By Alex Distefano
When you're talking about something as all-encompassing 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 seemingly limitless.
From black metal and thrash, death metal to grindcore, there seems to be an eternity of music out there. Which is why compiling this list was not easy, but after hours upon hours of listening, serious contemplation and flipping of a coin, here it is. Although definitely biased toward the more aggressive and extreme forms of metal, it still highlights amazing albums with great songs.
See also: The 20 Greatest Metal Albums in History
10. Mercyful Fate, Melissa (1983)
Let's start with one of the most revered vocalists in the genre, King Diamond. Mercyful Fate's debut album is a classic metal work, and definitely ahead of its time with its evil, theatrical sound. 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. King Diamond's high-pitched operatic voice is very distinct, and classics here 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 from Possessed, is pivotal in death metal, and founding member, bassist/vocalist Jeff Becerra is said to have coined the sub-genre's name — it's the title of the last song on this record. Original guitarist Larry LaLonde (now in Primus) buzzes through heavy hitting songs like “Burning In Hell,” “Pentagram,” Evil Warriors,” “Satan's Curse,” the 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 New Wave Of British Heavy Metal movement, a timeless piece that came before heavy metal was brutal. That doesn't mean it wasn't dark, however; with songs such as the classic title track and others like “White Witch,” “Sorceress,” “Atlantis,” it's an epic heavy metal classic. It paved the way for black metal, thrash and death metal, and has an ability to captivate metal fans old and young.
7. Cannibal Corpse, The Bleeding (1994)
This was the Florida-based death metal band's last release with original vocalist Chris Barnes, and remains one of the sickest, most brutal death metal albums ever recorded. Everything about it is 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 that, like a horror flick, it shouldn't be taken literally.
This album is held together by the rhythm section. Madman drummer Paul Mazurkiewicz and bass player Alex Webste pound away relentlessly at their instruments, perfectly complimenting Barnes' defining death metal growls. The guitar riffs are also killer, courtesy of Rob Barret and Jack Owen.
6. Type O Negative, Dead Again (2007)
I believe Dead Again to be Type O Negative's most powerful work of its career, but it was the last one they would release. Front man 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.
In any case, there is a very manic depressive feel to Dead Again, but it flows well. The songs creep up on you like slow bite releasing its venom slowly. Tunes such as “Tripping a Blind Man,” “Halloween in Heaven,” and “The Profit of Doom” reveal a band that is as menacing and mysterious as it is melodic. Peter Steel 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.
5. Repulsion, Horrified (1989)
Horrified is Repulsion's only full length. They weren't just another typical death metal band; hailing from Detroit, their influences include Celtic Frost, Hellhammer, Discharge, Venom, Bathory and early Slayer. This hybrid of hardcore punk and early death metal made Repulsion stand apart. Once the drumming became faster, a new, more extreme form of metal was created: grindcore.
Repulsion were 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 have praised the band. Horrified is a sick and twisted slab of very short songs. They focus on tales of cannibalism, rancid corpses, zombies, blood, gore, the horrors of war, and the apocalypse. Songs such as “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 brutality.
4. Motorhead, Motorizer (2008)
Not to disrespect any of Motorhead's early releases, but Motorizer (released when Lemmy was 63) is full of fist pumping rock n roll that transcends punk rock, traditional metal and thrash metal. It sounds like classic Motorhead. Tracks such as “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.
3. Cryptopsy, None So Vile (1996)
Uncompromising doesn't even begin to describe Cyptopsy's second album. Clocking in just over a half-hour, the record is full of riffs that are punishing, yet catchy and filled with groove. Tracks like “Slit Your Guts,” “Dead and Dripping,” and “Phobophile,” showcase the true stamina and raw power of Flo Mounier's phenomenal drumming. It compliments of the crisp bass playing of Eric Langlois, alongside 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 ever known.
2. Dissection, Storm of the Light's Bane (2002)
Dissection's 1995 classic album Storm of the Lights Bane is simultaneously symphonic and overtly satanic. It is possessed by both a melodic spirit and an evil dark entity. Dissection — founded in Sweden by guitarist/vocalist Jon Nodveidt in 1989 — found its niche among dark, extreme, anti-Christian metal, first starting out as a thrash band then evolving into a melodic-yet-blackened death metal group with a distinctive dual harmony guitar sound.
Storm of the Light's Bane was the band's second full length, and is more clean, crisp and polished than their debut, but that still doesn't take away from the haunting effect. Each song is a classic, including “Unhallowed,” “Where Dead Angels Lie,” and “Soulreaper.” They feature moments of despair and agony. Light a black candle before you listen to this one!
1. Slayer, Reign in Blood (1986)
Released in 1986, Reign in Blood is to this day unmatched in its rage, speed, and attitude and thrash metal brilliance. These 10 tracks brought heavy metal music to a new level.
From the opening classic “Angel of Death” to finale “Raining Blood,” there is never a dull moment for this entire 29-minute musical work, which pretty much set the standard for all metal bands after them. Reign in Blood is a record that will get you head banging 'till your nose bleeds.
Reign In Blood was Slayer's first time collaborating with producer Rick Rubin, and lyrically the band kept on pushing the envelope. Hanneman once again brought topics like Satanism, criminality, the nature of evil, and the atrocities of the Third Reich to life.