Heavy Metal

Metallica “Ride the Lightning” (1984)

Like everyone else my age, The Black Album was the introduction into metal and the undeniable force known as, Metallica. So, obviously I had to do a bit of working backwards to familiarize myself with their other (heavier) albums. I came to enjoy all of their 80’s material, but Ride the Lightning struck me the hardest with its tremendous sound that was brought to the forefront by James Hetfield’s growling voice, Lars Ulrich’s powerful drumming, Kirk Hammett’s severely commanding guitar playing, and Cliff Burton’s intense bass. Each member proved to be pivotal to the genius sound they created on this record and while, Master of Puppets usually gets all the accolades for being their finest, I still come back to this one much more and truly feel that it’s by far the greatest thrash metal album of all-time. –Jason

Thin Lizzy “Jailbreak” (1976)

Containing the only two Thin Lizzy tracks you’re ever likely to hear on the restricted playlists of classic rock radio in the US, with the barroom nostalgia of “The Boys Are Back in Town” and tight-fisted title track, Jailbreak has become the most recognized release of the band’s existence. In many ways, the album simply carries on from Fighting in it’s mix of classic Lizzy rockers featuring generous amounts of their signature dual guitar sound, and an abundance of mellower songs highlighting Lynott’s penchant for romantic lyricism. The heavier tracks are some of the band’s best yet, with the bold “Warriors” and battlefield tale “Emerald,” but the band turns in some stellar easygoing entries like the wistful “Cowboy Song,” catchy “Running Back,” and broken-hearted “Romeo and the Lonely Girl.” Throughout, Lynott’s expressive vocals and the band’s high-caliber musicianship add an earnestness to the material, without sacrificing the power at the band’s core. –Ben

Metallica “Kill ‘Em All” (1983)

The blood soaked hammer that adorns Metallica’s debut serves as an ample warning to those who would drop the needle on this violent platter, as the Bay Area ‘bangers cut loose throughout Kill ’em All, barking with fury as every track is sent into the red with unrestrained aggression. This is the sound of metal-obsessed fans stripping away the fat and then dishing out the lean leftovers with a new, ultra-heavy direction, Kill ’em All serving as a statement of dedication to the denim ‘n’ leather lifestyle, alone in service to the almighty riff. Adrenaline pumping rallying cries to the metal masses like “Whiplash,” “Hit the Lights,” and “Motorbreath” are delivered at breakneck speed, while Metallica rides crushing grooves on tunes like “The Four Horsemen” and “Seek and Destroy.” Although the band pushes the sound of their NWoBHM influences to it’s extreme, the fact that they have the skill and smarts to adopt the catchiness that ran through those imported sides is one of the key factors that elevates Kill ’em All to it’s lofty position. –Ben

Spinal Tap “This Is Spinal Tap” (1984)

The soundtrack to Spinal Tap’s cult rockumentary serves as the only easy place to hear highlights from long out of print, impossible to find albums like Brainhammer, Shark Sandwich, and Bent For The Rent, with classics like the onstage anthem “Tonight I’m Gonna Rock You,” the squalid “Hell Hole,” and sexual throb of “Big Bottom” and #5 Japanese hit “Sex Farm” leading the charge. Tap’s regrettable flirtations with progressive rock are represented by “Stonehenge,” and the ill-timed ’77 release “Rock And Roll Creation,” the album also featuring the previously unreleased Tufnel composition, “America,” and both sides of the band’s pre-Tap Thamesmen 7-inch, “Gimmie Some Money/Cups and Cakes,” both fine examples of the so called “Squatneybeat” sound that gripped the UK for 3 days in 1965. Until the long promised Tap reissues arrive (“A lot of our music they won’t put out on CD because it’s too vibrant.” – David St. Hubbins), This Is Spinal Tap is your best bet for a taste of the Tap. –Ben

Lucifer’s Friend “Lucifer’s Friend” (1970)

This German hard rock machine, with British belter John Lawton, (later of Uriah Heep) gave birth to one of the best heavy rock albums of the early 70’s. From the screaming vocals of “Ride In The Sky” (with its brass opening reminiscent of Zeppelin’s “The Immigrant Song” and an almost “thrash metal” riff) to the progressive/hard R&B of “Toxic Shadows”, to the lumbering, Sabbathish doom of “Keep Goin”, this album never lets up for a second. Fans of Black Sabbath, Uriah Heep, Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin must have this in their collection! Lawton is one of the best singers in hard rock, and the musicianship of the group is tremendous. Very heavy indeed for a 1971 release. The bonus tracks show the more mainstream, rock ‘n’ rollin’ side of the band, but the instrumentals “Horla” and “Satyr’s Dance” (taken from B-sides) really cook. Do yourself a large favor and check this one out. —Chris

