The 50 best metal albums of all time

Nightwish – Dark Passion Play (2007)

“When I heard Dark Passion Play, I couldn’t believe it. I thought, ‘Now, this is a proper fucking album.’ It’s got everything bar the kitchen sink in there. It was controversial because of the new singer [Anette Olzon], but she was brilliant. No disrespect to [original Nightwish singer] Tarja, but Anette’s voice suited them a lot better. There’s heavy stuff, classical, even a bit of Disney – all kinds of shit in there. I think it’s one of the best-sounding albums I’ve ever heard in my life.

“Then I got the next one, [2011’s] Imaginaerum. Storytime is a fantastic, instant song. The rest of the album took me a while to get into. Dark Passion Play was so good, I thought there was no way they could ever come up with an album that’s anywhere near that, but the more I got into Imaginaerum, the more I loved it.”

Karnivool – Sound Awake (2009)

Chosen by: Wolfgang Van Halen (Mammoth WVH)

“Karnivool are one of my all-time favourite bands and Sound Awake is a top ten album for me – I just think it’s perfect. I remember hearing them on one of those websites you’d get pre-Spotify where it would just shuffle music based on something you were into. They came up and I was in love - I ended up having to order the first album [2005’s Themata] from eBay because it wasn’t on iTunes or whatever.

“Sound Awake is so amazing, the bass tone throughout the record floors me every time. Just sticking it on and hearing the starting run of Simple Boy and Goliath is to die for. I’ve been lucky enough to see them live twice up close at The Troubadour in Los Angeles and they were about as amazing as I’d hoped they would be.

“They’re an incredible band and honestly, if you’ve never heard them I’d have to say put Goliath on because I love the groove of it – it’s got this weird time signature that you don’t even fully register because they lock into that groove so perfectly.”

Mastodon - The Hunter (2011)

Chosen by: Bryan Giles (Red Fang)

“I’m pretty sure I heard most of the songs from The Hunter live before I heard the actual album. We were lucky enough to be a supporting act when they toured on that record, and I was hooked immediately! The diversity in vocal approach is really enjoyable, and their melodies create a cohesiveness to some dense and impressive instrumental underpinnings. It’s an album you can listen to and pull something new out every time.

“I think it was a shift to a more mainstream approach to songwriting for Mastodon, without losing any of the band’s edge. It’s definitely an inspiration to me, in that they allowed themselves to get outside their comfort zone and go to places like Creature Lives and The Sparrow. It’s a unique musical space all their own. It’s also a great reminder to me that I could use a guitar lesson or two…”

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Architects - Lost Forever//Lost Together (2014)

Chosen by: Jesper Vicencio (Ghost Iris)

Architects completely upped the ante with Lost Forever//Lost Together. They made sure that they left their stamp on an otherwise saturated genre. Their breakdowns, atmosphere, lyrics and just sheer aggressiveness on this album are almost overpowering. These guys had a message – one that still continues to this day with the band’s two subsequent efforts. 

“The overarching theme is an almost gut-wrenching insight into the mind of a realist. A pessimist, yet a realist. The lyrics pull out your heart and shred it to pieces. A very dark yet realistic overview of the world’s state at the time (and the current state) and how messed up it in fact is. The music and atmosphere complement the lyrics greatly. LF//LT brought back a true hardcore punk mentality. Not the sound, but the attitude, the disdain for humanity at large and what we’re doing to our mutual home and fellow earthlings.

“Architects are a force to be reckoned with. I love their mentality and how they carry themselves. In a time of superficial bullshit, these lads are bringing heartfelt, introspective and extrospective themes to the table. Something the world is in dire need of.”

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Rolo Tomassi - Grievances (2015)

Chosen by: Charlie Rolfe (As Everything Unfolds)

“I’m quite old school. I listen to albums in one go, and I think Rolo Tomassi really played into that, where every song joins together perfectly so you don’t feel like you’re listening to an album – it’s just one big song. I think that’s totally missing from music at the moment. People will generally listen to singles and EPs, and they’re quite disjointed. And I really like Eva Spence because she’s incredible.

“I ordered Grievances on CD and put it on in my car. Normally they do intro tracks and they’re quite long and drawn out, and it takes a while to get into it, but the first song came straight in. I loved the unexpectedness. 

“Eva Spence goes from quite harsh vocals to clean vocals with ease, and makes it flow properly. It doesn’t feel disjointed at all. 

“Since that album, they’ve become more commercially viable. They’re still math and they definitely follow that trend, but it’s much more refined, and it’s allowed a lot more people to listen to it and become accepting of technical metal. It’s not strictly Slayer or the old-school stuff; it’s brought a new wave of metal to the mainstream.”

