Top 20 L.A. Metal Albums: The Complete List

Top 20 L.A. Metal Albums: The Complete List

When it comes to discussion of the top metal scenes, Los Angeles never gets its due. Maybe it's because we're not known for being pioneers of a single subgenre (Bay Area thrash and Florida death metal for example), but there's still no doubt that the city has been vital in the evolution of metal.

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So below, then, is our list of the top 20 L.A. metal albums. Note: You won't find any by Metallica, who left for the Bay Area very early on, so please don't bitch about that. --Jason Roche

Top 20 L.A. Metal Albums: The Complete List

20. Cirith Ungol

King of the Dead (1984)

Cirith Ungol had been kicking around since 1972, but it wasn't until the early 1980s that they hit their stride. The group took the swords-and-sorcery themes '70s prog rock was known for and brought them into a wickedly ambitious metal framework. King of the Dead is the best showcase for the band's Black Sabbath-meets-Rush brew, with songs like "Atom Smasher" and "Finger of Scorn" telling tales of both ancient and post-apocalyptic destruction.

--Jason Roche

Top 20 L.A. Metal Albums: The Complete List

19. Saint Vitus

Saint Vitus (1984)

Recorded live in one take with only one overdub, Saint Vitus' self-titled five-song record has become increasingly influential over time. Guitarist Dave Chandler composed deeply down-tuned, plodding songs interrupted by abstract solos, made all the weirder by Scott Reagers's absurdly dramatic vocals. At first, Saint Vitus was universally loathed by punks and metalheads alike. (Black Flag used to ask them to open shows to piss off the audience.) But now they're revered as the "Godfathers of Doom," and you can bet that's a compliment. --Linda Leseman

See also: Saint Vitus: Addiction Still Fuels Their Fire

Top 20 L.A. Metal Albums: The Complete List

18. Slayer

South Of Heaven (1988)

How do you follow up something like Reign In Blood? Slayer delivered South Of Heaven just two years after that venerated album, but instead of getting louder and faster they just got sludgier and more expansive. Still, we are talking about Slayer, who - even as they approach middle age - still sweat evil from their pores. South Of Heaven has standout tracks like "Behind The Crooked Cross" and "Read Between The Lies," and has been described in some metal circle's as a fan's album. It's not as sexy as Blood, or as bluesy as Seasons In The Abyss, but it was a great exposition of Slayer's chops and their ability to slow things down. --Craig Hlavaty


Top 20 L.A. Metal Albums: The Complete List

17. Armored Saint

Symbol of Salvation (1991)

While we are huge fans of John Bush-era Anthrax, we sometimes wonder what was given up when he left his first band Armored Saint for most of the '90s. Symbol of Salvation is the culmination of their decade-long evolution into an anthemic metal powerhouse. There are flirtations with commercial hard rock throughout, but the group keeps the proceedings heavy enough to inspire plenty of headbanging along with the choruses of tracks like "Reign Of Fire" and "Last Train Home." --Jason Roche

Top 20 L.A. Metal Albums: The Complete List

16. Dark Angel

Darkness Descends (1986)

Dark Angel's second album was proof that L.A. could produce thrash just as heavy, creative, and vital as anything from the Bay Area. Darkness Descends introduced drummer Gene Hoglan to the metal community; his handiwork on the drum kit anchors the intensity of this work, and he went on to be the most in-demand drummer in metal, working with multiple powerhouses like Death, Strapping Young Lad, and Testament, and legitimizing animated metal lords Dethklok. --Jason Roche

Top 20 L.A. Metal Albums: The Complete List

15. Beowulf

Beowülf (1986)

Beowülf's self-titled debut is one of the most underappreciated records in all of rock. Suicidal Tendencies got the credit for the Venice scene and Cro-Mags are regarded as the fathers of crossover thrash, but Beowülf can make a strong case for those accolades. Tasteful use of double bass drum and gang vocals (what happens when you have 50 of your closest friends in the studio for the chorus) abound, making this album the circle pit soundtrack of '86. Think Motörhead for cholos. --Nicholas Pell


Top 20 L.A. Metal Albums: The Complete List

14. Cryptic Slaughter

Convicted (1986)

