Heavy music exists on a rift in time. On the one hand, there will always be a love and appreciation for the classics, to the point where fans will basically cosplay the 1970s in homage to an era when guitar-based music was exciting, new, and on top of the charts. On the other, because genres like hip-hop and EDM have since eclipsed rock in renown and airplay, hard rock and metal fans are always trying to find the new band, the cool underground act that’ll someday conquer the world and be ‘the next _____.’ As such, metalheads are often caught in a time warp, in which the old feels new and the new immediately becomes old.
But some albums shouldn’t be new, or chic, or as relevant today as they once were. Some albums are kickass because they’re ancient, harkening back to a bygone time and rejecting modernity in favor of bigass stoner riffs and hit-making ragers. So in respect for our elders, we’ve compiled a list of 10 heavy albums that are over 40, and are rad at least in part because of how classic they are.
Here are 10 record that just keep getting cooler as they keep getting older…
Motörhead, Bomber (1979)
More than any other Motörhead album, Bomber feels especially awesome now that it’s aged forty-plus years. Some part of that is definitely the cover, which looks dated but in an awesome way. More than the art, though, it’s the songs and production value behind the record, which is more easy-livin’ highway rock than the rabid proto-thrash for which the band are mostly known. The result is a record which felt like a classic the moment it was released. Of course, by 1979, Lemmy already looked and sounded like he was 107 years old.
Angel Witch, Angel Witch (1980)
The beauty of Angel Witch’s 1980 self-titled record is that one can hear the beginning of heavy metal’s identity in it. The album was fast and distorted before thrash, but still had the virtuosity and fantasy scope of the NWOBHM. Tracks like “White Witch” and “Sweet Danger” show us how metal sounded both sonically and in the minds of those listening to it during the genre’s infancy. When it came out, it was a vital addition to the scene; now, 41 years later, it’s a landmark of the genre as an established entity.
Black Sabbath, Master of Reality (1971)
Sure, all Black Sabbath albums feel like ancient tomes of forbidden knowledge, but Master of Reality is the one which opens with a page reading, ‘WEED’ in gothic letters. The record’s old-school downer-rock vibe makes it the sonic equivalent of an aged, smirking pothead outside of a metal show. That, plus its heralding of an apocalypse that only seems to be happening now, make it a record that only gets better as it gets older. Hey, even children of the grave have to grow up sometime.
ZZ Top, Tres Hombres (1973)
One wonders if there’s a medieval woodcut somewhere of ZZ Top playing to a field of peasants tripping on ergot-infected bread. The band feel eternally badass, and Tres Hombres is a testament to why. No matter what point during rock’s development and evolution this record was made, it embodies the undying excitement of rock and roll rebellion, driving too fast, and drinking beer after beer after cold, delicious beer. The fact that it emerged in the fast-and-loose early ’70s only feels appropriate. RIP Dusty.
Alice Cooper, Killer (1971)
The Coop is a classic case of an artist who just feels cooler the longer he sticks around cutting his own head off. And while some Alice releases feel timeless, ‘71’s Killer is awesome because of how specifically dated it comes off. The album features Alice’s band at their most traditionally hard rock; while aspects of the shock rocker’s later ghoulish showtunes creep in, this is mostly a gnarly Detroit ass-kicker. That adds a growling, good-timey menace to Alice’s imagery which only makes his spooky side all the more interesting. Listen to “Under My Wheels” or “Halo of Flies” and you’ll wish you were watching the Summer of Love die in real time.
Thin Lizzy, Black Rose: A Rock Legend (1979)
Everyone loves Jailbreak, but it’s the lifers who dig on Black Rose. On this album, Thin Lizzy strike a powerful balance between their good-timey jaunt (“Do Anything You Want to Do”) and their heavy inner shadow (“Got to Give It Up”). As such, this record isn’t here to be modern or hip or for the kids — it’s a moment in time for Thin Lizzy, a landmark that feels complete for the stylishness of its late ‘70s darkness and power. This is the kind of album you find in a record store, dusty and chipped at the edge, and wonder where it came from.
Judas Priest, Stained Class (1978)
If Stained Class had been made in the ‘80s, it would be lesser for it. With too much snarl or overdrive, the record just wouldn’t be this cool; with its tight, groundbreaking proto-metal sound, it’s an absolute gem. The band are still breaking ground on this one, not quite sure what metal is but excited to be creating it. As such, its age only makes it cooler, an example of heavy metal’s earliest
Coven, Witchcraft Destroys Minds & Reaps Souls (1969)
Hardcore occult rock fans like to point out that Coven were promoting groovy satanism a year before Black Sabbath — and even open their album Witchcraft Destroys Minds & Reaps Souls with a track named “Black Sabbath.” But whether or not this love-generation witch-rock crew were metal’s real forebearers doesn’t really matter. What’s important is that Coven’s Witchcraft… is the ultimate old black magic record, the perfect rock album bought by a dark-minded satanist who suddenly finds themselves branching into janglier territory. A surprising but rewarding find that encapsulates the time at which it came out.
AC/DC, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap (1976)
With Highway to Hell, AC/DC let the world know they were bloodthirsty; with Back In Black, they declared themselves superstars. But Dirty Deeds… is where the band threw their snotty punk side in everyone’s face. From the street-level smirk of the title track to the schoolyard cackle of “Big Balls” to the the bass-fed roar of “Squealer,” this album is a flawless statement on what AC/DC needed to be in order to become what they are. This record should never get rerecorded or updated for new audiences — let it be old, dirty, and mean as hell.
Deep Purple, Machine Head (1972)
It’s a shame that Deep Purple sometimes gets lost among heavy music’s early legends, because Machine Head is as bitchin’ an album as one can find. Opening with the proto-thrash of “Highway Star” and closing with the dick-out fuzz of “Space Truckin’,” the record illustrates how a weighty release from the Bummer Decade could feel pessimistic or forcefully tough. Rather than wallowing in bitterness, Machine Head is an exuberant testament to a heavier time, when one could write a biker rock album with a pound of grass in its saddlebags that still maintained a sort of hairy, human sort of freedom. The “Smoke On The Water” riff isn’t supposed to be as relevant today as it was then — it’s supposed to remind you that ‘then’ was fucking cool.
Words by Chris Krovatin