The 50 best metal albums of all time

Iron Maiden - Iron Maiden (1980)

Chosen by: Miho (ex-Lovebites)

Iron Maiden’s self-titled debut is the greatest album of the last 50 years. It is important because of its unprecedented sound. It saw progressive metal sounds fused with the aggression of punk, and in doing so became the cornerstone of the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal. 

“When I first heard it, I was still new to the world of metal and wanted to gain more knowledge. In Japan, CD rental shops were and still are a thing, and it’s partly because of this that I had access to so much music. The album was recommended to me by staff as one of the best metal albums, so of course, I grabbed it and thought, ‘I must listen to this!’ and ran home immediately and put it my CD player. Before opening track Prowler had finished, I was already blown away and wanting more. 

“The music is so original and fresh. Despite it being released before my time, I feel that the album’s combination of hard, treble-heavy bass and guitar is something rarely found in other material of that era. Also, I love the strength and power of the vocals and riffs offset against the melodic nature of the guitar melodies. Plus, that sleeve art with Eddie is unforgettable. Truly an iconic album in every way. 

“You can hear Iron Maiden’s influence in so much metal that followed and even in new bands today. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that without them, today’s metal scene would be very different.” 

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Motörhead - Iron Fist (1982) 

Chosen by Matt Pike (Sleep/High On Fire)

“Well, I love every Motörhead album. I really love [1986’s] Orgasmatron. As a kid, that broke it for me. I was like, ‘Jesus Christ, can this get any heavier?!’ But then again, I love the old shit like Iron Fist and that classic sound with ‘Fast’ Eddie; some of that is the best shit. 

“When we were kids, we were into going to the tape and record store, and buying tapes and records and tape-trading and all that shit. I remember hearing Iron Fist and being like, ‘Fuck, dude! Who is this?’ and my friend Robbie was on the fence. He liked glam rock but he also liked Slayer, so he was like, ‘Dude, this Lemmy guy is fucking ugly.’ 

“Then, I think they were on MTV for Christmas shortly after that, and I just got further into it and purchased Motörhead albums of my own. I think I went out and bought three of them, as if I liked a band I’d buy everything all at once. I was 12 or 13 at the time! 

“I’d have to say that’s the most influential one, but there’s so many, though; I just love their entire catalogue. It’s like AC/DC... what’s the best AC/DC record? I like all of them.” 

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Dio - Holy Diver (1983)

Chosen by: Doro Pesch

Ronnie James Dio was the greatest singer in heavy metal, and Holy Diver is the greatest album of all time. I heard it when we were starting Warlock, my first band, and it was such a huge influence on us – just the quality and depth of the songs.

“Ronnie had already sung epic songs with Rainbow and Black Sabbath, but these were his own. You could hear his personality  in them all – his huge voice, his nobility. Songs like Rainbow In The Dark, Don’t Talk To Strangers and Holy Diver itself defined an era of heavy metal.

“I was lucky enough to get to know Ronnie. We toured with Dio in 1987 – my English wasn’t very good, so our conversations were limited, but he was always very nice. Then I toured with him again in 2000. I gave up my life insurance to fund it. People said I was crazy, that no one would come to see us, but every show was sold out. I would watch him every night – he had a special way of communicating with the audience that made everyone feel like they were part of a bigger family. I had two great friends in the music industry – Lemmy and Ronnie James Dio. I was lucky enough to get to know both.”

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Celtic Frost - Morbid Tales (1984)

Chosen by: Mark Tremonti (Alter Bridge)

“Growing up and becoming a metal fan, Celtic Frost were right behind Metallica as one of my favourite metal bands. I still remember my friend John introducing me to them with [1987’s] Into The Pandemonium, which I fell in love with. As I used to do, I went and picked up everything I could by them, and this became my go-to record.

