Essential Albums

Go spend all of your money on these albums, play them as loud as possible until you are deaf. Rinse and repeat.

In all seriousness, the albums listed below are the canon of heavy metal, but are by no means the œuvre.  Collectively, these albums provide the best entry into the genre, as they represent the historical best of the best (that's not hyperbole or simply my opinion: click on the links for the AllMusic reviews).  Pound for pound, these albums are the pinnacle of heavy metal music.

For virginal ears, it is recommend to approach this list in chronological order.  After all, you must learn to crawl before you can headbang.  The earliest works provide an excellent "baseline" by which to discern later offerings.  However, if you want to start with Slaughter of the Soul, well, who am I to tell you how to live your life.  Knock yourself out!

Note: The subgenre listings are more "compass" than "gospel," so tread accordingly.  For more on the numerous (and highly contentious) subgenres of heavy metal, please see Allmusic.com.

In Chronological Order:

  Album Title       Band     Year     Subgenre Country  
Black Sabbath Black Sabbath 1970 Prototypical England
Deep Purple In Rock Deep Purple 1970 Prototypical England
Paranoid Black Sabbath 1971 Archetypal England
Master of Reality Black Sabbath 1971 Archetypal England
Fireball Deep Purple 1970 Prototypical England
Black Sabbath, Vol. 4 Black Sabbath 1972 Archetypal England
Machine Head Deep Purple 1972 Prototypical England
Sabbath Bloody Sabbath Black Sabbath 1973 Archetypal England
Sabotage Black Sabbath 1975 Archetypal England
In Trance Scorpions 1975 Prototypical Germany
Sad Wings of Destiny Judas Priest 1976 Archetypal England
Rising Rainbow 1976 Prototypical England
Stained Class Judas Priest 1978 Archetypal England
Taken by Force Scorpions 1978 Prototypical Germany
Van Halen Van Halen 1978 Hard Rock USA
Hell Bent for Leather Judas Priest 1979 Archetypal England
Overkill Motörhead 1979 NWOBHM England
Heaven and Hell Black Sabbath 1980 Archetypal England
Iron Maiden Iron Maiden 1980 NWOBHM England
Ace of Spades Motörhead 1980 NWOBHM England
Blizzard of Ozz Ozzy Osbourne 1980 Archetypal England/USA
Lightning to the Nations Diamond Head 1981 NWOBHM England
British Steel Judas Priest 1981 Archetypal England
Diary of a Madman Ozzy Osbourne 1981 Archetypal England
The Number of the Beast Iron Maiden 1982 NWOBHM England
Blackout Scorpions 1982 Archetypal Germany
Restless and Wild Accept 1983 Power Germany
Holy Diver Dio 1983 Power USA
Piece of Mind Iron Maiden 1983 NWOBHM England
Kill ‘Em All Metallica 1983 Thrash USA
Balls to the Wall Accept 1984 Power Germany
Powerslave Iron Maiden 1984 NWOBHM England
Don't Break the Oath Mercyful Fate 1984 Black Denmark
Ride the Lightning Metallica 1984 Thrash USA
Love at First Sting Scorpions 1984 Power Germany
Metal Heart Accept 1985 Power Germany
Live After Death Iron Maiden 1985 NWOBHM England
Metal Church Metal Church 1985 Thrash USA
Epicus Doomicus Metallicus Candlemass 1986 Doom Sweden
Peace Sells...But Who's Buying? Megadeth 1986 Thrash USA
Master of Puppets Metallica 1986 Thrash USA
Reign In Blood Slayer 1986 Thrash USA
Among the Living Anthrax 1987 Thrash USA
Nightfall Candlemass 1987 Doom Sweden
Keeper of the Seven Keys, pt. 1 Helloween 1987 Power Germany
