15. Opeth, ‘Blackwater Park’
(Koch, 2001) After gaining steadily in both confidence and ambition over four increasingly impressive albums during the second half of the 1990s, Swedish death metal proggies Opeth reached peak form on 2001’s breathtaking ‘Blackwater Park,’ whose title reflected the group’s ’70s art-rock influences, supported by consistently intricate, wildly imaginative nine-to-ten-minute epics, each one more awe-inspiring than the last.
14. Venom, Welcome to Hell’
(Neat Records, 1981) Venom’s sophomore album, 1982’s ‘Black Metal,’ helped name an entire heavy metal sub-genre, nearly a decade after its release; but it was their first, ‘Welcome to Hell,’ that set the ball in motion with its intentionally rude and crude assault on the senses, an equal number of seminal songs as its more famous successor, and the difference maker in one of extreme metal’s ultimate anthems, “Witching Hour.”
13. System of a Down, ‘Toxicity’
(Columbia, 2001) System of a Down’s commercial breakthrough ‘Toxicity’ followed years of hard work by the Armenian-American quartet, yet felt like an overnight smash hit when millions of fans flocked to record stores to grab a copy. With songs like ‘Chop Suey!,’ ‘Aerials,’ ‘ATWA’ and the title track, the wondrously idiosyncratic and eclectic album is one of metal’s most original statements ever.
12. Motorhead, ‘Ace of Spades’
(Bronze Records, 1980) Without Motorhead there would be no speed or thrash metal (heck, nor most anything known as “extreme metal”) and in ‘Ace of Spades,’ Lemmy Kilmister’s crusty band of outlaws arguably delivered their definitive career statement. The title track has of course gone down as one of metal’s most iconic songs, to the point it has obscured the similar genius of ensuing blasts like “(We Are) The Road Crew” and “The Hammer.”
11. Tool, ‘Lateralus’
(Volcano Records, 2001) Tool kept their loyal fans waiting all of five years for ‘Lateralus,’ but every single day was worth it in the end. Even more so than its paradigm-shifting predecessors, the California quartet’s third long-player fundamentally redefined the heavy metal avant-garde with its textured exploration of dynamics, tension and release, often spun to epic lengths on songs that seamlessly flowed into one another on a revolutionary scale of invention.
10. Black Sabbath, ‘Master of Reality’
(Vertigo, 1971) The cough heard ’round the world (courtesy of pot-worshipping opening number, “Sweet Leaf”), ‘Master of Reality’ simultaneously launched the stoner metal subset and added to Black Sabbath’s winning string with their third heavy metal classic in the span of some 15 months. Even decades later, dreary dirges of doom like “After Forever,” “Children of the Grave” and “Into the Void” still stand among Sabbath’s heaviest creations.
9. Megadeth, ‘Peace Sells…But Who’s Buying?’
(Capitol Records, 1986) Dave Mustaine proved his vow to exact musical revenge on former bandmates Metallica was no joke with his new band Megadeth’s eye-opening sophomore album, ‘Peace Sells…But Who’s Buying?’ A thrash metal tour de force, it blended impeccable technique with wanton savagery fueled by inspired songwriting — all while displaying a rare emphasis incisive political commentary that further set Megadeth apart from their peers.
8. Metallica, ‘Ride the Lightning’
(Elektra, 1984) Metallica’s musical range and overall polish grew by leaps and bounds between ‘Kill ‘Em All’ and Ride the Lightning, which kept the pedal to the metal with newly minted thrashers like “Fight Fire with Fire” and “Creeping Death,” while slowing things down for the benefit of regular metal fans on the colossal “For Whom the Bells Toll” and suicide ballad “Fade to Black.”
7. Judas Priest, ‘Screaming for Vengeance’
(CBS Records, 1982) Judas Priest were at the top of their game on 1982’s ‘Screaming for Vengeance,’ which found the heavy metal veterans pretty much cruising, almost 10 years into their recording career, and taking America by storm, both in the charts and on the road. Decades later, songs like “Electric Eye” and “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’” remain pillars of the band’s discography.
6. Ozzy Osbourne, ‘Blizzard of Ozz’
(Epic Records, 1980) One of heavy metal’s greatest comeback stories, Ozzy Osbourne silenced a world of naysayers when he rose from the ashes of his ugly departure from Black Sabbath on the winds of his ‘Blizzard of Ozz.’ With the incomparable guitar phenom, Randy Rhoads, by his side, Ozzy helped shape ’80s metal with songs like “Crazy Train,” “Suicide Solution” and “Mr. Crowley.”
5. Pantera, ‘Vulgar Display of Power’
(EastWest, 1992) If Pantera’s uncompromising ‘Vulgar Display of Power’ didn’t save heavy metal outright during the early ’90s’ grunge assault, it certainly showed the way forward for scores of beleaguered metal merchants. In fact, muscular, pulverizing offerings like “Mouth for War,” “Walk” and “F**king Hostile” (soon simplified with the “groove metal” tag) fed into fans’ similarly embattled frame of mind and gave them something to rally around.
4. Slayer, ‘Reign in Blood’
(Def American, 1986) The most intense 30 minutes in music history, and probably the ultimate thrash album when all is said and done, ‘Reign in Blood’ transformed Slayer from band to religion, almost overnight. With its controversial themes, inspired songwriting, and breathless blitzkrieg ‘Reign’ was the complete package: pissing off parents and seducing their kids just like the best heavy metal should.
3. Iron Maiden, ‘The Number of the Beast’
(EMI, 1982) Iron Maiden’s third LP overall, and their first with singer Bruce Dickinson, ‘The Number of the Beast,’ is probably the ’80s quintessential, pure heavy metal album. Every metalhead worth his or her salt can usually recite most of the lyrics to the galloping “Run to the Hills,” the occult-laced title cut and the dramatic mini-epic “Hallowed Be Thy Name,” and then there are next-tier classics like “22 Acacia Avenue,” “Chlidren of the Damned,” etc.
2. Metallica, ‘Master of Puppets’
(Elektra Records, 1986) The most widely acclaimed expression of Metallica’s original thrash metal vision, ‘Master of Puppets’ has justifiably gone down as the thrash gods’ magnum opus, and, by extension, one of heavy metal’s ultimate albums. Half of its songs are thrash metal standards and others like “Disposable Heroes” and “Orion” trump the best work of most of the competition.
1. Black Sabbath, ‘Paranoid’
(Vertigo Records, 1970) The ultimate heavy metal prototype, ‘Paranoid’ improved upon Black Sabbath’s template-setting debut and proved this heavy metal thing was no fluke when it topped the UK charts and shifted millions of copies in America. And how could it not, with leviathan doom anthems for the ages like “War Pigs,” “Iron Man” and “Hand of Doom,” plus the title track’s efficient bludgeoning serving as a welcome change-of-pace hit.