Treble’s Top 100 Metal Albums

top 100 metal albums

Botch20. BotchWe Are the Romans
(1999; Hydra Head)

Botch is a classic case of a band that received its due long after parting ways. The band’s second and final album We Are the Romans redefined metal and hardcore in such a way that it’s almost impossible to believe that Botch could have created something better. This album has surgical guitar stabs and twisted rhythms that could provoke a person to put his fist through a coffee table. Not that their aggressive and complex mixture of hardcore/metal intensity and mathematical precision was without its sense of humor We Are the Romans bears unforgettable song titles like “Frequency Ass Bandit,” “C. Thomas Howell as the Soul Man” and “I Wanna Be a Sex Symbol On My Own Terms.” Each song is chock full of earth-shattering bass and an unrelenting assault that frequently comes out of nowhere just when a song has seemingly reached its climax. Botch could not be contained. So it’s no wonder why they self-destructed. Having released only two full-lengths (the other being 1998’s American Nervoso), bassist Brian Cook, guitarist Dave Knudson, and throat shredder Dave Verellen split apart to end up forming bands like These Arms Are Snakes, Russian Circles, Minus The Bear and Narrows. I could probably keep going here, but I’m exhausted after listening. If only fatigue was always so thrilling. – Jordan J. Michael

Judas Priest19. Judas PriestBritish Steel
(1980; Columbia)

Nearly 35 years later, there’s still something striking about British Steel. Deceivingly straightforward, the album carries a glaring heavy metal energy from start to finish — a chugging, relentless engine under Rob Halford’s powerful presence and impressive vocal range. But beneath and above this heavy core, British Steel is remarkable for rocking so hard while still eschewing cliche metal tropes so early in the genre’s history. For one, the band abandoned the darker themes of earlier records for a more accessible, anthemic approach. Perhaps even more impressive, though, was the way Halford and Judas Priest added touches of late-’70s and early ‘80s pop-rock into the mix. It’s not too far of a stretch to draw comparisons to Queen or early David Bowie here, both in composition and vocal execution. But where those acts offered open-palmed rock and roll, Judas Priest does so with a clenched fist and a heavy boot. There’s the gentle breakdown and heavy growth on “The Rage,” the powerful “Metal Gods,” the groovy flow of “United,” and, of course, the ultimate rebel anthem “Breaking the Law,” equal parts catchy and nasty. It’s a short, 36-minute escapade, but that’s all the time Judas Priest needed to make glorious heavy waves. – A.T. Bossenger

Death18. DeathSymbolic
(1995; Roadrunner)

By any reasonable collection of criteria, Death places among the best metal bands of all time. Not only were they a trailblazer for death metal on Scream Bloody Gore, but they evolved and became more sophisticated with each passing album, laying down much of the genre’s foundation and creating many of its conventions for the following decades. Based on overall body of work, there’s an argument to be made that Death is, in fact, the definitive death metal band. So the debate over which of their albums should be recognized as the best is difficult, considering that the band was essentially a different supergroup centered around Chuck Schuldinder at any given point in time. However, it is hard to argue that in their 1995 iteration, with Gene Hoglan and Kelly Conlon, Death didn’t produce some of the more impressive work in their catalog with Symbolic. Continuing what seems to be an exponential increase in sophistication from Scream Bloody Gore, Symbolic further incorporates dense, technical, and melodic guitar textures into Death’s polished, streamlined metal, while Schuldiner delivers his increasingly impressive lyrics in a sharp, clear performance. From opener “Symbolic” to expansive closer “Perennial Quest,” each of these tracks testifies to the mastery of a great act in its prime, offering an extremely coherent, intriguing, and relentless listen overall. – Connor Brown

Metallica Ride the Lightning17. MetallicaRide the Lightning
(1984; Megaforce/Elektra)

