We’re a long way past the classic days of Heavy Metal. The genre has mutated, evolved and grown out in every direction so far that it’s getting more and more difficult to come up with suitable labels.
Metal isn’t showing any signs of slowing down either. Unlike other genres of music that can be mostly seen as a product of their particular decade, metal just never dies. This makes it a little harder for someone to point to the absolute “must have” metal albums.
But we aren’t intimidated by a challenge. We’ve put together a collection of the best metal albums to own on vinyl. We know that even the most dedicated metal head in the world doesn’t like every sub-genre that exists, and there’s a lot of contention over what counts as ‘true’ metal - but we’ve done everything we can to present a great range of all types.
The only thing we cared about what whether the musicians put some serious effort into making it the best they could, and whether or not it was a landmark album in metal. This could be due to having a long lasting influence, shaping a new genre or codifying an emerging one.
So without further adieu, here’s the list of 7 albums that would make any parent of the 80’s worth their salt grab their torch and pitchfork.
At a Glance: Our Choice Of The 7 Best Metal Albums To Own On Vinyl On The Market
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Ok let's look at each album in more detail. We've provided you with a description of the album and then a link should you wish to explore the album further. So without further ado, let’s take a look...
7 Best Metal Albums To Own On Vinyl
1. Koloss - Meshuggah
Whether you hate ‘em or love ‘em, it can’t be denied that Meshuggah are one of the biggest driving influences of the Djent sound. Koloss is one of their most polished albums, and shows off the powerful rhythms they create in a way that’s so intense it’s akin to being possessed by the ghost of a viking berserker.
Despite the dark imagery, practically unintelligible vocals and harsh sound, Meshuggah seems to promote a more cerebral listening experience. Even at their gigs you can see a large number of people watching intently and deeply appreciating the complexity of the music and admiring the high level of skill and musicianship required. That’s not to say you can’t lose yourself in the beat. It would be a perfect soundtrack to smash up a room too.
Their latest album, The Violent Sleep of Reason, offers much of the same. However, it seems to be an example of more of the same rather than significant new development. If you loved Koloss and wish you could find more, that’s your solution.
2. Cowboys from Hell - Pantera
RE! - SPECT!
Did you read that in your head as it was in Walk?
I thought so. This fact just by itself demonstrates the immense influence Pantera still has now with Cowboys from Hell. It’s not so much an album as it is a defining point of what is and isn’t metal. Sure, things have changed a lot since then, but whenever a metalhead decides to learn to play guitar and hears himself pulling this off, their face just lights up. It’s truly a magical thing to behold.
You might have never actually heard the full album, especially in this age of streaming and downloading single tracks here and there. So do yourself a favour, and check it out in all of it’s glory here.
3. Black Metal - Venom
Black Metal had a profound influence on the future direction of metal. As the name suggests, it was a major part of the development of Black Metal - and although it’s now typically associated with Norway, Finland and other northern European and Scandinavian countries, it actually had its first beginnings in the New Wave of British Metal.
But the long lasting influence of this album wasn’t just in the Black Metal subgenre. It was instrumental in many areas of extreme metal, including Thrash and Death Metal. Some of the world’s most famous metal bands in these genres owe key elements of their sound to Black Metal too.
4. Korn - Korn
Although there’s a lot of debate about whether Korn is truly metal or not, we’ll ignore that for today. They are the founding fathers of nu-metal, and were almost single handedly responsible for the popular direction of metal through the late ‘90s and early 2000’s - and it was their self-titled debut album that kicked it all off.
Although inspired by many established metal bands, Korn drew from many influences that were almost antithetical to metal as it was. In later albums they began to experiment with incorporating even less traditional elements into their music, such as dubstep. It was their willingness to push the boundaries that makes them so important, and there’s nowhere better to start than with their first album to see the way that the alternative metal movement followed and changed along with Korn’s own developments.
5. Once - Nightwish
Nightwish achieved their first major commercial success outside out of their native Finland with Once, and this was the album that opened up the US and Europe to the combination of metal and orchestral music. It had similarities to the Neoclassical Metal pioneered by Yngwie Malmsteem, but was more overtly comparable to film scores.
In terms of musical innovation, Nightwish were one of the first groups with a more contemporary metal sound that played alongside an orchestra rather than simply featuring a lead guitarist with an orchestra supporting.
6. Karmacode - Lacuna Coil
We haven’t included many metal bands featuring female vocalists so far, but it’s hard to ignore Lacuna Coil. They were among the first female-led bands to achieve major success, including headlining the 2006 Ozzfest event.
Karmacode was one of their biggest commercial successes, and it was in large part due to their pushback on the release schedule to focus on delivering a highly polished and professional sound on each and every track.
7. Dopethrone - Electric Wizard
If you like your metal filled with sludge and prefer to toke rather than drink, then Electric Wizard will likely be in your roster.
If you’ve never experienced the stoner/sludge metal subgenre before, it’s got some extreme marked differences with the majority of metal. Instead of going for intense blast beats and violent rhythm, Electric Wizard defined the new genre with the sort of slowness found in doom metal combined with the whimsical and surreal imagery that would be found in an opium den. The most distinctive album of this sort being Dopethrone.
So there you have it, our seven best metal albums. Buy hey, they're our favourites, don't have to be yours. Which do you think should be on the list?
Ged is Founder and Editor-in-chief at Zing Instruments. He’s a guitarist for London based gypsy jazz band ‘Django Mango’ and a lover of all things music. When he’s not ripping up and down the fretboard, he’s tinkering with his ’79 Campervan.