All of you feeble mortals can consider this list Lord Reptile’s love letter to classic heavy metal albums. The Reptile does not necessarily like any genre of metal more than the other, but that might be because the standards that he holds metal to are actually quite narrow. If you want to begin to have a true grasping of what metal is, you must go back to the beginning. Only then will you notice when some heavy blues and psychedelic rock bands shed their flower rock influences and evolved into something darker and much heavier.
1. Judas Priest – Stained Class (1978)
Judas Priest may have been the most important band when it came to the full realization of heavy metal in the eighties. Their album Stained Class is but one of several monstrous heavy metal albums that they released back when heavy metal was only a term and had yet to be truly defined. But Stained Class was far more metal than anything that came before it.
From that often-imitated double kick bass at the beginning of “Exciter,” to Rob Halford’s hair-raising falsetto screams throughout the entire album, or Glen Tipton and KK Downing’s blazing riffwork on tracks like “Savage” and “Beyond the Realms of Death,” this album appeals to the heavy metal maniac in all of us.
Essential Tracks for biker metallers: “Exciter,” “Better By You,” “Better Me,” “Savage,” “Beyond the Realms of Death”
2. Motorhead – Overkill (1979)
If Stained Class raised the question “Just how much is a 70’s heavy metal band capable of?” Then Motorhead’s Overkill album is the answer. Although Lemmy may simply refer to Motorhead’s music as “Rock n’ roll,” this album is the closest sounding thing to speed metal. If Black Sabbath is responsible for creating heavy metal, then Motorhead invented speed metal. With those punk-influenced lyrics and fast tempos, Motorhead was arguably the biggest band to influence thrash metal until Venom released their debut Welcome to Hell. Overkill is the perfect album for going fast.
Best tracks for going fast: “Overkill,” “Stay Clean,” “(I Won’t) Pay Your Price,” “No Class,” “Damage Case”
3. Rainbow – Rainbow Rising (1976)
Ritchie Blackmore was arguably just as important as Tony Iommi when it came to his influence on heavy metal. Deep Purple’s early albums were ridiculously abrasive for early 70’s hard rock, and Ian Gillan’s high-pitched shrieking left a huge impression that would later influence falsetto giants like Halford and King Diamond.
But why would the Reptile review one of Deep Purple’s albums when Rainbow Rising is vastly superior? As much as I acknowledge Ian Gillan as one of the very first metal vocalists, he has nothing on Ronnie James Dio. Before Dio’s solo band, before he replaced Duke Osbourne in Black Sabbath, RJD had already established himself as the greatest heavy metal singer of all time in Rainbow.
Personally, my favorite release from them is the live album Rainbow On Stage but I’ll talk about that at another time. When you hear the song “Stargazer” you’ll be hooked on Rainbow Rising. That was the first epic metal song ever made. Ritchie Blackmore’s neo-classical harmonic minor scale abuse, which was somewhat rare at the time save for Uli Jon Roth’s early mastery of shred, also served as an influence to the power metal genre.
Top tracks to listen to while praising Lord Dio: “Tarot Woman,” “Starstruck,” “Stargazer”
4. Black Sabbath – Master of Reality (1971)
Black Sabbath’s debut is widely recognized to be the very first heavy metal album, making Black Sabbath the very first metal band. But it wasn’t until a year later that Reptile is convinced the master doom rockers released the album that truly DEFINED heavy metal once and for all: Master of Reality. This was the very first metal album young Reptile bought on vinyl.
When Sweet Leaf comes on you know this is the album that if it could talk, its breath would reek of liquor, stale beer and great weed. Sweet Leaf was the first anthem of stoner doom metal. The galloping song of doom that is “Children of the Grave” might as well be my funeral dirge. Then you flip the side and “Lord of this World” comes on and crushes that nerd Eric Clapton and his silly flower rock band Cream into bits. As the placid flute ballad Solitude comes on take a minute to reflect on your pathetic life until the low tuned opening riff of “Into the Void” lurches into the scene like a George Romero zombie. Near the end As Lord Iommi rips some nonsensical guitar solo over Master Butler’s heavy bassline you ponder if this flawless slab of metal could have come from human hands. Well they didn’t: Tony Iommi’s fingertips are fake.
