This week’s installment of 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die is, by weight, the heaviest yet, as it’s time for a METAL SPECIAL! Metal is amply represented on the list, with a broad range of thrash, nu-metal, “classic” 80s cheese and even black metal making the 1001, so it was tough to narrow it down to seven for this week. In the end, I picked seven that are generally regarded as classics, but which I’d never checked out before. Let’s begin.
Black Sabbath, ‘Black Sabbath’.
I’ve picked the remastered version of Sabbath’s debut album, which sounds great: all the parts are clear and prominent. It opens with the title/signature track, which is a template for doom metal in its slow minor-key stylings and generally delivers at a high level on the A-side (with ‘NIB’ also bringing the goods). The B-side isn’t quite as good, with two covers and an instrumental, although it does feature the most sinister use of jew’s harp I can remember hearing, plus a possessed-sounding unaccompanied guitar freakout from Tony Iommi in the middle of ‘Warning’. Recommended.
Guns ‘n’ Roses, ‘Appetite For Destruction’.
This album sold a gazillion copies around the world and everyone knows its big singles, so imagine my surprise to learn that this was their debut album. Not for the only time this week, or indeed any week, I’m listening to this album for the first time after thirty years of the singles being played to death to the point that they now sound cheesy, which makes it difficult to imagine the impact at the time of release. There’s certainly places where they deviate from the template to the benefit of the record – the tempo switches in ‘My Michelle’ and ‘Paradise City’, the opening bass solo/guitar riff duet on album highlight ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’ – but their formula of hard riffs, lyrical sleaze and Axl’s yowl is a hard one to like.
Iron Maiden, ‘The Number of the Beast’.
Speaking of albums whose singles now have the overpowering flavour of cheese… Maiden’s first album with Bruce Dickinson contains songs about ‘Village of the Damned’ and ‘The Prisoner’, complex structures including time signature changes and, of course, the trademark galloping drums and stereo guitar solos. It’s obviously technically good, and features its biggest hits (the title track and ‘Run to the Hills’) consecutively, but coming to it in the post-ironic era makes it hard to take an objective stance. Not the worst album I’ve heard this week but not one I’m likely to play twice.
Judas Priest, ‘Destroyer’.
One of the first metal albums of the 1980s – it came out in 1980 – this was clearly Priest’s attempt to play to the stadiums: every song has a chorus you can sing along with and/or a drumbeat you can clap, as well as catchy melodies delivered precisely by Rob Halford. With the exception of the vaguely angular ‘The Rage’, the rhythm section mostly cede the spotlight to guitarists KK Downing and Glen Tipton. The album contains notable Priest tracks ‘Breaking the Law’ and ‘Living After Midnight’ (the latter apparently inspired by Rob Halford’s early bedtime being disrupted by the band practising downstairs: heavy metal). I wasn’t expecting to enjoy this quite as much as I did.
Metallica, ‘Master of Puppets’.
One of the first Metallica albums to gain a mainstream audience, this was also bassist Cliff Burton’s final record with the band before he was killed in a tour bus crash. The album’s production and playing are both on point: the production is clear, allowing each instrument to stand out (unlike its follow-up ‘And Justice For All’, which mixes Burton replacement Jason Newsted into inaudibility), but captures the energy, momentum and raw power you’d expect from a thrash outfit. Notable points include the lyrics, which cover drug abuse, H.P. Lovecraft and ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ and the album starting with the sound of a flamenco-style acoustic guitar, of all things. Good stuff here.
Napalm Death, ‘Scum’.
Never known for making long records, the Midlands gang’s first album crams 28 tracks into just 33 minutes, including famous 1-second song ‘You Suffer’. To add to the fun, the line-up is almost completely different on the A and B sides, with only drummer Mick Harris appearing on all the tracks. Essentially it’s two bands called Napalm Death doing a split album. The second side is probably the more extreme, with Harris’s blastbeats and Lee Dorrian contributing an almost black metal screech over 20-second long songs, but the first side has highlights ‘Instinct of Survival’ and ‘Scum’. Essentially Motorhead’s “play really fast” template taken to its most extreme conclusion. Pretty remarkable.
Slayer, ‘Reign in Blood’.
When I was at university and going to Rock Society nights pretty much weekly, the most frequently-played artists were, or seemed to be, Machine Head and Slayer. Alas this did not make me a lifelong convert of thrash: I don’t know whether it’s because it’s so fast that it’s hard to grasp the mood or sentiment of the piece, or whether it’s just because it all sounds the same, but it’s simultaneously brutal and boring. Book-ended by their two best-known tracks (‘Angel of Death’ and the homophonic ‘Raining Blood’), this one is over in just 28 minutes, but still feels more like a slog than a thrill. It’s connected to last week’s entry via Rick Rubin, who produced this at the same time as ‘Licensed to Ill’ by the Beastie Boys. Kerry King popped in for a quick cameo on the Beasties’ record, but sadly the favour is not returned here.
Next week, I’ll be blasting into the present day (well, kind of) as I review seven of the newest albums on the list!
Status: 308 albums heard (31%), 693 remain. This project will run and run! Expected conclusion: 7th October 2018