Friday, 18 February 2011

The 20 greatest heavy metal albums

Heavy metal – that most derided of genres. Critics hate it, girls (for the most part) hate it and its core audience is teenage boys – how uncool as that? Having said that, metal is one of the biggest genres of all time with huge sales worldwide. Its apologists argue that its the very fact that everyone else hates it that makes it so popular with the disaffected. For an excellent exploration of this theory and metal's enduring appeal check out the movie Metal: A headbanger’s journey. In the meantime enjoy the fact that sometimes there’s nothing better than punching the air and banging your head – even the most cynical towards the genre will find something to love here...if you disagree with my choices please leave your own suggestions at the end of the article.

20. Blackout in the Red Room - Love/Hate

This is an album that takes you straight to LA’s infamous sunset strip of the early 1990’s. Love/Hate wore their drinking and drugging on their sleeves as much as their numerous tattoos. From the title track to stoner anthems Why do you think think they call it dope? and Mary Jane, this record rocks.

19. Ritual De La Habitual – Jane’s Addiction

Features classic alt-rock anthem Been caught Stealing (which notoriously starts with the sound of dogs barking) but this album works from start to finish with its second side (a memoriam to a dead friend of Perry Farrell's) in particular showcasing some excellent songwriting. Ritual... made Rolling Stone's 500 greatest albums of all time
18. A vulgar display of power – Pantera

One of the few metal acts to emerge from the post grunge years with any credibility intact.Texans Pantera were clearly as much influenced by hardcore as metal and used crunchy guitars rather than long solos to showcase their power. Fucking Hostile and Walk were just two of the great tracks on this record. Guitarist Dimebag Darrell was later tragically murdered onstage.
17. Van Halen-Van Halen

Arguably the album where US metal found its feet (although Kiss fans might argue the point). This set the template for everyone who would follow in their wake from Twisted Sister to Motley Crue . Eddie Van Halen became a guitar hero for millions and the track Eruption set the model for all other guitar solo led tracks that followed. David Lee Roth was the consummate metal front man excelling here on such classic tracks as Runnin’ with the devil and Ain’t talking about love.
16. The Real Thing- Faith no More

Few metal albums display as much invention as this. It features rap (Epic), creepy torch songs (Zombie Eaters) and heads down thrash ( Surprise You’re Dead). The Real Thing deservedly became a huge seller prior to the grunge years which alt-metal (Faith No More, The Chilli Peppers, Jane's Addiction, Soundgarden et al) arguably set the context for.
15. Blues for the Red Sun – Kyuss

Kyuss were Joss Homme's band before he formed Queens of the Stone Age. This album set the template for stoner metal– a wonderful combination of Sabbath riffs and drawn out acid rock.

14. Slipknot – Slipknot

Slipknot completely reinvigorated a dying genre when they burst upon the scene (even getting coverage in hipster’s magazine the Face). The combination of terrifying masks and field pummelling nu-metal immediately appealed to teenage boys – the core market for all metal before and since.

13. Burn my eyes – Machine Head

A Modern Classic – essentially thrash but with a more crunchy guitar sound and embracing more modern production techniques. Opening track Davidian is about the Waco siege and pulls you in with its ‘Let freedom reign with a shotgun’ chorus but there is quality stuff throughout.Like Sepultura and Slipknot, this was released on the classic metal independent label Roadrunner.

12. Chaos AD- Sepultura

Signifying the huge global appeal of metal – Brazil’s Sepultura recorded a number of key albums but this is probably their most accessible and manages somehow to combine thrash metal with traditional Brazilian rhythms. The opening track Refuse/Resist is widely regarded as a classic and like a number of the records featured here manages to transcend the usual metal lyrics about sorcerers and shagging.
11. Operation Mindcrime – Queensryche

This one is at the more proggy end of the spectrum. A concept album (of course!)about a hospitalised revolutionary which featured pomp-rock classic Eyes of A Stranger and power ballad Silent Lucidity. Tommy Vance used to hammer this album on his Friday night rock show.

10. Reign in Blood – Slayer

29 minutes of pure thrash heaven (hell surely?) Often named as the heaviest album of all time, this is the full realisation of the power of thrash and manages to be completely uncompromising and raw. Subject matter included Nazi atrocities and organised religion.The sleeve also set the template for pretty much every thrash album since. I always loved Kerry King’s wristband made of nine inch nails – METAL!

