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The Twenty Greatest Metal Albums Of All Time

Death To All But Metal!

Where does one begin? Seriously, how does one even begin to compile such a list? I have thought about this many, many times over the course of several years and I end up frustrating the hell out of myself!

I try to think back over a lifetime of listening to music and break it all down into some sort of sensical list.

Over the years, the list does change but the following records that have made the cut are ones that have stayed with me over the course of decades. Either that or they were some of the most influential records of my time. Records which influenced me both as a musician (back in the day when I was in a band) and as a punter and Rock photographer these days. I still play them. Regularly. I still love them!

In short, these are albums which have stood the test of time, defined a generation, influenced countless of other bands and to this day sound as vibrant, fresh and alive as they did on their day of release. Bona fide classics… each and every one.

Looking over the list, I have managed to photograph 6 of the 20 bands featured. 🙂

I must say though, whilst compiling this list, it was certainly great to revisit a lot of these records and listening to them again. It proved, to myself at least, that I had made the right decision on all of them. Certainly there is room for discussion and disagreement, but you point me to your Top 20 when you’re done and we’ll all argue till we’re blue in the face!

Enjoy!

* When compiling this list the only rule I had – was that no band could appear twice.

My bedroom, circa 1985. If you look closely, there’s a door under all that.

Motorhead - Another Perfect Day

20: Motörhead – Another Perfect Day (1983)

This is controversial one and one that will probably piss off/confuse some people. Just as Brian Robertson joining Motörhead confused so many back in the day. No one could understand why Robbo was now in the band after the departure of Fast Eddie Clarke. Indeed, Motörhead do have many more classic albums prior to Another Perfect Day in their catalogue but for mine, I loved and love this record.

As torturous as it was for both Lemmy and Phil to work with Robbo, he brought a new level of musicianship to the band. The songs were tamer. More melodic.

Still there was friction from the outset. Whilst Lemmy would appear onstage in his usual leathers and jeans garb, Robbo would antagonise the hell out of Lemmy and the crowd by appearing in satin shorts and the like.

The album was a vast departure for Motörhead at the time, but over the years, many have come back to it and rediscovered the sea of lost gems throughout its grooves.

For mine, it is my ‘go-to’ Motörhead album when I’m in the mood for some Lemmy and co. It is unique in the Motörhead discography. It stands out utterly from all the other Motörhead prior and after its release.

Pantera - Vulgar Display Of Power

19: Pantera – Vulgar Display Of Power (1992)

Power! Pure and simple! Power! It hits you from the opening boom of Mouth For War and finally lets you go somewhere at the tail-end of Hollow.

Pantera are a band that could not work without even one member of the band missing. It is on that sad note, that Pantera in any other form, could not, should not – ever perform again. With the shocking death of guitarist Dimebag, the chance of Pantera every performing again, were now gone. Let it rest. Leave it be and just remember what they left us.

Vulgar Display Of Power stands as Pantera’s defining hour. So ferocious. So brutal. So classic. A relentless slab of blunt force trauma. The soundtrack to a brawl. The sound of bone meeting bone.

The sound of a fist pumping in the air in protest. This is it.

Brutal!

Queensryche - Rage For Order

18: Queensrÿche – Rage For Order (1986)

“Wait a minute! Don’t you mean Queensrÿche – Operation Mindcrime? What sort of malarkey is this?”

It’s as if a million voices all at once just spoke. I hear you… but, for mine – Rage For Order was the one that completely blew me away.

Queensrÿche were the Metal press’ media darlings at the time. Bursting into the scene with a killer demo tape which became the 1982 EP ‘Queensrÿche’. By 1984, they were already appearing on the cover of the Metal mags and released the amazing ‘The Warning’ album. A fantastic slab of tunes ruined by a poor mix but enough to get 5 star reviews the world over regardless.

By the next album, Rage For Order, the band had matured into an incredible, versatile and original band. Rage For Order features a band willing to experiment and take chances. Progressive and multi-layered with all manner of sounds bordering on Industrial and Electronica influences mixed with the traditional Metal guitars, bass, drums.

It is an epic album both grandiose and majestic and the band’s label EMI were fully behind it. So much so that the label insist the band take on an almost New Romantic image which was met with a huge backlash by fans.