Kill ‘Em All did a great job in showing off Metallica’s raw thrash approach. Ride the Lightning, however, took it to the next level by combining their thrash roots with more accessible elements to create an entirely different beast altogether. The first two tracks here, “Fight Fire with Fire” and the title track represent the thrash side of Metallica at its most excited and inspired. “For Whom the Bell Tolls” slows down the pace a bit with its pummeling riffs and signature chorus, where “Fade to Black” combines a gentle, somber acoustic melody and infectious vocals for its first half before becoming an all-out headbang fest, chock full of James Hetfield’s unmistakable yells. The riffs throughout the album are invigorating and energetic, Hammett’s solos are tasteful and placed carefully, and Hetfield’s voice, though abrasive as it may be, never fit more perfectly. Really, every track is worth noting here, but the final track, “The Call of Ktulu,” bears special recognition. It is an instrumental piece that is at once a haunting work of atmosphere and masterful display of Kirk Hammett and James Hetfield’s guitars. Say what you will about Metallica’s career as a whole, but Ride the Lightning proved the band to be forward thinkers of their genre, and foreshadowed the monolithic success that would be theirs in the years to come. – Greg Speranza

Deafheaven16. DeafheavenSunbather
(2013; Deathwish Inc.)

In 2011, Deafheaven was a very good band, blending post-rock and shoegazer sounds with black metal on debut album Roads to Judah. But by 2013, they had matured into a great one. Few black metal albums have arrived fully formed with such a diverse and beautiful array of sounds — if you can really call this a black metal album in the purest sense (and there’s plenty of room for debate on that front). Sunbather sure sounds like black metal: Kerry McCoy’s intense sheets of guitar, Daniel Tracy’s superhuman blast-beat speed and George Clarke’s throat scraping hiss come together like an unstoppable force of nature. But there’s an even greater emphasis on nuance, like the melodic cascading riffs in the second half of “Dream House,” the psychedelic loop of guitar that opens “Vertigo,” the achingly gorgeous melody on interlude “Irresistible,” or the almost Built to Spill-like surf-riffs that close out “The Pecan Tree.” There’s nothing conventional about this album, and it’s all the more powerful for it. Conservative metal NIMBYs can whine about its authenticity, but time has already passed them by. This is a breathtaking glimpse into where metal is headed next.

When we compiled this list, there was a brief question about whether or not it was appropriate to include an album only one year old in the top 20 of a list of the greatest metal albums of all time. But it took very little time to concede that this position is well earned for the San Francisco black metal band. No metal album in recent memory has so dominated the conversation, both inside of metal circles and out. It’s the rare black metal album that transcends its genre, and speaks to an audience well outside of an insular Mayhem-patch gazing cult. In fact, it was our No. 1 album of 2013. It’s one of maybe a half dozen albums on this list that didn’t just change how I look at music, but actually affected me — and likewise thousands of others — on a deeper emotional level. That’s not an easy feat to accomplish, regardless of the style of music you create. In metal, it’s remarkably easy to be ugly, intense or overwhelming; it takes a lot more than that to reach listeners on a deeper level. – Jeff Terich

Rust in Peace15. MegadethRust In Peace
(1990; Capitol)

Megadeth slayed their way into thrash metal history with early albums like Peace Sells… But Who’s Buying?, but achieved no greater feat than their fourth studio album, Rust in Peace. Its opening track “Holy Wars… The Punishment Due” sets the bar pretty high — the kind of song where first timers would most likely think, “How could this get any better?” Enter “Hangar 18,” a track that absolutely shreds from start to finish with guitarist extraordinaire Marty Friedman’s performance of a lifetime, which also happens to be his first record with Megadeth. Rust In Peace is one of those rare genre-defining albums that launched the band even deeper into heavy metal stardom with its political and social overtones to match the beyond-impressive musicianship. Of course thrash metal was thriving for years by 1990, but the newly sober Dave Mustaine, drummer Nick Menza (also new to Megadeth at the time), bassist Junior Ellefson, and Friedman all proved the new-and-improved Megadeth was at the top of their game, setting the bar pretty damn high for all who followed in this album’s wake. – Dan Pritchett

Iron Maiden14. Iron MaidenPowerslave
(1984; EMI)

