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The Top 50 best metal debut albums ever

10. Van Halen – Van Halen

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As one of the classic debut albums (opens in new tab), this 10-million seller is up there with Zeppelin’s and Sabbath’s and Appetite For Destruction (opens in new tab). Van Halen (opens in new tab)’s first album was like a bomb going off. With its short, punchy songs, technical flash, testosterone-charged swagger and sense of daring, it kick-started the 80s two years early. “We were not afraid of defying convention,” said David Lee Roth (opens in new tab). “Everybody was ascending.”

Eruption was Eddie’s volcanic showpiece. And the orthodox songs were equally explosive, from Runnin’ With The Devil through to frenetic closer On Fire. Classic Rock’s Geoff Barton, then reviewing for Sounds, called the album “senses-shattering”. Van Halen had arrived – with an almighty bang.

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09. Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin

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Led by guitar hero extraordinaire Jimmy Page (opens in new tab), Zeppelin weren’t the first band to heavy up the blues. But no one turned it into such an all-out sensory assault like they did on their debut album. Opening with the rhythmic battering-ram that is Good Times Bad Times, the immediate impression was one of pure shocking power, its opening salvo summing up everything the band would quickly come to represent. Elsewhere, the epic Dazed And Confused’ allowed the band to stretch out, with Robert Plant (opens in new tab)’s erotically charged, orgasmic vocals setting the template for generations of priapic, hair-tossing metal singers to follow.  

Zeppelin followed it up with an even more muscular sequel six months later, setting them squarely on the road to superstardom. But this debut seeded the DNA for so much of what followed.

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08. Dio – Holy Diver

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One of the classic heavy metal debuts, Holy Diver (opens in new tab) is a work of such bravura and bombast that Sounds magazine stated emphatically: “Ronnie James Dio (opens in new tab) has thundered back.” 

This was a new beginning for Ronnie, but his past was in evidence both in his choice of two former bandmates (ex Rainbow (opens in new tab) bassist Jimmy Bain, ex-Sabbath drummer Vinny Appice) and in the epic feel of the music. The little fella’s masterstroke was the acquisition of 19-year-old guitarist Vivian Campbell, the man who “put the fast in Belfast”, who gave the band a vital, contemporary edge. 

With its electrifying opener Stand Up And Shout, its spooky title track and the majestic Rainbow In The Dark, Holy Diver was the album on which Dio, the man, was able to fully realise his own singular vision.

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07. Rage Against The Machine – Rage Against The Machine

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Rage Against The Machine (opens in new tab)’s debut was a Molotov cocktail exploding in the face of popular culture. Nearly 30 years on, its flames still burn brightly, having lost none of its power, impact or provocative fervour. It was the sound of Public Enemy yoked to Black Flag, of Dr Martin Luther King and Malcolm X set to a soundtrack of cutting-edge metal.

Rage arrived as the gloriously shallow, MTV-driven rock scene of the 1980s was flat on the canvas with bluebirds fluttering around its head, laid out by the emergent grunge movement. In America, a new generation of hip hop bands was providing a vital social commentary, marrying the gritty reality of the streets with the violent glamour of a Hollywood crime blockbuster. 

All this was happening against a backdrop of global turmoil, racial tension and the threat of war in the Middle East. In hindsight, their timing was perfect – in reality, their message is still as pertinent now as it was then. 

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06. Slipknot – Slipknot (1999)

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This is it, folks: the start of a genuine phenomenon. The point where nu metal almost swallowed the world whole. And it all started off in Des Moines, Iowa, the arsehole of nowhere. The frustration and alienation captured by Slipknot (opens in new tab) on their debut album struck a resounding chord with metal fans hungry for the next extreme sonic outrage. And outrage was exactly what they got. Squealing, scratching volleys ricochet off grinding, bullet-proof thrash riffs while a rhythm section hammers away in titanic triplicate. Nasty, brutish, overwhelmingly nihilistic but utterly mesmerising.

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05. Linkin Park – Hybrid Theory (2000)

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On October 24, 2000, a little-known band from California called Linkin Park (opens in new tab)released their debut full-length, Hybrid Theory (opens in new tab). And while the unsuspecting sextet didn’t realise it at the time, that album would go on to become not only the biggest-selling record in the world the following year, but also, more importantly, a generation-defining modern rock classic.

Its fusion of razor-edged metal riffing, slick electronic beats, twisting raps, eye-gouging screams and effortless pop sensibility saw it catapult the six nobodies from nowheresville to rock superstardom in a fashion that will probably never be equalled. An absolute dreadnought of a record, to call Hybrid Theory a phenomenon would be to almost undersell it.

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04. Iron Maiden – Iron Maiden (1980)        

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Iron Maiden (opens in new tab) was an audacious debut: raw, fiery, subtly progressive and delivered with utmost passion and power, its songs are all established classics and its finest moments – the exhilarating Prowler, the monumental Phantom Of The Opera, the spine-tingling Remember Tomorrow – are as good as anything Maiden (opens in new tab) have ever recorded. As Steve Harris (opens in new tab) has often noted, the production is a little flat, but that hasn’t stopped millions of people from banging their heads to Running Free and perennial set closer Iron Maiden, that’s for chuffing sure.