It was a wrong move and served to alienate many, no matter how good the music was.

To me, Rage For Order stayed on my turntable for a long time and in actual fact, was also the very first compact disc I ever bought. It is an album I often return to these days and easily one of the band’s finest offerings.

Other contenders: Queensrÿche – Operation Mindcrime

17: Manowar – Battle Hymns (1982)

You at the back! You, yes you! Stop laughing! Yes, they wear loin-cloths. And carry plastic swords. I hear you. Loud and clear. But… strip that all back, slap the record on (any one of their records) and what have you got? You’ve got pure balls to the wall METAL! And they believe in it! Oh do they believe!

They signed their contracts in their own blood. (KISS poured their blood into the red ink for their 1977 Marvel comic book. Bill Aucoin managed both KISS and Manowar, so I guess we know where this blood fetish came from!) They play concerts (in Europe only, which seems to be their only market) to maximum volume and capacity.

I’d still kill to see them here in Oz. Man oh man, what a trip that would be!

Manowar have a fantastic body of work throughout their entire career. Battle Hymns however, was one that has left a lasting impression.

Other contenders: Manowar – Into Glory Ride, Manowar – Hail To England

Scorpions - Blackout

16: Scorpions – Blackout (1982)

The NWOBHM (New Wave Of British Heavy Metal) was in full force by the time the Scorpions released their breakthrough album Blackout. German lads Scorpions would jump onto that bandwagon even if they were from across the pond. Metal was generating interest once again, fuelled by the UK scene and what was about to happen in the USA.

It very much was an album that may have never seen the light of day as lead singer Klaus Meine had completely lost his voice requiring surgery to fix his damaged vocal cords. (Demos of the album feature Don Dokken on lead vocals!)

The Scorpions had great success with this album which launched them into the big time on a global scale.

By the time Blackout was released, the Scorpions had been on the scene for close to 17 years. The band had paid its dues and were ready to enjoy the platinum success that Blackout afforded them.

A sure sign of the album’s glory is that the band continued to play a majority of this album live for many, many years after its release.

Distinctive vocals, broken English aside, killer riffs, amazing lead breaks over some catchy-as-hell Metal and you’ve got yourself a classic on your hands.

Other contenders: Scorpions – Animal Magnetism

15: Thin Lizzy – Black Rose: A Rock Legend (1979)

This was the first Thin Lizzy record I had in my collection. Memories of this are of me playing it to absolute death and learning every single drum lick and fill throughout. I think if you slapped this one on today, I cold air-drum the entire album without missing a beat.

Featuring the classic Lynott, Gorham, Moore and Downey line-up, Black Rose went on to become Thin Lizzy’s most successful studio album.

Blistering harmony lead guitar throughout overlaying some fluid-as-hell Phil Lynott bass guitar and Downey’s drumming. Just so fuckn perfect in every way.

And each and every St Patrick’s Day, I’ll pull this sucker out and blast the title track out nice and loud. Even tho I don’t have a single shred of Irish DNA in my entire family tree, you play this one nice and loud for old Philo!

Other contenders: Thin Lizzy – Jailbreak, Thin Lizzy – Thunder & Lightning

14: Rush – Moving Pictures (1981)

When one listens to Rush’s Moving Pictures, one never skips a song or only listens to one song alone. This is an album. A complete, cohesive package designed to be heard (loud) and throughout. Don’t listen, experience!

Moving Pictures is the complete package. From the visuals to the music, it is the complete Rush experience and acts as a bridge for the Rush albums that came before it, and the ones that followed. It is an album of a band hitting its peak. Top of the mountain. There is no moments of filler here. None to be seen. The record flows from the opening crash of Tom Sawyer to the fading out of Vital Signs.

Flawless!

Other contenders: Rush – Hold Your Fire

13: Megadeth – Rust In Peace (1990)

Can you imagine what would have happened if one night Dave Mustaine stumbled across this here blog and found no trace of Megadeth whilst his Big Four compatriots Slayer, Anthrax and Metallica were well represented? Tears would surely flow!

I can’t remember what the order of the Big Four gigs were but surely it would have been Megadeth, then Anthrax, Slayer, and Metallica closing it all off. Refresh my memory dear reader, is that how it went? If it didn’t – it should have.

