Wow, what a long, strange journey through time and sub-genres it’s been. Here we finally are at the center of the metalverse. After all the lead ups (50-41, 40-31, 30-21, 20-11 | And here’s Angry Metal Guy’s first 40: 50-41, 40-31, 31-20, 20-11), these my friends are the big enchiladas of metal. The best of the beasts, the cream of the corpse paint. You were all so very patient and now you can finally rest peacefully, having attained full metal enlightenment from the Steel Druhm. If you disagree with any of these final selections, kindly think it over until you agree. Take notes Gibson.
#10: Queensryche – The Warning – “Roads to Madness” – Queensryche had a legendary run of great albums until they got all self important and sank into mediocrity and irrelevance. Some of their greatest material was on their debut and it was a mighty tough choice between this and “Take Hold of The Flame.” This gets the nod for its grim, brooding and melancholy atmosphere and emotional vocal performance by Geoff Tate. In fact, I think this song is his finest hour and showcases his considerable range and versatility. It’s also the song that hints at the male/female duets that would be so big on Operation: Mindcrime (though its Geoff approximating both male/female parts in the song’s last minute or so). It’s a slow burning number for sure but it just gets better and better as it rolls along. They just don’t make em like this anymore, especially Queensryche!
#9: Agalloch – The Mantle – “In The Shadow of Our Pale Companions” – One of the best metal bands of all time IMHO, this album is their timeless masterpiece and this track is the centerpiece thereof. Long, moody, dark and depressive but also oddly cheery, it blew me away on the first listen and every time since. The somber and beautiful acoustic guitar lead in just builds and builds and you can almost see the mist shrouded forest towering above. The eerie black metal rasps are subdued and provide just the right hint of menace without taking away from the song’s tranquil, morose vibe. Over the length of the song, many emotions and moods are explored and there isn’t one note out of place. A creepy yet dazzling triumph.
#8: Helstar – Burning Star – “Run With the Pack” – Helstar has been plugging away in the traditional metal sphere since the early 80’s and they never really garnered the attention their talent deserved. Their long lost debut was host to several classic old timey metal songs, none better than this one. Leather lunged metal legend James Rivera (Destiny’s End, Seven Witches, Vicious Rumors etc.) was just cutting his tonsils as a singer and his raw, passionate performance here is flawed but metal as hell. The simple riffs are head banging heaven and the mood captures the spirit of 80’s metal better than almost any. What makes this rate so high is the stellar writing. Its just a great song, catchy, moody, simple but memorable. The original 1984 version has that special magic but the later re-recorded versions don’t. Run with the PACK!!
#7: Metallica – Kill Em All – “The Four Horsemen” – These days I hate Metallica with a passion that only one who once loved them intensely could generate. Of all their classic songs, this one was the undisputed champion in my mind. With one of the greatest thrash riffs ever known to man and aided by classic “old” Hetfield vox and some of Kirk Hammett’s best solos, its a relentless rolling juggernaut of blatant badassery. Another of those note-perfect songs and arguably the best thrash song ever, it truly highlights how great these guys were and by extension, how putrid they are now. That makes me so St. Angry!
#6: Mercyful Fate – Don’t Break the Oath – “Gypsy” – The first two Mercyful Fate albums will always be near and dear to my black heart and Gypsy was always my favorite of the bunch. King Diamond was still making effective use of ALL his voices instead of relying solely on his falsetto and his dramatic vocal work here shows him at his best. The guitar work by Hank Sherman and Michael Denner shines brighter than the sun and the solo beginning at 2:09 is my favorite of all time, no exceptions. I spent most of my youth thinking King shrieks “You are a mule” at the end and I didn’t question it because the song was so damn fine!
#5: Black Sabbath – Heaven and Hell – “Heaven and Hell” – Yes, it seems madness to have a Dio-fronted Black Sabbath song at the very top of the list but in all honestly, and despite my love for all things Ozzy, this is their best song. Taking the doomy core of the Sabbath sound and fusing it to Dio’s world class vox and downcast lyrics, the band exceeded all previous heights (of which they had many) and created one mammoth and timeless piece of metal gold. That crushing main riff, the immortal opening line “sing me a song, you’re a singer” over the ominous bass, pure perfection. Dark as hell but instantly memorable, it stays with you for life and captures lightning in a bottle. Playing it nowadays really makes me miss Dio and that one-of-a-kind voice.
#4: Judas Priest – Sad Wings of Destiny – “Victim of Changes” – Over their long and storied career Judas Priest explored many variations on their metal style but this early monolith of sound was one for the history books. From the slow fade in to that oh so simple lead riffs and on to Halford’s unrestrained rock meets metal vocalizing, something special is going on here. Slightly bluesy but anchored in metal by the heavy guitars, it weaves a strange spell and feels way more epic than it should (especially given the oddball lyrics). Halford’s poignant and emotive vocals in the back half of the song along with his glass shattering high notes put a huge exclamation mark on things and make this the high point of their enormous catalog of metal hits. Good God, PLUCK ME! (whatever that means).
#3: Manowar – Hail to England – “Bridge of Death” – Manowar takes a lot of abuse for their over-the-top approach to an already over-the-top genre (and for screwing over AMG’s beloved cheese whiz-ards Rhapsody of Fire) but man, their early albums were God-like. “Bridge of Death” is essentially their “Stairway to Heaven” and yes, I see the irony. Its the most epic thing since the Big Bang and from start to finish it screams METAL with every fiber of its loinclothed being. Joey DeMaio’s bass work is extra amazing and Eric Adams puts on his premier vocal performance, from quiet crooning to rafter-shaking screams and every note in between. You simply can’t listen to him singing “I know the one who waits, Satan is his name” and not get gleaming metallic goosebumps of steel. Even DeMaio’s silly distorted vox work well and who can argue with a line like “cut off my head, release all my evil”? The bells chiming “Joy to the World” at the end are simply Manowonderful.
#2: Iron Maiden – Number of the Beast – “Hallowed Be Thy Name” – Everyone has their favorite Maiden song and this is mine and also one of the best metal tunes ever composed. If anyone needed proof that Bruce Dickinson took Maiden to the next level upon joining, this is Exhibit A-Z. Taking the oft used “about to be executed” theme to glorious new heights, Dickinson lends his golden throat to a monster song and makes it even better. Great guitar riffing, Steve Harris’s usual bass heroics, a real knack for lyrical storytelling and an ability to wring every ounce of drama from the concept make this one very hard to forget. Songs and albums like this made the 80’s such a special time to be growing up a metal head. You bought the album, heard one classic after another only to crushed by this at the end. Hallowed grounds here folks.
#1: Rainbow – Rising– “Stargazer” – Not what most were expecting I’m sure but this song is the most rare and wondrous of all things heavy. You may argue that Rainbow was barely a metal band but that can’t be said about this song. Not only is this the best song Richie Blackmore and Ronnie James Dio ever wrote or performed in their long musical careers, it’s also the premier metal song in existence. At eight minutes plus, it features a prodigious amount of mood, power and emotion. Dio’s world-shaking vocals never sounded as emotional, heartfelt and intense. Add in Blackmore’s fret mastery and you get the Mona Lisa of metal. Lyrically it paints a simple but very compelling tale and few could put the material over as well as Dio does. The final stanza where Dio goes off over that grandiose flourish is so amazing, especially when he starts singing about going home. Truly a case of everything coming together into a perfect moment of artistic expression. The only flaw is that it eventually ends. Massive.