Ten Flawless Hard Rock and Metal Albums
There are a lot of great Hard Rock and Metal bands out there who have made some classic music. But there are only a handful that have made THE PERFECT album.
I know, in this day and age, there aren’t many music fans who truly appreciate a great album. I’m definitely one of those old school bastards who still listens to albums from start to finish. Hell, just the fact that I still call them albums tells you how old school I am. Yep, I download my music just like most fans do these days—but when I do, I download the entire album.
It seems almost like a lost art form—the album format. I miss the days of having the sleeve (album or CD) to pull out and look at. I miss the artwork, the lyrics, the liner notes, and the geeky minutia of knowing who produced, engineered and performed on an album. The sonic experience of listening to an artist’s work from start to finish is somehow spiritually satisfying to me. I get so into what I’m listening to, that when I listen to something on a random playlist, it seems strange to me when the songs are out of order. I prepare for the next sonic blast or lyric, and when it’s not the one I’ve grown used to hearing next, I have to take a moment and center myself to listen to the random track that just appeared.
I know. I’m a music geek.
With that in mind, here are, in my humble opinion, the Top Ten Flawless Hard Rock and Metal albums in alphabetical order—because there is no way I’m going to try to pick my favorite or rank them numerically. This is no easy list for me. I came up with many that fit the category of perfect. Then I fought with myself like Captain Kirk and his evil doppelgangers (complete with the Star Trek fight music in the background), until it came to these ten albums walking out of the cage match in my mind:
AC/DC- Back in Black
The choice of Back in Black was my first hard decision on the list! I love AC/DC, and a number of their albums are flawless in my opinion. But I stepped back and took a hard, long look at their work as a whole. Then I wavered between the masterpieces of the Bonn Scott opus, Highway to Hell, and the Brian Johnson fronted album, Back in Black. I had to settle on the sheer sonic bombardment of an album emotionally charged from the loss of Bonn. Nobody knew what to expect when AC/DC bounced back from his death; this album landed a gut-punching, ear-bleeding sonic statement that the band was ON TOP and here to stay.
When someone says, “All killer, no filler,” Back in Black is what they’re talking about. As I said in my previous blog, The Metal and Hard Rock Singularity: 1980, if you can listen to this album and not be moved then you’re already dead. Hell, Back in Black is an album you have to play so loud you may even wake the dead. So, if you’re not moved, you’re just dead to me. Dead I tell you.
Anthrax- Among the Living
The ‘80s produced a lot of Metal. We often tend to look through the lenses of the past as that era being dominated solely by the Hair Metal bands of the Sunset Strip. But, in truth, some of the classic seminal Metal bands of all time came from these years. Many of my favorite Thrash Metal bands have outlived their Hair Band counterparts and are still making phenomenal music to this day (check out Testament’s Dark Roots of the Earth to see what I’m talking about). Anthrax took Best Metal Album of the Year back in 2012 with Worship Music, and topped the Metal charts with the 2016 follow-up, For All Kings. But it was the outstanding Among the Living that launched Anthrax into the stellar company that became The Big 4 of Thrash Metal.
From the opening track of “Among the Living”—inspired by Stephen King’s The Stand and the moshing masterpiece, “Indians,” to the final track, “Imitation of Life,” there isn’t one bad song or a moment of constraint on this album. Among the Living was the perfect vehicle for the aimless angry energy of my youth, and my introduction to the Thrash Metal genre. From the moment I saw Anthrax blow KISS off the stage (yes, they blew KISS off the stage) in touring support of Among the Living, I knew I had found my new favorite flavor of Metal. After all these years, the manic energy of this album still makes me drive too fast and want to jump into a mosh pit that my middle-aged body can’t handle anymore.
Black Sabbath- Paranoid
From the band that kick-started Heavy Metal, this masterpiece is an exercise in classic riffing, amazing bass and drum play. And, of course, lyrics taking in everything from the mystical to the political. Ozzy delivers his finest, most emotional vocal performance of his years with Sabbath on Paranoid.
The opening track, “War Pigs,” is a scathing commentary on the nature of war and those in power who send the poor off to die while keeping their own privileged hands clean of blood. The title track, “Paranoid,” was the band’s only Top 20 hit. “Ironman” is considered to be one of the best riffs ever written in Heavy Metal, and “The Hand of Doom” documents the plight of heroin addiction that many Vietnam-era veterans faced after they returned from the war.