Rainbow “Rising” (1976)

As a blossoming Deep Purple fan ‘Rising’ was my introduction to Ritchie Blackmore’s post-Purple work and although I was initially ambivalent about the sound and Dio’s voice I’ve since come to love this music which, has also helped me appreciate Dio’s stint with Black Sabbath a lot more. After a debut album that fiddled with some of Ritchie Blackmore’s ideas, ‘Rising’ sounds more like a band effort and everything about the sound has got heavier. Dio’s lyrics took me a while to get used to but they sound tailor-made for this kind of dramatic heavy rock and his voice is so good it doesn’t matter matter what is said. The first side of ‘Rising’ is made up of short, punchy heavy rock songs with “Do You Close Your Eyes” being the album’s weakest track and a mood lightener before the album’s two big statements, “Stargazer and “A Light In The Black”. “Stargazer” is a huge undertaking that demands nothing but the best from the people involved. The heavy drone is sustained for eight and a half minutes and Dio’s range is tested in trying to match the constant thunder of the music. “A Light In The Black” is my personal favorite moment of the album, proving that this line-up could rock as hard as anybody. Cozy Powell drives the song along, allowing Dio to swoop and fly vocally, and Tony Carey takes on Ritchie Blackmore in a furious solo battle that brings out the best from both. The album’s a bit short and there isn’t a huge amount of variation but ‘Rising’ contains six good tracks and at least two essentials. –Tom

Scorpions “In Trance” (1975)

Three albums in and Scorpions are settling into an eccentric, decidedly European mix of piercing Teutonic fury and abject gothic balladry that would hallmark future Uli-era triumphs Virgin Killer and Taken by Force. In Trance features only a handful of hard rockers, but the manic, psyche-searing opener “Dark Lady” (featuring oddly appropriate lead vocals by Roth), tightly-clenched stomp of “Top of the Bill,” and weird, lost in translation “Robot Man” are all stinging entries, while “Longing for Fire” stands out as an unusual, brightly melodic moment. But it’s those troubled, moonlit strolls into balladry that really define the dark undercurrent of In Trance, with the mesmerizing title track, black veiled “Living and Dying,” and thunderous declarations “Evening Wind” and “Life’s Like a River” cementing the album under waves of isolation and melancholia. Only the lumbering blues “Sun in my Hand” hints at a loss of plot, one of Roth’s weirder Hendrix tributes that’s at least partially redeemed in his floating, Floydian instrumental “Night Lights” that closes the album. –Ben

Thin Lizzy “Fighting” (1975)

My favourite Thin Lizzy album. Which puts me in a minority, for sure, but I shouldn’t have to defend my assertion that this is hookier than Jailbreak (even if it doesn’t reach that one’s highest heights), more consistent than Johnny the Fox, and retains the sleazy feel that’s more or less buffed away from the overly polished Bad Reputation. This is their most underrated album by far. All the elements of the sound for which they’re best known (twin guitar attack, tense aggression, funky basslines, soulful melodicism and lyricism, etc., pick your cliché) are here in the freshest form; none of the cold metal posturing has crept in; and just about every song has an excitement that’s infectious and totally addictive, especially “Rosalie,” which is rock ‘n’ roll manna. –Will

UFO “Phenomenon” (1974)

