The finale of the top 100 metal albums of all time countdown, complete with a brief description of every single album on the list.
After much deliberation the top 100 metal albums of all time have been selected. These timeless albums are some of the most innovative and influential releases of all time and are well deserving of their place in the top 100. Without further ado here is the conclusion of the countdown; the top 100 metal albums of all time!
An attempt is made to represent each subgenre fairly and the ranking system is based on overall quality of the record as well as influence and lasting power. The placement is based on the thoughts and opinions of a number of knowledgeable metal fans who took this undertaking very seriously. No list is perfect and unfortunately some truly great work missed the cut.
100. Savage Grace – Master of Disguise (1985)
Call this the best album Iron Maiden never released. Savage Grace makes no apologies about their primary source of inspiration, shamelessly borrowing Maiden’s trademark galloping rhythms and riffs while speeding up the pace a little. The influence is immediately apparent and although the album lacks the polish and production value of any Maiden album, it is still an essential album for any metal fan.
99. Dark Tranquility – The Gallery (1995)
1995 was the year of Gothenburg metal. Dark Tranquility’s The Gallery was one of three titanic releases (the others being At the Gates’ Slaughter of the Soul and In Flames’ The Jester Race) that came out of Sweden and helped popularize melodic death metal.
98. Dismember – Like an Everflowing Stream (1991)
Dismember was one of the pioneers of the Swedish death metal scene and the debut album Like an Everflowing Stream was one of the most important releases of the early 90’s. Along with Entombed’s Left Hand Path, the album helped open the door for many Swedish death metal bands that would soon come to dominate the subgenre.
97. Overkill – The Years of Decay (1989)
Overkill experienced a steady ascent up the thrash metal mountain throughout the 80’s and 1989 might be the closest they ever got to the summit. The lads from New York never quite reached the level of the big four but they are still an important part of the American thrash metal movement. Years of Decay consists of extremely fast, tightly composed songs that remain fan favorites to this day.
96. Iron Maiden – Fear of the Dark (1992)
While it doesn’t hold up in comparison to some of their other work, Fear of the Dark remains a classic release by Iron Maiden. It is the last album featuring Bruce Dickinson on vocals before he took a two album hiatus in the 1990s. Despite containing a couple throw away tracks the album also houses some fan favorites such as the title track and “Afraid to Shoot Strangers.”
95. Hammerfall – Glory to the Brave (1997)
Hammerfall’s debut Glory to the Brave is considered by many to be one of the essential power metal albums. Following the lead of pioneers like Helloween, the band focused its energy on producing fast, melodic songs about heroism, fantasy, and glory. Hammerfall has always paid tribute to its influences by consistently covering classic metal songs; one of which (“Child of the Damned”) comes from the next album on this list.
94. Warlord – And the Cannons of Destruction have Begun (1984)
It may have been the band’s only full-length release of the decade, but Warlord’s And the Cannons of Destruction have Begun is a truly timeless album. Warlord drew heavily from nwobhm groups like Iron Maiden for inspiration, but unfortunately the band just got lost in the plethora of other bands coming out of the L.A. area at the same time. Many of the songs on the album also appear on the EP Deliver Us, which is actually the preferred release due to the far superior singing.
93. Kreator – Coma of Souls (1990)
Coma of Souls was Kreator’s follow-up to the massively successful Extreme Aggression. Some claim that the album appears rushed and shows a lack of creativity, but many others see it as the band’s most notable release that represents the culmination of its creative energy. In either case it is a quality thrash album that should not be missed.
92. Death – Spiritual Healing (1990)
Spiritual Healing marked a turning point for Death as they veered away from gore and horror inspired lyrics of the previous albums in favor of more thoughtful purposeful content; a trend that would be further developed in the albums that followed.
91. Running Wild – Black Hand Inn (1994)
Running Wild perfected their brand of pirate themed speed metal with the release of Black Hand Inn in 1994. Critics often condemn this release for being behind the times, but the group deserves credit for sticking to its guns and refusing to adapt simply because of mainstream tastes of the time. Standout songs include “The Privateer” and the title track.
90. Electric Wizard – Dopethrone (2000)
Electric Wizard brought Doom/Stoner metal to another level with the release of Dopethrone. No longer did the subgenre simply sound like a rehash of old Black Sabbath songs. The basic tenants of measured, repetitive riffing stayed intact, but the music took on a life of its own with the addition of fuzzy, distorted vocals and layered buzzing guitars.
89. Bathory – Bathory (1984)
Bathory’s first album is one of the earliest examples of black metal and served as a blueprint for other bands to emulate. It contains the trademark characteristics that would come to define the genre such as low-fi recording, fast repetitive guitar work, and raspy, shrieking vocals.
