Everybody has to start somewhere. For bands, the debut album is the most important record they‘ll ever make. Get it right and you’re off to a flying start. Get it wrong and… well, you’ve got to start all over again from scratch.
Not every great band made a great debut album. But many of them did. From Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin through Guns N’ Roses and Metallica to Rage Against The Machine, Slipknot and Ghost - all of them dropped a classic at the first time of asking, and were off to the races.
But what's metal’s greatest ever debut album? Tough question. We used a mix of science, magic and throwing a dart at a dartboard to try and come up with an answer.
When that didn’t work, we decided to ask you via an online poll. And you replied in your tens of thousands, nominating everything from stone cold classics to lost treasures to the frankly WTF? (no, Crazy Town’s The Gift Of Game is not a great debut album).
We've crunched the results into shape, and are proud to present the definitive list of the 50 best metal debut albums ever, as voted by you. Sit back, crank up the volume and celebrate the greatest opening salvos in history…
50. Nightwish – Angels Fall First (1997)
Where it all began for symphonic metal’s biggest band. After originating as an acoustic three-piece, Nightwish (opens in new tab)’s second demo contained a far more metallic, muscular sound. Label Spinefarm was so impressed with Angels Fall First, that they simply released it as it was, as the band’s debut in 1997. The Finns have never looked back since.
49. The Wildhearts – Earth Vs The Wildhearts (1993)
An intoxicating, hyperactive mash-up of pop melodies, punk aggression and glam-rock swagger, The Wildhearts (opens in new tab)’ brilliant debut is a perfect encapsulation of what it meant to be a skint, horny, cynical, pissed-up and lairy twenty-something in mid-90s Britain.
Outrageously confident and bursting with dazzling riffs and memorable singalong melodies, Earth vs. The Wildhearts (opens in new tab) sounded like all your favourite rock’n’roll bands playing at once. An exuberant snapshot of a band in love with music and life, songs like Greetings From Shitsville and Everlone were fresh and timeless.
48. Sepultura – Morbid Visions (1986)
Before they evolved into a death/thrash/groove metal outfit, Sepultura (opens in new tab) were busy creating primitive first wave black metal. Like most of their contemporaries, the Belo Horizonte band were a pretty raw beast in the mid-80s; basic production, out-of-tune instruments, questionable timing, you’ll find it all here. Importantly though, the crude aural violence here is thoroughly satisfying, containing a suitably infernal atmosphere and a ton of nasty, memorable riffs.
47. Morbid Angel – Altars Of Madness (1989)
Rightly hailed as a landmark for the emerging death metal (opens in new tab) scene, Morbid Angel (opens in new tab)’s 1989 debut, Altars Of Madness, set the bar so high for the entire genre that people are still trying to match its brutal splendour more than 30 years later.
Back in 1989, few had ever heard anything like it before. The Floridans made Slayer (opens in new tab) sound like Weezer (opens in new tab): this was a twisted, pitch-black and incredible sophisticated upgrade for Chuck Schuldiner (opens in new tab)’s deathly blueprint. Trey Azagthoth’s churning, otherworldly riffs, David Vincent’s peerless growls and the band’s idiosyncratic approach and progressive mindset set them apart from their peers – songs like Chapel Of Ghouls and Immortal Rites have never been topped for otherworldly menace and riffs that tear your soul apart. Still untouchable after all these years.
46. Motörhead – Motörhead (1977)
Although this wasn’t the first album the band recorded, this self-titled record was their debut release. With the classic line-up in place, Motörhead (opens in new tab) actually wanted this to be a live farewell record, as they seemed to be getting nowhere slowly. Thankfully, they were persuaded to go into the studio, recording most of the album in just two days. The lack of time and budget suited their style. What comes across is a raw, aggressive trio, straddling punk and metal on songs like Iron Horse/Born To Lose, White Line Fever and the revamped Hawkwind (opens in new tab) number Motörhead. A vibrant and urging introduction to a legendary band.
45. Testament – The Legacy (1987)
Easily going to toe-to-toe with thrash’s biggest and best debuts in the genre’s most fertile era, Testament (opens in new tab)’s debut thrummed with razor sharp musicality, menacing riffs and a youthful bluster that continued throughout the rest of the decade. The enduring anthem Over The Wall coupled with the unhinged assaults of C.O.T.L.O.D. and First Strike Is Deadly cemented the band’s position in the vanguard of the Bay Area (opens in new tab) scene.
44. Emperor – In The Nightside Eclipse (1994)
Few will argue against the case that Emperor are the greatest black metal band of all time, or that they raised the genre into new realms of art. In The Nightside Eclipse (opens in new tab) amplified black metal’s invocation of otherness as it imprinted the inhuman on an immeasurably vast and majestic canvas. Keyboards swirled like avenging angels of death, guitars surged as if attempting to reach escape velocity from this mortal realm and Emperor tore open new spaces that drew in innumerable voyagers in their wake.
43. A Perfect Circle – Mer de Noms (2000)
Obviously Tool (opens in new tab) are elsewhere on this list, but the debut album frok Maynard James Keenan (opens in new tab)’s ‘other’ band A Perfect Circle (opens in new tab) shouldn’t be underestimated. Mer De Noms is more instant, more accessible, and more fragile than anything Tool have ever put their name to, but what it shares is the classy tone, supreme song-writing and, obviously, the powerhouse vocals of their iconic frontman.
42. Gojira – Terra Incognita (2001)
The French genre-benders’ debut album sounds a million miles away from where they are now, but Terra Incognita has aged incredibly well. It showcases a band wearing their influences very clearly on their sleeve: Death (opens in new tab), Morbid Angel and early Sepultura (opens in new tab). Highlights are the odd rhythmic time signatures in the second half of Love, which gives way to some pure death metal riffing, and the crushing Lizard Skin which slows down to a slow grind before singeing the listeners with some brutal blasting. They’d comfortably top it, but this record is still a great start.
41. Deftones – Adrenaline (1995)
Nu metal (opens in new tab) wasn’t a thing until Korn (opens in new tab) and Deftones (opens in new tab) arrived on the scene and changed everything. While both bands were responsible for shifting metal’s aesthetics, Korn dealt purely in nihilism, pain and brutality. Whereas Deftones on Adrenaline showcased influences from hip hop to skate punk (opens in new tab). Bored and 7 Words became anthems of youthful alienation for a whole new group of kids, who were tired of grunge and wanted their own sound. With Arenaline, they got it.