50 Most Game-Changing Hard Rock + Metal Albums of All Time

Stretching across nearly 50 years, the definition of hard rock music from its early days is almost unrecognizable by today’s standards. Classic rock, proto-metal, garage rock, punk, traditional metal, thrash, glam, death metal, black metal, sludge, hardcore punk, grunge and everything else outside, in between and combined now represents our general understanding of the all-encompassing genre.

But how did all of these styles come to be? Of course, the prime movers of each genre can be traced, which is just what we’ve done here! Examining those who changed the game of rock altogether, we’re looking at the albums that had the most profound impact on entire scenes or even something less grandiose but still unequivocally crucial like a certain playing technique.

One of the most glaring examples, of course, is Black Sabbath’s debut record, which many cite as the first ever heavy metal record. Tony Iommi’s riffing style was so immediately different than his contemporaries, that it warranted a name all its own (some also called it “downer rock” back in the day) and the Satanic themes, well that’s just extra credit!

We won’t spoil too much before you get to reading and we’re sure you already have more than a few guesses as to which albums you’ll find ahead, but rest assured there’s some surprises along the way as we outline what it really means to be an innovator, a pioneer, something different, unique, unafraid and game-changing in the gallery at the top of the page!

The 50 Most Game-Changing Hard Rock + Metal Albums

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Top 90 Hard Rock + Metal Albums of the ’90s

The ’90s were one of the most fascinating decades in rock and metal, widening the gap between the two genres and putting fans on opposing sides, either clinging to their denim patch vests or trading them in for flannel shirts. Grunge signaled the death of metal supremacy that put a stranglehold on heavy music in the prior decade, but the underground kept the metal going strong while rock acts were assuming their role on the world’s biggest stages.

Kurt Cobain became the voice of a generation in Nirvana, while Dave Grohl steamrolled the success into the Foo Fighters following Cobain’s tragic death. Meanwhile, Texas groovehounds Pantera were flying the banner for heavy metal, keeping the genre in the mainstream. In the meantime, a new genre called nu-metal was emerging, taking the rhythmic approach of metal even further and fusing it with rap influences. Below the surface, extreme genres like black and death metal were thriving, scaring parents, exciting kids and netting headlines rife with controversy.

We started with a list of nearly 300 albums to contend with and narrowed it down to the 90 Best Hard Rock + Metal Albums of the 1990s. Take a trip down this diametric decade of music and see which album is No. 1 in the gallery below!

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Slayer Albums Ranked

Are you ready for a fight?

Because that will be the inevitable outcome as we proceed to rank the 11 studio albums in Slayer’s incredible discography, which, despite the band’s occasional tinkering over the years, remains the living definition of thrash metal.

Of course, it was Slayer, along with fellow Big Four peers Metallica, Anthrax and Megadeth, who pretty much codified the style that took heavy metal by storm in the 1980s, spawning several worthy secondary bands and countless hopeless imitators, to say nothing of virtually every subsequent branch of extreme metal: death, black, grind, you name it.

And then, when thrash metal’s initial inexorable onslaught gave way to these ensuing musical innovations, beginning in the 1990s, it was the men of Slayer who remained steadfastly loyal to the cause, refusing to pervert their sound so as to fit in with the times (we won’t name names – hint, hint) and, thus, earning the virtually unassailable respect their recorded legacy still commands today.

Still fighting!

Slayer Albums Ranked

Every Slayer Song Ranked

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The Best Metal Album From 40 Subgenres

Rock ‘n’ roll seems to nestle an almost infinite number of distinct musical genres under its very broad umbrella, but when one of those genres hangs around long enough – as heavy metal has for close to 50 years now – it’s bound to spawn a range of sub-genres all its own.

How many? Honestly, we stopped counting after we crossed the half-century mark, because even some of metal’s more popular sub-genres contain a vast range of sub-subgenres, themselves. In other words, we could split subgenre “hairs” until the cows come home and never stop.

Fact is, whether you dig your metal doomy or thrashing, traditional or progressive, groovy or gothy, deathly or, uh, black-ly, and a vast assortment of “-cores,” we can all agree what matters is that they’re HEAVY.

So, as you’ll see, our present gallery covers what we believe to be the 40 most popular and well-established heavy metal subgenres, and we’ll give ourselves the option to expand the list before too long. Check out the best releases from each metal subgenre in the gallery below.

