The 50 best metal albums of all time

Helloween - Keeper Of The Seven Keys – Part II (1988)

Chosen by: Chris Jericho (Fozzy)

“People ask, ‘What exactly is a perfect album?’ For me, the definition is that every song has to be an A- or better. If every song checks that box, it’s a perfect album. And Keeper Of The Seven Keys – Part II is that for me. 

“I love Helloween so much that I took my name from their first album, Walls Of Jericho. They created the whole genre of music that’s now known as power metal. But when they first started there was no power metal. Metallica had the speed and Iron Maiden had the harmony guitars, but Helloween put it together – you had the massive double bass beat with these crazy, intricate harmonies. 

“They started out as a kind of thrashy band, but when they got Michael Kiske in for the first Keeper..., they introduced a new sound, which they perfected here. I saw them last year, and the guy hits every single note, and sings those songs in the exact key that they were written. Michael is one of the greatest singers in history, and this is the greatest power metal album ever made.” 

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Faith No More – The Real Thing (1989)

Chosen by: Brian ‘Head’ Welch (Korn)

Fieldy, Munky, David… all the guys in Korn changed after they heard The Real Thing. It turned them from being the Mötley Crüe guys into something more alternative. I was late though; I didn’t want to let go of Whitesnake and these bands that had huge guitar parts, because I was a guitarist too and I loved all of that stuff.

But hearing Faith No More for the first time though, I really felt something. It was darker than other bands you’d hear at the time like Red Hot Chili Peppers, but also had this incredibly cool bass sound that really got me to let go of the old and embrace the new. I caught the vision for where music could go and where we could go later even though it came out long before Korn were a band.

They didn’t fit in completely with anybody. Sure, they’d got the alternative thing going on, but they’d also got these thrash metal guitars they’d picked up being around the scene with bands like Metallica. That’s what I loved about it – it was guitar focused, but there weren’t too many leads getting in the way.

Even now, if I had to explain what influences go behind what we do in Korn, I’d pick a song like The Real Thing, 100 per cent. The way the song starts, with that opening drumbeat and those keys, really reminds me of Blind. And that vocal line! Its perfection, man. All minor music with this bright vocal – ‘I know the feeling/it is the real thing’ is just perfection to me. I’m sad that I’ve never met those guys – I know James and Jonathan have. We were supposed to go on tour with them before COVID hit and I really hope we actually get to do that some day.

Alice In Chains - Facelift (1990)

Chosen By: Elijah Witt (Cane Hill)

“This is the pre-Dirt era Alice In Chains, and I think that Layne Staley shines so much more. With Facelift, you have this very grungy Led Zeppelin vibe that I don’t think you get from the rest of their albums. I feel the pain in Layne’s voice and that suffering more on this record, and I could just listen to it over and over for the rest of my life.

“I think I was in a car driving somewhere when I first heard it. From the first time I heard it to now, its impact on me is instantaneous. It’s emotionally gripping – it leaves me feeling pain, it leaves me thinking about all the heartache and depression that I’ve had, which is what I relish and love to do. I think everyone in the metal scene should have heard it, and it absolutely affected me as a vocalist and lyricist. If I didn’t have Layne as an inspiration, I don’t honestly know how I would sound or write.”

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Slayer - Seasons In The Abyss (1990)

Chosen by: Johan Hegg (Amon Amarth)

“Choosing the greatest album of the last 50 years is impossible. I can think of at least 20 that qualify, but since we’re going for one album I’ll throw my dart and say Seasons In The Abyss by Slayer. Why? Well, the short answer is: it’s Slayer. The slightly longer answer is: it’s FUCKING Slayer!

“I’m not sure I can say that Seasons In The Abyss is more of a landmark than any of Slayer’s earlier releases, but in my opinion it’s the ultimate thrash album. From start to finish this is an awesome album. All the songs are hits. The atmosphere goes from eerie and evil to flat-out aggression in both music and lyrics. 

“The first time I heard it, it blew me away. The first song I heard was Dead Skin Mask, and I played that on repeat for the longest time. And then I saw the video for Seasons In The Abyss, of course. Amazing. Back then, Slayer were already an iconic band, and I think that this album didn’t so much impact the scene as cement them as the ultimate thrash band. It’s hard to say exactly how this album has influenced our music, but we are all massive Slayer fans and no doubt their music has influenced us in one way or another.”

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Soundgarden - Badmotorfinger (1991)

Chosen by: Alissa White-Gluz (Arch Enemy)

Soundgarden were pioneers of their style. They emerged from the grunge scene but made music that was far more sophisticated, all the while maintaining the raw and stripped-down production. Badmotorfinger isn’t traditional metal, but when you really listen to it, pick apart the time signatures, the riffs, the vocals and the lyrics, it is an all-round excellent album and very heavy.

“I was just starting high school when I heard Badmotorfinger. My first exposure to Soundgarden was the video for Jesus Christ Pose – I remember not totally understanding what I was watching and listening to, but really digging it. That is a super-heavy song, actually.

“The overall vibe of the album is unmatched. Chris Cornell’s vocals shine here like nowhere else. He’s up there with Freddie Mercury in terms of having a perfect balance of character, chaos and charisma in his natural vocal tone. It took a while before I realised how much he impacted on me as a musician, a vocalist and a lyricist. He was one of the few artists who can do no wrong in my book. I’m sure they could be still touring and hitting the festival scene like Alice In Chains if he were still with us.”

