Metal and its sub-genres are known to be overflowing with bands, and sometimes it can be a pain to separate the wheat from the chaff. That’s why the lovely peeps at The Metal Observer have taken it upon themselves to guide you through these vast mazes of riffs, hooks, and solos. The task was given as such; “tell us some of your favorite albums within sub-genre X, meaning timeless classics or newly uncovered gems”. We began this series with the slow and heavy, touching upon the highs and lows of doom metal, descended to the depths of black metal, before moshing through the pit of thrash and frolicking in the grove of folk metal, then creeping through the slaughterhouses of death metal.
For the sixth entry in this series, we catch lightning in a bottle when looking at good old traditional heavy metal. Fist-pumping anthems and triumphant high-pitch solos are the rule here, and we won’t shy away from the odd facemelter. Too much Maiden in our list? Not enough Teutonic metal? Boom out your opinion in the comments below.
1) Dio – Holy Diver (1983)
By 1983 Dio had finished his first stint in Black Sabbath, having performed on the classic Heaven and Hell and its worthy follow-up, Mob Rules. For his first solo effort, Holy Diver, he recruited drummer Vinny Appice, guitarist Vivian Campbell and bassist Jimmy Bain. Holy Diver was Dio’s chance to prove himself as a creative force and he delivered brilliantly, from the driving “Stand up and Shout” to the slightly proggy “Don’t Talk to Strangers,” with the title track and “Rainbow in the Dark” destined to become staples of classic rock stations. Asides from being full of great songs, Holy Diver has had an enduring impact on metal due to its rousing, anthemic songwriting and while it may not have been the first to use fantasy elements as sources of lyrical inspiration, it is one of the albums that made doing so popular. Holy Diver stands as one of, if not the, defining moment of Ronnie James Dio’s legendary career.
– Nathan Hare
2) Iron Maiden – The Number Of The Beast (1982)
Few metal albums are as iconic as Iron Maiden’s Number of the Beast, their first album with former Samson fronter Bruce Dickinson on the mic. Containing a slew of instant classics such as “22 Acacia Avenue”, “The Number if the Beast” with its instantly recognizable riff, “Run to the Hills” or “Hallowed be thy Name”, it set the bar for future generations to come with driving energy, sharp riffing, Harris’ trademark pumping bass and Dickinson’s spirited vocal performance. A true heavy metal classic, if there ever was one!
– Alex Melzer
3) King Diamond – Abigail (1987)
King Diamond is legendary. He established his iconic vocals with Mercyful Fate, but it was the second album under his own moniker entitled Abigail that established him as one of the premiere album craftsmen since the inception of heavy metal. A concept album in its writing, Kind Diamond established a knack for cohesive storytelling without losing the feel of individualistic tracks on Abigail, a move that would only be utilized for his career henceforth, and the results are astounding. The album is littered with haunting melodies, galloping riffs from guitarist Andy LaRocque, and the piercing vocals of the face painted front man. While skipping a track definitely deters from the album experience on Abigail, one wouldn’t even want to. There are such albums that deserve the term masterpiece and Abigail is one of those records.
– Matt Reifschneider
4) Iron Maiden – Seventh Son of a Seventh Son (1988)
Iron Maiden’s final ‘80s album is one with an unparalleled emphasis on grand compositions and proto-power metal songwriting, of which fans would not see again until the band’s revitalization in the new millennium. At the time, it was, without a doubt, Maiden’s riskiest endeavor and the one that pushed boundaries for heavy metal. With synths and haunting gothic choirs, Iron Maiden managed to forge a sound decades ahead of its time with a soundscape that remains fresh and vibrant to this day.
– Siavash Nezhad
5) Judas Priest – Painkiller (1990)
Is there any doubt that Painkiller is one of the very best metal albums of all time? For my money, it’s without a shadow of a doubt the best. When I think heavy metal, I think Painkiller. If aliens came to earth asking what heavy metal is, I’d hand them a copy of Painkiller. Here Judas Priest proves they had the chops to hold their own amongst the increasing quality and technicality in the metal scene, and arguably outdid pretty much everyone. A triumphant, manly collection of brazen heavy metal the likes of which many have attempted to recreate, but few can touch.