Abagail King Diamond 1987 Black Denmark
Hall of the Mountain King Savatage 1987 Progressive USA
The Legacy Testament 1987 Thrash USA
No Place for Disgrace Flotsam & Jetsam 1988 Thrash USA
Keeper of the Seven Keys, pt. 2 Helloween 1988 Power Germany
Seventh Son of a Seventh Son Iron Maiden 1988 NWOBHM England
Operation: Mindcrime Queensrÿche 1988 Progressive USA
Gutter Ballet Savatage 1989 Progressive USA
Never Neverland Annihilator 1990 Thrash Canada
Tales from the Twilight World Blind Guardian 1990 Speed Germany
Rust In Peace Megadeth 1990 Thrash USA
Seasons in the Abyss Slayer 1990 Thrash USA
Human Death 1991 Death USA
Streets: A Rock Opera Savatage 1991 Progressive USA
Arise Sepultura 1991 Extreme Brazil
Dirt Alice in Chains 1992 Grunge USA
Slaughter of the Soul At the Gates 1992 Melodic Death Sweden
Images and Words Dream Theater 1992 Progressive USA
Cowboys From Hell Pantera 1992 Extreme USA
Vulgar Display of Power Pantera 1992 Extreme USA
Angels Cry Angra 1993 Progressive Brazil
Individual Thought Patterns Death 1993 Death USA
Chaos A.D. Sepultura 1993 Extreme Brazil
Holy Land Angra 1995 Progressive Brazil
The Gallery Dark Tranquility 1995 Melodic Death Sweden
The Sound of Perseverance Death 1995 Death USA
Land of the Free Gamma Ray 1995 Power Germany
The Jester Race In Flames 1995 Melodic Death Sweden
The Dark Saga Iced Earth 1996 New American USA
The Politics of Ecstasy Nevermore 1996 Extreme USA
Roots Sepultura 1996 Extreme Brazil
Enthrone Darkness Triumphant Dimmu Borgir 1997 Black Norway
The Divine Wings of Tragedy Symphony X 1997 Progressive USA
Nightfall in Middle-Earth Blind Guardian 1998 Speed Germany
Something Wild Children of Bodom 1998 Black Finland
Metropolis, pt. 2: Scenes from a Memory Dream Theater 1999 Progressive USA
Still Life Opeth 1999 Progressive Death Sweden
The Gathering Testament 1999 Thrash USA
Haven Dark Tranquility 2000 Melodic Death Sweden
Dead Heart in a Dead World Nevermore 2000 Extreme USA
The Chainheart Machine Soilwork 2000 Melodic Death Sweden
The Metal Opera Avantasia 2001 Power Germany
The Metal Opera, pt. 2 Avantasia 2001 Power Germany
Resurrection Halford 2001 Archetypal England/USA
Blackwater Park Opeth 2001 Progressive Death Sweden
Secret of the Runes Therion 2001 Experimental Sweden
Reroute to Remain In Flames 2002 Melodic Death Sweden
Century Child Nightwish 2002 Symphonic Finland
Hate Crew Deathroll Children of Bodom 2003 Black Finland
Death Cult Armageddon Dimmu Borgir 2003 Black Norway
Train of Thought Dream Theater 2003 Progressive USA
Epica Kamelot 2003 Symphonic USA
Enemies of Reality Nevermore 2003 Extreme USA
The Human Equation Ayreon 2004 Experimental Netherlands
Ashes of the Wake Lamb of God 2004 New American USA
Leviathan Mastodon 2004 New American USA
Lemuria/Sirius B Therion 2004 Experimental Sweden
Temple of Shadows Angra 2005 Progressive Brazil
The Black Halo Kamelot 2005 Symphonic USA
This Godless Endeavor Nevermore 2005 Extreme USA
Ghost Reveries Opeth 2005 Progressive Death Sweden
Reckoning Night Sonata Artica 2005 Power Finland
The Scattering of Ashes Into Eternity 2006 Extreme Canada
Paradise Lost Symphony X 2007 Progressive USA
Gothic Kabbalah Therion 2007 Experimental Sweden
01011001 Ayreon 2008 Experimental Netherlands
Shogun Trivium 2008 Thrash USA