Wednesday, February 2, 2011

My Top 25 Metal Bands

I listen to a lot of music, with a reasonably broad range, but it is distinctly true that metal gets the lion's share of my listening time. Well, with that in mind, I have decided to satisfy my lust for lists by compiling my top 25 favorite metal bands. Please note that I said "favorite" rather than "best". I am well aware of the fact that my personal taste does not necessarily equate to actual quality or importance. In fact, I am often annoyed by the inability of people to make that distinction. Anyway, these are my top 25 favorites. Some of them may shuffle around and change places now and then, and there are certainly plenty of bands I enjoy who just didn't quite make the cut but who could have crept in on some other day. That said, this is as stable a list as I can make on the subject. Enjoy!

#25: Swallow the Sun
Finnish death/doom outfit that is, at their best, as good at what they do as anybody else and better than most. Their debut album "The Morning Never Came" is one of the highlights of the past decade in metal.

#24: The Chasm
A fantastic Mexican death metal band whose obscurity is matched only by their excellence. These guys mix in enough originality and melody to keep things interesting without ever going so far that they sacrifice grit. A unique band that has arguably the strongest recent output of any death metal group. I only rate them this low because I have not been familiar with them for a terribly long time.

#23: Immortal
The epitome of Norwegian black metal cheese, Immortal's image is essentially a joke. Their music, on the other hand, is some of the sharpest and strongest to arise from that infamous scene, and their fantasy themes appeal to the dork in me.

#22: Dawn
Swedish melodic black metal group who never got as much attention as they deserved. They, like their compatriots Dissection, play a black metal which borders at times on crossing into melodic death metal, but it keeps just enough harshness to avoid ever quite making that leap. Their discography is both small and expensive, but what little output they've had has been fantastic.

#21: Apophis
Criminally underrated Egyptian-themed death metal band from Germany. Nile has risen to prominence and taken the Egyptian image, but Apophis did it first and they they did it better. Unfortunately, their discography is extremely limited. Nonetheless, their 1998 album "Heliopolis" instantly shot near the top of my list of favorite albums the very first time I heard it.

#20: Metallica
This one should be pretty recognizable to everybody. I'm not a big one for thrash metal in general, but in Metallica's case I'll make an exception, even though they kind of lost their minds in these later years.

#19: Hypocrisy
In many ways a bridge in the gap between the early Swedish death metal scene and the later Gothenburg movement toward melodic death metal. Hypocrisy have been one of the longest standing and most flexible fixtures in Swedish extreme metal.

#18: Korpiklaani
A Finnish folk metal group, who, unlike most similar bands, had their roots in folk rather than metal. They play mostly drinking songs and their music is fun, catchy, and energetic.

#17: Dark Tranquility
Hugely important Swedish melodic death metal band. One of the "Big 3" of that sound, in their later years Dark Tranquility managed to outlast all their early fellows in terms of quality output.

#16: Saint Vitus
Important American traditional doom outfit. Saint Vitus plays what can only be described as open Black Sabbath worship. Their impact on the development of the doom metal sub-genre was huge, and their sophomore release "Born Too Late" is high on my list of personal favorites.

#15: Falkenbach
A relatively early German viking metal solo project, Falkenbach stays closer to the roots of that sound than most of the metal bands who have entered into the recent viking/folk trend. The term "epic", as cliché as it has become, is the perfect word to describe the imagery evoked by Falkenbach's music.

#14: Eluveitie
A Swiss group that walks the line between folk metal and straightforward melodic death with a couple folk instruments. Their songs are incredibly catchy and surprisingly accessible for an extreme metal group. Their track "Inis Mona" is one of my all-time favorite metal songs.

#13: Cathedral
Hugely important English doom band. In their later releases, Cathedral evolved into more of a heavy stoner rock band, but their debut album "Forest of Equilibrium" is often hailed as the greatest doom album ever recorded. Throughout all the stages of their development, Cathedral have managed to remain interesting and to maintain a unique sound which makes them instantly recognizable, thanks primarily to the unique vocal work of Lee Dorrian.

#12: Amorphis
An eclectic Finnish group, Amorphis started out as a death metal band, but with each record have altered their style. They've touched on death, doom, progressive, and even gothic sounds at different points in their careers. Amorphis, as their name might suggest, are an ever-changing musical outfit that are hard to label.

#11: Månegarm
Fantastic Swedish viking/folk metal band. Månegarm, unlike many other bands in that vein, actually play their folk instruments rather than simulating them with keyboards and synthesizers. The difference shows, as the objective quality of their work is second to none in their field.

#10: Woods of Ypres
A Canadian group usually labeled as melodic black metal, I would argue that Woods of Ypres have developed into more of a slow progressive metal with some blackened flavor. They call themselves "summer metal". In any case, there really isn't anything else that sounds quite like them, so when I have a hankering for whatever you choose to call their unusual sound, nothing else will do.

#9: Ensiferum
Finnish viking metal group. Their first two albums were amazing, especially their second release "Iron", but unfortunately their vocalist and primary songwriter, Jari Mäenpää, left after that to pursue his work in Wintersun. They were never quite the same again, but for those early years they were a great band. Their newest album, "From Afar" was a step back in the right direction.

#8: Weedeater
A doom/sludge/stoner metal band from South Carolina, Weedeater are grimy sounding in the extreme. There is just enough southern rock flair mixed in with their fuzzy, pot obsessed music to make them sound like something that just lumbered out of a swamp.