“I often see Celtic Frost referred to as one of the most influential, if not the most influential, extreme metal bands in the world. There’s no other band from that scene that drew me in like them. It was the mood and atmosphere they create with this record – and the aggression as well. At that point, I was just a beginner guitarist and songwriter and still developing. But once I started writing, there’s no doubt it influenced me and still does to this day. 

“When I heard they were coming to play Orlando as part of their comeback in 2006, I hit the show with a couple of friends. I pushed my way to the rail, hands onstage, and stood there singing every lyric of every single song they played. I was so excited to finally see a band I loved from my childhood as a fan.” 

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Mercyful Fate - Don’t Break The Oath (1984)

Chosen by: George ‘Corpsegrinder’ Fisher (Cannibal Corpse)

Don’t Break The Oath is my favourite metal album of all time. When we were kids, we would all buy different stuff and dub it onto a cassette and pass it around. Me and my friends, we kept going into heavier and heavier stuff while everyone else just stuck on Metallica or whoever.

This friend of ours, Steve, had the first Mercyful Fate EP [1982’s Mercyful Fate], and he was going, ‘Hey guys, you gotta hear this band.’ So we played it, and we were, like, ‘Holy shit!’ You’d listen to the music, but there wasn’t any singing yet – and then all of a sudden King Diamond comes in and hits the high notes and it was so different to anything else I’d heard.

So I got Don’t Break The Oath and I just loved it. I love the songs, and I really love King Diamond’s voice. He mostly does the falsetto, so when he goes clean, it’s just this brilliant dynamic. That’s why it stands out for me. 

I can put this record on and it feels like there’s something else going on – it feels like there’s real magic in the world. The beginning of Don’t Break The Oath, with the thunder and the lightning and rain and everything – it’s got a vibe to it. If you’re sitting in the dark, you’ll be looking over your shoulder. If King Diamond told me there was someone or something there when they recorded it, I would totally believe it.

Possessed - Seven Churches (1985)

Chosen by: Tobias Forge, Ghost

“Most good music in metal, especially in extreme metal, is made by very young, youthful individuals. There is something very different to the fire and excitement of a young mind that you don’t often get by people that have matured and, dare I say it, mellowed. 

Seven Churches is the perfect encapsulation of youthful anger. The production may sound a little unrefined to an audience of today, but that is how I like my metal to sound. When the production of death metal began to change in the mid-90s, that’s when I started to go, ‘Yuk!’ I hated it, and it’s why I find myself returning to albums like this. 

“It’s hard to say what the influence of this record is, because I listen to very little in the way of modern death metal, so not only do I not hear the influence in the few things that I do know of, I don’t have enough context to say that, yes, this is a record of great significance in metal’s history. All I can say is that it still sounds feral and true and savage and full of life to this very day. And, if I’m going to indulge in something truly extreme, this would be one of my first ports of call!” 

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Bad Brains - I Against I (1986)

Chosen by: Jason Aalon Butler (Fever 333)

I Against I is the greatest album to me, because it actually challenged metal. I mean, for a start, Bad Brains are incredible musicians. Just incredible! And they were so radical in what they were saying, especially in a very white-dominated genre.      

“The first time I heard it was at my friend Paul’s. I was, like, ‘Wow, this is crazy!’ Then he told me that they were all black dudes, and I just thought that was incredible. I remember feeling like I wasn’t alone and that maybe I wasn’t as much of a freak as the people of Inglewood made me out to be, as I was this skateboarder from the hood who was into punk rock and metal. I remember feeling actual representation, an actual space to belong. 

“Their influence on metal is massive, even though many people don’t speak about them in a more mainstream way. It’s perennial, timeless, classic music, and I don’t care how you dress it, it’s classic music. And you know why? Because they meant it, because it’s authentic, because there is a message in there and they represented something to people. That’s how they felt and that is how they made other people feel the same way.” 

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Metallica - Master Of Puppets (1986)

Chosen by: Matt Heafy (Trivium)

Master Of Puppets was not only ahead of its time, but it was a foreshadowing of things to come – thanks to Metallica forging the blueprint. 

