Let’s be real: most metal albums are pretty uneven. That’s because when a metal song is good, it’s so massively, mind-blowingly good that the glare coming off of it dims the light of the other tracks around it. As such, even as plenty of rock and metal musicians complain about fans no longer listening to records front to back, lots of metal albums have a handful of incredible cuts and then a bunch of okay-but-not-terrific songs around them. No shame in hitting four or five home runs out of twelve at-bats.
That said, there are a few metal records that never miss a beat. These discs are surprisingly complete, with every single track thereon delivering on the promise of its makers. And while some songs might be better than other — hey, that’s the law of the jungle, baby — these standout releases never contain a total stinker to speak of.
Here are 20 metal albums that never waste a track…
DevilDriver, The Fury of Our Maker’s Hand (2005)
2003’s self-titled debut from DevilDriver needed to make a loud, forceful statement about what Dez Fafara’s latest project was. But with sophomore effort The Fury of Our Maker’s Hand, the band had room to stretch their legs and settle into their new identity. The result was 12 killer tracks that showed a band fully embracing their unpredictable new sound, from the satanic tango of “Grinfucked” to the vampire thrash of “Hold Back The Day” to the bounding shadow of “Before The Hangman’s Noose.” Not a dud to be found here.
Slayer, Seasons In The Abyss (1990)
Each of Slayer’s first five releases are decidedly excellent, but it was on Album #5 that the band got it just right. Seasons In The Abyss is a perfectly-balanced record, showcasing the band’s vicious speed (“War Ensemble,” “Hallowed Point”), their real-world ghoulishness (“Blood Red,” “Dead Skin Mask”), and their far-out conceptualism (“Skeletons of Society,” “Seasons In The Abyss”). An exciting listen from front to back, the record marks the moment where Slayer seemed to fully understand who they were. You can play this one from font to back without even noticing until it’s over.
Mantar, Death by Burning (2014)
It’s hard to believe a record so flawlessly gnarly was made by just two dudes. But Hamburg sludge-metal duo Mantar didn’t leave an ounce of fat on Death By Burning, carving the record down to a lean slice of scathing emotionality. The beauty, of course, is that the songs on this record never feel stark or light, instead maintaining a level of groove and heaviness that some acts hire a second drummer to accomplish. This album is a journey, a fathom-deep slog through a swamp in lead shoes that’ll have listeners loving every agonizing step.
Electric Wizard, Witchcult Today (2007)
There’s a reason why Witchcult Today was such a huge leap forward for British weed metallers Electric Wizard. From start to finish, the record gives fans everything they could ask for, from thick satanic groove to sneering biker attitude to acid-drenched astral journeys. Even not-quite-singles like interlude “Raptus” and sprawling instrumental “Black Magic Rituals & Perversions” have enough texture and grandeur to be necessary additions to the tracklisting. You don’t have to be high to love this album in its entirety — though Lord knows it’s helps.
He Is Legend,White Bat (2019)
Loved for their early metalcore output, He Is Legend took their sonic evolution to awesome new places with 2019’s White Bat. The record, a concept album plumbing the mind of a terrifying killer, includes heavy doses of denim and road rash, translating the band’s previous grooves into something more southern-fried and nasty. Though huge, driving singles like the title track, “Eye Teeth,” and the extra-strength “Boogiewoman” are classic singalongs, even weirder cuts like “Resister Resist Her” and “The Interloper” bring texture and nuance to the mix. It doesn’t matter how long it takes to get to your destination, so long as you show up with guns blazing.
Dark Angel, Darkness Descends (1986)
Some metal albums are lush, sprawling quests that take listeners to Hell and back. Darkness Descends, on the other hand, is like a bar fight — it’s over before it happened, everyone involved leaves with pounding hearts and bloody noses, and it usually involves a lot of shit getting broken. Easily one of the most vicious thrash albums of the ‘80s, Dark Angel‘s second record never lets up from the apocalyptic title track to the white-hot closer of “Perish In Flames,” reveling in death, destruction, and pure evil the whole way through. Put this on in the car and get ready to outrun the cops.