#7: Black Sabbath
As easy a pick as they come, Black Sabbath should need no introduction. In fact, I'm not sure if it's even possible to know what metal is without being familiar with Black Sabbath. The only question, much like one a Trekkie or Bond fan might hear, is whether you prefer Ozzy or Dio. For me, it depends on the day.

#6: Electric Wizard
Alright, this is where it gets really tough, as my short "favorite bands" list has six names on it. On a given day, several of this top group might trade places. In any case, Electic Wizard are an English stoner/doom band. Their music, especially in the early days, has been notable for its extremely slow, heavy approach. Monolithic riffs lumber through 10-minute tracks, taking their style near to its crushingly heavy, amazingly slow limits. The albums "Come My Fanatics..." and "Dopethrone" are both classics of their sub-genre.

#5: Moonsorrow
A Finnish viking metal group who prefer the label "heathen metal", Moonsorrow are possibly the most beautiful sounding metal band on the planet. Their long, flowing, melodic songs often feature pianos, acoustic guitar, and occasional pipes or flutes. These often serve as intros or interludes, and they combine with well-chosen sound effects like clashing swords and breaking surf to weave a tapestry unlike anything else in the world of metal. "Voimasta Ja Kunniasta" is amongst my favorite albums of all-time.

#4: Amon Amarth
These Swedes are everything a metal band should be. They're big, hairy, and ferocious sounding. Their riffs are as catchy as they are heavy, their live performances are great, and their songs center on viking battlefields and ancient warriors. What more could you want? The only real problem with Amon Amarth's sound is that they tend to repeatedly release very similar sounding albums. On the positive side, though, this means they have never released a bad album. Picking an individual Amon Amarth album that stands out is nearly impossible, but if I had to recommend just one I'd say "With Oden On Our Side" is probably my favorite.

#3: Opeth
This Swedish progressive metal group were one of the first metal bands I really fell in love with. Their songs tend to be long, diversely-styled affairs. I've heard it said that the only genre classification that really fits them is "Opeth", and that's not far from the truth. They fuse death, doom, and progressive metal with elements of jazz and soft acoustic passages to create a sound all their own. While I have enjoyed almost all of their music on some level, "Blackwater Park" and "Still Life" both stand out as incredible albums.

#2: Bathory
Swedish pioneers of black metal and viking metal, Bathory are solid contenders to challenge for the top spot on my favorites list. Their output, prior to the death of the sole constant member Quorthon, was a bit erratic. Their music was plagued by poor recording and technical flaws. Yet, somehow, these shortcomings are more endearing than they are annoying. And in terms of importance, Bathory can legitimately claim to be the first black metal band as well as the first viking metal band. Their self-titled debut is often called the first black metal album, but "Under the Sign of the Black Mark" created the backbone of the black metal sound and stands as one of the greatest black metal recordings ever made. A few years later, the phenominal "Hammerheart" became the first viking metal record. "Blood, Fire, Death", another excellent album, is sandwiched between those two. "One Rode to Asa Bay" off the "Hammerheart" album is my absolute favorite metal song.

#1: In Flames
Yet another group of Swedes, In Flames have long maintained the honorarium of being my favorite band. One of the "Big 3" Swedish melodic death metal bands, In Flames were also one of the groups most responsible for kindling my interest in metal in the first place. Their recent albums have been a step away from their roots toward a more metalcore sound, and the recent departure of founder Jesper Strömblad marks in my mind the end of "real" In Flames. Still, their first five albums "Lunar Strain", "The Jester Race", "Whoracle", "Colony", and "Clayman" are all excellent records, the latter four of which I have played countless times. My Personal favorite is "The Jester Race", which was one of two extremely pivotal albums in the development of my musical taste (along with Opeth's "Blackwater Park") and was also their first album to feature the band's current vocalist. "Come Clarity", while not a return to their older sound, is the best of their new recordings.


  1. A great list, and I'd have to say Opeth is probably my number 3 as well (but it's after Sabbath and Metallica--I'll forgive them for everything after the first four because those were so great). But your list has also given me a lot to look into, like Woods of Ypres, The Chasm, and Apophis (also touted by Metallattorney, apparently).

  2. Sabbath and Metallica were hard to place, since they vastly outclass most bands on my list in terms of "greatness", but I think I placed them about right for me personally.

    And I have to be honest, I never would have heard of Apophis had it not been for Metallattourney's "underrated death metal bands" list. He had The Chasm on that list too, but they had caught my eye while browsing through a local record shop, so I can't give him full credit for them.

  3. Oh, come on, give me a little credit please. Just kidding. Sorry it's taken me so long to find my way over here. I blame the variety of personal issues over the last few months that I have mentioned from time to time.

    I like this list quite a bit. I am not terribly familiar with some of the groups and will definitely need to check them out.

  4. Incidentally (sorry to post twice) I have always considered doing this kind of list, but my tastes change almost daily. Right now my favorite band to listen to is Voivod, but if you asked me in two weeks, it would probably be different.

  5. Oh, I can understand that drawback for sure. If I made this list today I'd almost certainly include a few bands that didn't make the cut on here. It's funny the things you'll do when making a list like this, too. For example, Incantation and Insomnium were both in consideration when I was in the 10-15 range, yet somehow I managed to fill out all 25 without ever using them.

    In any case, I hope to see a list like this from both of you guys at some point. I'm sure I'd get a chance to discover some shiny new music.