20. Tool – Undertow (1993)
A continuation of what came before on the Opiate EP, but with a sicker, darker and more menacing tone; Tool (opens in new tab)’s debut full-length album saw the band begin the process of pulling away from the rest of the scene around them. They received plenty of attention for the catchy, growling groove of Sober, but it’s the likes of Bottom (featuring a contribution from Henry Rollins (opens in new tab)) and Flood that show the direction that Tool were moving into. Technically precise with more patience and musical subtlety, while still delving deep into the more perverse aspect of the human psyche, Undertow is a hell of a statement from a band growing in confidence.
19. AC/DC – High Voltage (1976)
The album that introduced AC/DC (opens in new tab) to the world beyond Australia was comprised of the best tracks from the band’s first two domestic releases from 1975: the original High Voltage (opens in new tab), and T.N.T.. Two of those songs have remained in AC/DC’s live set ever since: T.N.T. itself, with its wonderfully yobbish sensibility, and the dirty blues The Jack. In Rock ‘N’ Roll Singer and It’s A Long Way To The Top (If You Wanna Rock ‘N’ Roll), Bon Scott (opens in new tab) tells tales of dreams and heartbreak with a hunger in his voice that burns. And you gotta admire the audacity of including bagpipes on opening track It’s A Long Way To The Top, AC/DC’s Scottish heritage not being widely appreciated at this early point in their career. An international debut to savour.
18. Nine Inch Nails – Pretty Hate Machine (1989)
Nine Inch Nails (opens in new tab)’ debut is a synth-pop album that’s not really synth-pop. Sure, the arse-shaking perversion of Sin and Sanctified’s naughtiness are reminiscent of Depeche Mode (opens in new tab) and the darker, more twisted edge of the genre. But Head Like A Hole’s chorus is pure heavy metal. Pretty Hate Machine’s tinny production and bygone influences have obviously dated, but the songs themselves are still as affecting and a charming vision of Trent Reznor (opens in new tab) before he made several albums’ worth of bleak, horrifying noise. Kinda I Want To is still a dynamic reminder that old video game music was awesome and Ringfinger’s refrain remains, to this day, terrifying.
17. System Of A Down – System Of A Down (1998)
If the self-absorbed angst and emotional introspection of most nu metal gets to be too much, then try this stunning, politically charged and critically lauded debut from a band so way out there it hurts. System Of A Down (opens in new tab)’s heritage is writ large throughout, from the spiky lyrics – P.L.U.C.K. is about the Armenian genocide – to the flashes of folky melodies decorating these 13 driving and twisted slabs of noise. But what really sells this is the sheer demented theatricality of it all. The groovy wackiness of each and every song puts SOAD completely in a league of their own.
16. Ozzy Osbourne – Blizzard Of Ozz (1980)
Ozzy (opens in new tab) described the first time he heard Randy Rhoads (opens in new tab) play guitar as “like God entering my life”, but for his former bandmates in Black Sabbath (opens in new tab) it was surely a more sobering experience. Rhoads was the most exciting young guitar hero since Eddie Van Halen (opens in new tab) – one in the eye for Sabbath’s old master Tony Iommi (opens in new tab). This solo debut marked a new decade and a new era for Ozzy, and above all it was Rhoads’ cutting-edge style that gave the album its vital, contemporary edge. Blizzard Of Ozz (an inspired title) spawned several deathless classics: the deranged Crazy Train (opens in new tab), the occult-dabbling Mr. Crowley and the lawsuit-inducing Suicide Solution. A triumph against all the odds, it remains the Double-O’s greatest solo work.
15. Machine Head – Burn My Eyes (1994)
They said metal was dead back in 1994, but nobody had counted on a gang of street kids, raised on Pantera (opens in new tab), Public Enemy, Cro-Mags and Ice-T (opens in new tab), to mix their influences into a magnificent melting pot and 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 (opens in new tab) 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.
14. Alice In Chains – Facelift (1990)
Whereas many grunge bands had mostly punk influences, Alice In Chains (opens in new tab) were unashamedly a heavy metal band. Originally something of a glammed-up Guns N’ Roses (opens in new tab), AIC’s eventual musical and visual make-over paid off immediately. Facelift (opens in new tab), in 1990, was the first grunge album to leave an impression on the charts (thanks to the success of Man In The Box), paving the way for Nevermind, Ten and Badmotorfinger (opens in new tab), all of which followed AIC’s debut up the charts in the ensuing months.
13. Down – NOLA (1995)
If Sabbath, Zeppelin (opens in new tab) and Lynyrd Skynyrd (opens in new tab) decided to hot box their rehearsal room and record the results it’d probably sound something like Louisiana supergroup Down (opens in new tab)’s debut record. Along with the sludgy, pot-hailing Hail The Leaf and epic closer Bury Me In Smoke, the likes of the languid, blissed-out Jail and the crushing Eyes Of The South combine to make NOLA a stoner classic..
12. Korn – Korn (1994)
‘Are you ready?!’ roars Jonathan Davis (opens in new tab) on the awesome opener Blind. And millions of eager would-be nu metal fans gave their response by rapidly turning Korn into one of the world’s biggest bands. 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.
11. Ghost – Opus Eponymous (2010)
Every decade gets the Antichrist Superstar it deserves, and in the 2010s it was Tobias ‘Papa Emeritus’ Forge who swept in, robes billowing, to claim the accolade with Ghost (opens in new tab)’s debut album Opus Eponymous. Rather than blasphemous black metal or provocative industrial noise, Forge’s genius idea was to wrap up his Satanic hymnals in knowingly theatrical metal that owed more to Blue Oyster Cult (opens in new tab) and Mercyful Fate than did Mayhem or Marilyn Manson. Metallica’s James Hetfield (opens in new tab) was an early adopter, and the rest of the world soon followed, proving that the Devil really does have all the best tunes.