Run, live to fly, fly to live, do or die,” cries Bruce Dickinson on “Aces High,” the twin-guitar, riff-infested anthem that opens Iron Maiden’s fifth album, Powerslave. Coincidence or not, that lyric perfectly described the point that Iron Maiden were at during that time in their career. Riding high off the success of their last two albums, Powerslave was a do or die moment for the band. And for many artists — metal or not — keeping your fan base happy while also fulfilling your own creative needs is a feat that presents a tricky tightrope to walk. With Powerslave, Iron Maiden not only continued their trend of releasing high quality heavy metal albums, but also trumped nearly every album in their ever growing catalog. Every song shines through here, from the six-minute hook fest of “2 Minutes to Midnight,” to the unforgettable middle-eastern tinged title track, each song has something unique to offer. Martin Birch’s crisp, tight production once again colors the sound, and bassist Steve Harris and drummer Nicko McBrain never sounded better, the end result being one of the greatest performances by a rhythm section found on a metal album. “Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” the 13-and-a-half-minute monster that closes the record is both the band’s longest song, and their most ambitious as well. It would take an essay itself to explain exactly what makes the song the epic it is, but a listen and some outside reading will help you there. Whether or not this is your favorite Maiden album, there’s no denying Powerslave’s place in metal history. – Greg Speranza


photo by Candice Eley

13. BaronessBlue Record
(2009; Relapse)

When I bought Baroness’ Red Album in the summer of 2007, the cover art was slightly covered by what may well be the most ridiculous ‘recommended if you like’ sticker ever printed. The two bands listed were Explosions in the Sky and Municipal Waste which, even if you weren’t familiar with their sounds and looked at the names alone, is a completely ridiculous notion. Looking back, however, maybe that was the point. Maybe that was Relapse Records’ way of saying that Baroness was for everybody — a band for the people, so just buy this record, you idiot! On that record, they were close but not quite at where their potential suggested. That realization wouldn’t take long, however, as Blue was released in the fall of 2009. Blue is Baroness at the top of their game, containing just about everything you could hope from a metal release: gorgeous artwork, skyward harmonies that cascade into aching interludes, and enough atmosphere to cast an unshakable spell. Blue is every bit as vast and alluring as its characteristically beautiful cover art suggests; it’s the ocean in just about every sense: calming, furious, deep, dark, shallow, and teeming with life. The vague lyrics and repetition seem suggest something powerful, to the point that when John Baizley belts out the final words on the album, “All of my children that gnash with their teeth/ are paperback novels and dogs scratching fleas,” it sounds like the perfect eulogy to everything that came before. Baroness has quickly risen to join metal’s elite, and Blue finds them at their most thunderous and achingly sweet. – Dakota Foss

Neurosis12. NeurosisThrough Silver In Blood
(1996; Relapse)

If there is an album that encapsulates and arguably perfects the eerie, dark and apocalyptic side of metal, Through Silver In Blood — Neurosis’ fifth studio album — deserves to be a part of the discussion. And if there’s a song that highlights the album’s brute force, a particularly potent pick would be “Aeon.” While it slowly creeps through peaks and valleys with industrial noise, intense vocals and ominous melodies, it showcases how brilliantly Neurosis succeeds in creating an aesthetic as bizarre as it is affecting. Instead of heavy, technically proficient riffs or any conventional style of metal really, Neurosis plays with textures and atmosphere, more akin to Godflesh or Swans than Metallica or Slayer. These textures create terrifying results in “Purify” and “Enclosure in Flame,” but the end result is an agonizing and equally enthralling album. It’s sinister, it’s apocalyptic, and it’s Neurosis at their best. – Dan Pritchett

Tool Aenima11. ToolAenima
(1996; Volcano)