Every Metal band—and I mean every Metal band—owes a debt to Black Sabbath and the album, Paranoid. This album truly put Metal on the musical map and paved the way for every Heavy Metal act to follow.
Def Leppard- High ‘n’ Dry
Some would argue that Def Leppard’s third album, Pyromania, or even their fourth, Hysteria, are perfect albums. And to some extent, I would agree. I certainly wore the shit out of those tapes back in the day. But, for pure Hard Rock performance, I have to go with the last album, High ‘n’ Dry, that features founding member and guitarist, Pete Willis. In a lot of ways, I think when Willis left the band he took most of its primal Rock ‘n Roll fury with him!
High ‘n’ Dry was produced by John “Mutt” Lange, who would go onto produce Def Leppard’s biggest hit albums. At this time, Mutt had already become famous for his production of AC/DC’s Highway to Hell and Back in Black albums. Mutt had always had a way of getting the best out of Hard Rock bands, and High ‘n’ Dry is no exception. From the opening riffs of “Let it Go” to the thunderous title track “High ‘n’ Dry,” to the final track, “No, No, No,” the band is on fire musically. You get the trademarked Def Leppard harmonies and Joe Elliot is at his emotional rawest vocally. The interplay of guitars from Pete Willis and Steve Clark makes this one of my favorite guitar oriented albums of all time.
I feel like Def Leppard has been bringing on the heartache ever since the end of the ‘80s. But when I want to remember the glory days of this Union Jack waving band, I always find myself drawn back to this albumand I’m never left high and dry.
See what I did there? See what I did?
Guns N’ Roses- Appetite for Destruction
I don’t mean to brag—okay, yes I do—but my friends and I were listening to Guns N’ Roses for about a year before they hit it big. We tried to tell everybody about our new favorite band, but it took awhile—and a couple of music videos on MTV—before the rest of the world realized how kick-ass this band and their debut album really was. Not only does this album make my Top Ten Flawless Hard Rock and Metal Albums list, but when I get around to it, Appetite for Destruction will be on my Top Ten Albums of All Time list! Nothing could stop the juggernaut Guns was about to become... oh, wait, maybe Axl’s ego…
But I digress. Back to Appetite for Destruction: This album is dirty, sleazy Rock ‘n Roll at its best. From the opening shrieks of “Welcome to the Jungle” and the warning alarms of “Night Train” and “Mr. Brownstone,” to the opus-like “Rocket Queen,” this album drips attitude, coolness and guitar riffs galore. On Appetite, Axl, as fucked up insane as he appears to be, is singing out of his mind and writing lyrics that are amazingly introspective and self-aware—while never being ‘90s angnsty or cliché. This was the soundtrack to my life from 1987 to 1989, but I’m glad they lived those songs, and I only lived them as a voyeur!
Judas Priest- Screaming for Vengeance
The Beast That Is The Priest is arguably one of the best Metal bands of all time. Rob “The Metal God” Halford remains one of my favorite singers ever. These boys from Birmingham had experimented with Hard Rock and Metal to varying degrees of artistic and commercial success for several albums before writing Screaming for Vengeance. It was this onslaught of dual guitar driven danger that brought them to the forefront of the Metal community. They launched into the stratosphere just like the spy satellite in their opening track, “The Hellion/Electric Eye,” and they’ve never looked back.
I had never heard someone sing with the kind of range that Halford does, until I heard this album. From the low growl of “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’,” to the banshee’s wail of the title track, “Screaming for Vengeance,” he opened my mind to the possibilities of what a singer could do. The driving beat of the drums and bass on this album, and the riff-tastic guitars overlaid with searing solos, helped cement my early love for Heavy Metal.
Judas Priest is still one of the most dynamic Metal bands making new music to this day, and Screaming for Vengeance proves the depths of their musicianship—and the sonic breadth that Metal bands can cover better than any other album since the beginning of Metal.
Megadeth- Rust in Peace
Following up the phenomenal So Far, So Good, So What would have been difficult if the lineup for Megadeth would have remained the same. But the addition of the guitar god, Marty Friedman, and the dynamic drummer, Nick Menza (who sadly passed away this May), gave the laser-focus of Dave Mustaine’s hyperbolic anger a direction that led the band into the Big 4 of Thrash Metal.