9. No Sleep til Hammersmith – Motorhead

We had to have at least one live album and it was a toss-up between this and Thin Lizzy’s Live and Dangerous, Kiss' Alive and Iron Maiden's Live after death. This wins for being the most metal, for going to number 1 and for including the all time classics Ace of Spades and Bomber.

8. Earth versus the Wildhearts – Wildhearts

Some would argue that this isn’t metal in the strictest sense (songwriter Ginger is a master of creating huge pop melodies set to crunching guitars) but this is a personal favourite. I saw them play in Liverpool once to seven people but I'm pleased to say that since then they've gained a loyal and sizable following. This album kicks off with the gloriously sleazy Greetings from Shitsville and also features huge singles TV Tan and a Nine Inch Nails-esque Suckerpunch.
6/7.Rocks/Toys in the Attic – Aerosmith

I can’t choose between these two records so I’ll take them both. For me, Aerosmith are one of the most underrated rock n roll bands – only really appreciated by the metal fraternity which is a shame because they’ve written some fantastic stuff over thirty years. These two albums show what a great band they were – Walk this Way, Sweet Emotion, Back in the Saddle, Toys in the Attic – all stone cold classics. Slash famously went back to a girl’s house when he was fourteen – she put on Rocks and he couldn’t speak to her for an hour being so drawn to the music. Its supremely funky stuff and the Toxic Twins (Tyler and Perry) are two of the greatest characters in rock.

5. Iron Maiden– Iron Maiden

Bruce Dickinson’s air-raid siren vocals even alienate some metal fans (although many would claim Number of the Beast as a classic). My preference is for their debut, recorded with original vocalist Paul Dianno – its more punky in feel but already displays Steve Harris’s ability to write strong hooks and those famous duelling guitars. Running Free still sounds good now and Phantom of the Opera (famously used in a Lucozade advert featuring Daley Thompson) is one of my favourite ever metal tracks for its sheer stop-start energy.

4. Black Sabbath – Black Sabbath

Where it all started. The title track opens the album with wind and rain and the chiming of a church bell – its probably the most atmospheric start to any album. You also get The Wizard (sampled by Cypress Hill among others), NIB and Evil Woman. Sabbath were metal, Zeppelin were heavy rock – there is a difference. The subject matter and sound here is undoubtedly metal.

3. Ride the Lightening – Metallica

Few would disagree that Metallica have had an extraordinary career. There is some debate about which of their albums is the greatest although many would plump for Master of Puppets. I’ll champion the album before, Ride the Lightening. This is their first work where you can really hear their melodies coming to the fore although its still remarkably powerful. Fight fire with fire, the title track, Creeping Death and Fade to Black must be one of the strongest Side A’s of any album. It starts with classical instrumentation and ends with their first power ballad but what comes in between packs an almighty punch. I saw them live last year and they still put on a fantastic live show.

2. Appetite for Destruction – Guns n Roses

The album that changed my (and many other people’s) lives. One minute I was into Dire Straits, the next I was travelling up and down the country camping outside stadiums in hope of a glimpse of one of the most infamous bands of all time. Even now I can’t get over how utterly cool they were on that first album – the Stonsey indifference of Izzy, the smack-addled Steven, Punky Duff, guitar legend Slash and the bandanna wearing nutter that was Axl. And then there was the music – quite simply this album has at least eight of the all time greatest metal tunes including the best opening track (Welcome to the Jungle), the funkiest metal track since Walk this Way (Mr Brownstone) and arguably its best ever ballad (Sweet Child O Mine) - an incredible achievement – especially given the state they were in when recording it. Pretty it ain’t.

1. Back in Black ACDC

Worth the entry price for the title track alone. The opening riff of Back in Black is arguably the greatest metal riff of all – it’s no wonder that its loved by hip-hop DJs as its as funky as much as it is heavy. Back in Black is famously the second best selling album of all time after Thriller and all the more remarkable given that it was their comeback album following the death of original vocalist and key member of the band Bon Scott. I’ve seen You Shook Me All Night Long rock the coolest of dance floors. ACDC are the definitive rock n roll band with Angus's riffs and Brian's raspy holler - irresistible.

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