88. Sleep – Sleep’s Holy Mountain (1993)
Sleep revived the slow, simple, repetitive doom laden riffs of Black Sabbath to perfection in Sleep’s Holy Mountain. It is the preeminent Doom/Stoner metal album in the eyes of many thanks to the heavy throbbing riffs that comprise most of the content on the album. The stellar intro track “Dragonaut” is the highlight here, but the rest is equally noteworthy.
87. Exodus – Bonded by Blood (1985)
This thrash metal group from San Francisco never gained the popularity that the big four (Slayer, Metallica, Megadeth, and Anthrax) experienced, perhaps due in large part to the continued delay of their debut album. Bonded by Blood is a great relic of 80’s thrash metal, but lacks the complexities and range exhibited by other bands of the era.
86. Drudkh – Estrangement (2007)
The members of this mysterious black metal band from Ukraine have made a name for themselves by infusing folk music and poetry from their native land into their music. The result is some very original and engaging material.
85. Possessed – Seven Churches (1985)
Seven Churches is often referred to as the first true death metal album in existence. Possessed took the tenacious musical patterns from thrash bands like Slayer and fused them with darkly themed lyrics vocalized by growling. This style would come to define the genre as it grew and became more popular in the late ’80s and early ’90s.
84. Kreator – Pleasure to Kill (1986)
Kreator’s second studio album launched the group to the forefront of the international thrash metal scene. The album is a vast improvement from the debut Endless Pain and marked a huge leap forward for the band. The compositions were tighter and the songwriting more original. As good as Pleasure to Kill is, the best was still to come.
83. Rainbow – Long Live Rock & Roll (1978)
Rainbow’s third album was the last to feature Ronnie James Dio on vocals and is overall the heaviest release of the three. Songs like “Lady of the Lake” and “Kill the King” are faster and harder hitting than anything the band had previously come up with. Ironically the album concludes with one of the slowest tracks from the Dio era Rainbow – the beautifully flowing ballad “Rainbow Eyes.”
82. Bathory – Under the Sign of the Black Mark (1987)
Quorthon, Bathory’s founder and primary creative influence, upped the production value (slightly) for Under the Sign of the Black Mark while still maintaining the dark lo fi edge that defined his sound. To this day the album remains one of the best early black metal albums in existence thanks to the sinister songwriting and recording execution.
81. Sepultura – Arise (1991)
Arise is the fourth full-length album released by the Brazilian thrash/death metal band Sepultura. The bar was set pretty high by the band’s previous release “Beneath the Remains” but thankfully Arise delivers on all counts. The album is a death metal essential and is easily one of the band’s best efforts.
80. Heavy Load – Stronger than Evil (1983)
Had Stronger than Evil gained more notoriety at the time of its release it would be much higher on this list. This classic album by a relatively unknown band from Sweden contains some of the catchiest metal songs to be found anywhere. A must own for anyone who likes the nwobhm sound.
79. Judas Priest – Sad Wings of Destiny (1976)
Judas Priest is one of the most important bands in metal and their sophomore effort Sad Wings of Destiny is a big reason why. The album contains a number of classic tracks that were left off of their debut release, Rock N Rolla such as “The Ripper” and “Tyrant.” Tyrant exemplifies Priest’s ability to combine the heavy riffing of Black Sabbath with the pace of Led Zeppelin to create a sound that is pure metal.
78. Death – Individual Thought Patterns (1993)
Often hailed as the founder of death metal, the aptly named Death has been a mainstay in the genre since its inception in 1983. The band’s centerpiece Chuck Schuldiner has become one of the legends of extreme metal for fusing technical and progressive elements into his music and combining them with powerful lyrics dealing with societal and spiritual woes.
77. Satan – Court in the Act (1983)
One of the many bands from the New Wave of British Heavy Metal movement of the early 1980’s, Satan proved to be one step ahead of the game with the release of Court in the Act. Its intense pace from beginning to end would have a profound impact on the development of thrash metal that would occur in the proceeding years. The song “Trial by Fire” became an underground classic and has been covered by countless bands over the years.
76. Venom – Black Metal (1982)
Though they lacked the technical musicianship of their peers like Motorhead and Iron Maiden, Venom is still one of the most important bands in the history of metal. They coined the phrase ‘black metal’ with the release of this album and would help define the early sound and attitude of the subgenre.
