Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Odd Obsessions

We're getting lazy. This critique has been offered on more than one occasion. Not just in the way we create but in the way we consume. The advent of NetFlix and streaming has shuddered the video stores. While boutique labels like Arrow and Criterion allow access to the best looking releases of the films we love. Criterion itself has its own streaming service now.

Of course, it wasn't always like this.
The video store offered a tactile, hands-on experience. It was the playground for any and all loversd of physical media. The sandbox we grew up in. This we can all agree on. Yet the weepy eyed nostalgia tends to blur the actual experience we all had at Blockbuster Video. I can recall going their multiple times. It's how I discovered Audition. Yet for every Audition, there was a Carnosaur. The bargain bins offering $10 movies. The clerk who really just wants you to plop down your money so they can get one step closer to leaving. The memories that stuck with me most were carbed not out of blue and yellow. It was the ma and pop stores. Beggars Video was apart of the Beggars Pizza brand, which just happened to be located next door. Any customer who came in was given free squares of pizza. It was there that two important pieces of history occured.

The first being a glass display case that housed a Chucky doll. Always taunting me before I exited the store. The second being the Faces of Death series.

When I see documentaries recalling the importance of video stores or directors' trip down memory lanes, one thing that causes my synapses to fire rapidly is when they bring up the forbidden fruit. The movies you find with a brown paper bag over them. Faces of Death was the closest I got to this titilation.
Then there was Video Corner. The first video store I knew that had a porn section.

Now keep in mind, all of this was within three blocks in both the west and east direction of my house. It was primo real estate.

I didn't have access to such utopias as CineFile video. So I would eventually create my own paradise in my room.

The way I organize my shelves are alphabetized by director, country and genre. Given that horror and exploitation occupy a good chunk of my collection, they are the only specific genres entire sections are dedicated to.

American/British/Canadian Directors
Foreign Films
I. Asian
     a. Classic (Ichikawa, Kobayashi, Kurosawa, Mizoguchi, Naruse, Ozu, Shindo)
     b. New Wave (Imamura, Kurahara, Oshima, Suzuki, Teshigahara)
     c. Contemporary (Fukasaku, Itami, Kore-eda, Miike, Sono)
  -South Korean (Chang-dong, Chan-wok, Jee-woon, Joon-ho, Ki-Young)
  -China and Taiwan (Hu, Kar-Wai, Ming-liang, Woo, Yang)
II. European
     a. Classic: Becker, Bresson, Clouzot, Dassin, Melville, Ophuls, Tati, Vigo
     b. New Wave: Godard, Malle, Resnais, Truffaut, Varda
     c. Contemporary: Audiard, Belvaux, Breillat, Jeunet, Kassovitz, Kechiche, Noe
  -Italy (Antonioni, Bertolucci, DeSica, Fellini, Pasolini, Petri, Risi, Rosellini, Sorrentino)
  -Germany (Fassbinder, Herzog, Murnau, Schlondorff, Wenders)
  -Russia (Kalatzokov, Klimov, Shepitko, Tarkovsky, Zyvagintsev)
  -Czech Republic (Chitlova, Vlacil)
  -Poland (Kieslowski, Zulawski)
  -Denmark (Dreyer, Vintberg, Von Trier)
  -Austria (Haneke)
III. Mexico, Central and Latin America (Bunuel, Camus, Cazals, Cuaron, Del Toro, Erice, Guerra, Innaritu, Jodorowsky, Meirelles, Sauros)
IV. Africa, India (Ray)

  -Jack Hill
  -Herschell Gordon Lewis
  -Russ Meyer
  -John Waters
Car Chases
Grindhouse Releasing
Blue Underground

  -Directors: Carpenter, Cronenberg, Hooper, Romero
  -Franchises: Halloween, Friday the 13th, Elm Street, Hellraiser, Texas Chainsaw Massacre
  -Silent and Classic Horror (anything up to the 50's with Universal Monsters and Lewton given seperate sections)
  -Italian Genre (Argento, Bava, DiLeo, Fulci, Lenzi, Martino, Soavi, Cannibal flicks)
  -Scream Factory
  -Arrow Video
  -Vinegar Syndrome
Experimental (Anger, Fricke, Hertzfeldt, etc.)

There was a video store a few years ago that caught my attention. Odd Obsession Movies. It was located in the Wicker Park area of downtown Chicago. Wicker Park was already home to several hotspots: Myopic Books, Quimby's Bookstore, Wormhole Coffee, Reckless Records.

I made my first visit to Odd Obsession on January 28, 2020. It took me long enough. The hype was real and every bit earned. Entire walls dedicated to exploitation and sexploitation. Films arranged by director, country, genre. From film noir classics to contemporary. Staff recommendations. The works. There were even tapestries depicting Ghana film posters.