The Best Metal Album From 40 Subgenres

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Before They Were Famous: Over 200 Rock Star Yearbook Photos

Before they became rock and metal legends, they were just regular kids in school. And just like regular kids, they had to line up and take the dreaded yearbook picture.

Whose idea was it to immortalize the most awkward days of our youth? Anyway, these yearbook pictures range from embarrassing, flattering and all the way to unrecognizable. We’ve been posting yearbook photos of our favorite musicians for a while now, but this is the mother of all collections.

We’ve got a grand total of 200 yearbook pictures to share, so find a comfortable spot and look through the early years of rock and metal’s greatest talents! If you make it deep enough into this collection, we’ve included some yearbook pictures from alternative rock and classic rock stars as a bonus.

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The Jobs 26 Rock + Metal Musicians Had Before They Were Famous

Everyone has at least one job on their resume that they weren’t thrilled to be working at one point. But, a job is a job, and we all need to find ways to make ends meet.

Even our favorite musicians had to start somewhere. Equipment and gear is expensive. Vans and other means of traveling to play gigs are expensive. So while a lot of them may have known that they weren’t destined to sit in a suit at a desk all day, they knew they had to do what it takes to kickstart their dreams. Others had entire other careers planned out, but we’re not focusing on that here.

Tony Iommi‘s job actually had a direct impact on Black Sabbath‘s heavy and sinister sound. Lemmy Kilmister was already in the music business before Motorhead and Hawkwind — he was a roadie for Jimi Hendrix.

It’s amazing to look at where our heroes and began and compare it to where they ended up. So keep that in mind if you are feeling unsatisfied with your current position as you scroll through the gallery below. Here are the jobs of 27 rock and metal musicians before they were famous.

Top 52 Rockers Who’ve Been in Multiple Successful Bands

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The Best Metal Album of Each Year Since 1970

As heavy metal steadily approaches 50 years of existence, it’s flooring to look at how the genre has evolved since Black Sabbath released their debut album on Feb. 13 of 1970. Oh, and if you’re wondering, yes, it was the ominous Friday the 13th.

While the Birmingham, England, group owned this new style, then dubbed ‘downer rock,’ it eventually caught fire at the tail of the decade (with the help of Judas Priest), smashing down the door as the decade turned over, owning the next 10 years with the emergence of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, the first wave of black metal, thrash and death metal’s infancy.

The next decade, the 1990s, saw metal fall by the wayside in terms of commerciality, save for Pantera, who implemented a powerful new style, honing in on groove and a dominant lyrical style. It was also the most popular decade for the second wave of black metal and death metal, which began branching off into different factions (brutal, technical, progressive) quite early on.

The stylistic door was shattered with the arrival of the new millennium as melding genres became commonplace and metal furthered its descent into a never-ending well of subgenres and frustrated categorization. Technical prowess was generally the benchmark by which bands began to be judged as evident by our selections.

Sorting through all of the top albums of each year from nearly five decades of music was a chore (a welcome one) and after endless discussion we came away with what you see in the Best Metal Album of Each Year Since 1970 gallery at the top of the page! Take a look through the best metal has had to offer year by year!

The Best Metal Album of Each Year Since 1970

Top 50 Metal Bands of All Time

Top 10 Bands That Have Never Made a Bad Album

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10 Heaviest Albums of the 1970s Not Recorded by Black Sabbath

So you think that ‘70s heavy metal starts and ends with Black Sabbath? That nothing else released during metal’s inaugural decade could match the thunderous grind of Tony Iommi’s guitar? Well, that’s just not true and today we intend to prove it with our gallery of the 10 Heaviest Albums of the 1970s Not Recorded by Black Sabbath.

Even as heavy metal was taking shape, in the wee months of 1970, there were countless bands vying to be the loudest, toughest, scariest and – yep – heaviest on the block, and in the most far-flung corners of the globe, too. That’s because Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and select others transformed heavy music into a genuine commercial phenomenon, well beyond the underground; everyone wanted in on the action.

And so they came, wielding irresponsibly amplified and distorted guitars and basses, drums like marauding elephant herds, and hairy, charismatic vocalists unafraid to wreck their vocal cords in order to rise up over the surrounding din. It was awesome!

So awesome that many self-important music critics seeking to hail rock’s virtue as an art form, not a visceral expression of anger or alienation, couldn’t stand it! They attacked, dismissed and all around vilified heavy metal until all but its biggest success stories had been pushed back into history’s footnotes, along with some of the genre’s most exciting and heaviest albums.

