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The Pantheon (Bow Down Before the Gods of Metal)

"What do you mean I don't know metal? Hell, back in the day, I butt-rocked with the best of them."

Well, that's what I would've said to the irate Crushed fan if she'd bothered to leave a name and number earlier this month when she called to dress me down for not putting her favorite Phoenix metal combo on the cover of New Times instead of those mod-rock pansies in Trunk Federation. "Crushed just signed a record deal that makes Trunk Federation's look like a coin in a tin cup," she informed me, competing for volume with the screaming baby in the background.

Well, I seriously doubt that. But congratulations are in order--Crushed has indeed signed a multirecord deal with the California indie label 911 Records, and the band is scheduled to record a debut album later this summer in the Bay Area. For my money, Crushed is the best set of headbangers in the Valley--skull-crushing hard rock with an eerie gothic tinge. That's why I nominated it for best metal band in the first New Times Music Awards Showcase, Ms. Hissy Fit, Ms. "Crushed has never received one shred of recognition in the New Times music section." Hah! I got your recognition right here where Blackie Lawless used to store his sawblade, baby.

Sorry, sorry. I lost the reins there for a second. But you have to understand, this caller got my goat (and then, in proper metal fashion, she probably sacrificed it). It wasn't her shrill tone, and it wasn't that she kept her complaints anonymous (although it's curious how bold people get when they're only talking to tape). It was that she rounded out her diatribe with ". . . and you obviously don't know the first thing about metal." Au contraire. It seems I have a point to prove, so here you go--an entire New Times music section devoted to the music that made Twisted Sister famous, closed out with my picks for the ten mightiest metal albums of all eons. Ready? Rock on:

Back in Black

Ass-kicking Aussie metal. The first AC/DC record with Brian Johnson, who replaced vomit-gargler Bon Scott. Slash-and-burn guitar work on the title track and the legendary adolescent fuck-fantasy "You Shook Me All Night Long" earned the beknickered Angus Young an early throne in the pantheon of '80s guitar gods. Classic lyrics include the Camille Paglia favorite "She was a fast machine, she kept her motor clean" from "Shook Me" and "Forget about the check, we'll get hell to pay" from "Have a Drink on Me," a particularly tasteless number for Johnson to sing so soon after his predecessor's drunken demise.

Kill 'em All

Speed metal started here, when four garage headbangers in San Francisco whipped up an album by stringing together snippets of Gatling-gun riffs fired off at extreme velocity. Some speed metal is faster today, but none of it's better than "Whiplash," "Seek and Destroy" or "Four Horsemen." James Hetfield's lyrics were an afterthought, but his visions of Armageddon do little harm. Original bassist Cliff Burton's solo on "Anesthesia" has yet to be topped (Burton died three years later when he got bus-crunched). Classic lyrics: "My mother was a witch/She was burned alive" ("Am I Evil").

The Scorpions
Love at First Sting

Formed in 1971, this band of German hard rockers weathered heavy metal's rise and fall, and they're still huge in Japan. Love at First Sting, which recently went gold in Indonesia (no shit), nailed mid-'80s crossover metal at its epoch. The bar-chord lead riff on "Rock You Like a Hurricane" is one of the purest ever, and "Still Loving You" is a sweet little power ballad. "Bad Boys Running Wild" and "Big City Nights" play solid supporting roles.

Black Sabbath

This definitive proto-metal album by Ozzy Osbourne's original band contains "War Pigs" and "Iron Man," the latter probably the best-known heavy-metal song of all time. The title track was a minor radio hit and is featured on the soundtrack to the Richard Linklater flick Dazed and Confused. Classic line: "People think I'm insane because I am frowning all the time" ("Paranoid").

Iron Maiden
The Number of the Beast

The best blend of legitimate hard-rock musicianship with laughably earnest pretensions of the macabre certain to get any born-againer's Fruit of the Looms in a twist. The heavy-drum-beat/guitar-salvo intro to "The Prisoner" rises to a peak moment in metal songcraft. Also, "Hallowed Be Thy Name" rides a smooth, strong crescendo from mournful ballad to frantic, screeching rocker (and, boy, can Bruce Dickinson screech).

Van Halen
Van Halen

The only album by these early L.A. metal-scene champions worth owning. David Lee Roth is a lousy lead singer--all pomp and no pump--but Eddie Van Halen's groundbreaking guitar wizardry makes this recording soar. Critics didn't believe his playing on the classic solo "Eruption" was possible, and accused Van Halen of speeding up the studio masters. Also excellent are "Running With the Devil" (try to ignore Roth's wounded-monkey impersonation in the fade-out) and "Ice Cream Man." Classic lyrics: Anytime David Lee Roth shuts the fuck up.

Motley Crue
Shout at the Devil

These L.A. glamour boys one-upped Iron Maiden on the satanic shtick with this one, but several songs here are primo headbang fodder. "Looks That Kill" is razor-sharp, and "Red Hot" is just that. Nasty as they wanted to be, these Circus magazine poster children recorded themselves having sex with groupies in the studio and mixed a tape of the proceedings into "Ten Seconds of Love."

Reign in Blood

With this album, Slayer carved out a new, higher, finely wrought level of verbal and sonic speed-metal carnage. If you only want to own one death-metal album, this is it. Soaked in the high-octane drag-race guitar work of dual leadists Jeff Hanneman and Kerry King and riddled with stories of horrible acts told from the perspective of their mutilated victims, Reign in Blood is disturbing, but damn good.

Alice in Chains
Jar of Flies EP

Where Soundgarden started out as a grunge band and wormed its way into the metal scene, Alice in Chains is the real deal--a '90s metal band with the chops to jump genre and break through to the larger alternative market. Jar of Flies captured this band's arena-rock brilliance and Layne Staley's junkie-journal lyrics right before the band went on hiatus to give Staley a chance to kick. Last year's comeback album was good, but not this good.

Under Lock & Key

Widely underrated, Dokken first dented the charts with "Breakin' the Chains," the title single off its 1982 debut, then followed it up with a hit called "In My Dreams" off this nearly flawless pop-metal album. George Lynch is a blistering, innovative soloist, and when he wasn't duking it out with bandleader and prima-donna vocalist Don Dokken, the two of them managed to forge an album's worth of high-grade metal. Check out "It's Not Love" and "Lightning Strikes Again." Lyrical content revolves around generic teenage angst and lust, but Dokken's clarity and range are impressive.

P.S. Anyone have any idea what Dee Snider is up to these days? Just curious.
--David Holthouse

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David Holthouse
Contact: David Holthouse

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