Ok, whilst I’m being a bit of a cunt, can you imagine a band with both Mustaine and Ulrich in it? Seriously! Ponder that thought for a minute. I reckon Hatfield would have topped himself sometime around 1985 had Metallica continued with that line up.

Ok, ok – all kidding aside, and I am kidding folks. Megadeth got their shit well and truly together in 1990 and released this ball-tearer of an album. Their finest hour… Rust In Peace.

A Thrash Metal classic and one each and every road-dog who labels himself as a headbanger should/must have in their collection.

Rust In Peace sits on the cusp of when Metal was getting awfully stupid – and when the Grunge era was about to land hard. (Grunge killed Hair Metal, the KISS Reunion in 1996 killed off the stinking carcass of Grunge once and for all. So sayeth I!)

What a muthafuckin killer album this is. Stellar playing through each band member. Even Dave’s vocals don’t sound like a wounded cow giving birth! (Dave, I really do love you ok?)

Other contenders: Megadeth – So Far, So Good, So What

12: Anthrax – Among The Living (1987)

The third of the ‘Big Four’ in this Top 20, Among The Living is Anthrax’s finest hour and the one that launched them into the big time. Many Anthrax fans cite this one as their fave – and it is easy to see why.

Among The Living was the band’s third album and their second with Joey Belladonna, who replaced Neil Turbin after the first album.

By 1987, Belladonna had settled in nicely and accepted his role within a Thrash Metal band even though his vocal stylings were more AOR suited.

Anthrax had developed a style of their own by 1987 and were never afraid to mix in their love for geekdom, bermuda shorts, comic books, and rap music within their sound and ethos.

Could Anthrax have been the catalyst for the Nu Metal movement of the 90’s? They perfectly mixed rap with metal long before the Nu Metal dweebs took hold and made a mockery of it all!

Could Anthrax have been the catalyst for the Hardcore and Metal crossover? Well maybe not Anthrax, but their sister band S.O.D (Stormtroopers Of Death) certainly did.

Ahead of their time on so many levels, Anthrax gifted the Metal community with their best album in their catalogue – Among The Living!

Other contenders: Antheax – Sound Of White Noise, Anthrax – Volume 8 The Threat Is Real

11: Dio – Holy Diver (1983)

Ah Ronnie, only you could make it onto this list in two separate bands. Only you. And if I was doing a top 30, you’d probably feature again with Rainbow’s Long Live Rock N Roll opus.

What I would have give to be in your photo-pit Ronnie. To have photographed the legend, the king that is Ronnie James Dio. Alas, it wasn’t to be. (I have seen Dio live twice tho. Once in the mid-eighties at Festival Hall whilst touring for the Sacred Heart album(?) and fronting Heaven And Hell sometime in ’08 from memory. Probably the only two gigs I have squealed like a little girl at her first concert I can assure you!

Holy Diver would rank as the best album under the Dio monicker. Easily.

Rising from the ashes and exodus from Black Sabbath, Ronnie picked himself up off the ground, dusted himself off and formed a band with Sabbath’s fill in drummer Vinny Appice (drummer on the superb Mob Rules and Live Evil Black Sabbath albums). Adding Jimmy Bain to the mix and a hot, young new Irish guitarist in Vivian Campbell, and within months he was ready to take on the world again.

Holy Diver is an astounding debut. Considering the circumstances of his leaving Black Sabbath, to form a band and produce such a classic as this and arguably the best album to feature the Dio name on it, is an astounding feat.

Featuring not one weak moment throughout, it is a quintessential Heavy Metal album in its delivery, style, sound, songwriting, vocals and playing. Vivian Campbell was one out of the box and a perfect guitar foil for Ronnie’s golden voice. It is a shame Ronnie and Vivian had a massive falling out after the next album and never quite mended that bridge ever again.

With Sabbath in disarray, Ronnie quickly had his revenge and rode the Holy Diver gravy-train for a very successful solo career throughout the 80’s.

Other contenders: Dio – The Last In Line

10: AC/DC – Highway To Hell (1979)

For most compiling a list such as this, when it comes to AC/DC it can only ever be one of two albums… Back In Black or Highway To Hell. Both classics. Both deserving. The only real difference, only one of them features Bon Scott. And that is where the line in the sand was drawn.

