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Metal 101: Where to Get Started?

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New music can be terrifying for those who don’t know where to start. Do you start with newer material that’s come out recently, or do you go back to the older material? Unfortunately, there is no right or wrong answer. If you like something you hear, stick to your guns and see if you can find something similar. On that note, there’s nothing wrong with listening to something that’s certified old and good. Below, you’ll find the list of certified albums that have made their mark on metal history, and some things you might enjoy.

Black Sabbath – Paranoid (1970)
One of metal’s penultimate creations came with Black Sabbath’s sophomore album. With it’s down tuned sound, the distorted blues riffs of Tony Iommi, and the incredible vocal performance of Ozzy Osbourne, Paranoid is a leviathan of an album. Considered by many to be the definitive metal album, Paranoid also contains many of the band’s most well-known tracks, such as “War Pigs,” “Iron Man,” “Paranoid,” and “Planet Caravan.” Many will argue that there will never be a more influential album in metal’s history, period.

Iron Maiden – The Number of the Beast (1982)
Forget the phrase, “Everything I Know I Learned in Kindergarten” and replace it with “Everything I Know about History I Learned from Iron Maiden.” Another landmark in the history of heavy metal, Iron Maiden’s third album The Number of the Beast is chock-full of everything that makes an album great. The recruiting of one of metal’s best vocalists, Bruce Dickinson, was the final ingredient that bassist Steve Harris needed to unleash the band’s full potential while the dueling guitars of Dave Murray and Adrian Smith make this album a work of art.  Any metal fan worth their salt can usually recite most of the lyrics to “Run to the Hills,” the title track “The Number of the Beast,” and the dramatic mini-epic “Hallowed Be Thy Name.” If you’re developing a love of metal, make sure you give The Number of the Beast a listen.

Judas Priest – Sad Wings of Destiny (1976)
If Black Sabbath is heralded as the creator of the heavy metal sound, then Judas Priest can be credited with refining it and making metal what it is today. This came from their 1976 release Sad Wings of Destiny, the follow up to their first album Rocka Rolla, where they found their stylistic footing with the chugging dual guitars of Glenn Tipton and K.K. Downing, and the operatic vocals of Rob Halford. The release of Sad Wings of Destiny gave Priest the title of the next, archetypal metal band following their fellow Birmingham natives, Black Sabbath. A monument to the majesty that is heavy metal, tracks like the elaborate “Victim of Changes,” and the short but deadly “The Ripper” will continue to hold their place in the past and the future of heavy metal.

Motorhead – Ace of Spades (1979)
Where would metal today as we know it be without Motorhead? Sure, the late-great Lemmy himself said that Motorhead wasn’t a metal band, but by any other name, Motorhead still rocked just as hard. Without Motorhead, there would be no extreme metal as we know it; many bands that came after Motorhead have cited them as a major influence on their sound. Ace of Spades’ title track has become one of the band’s most well-known songs with the band’s most celebrated line up of Lemmy Kilmister on vocals and bass, “Fast” Eddie Clarke shredding on the guitar, and the late Phil “Philthy Animal” Taylor pounding away on the drums. Ace of Spades is full of rock and roll truths, the most important of them being “that’s the way I like it baby, I don’t want to live forever.”

Metallica – Master of Puppets (1986)
I couldn’t rightfully leave one of metal’s biggest creations out of a list about some of metal’s finest. Master of Puppets is sonically diverse, and incredibly complex in its aggressive expression that hasn’t withered since it was released. Opening with a band out for blood, the album is full of headbangers like “Battery,” “Master of Puppets,” and “Damage, Inc,” the slow-chugging tracks of “The Thing That Should Not Be” and “Leper Messiah,” to the haunting ballad that is “Welcome Home (Sanitarium).” With Hetfield’s amazing riffs, Hammett’s articulate solos, and Cliff Burton’s lead bass work, Master of Puppets is, without a doubt, Metallica’s magnum opus.

Slayer – Reign in Blood (1986)
One of the most influential albums to come from the thrash metal scene, Reign in Blood has become a double-edged sword for its makers. While it has been celebrated as one of the best metal albums ever created, every Slayer album to come out since has been living in its shadow. One of the most brutal and relentless albums, no other band has come out with anything that is as uncompromising and well-crafted as Reign in Blood. Ramping up the Judas Priest-influenced riffs, increasing the darkness of vintage Black Sabbath, and adding in their own controversial themes, Slayer took their sounds to new heights. The controversial “Angel of Death,” written by the late Jeff Hanneman, is undeniably intense in its account of the atrocities of the Nazi butcher Josef Mengele, while “Raining Blood” builds into a wild ride through the flaming horrors of Hell itself. This album continues to piss parents off, and seduce their kids over to metal like any good metal album should. Be warned, this album is not for the faint of heart.

Megadeth – Peace Sells… But Who’s Buying? (1986)
Still riding his revenge-fueled feelings against his former bandmates in Metallica, Dave Mustaine improved the overall quality of his work in his sophomore album Peace Sells…But Who’s Buying? The follow-up to Killing Is My Business… and Business Is Good is staggering. With better arrangements, technical skill, improved songwriting, and additional political commentary, this album is a thrash metal force to be reckoned with. The opening bass riff to “Peace Sells” remains iconic to this day, alongside the other classic tracks of “Wake Up Dead” and “The Conjuring.” The end result of Dave’s work is absolutely lethal.

Anthrax – Among the Living (1987)
The last, but certainly not the least, to the group that has become known as ‘The Big Four of Thrash,’ Anthrax is the only non-Californian thrash act, unlike their peers in Metallica, Slayer, and Megadeth. Among the Living remains one of the best sources of headbangers in the metal scene, full of references to the works of Stephen King in “Among the Living,” the infamous comic book character Judge Dredd in “I Am the Law,” and the idiocy of society as a whole in “N.F.L.” Despite their reputation, Anthrax’s Among the Living remains a refreshingly violent and fun invitation into the mosh pit from some of the finest thrashers New York has to offer.

David Gagnon

Born in the Chicago suburb of Wheaton, Dave has laid down his soul to the gods rock n' roll. He attended Columbia College Chicago as a major in Creative Writing. Some of his favorite things are heavy metal and pizza.
David Gagnon
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