When we saw this list of the NME readers’ top 20 metal albums we were thoroughly bored, never before has there been such an uninteresting list of metal albums created. Metal is a vibrant and varied genre and rather than simply ripping on NME for putting out a lame list, we posse’d up and generated a list of 21 of our favourite metal albums. So, without further ado and in no particular order, here are our top 21 metal albums of all time.
Machine Head – The Blackening
So there’s two bloody Metallica records on that list, but no mention of The Blackening which is (get ready) just as good as Master Of Puppets (fight me). Metallica have been pushed as ‘the people’s band’ for so long that it feels forced to believe a group of millionaires are representative of ‘the people’.
Much like Master Of Puppets (which is a great album by a once-amazing band, don’t get me wrong), every second of this album is brilliant. There’s barely a song under 5 minutes but they all hold your attention so well because there is always something great happening (when was the last time you could say that about any ‘legacy’ metal act’s album). To not include this album on a list of the greatest metal albums ever is a disservice to metal in the 21st century.
Vio-Lence- Eternal Nightmare
Robb Flynn’s second contribution to our top 20 metal makes this list with his contribution(as primary composer and writer) to anarchic Florida madcaps Vio-Lence‘s debut Eternal Nightmare, spawned from the wanton violence and amphetamine abuse of the bay area scene.
Eternal Nightmare is a frenetic, highly technical burst of gleefully upbeat songs about killing, more killing and one song about not judging man who do too much speed. The blazing trade off leads, groove laden riffage and high as fuck tempos showcase everything amazing about the legendary bay area thrash metal scene in just over half an hour.
Napalm Death – SCUM
It’s probably fair to assume that most NME readers aren’t that au fait with grindcore and some may only know Napalm Death to be that band from that shit series of Skins, or from the patches of their friend of a friend who lives under a bridge and smells like owl piss. SCUM can be considered the birth of an incredible the sub genre, whilst instances of grindcore existed in other areas such as anarcho punk or in the burgeoning US powerviolence scene, SCUM is the first record that embodies the style and gave birth to one of the most interesting and experimental genres out there.
Behemoth – The Satanist
Picking an album from the last three years?! Ludicrous! It’s almost as if heavy metal isn’t dead! Behemoth’s tenth record proves that albums that will go on to be perceived as classics are still coming out and that even 20 years into your career you can still change the game. An ambitious and soaring record that wetted the pants of fans and critics in and outside of the metal world.
Sepultura – Roots
Two years after Korn‘s debut full-length, Sepultura all-but-legitimised the infamous nu-metal genre when they introduced some of its early characteristics on their sixth album, Roots. It may have paved the way for a certain genre whose artistic merit is debated to this day, but Roots‘ unrelenting metal attack produced iconic singles like ‘Ratamahatta’ and ‘Roots Bloody Roots’, and was steeped in inspirations from the band’s Brazilian, well, roots.
At The Gates – Slaughter Of The Soul
Fuck this album is sweet, like SO sweet. You can be bombarded with context about the scandinavian melodic death metal scene if you want, but why do that when you can just listen to the ‘click clack’ shotgun opening of ‘Suicide Nation’. If you’ve ever tried with death metal to only be left wanting more actual songs then this is the record for you.
Wolves in the Throne Room – Celestite
An album from the black metal artists that eschew all things black metal, Celestite was intended as a “companion piece” to 2012’s Celestial Lineage. Where Celestial Lineage chopped and screwed with the black metal purist’s template but remained recognisably black metal, Celestite pisses all over it with an infinitely swirling stream of ghostly synths.
Rather a dark ambient album than anything perceptibly metal, Celestite is the zenith of Wolves in the Throne Room’s penchant for pissing off purists. And it deserves a spot purely for that reason.
Judas Priest – Sin After Sin
Fellow Brummies Black Sabbath may have invented metal, but with Sin After Sin, Judas Priest defined it. With elements that would go on to inspire major moments in metal like the inception of thrash, it developed countless techniques that metal acts would utilise to this day, from the assault of the double-bass drums to the increased pace and aggression, which saw a change from the slower stoner metal feel that comprised much of Sabbath’s work.
Russian Circles – Empros
Empros carries that dreaded ‘accessibility’ tag abhorred by fans of the ‘thinking man’s metal’, but Russian Circles knew what they were going for, and fucking hell, did they nail it – lunging, stuttering kick-drum-filled post-metal presented in a smooth, yet aggressive 40 minute album.
Empros (especially the track ‘Mládek’) is all-claret, all-windmilling, vigorous fun for the plebs and patricians alike. No vocals here either – your non-metal friends might actually engage you in discussion for once.
Morbid Angel- Altars of Madness
Whilst Trey Azagthoth and crew have since totally lost it due to David Vincent being a bad industrial music loving cretin, there’s definitely a reason every death metal band and their mums is still trying to ape Morbid Angel in some way, Shape or form.
Altars of Madness was an album born of dreams of blasphemy upon the bible belt, songs about Satanic murder, satanic rituals and demonic activity are complemented by some of the evilest, tightest musical chops that death metallers struggle to top today.