75. Megadeth – Killing is my Business… And Business is Good (1985)
After being booted from Metallica in 1983 guitarist Dave Mustaine set out to prove he was fully capable of achieving success on his own and formed Megadeth that same year. The debut Killing is my Business… And Business is Good lacks the polish of later Megadeth albums but still contains the trademark wailing guitar solos and fierce shredding riffs that made the group famous.
74. Kreator – Extreme Aggression (1989)
Extreme Aggression is the fourth studio album from German thrash masters Kreator. The album maintains the pace and savagery of the previous three releases and proved that the band showed no signs of slowing down. Music videos for “Betrayer” and the title track helped make Extreme Aggression the band’s most commercially successful album to date.
73. Entombed – Left Hand Path (1990)
Swedish legend Entombed left its mark on the emerging death metal scene with the release of Left Hand Path in 1990. The album took the complex song structures established by Death and Obituary and combined them with an element of melodic riffing. Sweden would later become a major player in the evolution of Death metal through bands like At the Gates and In Flames, but Entombed really cut the path to the subgenre first.
72. Bruce Dickinson – Accident of Birth (1997)
Accident of Birth is Bruce Dickinson’s fourth solo album and it proved to be his most inspired release to date. With help from former Iron Maiden guitarist Adrian Smith, Dickinson refined the sound from his previous albums and produced a much heavier release. Ironically one of the standout tracks on the album is the ballad “Man of Sorrow.”
71. Darkthrone – Under a Funeral Moon (1993)
Under a Funeral Moon marked Darkthrone’s complete transition from death metal to black metal. They stripped down the production, creating an intentionally grainy low-fi sound akin to early Bathory. The result is one of the pillars of the Norwegian Black Metal scene that emerged in the early 1990’s.
70. Iron Maiden – Brave New World (2000)
The first album following the forgettable Blaze Bayley period of Iron Maiden saw the band rise from the ashes in the dawn of the new millennium. Vocalist Bruce Dickinson and guitarist Adrian Smith rejoined the lineup for this release and songs like “The Wicker Man” and the title track proved that they were vital cogs that contributed to the band’s success.
69. Blind Guardian – Imaginations from the Other Side (1995)
Imaginations from the Other Side is the album that truly defined Blind Guardian’s sound and elevated them to the company of Helloween and Kreator as one of the top German metal bands. The processed guitars and multi-voiced choruses give the album a very distinct sound that the band would continue to build upon in future releases.
68. Black Sabbath – Vol. 4 (1972)
Black Sabbath continued to define early heavy metal with the release of Vol. 4. Classic tracks like “Supernaut” and “Tomorrow’s Dream” proved that Tony Iommi was far from running dry on catchy riffs and versatile song writing. This album tends to get lost in the shuffle of quality Sabbath releases but it is still one of the greatest heavy metal albums of all time.
67. Drudkh – Blood in our Wells (2006)
Blood in our Wells is the essential release from the secretive and obscure Drudkh. It is a true hidden gem that incorporates beautiful melodies and folk music into traditional black metal. The band has no official website, but a MySpace page created by their record company provides additional information.
66. Sepultura – Beneath the Remains (1989)
Beneath the Remains catapulted Sepultura to the top of the death metal movement of the late 80’s by offering a slew of technically advanced and ferociously fast tracks. The frequent tempo changes and melodic riffing moments are a welcomed addition to the mix as well. Beneath the Remains is a big reason why Sepultura went on to become the most successful Brazilian metal band of all time.
65. Obituary – Slowly We Rot (1989)
One of many bands to come out of the Florida death metal scene, Obituary is one of the best. Slowly We Rot is the band’s momentous debut album that took death metal to new heights by combining ripping guitar sections with slower Sabbath inspired doom riffs. These complex tempo changes brought a new element to death metal that would be frequently imitated as the genre evolved.
64. Testament – The Legacy (1987)
Had the big four been the big five, Testament surely would have been the final band added to the mix. The Legacy is the band’s impressive debut which proved that Slayer, Metallica, Megadeth, and Anthrax were by no means the only forces in American thrash metal.
63. Mercyful Fate – Melissa (1983)
Fronted by the flamboyant King Diamond who’s vocal range transitions regularly from a low growl to a supernatural falsetto, Mercyful Fate’s debut Melissa was an innovative release that combined heavy riffing with neo-classical guitar work. The album would prove to be a benchmark release that contributed to the development of a number of different subgenres including thrash metal, black metal, power metal, and progressive metal.
62. Danzig – Danzig (1988)
Glenn Danzig’s debut album with his self-titled band allowed the enigmatic singer to cut loose and revel in the darkest depths of his imagination. With a voice often compared to Jim Morrison, Danzig proved he could thrive in the metal world after making a name for himself with his punk outfit, The Misfits. The simple yet catchy riff driven tracks like “Mother” and “Twist of Cain” are really carried by Danzig’s overpowering voice.
