The 12-Pack of Essential Heavy Metal
The best heavy metal albums include iconic releases from Metallica, Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, and more.
With the urgency of their early thrash metal material, introspective lyrics, and classic Metallica hooks, the band’s newest album, 72 Seasons, is capturing the ears and minds of fans old and new. Since everyone is talking about Metallica again, there’s no better time to immerse yourself in some classic heavy metal and the releases that music collectors on Discogs celebrate the most.
The cultural impact of heavy metal over the last several decades has forever changed the way people listen to music. In 1970, Black Sabbath released its groundbreaking debut album. The band tapped into something heavy and doom-laden, giving rise to heavy metal and doom metal as we know it today.
Throughout the ’70s, hard rock bands like AC/DC and Van Halen paved the way for ’80s glam metal acts to have a good time and raise some hell. Acts like Judas Priest and Iron Maiden waved the banner for the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal, while Motörhead blazed their own path and ultimately influenced the thrash metal and speed metal movements. Def Leppard, Guns N’ Roses, and Metallica all helped heavy metal enter the mainstream throughout the ’80s and ’90s, proving that heavy music is not just for the underground.
The term “heavy metal” can mean different things to different people, but this list focuses on the most collected releases labeled as heavy metal on Discogs — which is one of the most popular genres amongst collectors. Below, you’ll find a variety of sounds that fall under the heavy metal banner, such as doom, thrash, NWOBHM, and hard rock.
For the sake of a more dynamic list, heavy metal giants like Metallica, Black Sabbath, and Iron Maiden only have their No. 1 most collected release featured below. If you’re looking to learn more about a particular artist’s discography, select the band’s name underneath the album cover to visit their artist page.
Now, let’s crack open this 12-pack of essential heavy metal and drink it all in.
by Black Sabbath
Often cited as the first heavy metal band, Black Sabbath has eight different albums in the top 50 most collected heavy metal releases on Discogs. Their second album, Paranoid, is their most collected and the album that solidified their status as heavy metal pioneers. Even if you don’t always dabble in metal, songs like “Iron Man,” “Paranoid,” and “War Pigs” are sure to grab your attention.
After a string of groundbreaking thrash metal records, Metallica crafted a more commercial sound that made their self-titled album (aka The Black Album) a monumental success. With hits such as “Enter Sandman,” “The Unforgiven,” “Nothing Else Matters,” “Wherever I May Roam,” and “Sad but True,” the album has become one of the best-selling releases of all time. Thrash purists may stick to the early records, but The Black Album will forever remain Metallica’s quintessential record.
The Number Of The Beast (1982)
by Iron Maiden
The third Iron Maiden album was the first to feature vocalist Bruce Dickinson, and his incredible vocal range allowed the band to create more complex compositions. The album was controversial upon its release, with many religious organizations boycotting the album due to its cover art and title. Regardless of the backlash – or maybe because of it – the album was met with critical acclaim and continues to be praised as one of the best heavy metal albums ever released.
Van Halen (1978)
by Van Halen
Van Halen’s hard-rockin’ debut ushered in a new era of heavy metal sounds. The infectious energy and feel-good hedonism found throughout the album established the template for ’80s glam metal, but the technical prowess of Eddie Van Halen put them in a class all their own. Classic songs like “Runnin’ with the Devil,” “Ain’t Talkin ‘bout Love,” and “Jamie’s Cryin’,” have helped Van Halen’s debut album receive a diamond certification for over 10 million copies sold in the United States.
Use Your Illusion II (1991)
by Guns N’ Roses
Since Appetite For Destruction is not listed as a heavy metal album in the Discogs Database, the most collected Guns N’ Roses album featured here is 1991’s Use Your Illusion II. With lead single “You Could Be Mine” featured in Terminator 2: Judgment Day, the album quickly became more popular than Use Your Illusion I. The memorable cover of “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” and the protest song “Civil War” have cemented Use Your Illusion II‘s legacy as an essential album of the 1990s.
Let There Be Rock (1977)
Viewed by many as a hard rock band through and through, the high-energy punch of Let There Be Rock shows the leanest and meanest sides of AC/DC. Hard-edged blues-rock numbers like “Dog Eat Dog,” “Whole Lotta Rosie,” and “Let There Be Rock” have had an undeniable influence on heavy metal. The album is full of huge guitars, grime, and swagger that could have only come from Bon Scott-era AC/DC.
by Def Leppard
Pyromania showed Def Leppard incorporating more pop sensibilities than in their first two albums, creating a pop-metal sound that would help shape the sounds of the decade. These melodic metallic sounds helped bring heavy metal to the masses with hit songs like “Photograph,” “Rock Of Ages,” and “Too Late For Love.” Pyromania continues to be a massively influential album and stands as one of Def Leppard’s defining moments.
by Alice In Chains
Dirt was a game-changer in the world of sludge metal and a chart-topping phenomenon. With five singles all accompanied by music videos, Alice In Chains were all over MTV and the radio, catapulting them into legendary status. Over three decades later, the album continues to receive praise and accolades as Alice In Chains’ crowning achievement.
Blizzard Of Ozz (1980)
by Ozzy Osbourne
Ozzy’s first solo outing after being fired from Black Sabbath features a few of his most memorable numbers, thanks to the unparalleled guitar work of Randy Rhoades. “Crazy Train” and “Mr. Crowley” have gone down in history as a few of the best heavy metal songs with some of the most impressive guitar solos. To this day, “Crazy Train” is still Ozzy Osbourne’s most celebrated song with over 1,000 live performances, millions of online streams, and Blizzard Of Ozz’s place in the list of the most collected heavy metal albums on Discogs.
British Steel (1980)
by Judas Priest
Judas Priest had already released five records by the time British Steel came to fruition. By peeling back the layers of their early and more progressive material, Judas Priest took cues from AC/DC and crafted songs with a more straightforward punch. “Breaking The Law” and “Living After Midnight” allowed the band to reach a whole new audience with their most commercial sound to date. Even so, British Steel remains revered by mainstream audiences and metalheads alike.
Ace Of Spades (1980)
Frontman Lemmy Kilmister always claimed that Motörhead wasn’t a metal band, but it’s hard to argue about the influence they had on the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM), speed metal, and thrash metal. Ace Of Spades is the band’s most commercially successful album, all thanks to the hit single “Ace Of Spades” and other fan favorites such as “(We Are) The Road Crew” and “The Chase Is Better Than The Catch.” Regardless of metal tags, Motörhead will forever be a band that appeals to all lovers of rock and roll.
Holy Diver (1983)
Much like Blizzard Of Ozz, Holy Diver was a gargantuan album featuring a singer that recently exited Black Sabbath. Ronnie James Dio and drummer Vinny Appice left Black Sabbath at the same time and formed a new band called Dio. With songs like “Holy Diver” and “Rainbow In The Dark,” Ronnie James Dio was able to showcase his incredible vocal prowess and his ability to compose powerful melodies. With Holy Diver, Dio proved what he could accomplish on his own as a one-of-a-kind musician at the height of his powers.
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