As distant a thought as it might seem now, Tool used to release music and tour behind it with some regularity — though they recently revealed that an unending legal issue has been mucking up the creative process. own merit. When it did happen, however, the results were incredible. None more so than on the band’s legendary sophomore effort, 1996’s Ænima, which went on to firmly establish Tool as one of the most highly regarded metal acts of the last 20 years. There isn’t a single detail that got overlooked in the creation of the album, from the masterful musicianshipof the band, the often philosophical themes of the songs, the sequencing of the record — hell, even the artwork and packaging was an achievement that stood on its own merit. Musically, Ænima was easily Tool’s most diverse album to date offering a taste of something for any listener. The straightforward (and let’s face it, heavier) approach of the bands earlier works was still intact, with tracks like “Jimmy” and “Hooker With A Penis” providing more than enough distorted bliss to satiate any metalhead. At the same time the quartet also broadened their sound significantly. Experimenting with length, textures, and arrangements on “Eulogy,” “Pushit” and “Third Eye” produced an in-depth and mind-expanding experience closer to prog rock, a sound that would come to permeate their later albums. The newfound complexity featured throughout Ænima was a challenging listen initially, but supremely rewarding, and the real success behind Ænima can be contributed to the band’s combination of the aforementioned styles. Anchored by a trio of monstrous but catchy singles (“Stinkfist” “Forty Six & 2” and “Ænima”) Tool’s unique blend of prog metal spread like wildfire, making Ænima an instant classic. – Ryan Brun

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View Comments (24)
    • Ryan, Treblezine have asked me to apologize on their behalf for this misunderstanding. It appears that you are operating under the ludicrous assumption that the staff at Treble got together to compile a list of “Ryan’s favourite 100 albums”. A simple glance at the title of this article should alleviate any confusion.

  • I mean this isn’t my list or anything but 2 baroness albums?

    like 9 sabbath records?

    should’ve had some burzum on there, some maudlin of the well, and you know, not throw out the same names every 3 pages.

    • There’s only three Sabbath albums. We didn’t include Burzum, but Varg is on the Mayhem and Darkthrone albums. We figured that was plenty.

  • Although of course I don’t agree with everything on the list, this is the best list of metal albums I’ve been able to find on the internet. There’s a good variety of music, the albums descriptions actually seem relatively intelligent and coherent, and the same bands don’t repeat over and over. Also it isn’t filled with bands like Guns n Roses and Led Zeppelin(I like these bands but they aren’t metal). Good list guys!

  • I love this kind of lists, because they a) expose me to cool music I might miss otherwise and b) it’s insanely fun to tear them up.

    As Top Metal albums lists go, this one is both extremely sincere (it clearly states it’s mostly about this site’s staff taste) and utterly worthless as an historical document because of it’s many systemic bias issues I’ll adress next, coming from the mind of a 42 year old metalhead with over three decades of enjoying heavy metal under his belt:

    a) This list slants way too much towards bands from the US and completely ignores important bands from all over the world. A good example is Kreator’s absence: Pleasure to Kill was as influential on what would eventually become extreme metal as Reign in Blood was. ?

    b) The list also slants way too much towards 00s bands that still have to prove their influence an importance. I have no issue with Harvey Milk being in this list, but do they really deserve two entries? Same goes for Baroness, Converge, Mastodon, Isis, Agalloch and Deftones, they may be great bands, but you can’t seriously equate their impact or legacy with bands like Maiden, Judas, Slayer or Metallica.

    c) There’s way too much slant towards extreme metal. I get it, a lot of what was perceived as metal in the 70s and 80s was downgraded to hard rock in the early 00s, but still, bands like Deep Purple, Scorpions, AC/DC, Van Halen, Guns ‘n Roses, Rainbow and Mötley Crüe, which had a huge role on heavy metal’s formative years should be included.

    d) As a consequence of a) and c) this list has no prog or power metal, two genres that have a huge audience worldwide (Dream Theatre sells out arenas worldwide, and Helloween, outside the US is a festival headliner). Also, there’s no symphonic metal, and gothic metal’s contribution is reduced to a single Type O Negative album!

    e) Finally, a detail that really, really bothers me is A Vulgar Display of Power’s placement. Really, impact and influence wise, that album deserves a place in any Metal Top Ten, much more than Converge, or Botch, Baroness, Defheaven and Agalloch, bands that have albums included in this top 20.

    That was fun!
    Now to get myself some Harvey Milk… 🙂

    • Ha, glad you enjoyed that. All fair points; I think there’s no way we could possibly encompass the entire history of metal in 100 albums, and we definitely debated over whether to include bands like Deep Purple or AC/DC, ultimately deciding they were more “proto-metal.” In any case, happy to provide fuel for debate.