The album also features my favourite AC/DC track of all time, Touch Too Much.

Highway To Hell was the album I listened to as a kid and fully understood the concept of Rock N Roll drumming. As a young sticksman at the time, listening to Phil Rudd play the drums made it all click in my head to how it was done. (Thanks Phil!)

Controversially, Highway To Hell was the album that inspired serial killer Richard Ramirez on his murderous rampage across Los Angeles in the early 80’s. Night Prowler was his song. The Nightstalker was his identity. An AC/DC cap accompanied him on many of his murders.

The album was the first to feature an outside producer in Robert John “Mutt” Lange. Vanda & Young had been ordered off the project and even tho the Young brothers were initially highly skeptical, it proved to be the correct decision as Mutt Lange took the band to multi-platinum status.

Such a strong album throughout, it bristles with rock n roll attitude and bite. It was as if the planets had finally aligned for AC/DC and there was nothing that could stop them now.

Nothing, until six months after its release, Bon was found dead.

Highway To Hell was the coda for one of rock’s finest frontmen. He left behind a legend and a genuine classic record that continues to win new fans in decades after its initial release.

Other contenders: AC/DC – Let There Be Rock, AC/DC – Back In Black

09: Slayer – Reign In Blood (1986)

Just as Metallica surprised all and sundry with their 1986 release of Master Of Puppets, Slayer were not to be undone producing their finest hour of music ever. (Well, 29 minutes to be exact).

Reign In Blood would rank as one of the most finely produced Thrash Metal albums up until this point. With the band now on a major label, Def Jam, and Rick Rubin at the production helm, no one quite knew what this collaboration would bring about.

As raw as the first two Brian Slagel produced albums were, is as polished and sonically superior Reign In Blood is.

The album was initially delayed due to a controversial (but oh so beautiful) album cover as well as some of the lyrical content on such songs as the superb Angel Of Death describing Josef Mengele’s human experimentation on Jewish prisoners of the Holocaust.

Reign In Blood is an album that every single Slayer release has been judged on ever since. The band have never come close to capturing the magic on these grooves ever again in their career. Follow up South Of Heaven does come close tho. Very close. But it has been pretty much downhill ever since. Sure there have been some stellar, killer moments in many of Slayer’s albums since, none of them however, manage to be the complete package like Reign In Blood is.

Superb drumming by Dave Lombardo throughout who holds the mayhem and ferocity together beautifully. Masterful production throughout, God damn it still sounds so good to this day, Reign In Blood is as classic as they come.

Other contenders: Slayer – South Of Heaven

08: Van Halen – Van Halen (1978)

Discovered by Gene Simmons in 1976 (or so the story goes!), Gene produced the band’s first demo and wanted the band to change their name to Daddy Longlegs. Gene fought valiantly for Van Halen trying to get them a management deal. When that fell through, the band were on their own but it wasn’t too long before someone else noticed.

Signed to Warner Bros records, the band recorded the first album in next to no time and even leaving little mistakes here and there within the grooves to maintain the ‘live and raw’ vibe the album is known for.

Little quirky mistakes aside, the guitar work on this album literally turned the music world upside down from the moment the album was released in 1978. Just like Jimi Hendrix did in the sixties, Eddie Van Halen did throughout the late seventies and onwards. No one had ever played guitar like this. No one had ever heard a guitar squeal and moan like this before.

The first time I heard the album was when my cousin relocated from the United States to Australia in 1977. Along with him came a slab of records and eight-tracks(!!!!) that changed my life forever. I can recall many a summer’s day at his place listening to Ted Nugent, Cheap Trick, Boston, Van Halen etc. Music that changed my life and stuck with me forever more.

Van Halen is a classic record that pretty much defined the Hard Rock/Metal movement of the USA that grew to monumental proportions in the early to mid 80’s. With the band born, bred and raised in Los Angeles, Metal took on a more flamboyant, vibrant, colourful vibe than what was happening over the pond and in the East Coast. Van Halen provided the blueprint for nearly every single band that was spawned in LA and beyond throughout the 80’s.