The year 1986 was a high water mark for west side thrash. Take Santa Monica's Cryptic Slaughter, who didn't offer innovation so much as simply balls out, lightning-fast thrashcore a la D.R.I. and early Corrosion of Conformity. Convicted, however, takes said speed to whole new levels. This is the sound of kids crushing up their ADD medication and sticking it up their nose, a fury of noise punctuated by rhythmic mosh breakdowns and atonal solos. Not bad for a bunch of teenagers who met through the American Youth Soccer Organization. --Nicholas Pell

Top 20 L.A. Metal Albums: The Complete List

13. Terrorizer

World Downfall (1989)

Terrorizer's debut World Downfall was released after the band had already broken up. Still, that didn't stop it from becoming one of the building blocks of the grindcore genre. The blistering blastbeats laid down by drummer Pete Sandoval and the moshable grooves of guitarist Jesse Pintado set a strong blueprint for grindcore that few others have been able to master. It's telling that members of Terrorizer later found success in other legendary metal bands like Morbid Angel and Napalm Death. --Jason Roche

Top 20 L.A. Metal Albums: The Complete List

12. Suicidal Tendencies

Join the Army (1987)

Join the Army came four years after Venice act Suicidal Tendencies' self-titled debut; it's a classic that announced the birth of crossover thrash -- an unholy mix of hardcore and metal -- to the broader public. Many a young punk had their first exposure to the band through the video for the album's lead single, "Possessed to Skate," which features moshing, skating and thrashing. Maintaining the instrumental intensity, Join the Army adds shades of professionalism and production that didn't exist before. Tying it all together? Mike Muir's laid back grunts. --Nicholas Pell


Top 20 L.A. Metal Albums: The Complete List

11. Megadeth

Countdown to Extinction (1992)

Say what you will about Dave Mustaine's voice, the guy has a knack for writing memorable melodies over perfectly interlocking twin guitar parts. Countdown to Extinction is loaded with tunes so hummable -- songs like "Sweating Bullets" and "Skin O' My Teeth" -- that you might forget you're listening to thrash metal. Not surprisingly, this became Megadeth's best-selling album, earning double-platinum status and peaking at number two. --Linda Leseman

Top 20 L.A. Metal Albums: The Complete List

10. Slayer

Seasons in the Abyss (1990)

Seasons in the Abyss is nothing fancy, just pure, sore-neck, eardrum-stripping metal. Full of brutal drum barrages, massive caliber guitar assaults and shredding solos, the work is unlike standard-issue thrash in that it shows the full theater spectrum of the genre, whether charging at breakneck speed or slogging through sonic minefields. Here Slayer fine-tunes the standard they set with Reign in Blood. But the biggest difference with Seasons is that a socially conscious anger emerges through Rick Rubin's clean and clear production that wasn't there before -- further buttressing their attack on post-Reagan sonic banality. --Paul T. Bradley

Top 20 L.A. Metal Albums: The Complete List

9. Megadeth

Peace Sells...But Who's Buying? (1986)

Megadeth had released their debut album Killing Is My Business...and Business Is Good one year prior, but Peace Sells showed the metal community that Dave Mustaine was for real. The sound of the band is much more refined here, but Mustaine's shifting his lyrical focus to politics and current events gives the proceedings a more powerful weight. Oh, and it's impossible not to sing along with the title track's chorus. --Jason Roche


Top 20 L.A. Metal Albums: The Complete List

8.Avenged Sevenfold

Waking The Fallen (2003)

Before they got obsessed with trying to be the next Guns N' Roses, Avenged Sevenfold were a damn fine metalcore band. Their second album Waking The Fallen saw them move from pure metalcore into something more artistically ambitious. Vocalist M. Shadows' transitions between harsh screamed vocals and melodic clean crooning were done with a greater sense of care than other metalcore bands of the time. Guitarist Synyster Gates, meanwhile, has the best work of his career on tracks like "Eternal Rest" and "Second Heartbeat." --Jason Roche

Top 20 L.A. Metal Albums: The Complete List

7. W.A.S.P.

W.A.S.P. (1984)

Only W.A.S.P. could pull off a fake Satanist spectacular like their self-titled debut and keep it shelf stable for 30 years. Though cut from the same cloth as other glam / farce metal acts, Blackie Lawless and his rotating cast of misfits somehow always did things grimier -- with assless chaps and stage antics like live S&M and meat-tossing. The album serves as a perfect gnarly ear-invasion. Tracks like "School Daze" and the once-banned "Animal (Fuck Like a Beast)" are as delightful to black-clad metal minions as they are horrifying to a generation of pentagram-fearing soccer moms. --Paul T. Bradley

