OK boys and ghouls, we’ve officially reached the meaty epicenter of heavy metal excellence. After thirty warm ups (50-41, 40-31, 30-21 | And here’s AMG’s: 50-41, 40-31, 31-20), these are the brightest of gems, the most gleaming of chromes. Here begins the twenty songs that define all that is heavy, all that is metal. Bow down then get the hell up and HAIL as the True Masters enter the building. Steel Druhm roll please.
#20: Celtic Frost – Morbid Tales – “Visions of Mortality” – Oh yes, the mighty Celtic Frosted Flakes! The band that helped invent the death metal genre (and arguable funeral/sludge doom when they were Hellhammer). Pretty much every track from this album is Hall of Fame worthy but to me, this one is the mack daddy AND the daddy mack. From the super distorted opening riffs through the martial marching segments and odd harmonics, this is like a mutant mastodon stomping across an icy field. Tom. G. Warrior’s gruff, simple delivery suits the sludgy sound and when they crank up the speed, his randomly interspersed nonsensical intonations always amused me as I thrashed my ass off.
#19: Trouble – Psalm 9 – “The Tempter” – One of the early units that strove to keep Black Sabbath’s doom sound alive was Trouble and on their debut, they birthed a doom metal monster fused with moments of bone crushing thrash. The super heavy doom riff that opens things is one of the best ever recorded and Eric Wagner’s ominous, and at times, near hysterical vocals always gives me chills. When they blast into near thrash mode, that riff is just too fucking huge to ignore (especially at 1:43). This was sheer metallic genius captured in the studio for all the time and although they had a long and impressive career, they never came close to recapturing the brilliantly heavy, oppressive feel they had on this song and this album. You know I’ll get you..BASTARDS!!!!!
#18: Mercyful Fate – Don’t Break the Oath – “A Dangerous Meeting” – Mercyful Fate was like a bolt of black lightning from the depths of hell and from the moment I heard this album I was hooked by their fusion of NWOBHM and extremely dark satanic concepts. King Diamond is obviously a unique vocal talent and here he’s flat out brilliant when switching between his ear splitting falsetto and his mid-range dramatic wail. The lyrics are eerie, the musical execution is perfect and the mood created is pure occult lunacy. Amazing guitar work by Hank Sherman and Michael Denner is the icing on the Devil’s food cake. One of the best album openers of all time.
#17: Black Sabbath – Heaven and Hell – “Neon Knights” – Replacing Ozzy was no easy task but vocal god Ronnie James Dio stepped right in and made a lot of people forget all about the Ozz man. This was the intro to the Dio era and man, did he ever put his stamp on it! That surprisingly aggressive and crunchy Iommi riff leads right into one of Dio’s greatest vocal performances. The lyrics are straight out of Dungeons & Dragons but Dio’s larger than life delivery makes it all serious and powerful [Wait, are you saying that D&D isn’t serious or powerful? – AMG]. Every element comes together to create a classic moment that doesn’t sound dated even in 2011. Dio was the MAN! (R.I.P.).
#16: Primordial – To the Nameless Dead – “Gallows Hymn” – I didn’t totally warm up to Primordial until this album and then something just clicked for me. I had a tough time picking between this and “Empire Fall” but this got the nod for its heart felt self reflection at life’s end concept. Alan Averill’s vocal delivery is about as close as you will ever get to hearing an actual gallows confession and it’s painfully brilliant. The blackened riffs are spot on and provide just the right amount of power to a highly charged and extremely dramatic song.
#15: Amorphis – Tales From the Thousand Lakes – “Magic and Mayhem” – I’ve never hid my Amorphis devotion and it all started with this album. After replaying it countless times over the years, this is the song I always end up coming back to and appreciating the most. The opening riff is wonderfully mournful and always conjured images of some conquering army trudging through knee deep snow toward some distant battlefield. The ebb and flow of the song is a thing of beauty and even the seemingly out of place 70’s laser-effect keyboards work perfectly. Finland wins again.
#14: Pentagram – Day of Reckoning – “Burning Savior” – A doom band almost as old as Sabbath, these guys never got the breaks, attention or support they deserved. This was their second album and amid all the album’s greatness, this was the ginormous, monolithic centerpiece. Running over nine minutes, this is a super sized helping of gloom and doom done the right way. Moody, atmospheric, alternating between calm and heavy as hell, it takes you on a long, intense ride. The doom guitar mastery of Victor Griffin and the always ghoulish vocals by Bobby Liebling collide and create morose perfection. Dig this album up post haste. Goat of Mendes, standing by firm!
#13: Fates Warning – The Spectre Within – “The Apparition” – Another Fates Warning track you say? Yes! These guys evolved into one of the earliest progressive metal bands but on this album they were still straight forward metal with tons of Iron Maiden influence and this song was the standout on a seriously great album. The lead in vocalizing by John Arch is super cool and once things get rolling, it’s a NWOBHM inspired killer with great riffing and even better vocals. I wish they had stuck with this style longer because it was something special.
#12: Krokus – Headhunter – “Screaming in the Night” – I figure this selection will result in the most shit tossing but I don’t care. Krokus has been the butt of a lot of jokes and derision and much of it is deserved for their history of shameless commercial whoring. However, this album is a lean, mean piece of vintage metal and this song is a timeless classic. Marc Storace forsakes his usual Bon Scott clone style and turns in a top notch and surprisingly emotional performance in what has to be the best power ballad of all time. Go back and listen to this song and forget their later missteps. Do it for the Sons of Vengeance. Do it for Switzerland.
#11: Slayer – Reign in Blood – “Raining Blood” – Some would switch this out with “Angel of Death” and honestly, it’s such a close contest who could really argue. It’s the perfect thrash album and this was the perfect closer. Channeling evil, anger, dread and hate into an unstoppable moment of thrash fury, this became Slayer‘s calling card and signature song. The diffuse but threatening guitar wails, the pounding war drums getting closer, when the song finally erupts, it’s the most effective moment in extreme metal history. Tom Araya’s delivery is perfectly menacing and even the whammy insanity of Whammy Brothers Jeff and Kerry works to their advantage somehow. This is the song I plan to play as the world explodes in 2012.