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03. Black Sabbath – Black Sabbath (1970)

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Rain falls. A church bell tolls. Thunderclaps resound. And then: ‘Dah- dah-daumm-mm! Dah-dah-daumm-mm!’ Tony Iommi’s funereal guitar tones jolt the dead into wakefulness. Listen carefully and you can hear desiccated corpses raising their fissured fingernails to scratch at cobwebbed coffin lids. ‘What is this that stands before me? Figure in black which points at me?’ wonders Ozzy, plainly caught up in the wheels of confusion. 

Forget Blue Cheer or Vanilla Fudge, this is where true heavy metal began: recorded in three days at a cost of just £600, Black Sabbath is as wounded and primeval as they come. It includes two rare Sabs cover versions: The Warning (by Aynsley Dunbar’s Retaliation) and Evil Woman (by forgotten Minnesota rockers Crow).

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02. Metallica – Kill ’Em All (1983)

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However you slice it, the inarguable fact is that Kill ’Em All changed everything. The youthful Metallica – Lars, James, bassist Cliff Burton and guitarist Kirk Hammett, who replaced original six-stringer and future Megadeth (opens in new tab) founder Dave Mustaine (opens in new tab) – took the drummer’s beloved New Wave Of British Heavy Metal (opens in new tab) and spliced it with the DNA of American punk (opens in new tab). And while they can’t quite lay credit to inventing thrash metal (opens in new tab) – Kirk’s former band, Exodus (opens in new tab), should be given due credit for that – Metallica can take credit for turning it into a worldwide phenomenon that’s still echoing down the years.

The recording of Kill ‘Em All may have been somewhat fraught – not least because the band kicked out Mustaine just weeks beforehand – but playing on crappy equipment with a producer who could barely comprehend what the Hell this noise was, Hetfield, Ulrich, Burton and Hammett delivered a set of performances that would help redefine metal. Hit The Lights starts off with a wall of noise that quickly erupts into a 100mph statement of intent, complete with one of the great opening lines in history: ‘No life ’til leather, we’re gonna kick some ass tonight’ – if one song represents the birth of Metallica, this is it. 

Meanwhile, if there’s one Metallica song that deserves more credit than it gets, then it’s Motorbreath's ode to the rock’n’roll lifestyle, which kicks off with Lars pummelling seven shades of shit out of his drums before giving way to a precision-tooled James Hetfield riff. Lyrically and musically, it seems to be a shoutout to one of the band’s biggest influences: Motörhead.

There’s a good reason why the likes of The Four Horsemen, Seek & Destroy, Whiplash and Hit The Lights remain staples in Metallica’s concert setlists (opens in new tab) all these years later, and as raw and naïve as Metallica sound at times, this is the thrilling, explosive sound of a new dawn breaking.

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01. Guns N’Roses – Appetite For Destruction (1987)

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This is the album that made Guns N’Roses. It also helped shape the rock landscape we see before us today. And it gave us the band who, in one fell swoop, redefined what rock’n’roll was all about in the days pre-Nirvana. A streetwise hurricane of equal parts Rolling Stones (opens in new tab), AC/DC (opens in new tab) and Aerosmith, the members’ love of Hanoi Rocks (opens in new tab) gave them a glam dash, but underneath lurked a fertile hunger that was simply dangerous. Sex, drugs and rock’n’roll: that’s what the Guns N’ Roses who recorded Appetite For Destruction were made of. 

Immediately courting controversy when MTV complained about the sleeve – artist Robert Williams’ own Appetite For Destruction sleeve, depicting a robot rapist about to meet a suitably metallic end, was replaced with an image of a cross and five skulls representing the five band members – Appetite… is very successful because it is very real. The bitterness and hatred for their own environment that can be found on the likes of the heroin-addled Mr. Brownstone (‘I get up about seven/get out of bed around nine’), the plea for something better in Paradise City (‘Captain America’s been torn apart/he’s a court jester with a broken heart’) and the bleak paranoia of Out To Get Me is all real. But imbued with an innate sense of musical perspective and bonded almost by blood (in the case of the band’s drug users), this is rock’n’roll at its purest and most effective.

It wasn’t just the stark reality, though. These five young men knew how to pen a killer rock tune, and better still, deliver them on stage with fearsome intent. The juddering carrion-cry of opener Welcome To The Jungle (opens in new tab), the simplistic It’s So Easy and the pile-driving Rocket Queen, these are all from the top drawer of hard-rock songwriting. And yet in the massive hit Sweet Child O’Mine Axl displays an unerring sensitive side that would further surface later. All five musicians are on top of their game, delivering with venomous aplomb. 

A dirty, frightening but undeniably great hard rock album, with the bittersweet allure and terrifying sting that was much the same as the heroin the band pumped into their veins. And it was just as addictive, too.  

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