View the 10 Heaviest Albums of the 1970s Not Recorded by Black Sabbath below.

The Best Metal Song of Each Year Since 1970

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15 Rock + Metal Bands Banned by Disney

The Disney corporation and heavy music don’t have much crossover appeal, except for those irresistible Radio Disney interpretations of metal classics from bands like Cannibal Corpse and Necrophagist (two bands whose names both concern the consumption of the dead). Not very family-friendly.

These two opposing worlds do overlap occasionally as rock and metal tours often stop at the House of Blues in Lake Buena Vista, Florida and Anaheim, California, both which were once on Disney property. Throughout the years, several bands have been prevented from performing at “The Happiest Place on Earth” as Disney has deemed the image, lyrical content and even “undesirable fans” of certain groups grounds for banning them in hopes of preserving the company’s squeaky clean image. Well, mostly — they’ve had their own mishaps like the overtly racist Song of the South which will never see a rerelease and some sexual references in others like The Lion King and The Little Mermaid.

Some bands, like Machine Head, were given explanations as to why they would not be allowed to perform while others were left to ponder under what reasons they were deemed unfit for Disney. As for Cannibal Corpse, however, it should be self-evident.

Take a look at the rock and metal bands Disney has brought the ban-hammer down on in the gallery below.

15 Rock + Metal Bands Banned by Disney

57 Rock + Metal Bands Who Changed Names Before Getting Famous

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The 66 Best Metal + Hard Rock Drummers of All Time

While frontmen and guitarists get a lot of the glory in rock bands, drummers are very much a driving force behind the music, especially when it comes to hard rock and heavy metal. In the gallery above, we salute the men behind the kit with our picks for the Top 66 Hard Rock + Metal Drummers of All Time.

Some of these drummers were chosen based on their world-topping chops; some based on their historical influence; others based on knowing when to not show off their virtuosity; and ofttimes they were chosen based on some combination of all the above, among other talents.

But the end goal was to celebrate 66 drummers who have helped define the music we love, and now dominate our record collections. So take a seat and take the ride, and check out our list of Top 66 Hard Rock + Metal Drummers of All Time by scrolling through the gallery below.

The 66 Best Metal + Hard Rock Drummers of All Time

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MTV Video Music Awards Rock Video Winners by Year

MTV debuted on Aug. 1, 1981, opening the door for a burgeoning new promotional platform for musicians — the music video. Flash forward to 1984 and the network decided to reward their top videos by starting the MTV Video Music Awards. By 1989, the award show expanded to include genre videos, ensuring that rock would be recognized in the years to follow.

That first year, the rock category was actually dubbed the Best Heavy Metal Video, rewarding the biggest band on the planet at that point as Guns N’ Roses took home the inaugural honor for “Sweet Child O’ Mine.” From there, the name of the category segued away from metal and more toward rock, with a closer representation of the rock scene over the years.

There have been multiple acts winning more than once, with Aerosmith being the leader in the category winning four years. Yet, oddly enough, in a year where “Crazy” won Video of the Year, it lost to Soundgarden‘s “Black Hole Sun” for Best Rock Video.

Join us as we revisit the “rock” category at the MTV Video Music Awards through the years, sharing the winners and who they were up against.

MTV Video Music Awards Rock Awards Winners by Year

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57 Rock + Metal Bands Who Changed Names Before Getting Famous

“What’s in a name? That which we call a band by any other name would be twice as sick.” That’s what Shakespeare would have wrote if he were alive today and put together this comprehensive list of 57 Rock + Metal Bands Who Changed Their Name Before Getting Famous.

Deciding on a band name is intensely challenging. Getting a handful of strong-willed people to agree on anything isn’t easy, nevermind when that thing is what your personal name and future will be forever tied to. Sometimes, the first name a group decides on is ultimately discarded in favor of something better (ie: cooler).

Dozens of your favorite rock and metal bands all started off as something other than what we know them as today. Remember when Black Sabbath were called the Polka Tulk Blues Band? Of course you don’t — most of you weren’t alive in 1968, hitting local pubs in England to scope out the hottest new bands.

There’s some pretty strange ones in here too: Creed used to be Naked Toddler and the Red Hot Chili Peppers were first known as the incredibly verbose Tony Flow and the Miraculously Majestic Masters of Mayhem.

As for the rest, you’ll find that all directly below.

57 Rock + Metal Bands Who Changed Their Name Before Getting Famous

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