Renting movies for the first time in more than a decade felt...satisfying. The first batch being Takashi Kitano's Fireworks, Babas Lunas' Anguish and Buddy Giovinazzo's Combat Shock.

I've found a new place to call home.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

My Favorite Soundtracks

One of my favorite things to do is sequencing music playlists. Making sure the song before it and the song after it make a smooth transition. If I want to get adventurous, I try to make it as eclectic as possible. Until I bump into a bag with $500 and am able to afford Premiere Pro, this is the closest to editing I can get.

Soundtracks became a gateway to many of my favorite songs today. All starting with the discovery of the Forrest Gump soundtrack in my aunt's attic amongs a shoebox of CDs. It was just at the right time when I was discovering The Beatles, The Who and other 60's groups. A viewing of the film made it a favorite. Beyond just the glorious soundtrack that carries us through the decades of US history. I remember rewatching it and noticing the absence of Fleetwood Mac's Go Your Own Way. A problem that could be corrected with the eventual purchase of Rumors. But still an itch that needed to be scratched. In that sense the soundtrack that I had wasn't a complete one. A similair problem would plague my obsessive listening to the Casino soundtrack.

I started noticing a trend of "soundtrack movies" in the 90's. GoodFellas, Casino, Dazed and Confused, Trainspotting, Boogie Nights, Velvet Goldmine. Movies filled wall to wall with songs that propped up some of the more iconic scenes in cinema history. What I noticed with these movies that had this type of rhythm and feel, was that the soundtrack itself encapsulated that particular period. Making a series worth of NOW That's What I Call Music and countless infomercials for music compilations entirely irrelevant.

If I were to really go back, it can be traced to American Graffiti. The soundtrack, like Forrest Gump, was in regular in rotation. What set it apart from Gump, or any other soundtrack for that matter, was that it took the 'genre' and made it conceptual. Wolfman Jack, the famous disc jockey from the film appeared between songs like some sort of host. It's something I had yet to hear before or since.

Albums like Queens of the Stone Age's Songs For the Deaf have experimented with the 'radio station' concept to much pleasure. Then along comes Once Upon A Time In Hollywood. Even before the film has hit theaters, it introduced me to Neil Diamond's Brother Love's Traveling Salvation Show. It became a song on constant loop.

Now Quentin has famously used songs and scores from exploitation, blaxpoitation, kung fu and giallo movies before. Just look at Kill Bill, Inglourious Basterds, Jackie Brown, Django Unchained or Death Proof. But nestled inside those soundtracks were always great nuggets: Didn't I Blow Your Mind by The Delfonics, Hold Tight by Dave Dee Dozy Beaky Mitch Tich, I Got A Name by Jim Croce, and the inspired mash-up of James Brown and 2Pac with The Payback/Untouchable.

Once Upon A Time didn't pull anything from a specific movie. His first soundtrack to do so since Pulp Fiction. Maybe this was sparked by his cave-in to use an original score on Hateful Eight. Maybe not. The concept to use the music you would hear on the radio in 1969 doesn't just stop at the music itself, he pushes it further than anything on American Graffiti.

When the film finally did hit theaters and I watched it, much was left to be desired. A rewatch only confirmed and deepened those feelings. It was him caving to his worst impulses. It was my least favorite effort since Kill Bill Vol. 1. Though many share the exact opposite feeling. Quentin always did his best work when reigning it in and not giving a fuck about critical feedback. See: Jackie Brown, Death Proof, The Hateful Eight. Pulp Fiction is the exception to all of this. And while I love Basterds and Vol. 2, neither capture the simplicity and tightness those aforementioned three films have.

The movie does a fantastic job on production design. Creating a somber goodbye that crescendos musically with Out of Time by The Rolling Stones in the sequence when Rick and Cliff arrive in LA back from Italy for their last night together. The neon signs lighting up is one of my favorite touches in this sequence. It felt like a period ending. Let alone a decade. Yes it's storybook. Yes it's a love letter. I just wish it did away with the postscript of Manson. There's much to say about this and its highs and lows: the boundless energy of Margaret Qualley, the wasted Bruce Dern, Dakota Fanning's role as Squeaky, the pointless scene between Rick and the 8 year old...but we're getting sidetracked.

The soundtrack on the other hand, is the best thing I was given from this movie. It wasn't just a joyous mix of hits and deep cuts from the late 60's, it included commercials for products, radio DJ interludes, trailers for movies and television, and catchy jingles. This thing even has weather reports. It's a time capsule in the best way.

