Heavy Metal has been around for a long time. So long, that it's impossible to make a comprehensive list of the best albums. This list attempts to nail down the classics, with a few personal preferences thrown in, since anyone who listens to music objectively is kidding themselves, or missing the point.
I've ignored nu-metal and even most thrash metal, sticking to a few good ones and paying special attention to a few bands who some metalheads don't consider metal. Technically speaking, I could've loaded this list up with Sir Lord Baltimore albums and not been wrong. But I don't own any Sir Lord Baltimore albums, so it didn't seem fair to pose, since I learned back in high school that all posers must die!
I also kept to a rule of one album per band, since otherwise we might be looking at a list of six Sabbath albums, four Metallica and so on...
Special thanks, once again, to John Chernack of Fantom Warior and Joey Leshko of Back From the Dead for their suggestions. They helped me shape this list, but the final choices were mine and they likely are horrified by certain decisions on my part.
25) Aerosmith - Rocks: You don't get Guns 'n' Roses or just about every 1980s glam-metal band without the torrent of Joe Perry-Brad Whitford riffs on this album. If this album doesn't give you a headache, well, then you just don't like headaches!
24) Uriah Heep - Look At Yourself: The Heep got some truly awful reviews in their day and, of course, they were the model for Spinal Tap. Fact is, all metal bands got terrible reviews for years, until their fans were finally old enough to get jobs at music magazines and let the old people know they couldn't just like Bob Dylan over and over. The Heep's early records have aged quite well. If you love organ! Picked this one because it has "July Morning." Maybe people judged them by their album covers, which were only cool to extremely slow third-graders.
23) Thin Lizzy - Vagabonds of the Western World: More like the "roots" of heavy metal than actual metal, I suppose. But, damn, if Phil Lynott didn't want to make music that was both heavy and that could make the young girls swoon!
22) Bloodrock - Bloodrock: Another band that received terrible reviews, Bloodrock wrote songs like "Fantastic Piece of Architecture" and "Melvin Laid An Egg." Managed and produced by Terry Knight, the same guy who was doing the same for Grand Funk Railroad, Bloodrock suffered from so much guilt by association that even their fans felt a little dirty. Me? Guilty as charged!
21) Rush - Moving Pictures: The early records might be the heavier ones, but I'll take the ones with the hits. Because Rush prove your hits can be quite enjoyable without turning things into cheese factory central. Remember folks, "quick to judge, quick to anger, slow to understand." Ouch, that hurts.
20) Electric Wizard - Dopethrone: Stoner rock deserves a place on this list, if only because someone has to keep the Black Sabbath dream alive. Besides, when heavy metal started out, it was all about wine and Quaaludes. And coma and death!
19) Kiss - Alive!: Who doesn't love an eternal drum solo? Who doesn't love Paul Stanley's stage banter? Who doesn't love hearing these songs come "Alive"? Who thinks the band went back in and sweetened the tracks? Who doesn't wish Kiss called it a day after the original foursome were no more?
18) Venom - Black Metal: I've never been much of a Satan guy myself. I'm not a big fan of anyone who doesn't speak to me directly. But I can appreciate the efforts of those who are so completely around the bend that you have to stop and think, really?
17) Raven - All For One: It's a damn shame that these guys cheesed out, because it's had a negative effect on their standing in metal history. Sure, the hardcore metal guys who were there in 1983 acknowledge their importance, but most of the shinier, newer metal fans are completely unaware and get it wrong!
16) Voivod - Dimension Hatross: It's not really my style to dig something with song titles like "Technocratic Manipulators" or "Macrosolutions to Megaproblems." After all, I've never even read the owner's manual to anything I own. I just push buttons and hope for the best. But I remember hearing this album and it was very, very loud.
15) Pantera - Vulgar Display of Power: This is a metal album for metalheads. No one else need apply. Phil "Snow In San" Anselmo isn't interesting in reaching new fans or crossing over to people who like synth-pop or any music played on the radio. There are absolutely no songs about chicks and partying on this album! At least I don't think that's what he's singing about.
14) Mercyful Fate - Don't Break The Oath: Frequent readers of the blog know I have a real soft spot for ol' King Diamond. Again with the Satan! But really it's all about the guitar players and the way they weave a spider web that catches all the bugs.
