Last Friday, I began counting down the ten greatest heavy metal albums of all time.
Inspired by a list, published last month by Rolling Stone, of the genre’s 100 best albums, the first part of my own top ten included the likes of Iron Maiden’s Number of The Beast, Orange Goblin’s Time Travelling Blues, and Metallica’s Ride The Lightning.
If you haven’t already done so, you can read part one of what I consider to be the greatest metal albums ever here.
When you’re done with that, come back here, and let’s run down the second half of this list, detailing albums 5 through to the coveted number one spot.
Ready? Let’s go.
5: Slayer – Seasons in The Abyss
One of the first albums I ever owned was a second-hand copy of Slayer’s debut effort, Show No Mercy, a lightning fast ode to all things Satanic that was as evil as it was exciting.
Yet it wasn’t until a friend introduced me to the tracks War Ensemble and Seasons in the Abyss that I discovered how brutally brilliant and brilliantly brutal Lucifer’s favourite metal band could really be.
Inspired by the shit-kicking fury of War Ensemble and nasty sense of foreboding that permeated the intro to Seasons in the Abyss, I quickly went out and bagged myself the album of the same name.
Ranked at number 31 on the Rolling Stones’ 100 Greatest Metal Albums Ever list, Seasons’, in my opinion, deserves to be much higher because every track is a complete tour-de-force of heavy metal.
The title track, which also happens to be one of the best heavy metal songs ever written, combines that ominous intro with a weirdly catchy chorus that lies at odds with the sheer visceral nature of your typical Slayer track.
Not that there isn’t plenty of punch-you-in-the-face, break-your-spine, and general kick-your-f’n-ass metal to keep die-hard Slayer fans happy.
Expendable Youth thunders into life like a venom-fuelled juggernaut of barbarity and destruction.
Dead Skin Mask, with its haunting refrain of “Dance with the dead in my dreams, listen to their hallowed screams” literally sounds like Slayer went deep into the depth of the most horrifically twisted nightmare anyone had, and simply hit the record button, whilst album highlight Skeletons of Society mixes Seasons’ catchiness with a savageness that helps cement this whole album’s status as a true masterpiece of the genre.
4: Black Sabbath – Paranoid
I know, right? Blasphemy surely?
After all, Rolling Stone ranked it as the Greatest Metal Album Ever, and it’s pretty much universally regarded as one of the genre’s most influential albums of all time.
Without Paranoid, so the consensus goes, metal as we know it today, would simply not exist.
So, how dare I rank it as low as number four on my own list?
Easy: I’m a product of my era.
I was born in 1984, 14 years after Ozzy Osborne, Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler, and Bill Ward released this monster of an album and changed the face of music forever.
I grew up on the likes of Pantera and Metallica, which is why they rank higher, but don’t get me wrong, that’s to take nothing away from the epic, genre-defying release that is Paranoid.
Over the years, I’ve come to first appreciate, and then deeply love this album, and can absolutely see why so many people consider it The Greatest of All Time.
I’ve used the word ‘masterpiece’ many times whilst writing this list of what I consider to be the Top Ten Best Metal Albums, but I don’t think any album truly deserves that title quite like this one.
It isn’t just the title track, the stabbing riffage and Ozzy’s vibrant vocal, nor is it the enormity of tracks like Iron Man and War Pigs that make this one such a monster of an album.
Planet Caravan, with its beautiful atmosphere, delicate, dancing guitar and hypnotic bassline is as perfect a song as you’re likely to find, whilst the likes of Fairies Wear Boots and Hand of Doom, with a bluesy swagger underpinned by the kind of menacing dread that was the hallmark of the band’s sound, remain firm favourites to this day.
3: Pantera – Cowboys From Hell
A month or so before Rolling Stone gave their take on the best metal releases of all time, back when I was adding Cowboys From Hell, the song, to the list of 52 songs that changed my life, I wrote six words on a piece of paper that has been stuck to the noticeboard above my desk ever since.
Those words read:
TOP TEN METAL ALBUMS: PANTERA – COWBOYS
So yes, this album is so good that it served as the original inspiration for this entire list.
If you’ve ever heard it, you’ll understand why.
From the bone-crunching riffage of tracks like
Psycho Holiday, Primal Concrete Sledge and Domination to the unabashed swagger of the title track and other gems like Clash With Reality, every song is just a pure joy to listen to.
I believe what really makes Cowboys From Hell so special is that it takes heavy metal beyond mere aggressive headbanging and hostile guitar-battering, adding a deep, gnarly groove that makes it the sort of thing you can actually listen to for fun, rather than just when you feel like kicking somebody’s head in.
And of course, that’s before we even mention Cemetary Gates. When I first heard this one, I remember thinking that it was unlike anything I’d ever heard before. Many years later, I still think that’s the case.
Arguably the closest thing Pantera came to writing a straight-up ballad, Cemetary Gates is 50% power, 50% pure emotion, and 100% incredible.
A blistering track which serves as one of the band’s greatest gifts to the world of heavy metal, if Cemetary Gates were the only good song on this album, it would still warrant Cowboys From Hell getting a place on this list.
2: Down – Nola
The second entry from Phil Anselmo on this list, the Pantera singer’s other hugely successful band Down, were first introduced to me by a local band who drew their influences heavily from Down and who -if I’ve remembered this correctly- covered Stone The Crow in their live sets.
However, it wasn’t Nola -Down’s debut album which gave the world Stone The Crow– that was to be the first of their albums that I would own.
That honour would go to their follow-up – Down II: A Bustle in Your Hedgerow, that I picked up from Affleck’s Palace in Manchester around the time of its release.
I loved that album with a passion, and new immediately that this was a band I was going to fall in love with.
Yet it wasn’t until a few years later that Nola came into my life, bringing about that love that I had known all along was destined to happen.
From the very first note to the very last, every song on Nola is absolutely flawless, and I seriously deliberated for a long time ranking this as my all time favourite metal album.
After all, does anything beat opening track Temptation’s Wings?
Can anything match the likes of Pillars of Eternity and Losing All for intensity and colossal riffage?
How about the epic feeling of confidence that washes over you when you kick back to the final track, Bury Me in Smoke?
If you ask me, nothing comes close.
Nothing of course, except for the number one entry on this list:
1: Metallica – Master of Puppets
Rolling Stone named this as the second greatest metal album ever, only one behind the aforementioned Paranoid.
For this fan however, Master of Puppets is the quintessential metal album, the genre’s greatest gift to the world at large and everything you could ever want to hear in a music album.
It’s got captivating melodies, raucous, shout-a-long choruses, intricately crafted guitar solos and a mighty sense of power that smashes its way through every note, every beat, and every James Hetfield vocal blast.
Back in November, I wrote that Welcome Home (Sanitarium) was my favourite Metallica song of all time, and it is, but on Master of Puppets, that’s only one highlight on an album that is absolutely chock full of them from start to finish.
Battery sees the band at their most ferocious best, before the band’s eight-plus minute magnum opus, Master of Puppets announces its arrival with an instantly-recognisable riff and remains unrelenting from start to finish.
Elsewhere, the likes of Lepper Mesiah, The Thing That Should Not Be, and yes, ‘Sanitarium, take the listener on an odyssey through just about every musical genre ever known.
At the start of this list of the Top Ten Greatest Metal albums of all time, I mentioned that Iron Maiden seemed to draw some influence from the Great Composers, but I truly believe that if the likes of Wagner and Beethoven had played with electric guitars and a drum kit, the resulting sound would be Master of Puppets.
And yes, that is intended as a compliment.