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A Beginner's Guide to Heavy Metal

Updated on April 8, 2016

Where To Begin?

We have all been at that point where we heard something on the radio, or heard something mentioned to us by a friend, or saw something on a magazine cover that just caught our eye or ears. It was new, exciting, and we wanted to know more. One of those things is heavy metal music. So you hop online and look it up, and you realize this is truly a vast landscape to scour. Heavy metal has been around for well over forty years and in that time there have been more bands and sub-genres than you could possibly hope to count. With all of this stretched before you, how do you know where to begin? Well, as a devoted fan of this music in all of it's facets for many, many years, I feel that I am qualified to help you get your start. Detailed in this is a list of ten albums that will help give you your introduction to heavy metal and help you decide if you want to delve further.



Deep Purple - Machine Head

While not necessarily heavy metal by many people's definition and known by most even casual rock listeners, to understand where heavy metal comes from and some of it's essential elements, this album is a must. "Smoke on the Water" is one of the most universally known riffs of all time and helped set a standard for the many simple low register riffs to come in the future.

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Led Zeppelin IV

Another album known and revered the world over, this masterful combination of speed, volume, fantasy based lyrics, Robert Plant's soulful croon to banshee wail vocals and Jimmy Page's irresistibly catchy riffs has been an enormous influence on not only heavy metal, but all forms of rock n' roll since the day it was unleashed upon the public.



AC/DC - Back in Black

Recorded shortly after the tragic death of former lead singer Bon Scott, "Back in Black" serves as both a send off from the band to their dearly departed brother and as a blistering offering of straight forward hard rock. The ungodly shriek of then new singer Brian Johnson and guitarist Angus Young's powerful riffs and solos have made this album standard listening for most bands wanting to dawn the heavy metal title (fun little side note, this is also my favorite album of all time).

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Pantera - Cowboys From Hell

One of the most "extreme" albums on this list, almost every heavy metal band that has sprung up in the last twenty years has walked in the path that Pantera carved with this metal masterpiece. The band was making a transition from the hair metal circuit they had once occupied into the heavier groove and thrash influenced metal that would make them legendary, but this album still stands, in my opinion, as the biggest testament to everything that made this band the masters of their craft.

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Metallica - Master of Puppets; Guns n' Roses - Appetite for Destruction

Maybe cheating a little bit, but both of these albums are the best representations of the biggest forces in heavy metal during the 80s. Metallica with "Master of Puppets", the album that continues to top heavy metal "best of" lists to this day officially put thrash on the world map and made Metallica a house hold name, while Guns n' Roses' "Appetite for Destruction" lifted the hair/glam metal sub-genre out of the mascara and hair spray filled, lipstick stained gutter where it had been festering for far too long and gave it a new, much more sinister, but no less poignant face, as well as gave us Slash, one of the most recognizable guitarists alive.



Motorhead - Ace of Spades

From opening roar of the title track to the headbanging groove of "Please Don't Touch", this album is without question required listening to anyone hoping to hear some good old school heavy metal. Lemmy's gravel scraped vocals and "Fast" Eddie Clarke's searing leads are enough to make anyone want jump on a motorcycle and tear through town.

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Iron Maiden - The Number of the Beast

One of the first heavy metal albums to reach No.1 on the billboard charts, Iron Maiden crafted a perfect combination of duel guitar licks and piercing operatic vocals a-la new front man Bruce Dickinson. Among most metal heads, this album is an absolute classic that brought Iron Maiden to their rightful place as front runners of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal movement. Fun Fact: This was the album that convinced Vincent Price to lend his vocals to Michael Jackson's "Thriller".



Judas Priest - British Steel

Although personally not my favorite Judas Priest album (that distinction goes to "Painkiller"), "British Steel" is without question their most important. A milestone for both the band and for heavy metal as a whole, sporting a twin lead guitar set up, the Metal God himself Rob Halford sporting a 4 (or 6 depending on some sources) octave vocal range, bringing in many of the visual hall marks of heavy metal including motorcycles and leather, and featuring the rebel's anthem "Breaking the Law", this one is a must.

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Budgie - Budgie

Argued by many to be the first true heavy metal band, Budgie is a sadly underrated, underplayed band that have had an influence on an innumerable amount of heavy metal sub-genres. Long song lengths, haunting lyrics and dark riffs, this welsh power trio displayed a level of skill in song writing, musicianship and heaviness that was almost too far ahead of it's time.

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Black Sabbath - Paranoid

Chronologically speaking, in terms of album releases, Black Sabbath is the first heavy metal band, and for anyone looking to experience heavy metal, there is no better place to start than the metal masterpiece, "Paranoid". All of the characteristics that would come to define heavy metal as a genre are present. Down tuned riffs, dark lyrics, everything about this album set a template right at the beginning for what heavy metal is and a standard that few, if any, have ever been able to match. This album is an absolute must own for anyone even curious about heavy metal.

Hope this helps

I hope you all found this useful, there will be more lists and reviews to come.


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    • Rocker41 profile image

      Rocker41 3 years ago

      FACT Deep purple are famous for being Heavy metal pioneers with albums 'In rock' 'fireball' 'machine head' and 'burn' ian gillians screaming vocals and blackmores guitar playing. Many Documentaries refer to Deep purple as heavy rock or metal another fact IRON MAIDEN said they were influenced By Deep purples heavy sound. METTALICA also say purple were a big influence on heavy metal. Tracks such as 'speed king' and 'fireball' are refered to has early thrash metal . Lars ulrich " Deep purple were doing things before judas priest". Also check out what METALLICA say about purples live album 'made in japan' on youtube.

    • smcgavin1 profile image

      Sean McGavin 4 years ago from Bowling Green, Ohio

      Thank you very much. I liked a few of your lists so far too. I intend to do a lot more.

    • FatFreddysCat profile image

      Keith Abt 4 years ago from The Garden State

      Can't argue with any of these picks....because I own all of them (except the Budgie disc...haha).

      Always cool to see another heavy metal fan 'round these parts. Looking forward to seeing more of your stuff.