With a newly remastered version of the album released just this year, I revisited this classic again and it still stands the test or time. A classic then and now, for the longest of times in previous years, this was my definitive album of the Metal/Hard Rock genre.

Other contenders: Van Halen – Van Halen II, Van Halen – Women And Children First

07: Def Leppard – High ‘N’ Dry (1981)

It was back in 1981 and as a bored kid who had a penchant for plastering his walls with posters of KISS – I was looking for some new music to quench the thirst. KISS had been and gone in Australia in what is largely regarded as the band’s most successful tour ever! But I needed something new! Something fresh to latch onto and as if by fate, a bunch of young lads from Sheffield England entered the picture.

Flicking through the radio dial one night in between homework assignments, I stopped at 3RRR when I heard this amazing song. It kinda reminded me of AC/DC – only better. The song was Let It Go by a teenage band (at the time!) – called Def Leppard. Interesting band name I thought. It ‘felt’ like Led Zeppelin.

I taped the song onto cassette (remember them?) and proceeded to play it to death until I could save up the $6.99 to buy the vinyl. Living only a stone-throw from a record store that specialised in import records only made things so much easier for me. Gaslight Records in Malvern was only a block away from where I lived. Even if the records were much more expensive than their inferior Australian pressings, Gaslight would have a plethora of UK, US and Europe import records land in the shelves long before the mainstream stores did.

Again, as if by fate, when I had finally raised $6.99 for the record, I walked into the store and the very album I was there to buy – was blasting on the store’s stereo!

High ‘N’ Dry is Def Leppard’s finest moment. Forget the teeny bopper pop-metal band they evolved to from 1983 onwards. Not that the music they were churning out during that period wasn’t worthy. It was. But this slab of hard-rocking goodness, is a bonafide classic album. It was the beginning of the Mutt Lange production run for Def Leppard. Lange had literally just finished helming AC/DC’s Back In Black album a year earlier and this was his very next project.

Don’t be surprised if some of the school desks at Melbourne High School still feature the Def Leppard logo carved into their wooden surface(!)

Other contenders: Def Leppard – On Through The Night

06: KISS – Destroyer (1976)

Let it be known that this was the very first album I ever had in my possession.

It was an incredibly brave move by KISS in 1976 to drop the ‘fuck me’, ‘suck me’ lyrics of their previous releases and experiment with a whole new approach. It took balls and with the monumental success of KISS’ Alive! double-album in 1975, KISS had plenty of them! Rhinestone and stud encrusted at that.

Enter Bob Ezrin.

Ezrin, who at the time, had done some incredible work with Alice Cooper, managed to take KISS onto a whole new level. Introducing so many new elements to the KISS sound, the band and management really did not know how their growing fanbase would respond to such a vast departure from the first three studio albums.

Destroyer was polished, slick and grandiose in scope and substance. Every single note and beat throughout was tortuously drawn out from each member of the band. Ezrin was a taskmaster unlike any other produced the band had worked with. So much so, Ace Frehley ended up missing recording sessions, preferring to play cards with his friends than record lead breaks for the song Sweet Pain. (Guitar was handled by Dick Wagner).

Sonically, Destroyer is unlike any other KISS record but 1981’s Music From The Elder, again produced by Bob Ezrin. Layered with organically produced sound-effects, piano ghosting under guitar chords, atmospheric splashes throughout making KISS come across as Glam gods and superheroes. It sounds so majestic and features a plethora of songs that still permeate the band’s live set to this day. Detroit Rock City, King Of The Night Time World, God Of Thunder, Shout It Out Loud, Do You Love Me.

I stared at that album cover as a kid relentlessly and marvelled how it could be possible to marry visual and aural so damn perfectly.

The album was further improved with a recent remaster helmed by Bob Ezrin and released in 2012. Do seek that out as the definitive version of this album because the 2012 treatment makes it sound even bigger than it was in 1976.

Other contenders: KISS – Hotter Than Hell, KISS – Creatures Of the Night

Metallica - Master Of Puppets

05: Metallica – Master Of Puppets (1986)

With the NWOBHM (New Wave Of British Heavy Metal) movement in full swing, a bunch of pimply faced kids in San Francisco were paying notice to albums by Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Diamond Head, Saxon, Tygers of Pan Tang and the like. A whole new scene was evolving influenced by the aforementioned and from the punk movement of years gone by. Add Motorhead to the mix, and the fledgling days of Thrash Metal were about to be unleashed to an unsuspecting public.

