If you count Black Sabbath's 1970 self-titled debut as heavy metal's birth, the genre is now over 40. It can no longer be called a fad. It can have adult children, and it can run for president. (Insert "presidental metal of freedom" joke here).
So, yeah, it's old. But it continues to evolve, and the albums that paved the way still feel as important and vital in 2013 as they did upon first impact. So here are our picks for the 20 greatest metal albums, as picked by the Weekly's metal writers. -Jason Roche
Blue Record (2009)
Blue Record, from Savannah's Baroness, is a sonic journey featuring both calls to war and moments so romantic your heart will ache. Dueling leads and multi-part harmonies create a dizzying sonic web; opening track "Bullhead's Psalm" sets the ominous religious tone, which leads into violent, distorted chugging. Later: fuzzed out, garish distortion turning into trippy breaks. The contrast is as masterfully complex as Wagner's operas. -Diamond Bodine-Fischer
See also: Top 20 L.A. Metal Albums
Sure, everyone loves Motorhead's Ace of Spades, but Bomber is the album that primed the pump, single-handedly inspiring the generation that gave us the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, speed metal, thrash, d-beat and hardcore punk. "Fast" Eddie Clark's contributions on guitar and "Philthy Animal" Taylor lock in tight around Lemmy's trademark bass growl, giving Bomber the heavy power of industrial machinery. Fast and heavy, Lemmy and the boys never stray away from the simple pleasures of rock and roll boogie, hearkening back to the days of Chuck Berry and Elvis. -Nicholas Pell
See also: A Brief Interview With Lemmy
18. Judas Priest
British Steel (1980)
Judas Priest's Rob Halford looked back on the making of British Steel with me in a summer 2009 Houston Press profile as the band was playing the album every night in its entirety. "A good portion of British Steel was made on the fly," he said. "We were literally making a record once a year for 10 years. So, really we were just writing very spontaneously." Many people have taken to calling it a punk record in spirit, arriving at the tail end of the initial explosion of the genre. Songs like "United" and "You Don't Have To Be Old To Be Wise" only stoked those fires.
"We have always been very much with our ears to the ground. I don't think we have really ever taken those things as direct inspiration," Halford added, not entirely shooting down the punk theorists. The album stands as a steadfast testament to the band's artistic tenacity and metal master prowess. It holds up magnificently well, with insanely catchy singles like "Breaking The Law," "Living After Midnight," and "Grinder" inhabiting New Wave of British Heavy Metal mixtapes to this very day. -Craig Hlavaty
17. Ozzy Osbourne
Blizzard of Ozz (1980)
After being fired from Black Sabbath, Ozzy Osbourne embarked on a solo career, beginning with 1980's Blizzard of Ozz. A perpetual basket-case, Ozzy owes his early solo success to two people: savvy manager Sharon Arden (eventually Osbourne) and guitar prodigy Randy Rhodes. On Blizzard, lyrics of songs like "Crazy Train" and "Suicide Solution" are practically autobiographical for the Ozzman, but musically, this is Rhodes' album. Nowhere is that more evident than in the two tremendous, classically-inspired guitar solos of "Mr. Crowley." Though Rhodes died in a plane crash two years later, the 25-year-old had already raised the bar for metal guitarists to come. -Linda Leseman
16. Black Sabbath
Heaven and Hell (1980)
Even though the group's previous two albums were fairly uninspired, Ozzy Osbourne still left big shoes to fill when he departed Black Sabbath in 1979. Ex-Rainbow vocalist Ronnie James Dio filled the void, however, by injecting Black Sabbath with a shot of sorely-needed adrenaline. His soaring vocals and lyrical direction infused both fast-driving rockers like "Neon Knights" and slow-burners like "Children of the Sea." In turn, guitarist Tony Iommi stepped up his game with solos that matched many of his early classics -Jason Roche
Cowboys From Hell (1990)
If heavy metal's holy grail is the no-compromise coexistence of brute power, sonic histrionics and vocal prowess, Pantera made a brave grab for it with this 1990 effort. Such was the fearsome foursome's stylistic shift on their fifth full-length -- between their more tuneful glammy past and the brutal thrash and hardcore-influenced albums which followed -- that most fans treat Cowboys as their "official" debut. Frontman Phil Anselmo was still truly singing at this point, but insistent, bestial batterings like "Primal Concrete Sledge" gave fair warning of Pantera's gathering "power groove" storm. -Paul Rogers
Rust in Peace (1990)
Back in 2010, Megadeth toured behind Rust In Peace on the occasion of the classic album's 20th anniversary. Some saw it as a quaint historical exercise for the band, but it was really lead singer Dave Mustaine making a political statement. Rust In Peace is the most incongruous album in the mighty Deth's catalog. It's not as pop as Countdown to Extinction, and it's not nearly as catchy as Peace Sells...But Who's Buying? But what Rust does have going for it is a solid story, a tale of nuclear destruction, shattered dreams, and a tyrannical government. Anyone who was surprised by Dave Mustaine's latter-day right turn probably never read the lyrics to Rust with a clear head. -Craig Hlavaty
13. Judas Priest
For decades, Judas Priest marched through standard-form metallic rock. With Painkiller, the demons came screeching out, wired to the gills on hellcrafted crank. Not to let the younger crop of speedy and thrashier neophytes like Slayer and Metallica just charge in and run the place, Priest turned it up to y'know, twelve with its frantic technicality and the sheer scale of Rob Halford's range. While the newbies grew and moved forward to dominate the metal landscape, this was Priest's last stand. Halford quit. The band dumbed itself down to mere fogie cash cow, even after Halford's eventual return. So this is the boys from Birmingham's last monument to the genre they helped build. And it is glorious. -Paul Bradley
12. Iron Maiden
Piece of Mind (1983)
Iron Maiden's most beloved songs come from other albums, but Piece of Mind is the best start-to-finish work in their catalog. Every track is a perfect blend of galloping heavy metal and extremely catchy choruses, with "The Trooper" possessing arguably the most memorable guitar solos in the group's body of work. Vocalist Bruce Dickinson's performances show why he was nicknamed the "Air Raid Siren." Oh, and literature, history and mythology references have never been so fun. -Jason Roche
11. At The Gates
Slaughter of the Soul (1995)
Sweden's At The Gates dropped a bomb on metal in 1995, in the form of Slaughter of the Soul, which pioneered the so-called "Gothenburg sound," syncretizing elements of thrash, death metal and New Wave of British Heavy Metal -- long before syncretic metal was cool. The album features melodic guitar lines, furious double bass drumming, and breakdowns that would influence a generation of bands straddling the line between hardcore and metal. Oh and don't forget the rabid, tortured vocals of high school social studies teacher (yes, really) Tomas Lindberg. -Nicholas Pell
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