The following soundtracks are constantly in and out of my CD player.

1. Casino*
Choice cuts: Otis Redding- Sad Song, Can't You Hear Me Knocking by The Rolling Stones, Stardust by Hoagy Carmichael, Love Is the Drug by Roxy Music, The Glory of Love by The Velvetones, Nights In White Satin by The Moody Blues, Without You by Harry Nilsson

2. American Graffiti
Choice cuts: Runaway by Del Shannon, That'll Be The Day by The Crickets, Smoke Gets In Your Eyes by The Platters, Ain't That A Shame by Fats Domino, To the Aisle by The Five Satins, Teen Angel by Mark Dinning, All Summer Long by The Beach Boys

3. Rushmore
Choice cuts: A Quick One While He's Away by The Who, Making Time by Creation, The Wind by Cat Stevens, Oh La La by The Faces

4. Velvet Goldmine
Choice cuts: Needle In the Camel's Eye by Brian Eno, Ballad of Maxwell Demon by Shudder to Think, Virginia Plain by Roxy Music, Satellite of Love by Lou Reed, Baby's On Fire by Venus In Furs

5. Once Upon A Time In Hollywood
Choice cuts: Ramblin' Gamblin' Man by The Bob Seger System, Son of A Lovin' Man by Buchanan Brothers, Good Thing by Paul Revere and the Raiders, Brother Love's Traveling Salvation Show by Neil Diamond

6. Bringing Out the Dead
Choice cuts: You Can't Put Your Arms Around A Memory by Johnny Thunders, Janie Jones by The Clash, What's Your Frequency Kenneth by REM, Bell Boy by The Who

7. Wonder Boys
Choice cuts: Not Dark Yet by Bob Dylan, Waiting For the Miracle by Leonard Cohen, Watching the Wheels by John Lennon

8. Zodiac
Choice cuts: Hurdy Gurdy Man by Donovan, Inner City Blues by Marvin Gaye, I Wanna Take You Higher by Sly and the Family Stone, I Never Promised A Rose Garden by Lynn Anderson

9. Forrest Gump
Choice cuts: Rebel Rouser by Duane Eddy, Rainy Day Women by Bob Dylan, Sloop John B by The Beach Boys, California Dreamin' by The Mamas and the Papas, Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In by Fifth Dimension, Everybody's Talkin by Harry Nilsson, Against the Wind by Bob Seger

10. 20th Century Women
Choice cuts: The Big Country by Talking Heads, Cheree by Suicide, Gut Feeling by DEVO, Why Can't I Touch It? by The Buzzcocks

*to whoever sequenced this soundtrack and to whoever decided to use a cover of House of the Rising Sun in place of the original: dude...what the fuck?

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Remember, remember...the chill of November

Halloween and Christmas are two holidays that have entire months dedicated to them. November is sandwiched in the middle and is often neglected. Mostly by department stores. For film fans, it's the month of the Criterion sale. Award season movies are released. It's cold enough to wear long sleeve shirts but not too cold to wear your winter coat. You can see your breath.

Constructing this list felt like constructing a house of cards- it could all topple at any moment. So I decided to section it off as the season moves into the frosty throes of winter.


Autumn Sonata
A strained mother-daughter relationship. Unflinching and brutal truths. Sven Nykvist's use of burnished harvest colors relay the autumn vibes.

In Cold Blood
I associate the novel with winter because that is when I first read it. The movie fits right on the cusp of the season. My father introduced me to this movie around middle school and Robert Blake's monologue amidst the rain pouring outside the jail always stuck with me.

The Double Life of Veronique
Kieslowski's post- Dekalog career is one I associate with colors. The Colors trilogy for obvious reasions. Veronique has a unique green/yellowish hue to it pallette that I haven't seen any movie use as effectively.

Phantom Thread
Alma retelling her story next to a fireplace makes me want to wrap myself in the blankets with a plate full of asparagus with oil and salt. Not too much butter though.

Last of the Mohicans
Like so many of these picks, the score belongs to the season as much as the movie does. Mann's best films don't even feel like films. They feel like mood pieces. Mohicans isn't as abstract as Miami Vice in that sense. It's more linear. This isn't a bad thing as his style is all over the finished product.


Addams Family Values
A sequel that stands up to and just about surpasses the original. The post Halloween hangover coming into Thanksgiving isn't better exemplified by the morbid fun in this movie.

Planes, Train and Automobiles
"I'd like ya to meet a friend of mine."
OK, this one is obvious. John Hughes mastered the X-mas vibe with his scripts for Christmas Vacation and Home Alone. Martin and Candy dynamic odd couple duo is seldom matched.

