The Ten Best Metal Albums Celebrating an Anniversary In 2022

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Pantera Vulgar Display of Power cover: Brad Guice, Atco, Pantera / Black Sabbath Vol. 4 cover: Keith Macmillan (Keef), Vertigo / Venom Black Metal cover: Cronos, Neat, Combat
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As of 2022, metal has been around for roughly half a century. It is surreal to think about the early days of Black Sabbath and Deep Purple, and to see where the genre is at now.

Considering this monumental moment in metal history, we thought to ourselves – what are some of the most important metal albums to have come out in the past 50 years? Well, with that question in mind, we decided to put together a top 10!

Some context we want to provide you before heading into this list:

In putting together this list, we decided we would consider and pick out albums celebrating 50th, 40th, 30th, 20th, and 10-year anniversaries. To further clarify, we decided we would write about metal albums released in 1972, 1982, 1992, 2002, and 2012 (only picking two albums from each respective year).

This list is also in no particular ranking order (the only order it is in is by year). And lastly, this is our own subjective list.

So without further ado, here are the 10 best metal albums of the past 50 years!

1972

Deep Purple – Machine Head

To be fair, metal is a little older than half a century, but if we are to look back at the genre’s origin story, then we need to start at Deep Purple. While not as heavy as Black Sabbath, several early metal acts cite Deep Purple as an inspiration, helping them to form their more aggressive sound.

Machine Head is the band’s sixth studio album and it fucking rocks. The record is an absolute banger from beginning to end, with the band providing an array of exciting technicality that keeps each song surprising (while building upon each composition’s thrilling presentation). It is the work of Deep Purple that would kick off a heavier sound in music, blossoming over time into something more intense.

Black Sabbath – Vol. 4

Of course, how can we talk about metal history and not bring up a Black Sabbath album? In the same year that Deep Purple’s Machine Head was released, Black Sabbath put out their album Vol. 4.

Sabbath is an extremely important band in metal’s origin story; for whereas Deep Purple introduced a stronger rock sound to the world, Black Sabbath helped to shape that sound into something heavier and more ass-kicking. As a heavy metal record that packs a whole lot of doomy vibes, Vol. 4 makes for a captivating experience that exudes a blend of chilling and exciting energy.

1982

Iron Maiden – The Number of the Beast

A decade later, British heavy metal titans Iron Maiden would release one of their greatest albums ever made (as well as one of the greatest albums in heavy metal history): The Number of the Beast. While there are several beloved Iron Maiden albums, The Number of the Beast is one of the MOST beloved by fans and critics around the world.

Introducing sonic elements that would end up capturing the attention of many future bands, Iron Maiden provides an incredible theatrical drive throughout this record. Much like what Sabbath and Deep Purple did in terms of inspiration, the speed and instrumentation heard on The Numer of the Beast would inspire a whole new generation of metal heads.

Venom – Black Metal

When it comes to inspiration, Venom‘s Black Metal has done a lot. Not only have the instrumental qualities of this record gone on to inspire a plethora of thrash metal bands, but also, Black Metal would end up playing a role in shaping a new genre of music (aka, black metal). While not sounding like acts such as Mayhem or Emperor, people from that scene pulled inspiration from Venom’s Black Metal, with the goal to create music that sounded evil. From its intense thrash elements to its occult subject matter, Black Metal introduced a whole new approach to metal storytelling.

On its own, Black Metal is an extreme record, not only providing listeners with an early taste of the black metal genre, but also incorporating a variety of heavy styles (including thrash, heavy metal, and even death metal).

1992

Pantera – Vulgar Display of Power

Considered by many fans the most popular Pantera album, Vulgar Display of Power changed the game in terms of groove and technicality.

Having been released in 1992, the impact of this record has since rippled throughout the years, its use of irresistibly heavy and catchy groove being copied and built upon by an incredible plethora of bands. Especially when considering more of the mainstream bands to make it big in metal over the past 20 years, you can hear noticeable traces of Pantera in their music (those traces sounding reminiscent of Vulgar Display of Power).

Rage Against the Machine – s/t

That same year, Rage Against the Machine‘s self-titled release would have a similar impact. Along with providing insightful socio-political exploration, this debut release also made for a jaw-dropping blend of style and genre upon its release (and to this day that sonic power is still present).

While Rage Against the Machine is among the acts accredited for inspiring the nu metal genre, they should be recognized for their brilliant fusion of hardcore and metal. When you look at some of the bands really elevating the scene today, many of those acts are within the hardcore space. Not only have RATM inspired a tremendous wealth of bands to be politically active, but they’ve inspired so much on a technical level (encouraging metalheads to pull from hardcore, and vice versa).

2002

Killswitch Engage – Alive or Just Breathing

Around the time that nu metal was booming in popularity, another subgenre of metal was also coming to light: metalcore. Among the bands who helped to popularize the genre, there is Killswitch Engage. Their second album, Alive or Just Breathing, makes for a stunning fusion of metal, hardcore, and melody.

Brimming with rich emotion, and thrilling instrumentation that is both super aggressive and catchy, Alive or Just Breathing marks an important step in metal’s evolution. Many of today’s mainstream acts, and even within the underground, are tapping into that powerful sense of melodic hardcore and metal that Killswitch Engage pulled off 20 years ago.

Isis – Oceanic

Among the several projects that Aaron Turner has been a part of, Isis is easily one of his most prolific. It is wild to reflect upon the impact and influence that Oceanic has had on so many albums; the technical and atmospheric intricacies of Oceanic are astounding, these elements coming together to offer complex compositions and grand emotional experiences.

When it comes to the underground metal world, music has only become more interesting, and that is very much thanks to the push for more experimentation. It’s records like Isis’ Oceanic that have helped to encourage others to go beyond convention, to fuck around with sound, and to create art that challenges listeners and inspires. From metal to noise, the power of Oceanic has rippled throughout the world of heavy music.

2012

Gojira – L’Enfant Sauvage

Gojira‘s L’Enfant Sauvage is perhaps one of the biggest albums in mainstream metal of the past decade. With a sense of groove and melody turned up to 11, this record moves forward like a beast stalking its prey; whether it’s through crushing instrumentation or moody atmospheres, each song on L’Enfant Sauvage exudes a looming epic and ferocious-sounding aura.

The instrumentation of Gojira is jaw-dropping, their performances displaying fascinating uses of progressive techniques. These guys are not interested in conventional songwriting – they are much more interested in rocking people’s fucking minds with heavy instrumentation and fascinating compositional structures. Gojira really raised the bar when it comes to epic theatricality and technical finesse with L’Enfant Sauvage.

Pallbearer – Sorrow and Extinction

Doom metal has had one hell of a fascinating popularity boost in recent years. While doom existed well before 2012, Pallbearer’s Sorrow and Extinction is the sort of doom sound that has become so noticeable and beloved in today’s scene.

While much of the mainstream metal world may be focused on popular radio and classic heavy metal acts, metal is becoming doomier (with much love still being provided to other genres of course). Unlike the more rock-leaning doom of bands like Candlemass, Pallbearer’s Sorrow and Extinction makes for a deep and compelling work of emotion; one where mood and feeling are elevated through instrumental technique. It is that type of doom metal that has grabbed hold of the underground scene and has even made its way into some mainstream acts today.

What do you think of our top 10 picks? If you were to pick the top 10 metal albums of the past half century, what records would you include on that list?