A reader emailed me recently asking if I could recommend a few albums for people getting into metal. When I was thinking about my recommendations (Megadeth! Iron Maiden! Sabbath! Amon Amarth!) I realized the albums you show to non-metalheads are always the albums you feel crush their preconceptions about metal.
Think about it. When you hear some non-metalhead say, “Metal is so angry,” you just want to break out Manowar and prove them wrong. When someone says they just can’t get into, “cookie monter vocals,” you long to play them some decent death growls. And if I hear one more person talk about metal not having any melody, I’m going to shove Voyager’s The Meaning of I in a very unpleasant place.
I’ve asked some of my non-metal friends what turns them off about metal or the idea of metal. And for every protest, I’ve come up with recommendations that I feel demonstrate the diversity, virtuosity and listenability of metal. The way I figure, if anyone’s spouting shit about metal, but knows nothing about it, you could just whip out one of these albums and BAM – instant metalhead.
In reality, most people are just never going to like or “get” metal, in any of its forms, and that’s totally OK. More elbow room in the pit for the rest of us. You’ll notice this list is largely made up of power, symphonic and thrash metal. That’s because most people can’t go from Lady Gaga to Wolves of the Throne Room in one hit. You want something a bit more accessible to bridge that gap and shatter those preconceptions of what metal is before you start beating the extreme metal appreciation stick.
So if you, or someone you know, is getting into metal, here are some albums to spin:
“Metal is so angry. I like party music – stuff that’s fun.”
Korpiklaani – Karkelo
Anybody who thinks metalheads are just angry, anti-social outcasts needs to visit Finland. There are more metalheads in this small Scandinavian country than anywhere else in the world, and they’re stoked about it.
Korpiklaani are one of the bands that epitomize Finnish – and European – metal culture. They blend metal with traditional Finnish folk music, creating a unique and distinctive sound. But most importantly, their focus is on drinking, partying and having a good time. This album includes probably the best drinking anthem of all time, “Vodka”. Who can’t resist singing along to lyrics like “Drinking is good for you, and you WILL feel awesome”?
Manowar – Kings of Metal
There’s nothing less angry then a bunch of muscled, oiled men singing about how awesome they are. Sure, Manowar may sometimes – okey, ALL the time – talk about their desire to slay the enemies of metal, but they’re obviously not talking about YOU, future metalhead friend. If you don’t find ass-kicking riffs and lyrics like “may your sword be wet, like a young girl in her prime” fun, then dude, I can’t help you.
“Sure, I like metal. I love Evenescence.”
Nightwish – Wishmaster
Whenever I hear a non-metalhead talk about how much they love Amy Lee’s voice, or that they like the “beauty and the beast” aspect of the rough male vocals and “operatic” (term used loosly here) female vocals, I shake my head sadly.
Evanescene – who have got a good thing going, and more power to them – are the poor man’s Nightwish. And Wishmaster is a piece of symphonic metal perfection that proves why metal does it better than hard rock ever will. On Wishmaster actual operatic vocals stand alongside heavy symphonic melodies and harsher male vocals to create a sound that can only be described as epic. Nightwish also have that unique ability to bridge the gap between metal fans and the wider music community, and have a huge mainstream fanbase in Europe.
“Heavy Metal? It’s all “rawr!” and “grrr!” and caveman stuff. I want music that’s more intelligent.”
Blind Guardian – Nightfall on Middle Earth
One of my personal favorites, and an example of a concept album done right. Blind Guardian tackle the tales for the Silmarillion with their bombastic, progressive German power metal finesse. Containing some of their best songs to date – Nightfall, Mirror Mirror, Time Stands Still (At the Iron Hill), and enough spoken-word intervals to keep the story going without detracting from the music, Nightfall on Middle Earth should appeal to people who love melodic music and JRR. Tolkien … and surely, that’s practically everybody, right? Right?
“Metal is about fantasy – dragons, wizards and sex with loose wenchly women. I like my music to be about life.”
Volbeat – The Strength, The Sound, The Songs
It’s true that metal music often focuses on classical / fantastical / historical themes, since these tend to match the symphonic, story-telling nature of the music. Even the bands that focus on more “real” themes tend to view them through fantastical iconography – religious criticism is viewed as a direct battle between God and the Devil, often with the band siding with the horned one.
But many metal bands do deal with personal struggles (which I think is what people mean when they talk about “real” music), and one of the bands I think exemplify this is Volbeat. On The Strength, The Sound, The Songs, the dark, brooding tone of the vocals and the absolutely stellar fucking rock’n’roll riffs make this accessible (in a similar vein to, say, Metallica’s Reload) without being, you know, a Metallica album. This is the album for fans of 90s alt. rock who are looking for something harder.