Top 20 L.A. Metal Albums: The Complete List

6. Fear Factory

Demanufacture (1995)

Industrial Metal outfit Fear Factory have sold over a million copies of their albums, including 1995's powerful Demanufacture, considered by many to be a classic. A concept work in which they took on more of an electronic influence than previously -- and inspired by The Terminator -- it includes memorable tracks like "Zero Signal" which was featured in the movie Mortal Kombat. Rarely do concept albums hold up well, but the blazing drums, lead weighted guitars, and the sometimes aggressive, sometimes clean vocals drive the Demanufacture's theme of discouraged man vs. cruel machine. --Diamond Bodine-Fischer


Top 20 L.A. Metal Albums: The Complete List

5. Saint Vitus

Born Too Late (1986)

While other metal and hardcore bands of the early-'80s were focused on pure speed and aggression, Saint Vitus slowed their riffs to a snail's-pace on Born Too Late. That crawl provided the perfect backdrop for the world-weary-beyond-his-years vocals of Scott "Wino" Weinrich. The contemplative lyrics of songs like "Dying Inside" also provided a stark contrast to the many bands lashing out at authority at the time. If other bands were cocaine, this was heroin. --Jason Roche

See also: Saint Vitus: Addiction Still Fuels Their Fire

Top 20 L.A. Metal Albums: The Complete List

4. Tool

Aenima (1996)

A palimpsest of words, musical notions and off-beats, Aenima is the product of Tool furiously cutting apart the portrait of a progressive metal album and decoupaging it to the wall of an asylum. As a perfectly executed soundscape for introspective philosophical frustration, it comes as no surprise that Tool dedicated it to late anti-corporate comic Bill Hicks -- whose voice graces the closing track. Decades from now, this will be the official soundtrack to whatever city sits on Arizona Bay, the body of water lenticularly inscribed on the cover. It's what Hicks envisioned will remain when Southern California sinks into the Pacific. --Paul T. Bradley

Top 20 L.A. Metal Albums: The Complete List

3. System of A Down

Toxicity (2001)

System Of A Down's Toxicity was born into a world reeling from smoldering, decimated buildings and frightening uncertainty. Released September 4, 2001, somehow SOAD managed to make the soundtrack for the crippling fear that would come in the wake of 9/11, and was the top album in the country that fateful Tuesday. Why listen to Enya or U2 to soothe your raw senses, when you could get righteously angry all over again with "Chop Suey!" and "Jet Pilot," with paranoia dripping from the jewel case. Lyrically lead singer Serj Tankian was all over the place -- as would become custom -- but the pieces fit the time. Remorse, loss, dark skies, "flying over the great bay..." The album was originally meant to be a commentary on Hollywood scum glamor (check the cover art) but it ended up being much more, and is now hailed as a modern classic. --Craig Hlavaty

See also: It's the End of the World as Serj Tankian Knows It, and the System of a Down Frontman Feels Fine


Top 20 L.A. Metal Albums: The Complete List

2. Megadeth -

Rust in Peace (1990)

For Megadeth, Rust in Peace was an album of firsts: the first time the band had recorded sober, the first work with virtuosic guitarist Marty Friedman, and the first time a producer (Mike Clink) made it through the whole process without being fired. Stability proved beneficial to Dave Mustaine's songwriting. From the blistering opening riffs of "Holy Wars...The Punishment Due" to the final note of the title track, Rust in Peace delivers Megadeth's finest moments. It's not just one of L.A.'s best metal albums, it's one of the best metal albums ever crafted. --Linda Leseman

See also: Dave Mustaine's Advice for Starving Women in Africa: "Put a Plug in It"

Top 20 L.A. Metal Albums: The Complete List

1. Slayer

Reign In Blood (1986)

Surprised? You shouldn't be. From the moment Tom Araya screams on album-opener "Angel of Death," you're in for an experience that will leave you pummeled and bruised -- and continually pressing the repeat button. Reign In Blood features 29 minutes of pure thrash mayhem, without even a hint of a lull. Slayer has made some great albums since this one, but it will forever be the benchmark against which all other metal works are measured. --Jason Roche

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