13) AC/DC - High Voltage: Back in Black is the album everyone owns and deservedly so. But it was their original singer Bon Scott, not Brian Johnson, who gave the group their creep factor. He sang like he was picking up your girlfriend while shaking your hand. Actually, it wasn't like he was doing that. He was doing that.
12) Blue Cheer - Vincebus Eruptum: Had Blue Cheer been more consistent and stayed together for decades they might be more fondly remembered by today's legions of loud. Like most early heavy metal, they were rooted in the blues. But you get the feeling the only reason they were was because the blues had the only songs they could figure out.
11) Judas Priest - Stained Class: This is the first Priest album to put their sound together and to get a production that sounds like the producer was interested in doing his job. Whatever blues the band possessed is gone, gone, gone and they're ready to take metal to its next plateau. Other albums might be more popular and successful but you got to pause here unless you're a jerk!
10) Iron Maiden - Piece of Mind: You can make an argument for any of their first five albums, but I was always partial to this one. Why? Who knows? Maybe it had something to do with getting a new stereo and borrowing this album from a friend of mine. Sounds like as good a reason as anything else.
9) Led Zeppelin - II: The "Brown Bomber" is a terror, made all the better for its use of dynamics. Jimmy Page understood the importance of leaving sonic space in order to make objects sound louder than they appear. And Robert Plant knew that women wanted to hear him fake an orgasm. Meg Ryan learned a lot from this album.
8) Deep Purple - Machine Head: For some reason, Deep Purple have been left behind. Where legions of Zep and Sabbath fans keep their bands front and center, Purpleheads have either died off or found other things to do. "Smoke On The Water" was the band's "Stairway to Heaven," the radio tune that every guitar player learned the intro to. But that's no reason to ignore "Highway Star" and "Space Truckin'." Maybe Ritchie Blackmore didn't sign a contract extension with Satan!
7) Robin Trower - Bridge of Sighs: I've interviewed a number of guitar shredders over the years and nearly all of them praised the works of Robin Trower. Any of the first four Trower solo albums are worth studying and applying their lessons to your daily life. The pictures of the band make them look like coked-out burnouts who spent too much time in the sun. In other words, awesome!
6) Metallica - Master of Puppets: Long before the band began spending $40,000 a month on therapy sessions and arguing over whether guitar solos could or could not be admitted to their songs, Master began Metallica's and thrash metal's trip to the mainstream. Elektra Records signed the band and the group's success went well beyond their huge cult following. It's also the last Metallica album with bassist Cliff Burton before their tour bus fell on him.
5) Slayer - Reign In Blood: It's nearly impossible to choose just one Slayer album. Each of the group's early records set new land speed records for how heavy and fast a metal band could be. Even crazier, it was the band's first album to crack the Billboard charts, proving that bands needn't compromise their sound to attain a broader appeal. Producer Rick Rubin improved the sound and tightened up the songs so nobody could possibly get bored with any of it. The original issue of the album came in at under 30 minutes. I so wish bands today would do things like this.
4) Van Halen - Fair Warning: As the greatest band to ever sing about chicks and partying, Van Halen also motored along with a rhythm section that sounded like it was playing sideways and with a guitar player who sounded like he was fixing his guitar while playing the riffs. Throw David Lee Roth on top, who sounds like he's making other plans for after the show, and you've got a band that sounds both distracted and completely in tune with anarchy. It's always about the sound, after all.
3) The Jimi Hendrix Experience - Are You Experienced?: Jimi's guitar tone is one for the ages. If "Manic Depression" isn't a proto-type for metal, what might it be? Hendrix simply had too much else to do to stick with anything for too long. Crap, had he lived long enough, he likely would've ended up playing jazz!
2) Motorhead - Ace of Spades: You'll never get a more fluid rhythm section than Motorhead. Where other bands bang around, Motorhead float on air, all while Lemmy sings like a man experiencing a very herniated hernia.
1) Black Sabbath - Master of Reality: The first six Black Sabbath albums - the ones not named Technical Ecstasy and Never Say Die - all deserve to be considered the textbooks for everything heavy metal was and would become. It should be a lesson to every student of metal that Ozzy sings like no one else and drummer Bill Ward just does whatever he feels like. There were no rules, just ideas. They were interesting because they were different and because they often sounded like their minds were broke!