introduction of 'Enter Sandman' reaches the ears, the force of Metallica's now legendary riffed sound embeds into the listener's chest and beats a pounding rhythm. 

 

'Enter Sandman' takes plaudits as one of the great metal tracks of any era and is still a rock club staple, but the hammerfall 'Sad But True', 'Wherever I May Roam' also fill speakers with jaw dropping precision and astonishing strength. 

 

'Nothing Else Matters' is also a notable inclusion, featuring the bands' first real attempt at a love song, a gorgeous E Minor motif ascends to a epic finale; Hetfield's guitar solo a wonderfully melodic footnote on an unexpectedly popular song - proving the band's musical versatility. 

 

Meanwhile, the album sold. Millions and millions and millions, and hasn't really stopped even now as the album nears it's 30th birthday. The album propelled Metallica to superstardom and musical invincibility while their thrash rivals struggled to swim against the tide of grunge. A towering achievement.

 

4. Slayer - Reign In Blood (1986) 

 

 

 

If you can find a more classically metal 2 minutes in metal than the opening of Reign In Blood opener 'Angel Of Death' where the lines following Tom Arya's haunting scream atop of a guttural riff read 'Auchwitz/The meaning of pain/The way that I want you to die' - then you're lying to me. 

 

Slayer's 29 minute, 10 song trip around the damned is chainsaw sharp, simutaneously lightning fast and crushingly heavy. It is the ultimate thrash album, featuring some frankly inhuman drumwork from Dave Lombardo (who literally invents modern double kick-pedal work with the final flurry at the conclusion of 'Angel Of Death') and the frantic soloing of Kerry King and the late Jeff Hanneman, who gave us one of the all-time air guitar anthems in 'Reign In Blood', a two and a half minute exercise in metal perfection as the race atop of the thrash mountain ends as quickly as this album.

 

3. Iron Maiden - Number Of The Beast (1982) 

 

 

It seems odd to think that Iron Maiden's career was once at a crossroads, but it really was. After ousting popular but damaged vocalist Paul Di'Annio (a man who has since been arrested for possession of an uzi) the hiring of relatively unknown vocalist Bruce Dickinson was met with mixed reviews - one notorious fan response wrote that listening to Dickinson was like 'hearing my favourite songs through an air-raid siren'. 

 

However, Maiden wrote an album that featured three of the greatest metal songs of all time in 'Run To The Hills', 'Number Of The Beast' and 'Hallowed Be Thy Name', putting any Dickinson doubters to bed and embarking on what feels like a still-ongoing world tour. 

 

Taking a leap from 'these guys are good at guitar' to 'holy fuck, have you heard this guitar work?' alongside a leap in productive and percussive sound meant that Maiden jumped from the speaker as bounding bassliness and intricate melodies provided the perfect backdrop for Dickinson's soaring vocal chords. The album provided the British metallers with arena filling songs and status among rock and metal elite, where they have stayed ever since. Immortal. 

 

2. Black Sabbath - Paranoid (1970) 

 

 

 

Two entries from the same band? After Sabbath's game-changing debut, their second album was the record that gave Heavy Metal its godfather, as the Aston band put forth a release spilling with now legendary songs that propelled Ozzy, Iommi and company into the rock stratosphere. 'War Pigs', the political ode to conflict and corruption painted a serious message upon a cacophony of powerful riffs while 'Iron Man' spat forth that riff; a crushingly simple, heavy collection of notes that has since echoed throughout the ages as one of heavy music's most notable moments - birthing millions of wannabe guitarists in seconds. 

 

Iommi's trademark style - forged from a factory accident where the guitarist cut the tops of his fingers off - essentially led to the construction of the modern power chord, the strings-man unable to form 'classic' chords. The Brummie attached fairy liquid tops to his fingertips (I'm not joking, this actually happened) and formed simpler shapes and inadvertently created the root of modern metal. 'Paranoid', a song written in 45 minutes to fill time on the record, became metal's first and biggest 'hit single', the famous opening motif and Osbourne's cryptic lyrics laying the foundation for music to come. 

 

'Great' doesn't do Sabbath justice; their influence can be found literally everywhere in every band that has followed since in the genre. Like Metallica? You like Sabbath, heavier. Like Slayer? You like Sabbath, but faster. Slipknot? Sabbath riffs, with extra drummers. The best album from the most influential metal band of all time? Had to be here.

 

1. Metallica - Master Of Puppets (1986)

 

 

 

Metallica's third release, cut in Denmark in early 1986, came at a time when metal music was suffering. The advent of MTV and the struggles of classic bands like Deep Purple (internal arguments), Black Sabbath (Ozzy's first meltdown), Led Zeppelin (Jon Bonham's death), AC/DC (two poor albums) meant that unless you wanted to look like Poison and sound like Whitesnake, the mainstream wasn't interested. Bon Jovi's Slippery When Wet was the album of the year, Europe's 'The Final Countdown' was its biggest selling song. 

 

However, among the burgeoning, underground thrash scene, Metallica were riding (excuse the pun) atop a wave of critical acclaim following two progressive and furious albums - perfecting a style that combined the dexterity of thrash with an untill then unheard of appreciation of melody. 

 

With Master Of Puppets, Metallica created an album that took them from frantic forerunners in an undersold genre to future metal greats as critical acclaim shot their way despite the album's minimal promotion. Without a radio hit or a video, Master Of Puppets charted on Billboard and earned them a support slot with Ozzy Osbourne, who were promptly blown out the water to such a degree that by the end of the tour Ozzy fans were buying tickets to see this exceptional, young support act. 

 

The songs themselves were masterful, orchestras of polished and complex riffs giving way to lighter, progressive dynamics that included acoustic interludes (including the opening harmonies on 'Battery') and extended lead sections that were as compelling as they were impressive. 

 

The title track, a sprawling biography of drug abuse, effortlessly combines snake like and imitable guitarwork with a powerful, melancholy cleaner section that displays a contrast of dark and light tones that were simply extraordinary. The songs as a whole were exercises in excellence, almost transcending metal and becoming epic journeys through insanity ('Welcome Home Sanitarium'), the corruption of piety ('Leper Messiah') and the futility of war ('Disposable Heroes'). 

 

Master Of Puppets has since provided the benchmark for quality for metal, it's reach extending throughout genres; Metallica becoming the unassailably dominant band in metal - the biggest, bravest and most successful student of Sabbath in heavy history. 'Puppets is as close to perfect as any album has been before or since, with it's ground-breaking motifs, dynamics and structures often found in numerous modern metal bands- artists like Avenged Sevenfold, Bullet For My Valentine, Trivium have all healthily borrowed from the lessons learned in Master Of Puppets, and will continue to do so.

 

Puppets combines all the requirements of the list - musical impact? Check. Consistent album quality? 8 perfect songs, no filler. Check. Societal impact? Check. Greatest metal album ever? Check.  

Article by Sam Lewis

 

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