The 25 Greatest Debut Metal Albums of All Time

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The 25 Greatest Debut Metal Albums of All Time

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    There’s nothing more important than making a good first impression. This holds especially true in the metal world, where the songs are often über-technical, the fans are more demanding, and the margins for creative and commercial success are narrow at best. The most effective solution, of course, is to hit the ground running with a kick-ass debut LP. With that in mind, here’s our list of the 25 best debut albums in heavy music, from death-metal masterworks, to stoner-doom monuments and Big Four thrashterpieces.

    –Zoe Camp
    Contributing Writer

    25. Pallbearer – Sorrow and Extinction (2012)

    The Arkansas doom band Pallbearer have never shied away from paying tribute to their influencers; just flip to the back of the liner notes of Sorrow and Extinction, the band’s stunning inaugural epic, and observe the final party they acknowledge in the thank-you list: not a family member, musical associate, or divine being, but, “of course, Black Sabbath.” Of course, inspiration is nothing without proper application, which brings us to the group’s greatest asset: their sharp, steeled sense of dynamic intuition, which makes every last crunchy stoner riff and extended psychedelic jam feel all the more urgent, as well as unforgettable. –Zoe Camp

    24. Acid Bath – When the Kite String Pops (1994)


    Throughout the ’90s, New Orleans served as the center of the sludge-metal universe, giving rise to a bevy of imposing wrecking crews: Down, Eyehategod, Crowbar, and Soilent Green, just to name a few. The most sinister and underrated denizens of this swampy circuit were Acid Bath, an explosive, five-man merger of two local metal groups (the sludgy, thrashy Golgotha and death-metal peers Dark Karnival). 1994’s debut, When the Kite String Pops, is not so much an LP as it is a musical snuff film directed by guttural, growling frontman Dax Riggs, who paints a grim tableau of kinky sex, hard drug use, and insatiable bloodlust. Consider When the Kite String Pops’ cover art — a painting by John Wayne Gacy, the notorious clown-turned-serial killer — an explanation for the resultant, enduring cult appeal of both album and band. Trends come and go, but true terror endures. –Zoe Camp

    23. Blasphemy – Fallen Angel of Doom (1990)

    Canada’s Blasphemy pioneered bestial black metal, a super raw, super primitive variation where the blast reigns supreme. They were in between the first wave of black metal — Venom, Mercyful Fate, and Bathory — and the infamous Norwegian second wave that would later define the genre. Fallen Angel of Doom, their 1990 debut, would inspire their countrymen and bands across the Atlantic to go all out. Their vocalist, Nocturnal Grave Desecrator and Black Winds (look up the rest of their pseudonyms; they’re equally ridiculous), took death grunting and made it more animalistic, blurring comprehension even further. “Ritual” is a key cut, with its stilted yet charging drum intro and lingering riffs that float over the drums. It’s barbaric for its own sake, and while it would inspire legions of bands to copy their sound years on, no one could get their simplicity right. –Andy O’Connor

    22. Incantation – Onward to Golgotha (1992)

    You know how thrash royalty (Metallica, Slayer, Anthrax, and Megadeth) are commonly referred to as the Big Four? Well, New York City’s death metal underground has its own upper echelon as well, four pioneers I’ve personally dubbed the “Ion-ic Quatre”: Suffocation, Immolation, Mortician, and last but not least, Incantation, the heaviest, most hardcore-indebted of the bunch. 1992’s debut, Onward to Golgotha, embodies the platonic ideal of New York death metal, with top-heavy grooves, thrilling punk breakdowns, and filth-ridden production flourishes showcasing the Big Apple’s characteristic brutalism. –Zoe Camp

    21. Darkthrone – Soulside Journey (1991)


    Norway’s Darkthrone began their career with the weirdest entry in their catalog: a death metal album, not the black metal they pioneered nor the blackened punk-heavy metal hybrid they morphed into. And while it gets lost in the shuffle of early ’90s death metal classics, Soulside Journey stands on its own. Journey sounds a lot like what their Swedish countrymen were doing at the time, and it was recorded at the legendary Sunlight Studios where Entombed and Dismember recorded their formative records as well. Soulside is much doomier than what came out of Sweden, and its keyboards also lend to a lurching menace. The whirling buzzsaw guitar tone becomes a more gradual swell, less an immediate panic and more inevitable fate. They already had their cold, desolate mood that would inform their work henceforth on point. Soulside is a fascinating portrait of what a different future could have sounded like: bizarre in retrospect, but bizarre nonetheless. –Andy O’Connor