61. Death – Human (1991)
As the fourth studio album in an already impressive catalogue, Human was a huge leap forward for Death musically. Technical and progressive elements came to the forefront and the purposeful lyrical content established on Spiritual Healing was developed even further.
60. Deep Purple – Fireball (1971)
Often overshadowed by its successor Machine Head, Deep Purple’s Fireball is an equally impressive release by one of heavy metal’s most important early figures. Guitarist Ritchie Blackmore deserves credit for bringing heavy music to the forefront as much as anyone else in music.
59. In Flames – The Jester Race (1995)
In Flames is the best recognized band to come out of the Gothenburg metal scene of the mid 90’s. Although they have altered their sound in the years since, In Flames is one of the bands that lay the groundwork for the now madly popular melodic death metal subgenre. The Jester Race is one of the most important releases of the period that fused melodic riffs and solos with traditional death metal.
58. At the Gates – Slaughter of the Soul (1995)
Along with In Flames and Dark Tranquility, At the Gates was one of the primary forces that came out of Sweden and popularized the Gothenburg style of death metal. Slaughter of the Soul is the superlative release from this era that best exemplifies the subgenre’s tenants of melodic fast paced riffs combined with ferocious drum beats and snarling vocals.
57. Black Sabbath – Mob Rules (1981)
The second album of the Dio era Sabbath is almost as good as the first. The album further proved that Dio’s voice fit in perfectly with the band as evidenced by enduring classics like “Falling Off the Edge of the World” and “The Sign of the Southern Cross.” Dio would depart shortly after this album’s release to start his own band, but the lasting impact he left on the legendary group cannot be ignored.
56. Led Zeppelin – IV (1971)
Incorporating elements of folk, blues, and metal, Led Zeppelin IV is one of the definitive examples of ’70s rock. Each song on the album builds upon the next to result in one of the most cohesive releases of the band’s career. Every single song on the album is instantly recognizable, a feat that is virtually unheard of for any album in any era.
55. Blind Guardian – Somewhere far Beyond (1992)
Blind Guardian is best described as a fantasy themed combination of speed metal, power metal, and progressive metal. Somewhere Far Beyond offers a nice mixture of pounding riffs, electrifying solos, and melodic acoustic moments. The lead singer, Hansi Kursch, has a dynamic voice with incredible range that adds to the band’s versatile sound.
54. Judas Priest – Killing Machine (Hell Bent for Leather) (1978)
The British title of Judas Priest’s fifth studio album, Killing Machine, was deemed too volatile for the U.S. market and was renamed Hell Bent for Leather upon its release in the states. The album features straightforward hard-hitting anthems focusing on sex, partying, and overall reckless abandon for rules and conventions. One of the many essential Priest albums on this list.
53. Kreator – Terrible Certainty (1987)
Terrible Certainty proved that Kreator could hold its own with the American thrash metal titans of the 80’s. The album is one of many impressive releases from this celebrated German band that made it one of the most recognizable figures in thrash metal.
52. Bruce Dickinson – The Chemical Wedding (1998)
Bruce Dickinson’s The Chemical Wedding contains some of his best solo material and proved that he didn’t need to rely on Iron Maiden in order to produce quality metal. Thankfully this didn’t stop him from rejoining the group in 1999 and releasing four more quality studio albums.
51. Metallica – …And Justice for All (1988)
It may not hold up in comparison to Ride the Lightning and Master of Puppets, but that doesn’t mean …And Justice for All should be ignored completely. The album features the hit single “One” which starts off like a measured ballad before exploding into a machine-gun-esque double picking attack.
50. Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin II (1969)
Led Zeppelin’s second album is an essential hard rock release that had a profound influence on early heavy metal. The repetitive speedy riffs and layered guitar work would become mainstays of the emerging genre and Jimmy Page can be given much of the credit for launching this movement. Robert Plant’s vocal style and lyrical themes would also be imitated by countless artists in the heavy metal community for years to come.
49. Rainbow – Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow (1975)
Ritchie Blackmore teamed up with Ronnie James Dio to form Rainbow after departing Deep Purple and the debut release did not disappoint. Dio’s fantasy laced lyrics meshed perfectly with Blackmore’s trademark neoclassical style to produce classics like “Man on the Silver Mountain” and “Temple of the King.”
48. Iron Maiden – Seventh Son of a Seventh Son (1988)
Seventh Son of a Seventh Son is Maiden’s critically acclaimed concept album that further incorporates synthesized keyboards to the compositions. This is done sparingly however and the change acts more to supplement the already strong arrangements rather than serve as the driving force behind the music.
