Here Are 10 Metal Albums You Must Hear Before You Die
By Alex Distefano
I have been a heavy metal fan for over 50 percent of my existence on this planet. But when you're talking about the all-encompassing musical genre known as "heavy metal," you might as well be talking about something as infinitely complicated as the universe. It's that vast, and the amount of territory to cover is limitless, especially for the uninitiated.
From traditional heavy metal, to the many sub-genres of metal -- black metal, thrash, death metal, grindcore, etc. -- there seems to be an eternity of music out there, from the younger up-and-comers to old-school favorites that stand the test of time. Coming up with a list of 10 was not as easy a task. After hours upon hours of listening, serious contemplation, and coin-flipping, I managed to come up with a list that, although definitely biased towards a more aggressive and extreme forms of heavy metal, still highlights some amazing albums that contain solid musicianship and, above all, great songs.
10. Mercyful Fate, Melissa (1983)
How could I have any sort of legitimate discussion about anything metal without including one of the most revered vocalists in the genre, King Diamond? This debut album, released by Mercyful Fate in 1983, is a classic record for anyone who's into heavy metal. Melissa was definitely ahead of its time and was at the forefront of heavy metal music.
Interestingly, Diamond was the first to use corpse paint on his face as part of his live act, and the songs on Melissa (and later releases) paved the way for black metal, power metal, thrash metal and even major acts such as Metallica, Megadeth, and Slayer among a countless horde of other metal bands. King Diamond's high-pitched operatic voice is so distinct you can tell it's him from the first note, and Melissa set that standard. Classics include the opening track "Evil," "Into the Coven," "Curse of the Pharaohs," "Black Funeral," and "Satan's Fall." Without this album, modern-day bands like Ghost would not exist.
9. Possessed, Seven Churches (1985)
Seven Churches , the debut album from Possessed, is pivotal to the entire sub-genre of death metal, and founding member Jeff Becerra (bass/vocals) is even said to have coined the term "death metal" in 1983; it's the title of the last song on this record. To this day, this collection of songs is revered as not only the first death metal album, but the missing link between death metal, thrash metal, and even -- some might argue -- black metal. Original guitarist Larry LaLonde (currently in Primus) buzzes through heavy-hitting songs like "Burning In Hell," "Pentagram," Evil Warriors," "Satan's Curse," and the smashing, evil yet melodic first song, "The Exorcist."
8. Angel Witch, Angel Witch (1980)
This self-titled album by British band Angel Witch was an integral part of the NWOBHM (New Wave of British Heavy Metal) movement. With the sounds now known as traditional heavy metal, Angel Witch is a timeless piece of music that came before heavy metal was brutal, but that didn't mean it wasn't dark. With songs such as the classic title track and others like "White Witch," "Sorceress," "Atlantis," and the final song "Devil's Tower," this album is an epic heavy metal classic. Even though it certainly doesn't come to match the brutality or harsh sound of black metal, thrash or death, this album paved the way for all three sub-genres of heavy metal music and is timeless in its ability to captivate metal fans old and young for generations to come.
7. Cannibal Corpse, The Bleeding (1994)
This was the Florida-based death metal band's last release with original vocalist Chris Barnes, and it remains one of the sickest, most brutal death metal albums ever recorded. Even though this album came out in 1994, everything about it is still extreme, from the musical insanity, speed, brutality, and technicality to the lyrics, artwork, and song titles. Fans were pleased and critics were repulsed by over-the-top songs such as "Fucked with a Knife," "Force Fed Broken Glass," "She Was Asking for It," and "Stripped, Raped and Strangled." Accusations were made by some that the titles went too far, but the band has always insisted it was the same form of entertainment as a horror flick and should never be taken literally.
This album is held together (as on most Cannibal Corpse albums, including recent offerings) by the rhythm section. The pairing of madman drummer Paul Mazurkiewicz and bass player Alex Webster, who both pound away relentlessly at their instruments, creates pulverizing rhythms that perfectly complement Barnes' defining death metal growls. Not to mention the killer riffs, and grooves of guitarists Rob Barret and Jack Owen. This is another record that is not for the faint of heart but should be appreciated in its own context. Definitely a must-have for any fan of death metal or extreme metal.
6. Type O Negative, Dead Again (2007)
Here's an instance where I can foresee some die-hard Type O Negative fans getting angry over the fact that I chose the band's seventh and final album rather than an earlier release. I would argue Dead Again is the band's most powerful and ironic work of its career.
This album is a literal example of life imitating art (or, in this instance, death). Sadly, this was the last album Type O Negative would release. Singer and composer Peter Steele died of heart failure at 2010, at age 48. Steele admitted to years of hardcore substance and alcohol abuse. He was often known to drink a huge jug of red wine (or two) during each Type O Negative concert to cope with nervousness, anxiety, and stage fright.
There is a manic-depressive, upbeat, yet apocalyptic feel to Dead Again, but it flows perfect with the right balance of gloomy, slow, and the speed of hardcore punk. The songs creep up on you like slow bite, releasing their venom slowly. Tunes such as "Tripping a Blind Man," "Halloween in Heaven," and "The Profit of Doom" reveal a band that is both menacing and mysterious as it is melodic. Steele often cited the Beatles as a major influence on Type O Negative's music. But, of course, each song contains the trademark abrasive, doom-y, depressed vibe that Type O Negative became known for. Best listened to with a glass of red wine. Or a bottle, or two.
5. Repulsion, Horrified (1989)
Horrified is the only full-length album released by Repulsion. Recorded in 1986 and released in 1989, Repulsion weren't just another typical death metal band. Hailing from Detroit, the band's foundation includes bands such as Celtic Frost, Hellhammer, Discharge, Venom, Bathory, and early Slayer. This hybrid of hardcore punk and the early stages of death metal is what made Repulsion stand apart, and once the drumming became faster, an even faster, more extreme form of metal was created: grindcore.