Slayer – Hell Awaits
Fuck Reign In Blood, that shit’s for those creepy ass dudes down your metal local who will physically assault you for pointing out that Slayer haven’t put out anything much worth listening to in over 25 years. No, Hell Awaits is the ultimate Slayer album, from the vampiric overtures of ‘At Dawn They Sleep’ to the raging ‘Necrophiliac’. The mid-paced tempo’s, complex song structures and cavernous production was a much bigger influence on the burgeoning death metal scene than Reign In Blood gets credit for today.
Megadeth – Rust in Peace
Rust In Peace is perhaps the best of Megadeth’s albums (Megadeth r better than Metallica xD), contained within its highly technical passages are paeans to the turbulence of the music industry, nestle comfortably alongside weird ass spoken word tunes about surviving a nuclear apocalypse and feats of tuneful technical genius about governmental conspiracies. Rust in Peace is a crazily eclectic and hugely enjoyable album somehow held together by the musical genius of the golden age ‘deth lineup.
Marduk – Panzer Division Marduk
‘Ooh no, y-you guys must be Nazis, you posted an album with Panzer in the title as your fave.’ No. Stop. Shut up and listen. Panzer Division Marduk is the ultimate manifestation of nihilistic black metal ambivalence, taking the idea of a satanic panzer division and running with it; opening with the sound of heavy artillery firing and closing on tastefully named ditty ‘Fistfucking Gods Planet’, Panzer Division Marduk is a hyper violent illustration of combined arms warfare in black metal form.
Black Sabbath – Black Sabbath
Recorded in one day and featuring material taken mostly from improvised sections of live sets, Black Sabbath‘s self-titled debut is now considered an influential and immortal album. From the creepy imagery to the sinister title-track, Sabbath set the stage for the next step in rock’s evolution – heavy metal. It’s not hard to see why, with the album also featuring tracks like the bleak but honest ‘Wicked World’ and ‘NIB’, a track which would set a template for 70s hard rock.
Deicide – Deicide
Who doesn’t love proto-grindcore-y Slayer worship? Oh Yeah that’s right, you don’t do you buddy, because you read the NME and like Avenged Sevenfold. Deicide’s self titled 1990 debut is a blazing whirl of christ-baiting brutality illustrated by rabid vocals, grinding blastbeats and angular Slayer-esque guitar work.
Deicide is an album perfectly sums up the neat divide between the rampant death thrashing rackets of the late 80s and the more sophisticated(but nonetheless vicious) rackets the 1990s would bring with it.
Tank – Honour And Blood
Metal and warfare are one of the great partners of our time, but by the 21st century any pretence of war and heavy metal being noble or honourable ventures had all but disappeared as Drowning Pool blasted from the humvees of us troops during the disgraceful and illegal invasion of Iraq. We can still hark back to the early 80s and listen to Tank’s seminal, warfare and testosterone fuelled release Honour And Blood; fat synths, ballsy as fuck lyrics about the horrors of war and meaty riffing.
Mastodon – Leviathan
As the album that defined one of this century’s top metal acts, Leviathan, based loosely on Moby Dick, saw Mastodon top their critically acclaimed debut album Remission in a way many bands could only dream of. With a consistent brutality despite its artful atmosphere, it combined Mastodon’s earlier more hardcore elements with metal-style lead guitars and a prog sensibility to create a dynamic masterpiece with an interesting concept.
Demillich – Nespithe
Due to it’s tendency for months long winters, Finland produced a huge amount of amazing Black and Death Metal in the 90s and Demillich are probably the weirdest (and best) of the lot. Whilst many metal bands have included lovecraftian themes in their lyrical content or image, Demillich just went and made music as channelled from the very mouths of the old ones.
Nespithe is a celebration of an inhuman strain of deathly, astructural tech-funk, which runs through the grimy abscesses of this album. The albums ever morphing technicality and sonic abstraction bludgeons and maddens the listeners mind in the most enjoyable way possible.
Iron Maiden – Seventh Son of A Seventh Son
Whilst many people cite the top 40 courting successes of Iron Maiden’s early to mid 80s as their greatest, the mid to late 80s were perhaps Maiden’s golden years. Seventh Son Of is the crowning musical accompaniment to this phenomenon.
The album’s prog laden juxtapositions and arrangements perfectly met with the group’s keen sense of melody and songcraft, mixed in with Brucie’s inhuman vocal prowess, Seventh Son of a Seventh Son is highly underrated but to many, is the stand out album in Maiden’s extensive portfolio.
Blind Guardian – Somewhere Far Beyond
Power metal is a dirty word to many, to guttural brutal death metal goons the word ‘gay’ is far too often used to discount what has occasionally been an incredibly vibrant subgenre of metal. Blind Guardian’s bombastic, orchestrally arranged release Somewhere Far Beyond is probably the standout piece of the genre, fusing beautiful synth design, classically trained arrangements and vocal harmony upon vocal harmony to create the ultimate motivational metal album.
Cro-Mags – Alpha/Omega
I discovered Cro-Mags at some point during my debauched youth; going to hardcore punk shows and refusing to wear anything except shorts and long sleeve t shirts. But when one of my friends put me on to the Cro-Mags third album it was a game changer.
Probably the chuggiest, riff-filled album I’d ever heard at that point and to think that Age of Quarrel was their debut album seemed bonkers, as they were such different projects. The album is and always will be a work of art and perfect in every way, except that the track ‘Apocalypse Now’, which runs for over eight minutes doesn’t carry on forever…
Richard Lowe, Nathan Butler, Jack Richard King, George Parr and Tom Kirby