Metal Fans: A Fickle Bunch
Heavy metal fans have very varied opinions about the genre. You have the one extreme where you ask a self proclaimed metal fan, what's your favorite band? They predictably answer Metallica. Ok cool. What's your favorite album? The Black Album. Ah I see. What other metal bands do you like? Um, ah. Well I really love Metallica. Then you have the opposite end of the spectrum that says, I only like really loud bands no one has ever heard of. Metallica sucks. The question is, Metallica is a pioneer of heavy metal and their thrash metal style is what influenced those really heavy bands that "no one has heard of", so is it really appropriate to say they suck? On the other hand is it ok to call yourself a fan of metal when your favorite bands consist of only what is popular, like Metallica, Korn, and so on? I would argue that while these people have an appreciation of some things metal, they do not understand and respect all the different sub genres and original bands that influenced the way metal is today. I myself lean toward the really heavy stuff that fewer people have heard of, but I still have a love and admiration for those who have been responsible for starting and evolving heavy metal over the years. I listen to almost everything heavy as long as it is technically sound because I am a fan. I think true fans respect the entire genre and don't pigeon hole themselves into a couple of subgenres. Therefore, I have compiled a list of the most essential albums that should be in every metal fan's collection and it can also be used as a guide of must own albums for those just beginning to get into heavy metal music. I would really recommend getting the entire discography of the artists mentioned here, but if you are going to go with one from each, these are the best. Also, I recommend reading the liner notes on each album to see which bands the artist gives thanks to. This can be another way to discover new metal artists that you have not heard before. This is one of the ways I was able to begin branching out from Metallica and Pantera to discover awesome bands like, In Flames and Children of Bodom.
The Prince of Darkness Meets Leather and Studs
These are the bands that pioneered the heavy metal sound in the 70's and early 80's. They took blues rock, jazz guitar, distorted rock and roll, and dirty vocals and merged it together with a more down tuned sound to create a new genre of music. Conspicuous by their absence from the list are Led Zeppelin, as I consider them to be more of a hard rock/blues band. We can have the argument about whether they are heavy metal or not. They certainly had a huge influence on metal, but even Robert Plant and Jimmy Page will tell you they are not a heavy metal band.
Originally released in 1970, this is the second studio album from the band that most feel really started the heavy metal movement. With their bluesy riffs and heavy down tuned sound, Black Sabbath started a revolution of angst and aggression in the music industry, and it produced one of the most noticeable faces in heavy metal today, Ozzy Osbourne. This album is way ahead of it's time. Paranoid contains many of their genre hits, including "War Pigs", "Paranoid", and "Iron Man" along with my personal favorite, the trippy "Planet Caravan".
Judas Priest is the first band to embrace the word heavy metal to describe their music. Judas Priest brought high pitched vocals and harmonized riffs that are still used by many of the heavier metal and black metal bands today. Rob Halford influenced the clothing style used for many years in heavy metal and is still used by bands like Dimmu Borgir. We didn't see it then, but looking back now it's pretty easy to see that Rob Halford is gay. British Steel (1980), their sixth album, is universally regarded as their best. It has a clean, well prodced sound. The tracks "Breaking the Law" and "Living After Midnight" are a couple of their best and well known songs. For something a little lesser known and typical of their style, check out the song "Rapid Fire".
The Number of the Beast (1982) is the third album released by Britain's Iron Maiden. Iron Maiden took the ball that Judas Priest invented and ran with it. They are very similar in style, but Bruce Dickinson really brought the heavy metal front man to the next level. He was the first to run around the stage like a mad man and really have fun with the music. They are also one of the first heavy metal bands to use historical events and politics in their music. The album contains the hits "Children of the Damned" and "Number of the Beast", along with everyone's favortie "Run to the Hills".
Motorhead is known for being one of the first to fuse heavy rock with punk. Lemmy's raspy vocals matched with the really fast punk style guitar paved the way for thrash metal in the early 1980's. Their fourth album, The Ace of Spades (1980), is what heavily infuenced bands like Metallica and Slayer. The album containes the hits "Ace of Spades" and "Shoot You in the Back". If you're a big Metallica or thrash fan, I highly recommend this album.
Holy Diver (1983) is the debut solo album from Ronnie James Dio of the bands Rainbow and Black Sabbath. This album is known as one of the early benchmarks for heavy metal. Dio is known for the invention of the devil horn fingers used by metal fans world wide and was the first to use medieval and mystical themes in his lyrics and artwork. These themes are prevelant in metal today, especially in Scandanavian death and black metal. The title track to the album is phenomenal and has a hilariously cheesy video to go along with it.