Rust in Peace is truly one of the best Thrash Metal albums of all time. The lead track, “Holy Wars… The Punishment Due” sets the frenetic, brutal pace. “Take No Prisoners” is exactly what the band does with this album, and “Hangar 18” leads you into the paranoid world that Dave Mustaine lived in at the time. By the time the band reaches the bass only “Dawn Patrol,” you need that moment to catch your breath and examine the musical heights you’ve just been taken to. The album plays out on a theme the band always touches on—the all-to-real chance of nuclear annihilation that existed in those days—with “Rust in Peace… Polaris.”
Dave Mustaine has been a controversial—and oftentimes a polarizing figure—in the Metal community. But there’s no denying the genius behind Rust in Peace and its place in the history of Heavy Metal.
Ozzy Osbourne- Diary of a Madman
Following up the career saving Blizzard of Oz, Diary of a Madman would continue to feature the breathtaking guitar work of Randy Rhoads, a musical genius taken from this world far too early. Diary firmly cemented the success of Ozzy’s post-Sabbath career, earning him a legion of loyal fans.
The album kicks off with the mystical “Over the Mountain” and immediately you know you’re about to take that special journey with the Mad Man of Metal. Buckle up, because it’s going to be one hell of a ride. “Flying High Again” was certainly something many of us were doing in the ‘80’s, “You Can’t Kill Rock and Roll” features one of my favorite fade-out solos of all time, and the epic title track, “Diary of a Madman,” is simply one of my favorite horror themed songs ever.
Ozzy had an amazing career before this album and would continue to turn out some of my favorite Metal albums. But Diary of Madman turned me from an admirer to a lifelong fan.
Rush- Permanent Waves
It’s no secret that Rush is my favorite band and, in my opinion, can do no wrong (musically speaking). With that being said, Permanent Waves is not only my favorite Rush album, but it contains what I think is the ultimate Rush song to date: “Natural Science”.
With the outstanding quality of every song on this record, it’s no surprise that this became the band’s first album to reach the Top 5 (hitting number 4) in the U.S. charts. A long string of Top 5 albums would soon follow. Along with the band’s (at the time) longstanding producer, Terry Brown, and the art of Hugh Syme once again gracing the album jacket, this album is everything a Rush record should be. My favorite highlights from this masterpiece (other than the previously mentioned “Natural Science”) are “Spirit of the Radio,” “Freewill,” and the ominous “Jacob’s Ladder.”
When I find friends who’ve never appreciated Rush like I do, I turn them on to this album, and nine times out of ten, I turn them into Rush fans, watering at the mouth to hear more of the band’s music and see them live in concert.
Van Halen- Women and Children First
On the heels of Van Halen’s much underrated second album, Van Halen II, the boys came off of the starting line with all cylinders firing. This album kicks ass from start to finish, with Eddie coming up with some of the most creative riffing and soloing of his career. Right from the start, with the opening track “And the Cradle Will Rock,” the band makes its intentions clear that this album will rock you until your ears bleed.
Unlike most Van Halen records, this Triple Platinum monster only released one single for radio play, which was the opening track. But, the album is packed with classic Van Halen tunes, such as “Fools,” the blues-rocking “Take Your Whiskey Home” and the beautiful “In a Simple Rhyme.” Ted Templeman’s spot-on production, Diamond Dave’s vocals and the dynamic play by the rest of the band makes this my favorite Van Halen album of the David Lee Roth era.
If Van Halen ever wants to regain its glory days of yesteryear, they will have to come out with an album that meets or exceeds the ballbusting, guitar shredding sonic assault that is Women and Children First.
Some Other Albums That Almost Made the List:
Black Sabbath- Heaven and Hell
Dio- Holy Diver
Heaven and Hell- The Devil You Know
Slayer- Seasons in the Abyss
Motley Crue- Shout at the Devil
KISS- Creatures of the Night
L.A. Guns- L.A. Guns
Rush- Moving Pictures
Blue Murder- Blue Murder
Flotsam and Jetsam- No Place for Disgrace
Metallica- Master of Puppets
Anthrax- Worship Music
Testament- Dark Roots of the Earth
Iron Maiden- Seventh Son of a Seventh Son
Sammy Hagar- Standing Hampton
Judas Priest- Painkiller
Led Zeppelin- 1, 2, 3 and 4!