47. Ozzy Osbourne – Diary of a Madman (1981)
Ozzy’s second solo album serves as a worthy follow-up to the essential Blizzard of Ozz. The title track is easily the highlight of the album thanks to Randy Rhoads’ complex classically influenced guitar work, but it also includes enduring radio classics like “Over the Mountain” and “Flying High Again.”
46. Slayer – Hell Awaits (1985)
Slayer built upon the foundation established by Show No Mercy in Hell Awaits by incorporating more technical elements and tempo changes to the mix. This was accomplished without losing an ounce of intensity or power. On the contrary Slayer was left with an even fiercer sound that it would develop further in its next release.
45. King Diamond – Abigail (1987)
King Diamond’s second release with his self-titled band remains one of the greatest concept albums in heavy metal history. His bombastic vocals tell the story of a woman named Abigail as she goes through death, possession, and rebirth. The album contains some of King Diamonds most popular songs that can stand on their own such as “A Mansion in Darkness,” “Omens,” and the title track. That being said, the album really needs to be listened to in its entirety to be fully appreciated.
44. AC/DC – Highway to Hell (1979)
Highway to Hell is the last AC/DC album to feature Bon Scott on vocals. The timeless title track would become a rock and roll anthem and the fearless attitude the band demonstrated through the lyrics served as an inspiration for later rock and metal acts.
43. Anthrax – Among the Living (1987)
Among the Living is widely considered Anthrax’s defining album thanks in large part to the hit “Caught in a Mosh.” Anthrax allows the hardcore punk influences to shine through in its music more than any of the other bands in the big four, which gives their content a very distinct sound.
42. Helloween – Keeper of the Seven Keys Part 1 (1987)
Keeper of the Seven Keys Part 1 is one of the earliest examples of a pure power metal album. Everything about the album exemplifies the subgenre such as the epic fantasy themed lyrics, the inspiringly melodic guitar riffs, and the soaring high-pitched vocals. There is even the melancholic ballad “A Tale That Wasn’t Right” thrown in for good measure. Power metal bands would follow this template for years to come.
41. Savatage – Hall of the Mountain King (1987)
Savatage struggled to maintain a consistent identity with its previous releases, but the band finally lived up to its potential with the release of Hall of the Mountain King. The album is one of the crown jewels of progressive metal and features some truly stellar material full of unexpected tempo changes, catchy riffs, and powerful vocals.
40. Black Sabbath – Sabbath Bloody Sabbath (1973)
Black Sabbath’s fifth album kept the streak alive with yet another outstanding release. The album perpetuated the formula set down in previous releases but kicked up the production standards, which aided in adding some new songs to the list of Sabbath all time greats. Among these are the title track and “A National Acrobat.”
39. Blackout – Scorpions (1982)
Blackout is the Scorpions’ preeminent album thanks in large part to the hard hitting “Dynamite” and the wildly popular metal anthem “No One Like You.” The album was the band’s first major commercial success and propelled them into the mainstream music scene getting plenty of attention from radio and MTV.
38. Dio – The Last in Line (1984)
Dio’s second album follows the formula set up by the hugely successful Holy Diver and delivers a number of catchy tracks like “Mystery” and the seven-minute epic “Egypt.” The album would further raise Dio’s popularity and make the band one of the most sought after concert experiences of the era.
37. Slayer – Show No Mercy (1983)
Slayer’s debut alum contains all the traits that would come to define the band such as ferocious double picking, dark violent lyrics, shouting vocals, and even controversial cover art. Although they had not worked out all the kinks yet and the album lacks the refinement of later releases, it is still an essential piece of early thrash metal.
36. Mercyful Fate – Don’t Break the Oath (1984)
Mercyful Fate’s second album, Don’t Break the Oath, served as a natural successor to the revolutionary debut Melissa. This album has it all; dark catchy riffs, synthesizers, neoclassical guitar sections, and of course King Diamond’s wildly unpredictable vocals. The band would split up following this release but not before imprinting their name in the heavy metal history books.
35. Judas Priest – Stained Class (1978)
Stained Class was the album that solidified Judas Priest as the centerpiece of heavy metal. The blues influences evident on the previous albums all but disappeared and the pace was kicked up a notch. Stained Class was one of the most influential albums of the late ’70s that helped pave the way for the New Wave of British Heavy Metal that would arise in the following years. Unfortunately much of the album’s genius has been tarnished by a misguided 1989-1990 court case involving a suicide pact between two teenagers from Nevada.
