Not every band gets it right at the first time of asking. Most take a while to hit their stride – just think of Pantera and Trivium, who both released debut albums that gave no hint at what was to come. Others, such as Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden and Metallica, flew out of the traps but kept on accelerating, overshadowing even their landmark debuts.
But a handful of bands attain perfection at the first time of asking, releasing game-changing debut albums that few can match - not least themselves. We’re not saying these bands made bad albums afterwards, but none measured up to their opening salvo.
Here are 11 metal rookies who nailed it on their first run-out.
Dio – Holy Diver (1983)
This was a new beginning for Ronnie, but his past was in evidence both in his choice of two former bandmates (ex Rainbow bassist Jimmy Bain, ex-Sabbath drummer Vinny Appice) and in the epic feel of the music. The little fella’s masterstroke was the acquisition of 19-year-old guitarist Vivian Campbell, the man who “put the fast in Belfast”, who gave the band a vital, contemporary edge.
With its electrifying opener Stand Up And Shout, its spooky title track and the majestic Rainbow In The Dark, Holy Diver was the album on which Dio, the man, was able to fully realise his own singular vision.
Exodus – Bonded By Blood (1985)
Talismanic standard bearers for the Bay Area thrash scene, Exodus defined the entire genre with their debut album. Led by the none-more-diehard Paul Baloff, they tore through nine flawless lessons in hard-riffing violence and deftly nailed the thrash blueprint for all time. ‘Metal takes hold, death starts to unfold… it’s loud like the world’s at and end!’ sums it up.
Guns N’ Roses – Appetite For Destruction (1987)
Yes, obviously: the Sweet Child O' Mine riff. But even now, there are endless moments that thrill. The climbdown outro riff to It’s So Easy. Slash’s screamer solo in Mr Brownstone. The glorious gearshift that announces Rocket Queen’s calm after the storm. Appetite isn’t just Guns N’ Roses’ best album, it’s probably the best debut ever – and arguably the greatest record of all time.
Big respect to the Illusion twins – and a little less to Spaghetti and Democracy – but Guns N' Roses were never better than when LA first coughed them up. As perfect as rock‘n’roll gets, Appetite caught it all in the bottle: the booze, strippers, squalor, intravenous drugs, boundless ambition and tunes to back it up.
Morbid Angel – Altars Of Madness (1989)
Rightly hailed as a landmark for the emerging death metal scene, Morbid Angel’s 1989 debut, Altars Of Madness, set the bar so high for the entire genre that people are still trying to match its brutal splendour more than 30 years later.
Back in 1989, few had ever heard anything like it before. The Floridans made Slayer sound like Weezer: this was a twisted, pitch-black and incredible sophisticated upgrade for Chuck Schuldiner’s deathly blueprint. Trey Azagthoth’s churning, otherworldly riffs, David Vincent’s peerless growls and the band’s idiosyncratic approach and progressive mindset set them apart from their peers – songs like Chapel Of Ghouls and Immortal Rites have never been topped for otherworldly menace and riffs that tear your soul apart. Still untouchable after all these years.
Rage Against The Machine – Rage Against The Machine (1992)
Angry but articulate, heavy but hooky, Rage Against The Machine’s debut burnt brighter than the sleeve’s self-immolating Buddhist monk. It’s a rare album where every song lands, whether that’s teeth-kicking opener Bombtrack, Bullet In The Head’s incandescent kiss-off or the spittle-flecked Know Your Enemy: all songs driven equally by Tom Morello’s revolutionary punk-with-a-pedalboard guitar work and Zach de la Rocha’s tear-it-down vocals. Rage never lost it – but they never had it quite so emphatically again.
Emperor – In The Nightside Eclipse (1994)
Few will argue against the case that Emperor are the greatest black metal band of all time, or that they raised the genre into new realms of art. In The Nightside Eclipse amplified black metal’s invocation of otherness as it imprinted the inhuman on an immeasurably vast and majestic canvas. Keyboards swirled like avenging angels of death, guitars surged as if attempting to reach escape velocity from this mortal realm and Emperor tore open new spaces that drew in innumerable voyagers in their wake.
Korn - Korn (1994)
‘Are you ready?!’ roars Jonathan Davis on Blind, the awesome opener to Korn’s landmark debut. When this album appeared, no one had a name for the nascent genre that was about to re-animate the corpse of metal after the beating dished out by grunge. Their first and best, this is a stormer, featuring some of the heaviest, dirtiest riffs ever recorded, a bottom end so heavy it could anchor an aircraft carrier, and a frontman who would raise the articulation of adolescent angst into a bile-fuelled art form. They made more successful records, but none had the sheer impact of the debut.
Machine Head – Burn My Eyes (1994)
They said metal was dead back in 1994, but Machine Head had missed that memo. A gang of street kids raised on Pantera, Public Enemy, Cro-Mags and Ice-T, the Oakland crew mixed their influences into a magnificent melting pot to make metal sound dangerous, fresh and contemporary again.
You all know the shotgun blast call of Davidian, the rumbling bass line that ushers in Old, the part-rapped, part-spat lyrical rage of Block, the thrash pace of Blood For Blood. Burn My Eyes is an absolute classic. It made such an impact that the band started the album cycle supporting Slayer… and then returned to the same venues as a headlining band in their own right only a year or so later. All because of the strength of these songs.
Slipknot – Slipknot (1999)
This is it, folks: the start of a genuine phenomenon. The point where nu metal almost swallowed the world whole. And it all started off in Des Moines, Iowa, the arsehole of nowhere. The frustration and alienation captured by Slipknot on their debut album struck a resounding chord with metal fans hungry for the next extreme sonic outrage. And outrage was exactly what they got. Squealing, scratching volleys ricochet off grinding, bullet-proof thrash riffs while a rhythm section hammers away in titanic triplicate. Nasty, brutish, overwhelmingly nihilistic but utterly mesmerising.
Linkin Park – Hybrid Theory (2000)
The critical kicking meted out to the nu-metal scene was often justified, but there’s no denying the rush of Linkin Park’s game-changing opener. Twenty years later, you still hear exactly why the Californians notched up 27 million sales – the best-selling debut since Appetite For Destruction, no less – with their smart mix of rap, metal, electronica and pop hooks that sent key single In The End soaring.
Sadly, neither does it take a degree in literary criticism to spot the troubled headspace of Chester Bennington on moments like Points Of Authority: the singer died by suicide in 2017.
Bullet For My Valentine – The Poison (2005)
Front to back, Bullet For My Valentine’s debut LP is a shot of melody, heaviness and dexterity straight to the cranium. Everything here is gold. The Gothenburg-inspired riffing’s here in buckets through Cries In Vain and the masterful Her Voice Resides, and Bullet’s ballads have never been as brilliant as they were back here. Tears Don’t Fall remains a modern classic when it comes to the art of epic, sing-along soppiness – yeah, we know there’s the thrashy bit too, steady on – and All These Things I Hate (Revolve Around Me)’s instantaneous, loserish loneliness could’ve been a radio mainstay were it not for the, well, metal bits. They’ll probably never recapture that crisp, fresh-out-of-the-box power they had on The Poison.