OK, here's my number one. There was part of me that really wanted to list Van Halen's "1984" as a tie here. But after talking with a friend, he confirmed for me that I can't really categorize Van Halen as a metal band. They are hard rock, but not metal. And the prominence of keyboards on "1984" further solidifies this decision. But I think "1984" would probably make my all-time top ten list if genre was not a factor. Songs like "Jump", "Panama", "Hot for Teacher", and "I'll Wait" are approaching rock perfection. Eddie's guitar work on this album is his very best, even though albums "I" and "II" were groundbreaking at the time. When I think about Van Halen "I" coming out at a time (1978) when Joe Perry and Jimmy Page were considered the greatest guitarists, it must have been mind blowing. In fact, down right embarrassing! "I" was a rock guitar clinic, pointing the way to the future. And six years later "1984" would be the culmination of that potential, peaking at #2 (Michael Jackson's "Thriller" was riding #1 at the time) with the single "Jump" reaching #1.
But, "1984" is not a metal album. But this album DEFINITELY is:
1. Master of Puppets - Metallica (1986)
The greatest thrash metal album of all time. A masterpiece. When I first heard Battery I was shocked by how fast it was. It was hard for me to comprehend. But it didn't take long for Metallica to become my favorite band. Their blue collar, anti-corporate image was refreshing in a music scene dominated by polished glam posers. At a time when Vince Neil and Brett Michaels looked (and sang!) more like women than rock stars, James Hetfield was writing "Kill Bon Jovi" on the headstocks of his guitars. What more needs said? The songs on this album are epic. The title track has such incredible rhythm guitar playing that I still can't accurately cop it after over two decades of practice. Nevermind Kirk's leads! "Disposable Heroes" might be my favorite song on the album, with James' speed chunking Low E riff underneath Kirk's wah flavored upper register. And while Lars' drumming has taken a beating lately (pun?), his work on "Master" is some of the best thrash metal drumming you will ever hear. As a youth who spent his teenage years in institutions, I was very emotionally connected to the song Sanitarium. Lyrics like "Welcome to where time stands still. No one leaves and no one will..." and "Keep him tied. It makes him well. He's getting better. Can't you tell?" seemed to be all about me and my life at the time. "Just leave me alone..." As a band, and as an album, there are few as influential as Metallica and "Master of Puppets". If and when you find yourself testing out guitars and amps at your local guitar shop, "Enter Sandman" should NEVER be played. It is embarrassing for you and those who hear you. But "Master of Puppets" should ALWAYS be played. There is no truer test of a guitar rig, and your onlookers will smile and nod knowingly. There's a young kid in our youth group band who plays "Battery" and "Master" every week during warm-up. The influence of this album is still being felt by musicians at every age and level, and I think it will continue to be felt for decades to come. Deservedly, it ranks as my number one.