34. Queensryche – Operation Mindcrime (1988)
Operation Mindcrime is Queensryche’s revolutionary concept album that focuses on a man disillusioned with society who joins a movement to assassinate prominent political leaders. The album was a critical and commercial bombshell and is highly regarded as one of the essential progressive metal pieces to this day.
33. Rainbow – Rising (1976)
The second album from Ritchie Blackmore’s brainchild, Rainbow, is widely regarded as the best of the three releases featuring Ronnie James Dio on vocals. The entire band was replaced following the release of the debut, Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow, and the result was a much tighter and musically sophisticated final product.
32. Iron Maiden – Killers (1981)
Iron Maiden’s second album would be the last to feature Paul Di’Anno on vocals but still ranks up there with the band’s best efforts. Classics like “Wrathchild” and “Murders in the Rue Morgue” are still some of Maiden’s most popular songs, but Di’Anno’s vocal inadequacies were too much to handle. Luckily Bruce Dickinson would hop on board shortly after this release and the rest is history.
31. Death – The Sound of Perseverance (1998)
Death continued to shatter conventions with the release of The Sound of Perseverance. It is progressive death metal at its finest with unprecedented raw emotion and technical mastery from beginning to end. Sadly this would be the last Death album as Chuck Schuldiner, the band’s heart and soul, died of brain cancer in 2001.
30. Helloween – Keeper of the Seven Keys Part 2 (1988)
The second part of Helloween’s paired album is one of the earliest and brightest examples of the power metal subgenre. The band emerged from the German speed metal scene and distinguished itself by slowing the pace slightly while maintaining a catchy melodic edge. Combining this with soaring falsetto vocals proved to be the key to unlocking what would later be referred to as power metal. Helloween would serve as the source of inspiration for bands like Hammerfall, Edguy, and Wizard.
29. Megadeth – Countdown to Extinction (1992)
Megadeth followed up the quintessential album Rust in Peace with the socially conscious Countdown to Extinction. The album proved to be Megadeth’s biggest commercial success thanks in large part to the simplified song structures and clean production. Whether it was a commercial ploy or not, Countdown to Extinction is one of Megadeth’s catchiest albums with unforgettable songs such as “Symphony of Destruction,” “Skin O’ my Teeth,” and the title track.
28. Metallica – Kill Em All (1983)
Often hailed as the birth of thrash, Kill Em All is the debut album by Metallica that established the group as the leading figure in the subgenre. Though overshadowed by its successors, Kill Em All is still one of the best thrash albums of all time thanks to classics like “The Four Horsemen,” “Phantom Lord,” and “Seek and Destroy.”
27. Ozzy Osbourne – Blizzard of Ozz (1980)
Ozzy Osbourne started his solo career off with a bang with the release of Blizzard of Ozz. Thanks in large part to the contributions of guitarist Randy Rhoads, the album proved that Ozzy was fully capable of generating stellar material without Tony Iommi by his side. Blizzard of Ozz houses some of Ozzy’s most popular songs such as “Crazy Train” and “Mr. Crowley.”
26. Iron Maiden – Iron Maiden (1980)
Iron Maiden’s debut album is often overlooked by the landmark releases that followed, but it is still an excellent release from one of metal’s most influential bands. Paul Di’Anno may not have had the singing chops to compete with Bruce Dickinson, but he holds his own on some Maiden essentials like “Remember Tomorrow,” “Running Free,” and “Charlotte the Harlot.”
25. Iron Maiden – Somewhere in Time (1986)
Somewhere in Time is the first Maiden album to incorporate synthesizers into the compositions and thankfully little of the gusto from the previous albums is lost. Some critics discredit this change claiming Maiden had lost its edge, but the group deserves credit for seeking new means of enhancing their material. Some of the band’s most underrated work appears on this album including “Caught Somewhere in Time,” “Stranger in a Strange Land,” and “Déjà vu.”
24. Megadeth – Peace Sells… But who’s Buying? (1986)
Certainly one of the most important albums in early thrash, Peace Sells… But Who’s Buying? brought an element of social consciousness to metal that was severely lacking. The politically charged lyrics of the title track brought Megadeth to the forefront of the metal world and made themselves known to those outside the metal community. The apocalyptic visions of the future expressed in both the lyrics and the albums artwork helped make Peace Sells one of the benchmark releases of the decade.
23. AC/DC – Back in Black (1980)
AC/DC brought heavy music to the forefront with the 1980 release Back in Black. The album has sold around 49 million copies and remains the second highest selling album ever thanks to timeless tracks like “Hells Bells,” “Let Me Put My Love Into You,” “You Shook Me All Night Long,” and the title track. Back in Black is AC/DC’s definitive album and remains a vital piece of metal history due to its wide spread exposure and influence.