Megadeth – Rust in Peace
Of the big 4 (that’s Slayer, Metallica, Megadeth and Anthrax, for you non-metalheads out there), Megadeth probably write the best songs. Unlike Slayer, where (satan forbid me) every album kinda sounds the same, and Metallica, who peaked in 1991 and have been spiraling through a series of interesting non-metal projects ever since, and Anthrax, who aren’t really relevant these days, Megadeth manage to continually impress critics and fans alike with album after album of solid, punchy thrash metal. Honestly, it was very difficult to choose one Megadeth album for this list. I was very tempted to put Capitol Punishment (their greatest hits album) instead.
But Rust in Peace, the record that brought Megadeth into the mainstream vocabulary, is probably their most influential album, and with hits like “Hanger 18” and “Holy Wars: The Punishment Due”, it’s not hard to see why. Dave Mustaine manages to convey intense emotion through his vocals, even on songs about UFO conspiracies. His sardonic wit and a deep-rooted cynicism for the world ooze from every chord, and all this thrust upon us by the chunky, powerful riffs of Marty Friedman and Mustaine. Everything on this album – vocals, bass, drums, and especially guitar – pull together seemlessly, displaying a cohesive sound that can only be described as “heavy fucking metal”.
In short, it’s war music, music for people who are angry, depressed, downtrodden or disillusioned. It’s music for life.
“How can you listen to death metal? There’s no melody.”
Opeth – Blackwater Park
There are very few albums in the world I consider “perfect”. That is – 100% instead of 98%. Blackwater Park is one of them. Every aspect of Opeth comes together here to form this emotive collection of stunning music. The progressive structures combined with Mikael’s dual vocal styles and the interspersed acoustic sections create an album with enough softness and aggression to run the gambit of human emotion.
Opeth are a band who create death metal fans out of people who never thought they’d be death metal fans. Let’s see if they can do the same for the non-metalhead in your life.
“Metal is white, middle class music. I can’t relate to it.”
Mezarkabul – Unspoken
This is the first opportunity I’ve had on this blog to mention Unspoken – my favorite power metal album of all time. This album, from Turkish power metal band Pentagram (called Mezarkabul outside of Turkey to avoid confusion with the death metal band of the same name), was rescued from the $3 bargain bin at Real Groovy. Best $3 bucks I ever spent. It’s balsy, without sacrificing melody. It’s dark, but not desolate. It’s catchy, but not filled with pseudo-pop music. And most of all it retains a powerful sense of place and history.
Mezarkabul know they’re a Turkish band. They embrace it, using traditional instruments and historical / political themes in their songs, without letting these elements become some sort of gimmick. Tracks like “In Aesir Like an Eagle” and “For those Who Died Alone” demonstrate the polished, emotive beauty of this album.
“Metal all sounds the same.”
Iron Maiden – Brave New World
The fact of the matter is that, to a metalhead, death metal and power metal sound completely different. We can’t understand how people could get Iced Earth and Triptykon mixed up – the concept seems ludicrous. But to most non-metalheads, all metal – from power to death to traditional to grindcore – sounds exactly the same.
I submit that no one – and I mean no one – sounds like Iron Maiden. The clean, galloping guitars, the soaring vocals, the bombastic riffs, the triumphant solos … I wavered between including Seventh Son of a Seventh Son – my favorite album, but chose Brave New World instead.
The first album Iron Maiden released after Bruce Dickenson and Adrian Smith returned to the band shows off their songwriting skills to their best. From the power hit, “Wicker Man”, to the majestic, triumphant “Blood Brothers” – the melodic epic that is probably one of the best metal songs written anywhere, ever – Iron Maiden show us that in 2000 they can still produce a classic album.
“I just don’t get it.”
Metallica – the Black Album
This is the first album that got me into metal – the album that convinced me this music would stay with me for the rest of my life. The Black Album – arguably Metallica’s most successful commercial album – had this effect on many of us, and is one of the albums most frequently cited by metalheads as the one that got them into metal.
Whether you start your metal journey being a Metallica fan, or not, you can’t argue with the overwhelming universal appeal of The Black Album. You’ve certainly got to hand it to Metallica for their ability to take the essence of thrash and give it this air of radio respectability. Even if you don’t like it, if you don’t “get” the Black Album, metal probably isn’t for you.
So there you have my ten picks for best metal albums for non-metalheads. There are many others worth noting – Voyager’s The Meaning of I (which I’ll be reviewing later this week), Sonata Arctica’s Reckoning Night, Within Temptation’s Mother Earth, Amon Amarth’s With Odin On Our Side, and Amorphis’ Elegy (that’s Islander for reminding me of Amorphis!) What are your favorite albums to introduce newbies to metal? What was the album that got YOU into metal?
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