Metallica took all those influences and mixed them into a sound of their own. By the time the first album had landed, Metallica were already known to the scene via the success of their No Life Till Leather demo tape which was getting interest and rave reviews from magazines such as Kerrang!, Metal Forces and the Metal ‘zine scene which was prevalent at the time.

No internet here folks. No MP3s or downloads. This was raw, organic, word of mouth. Tape trading. Fanzine swapping. Independent. Power to the people.

Metallica began to show progress and growth with each of their first two albums. Ride The Lightning was years ahead of its predecessor Kill ‘Em All. The band was growing at an incredibly rapid rate and the infantile, chest beating warblings of the first album, were refined and replaced by a more mature and confident band on Ride The Lightning.

By the time Master Of Puppets was released, Metallica were well on their way to being Metal phenomenon. Every band in Metal wanted to be like them and the copycats rode their coattails with abandon.

Speed, Power, Death, Thrash Metal – Metallica invented it all. They wrote the book and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Whilst their peers were trying to play faster and faster in a fury of speed and more speed, Metallica understood full well that it wasn’t just speed that created heaviness, but dynamics as well. Sure they could blast with the best of them, but they knew when to take it down a notch. They knew when to introduce intelligence, subtlety, good lyrical concepts and fantastic musicianship throughout.

Produced once again by Flemming Rasmussen, it was the final album to feature bassist Cliff Burton who was killed tragically later in the year. To this day I will never forget my phone ringing early in the morning and my good friend Peter telling me the news. It affected us so greatly as mere fans, there is no telling what it did to the band themselves who did not fully recover for years and years after Cliff’s death.

The album reeks of epic songs throughout. Meticulously structured and prepared, the band brought produced Rasmussen detailed and thorough demos for him to work off.

Critics outside the Metal genre were hailing it as a classic at the time of its release and it went on to become the very first Thrash Metal album to be certified platinum. An incredible achievement at the time. An incredible album to this day…

Other contenders: Metallica – Ride The Lightning, Metallica – And Justice For All

04: Iron Maiden – The Number Of The Beast (1982)

For the longest of whiles, when asked what is the best Iron Maiden album – I’d always, always hit back with the Killers record. I still rank it as one of Iron Maiden’s finest hours but after seeing former Iron Maiden singer Paul Di’Anno perform that album live a couple of years ago, in what was the worst gig I have ever been to in my entire life… the bastard managed the impossible and turned me off Killers.

Ok, let’s get serious for a moment. When one is asked, “ok dude, what is heavy metal?” One answers the question by giving the uninformed a copy of this album. Iron Maiden’s Number Of The Beast is as close to a record that literally defines the genre as one can possibly get.

I remember buying this record in 1982 at Metal For Melbourne records when it was located deep within where Federation Square stands now(!)

It was the first album to feature former Samson singer Bruce Dickinson on vocals and in my opinion the best line-up of Iron Maiden ever! (Steve Harris, Dave Murray, Adrian Smith, Bruce Dickinson and the incredible Clive Burr (RIP) – the band’s BEST drummer)

Iron Maiden were already making massive headway into the NWOBHM scene at the time. With two stellar releases under their belt Iron Maiden (1980), and Killers (1981), the band made a massive decision in firing Paul Di’Annno, a fan favourite at the time and replacing him with Samson’s Bruce Bruce, who thankfully joined the ranks of Maiden using his real name, Dickinson. (as an aside, do check out Samson’s Survivors (1979) and Shock Tactics (1981) albums for some stellar Bruce work! Great albums!)

Fans were skeptical at the decision, but once a few bootlegs got out of Maiden featuring Bruce Dickinson on vocals, the skeptics were long gone. By the time The Number Of The Beast album was released, Di’Anno was all but forgotten.

Featuring the smash hit single Run To The Hills, the album took off on a global scale which also saw the band play in Australia for the first time at the tail end of 1982. One of the best gigs I have ever seen took place in 1982 at St Kilda’s Palais Theatre. Maiden were phenomenal that night as many who were there can easily attest to.