Thrash is King
The 1980's brought about the Motorhead influenced Thrash Metal subgenre, the emergence of Ozzy Osbourne as a solo artist, the Big Four, and the ill advised Hair Metal style (although not really metal, so I will not discuss here). This was the first of a few golden ages for heavy metal. It began to get more radio play and even MTV created a show dedicated to metal, called Headbangers Ball. This is the time where a more heavy and fast style was utilized that was the precursor of the extreme/death metal, metalcore, and power metal that many metal fans gravitate to presently.
In my opinion, Slayer is the best of the Big Four and the best thrash and maybe even best metal band of all time. They are the most consistent. They started out as thrash and are still thrash to this day. They have never really had any albums, where they have experimented with a different sound, like Metallica and Megadeth. Reign in Blood (1986) ranks as their best album and they have some really great albums. Reign in Blood has the best of their signature rapid fire guitar with Kerry King's original screeching guitar solo style. The songs tell stories, use historical facts, and actually have meaning. "Raining Blood" is probably their most well know song. I recommend listening to "Angel of Death". It has the best combination of musical styling and well written lyrics.
Metallica is the next member of the Big Four on the list. They are probably the most popular heavy metal band of all time. They have had an unmeasureable amount of influence on so many different bands. Unlike Slayer, they have changed their style over the years. They are no longer thrash and are mostly just a straight heavy metal band. In the 1980's, during the height of thrash, they put out one of the most important heavy metal albums ever. If you could only own one metal album, Master of Puppets (1986), is the one you should get. It marks the final appearance of Cliff Burton, the best metal bassist of all time, and it is the last full Metallica thrash album before they began experimenting with their sound. Master contains long, almost orchestral type speed metal songs. The production values are second to none and it has some of the best overall songwriting in heavy metal history. It was the first perfectly produced metal album. There is not one bad song on the album and it can be listened to over and over again.
The Blizzard of Oz (1981) is the first solo album released by Ozzy Osbourne, catapulting him to a career that many consider to be the most influential in heavy metal. Ozzy is easily the most recognizable heavy metal artist ever. Even people who are not fans of heavy metal know him. This album was at the start when he was still biting bats and defending himself in court against frivoulous law suits regarding his lyrics promoting suicide and before he was a side show for MTV and others. This album also featured arguably one of the best metal guitarists of all time, Randy Rhoads. "Crazy Train", "Mr. Crowley", and "Suicide Solution" are still some of his best songs.
Dave Mustaine left Metallica in 1983 due to drug and alcohol problems, along with a need to play speed metal even faster than Metallica was already playing. He wont on to for the third band in the Big Four, Megadeth. The result were a couple of really great albums in the 1980's that have some of the fastest guitar playing ever heard. Megadeth's fourth album came out at the end of the thrash metal boom, but is one of the best of all time. Rust in Peace (1990) is an excellent album from start to finish. It contains the hits "Holy Wars" and "Hangar 18", and my favorite "Lucretia".
One of the last thrash albums to come out before it's resurgence in the early 2000s was Sepultura's Arise (1991). This is universally regarded as their best album. Sepultura is one of the most popular bands to ever come out of Brazil. Yes metal is that popular there. They are also one of the most recognized metal bands internationally. Listen to the tracks "Arise", "Altered State", and "Infected Voice". You won't be disappointed.
The Grooving of Thrash
At the start of the 1990's Thrash began to slow down into straight brutal heavy metal and the underground was embracing the mixed slow and fast tempos of Black and Death Metal from Europe and Scandanavia. Bands like Pantera, Faith No More, and even Sepultura began to form a style called groove metal. This meant taking the money part of the riff and repeating it over and over instead of expanding on it, like Thrash. This caused songs to be more groove oriented which made them easier to mosh to and more pleasing to head bobbing part of the brain. This groove sound would later be adopted and expanded upon by Nu Metal bands in the mid to late 1990's.
The 1990's saw Anthrax, the final member of the Big Four, dump their lead singer, Joey Belladonna, and move away from thrash metal to a more straight, slowed down approach. John Bush was added to the lineup and the songs became slower, heavier, and better produced. This is one of the few bands in history where the majority of fans prefer the second singer over the original one. This all lead to the realease of The Sound of White Noise (1993). This was Anthrax's most commercially successful album to date. It contains the awesome singles "Only", "Room for One More", and "Black Lodge". Unfortunately, they have added Belladonna back to the lineup recently.
Vulgar Display of Power (1992) marked the height of another extrememly popular heavy metal band, Pantera. Pantera is credited with inventing groove metal. It was a move from the speed of thrash to a more slow drudgy guitar sound and a beat Pantera created called the power drop. Next to Metallica, they are probably the next most commercially successful metal band. With iconic songs, like "Walk", and "This Love", Vulgar is one of the best metal albums of the 1990's.