– Christopher Foley
6) Mercyful Fate – Don’t Break The Oath (1984)
Three words. “A Dangerous Meeting”. What a song, what an intro. While much has been said about King Diamond’s banshee-howls, the real star of Don’t Break The Oath are the twin leads of Hank Shermann and Michael Denner. The wildly infectious and inventive riffs, the unorthodox melodies, and those amazing falsetto vocals. Together with their debut Melissa, Denmark’s Mercyful Fate took heavy metal in a completely novel direction that would inspire artists from Lars Ulrich to Euronymous. The demonic visage adorning Don’t Break The Oath is also one of the most iconic album covers of all time. If you don’t have this in your collection, you can leave the hall.
– Ailo Ravna
7) Iron Maiden – Powerslave (1984)
For most metalheads, there is a foundational band or sound that gets them started on their path towards metaldom. Most of them, will probably drop the name Iron Maiden as one of those foundational influences. Number of the Beast might get a bit more press for the band as their ‘be all and end all’ best record, but in my opinion that award goes to Powerslave. Iron Maiden’s fifth record is one of a more refined and driven records punctuated some of their catchiest and hook oriented material. “Aces High,” “Flash of the Blade,” and “2 Minutes to Midnight” are must have songs for any metal fan and the rest of the album is one where you will never skip a track. The galloping rhythms, Bruce Dickinson’s soaring vocals, and the epic closer “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” make sure that there is something for every Maiden fan. Not only would I argue this is the band at their best, but I would have all the evidence I need by just playing Powerslave in its entirety.
– Matt Reifschneider
8) Black Sabbath – Heaven and Hell (1980)
A divisive album amongst its fanbase, Dio’s first and perhaps finest outings with the godfathers of heavy music signalled the switch from 70’s ambiguity to 80’s energy. With the wider range of expression and control that the mighty D provided, Britain’s four piece of amplifier sorcery turned their potent instrumental talents from the almost jammy feel of earlier materials to a more streamlined sound that presented a more consistent sense of motion backed up by beautiful flowing harmony and a much more overt sense of melody. The mysticism that defined them remains but Ronnie wraps it in even more layers of interpretation than Ozzy. Even if his messages remain the subject of debate, the very mythology and spirit of 80’s heavy metal was successfully embodied in this prophetic release.
– Julian Chan
9) Manilla Road – Crystal Logic (1983)
After two albums of full of psychedelia, prog, folk, and spacey Hawkwind like experimentation, the grandfathers of epic heavy metal decided to cut out the remnants of metal’s 70’s baggage and leave it naked and bare but certainly not helpless. In their rawest album to date and surprisingly light on the more nimble, duelling melodicisms of NWOBHM, Manilla Road forged a path of their own through the murky beginnings of first wave metal. With as much crushing rhythms as the doom and thrash to come but delivered in elemental riffing that had just crossed over the thin red line dividing metal from its rockish spawning grounds, “Crystal Logic” was a distinctly American approach to metal that emphasized brute-strength power chords over smooth harmonies and soaring vocals. The sense of shrouded fantasy they are known for is present here in full force with Mark almost sounding proselytizing in his recounting of tales of mystery and myth. While it lacks the sophistication of later releases, it is an incredible example of how stripping a sound down to its basic components sometimes only makes it heavier and even better.
– Julian Chan
10) Judas Priest – British Steel (1980)
Judas Priest’s 1980 album, British Steel, was their most commercial sounding album to date. It did, after all, spawn “Living after Midnight” and “Breaking the Law,” which remain staples on classic rock albums. But asides from this successful foray into the mainstream, British Steel did give us some Priest classics, “Rapid Fire” being perhaps the best of the bunch, although “Steeler” and “Grinder” are quality songs as well. British Steel is a straightforward, simpler album than most releases by Priest and it’s often (unfairly in my opinion) maligned for that. Not many bands could pursue a more radio friendly sound and still remain true to their roots, but Judas Priest did exactly that on British Steel.
– Nathan Hare
11) Queensrÿche – Operation: Mindcrime (1988)
37) Bruce Dickinson – The Chemical Wedding (1998)
That’s all folks! Tune in next time for our list of essential power metal albums!