Other contenders: Iron Maiden – Killers, Iron Maiden – Piece of Mind

Judas Priest - British Steel

03: Judas Priest – British Steel (1980)

Judas Priest’s British Steel was most probably the very first ‘Heavy Metal’ album I ever owned

And back in the day, this was as heavy as it got!

As has already been established, my Hard Rock leanings initially came from the USA side of things listening to bands such a KISS, Cheap Trick, Ted Nugent and Van Halen by the time the 80’s came around.

The very first thing I noticed about Judas Priest as a young lad was the visceral cover image of the British Steel album. Back in the days when cover art actually meant something, the hand grasping the razor blade was an image that stuck with me for days. Flipping the cover over and seeing all the leather and studs adorning each member of the band just reinforced the fact that this was a record I must own.

The cover alone just screamed power and metal and so perfectly matched the music on offer. This was an album that defined the Metal sound as we know it today.

Even back in the day, in my formative years – this album just stood out and was so distinctly different from the hard rock stuff I had in my collection. This was harder! This was darker! This was Metal. Pure and simple.

It was albums such as Priest’s British Steel, Sabbath’s Heaven And Hell, Iron Maiden’s self-titled debut, Def Leppard’s On Through The Night that triggered the Metal renaissance in the UK and dubbed by the press as NWOBHM. (The New Wave of British Heavy Metal).

Other contenders: Judas Priest – Screaming For Vengeance, Judas Priest – Point Of Entry

02: Celtic Frost – Monotheist (2006)

Holy Mother of God! Celtic Frost’s Monotheist not only exceeded my expectations, it completely blew me away and refused to leave my iPod and iTunes for a long, long time. On heavy rotation, it permeated the office and home airwaves as I did not play anything else but this gem for what seemed an eternity!

I, as many did, had thought Celtic Frost all but dead – their glory days buried deep and far away somewhere in the mid to late 80′s. Even though the band’s origins spawned out of the (awful!) Hellhammer back in 1984 (they were so bad back then you just had to take notice!) they reformed as Celtic Frost and released the wonderful Morbid Tales along with the masterful To Mega Therion and Into The Pandemonium.

With the rest of the metalsphere trying to mimic the fledgling Metallica and trying to play at ridiculously fast speeds, Celtic Frost took a different approach. Haunting, catchy Sabbath-esque riffs filled their repertoire. Always experimental and even operatic in places, infinitely evil and sinister, the Frost were a unique and cathartic band that were busy creating a sound uniquely their own. No one sounded like them. No one had the balls to pull off such an album as the gloom-ridden opus Into The Pandemonium. Which other Metal band would even attempt a cover of Wall of Voodoo’s Mexican Radio and do it so magnificently?

And here we were, years later – Celtic Frost returned with quite possibly one of the finest releases of the decade. I can’t even begin to put into words just how good this album is. Innovative. Fresh. Atmospheric. Brutal. Refreshing, so damn refreshing that a band like Celtic Frost returned with an album so sinister, so macabrely evil that they took the Metal world by the scruff of its collective neck and send it to hell!

This is black. By the very definition of the word. There is no blacker album. It is a the soundtrack to nearly every piece of art the Giger ever created. A soundscape every apocalypse. Bleak, sad, sombre and black. So fuckn black.

Other contenders: Celtic Frost – To Mega Therion, Celtic Frost – Into The Pandemonium

Black Sabbath - Heaven & Hell

01: Black Sabbath – Heaven And Hell (1980)

Black Sabbath rank as one of my fave bands of all time. Easily. Most would probably see it as sacrilege as having a non-Ozzy Osbourne fronted Sabbath as ‘the greatest Metal album of all time’. I get it. As incredible as some of the first 6 Sabbath albums were, and let’s face it, any one of those albums could find a place in this list let alone the prime position at number 1, Heaven And Hell is as close to the most perfect album ever recorded.

Ozzy was gone (yep, really this time!) and it was going to take a monumental effort for Sabbath to rid themselves of the dinosaur tag and, for want of a better term, rise from the ashes. Those very ashes fuelled by drugs, alcohol, 70’s Rock debauchery and excess had brought the band to its collective death knell. Let’s face it, the last few albums were a disaster and slowly, the band was sinking into oblivion and extinction.