The up and down slow to fast tempo, high pitched to growling vocals, and blazzingly fast drumming of Black Metal took the underground by storm in the early 1990's. One band took Black Metal and brought it to the outskirts of the mainstream and that band was Cradle of Filth from Britain. Dusk & Her Embrace (1996) was a commercially successful concept album about vampires. Check it out only if you have an open mind.
Angel Dust (1992), yes Angel Dust not The Real Thing, is the best and most influential album released by Faith No More. Not only did they continue to fuse rap and groove metal paving the way for Nu Metal, but they also fused metal with folk, country, funk, and electronica to create an unbelievable album that may never be matched as far as creativity goes. This is one of my favorite experimental albums. I recommend the tracks "Caffeine", "Midlife Crisis", "Land of Sunshine", and "Midnight Cowboy".
Hardcore is a term in the 1980's that was most closely associated with Punk music. New York Hardcore bands, like Sick of It All, began crossing hardcore and thrash. They took the raspy/growling vocals, speed guitar, and double bass drum pedal from thrash and mixed it with the rapid fire vocals, breakdowns, social lyrics, and the unrefined musicianship of hardcore punk. This crossover thrash movement was the precursor to the rise of metalcore in the late 90's and early 2000's. Sick of It All's second album, Take a Look Around (1992) is regarded as one of the best New York Hardcore albums ever. "Shut Me Out", "What's Goin on", and "Take a Look Around" will have have your head banging and grooving.
A Grungy Nu Way
The 1990's were an age of change in heavy metal. It had become more mainstream in the late 1980's and there was a movement toward becoming infused with other kinds of music. Grunge was birthed in Seattle in the early 1990's and was the second golden age of metal. Some will argue with me that Grunge is not metal. I would say it depends. Grunge is such a general term used to describe all the bands from Seattle, yet they were all different. Nirvana was closer to punk rock and Pearl Jam is a straight hard rock band. There are two bands that came out of Seattle that can be classified as metal, Soundgarden and Alice in Chains.
On top of Grunge, there was a movement started by groove metal bands that was expanded upon even more by Rage Against the Machine and others. These bands took groove metal riffs and infused them with other genres of music , mostly rap. This rap metal would eventually lead to the third and final golden age of metal called Nu Metal in the late 1990's Nu Metal used more rythmic drumming, turn tables, slap bass, and sporadic rap vocals.
Soundgarden certainly moved away from metal into more of a progressive rock trend in the mid 90's, but there first couple of albums were unapologetic heavy metal and Badmotorfinger (1991) is one of the best. "Rusty Cage", "Outshined", and "Jesus Christ Pose" are top flight metal songs.
Dirt (1992) is another great Grunge Metal album. It has Alice in Chains signature harmonies with Layne Staley and Jerry Cantrell sharing vocals. Contained in the album is a really dirty down tuned sludge metal sound that really plays off the angst of their fan base. Layne Staley is an iconic front man that has influenced bands from Staind to Seether. "Them Bones" and "Angry Chair" are amongst some of the best metal songs ever.
Rage Against the Machine is the first band to go all in with Rap Metal and are also in my opinion the only ones to do it perfectly. On top of that Tom Morello was playing guitar riffs in ways that no one had ever heard before. Rage Against the Machine (1992) is so ahead of it's time, it's not even funny. Rap wasn't even that popular at that point, so for them to do what they did is amazing. Listen to the entire album, you won't be disappointed.
I debated whether or not to put Korn on here, as I and many feel that they are one of the bands that became too commercial with MTV in the late 1990's and almost killed metal entirely. However, I have to take my own advice and respect what their first album did for metal. Korn (1994) is credited as the first Nu Metal album. As much as I despise them now, this album is phenomenal. It helped to bring metal back from the dead and made it possible for bands like the Deftones to get a following. Unlike their later efforts, this album is heavy and raw with real emotion. You can hear some sounds that may have even influenced metalcore and the new wave of thrash in the late 1990's. "Blind" is a seriously well done metal song, as are many others on the album.
Deftones were one of the first bands in the Nu Metal movement and I believe they are the best. They are still making music today and are still relevant, unlike some of their counterparts. Adrenaline (1995) marks the beginning of a great career. High vocals are mixed with more of a hip hop beat and the results are astonishing. Check out the songs "Bored", "Root", and "Engine No. 9".