    20. Earth – Earth 2: Special Low Frequency Version (1993)

    It might sound hard to believe, given the music’s copious reptile brain baiting, but the brutal, primitive genre known as drone comes courtesy of the latter-day intelligentsia: a loose network of Ivy League musicologists, avant-garde performance artists, and psychonauts-turned-philosophers who molded 20th century anxieties into overwhelming sonic horror shows. With their inaugural full-length, Earth 2: Special Low Frequency Version, Dylan Carlson and co. sent a heretofore inaccessible musical philosophy on a one-way ticket to hell, resulting in one of the harshest, most punishing albums ever pressed to wax. The band might’ve pivoted to a lusher, more melodic sound after Earth 2, but their opus is their calling card nonetheless. Is there any question why? –Zoe Camp

    19. Bathory – Bathory (1984)

    Bathory’s self-titled 1984 debut brought the fuzzy, necro-production that would eventually become a staple of black metal. Beneath that murk was tons of swagger, bringing Motörhead’s charge from bikes, girls, and whiskey to Satan, witchcraft, and more whiskey. Quorthon, the band’s leader and chief songwriter, had a rasp as nasty as Lemmy’s, but he also had his sense of hooks, too. Bathory was far from pop-metal, though had Blackie Lawless gotten a copy, he would sense a kinship in Quorthon and maybe even have him out to throw some meat on audiences. It’s a lot cheekier than the music that black metal would eventually inspire. Quorthon himself would take his own music towards a more epic style focusing on Norse mythology before passing away in 2004, but from the onset, he sealed his legacy. –Andy O’Connor

    18. Dillinger Escape Plan – Calculating Infinity (1999)

    With Calculating Infinity, Dillinger Escape Plan crammed hardcore, technical death metal, grindcore, progressive rock, and even traces of IDM into one of the most volatile musical cocktails. Riffs never stay static, and if they can fit a synchronized solo in there, they will. “43% Burnt” is still the jam, an experiment if you can mosh to ultra-fast sweeps and ever-changing tempos. Its title track, one of the lone breathers, has a noise-rock-meets-Faith No More vibe that would not only chart the band’s future, but also lead to working with Mike Patton himself. “Weekend Sex Change” has tranquil guitars but sputtering angry drums, like they tried to remember an Aphex Twin song from memory. Dillinger Escape Plan came out the gate with such an insane record, it’s no wonder every album since has been tempered down to some degree. To be fair, trying to replicate this wouldn’t be just deadly, but impossible. –Andy O’Connor

    17. Trouble – Psalm 9 (1984)


    Formed in 1979, the Illinois band Trouble were among the first bands to churn out UK-style doom-metal stateside, garnering local fame through massive, primordial psych jams reminiscent of Blue Cheer and Black Sabbath. 1983’s self-titled debut LP — eventually rechristened Psalm 9, to avoid confusion with Trouble’s eponymous fourth LP, released seven years later — represents the first great American doom album, a bleary-eyed wonderland awash with down-tuned riffs, turgid chug, and pointed hooks. Even as a record musically inseparable from Ozzy and co.’s infernal tradition, Psalm 9’s god-fearing, spiritually-driven themes proved damn subversive in the early ’80s, when popular discourse framed metal as a musical means of devil worship. In tempering the light and darkness, Trouble challenged and expanded genre mores, providing a possible explanation for the dubious “white metal” label bestowed upon them by label home Metal Blade. The grand irony, of course, is that Trouble’s Psalm 9 is neither pure nor holy: it’s simply enlightened, albeit wrathfully so. –Zoe Camp

    16. Cynic – Focus (1993)

    Death metal is proof that sometimes the best music is made by the biggest fucking nerds to walk the Earth, and in the early ’90s, when it began melding with progressive rock and jazz fusion in part because of Atheist and Pestilence, that was even more true. Vocalist/guitarist Paul Masvidal and drummer Sean Reinert had already helped Death advance to a new realm of musicality with Human, and they returned to their main band, Cynic, to further explore progressive directions with their debut, Focus. Masvidal recorded his vocals through a vocoder, creating a robotic and totally alien vibe. Even the guitars are rough yet polished, grafting metal heft onto smooth fusion runs. Basically, they sound exactly like they were recorded on headless guitars. Fretless bass gives this a hopped up Jaco feel, a small Florida homage. Death metal had explored the cosmos before, but Cynic felt truly interdimensional. –Andy O’Connor