Tuesday, March 6, 2012

"Great" Metal Albums?

We all have those albums. Their reputations are sterling, their standing legendary, their fans numerous and dedicated . . . yet when we listen to the album itself, we go "meh". Every metalhead I've ever known has at least one established great album that just doesn't do much for them, and I'm no different. I'm not necessarily disputing these albums' places in the metal pantheon. Well, sometimes I'll dispute that, but not as a rule. Rather, I'm simply saying that these are a few of the really notable "great" metal albums that I just don't particularly like or enjoy.

KILL 'EM ALL -by- Metallica
There is a tendency in the metal community to consider all the Metallica material prior to their sell-out point right around the "black album" to be great, classic thrash. While I'm fully on board with ranking all their other 80s output amongst the greatest the metal world has seen, their debut has never done a thing for me as a listener. I just don't think it sounds very good. The band had not yet fully developed. It's not that this is horrible or anything, but the very next year they would release Ride the Lightning which is, in my opinion, light-years ahead of this album in every respect.

Death were innovative, influential, and important. They routinely top "greatest death metal band" lists, and I would personally never argue with anybody who assigned them that status. Their debut, however, which has become probably the most legendary death metal album of all time, is far less deserving of that same level of acclaim. Frankly, it's weak in comparison with the bulk of their catalog. Death evolved more then most metal bands, and over the course of Chuck Schuldiner's life he would guide this band to create many albums which were far superior to their first. I fully realize that a lot of this record's acclaim comes from the idea that it was the first death metal album, but that claim isn't true. Even if you don't consider Seven Churches by Possessed to be fully formed death metal (which I don't), Necrophagia still released their debut Season of the Dead three months before Death released Scream Bloody Gore.

This EP was hugely influential to the developing black metal and death metal scenes, occupying a similar place to old Celtic Frost material. Unlike old Celtic Frost, however, I don't enjoy this. I've got nothing especially negative to say about it, and I fully recognize its standing in the metal world. It's hard really to put a finger on my exact issue with this release. After all, it combines the same gritty elements and harsh blend of thrash, black, and death metal found on To Mega Therion. For whatever reason, though, I just don't particularly like it.

I have often heard this cited as the greatest black metal album ever recorded. To start with, I should note that I have never liked Mayhem. Though I appreciate that Euronymous was right at the heart of the Norwegian black metal scene, I just don't think he produced terribly compelling music. After years of demos and EPs, this is actually the only full-length album the band released with Euronymous on it, and he was dead by the time this record hit the shelves. It was also one of only two Mayhem recordings (the other being an EP which was unreleased until 2009) on which his killer, Varg Vikernes, appeared. All this history and intrigue doesn't change the simple point that there are much better Norwegian black metal albums out there, and that several such albums were released before this one. Darkthrone had already cut their "big three" at this point, all of which are better albums in my opinion. Burzum's third album, the brilliant and vastly superior Hvis Lyset Tar Oss, came out just days before this as well. Satyricon's excellent Dark Medieval Times also came out that year. Not to mention Immortal, or the fact that Emperor had just released In The Nightside Eclipse, which was worlds better than anything Mayhem ever recorded. My point is, in the midst of a wave of material from the same small scene, I actually consider this to be at the weaker end of what Norwegian black metal was doing at the time.

BLACK METAL -by- Venom
Again, a hugely influential record to the underground extreme metal scenes. This is even the album that gave black metal its name, and helped guide the formation of that sub-genre's identity. When I listen to this, though, the description that immediately springs to mind is "screechy and annoying". Again, like Sodom's EP, I'm not going to dispute the importance of this record. As a listener, though, I actively hate this album.

Well, I think I've gone and destroyed my metal reputation enough for one sitting. So, with that, I'll call it a day.


  1. This is essentially how I feel about Judas Priest's entire discography. I don't understand why people like it so much. I get that Halford's vocals are sometimes pretty cool, but that's about it. There are probably other "great" albums I don't like, but I can't name them off the top of my head.

    I agree that Scream Bloody Gore doesn't come close to the rest of Death's releases. I'm going to disagree with you on Kill 'Em All, and, to a lesser extent, Black Metal. KEA has "The Four Horsemen," one of the greatest metal songs of all time (the equal of "Creeping Death") and a handful of other classics, as well as the seriously underrated "Phantom Lord." It's raw. I've never really cared for "Hit the Lights," but everything else is solid. Black Metal has "Countess Bathory," which is about as catchy a metal song as was ever written, and basically every song on it is infectious and memorable (although I could have gone without "Teacher's Pet"). I'm not hearing any screechy or annoying. As far as the other records you discussed, I'm not familiar with them.

  2. Well, naturally I expected some objections to arise from this post, and I figured you'd say something specifically about KEA.

  3. I will object to all of those, and FMA's feelings about Judas Priest, but to each their own. I do feel this way about the discographies of Isis and Neurosis though. I just don't really get those bands.

  4. I was thinking about objecting to his Judas Priest statement too, but considering the circumstances I was in no position to judge.

  5. Besides, the whole point was that everybody has those albums.