Nuclear Blast was formed by Markus Staiger in 1987 as a means to release hardcore punk records and thrash compilations. Over their 35-year tenure, they’ve become the home for leading European metal bands and are now considered as one of the most prestigious labels for heavy music across the globe. With a roster brimming with legendary acts, Nuclear Blast have delivered many classic records. Here are what we consider to be their essential 10 releases.
Dimmu Borgir – Enthrone Darkness Triumphant (1997)
A benchmark album in the evolution of symphonic black metal, this 1997 release hinted at Dimmu Borgir’s potential to extend far beyond the boundaries of the genre and reach an even bigger audience. While their third full-length may not have ended up being the one that truly saw them crack a new market, musically speaking alone, it’s the finest distillation of arcane, grim extremity melded with soaring, swooping and elegant orchestration. Whilst symphonic metal had never sounded so brutal, black metal had never sounded so gloriously bombastic. Purists may fold their arms and dig in their heels, but, fuck ‘em, frankly. They’re missing out on songs as inescapably brilliant as the galloping In Death’s Embrace or the whiplash inducing maelstrom of Tormentor of Christian Souls.
Death – The Sound of Perseverance (1998)
This was Death’s final studio effort before the tragic passing of their visionary founder Chuck Schuldiner, and their sole release on this label. This compelling album is evidence of just how far the band had progressed beyond the proto-death metal of their earlier output. The Sound of Perseverance is a brutal record, no doubt, but this album is laced with beautifully melodic leads, clean, picked guitar segments and some of the most unashamedly prog-minded material the band ever recorded. Like every Death album, it’s rightly considered a classic today, but even in their own bulletproof catalogue, this release stands out from the rest.
In Flames – Clayman (2000)
Clayman was the pinnacle of In Flames' earlier releases. While it may not be the heaviest or the most commercially successful album of their career, it remains one of the benchmarks for the entire melodic death metal movement. It sounds every inch the superstar record today, with Bullet Ride, Pinball Map and Only for the Weak being one of the finest trilogy of songs to open any album. Throughout the record, both the urgency of their savage riffs and the quality of those brain-hogging choruses coalesce together in the most satisfying moments of In Flames’ career. Much like At The Gates' legendary Slaughter of the Soul, Clayman would go on to be pillaged by the early metalcore movement for decades after its release. But none of them hit the spot in the way this album does.
Immortal – Sons of Northern Darkness (2002)
The Norwegian black metal icons’ seventh album – and first on Nuclear Blast – came at a time when the genre that they helped shape had begun to branch out. With the rock press suddenly invested in Cradle of Filth, Dimmu Borgir and Satyricon, black metal was arguably at its commercial peak. But nothing could compete with the real deal, and thanks to Peter Tagtgren’s immaculate production, Immortal crafted an album that was as vast, menacing and yet instantaneous as any of the second wave bands had ever managed. The songs were a perfect mix of the continual evolution of Immortal towards old school thrash and Motörhead, whilst remaining inarguably linked to the true ideals of black metal.
Anthrax – We've Come for You All (2003)
Anthrax’s reputation had diminished somewhat in the five years since the release of Volume 8: The Threat Is Real, which is what makes their 2003 effort We’ve Come for You All such a fantastic achievement. Arguably the finest album of the John Bush era, Anthrax hadn’t sounded so vital, crunchy, and crucially, as contemporary for a long time. Their ninth studio effort – which featured guest appearances from Dimebag Darrell and Roger Daltrey – barely breaks its stride from Scott Ian’s classic stomping riff on the opening track, What Doesn’t Die. Other highlights include Superman, Safe Home and Taking the Music Back, all of which stand up to any of their early classics.
Nightwish – Once (2004)
Symphonic metal really came of age in the mid-2000s and it was Nightwish who were largely responsible for taking it to heights their underground scene could have ever dreamed. In hindsight, it seems impossible that a record with such glorious bombast could ever have failed, but Once is a genre benchmark, with a set of world class, soaring bangers that would satisfy both those with a penchant for the mosh or orchestra pits. Obviously, Nemo was the big crossover smash, but opening track Dark Chest of Wonders, the chunky Dead Gardens or the kitchen sink power metal ballad of Ghost Love Score easily stand alongside that grandiose opening single.
Meshuggah – ObZen (2008)
Any Meshuggah album is essential to any metal fan’s collection, but as we’re restricting ourselves to one release per band, we’re opting for their sixth album ObZen. Why? If we were being lazy, we could just say Bleed, what with it single-handedly redefining technical metal. But there’s far more to ObZen than that. Taking their mind-blowing technical wizardry to maddening levels on previous album Catch 33, the Swedes upped the ante in a different direction by writing the most concise yet catchy collection of songs of their entire career. The ability to do nail both conflicting ideas without compromising on their vision is what makes ObZen such a fascinating and perfect record.
Testament – The Formation of Damnation (2008)
This is the soundtrack to one of the all-time greatest comebacks in the history of metal. It had been just shy of a decade since an album of new Testament material had been released, but, damn, was it ever worth the wait. With former Slayer drummer Paul Bostaph’s making his studio debut for the Bay Area thrashers, his frantic stick work helped propel guitarists Alex Skolnick and Eric Peterson shred their way through a slew of career-defining riffs; this album sounded like the work of musicians half their vintage. The Formation of Damnation is everything you could ever want from thrash metal: pace, power, aggression, nausea-inducing grooves and frontman Chuck Billy’s sandpaper growl tying it all together. Go listen to The Persecuted Won’t Forget right now and tell us we’re wrong.
Kreator – Phantom Antichrist (2012)
Did this Kreator album signify a comeback much like Testament? Not really. At the turn of the millennium, these German thrashers were consistently putting out superb records, slowly building their fanbase away from the glare of the zeitgeist. This meant that people who either discovered or rediscovered the band on their 13th album – their first for Nuclear Blast – caught them on a steep upward trajectory. Phantom Antichrist finds the band in unstoppable form, with Jens Bogren’s taut production beautifully setting up the blistering riffs and paint-stripping vocals of Mille Petrozza. The best thrash album of the 21st century? It has to be in with a shout, hasn’t it?
Nails – You Will Never Be One of Us (2016)
Nails’ 2013 17-minute-long effort, Abandon All Life had already captured the attention of those with a love of sludgy, hate-filled grindcore. But when the band signed to Nuclear Blast and released this, their third album, they were so unfathomably extreme that the entire metal scene and beyond sat up and took notice. You Will Never Be One of Us is an astonishingly spiteful noise and the longest record of their career – mostly due to the eight-minute closer They Come Crawling Back. It’s a truly relentless listening experience and redefined the D-beat, hardcore movement, largely because no-one has ever been able to compete with just how fast and disgusting Nails are on this release.