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Pantera - Vulgar Display Of Power (1992)

Chosen by: Cristina Scabbia (Lacuna Coil)

“I started listening to Pantera around 1991. The first time I heard them was when I was in a metal pub in Milan – the DJ was playing stuff like Paradise Lost and Clawfinger, and then Pantera came on and I was, like, ‘Wow.’

Vulgar Display Of Power has so many classic songs on it: Walk, Mouth For War, A New Level… and the music was amazing, but there was such a power to them as a band. It wasn’t just the frontman or the guitarist who was the star – it was a whole band where everyone had their own importance. Every member of that band was a character. But there was no other singer like Phil Anselmo. He was in control of every stage he was on.

“I wouldn’t say Pantera have been a huge influence on Lacuna Coil, but this is still an important record for me. Great albums stay with you forever because they remind you of a certain period in your life. And that period was really happy for me – it was all about partying with friends, and this was the perfect soundtrack.” 

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Rage Against The Machine - Rage Against The Machine (1992)

Chosen by Winston McCall (Parkway Drive)

“I don’t know if it even qualifies as a heavy metal album, but that’s because I don’t know what it qualifies as. If you look at the impact it had on metal, guitar music and aggressive music, it was influential to everything, and it’s heavy as fuck. The way Tom Morello uses the guitar on that album, it’s up there on Jimi Hendrix’s level. They had to put a disclaimer on to say there weren’t synths on it! It’s bonkers.

“When it came out, my friend played it to me, and Killing In The Name was in the Australian charts. The amount of emotion and genuine vitriol in that song scared the shit out of me. It wasn’t scary in the same way as listening to Slayer or Metallica – which is horror-movie scary – it was more like ‘this is a human that’s cracked’. The raw nature of the recording only adds to it. It is such a genuine piece of art that at no point do you doubt the anger. There’s no character that takes you to another world or a front to hide behind; it’s pure human rage that does exactly what the name says. It’s rage against the machine.”

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Type O Negative - Bloody Kisses (1993)

Chosen by: Jami Morgan (Code Orange)

“I think Type O Negative managed to get that balance of theatrics and being super-serious; it just has everything. I think it’s pretty much the gold standard for what records are aiming for. Every note on every song is just so perfect, just so methodical.

“I’m not sure exactly where or when I first heard them, but it was when I was very young… but I did get to meet the two guys from Silvertomb [Johnny Kelly and Kenny Hickey] once randomly, and you can just feel how down-to-earth they are. And I think that plays into how much respect I have for them, because you know they were part of this really dark, depressive, monster of a band. And you hear these stories about how they had to use a certain shade of green and they were really anal about exactly how everything looked, and they would go crazy if it was a little off, and then you meet them and they’re really laidback dudes. So you know that their art meant everything to them; that’s a cool juxtaposition. I don’t think anyone has ever done anything like Type O Negative before, and I don’t think anyone will ever achieve anything else like it again.”

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The 3rd And The Mortal - Tears Laid In Earth (1994)

Chosen by: Tuomas Holopainen (Nightwish)

“I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that Nightwish wouldn’t exist without this band. They were from Norway and were categorised as ‘atmospheric metal’ – they were very doomy, melodic, dark, not at all symphonic, but with a beautiful female voice. I heard them, and thought, ‘I want to do something similar.’

“This was their first album. I was 17 years old when I heard a song called Why So Lonely on the radio in Finland. There was a lot of darkness in my life at that point, and I related to that. And the next week I went out and bought the CD. It took me to a whole different world – it was so beautiful and so dark. And when you combine those two things, that’s the kind of music I like.

“They only made four albums before splitting up, and none of them really sound like this – they went more experimental and jazzy. But the most incredible thing happened four years ago. We played a festival in their hometown, and the promoter knew my obsession with them, so he brought the whole original line-up backstage to meet me. They hadn’t seen each other for 12 years. It was emotional for everybody.”

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Cradle Of Filth – Cruelty And The Beast (1998(

Chosen by: Mike Jeffries (Venom Prison)

I first listened to this album in the summer of 1998, not long after it was released by Music For Nations. At the time I was listening to a lot of punk, hardcore and classic metal like Pennywise, Sick Of It All, Metallica and Iron Maiden so hadn’t really delved into the more ‘extreme’ side of metal at that point.

One day in school my friend, Nick, was raving about this band, Cradle Of Filth, who I had never heard of. So I swapped Around The Fur by Deftones for a copy of Cruelty And The Beast. For the first few listens I really couldn’t get in to the vocal style but I was instantly drawn to the musical side of it.

After a few weeks of listening on repeat, I was completely hooked. If I had to guess, I easily listened to this album hundreds of times over the next couple of years. Back then, the stand out track for me was Cruelty Brought Thee Orchids – and it remains so, even to this day.

Their notorious ‘Jesus is a Cunt’ t-shirt compounded their reputation and made the band infamous even amongst people who had never listened to heavy music. So, on top of their music, the cultural impact that they had also contributed to their importance as an influential band – and their place in British music history.

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.