Take Over and Destroy, Endless Night (2013)
Though they never achieved the same acclaim as fellow Arizonans Spirit Adrift or Gatecreeper (whose ranks at one point shared members with the band), Take Over and Destroy’s Endless Night remains as perfect a metal album as one can find. The five songs thereon hit a unique sound somewhere between thrash, black metal, groove and doom, exuding incredible spookiness even as they absolutely rage. That mixture — ghastly darkness, but always with bristling teeth — feels reminiscent of metal’s earliest, purest incarnations. Fans who want appropriate Halloween music that never wears a mask should look no further than this tight, powerful epic.
Cradle of Filth, Cruelty and the Beast (1998)
Something about Cruelty and the Beast feels like destiny. Cradle of Filth had already proved they could make dramatic black metal about sex and vampires with 1996’s Dusk and Her Embrace; to pen a concept album about the myth of sapphic blood countess Elizabeth Bathory was the perfect next step for the band. Yet no one could have predicted the galloping grandeur of “Cruelty Brought Thee Orchids,” the frenzied bat swarm of “Desire In Violent Overtures,” or the cinematic climax of “Lustmord and Wargasm (The Lick of Carnivorous Winds).” This album could have been made easily, and sound decent but not great; instead, the band gave it their all, and we’re left with an unblemished classic.
Autopsy, The Headless Ritual (2013)
Twenty-five years after their formation, death metal legends Autopsy wrote an album without a skippable track to speak of. The Headless Ritual’s strength comes in part from its variation — one moment, the listener gets the oozing creepiness of “She Is A Funeral,” the next they’re crashing along to “Running From The Goathead.” With each new tempo and texture, Chris Reiffert and Co. prove that death metal doesn’t need to rely on BPM to prove it can hit with sternum-cracking power. Some records melt faces — this one melts everything
Gama Bomb, Citizen Brain (2008)
Citizen Brain was the album that vaulted Irish thrash act Gama Bomb into the public eye, and for a damn good reason. The record just never lets up, pummeling fans with one sawblade ode to irreverence after another. Every time a theme seems too silly or light-hearted to become a badass metal song — Ninja Turtles? Robocop? Streets of Rage? — the band find a way to turn it into the kind of thrash track that’ll have a room full of denim vesters yanking down the barriers and parkouring off the stage. If you’re gonna be dumb, you gotta be tough.
White Zombie, Astro Creep: 2000 (1995)
In many away, what makes Astro Creep: 2000 so perfect is what bothered so many fans of 1992’s La Sexorcisto. The album is tight with a capital T — metronome rhythms, sharpened riffs, and choruses so catchy a cheerleading squad could do a routine to them. You have to give it to White Zombie — they made the ultimate party-metal record for the ‘90s, proving that heavy music could still be fun all the time, even as it sounded like it might rip your arms out of your sockets. There’s no reason to skip around a record when every song on it is a single.
The Crown, Crowned In Terror (2002)
After the smash success of 2000’s Deathrace King, Swedish wrecking ball The Crown recorded their next album with At The Gates’ Tomas Lindberg on vocals — a ballsy move for fans of the former (and no less excellent, if slightly less even) album. The result: a magnificent collection of songs that went harder than the band ever had before. The singles from Crowned In Terror may not be as utterly tasty as some of the band’s other material — this is definitely a death metal record, first and foremost — but it’s impossible to name any of its 11 tracks that isn’t fucking awesome in the utmost. Sometimes, the planets just align — and then collide.
Acid Witch, Stoned (2011)
Detroit’s Acid Witch always manage to bring the groovy Halloween metal, but Stoned sees the band fully embracing their dirtbag metalhead identity. Sure, every song on the record drips with orange, black, and slimy green, but tracks like “Thundering Hooves” and “Stoned to the Grave” add much-needed momentum and grime to the band’s weed-fueled chugs. As such, Stoned can be played on repeat for the entire last week of October, until the listener finds they’ve transformed into the unsuspecting metal kid in a bad ‘80s horror flick who decides he’s going to smash the talisman he just found in the abandoned house. Make this record the last sound you hear.