22. Judas Priest – Defenders of the Faith (1984)
The release of Defenders of the Faith added a number of instant classics to the ever-growing list of timeless Judas Priest songs. There really isn’t a bad track on the album but the highlights include “Love Bites,” “The Sentinel,” and “Eat me Alive,” which made the group a target for Tipper Gore and the Parents Music Resource Center for its pronounced sexual message.
21. Slayer – South of Heaven (1988)
Slayer followed up its 1986 classic Reign in Blood with South of Heaven, an equally impressive if not quite as groundbreaking release. The group maintained its power and edge in the genre by preserving the tenants that made it famous such as dark lyrical content, aggressive riffs, and relentless speed (Although South of Heaven is slower overall than their previous albums.)
20. Motorhead – Ace of Spades (1980)
Motorhead holds the distinction of being one of the fastest bands to come out of the new wave of British heavy metal. The pace of just about every song on Ace of Spades would have a substantial impact on early thrash metal bands like Metallica and would serve as one of the primary influences to the budding subgenre.
19. Bathory – Blood Fire Death (1988)
Bathory is without a doubt one of the most underrated bands in metal history. The group pioneered two subgenres of metal but received limited commercial exposure or praise for its accomplishments. Blood Fire Death marks the transitional period between the two eras of Bathory where the black metal years are blended with the Viking metal years. The album contains traces of both and the result is unlike anything that has come before or since. It is a truly unique album and deserving of its place as one of the greatest of all time.
18. Black Sabbath – Heaven and Hell (1980)
Replacing a front man like Ozzy Osbourne is no easy task, but as Heaven and Hell proves, Ronnie James Dio was a more than up for the challenge. Dio brought new life to the band on this album and helped generate classics such as “Die Young,” “Children of the Sea,” and “Heaven and Hell.”
17. Judas Priest – British Steel (1980)
British Steel may not be as consistent from beginning to end compared to some of Priest’s other albums, but it was nevertheless one of the most timely and important releases of the band’s career. Released in 1980, British Steel ushered in the new decade with the genre defining single, “Breaking the Law,” which exemplified the sound and attitude that metal would come to represent.
16. Death – Symbolic (1995)
The scope of Chuck Schuldiner’s creative genius comes into full focus in Death’s Symbolic. The album solidified the legacy of Schuldiner as one of the greatest innovators in the genre and established Death as the definitive band in death metal. Combining technical guitar work with ranging melodies, powerful lyrics, and complex song structures, Symbolic is about as close to perfect as it gets.
15. Black Sabbath – Master of Reality (1971)
Black Sabbath did not miss a beat with the release of 1971’s Master of Reality. The album picks up right where Paranoid left off and delivers a number of top-notch tracks full of slow, hammering riffs such as “Sweet Leaf,” “After Forever,” and the epically heavy “Children of the Grave.” Black Sabbath had found a formula that worked and would ride it for the rest of their distinguished career.
14. Deep Purple – Machine Head (1972)
Along with Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple is credited as being one of the primary architects of early heavy metal. Ritchie Blackmore’s famous riff in “Smoke on the Water” would help define the emerging genre and “Highway Star” would serve as a source of inspiration for years to come.
13. Judas Priest – Painkiller (1990)
Judas Priest proved they could adapt to the changing landscape of heavy metal with the release of Painkiller in 1990. At a time when underground metal was becoming faster and more brutal, Priest followed suit by producing their heaviest album to date. The quintessential title track rejuvenated Priest’s career and proved that they could still compete with the up-and-coming metal groups of the time.
12. Slayer – Seasons in the Abyss (1990)
Slayer kicked off the 90’s with an extension of their previous release, South of Heaven. Like its predecessor, Seasons in the Abyss plays around with melodies and pacing, which brings a new element to Slayer’s trademark sound. The anthem “War Ensemble” kicks off the album and is followed up by immortal tracks like “Blood Red,” “Expendable Youth,” and “Born of Fire.”
11. Megadeth – Rust in Peace (1990)
Not only is Rust in Peace the epitomic Megadeth album, it is also one of the best metal albums of all time. The first album constructed by a sober Dave Mustaine proved to be an outstanding improvement from the previous album So Far So Good… So What? and proved to fans that the band had not lost its mojo by any stretch of the imagination. The album is highlighted by the unforgettable “Hangar 18” as well as “Holy Wars… the Punishment Due” and “Lucretia.”