      • Well, if you take “metal leaning hard rock” as “proto-metal” a lot of your choices make a lot of sense.
        I really enjoyed this list, and I’m gonna check both Ken Mode and Harvey Milk, two bands I’ve never heard before.
        That, IMO, is the real purpose these lists serve: to give everyone ideas of great music to check out.
        Cheers. 🙂

  • Nice list.
    Some little points of crit:
    # ND’s scum deserves no spot in the top 10…
    # Pig Destroyer twice in the Top 100??

  • Never thought of Harvey Milk as a metal band – more of an experimental rock band to my ears. Obituary’s “Slowly We Rot” is a cornerstone death metal album, and where are Fear Factory?

  • Well you got the top 3 right. Have to give you credit there. After that there are some questionable choices.

    Nice job on: Coroner, Mayhem, Diamond Head, Bathory, Voivod.

    Right band but wrong album(s): Sepultura (Morbid Visions or Beneath the Remains over Chaos A.D.), Atheist (Piece of Time over Unquestionable Presence), Napalm Death (From Enslavement over Scum),

    Not metal: Alice in Chains, Nine Inch Nails, Soundgarden, Bad Brains (great band though), Deftones, Korn. Plus some others that I don’t know but don’t seem like metal bands to me. You could fit so many worthy records on the list if you jus left these off.

    There are much better choices than: Mastedon, Tool, Botch, Helmet, Boris, Rage Against the Machine, System of a Down, Deftones.

    You forgot: Obituary, Autopsy, Cadaver, King Diamond, Destruction, Sadus, Def Leppard (High n Dry), Candlemass, Pestilence, Burzum, Fates Warning, Ozzy (Diary), Exodus (Bonded by Blood), Queensryche (Operation Mindcrime), Saint Vitus.

    I forget was Stained Class on the list?

    Pantera flat out sucks. Same with Rage Against the Machine. Awful crappy bands. Not in the top 1,000 metal albums.

    Paranoid at #1 is a definite. No doubt there.

    • While I agree that NIN is not typically a metal band, Broken is the exception. Definitely a metal album

  • Someone will have to explain the love for Converge. I just don’t get it. Anyone who puts Jane Doe ahead of Master of Puppets just lost a lot of credibility in my eyes.

  • Without a doubt one of the worst list’s I’ve ever seen. While you have a buncha great stuff and the top 3 right (but still barely, it is a cop out top 3), there are countless bands that are not metal and for the ones that dance on the metal/rock/core barriers, you picked the wrong albums.

  • I like this list, it’s eclectic and open minded with some outstanding albums. Do I agree with the order or everything on it? Nope. But wouldn’t it be really dumb if we all shared the absolute same tastes?

    I’m highly suspicious of Deafhaven’s hipster haircuts though, but that’s probably because I’m getting old, I’m sure I’d love Deafhaven if I was 15 year old.

  • This is probably the best list I’ve seen so far. Open-minded enough to annoy elitists and those with incredibly narrow genre definitions (you’re looking at a genre Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple were once included in…are Harvey Milk and Soundgarden really such a stretch?) but still sticks to quality albums. I’m not so sure about the order (Paranoid isn’t even my favorite Black Sabbath album), and my list would have a bunch more black metal (I’m a black metal nut), but the selections are good overall.

  • Albums that deserve to be added IMO:

    Karp – Self Titled LP
    Don Caballero – Don Caballero 2
    Mgła – Exercises in Futility

  • What a list you can come up with just by looking up Wikipedia, Did you actually listen to anyone of these? Believe me you don’t know the whole story..

  • Great list! Certainly much better than Rolling Stone’s garbage list, although everything RS does sucks dick. Obviously, no one is going to agree on all your choices, so here’s a few albums I’d put on my personal list:

    Soundgarden- Superunknown
    Alice In Chains- Self Titled
    Shai Hulud- Hearts Once Nourished With Hope And Compassion
    Tad- Inhaler
    The Melvins- Gluey Porch Treatments
    Venom- Welcome To Hell
    Faith No More- The Real Thing
    Faith No More- Angel Dust
    Living Colour- Vivid
    Acid King- Busse Woods
    Earth Crisis- Destroy The Machines
    Gruntruck- Push
    Anal Cunt- It Just Gets Worse
    Parkway Drive- Blue

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