Enter the Ronnie James Dio.

Result?

One of the genre’s all-time superb classics.

A band that defined a genre and responsible for some to the greatest albums of all time throughout the seventies, enters a new decade with a vital cog missing from the band and proceeds to take matters to a whole new level.

How could a band as legendary as Black Sabbath get even better? Surely it just couldn’t be possible? But it was possible. Grandly so.

Other contenders: Black Sabbath – Black Sabbath, Black Sabbath – Sabbath Bloody Sabbath

The Top 20

01: Black Sabbath – Heaven And Hell (1980)
02: Celtic Frost – Monotheist (2006)
03: Judas Priest – British Steel (1980)
04: Iron Maiden – The Number Of The Beast (1982)
05: Metallica – Master Of Puppets (1986)
06: KISS – Destroyer (1976)
07: Def Leppard – High N Dry (1981)
08: Van Halen – Van Halen (1978)
09: Slayer – Reign In Blood (1986)
10: AC/DC – Highway To Hell (1979)
11: Dio – Holy Diver (1983)
12: Anthrax – Among The Living (1987)
13: Megadeth – Rust In Peace (1990)
14: Rush – Moving Pictures (1981)
15: Thin Lizzy – Black Rose (1979)
16: Scorpions – Blackout (1982)
17: Manowar – Battle Hymns (1982)
18: Queensryche – Rage For Order (1986)
19: Pantera – Vulgar Display Of Power (1992)
20: Motorhead – Another Perfect Day (1983)

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23 thoughts on “The Twenty Greatest Metal Albums Of All Time”

    • This is stuff we grew up on Mick and more often than not, albums we probably bought together from Metal For Melbourne!

  1. Great work Dr. John.
    I can put my hands on about 18 of these on my shelf as well. I’d have Venom – Black Metal and Saxon -Power and the Glory on the Interchange Bench

    • Great call from Andrew Lock re; Saxon and Venom… for mine ‘Bomber’ and ‘Overkill’ are the killer Motorhead albums, although ‘Another Perfect Day’ has always left me wanting more, many of my mates have often told me that it is one of their worst – shame on them and fuck you all!

  2. Awesome write-up, man. Takes balls to go in and say, “Yup, these are MY favorites. It reads like you’re at a bar chatting it up with friends pleading your case just before all hell breaks loose and you gotta get yourself out of that headlock.
    Also, thanks SOOO MUCH for the years of photographic inspiration. It’s really pushed me to get to that next level with my own photography. Just had to put it out there.

  3. Good read Awesome list. Heaven and Hell yeah! Vulgar Display stands out for me personally as I got into metal late in the eighties and this album was like a groovin’ sledge hammer to the head.

  4. Scorpions, Priest, Maiden (good Maiden), Slayer (good Slayer), Dio, Sabbath (my preferred Sabs with Dio) etc, etc… you and I are gonna get along just fine!

  5. Great taste John, tho not having 1 Ozzy era Black Sabbath album is a bit of a travesty but I agree with the rest

  6. Ticks for all. Big ups for Rush, Lizzy and Frost. LP’s may differ but the artists remain the same. No love for ‘Appetite’ or just not your thing?

  7. Great article John and love the new website. Hard to argue with your list with all the greats well represented – I hadn’t given Celtic Frost a listen previously, but just added Monotheist to my playlist. Somehow I’d have to make space for Accept’s 2010 Blood of the Nations (must be the greatest comeback album ever) and Anthrax’s 2011 Worship Music (I really enjoy the John Bush albums, but Joey is simply awesome in his comeback)… Keep up the good work.

  8. Dio ‘s best was Rainbow Rising I have always thought and I love his work with Sabbath but those early sab albums are the foundations of metal but I respect the opinions of others

  9. Dude I was ready to write you and say “Where’s Queensrÿche”! Then I read your list and there’s Rage for Order! GREAT album which was WAY ahead of its time! Loved seeing it in there. I might have done Peace Sells over Rust but the’re both great! Might have put FNM Angel Dust or The Real Thing in there also but AWESOME list man!

  10. Thanks for the tremendous response to this post guys. It went through the absolute roof through the site. Gangbusters! I’ve begun working on Part II – The Alternative genre!

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