Best tracks to listen to while blazing: EVERY SONG. THE REPTILE ENDORSES EVERY SINGLE SONG ON LORD IOMMI, MASTER BUTLER AND DUKE OSBOURNE’S TIMELESS METAL MASTERPIECE.
5. Mercyful Fate – Melissa (1983)
Heavy metal simply doesn’t get much better than Mercyful Fate. King Diamond is arguably the most iconic frontman of all time. His early lyrics focused on themes of Satanism and witchcraft, and this album stands out for telling a story of sorts. Concept albums were an almost non-existent gimmick in metal at the time, as was corpsepaint. Mercyful Fate was really the first band of their kind. To this day I still think King Diamond is one of the only legitimate heavy metal musicians to use corpsepaint.
But when you peel away all the theatrics and evil lyrics, you’re left with an undeniably solid heavy metal band. Hank Shermann and Michael Denner are easily one of the most underrated guitar duos in the genre. The solo exchange in “Evil” can match the intensity of any Judas Priest or Iron Maiden solo. Mercyful Fate’s twin guitar approach was as groundbreaking as it was heavy and melodic.
Top tracks for your Halloween metal playlist: “Evil,” “Curse of the Pharaohs,” “Black Funeral,” “Satan’s Fall”
6. Iron Maiden – Killers (1981)
Iron Maiden’s last album before their acrimonious split with frontman Paul Di’anno is one of the last truly memorable albums of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM). Although Bruce Dickinson was definitely the right frontman for Maiden and they went on to create some of the greatest ’80s metal albums with him, to me Killers stands out by representing everything that one could possibly hope for in a NWOBHM album.
The sheer intensity of Di’anno’s vocals on tracks like “Wrathchild” and the titular track are simply unmatched. Steve Harris serves as an example to all bassists that even when there’s two dueling guitarists like Adrian Smith and Dave Murray trying to blow everyone away it’s those galloping and abrasive bass licks that really make the songs move. “Genghis Khan” is also arguably the finest instrumental heavy metal song of all time, very technical but also unforgettable.
Top tracks to listen to while stalking the subway: “Wrathchild,” “Murders in the Rue Morgue,” “Another Life,” “Genghis Khan,” “Killers,” “Purgatory,” “Twilight Zone” (special edition only)
7. Angel Witch – Angel Witch (1980)
The most heroic sounding band of the NWOBHM was years ahead of everyone else when it comes to their heavy riff game. If you don’t get hyped when you hear the first solo on the title track you should probably check to make sure you still have a pulse. Guitarist/vocalist Kevin Heybourne sings in the melodic yet gritty style that NWOBHM is known for but his high-pitched wailing is a far cry from that of Biff Byford of Saxon or Paul Di Anno of Iron Maiden. Still, he makes up for this with his fantasy-themed lyrics and the fact that he’s handling both lead and rhythm guitar duties while still being a competent vocalist.
Tracks for NWOBHM enthusiasts: “Angel Witch,” “Atlantis,” “White Witch,” “Gorgon”
This article begins PJ Lifestyle’s Culture List Project, in which we begin looking backward at the section’s previous years of lists that argued about and ranked everything in popular culture, while also starting to think about the future for new approaches to the infamous “Listicle” genre that has come to conquer the internet both to jeers and applause.
What pop culture lists and debates do you want to have at PJ Lifestyle in the future? We want to figure out the best, worst, most overrated/underrated across all categories and genres. Movies, TV, Video Games, Food, Books, People, Culture and History — on Fridays it’s List Day. Get in touch with The Brothers Swindle on Twitter with your suggestions and ideas for what you want to read and argue about. (Submissions can be emailed to DaveSwindlePJM AT Gmail.com Here’s an assortment of Lifestyle lists across genres to chew on in the meantime: