30. At the Gates, ‘Slaughter of the Soul’
(Earache, Records, 1995) The story of ‘Slaughter of the Soul’ has two distinct acts. The first saw it recognized by underground metal fans, mostly outside America, as one of the final, essential recordings of the original Swedish death metal boom. The second saw it hailed as a major influence by American metalcore musicians, who partook of its melodic sensibilities to sell thousands of albums as part of the so-called new Wave of American Heavy Metal.
29. Anthrax, ‘Among the Living’
(Island Records, 1987) Anthrax punched their ticket into the exclusive club known as thrash’s big four with 1987’s platinum breakthrough ‘Among the Living,’ a dense, cerebral, yet still refreshingly violent and fun invitation into the mosh pit from New York’s finest, who sought inspiration in their favorite horror authors (Stephen King, for the title cut and others) cartoon characters (Judge Dredd, for “I am the Law”) and society’s idiocy as a whole (“N.F.L.”).
28. Celtic Frost, ‘To Mega Therion’
(Noise Records, 1985) As one of the pioneering voices in extreme metal, Celtic Frost’s every album dictated musical trends, years and years ahead of their time, and 1985’s stunning ‘To Mega Therion’ was obviously no exception, introducing classical influences into the group’s visionary death/black metal assaults, and wrapping it in the complementary shock value of H.R. Giger’s unforgettably profane cover artwork.
27. Entombed, ‘Wolverine Blues’
(Earache Records, 1993) ‘Wolverine Blues’ snapped death metal out of its self-defeating obsession with “complexity for complexity’s sake,” simplifying song arrangements to put the emphasis back on, well, great songs. By doing so, Entombed’s landmark third album set the high standard for so-called “rot & roll,” losing none of the Swedish quintet’s ferocity, incidentally, while delivering superior tunes.
26. Exodus, ‘Bonded by Blood’
(Combat Records, 1985) Unfairly delayed by business problems, ‘Bonded by Blood’ forced Exodus — the original kings of Bay Area thrash — to play a game of eternal catch-up with the genre’s platinum barrier busting Big Four. But of course discerning metal fans knew where to find the LP, and duly recognized one of thrash’s stone-cold classic releases, powered by mosh pit standards like “Metal Command,” “A Lesson in Violence” and “Bonded by Blood” itself.
25. Dream Theater, ‘Images and Words’
(Atco Records, 1992) Dream Theater overcame a debut album that went largely unnoticed with a second long-player in ‘Images and Words’ that remains a benchmark of their long career. And the progressive metal movement, in general, thanks to its rare confluence of quality, even accessible songwriting and unbeatable virtuosity. Heck, even an eight-minute running time could stop “Pull Me Under” from becoming a hit!
24. Queensryche, ‘Operation: Mindcrime’
(EMI Records, 1988) Arguably the greatest concept album in heavy metal history, ‘Operation Mindcrime’ finally catapulted Queensryche to stardom after years of incredible but unfulfilled commercial promise. It also redefined the ages old marriage of music and lyrics, thanks to a fascinating story of dystopian intrigue backed by undeniably catchy metal anthems.
23. Black Sabbath, ‘Heaven and Hell’
(Warner Bros., 1980) Black Sabbath proved countless pundits and even many fans wrong when they resurfaced after a string of unimpressive, late ’70s albums, with one of their career highlights (and that’s of course saying a lot) in 1980’s ‘Heaven and Hell.’ Catalyzed by the talents of new singer Ronnie James Dio, tunes like “Children of the Sea,” “Die Young” and the majestic title song stayed true to Sabbath’s legacy while modernizing their sound for the new decade.
22. Slayer, ‘Seasons in the Abyss’
(Def American, 1990) Every one of Slayer’s first five albums was absolutely startling and revolutionary in its own way, but the fact that Satan’s favorite band could still shock and awe on such an impressive scale, nearly a decade into their career, helps elevate ‘Seasons in the Abyss’ to the very doorstep of 1986’s incomparable ‘Reign in Blood,’ and marks “War Ensemble” among the group’s greatest ever songs.
21. Sepultura, ‘Beneath the Remains’
(Roadrunner Records, 1989) No band did more to promote heavy metal’s global expansion, beyond the long-established U.S./U.K./European axis, than Brazil’s Sepultura, and 1989’s ‘Beneath the Remains’ was the album that put Latin American metal on the map. A brilliant amalgam of thrash and death metal, the group’s third long player literally took the metal world by storm and has stood the test of time, among many other fine releases, as their signature release.
20. Rainbow, ‘Rising’
(Polydor, 1976) Rainbow’s ‘Rising’ was one of the landmark heavy metal albums of the ’70s: hailed as a huge influence by everyone from Iron Maiden’s Bruce Dickinson to Metallica’s Kirk Hammett, it was voted numero uno by the readers of Kerrang! Magazine in 1980, and contains some of Ritchie Blackmore and Ronnie James Dio’s very best “castle metal” classics in “Tarot Woman,” “A Light in the Black” and “Stargazer.”
19. Mastodon, ‘Leviathan’
(Relapse Records, 2004) Atlanta, Georgia’s Mastodon had already begun separating themselves from the American metal pack before they unleashed 2004’s spectacular ‘Leviathan,’ but the quartet’s magnificently creative concept piece inspired by Herman Melville’s ‘Moby Dick’ catapulted them beyond even the wildest expectations, and marking them as perhaps the most important American heavy metal band since Pantera or Metallica.
18. Judas Priest, ‘Sad Wings of Destiny’
(Gull Records, 1976) After achieving mixed results on their scattered first LP ‘Rocka-Rolla,’ Judas Priest truly came into their own as heavy metal’s second great band following fellow Brummies, Black Sabbath) on 1976’s ‘Sad Wings of Destiny.’ A monument to heavy metal’s dark majesty, ‘Sad Wings’ focused Priest’s vision on stunning cuts ranging from the elaborate “Victim of Changes” to the short and deadly “The Ripper.”
17. Dio, ‘Holy Diver’
(Warner Bros., 1983) Ronnie James Dio took all of the experiences acquired during years acting as frontman for Rainbow and Black Sabbath into his self-named group’s stellar first effort, ‘Holy Diver.’ With the aid of fellow Sabbath survivor, drummer Vinny Appice, veteran bassist Jimmy Bain and hotshot guitar wiz Vivian Campbell, Dio delivered the ’80s grandest “castle metal” statement with the title track, “Don’t Talk to Strangers” and “Rainbow in the Dark.”
16. Black Sabbath, ‘Black Sabbath’
(Vertigo, 1970) Everything metal begins with Black Sabbath’s eponymous debut, which condensed all of the proto-metallic contributions that were roiling through the late ’60s (Blue Cheer, Cream, Hendrix, Led Zeppelin) into the style’s de facto primordial soup. Recorded in a single day with next-to-no overdubs, ‘Black Sabbath’ is the real deal: a nasty, gnarly, doom-laden beast bursting with spontaneous misanthropy that outsiders everywhere related to immediately.