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Parkway Drive - Ire (2015)

Chosen by: Jurgen Van Straaten (For I Am King)

“This wasn’t the first album of its kind, but what Parkway Drive did with this record was something new in the metalcore scene. But it is so catchy, still very pure and Parkway Drive for me. The album has a great dynamic in the songwriting area.

“This is the moment that they made the move from metalcore band to metal band. They have also stepped up their live show since this album. It was always fun to see them live, but they added more to their live experience.

“In For I Am King, we are directly influenced by Parkway Drive – their style of writing, their work ethic. But its impact on the music scene as a whole was pretty big, too.”

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Gojira - Magma (2016)

Chosen by: Will Gardner (ex-Black Peaks)

“I’ve been a fan of Gojira since From Mars To Sirius, and I’ve watched them grow and change as time has gone by. What really got me into them in the first place was they have a uniquely powerful but deeply emotive sound – their music can be insanely heavy or super-technical, but there’s humanity at the core of it.

Magma is one of the most deep and moving albums I’ve ever heard. It was written during the period where the Duplantier brothers’ mother was dying, and it’s unbelievably sad. From my interpretation, it sounds like a lot of the songs are questioning the dying process – the point of actual death. One song, Low Lands, seems to be about the journey of their mother into another realm: ‘Tell me what you see when you’re everywhere.’ I listened to that on an aeroplane when we were touring and I was just bawling my eyes out.

“They’re one of those bands whose influence you can hear everywhere without always realising it. But they’re just too unique – nobody can sound exactly like them.” 

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Code Orange - Forever (2017)

Chosen by: theOGM (Ho99o9)

“I listened to their record, I Am King, which came out in 2014, and thought it was really tight. As far as Forever goes, I first heard it when I saw them live, opening up for Anthrax in LA at The Wiltern. I had never seen them before, so hearing that record was really cool. On The New Reality, there’s a breakdown probably 30 seconds into the song, and that shit gets me hyped every time.

“Then they got nominated for a Grammy! I mean, shit, for what they are doing, their style, young bands like them, like us, they don’t get these cool opportunities. Sometimes it’s so laughed at, everybody wants the music to be underground and stay underground, but the fact that that record was so powerful and so instrumental to change in our new age of internet and time and music, that shit got nominated for a Grammy, so obviously it had a very big impact. 

“In the metal world, sometimes we give so much praise to the legendary bands, and it’s so refreshing to see a band like Code Orange being recognised, because their music is phenomenal and heavy. It’s metal, but there are some bits in there that are so experimental and so off that you wouldn’t get on a traditional album. That’s what makes it unique, you know?”

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Myrkur - Mareridt (2017)

Chosen by: Ardo Cotones (Calligram)

“I was negatively biased against Myrkur because I’d watched some videos of her playing guitar and it’s not impressive, to say the least. But I gave this a listen, and didn’t dig it; I thought it was too folky. Then a few weeks later, I saw her piano and voice rendition of King Diamond’s Welcome Home, which changed my mind about her playing, and I kind of drifted back into the record and got massively hooked. Spotify tells me I spent 25 hours listening to it in 2018! 

“The atmosphere of this record is spot on; the skilful songwriting makes all the different instruments and genre variations work well as a whole, and her voice is hypnotising. It’s very diverse and ambitious, and it merges several different genres very effectively.

“So much controversy surrounds Myrkur because she ditched a cheesy pop music career and gave black metal a go. Black metal is the most precious genre to purist metalheads and they just hate its traditional conventions being tampered with by anyone. So it annoys boring purists as well, which is always a win.”

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Ghost - Prequelle (2018)

Chosen by: Dani Filth (Cradle Of Filth)

“I’m a Ghost fan. I love the aesthetics of the band, and I love what they do with their music. I really like stuff like Blue Öyster Cult, that slightly occultish 70s rock, which they’re definitely influenced by. And then there’s the whole King Diamond association – you can hear that in there, too. 

“They seem to have carved out a niche for themselves that they sit very nicely in. They manage to straddle every cool thing about heavy metal, but not actually be heavy metal, which is the weirdest thing – they’re a rock band, and they have big rock songs. Prequelle certainly goes more into that more dramatic, theatrical side, and it does have some killer tracks like Rats, Witch Image and Life Eternal, which is epic. But Dance Macabre is my favourite song. I remember being in Athens and hearing it for the first time, and it was, like, ‘Wow, what is this? This is brilliant!’

“The funny thing is that the whole creepy Satanic aesthetic has become their thing, but they’d probably be a lot bigger if they didn’t have it. Or would they? I don’t know. I suppose people love a bit of Satan.”

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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.