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10. Black Sabbath – Black Sabbath (1970)
Many consider Black Sabbath’s debut to be the birth of heavy metal. The self-titled intro track sounds like the soundtrack to a horror movie with Tonny Iommi’s slow apocalyptic riff combining with Ozzy Osbourne’s chilling vocals. Sabbath’s style has been copied by just about every metal band since, which is a big reason why they are considered one of the most important bands in metal history.
9. Dio – Holy Diver (1983)
Dio’s debut album made a huge splash in 1983 with the hits “Rainbow in the Dark” and “Holy Diver.” These songs remain wildly popular to this day and regularly appear on the radio and throughout pop culture. The album proved to be one of the most enduring releases in the genre’s history and secured Ronnie James Dio’s place as a heavy metal icon.
8. Iron Maiden – Piece of Mind (1983)
Piece of Mind is the second Maiden album with Bruce Dickinson on vocals and it remains one of the legendary group’s most popular releases. Sitting directly in the middle of the track list is the figurative and literal keystone of the album, “The Trooper.” It is a genre-defining classic that perfectly exhibits Maiden’s ability to combine galloping bass lines with harmonized guitars and soaring vocals. Other tracks like “Flight of Icarus” and “To Tame a Land” will not soon be forgotten either.
7. Metallica – Ride the Lightning (1984)
While Kill Em All was groundbreaking in its own right, Ride the Lightning was the album that really brought Metallica to the forefront of the thrash movement. Not only did the album demonstrate the group’s ability to play with tremendous speed and technicality, but it also showcased a new level of range and songwriting prowess.
This was accomplished by combining aggressive biting songs like “Creeping Death” and “Fight Fire with Fire” with slower but equally powerful songs like “Fade to Black” and “For Whom the Bell Tolls.” Ride the Lightning marked a huge step forward for the band and served as a precursor of things to come on its next release.
6. Judas Priest – Screaming for Vengeance (1982)
The consensus top Judas Priest album is truly a masterpiece. The album kicks off with one of the best intros of all time in “The Hellion” and leads directly into the equally impressive “Electric Eye.” The single “You’ve got Another Thing Coming” became the band’s most popular song and remains a classic to this day. In truth every track on the album has the ability to stand on its own but together they coalesce into one of the greatest albums of all time.
5. Iron Maiden – Powerslave (1984)
Powerslave marked another revolutionary release for Iron Maiden. It is the definition of a complete album with one song naturally transferring to the next with no filler whatsoever. It represents Maiden at its best with catchy fan favorites like “Aces High” as well as the technically impressive instrumental “Losfer Words.” As if these were not enough, the album concludes with the thirteen and a half minute epic “Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” which on its own serves as a microcosm of the whole album with extended instrumental sections, drastic tempo changes, and extremely catchy riffs.
4. Black Sabbath – Paranoid (1970)
Black Sabbath’s second album is without a doubt one of the most influential albums in metal history. It perfects the style set down in the debut by pulling in the reigns slightly and making the heavy riff driven tracks more focused and tightly structured. The result is some of the most recognized songs in heavy metal including “War Pigs,” “Paranoid,” and “Iron Man.”
3. Slayer – Reign in Blood (1986)
Slayer’s groundbreaking third studio album is easily one of the most highly regarded releases in thrash metal. With classic songs like “Angel of Death” and “Raining Blood,” focusing on the themes of death, violence, and anti-Christianity, it’s easy to see how Slayer became one of metal’s most extreme and controversial presences. The album would have a tremendous impact on the rising death metal movement that would progress in the years that followed and it remains one of the most important releases in metal history.
2. Metallica – Master of Puppets (1986)
Coming in second place in a close race is Metallica’s masterpiece Master of Puppets. The album holds the nearly universal distinction of being the best thrash album of all time and is easily Metallica’s best effort. The album brought a horde of new fans to the genre and paved the way for the extreme metal bands that would flourish in the following year. Unfortunately Metallica was never able to match the caliber of this release perhaps due to the fact that their innovative bass player Cliff Burton died in a bus accident while on tour in Sweden promoting the album.
1. Iron Maiden – Number of the Beast (1982)
The definitive album from metal’s definitive band comes in at number one. Number of the Beast is the first album featuring Bruce Dickinson on vocals and his contributions elevated Iron Maiden to the highest echelon of the heavy metal hierarchy. With timeless classics like “Children of the Dammed,” “Number of the Beast,” “Run to the Hills,” and “Hallowed be Thy Name,” it is easy to see why Number of the Beast is the greatest metal album of all time.
So concludes the top 100 metal albums of all time countdown. Every one of the albums on this list is a must own for any metal fan so track them down, turn them up and enjoy. Be sure not to miss anything by reviewing the previous 90 selections that made the cut.