If you count Black Sabbath's 1970 release of their self-titled debut as the birth of heavy metal, the genre is now over 40. It can no longer be called a fad. Hell, it can have adult children, and it can run for president. (Insert “presidental metal of freedom” joke here.)

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So, yeah, it's old. But it continues to evolve, and the bands and albums that paved the way still feel as important and vital in 2013 as they did upon first impact. Here, then, are our picks for the 20 greatest metal albums, as chosen by the Weekly's metal writers. -Jason Roche

20. Baroness

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

19. Motorhead

Bomber (1979)

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

15. Pantera

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

14. Megadeth

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

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

13. Judas Priest

Painkiller (1990)

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

See also: Rob Halford Interview: “I'm doing more costume changes than Cher on this tour”

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

10. Metallica

Master of Puppets (1986)

MASTER! MASTER! MASTER! Metallica's 1986 statement is generally regarded by knowing and trustworthy metalheads as the best Metallica slab to date. The album's eight tracks are virtually fat-free, and the damned thing even comes with an eight-minute instrumental cut (“Orion”) foretelling two to three generations of heavy metal to come. It's not only a good bedroom jam (just put in on repeat) but the San Francisco boys at their most surly and burly too. If you ask me, your favorite track should be “Leper Messiah.” -Craig Hlavaty

See also: Top Five '80s Metallica Songs That Deserved Kick Ass Music Videos

9. Tool

Ӕnima (1996)

All the aural promise of Tool's bleakly cathartic debut album, 1993's Undertow, was realized when they returned with Ӕnima three years later. With new bassist Justin Chancellor aboard, they uncoiled with paranormal, exhilarating abandon: super-proggy, ominously polyrhythmic explorations rippling beneath and around Adam Jones' wonderfully restrained (by metal standards) guitars and Maynard James Keenan's monastic incantations. Subsequent releases have been sometimes frustratingly arcane — Ӕnima is where Tool's extreme dynamics and esoteric implications intersect to maximum visceral and cerebral effect. -Paul Rogers

See also: Maynard James Keenan's column in Phoenix New Times

8. Sleep

Holy Mountain (1993)

If you are going to name your record after one of the trippiest films of all time, you have to be prepared to deliver a seriously mind-altering experience. San Jose stoner metal pioneers Sleep rose to the challenge on their 1993 genre masterpiece, Sleep's Holy Mountain. The colossal riffage begins with the deceptively groovy “Dragonaut” and from there on out one's ears are offered only the briefest of respites. When Sleep chooses to turn the volume down, as on the 48 second bluegrass interval titled “Some Grass,” it is only to prepare the listener for the next pummeling assault.

-Emmett Shoemaker

7. Black Sabbath

Master of Reality (1971)

Black Sabbath deliberately down-tuned for their third effort, Master of Reality, which would become the very ore from which all gloomy, doomy and drudgy metal is mined. Crafted for altered mindstates, this is the band at their stoniest. Prickly critics of the time (notably Bangs and Christgau) failed to see this as the one of ghosts of metal future, despite the act's forward-thinking techniques and fiercely honest outsider attitude. And, yes, there is even cowbell. -Paul Bradley

6. Black Sabbath

Black Sabbath (1970)

Fittingly released on Friday the 13th, Black Sabbath's eponymous 1970 debut spawned heavy metal as we know it. Brooding, satanic, and deeply bluesy, Black Sabbath contains some of the group's best and darkest material. The title track in particular, which incorporates a dirging tri-tone interval, church bells, and Ozzy Ozbournes's impassioned, damnable wailing, is frightening even by today's standards. While the Ozzman's harmonica work on “The Wizard” may have aged less gracefully, the album remains unstoppably heavy, an unparalleled classic. -Emmett Shoemaker

5. Opeth

Blackwater Park (2001)

There are other bands who balance abrasive death metal and melodic progressive-rock influences, but none do it as well as Sweden's Opeth, and Blackwater Park was the moment in their 20-year career when they reached the pinnacle of this blend. On songs such as “Bleak” and “The Drapery Falls,” band leader Mikael Akerfeldt alternates between throat-shredding death vocals and soothingly-clean croons, with the music hitting similar peaks and valleys. Each is delivered masterfully. -Jason Roche

See also: Our Review Of Opeth at the Mayan

4. Motorhead

Ace of Spades (1980)

The title track of Ace of Spades, the fourth album by U.K. trio Motörhead, is the ultimate devil-may-care anthem. Singer and bass player Lemmy declares, “I don't want to live forever,” and his boozing and pill-popping makes for a convincing case. In 1980, the record was an influential precursor to thrash metal. With characters including gambling gunslingers and those fucking whoever the hell they want, the album went gold quickly, and made Lemmy a heavy metal icon. -Linda Leseman

3. Pantera

A Vulgar Display of Power (1992)

Pantera's third album with Philip Anselmo on vocals saw the Texas quartet completely shed the remaining vestiges of their humble hard rock beginnings. The group ratcheted up the anger and testosterone on groove-metal classics like “Walk” and “Fucking Hostile.” The guitars of Dimebag Darrell became abrasive buzzsaws, providing the perfect backdrop for Anselmo's venomous snarl. Soon after this album's release, mosh pits at Pantera shows rivaled the brutality found in the pits at Slayer concerts. – Jason Roche

2. Black Sabbath

Paranoid (1970)

Black Sabbath's debut may have invented heavy metal, but their second album Paranoid (released later that same year in 1970) perfected it. The record is chock-full of now-classic guitar licks by Tony Iommi. Along with the title song, tunes like “War Pigs” and “Iron Man” are instantly memorable — the kinds of tracks you only have to hear once before they're forever seared on your psyche. The swinging “Faeries Wear Boots” and watery “Planet Caravan” show hints of the stylistic diversity that would allow Sabbath such a strong run in the early part of their career. In the relatively brief history of heavy metal, it's impossible to overestimate Black Sabbath's significance, and Paranoid is their best moment. -Linda Leseman

See also: Top 20 L.A. Metal Albums

1. Slayer

Reign in Blood (1986)

Producer Rick Rubin, as he has for so many artists, trimmed Slayer's sonic fat after signing them to his primarily hip-hop Def Jam label in 1986. Reign in Blood, the first fruits of this seemingly unlikely union, retained all of the band's firework technicality and melodramatic imagery, while shunning the meandering arrangements (and shoddy production) of their prior indie releases in favor of short, punky salvos of worryingly savage thrash. Though the quartet has created much accomplished music since, to many fans this album is Slayer. -Paul Rogers

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