Slow and Nu
The Return of Thrash and Rise of Metalcore
The 2000's saw the decline in popularity of heavy metal. Nu metal really killed any respect people had for the genre because of bands like Linkin Park and Papa Roach turning out constant garbage. Rock radio stations began to steer away from metal and went with more hard rock, like Nickelback. Metal went back into more of an underground state, like in it's early days at the start of the 1980's. This underground following allowed for the return of Thrash and the rise of Metalcore. Metalcore began in the mid to late 90's expanding on where New York Hardcore left off. They took the crossover thrash and added more death metal type vocals mixed with melodicly sung refrains and even more double bass pedal. Most of the time instead of guitar solos, like in thrash, there are beat drops and break downs in the bridge of the song. Bands like Shadows Fall and Lamb of God were moving to a more neo-thrash sound with fast guitars, raspy vocals, and guitar solos. Metalcore bands like Killswitch Engage met with some commercial success, but all in all metal is back to being a more tight knit community, which I prefer.
People might categorize In Flames' early albums as death metal or melodic death metal, but Clayman (2000) saw a move more toward melodic death metal mixed with thrash. In Flames is a hugely popular act internationally and along with All That Remains and Slayer is one of my favorite bands. The music is so heavy, but the vocals of Anders Friden are so unbelievably soothing. Clayman is easily their best album. It is perfect from top to bottom and with songs like "Bullet Ride", "Only for the Weak", and "Clay Man" you can't go wrong.
Alive or Just Breathing (2002) is the second album from metalcore band Killswitch Engage and the last one with Jesse Leach as lead singer. KSE is probably one of the most recognizable of the current heavy metal acts. They saw some commercial success in the mid 2000's with Howard Jones as singer. Howard has since left and Jesse returned in 2012, so we will see if he can continue Howard's success. "Fixation on the Darkness", "Life to Lifeless", and "Temple from Within" are my favorite songs on the album.
Shadows Fall changed their style from death metal to thrash with the addition of Brian Fair on vocals and the release of The Art of Balance (2002). Shadows is a very consistent metal band that continue to turn out quality product. Although not as popular as other Massachusetts act, KSE, they have a loyal fan following and all of their albums are really well done. "The Idiot Box", "Idle Hands", and their unbelievable cover of "Welcome to the Machine" make this a must own album.
Hate Crew Deathroll (2003) is the fourth album from Finnish Power Metal band Children of Bodom. They mix growling metalcore vocals with death metal guitar and melodic keyboard tones. It's an absolutely hypnotizing and enjoyable sound. They are one of the best live metal bands currently touring. "Angels Don't Kill" is the perfect example of this sound. My other top favorites are "Needled 24/7" and "Sixpounder".
Massachusetts is turning out some really great heavy metal right now, and All That Remains is no excpetion. It was originally a side project of singer Phil Labonte, when he was the singer of Shadows Fall. After being kicked out in favor of a thrash sound, Phil made this metalcore band his full time gig. Their third album The Fall of Ideals (2006) is in my opinion the best metalcore album ever released. This album saw a move away from death metal vocals to a more clean growl with meolodic singing interludes. The dual harmonized guitars are very reminiscent of Judas Priest. "Six" is easily one of the best metal songs ever written and the rest of the album is just as spectacular.
Lamb of God has brought thrash back to the forefront of metal. Listening to and seeing them reminds you of a slightly heavier Slayer with death metal vocals. The vibe is exactly the same. Ashes of the Wake (2004) is their best album to date and even features Alex Skolnick from Testament and Chris Poland from Megadeth on a couple of songs. This is thrash at it's finest and this album should not be missed.
Dimmu Borgir is another band that needs to be listened to with an open mind. They began to expand on the Black Metal formula made popular by bands like Cradle of Filth and Emperor in the 1990's. They continued with the rapid fire drumming and high pitched to low growl vocals and added more of an emphasis on melodic sounds. Many of their songs feature orchestras, melodic singing interludes by the guitarist, and some operatic female singing. They took the very heavy sound of Black Metal and made it more enjoyable to the ears, while still maintaining the brutality. Currently, they are one of the most popular Black Metal bands internationally. Puritanical Euphoric Misanthropia (2001) is widely regarded as their best album. It marked the first time they used orechestral instuments instead of keyboards. "Kings of the Carnival Creation", "Indoctrination" and "Hybrid Stigmata" are simply awesome.
Girls Can Growl Too
For those of you who don't think girls can front a heavy metal band, think again. Recently there have been some great metal bands with female singers. Some are more heavy guitars with opera vocals, like Italy's gothic metal kings Lacuna Coil or Finland's Nightwish. Other's are more metalcore with growling vocals like Detroit's Walls of Jericho. The best of the best in my opinion is Sweden's Arch Enemy. I never thought a female would be able to handle death metal vocals, but Angela Gossow is literally one of the best death metal singers around right now. Check it out and tell me what you think.