Metal fans are a very passionate bunch. They're also very opinionated, so when we asked them to vote for their favorite metal albums we expected a huge response. We also expected a big debate about the very definition of "heavy metal." Some metal fans say that groups like Led Zeppelin and Guns N' Roses are metal. Others think that's completely insane. We aren't here to settle these debates. We're merely here to count the votes. Click through to see the results.
Metallica's second LP proved to the world they weren't just a flash in the pan. They also proved they could write killer riffs without original guitarist Dave Mustaine, even if the Megadeth frontman does get credit on the title track and the instrumental "The Call of Ktulu." Songs like "For Whom the Bells Toll" and "Creeping Death" have become thrash metal standards, but it was "Fade to Black" that got the most attention. It's a ballad about suicide, and a small minority saw it as a sell-out move. It would not be the last time that Metallica dealt with fans who felt the band veered off course. Coming a few years before Metallica gained real mainstream popularity, Ride the Lightning was a crucial step forward in their evolution.
Led Zeppelin's second album was recorded during the group's first year on the road. It's the sound of a band coming together as a unit and developing their own style. The blues rock of the first disc is still there, but it has a harder edge this time around. The lead track "Whole Lotta Love" quickly became their signature song, while "Ramble On" and "Heartbreaker" rank among the finest work of their career. What's more impressive is that the disc was recorded in a series of fits and starts during their tour. On days off they'd set up shop at a local studio, and then pack everything up and start again when they had time. It's a very tough way to make an album, yet the disc sounds totally cohesive. We're sure some of you don't see this as a metal album. The voters felt otherwise.
Metallica decided to team up with producer Bob Rock after hearing his work on Mötley Crüe's Dr. Feelgood. While they had no interest in writing songs like "Slice of Your Pie," they liked the polished sound of Rock's work. Metallica's previous album, . . . And Justice for All, got them on MTV and into basketball arenas, but they had yet to cross over into the mainstream. Few in the industry (or even the band) could have imagined just how popular Metallica would become. "Enter Sandman" went into heavy rotation on MTV, and suddenly it was no longer just the metal kids at school blasting Metallica in the parking lot. The group was as big as Guns N' Roses and U2, suddenly playing to stadiums and even attracting large numbers of women to their shows. The record company was overjoyed, but some original fans felt betrayed. Looking back now, the album doesn't seem like an insane departure from their previous work. Metallica remain one of the biggest bands in the world, but there's still a very vocal minority of fans who feel that Metallica was the beginning of the end.
There's no doubt that Appetite for Destruction is one of the greatest debut albums in rock history. There's no doubt people will still be listening to "Welcome to the Jungle" and "Sweet Child o' Mine" in 100 years. There's no doubt that it was the only time the original band truly worked together as a team. There's no doubt the group failed to live up to the early promise of this jaw-dropping album, and there's no doubt that a reunion of the original five is pretty impossible these days. There is some doubt (quite a bit, in fact) that this is a metal album. But, again, that's not for us to decide. It also hardly matters. The album is so perfect it should be on as many "all time greatest" lists as it possibly can.
1986 was a very good year for thrash metal. That March Metallica released Master of Puppets, and six months later Slayer rose to the challenge by dropping Reign In Blood. The latter is seen now as a heavy metal landmark, but at the time it seemed like a bit of a risk. Slayer had left Metal Blade for Def Jam, and they even agreed to work with Rick Rubin, then known only for his work with rap acts like LL Cool J and the Beastie Boys. It turned out to be a very wise move. Rubin was a metal fan from way back, and he recognized that Slayer had the opportunity to be one of the all-time greats. Reign In Blood sold a huge amount of records back in 1986, and it established Slayer as giants in the world of metal. Three decades later they have yet to slow down or compromise in any way.
Metallica were at a major turning point when they recorded . . . And Justice for All in early 1988. It was their first time cutting a new album since the tragic death of bassist Cliff Burton in 1986, and the first time they were open to the idea of promoting an album with a music video. Back then, MTV was the domain of hair metal bands like Poison and Mötley Crüe, and many within the community saw music videos as a sell-out move. But Metallica knew that "One" deserved to be heard by a wide audience, and they felt there was a way to create a video without seeming cheesy. The song is about the horrors of war, so directors Bill Pope and Michael Salomon took scenes from 1971's Johnny Got His Gun and spliced them into a video. The result is a haunting short film that is the complete opposite of "Girls Girls Girls." The songs on the album are all extremely long; many have been rarely played in the past decade.
Iron Maiden's third disc, The Number of the Beast, is where the group found their voice. Literally. Before they began recording the 1982 classic, they booted singer Paul Di'Anno in favor of Bruce Dickinson. Kicking out the frontman is a risky move for any band, but when fans heard Dickinson's incredible, operatic range, they were sold. This is not a band with a lot of hit songs, but The Number of the Beast's "Run To The Hills" and the title track did actually get some airplay. More importantly, the album doesn't have a single weak moment, from the opening notes of "Invaders" to the end of "Hallowed Be Thy Name." The group only grew in popularity from here, but they never quite reached this level of sheer perfection.
Black Sabbath's 1969 debut LP is the Big Bang of heavy metal. It's impossible to imagine how the genre would have evolved without it. At the time the music wasn't even called metal, and the four members of Black Sabbath had virtually no idea they were breaking ground. They did know they didn't like the hippie music of the day, and they wanted to create music that scared people in the way horror movies scared them. The disc was recorded in a single day at a London studio, and in stores just three months later. Much to their surprise, it found a huge audience. They didn't truly become superstars until their second album, though.
Just a few months after the release of their self-titled debut, Black Sabbath went back into the studio to begin their second LP. This time around they had an even more stunning arsenal of songs, including "War Pigs," "Paranoid," "Iron Man" and "Fairies Wear Boots." Guitarist Tony Iommi was churning out mind-blowing riff after riff, and the result is an absolute masterpiece the group never quite managed to top. The disc was originally called War Pigs, but at the height of the Vietnam War the label didn't want to anger segments of their audience. They also felt that "Paranoid" was a more radio-friendly single. They were correct in that regard. The song only reached Number 61 on the Billboard Hot 100, but it's been played on the radio about ten billion times since, and in many ways has become their signature song. No matter how much success they had after Paranoid, the songs on this disc have always been at the center of their live set list.
Well, this wasn't much of a contest. Metallica's 1986 LP Master of Puppets blew the competition completely out of the water. It's no big surprise. The disc captured Metallica at the height of their powers. It's their final work with bassist Cliff Burton, and many feel it's their last truly flawless record. Picking the best song is a difficult task, but the title track is an epic that never gets old, even though they've pretty much played it at every concert during the past three decades. Much like Black Sabbath's early work, the album inspired musicians all over the world to first pick up their instruments. Though it's a monumental disc, it took a few years for critics to fully appreciate it. Metallica played the album straight through on a European tour in 2006 to celebrate its 20th anniversary.