Strapping Young Lad, City (1997)
Listening to City is like finding out the roller coaster is 50 miles long and you can’t get off. The album opens with a mixture of gigantic scope and punishing intensity, and never tones things down for an instant. Strapping Young Lad may occasionally shake up the approach a bit, but the cinematic size and weight of the record is ever-present. In that respect, one can’t really judge City by its parts — the shriek and churn of Devin Townsend, the precision cataclysms of Gene Hoglan — and instead can only really understand the album as a beautifully-constructed whole. The sonic equivalent of being blown off the edge of a skyscraper.
Uada, Devoid of Light (2016)
On their debut album, Pacific-Northwestern masked men Uada made one hell of a statement. A rockslide of elemental black metal at its most honest, Devoid of Light instantly paved a way for the band within their chosen subgenre. Whether it’s the gloomy ritual of the title track or the arcane gallop of “Black Autumn, White Spring,” a sense of single-minded pagan darkness runs deep through the album, so that no song feels anything less than devoted to whatever walks the forest at night. An unmatched soundtrack to calling down the moon.
Iron Maiden, Powerslave (1984)
It’s easy to think that Powerslave sags in the middle, because it opens with “Aces High” and “2 Minutes to Midnight,” and then closes with the title track and “Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” But listeners who don’t get too single-hungry will find an excellent collection of Iron Maiden deep cuts here. Instrumental “Losfer Words (Big ‘Orra)” fucking rips, and “Back In The Village” has a panic to it that keeps the band’s speed high and tight. An album where a good, thorough deep dive elevates it to the upper pedestals.
Black Fast, Terms of Surrender (2015)
St. Louis thrash act Black Fast already had one album out (2013’s Starving Out The Light) when they released Terms of Surrender, but it’s easy to mistake the latter record as their first. For metal fans across the world, Terms… was when the band could no longer be ignored, its blazing, bass-heavy songs reminiscent of an era in metal history that may never have existed. Even when the band are trying new things on Terms…, there’s no moment where they become unentertaining, much less fail at their jobs. An unexpected gem that always deserves an occasional re-spin.
Sleep, The Sciences (2018)
When Sleep surprise-dropped The Sciences on 4/20/2018, fans around the world rejoiced at the opportunity to listen to some new Sleep jams while high as fuck. But few could’ve been ready for just how monumental a record the band would release. Over the course of six sprawling sonic vistas, Al, Matt, and Jason honor weed and paperback-cover sci-fi in all its lowbrow glory, never veering from the prime directive of making every head in sight bob to the groove. Pterodactyl-riding music don’t get much better than this.
Soilwork, Natural Born Chaos (2002)
There’s a reason that Soilwork‘s Natural Born Chaos landed at #1 on our list of the 21 best metal albums since the turn of the millennium. The record is, with lack of better terms, flawless: gorgeously progressive, powerfully kinetic, and packed to the gills with great songs. That, at the end of the day, is what places this record above so many others like it — these songs just fucking rule. Every track is at worst interesting, at best utterly phenomenal. It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing, and fuck, this one swings hard.
Judas Priest, Screaming for Vengeance (1982)
As with many ’80s bands, it’s easy to just focus on singles when it comes to Judas Priest. And hey, Screaming for Vengeance’s big single, “You’ve Got Another Thing Coming,” is about as tasty a metal hit as you can find. But this record is encrusted with shining diamonds from beginning to end, some of which you’ve heard (“The Hellion” into “Electric Eye,” “Riding On The Wind”) and some you haven’t (why doesn’t anyone talk about how “Fever” is the ultimate fuckin’ anthem?). It’s hard to beat a line-up as unquestionably rad as this record’s tacklist.
Words by Chris Krovatin