“It had all the elements of what they had shown across their earlier albums yet it was also an indication of where they could and would go in the future. It utilised fast and slow speeds, complex parts and simple musical passages, melodic hooks but also intense hooks – where it’s not formally a chorus so much as a great shouted tagline.

“Songs like Master Of Puppets itself and Welcome Home (Sanitarium) are polar opposites from each other stylistically, but they exist in perfect harmony with each other on the same album. Those two songs are certainly the blueprints upon which most metal bands have built their versions of those songs. 

“You can still to this day see what impact Master Of Puppets has had on the
metal scene. From rhythm guitar, to bass, to leads, to clean guitars, to vocals and drums – you can trace every contemporary band back to this groundbreaking record.”  

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Anthrax - Among The Living (1987)

Chosen by: Philly Byrne (Gama Bomb)

"That was one of the first thrash metal albums I ever heard. A friend got it on cassette from the library in Newry when I was about 13, and I was hooked.

"Anthrax were always in the midst of thrash, but this where they really separated themselves. It’s the first out-and-proud geek heavy metal album – an album by a bunch of pop culture geeks. It has two songs based on Stephen King stories, it has a song about Judge Dredd, it has a song about John Belushi, the comedian. It’s peppered with these references that other people weren’t making. 

“Musically, Among The Living sounds fantastic. Charlie Benante’s drums are a huge part of what makes it special, and it’s a lot more hooky than most thrash albums. But the key thing is Joey Belladonna. He was an unusual singer for that kind of band: he’s this little dynamo with this high voice, loads of personality. Other bands were doing a lot of stuff with attitude, but he was really singing. 

“Slayer were a kind of Satanic metal crumpet: ‘This is who we are, we are the dark lords.’ But Anthrax never took themselves too seriously. I think that was more of a challenge to an audience: you either got them or you didn’t.”  

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Def Leppard - Hysteria (1987)

Chosen by: Tobias Sammet (Avantasia)

“I must have listened to Def Leppard’s Hysteria a million times. As a kid in my bedroom, later on in my car, and on the road in a tour bus. It’s mellow and anthemic at the same time, it’s intimate and it’s big, it’s about love and it’s about war. 

“It’s way better than its reputation among purists who doom anything beyond an analogue 16-track, 2-inch tape recording. Yes, some say it’s too commercial, others say it’s over-produced, some say it’s tailored to be a hit record. I say it’s a huge record, and, having sold zillions, of course you can’t argue about it being a hit record. There’s nothing wrong with superstardom, and who wouldn’t want their music to be accessible to millions? 

“Regarding its polished sound, it’s the good old 80s way before a whole industry fell for the terrible fallacy that less is more. Get some extra lessons in maths: more is more, period! And Hysteria is a lot more of everything, while the song itself remains the centre of attention. It’s all so damn well crafted. Joe Elliott is underrated as a singer; the whole band are underrated. 

“And honestly, releasing a killer record three years after your drummer lost an arm in a terrible accident, as if nothing had happened? This alone is more metal than most metal bands will ever be. Nothing but respect for this band!” 

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Merlin Alderslade
Executive Editor, Louder

Merlin moved into his role as Executive Editor of Louder in early 2022, following over ten years working at Metal Hammer. While there, he served as Online Editor and Deputy Editor, before being promoted to Editor in 2016. Before joining Metal Hammer, Merlin worked as Associate Editor at Terrorizer Magazine and has previously written for the likes of Classic Rock, Rock Sound, eFestivals and others. Across his career he has interviewed legends including Ozzy Osbourne, Lemmy, Metallica, Iron Maiden (including getting a trip on Ed Force One courtesy of Bruce Dickinson), Guns N' Roses, KISS, Slipknot, System Of A Down and Meat Loaf. He has also presented and produced the Metal Hammer Podcast, presented the Metal Hammer Radio Show and is probably responsible for 90% of all nu metal-related content making it onto the site.