There is little doubt Repulsion was among the first to incorporate super-short songs, brutal vocals, blast beats, shredding solos, and punk-like choruses. Napalm Death, Exhumed, Pig Destroyer, Cephalic Carnage, and countless others in the death metal/grindcore genre have praised the band as the forefathers of grind.
Horrified is a sick and twisted slab of very short songs, focusing on tales of cannibalism, rancid corpses, zombies, blood, gore, the horrors of war, and the apocalypse. Opening song "Eaten Alive," as well as tracks like "Pestilent Decay," "Acid Bath," Splattered Cadavers," "Crematorium," "Radiation Sickness," and "Slaughter of the Innocent," give listeners a taste of the brutality and intensity that the entire albums revolves around.
4. Motorhead, Motorizer (2008)
I know I am going to get a tons of shit for including an album by Motorhead not made early in the band's career. Send me all the hate e-mail you want, and by no means do I intend to disrespect any of Motorhead's early releases, including but not limited to the eponymous debut, Overkill, Bomber, Ace of Spades, Orgasmatron , etc.
Motorizer was released in 2008 and was the band's 19th studio album. Lemmy was 63 at the time of its release, an age most people are getting ready for retirement. But from the sounds of this record Motorhead was far from ready to call things quits, and Motorizer's songs are full of fist-pumping "Rock N Roll" (as it is called by Lemmy) that transcend punk rock, traditional metal, and thrash metal. Even though it was only recorded five years ago, it still sounds like classic Motorhead. Tracks like "When the Eagle Screams, " "One Short Life," and "Buried Alive," prove that Lemmy, along with drummer Mikkey Dee, and guitarist Phil Campbell are here for the long run and have no plans for an early retirement, even to this day.
3. Cryptopsy, None So Vile (1996)
This is an extreme metal album, not for the faint of heart. Uncompromising doesn't even begin to describe this album's sound and impact on the listener. This is Cyptopsy's second album, released in 1996, and features vocalist Lord Worm, bassist Eric Langlois, guitarist Jon Levassuer and drummer Flo Mounier. Clocking in just over a half-hour, the record is full of riffs that are punishing yet catchy and filled with groove to give the listener a collection of songs that can easily stick in your head.
Songs such as "Slit Your Guts," "Dead and Dripping," and "Phobophile" showcase the true stamina and raw power of Mounier's phenomenal drumming speed and talent, as well as the crisp, impressive bass skills of Eric Langlois. It all works to bring this album together, along with the Lord Worms' inhuman, guttural vocals and tortured screams. Before the first song begins, a sample from the movie The Excorcist III: Legion lets listeners know they are in for some of the most harsh, technical, and punishing death metal known to man.
2. Dissection, Storm of the Light's Bane (2002)
I admit it: I have a bias for good old-fashioned, church-burning early-'90s Norwegian black metal. Though I cannot disrespect albums by bands such as Mayhem, Emperor or Immortal, I decided to go with Dissection's 1995 classic album, Storm of the Light's Bane . This record is simultaneously symphonic and overtly satanic. It is possessed by both a melodic spirit and an evil dark entity that emphasizes the eerie feelings and macabre mood of the songs contained within.
From the onset, the instrumental intro allows listeners to enter into a trance, as the thundering, gothic, a slower guitar riffs fade away but build up to the first track, "Night's Blood," to the concluding song, "No Dreams Breed in Breathless Sleep." Instantly, Dissection -- founded in Sweden by guitarist/vocalist Jon Nodveidt in 1989 -- found its niche in dark, extreme, anti-Christian themed metal, first starting out as a thrash band then evolving into an evil, melodic, blackened death metal group with distinctive dual harmony guitar sound it became known for.
Storm of the Light's Bane was the band's second full-length and was obviously more produced than the band's debut album, 1993's The Slomberlain. This sound is cleaner, crisper, and more polished, but that still doesn't take away from the haunting effect. Each song could be a classic on its own, like many of the other albums on this list. Tunes like "Unhallowed," "Where Dead Angels Lie," and "Soulreaper," encompass moments of sheer, dark medieval times, despair, agony and evil supremacy. Light a black candle before you listen to this one!
1. Slayer, Reign in Blood (1986)
It's not only appropriate to include Slayer in this list, it's fucking mandatory. The heavy metal community is still grieving over the death of founding guitarist Jeff Hanneman, but even without Hanneman's tragic, untimely passing, this album would still have been at the top of the list. Released in 1986, Reign in Blood is, to this day, unmatched in its rage, speed, attitude and thrash-metal brilliance. These 10 tracks brought heavy metal music to a new level -- plain and simple.
From the opening track (and quite possibly both Slayer's and thrash metal's best song ever), "Angel of Death," to the last song, "Raining Blood," there literally is never a dull moment for this entire 29-minute musical cacophony that pretty much set the standard for all metal bands after them. Reign in Blood is a record that will get you head banging 'til your nose bleeds and amped up enough to jump into a mosh pit, even in if you're alone in your bedroom.
Reign In Blood was Slayer's first collaboration with producer Rick Rubin, and lyrically the band kept on pushing the envelope, as lead songwriter and lyricist Hanneman once again brought his passion for Satanism, criminality in society, the nature of evil, and the atrocities of the Third Reich to life.
The Ten Most Metal Deaths of Metal Musicians The 10 Coolest, Scariest, Freakiest Songs About Heroin 9 Metal Stars Dead Before Their Time Can We Stop Inventing New Metal Subgenres? 9 Tips for Using A Fake ID To Get Into A Show
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.