A good example of a band that didn’t achieve the success that matched the quality of their talent, would be, without a doubt, UFO. All of the ingredients were present, a guitar hero (Michael Schenker), a unique vocalist (Phil Mogg), a solid rhythm section, the power pop sensibilities of Cheap Trick and monster Sabbath riffs. Really, what more could a mid-seventies rock band need to be arena rock monsters. Their failure to appeal to the masses is a bit of a head-scratchier? Then again, as a teenager, I myself, considered them to be a B-level act. At the time, I wasn’t interested in subtleties, I was interested in rocking…hard. For some reason, diversity was alright for Led Zeppelin, but not for many others. It had to be loud, aggressive or progressive to cut through the hormonal fueled muck that was my sixteen year old brain. Still, somewhere in my self conscious, Phenomenon made an impression which led me to rediscover a hidden gem of an album and in turn, helped me rediscover UFO, All those years ago, my primitive mind could only wrap itself around “Rock Bottom” and “Doctor Doctor”. At the time, I considered these two, they only songs worth listening to on the entire album. The former built on a turbo charged upbeat intro riff, a half-time tempo shift and a classic seventies extended solo break in which Schenker pulls out all stops. The later was highlighted by tasteful fills and a bouncing shuffle beat, but what made these tracks stand out, was that they were the heaviest songs on this record. And HEAVY mattered more then anything. Now, older and wiser, I realize the album didn’t come close to ending there. “Too Young To Know” and “Oh My” are straight ahead root rockers, with earthy grooves and blues hooks the Stones made a somewhat nice living on. “Time on My Hands”, “Space Child” and “Crystal Light” are folkie ballads with stick-in-your-head melodies and unexpected twists. “Space Child” in particular, stands out with its’ loose structure and gripping solo. Less successful are “Built for Comfort”, which is a poor mans “Lemon Song”, and “Queen of the Deep”, which somewhat boldly meshes the folkie-UFO with the big riff-UFO, but misfires a bit in the attempt and fades just when it starts building momentum. The only real clunker is “Lipstick Traces”, which is basically just clichéd seventies filler. Believe me, these are small complaints. All in all, Phenomenon is not a Zeppelin album, but it would fit nicely in the same disc changer. –Rat Salad

Armageddon “Armageddon” (1975)

Shaggy proto-metal stretched and contorted into long winded, progressive forms, second tier supergroup Armageddon recall the similarly assembled Captain Beyond in both form and execution, both bands in fact sharing a member in drummer Bobby Caldwell. Ex-Yardbirds and Renaissance vocalist Keith Relf fronts the group, while Steamhammer’s Martin Pugh lays down piercing, wah-washed guitar on the circling “Buzzard,” slashes and burns through the frantic “Paths and Planes and Future Gains,” and works a heavy funk riff ala Zeppelin and Budgie on “Last Stand Before.” Elsewhere there’s the glassy tones of the ethereal “Silver Tightrope,” and the album concludes with a rambiling, multi-part suite in “Basking in the White of the Midnight Sun.” An impressive, semi-obscure heavy gem that any fan of bludgeoning bell-bottom rock should enjoy surrendering to. –Ben

Black Sabbath “Master of Reality” (1971)

The beautiful thing thing about the first few Black Sabbath records is that, although they’re the heaviest, darkest, and most extreme representations of electric guitar driven music at that time, it’s the kind of thing a five year old could get down to at first listen. Their undeniably satisfying grooves, hooks, and drive leave them sounding as easily digestible as Creedence Clearwater Revival, only dipped in wax and plugged through a marshall stack in the dark. Master Of Reality, Sabbath’s third testament, is probably their darkest. From the black haze of a cover and heaviest album title of all time, to guitar tone that sounds like the amps took bong rips, the record has enough vibe to spook a horse. The songs are laid back and seem to exercise groove endurance, giving the effect of psychedelia through hypnotism. Juxtaposing the fuzz are two short mellow instrumentals and the angelic “solitude,” which sounds like a candle glowing under the ocean. Art of the highest order and accessible to all walks. if you haven’t yet gotten down, I suggest getting down immediately. -Alex

Blue Öyster Cult “Blue Öyster Cult” (1972)

Long before the mega-hits “Godzilla” and “(Dont Fear) The Reaper” roamed FM radio waves there lived a different kind of creature: “Blue Öyster Cult” the album. Everything about BÖC is unique: from their mysterious name, the umlaut over the Ö and the famous hook and cross logo to the cryptic lyrics and their instantly recognizable sound. Nowhere is their uniqueness more apparent than on this classic self-titled debut. The music lies somewhere between psychedelia and heavy metal and the cover features black and white op-art that perfectly captures the sci-fi and horror themes inside. My favorite tracks are the classic “Cities on Flame with Rock and Roll,” the tripped out “Screams,” the even trippier “She’s as Beautiful as a Foot” and the country-rock of “Redeemed” with it’s beautiful harmonies. All I can say is: “More Cowbell!” –David