Fantastic Mr. Fox
Brown, Yellow, Red. What more do you need? A dance number? Well you're in luck. Anderson has a knack for making films that are so damn charming and it peaks with his adaptation of Roald Dahl's classic.

Blood Rage
Slasher films manage to hit all the major holidays: Christmas (Black Christmas, Silent Night Deadly Night, Christmas Evil), Valentine's Day (My Blood Valentine), Halloween (duh). Thanksgiving remained a blindspot. With the exception of Eli Roth's Thanksgiving trailer for Grindhouse (the best thing he's done, seriously), there wasn't one to sink our teeth into. Joe Bob Briggs changed that for me when he features Blood Rage on Joe Bob's Drive-In special on Shudder. The Arrow release is chock full of good stuff.

Trey Edward Shults catapulted to the top of "New Directors to Watch" after I saw It Comes At Night. I immediately sought out Krisha. Shults channels Cassavetes for a look at a dysfunctional family drama set during Thanksgiving. The turkey scene set to Nina Simone's Just In Time is unforgettable. Just watch it. You'll know it when it comes.


American Movie
This movie's timeline lasts longer than the fall and into winter; helping it create a catch-all vibe for the end of October thru Thanksgiving and into February. The scene that always reminds me of the season is when Mark and Mike are crammed into Mark's mom's kitchen watching the Super Bowl on a small television set.
A perfect post-Halloween movie. Jesus told me so.

Wonder Boys
The movie that introduced me to my favorite Dylan song: Not Dark Yet. Hanson nails the feeling of the Chabon book in the same way he nailed Ellroy's LA Confidential. Melancholic yet hopeful.

The command of tone by Bennett Miller here is extraordinary. Haunting is a term used to excessive amounts in reviews. This movie actually earns it. Like gliding over glass.
Tatum turns in one of the best performances of the 10's.

The turn from November to December. The leaves falling on the ground. The snow starting to fall. Even though the films is about rebirth, the opening of this movie with the help of Alexandre Desplat's score expertly captures this feeling of moving into winter.

Manchester By the Sea
You Can Count On Me. Margaret. Manchester By the Sea. A perfect 3-0 record if you ask me. Few films portray grief as realistically as this one. It's genuine and lived in.

McCabe and Mrs. Miller
Some artists are so specifically tuned to a season. Nick Drake and Leonard Cohen are staples in the winter season for me. The latter being used liberally throughout this picture. Altman helps us out with some stunning imagery along the way.

Inside Llewyn Davis
Coens tapped Bruno Delbonnel to lense this film. The announcement gave me pause since the Deakins collaboration offered so many sumptuously photographed films. I needn't worry. The soundtrack is an integral part to the season.


The Revenant
The wilderness. Survival. Man's primal instincts. It's no wonder Mann went ga-ga over this.

The Hateful Eight
"I ain't ever going out in that shit...ever, ever again!"
There's an essay I can pen to this movie. Exalting it among QT's best since Pulp Fiction. How it's the closest he has gotten with the horror genre. How it's the ugly, bruised, toothless brother of Django Unchained. For now I'll just say that it's an immediate go-to when the snow is so bad I am unable to go anywhere. Roads are closed. Schools are closed. They draw straws to see who will go outside. And OB loses once again.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

My 24 Horror Film Festival

Here's a scenario: the local theater in your town allows one lucky horror fan to rent it out for 24 hours to program an all day horror film festival. You are that lucky fan.

I recently attended a 24 hour horror-thon and nearly made it all the way through. I've noticed many things about the attendees and the way it was programmed. One being you are bound to have a loud snore from at least person around the 5am mark.

We live in an age of surfing NetFlix for 20 minutes only to find nothing to watch. Buying a ticket to a movie only ends up putting you next to a bunch of obnoxious assholes who try to provide commentary. A film festival eliminates the latter. For the price of $35 to $40, the ticket to the movie-thon with movies you otherwise might have ignored or probably haven't even heard of can be next to films you always wanted to see on the big screen. Without the obnoxious kids.

Given all this, there are a couple of rules to lay down if I were to program such a festival:

1) I'd want to expose as much new horror as I could to genre fans. Like a great record, there has to be some hits (Carpenter, Romero). But even with them, I would want to explore films of theirs that are not as widely recognized as The Thing or Dawn of the Dead. You never know if the occasional theater goer decides to pop in during the middle of it.

2) A variety of subgenres: nature, ghost stories, body horror, zombies, an even throw in an anthology.

Noon- Dead of Night
Previews: Asylum, Tales From the Crypt
Every horror marathon needs an anthology film. Every horror marathon needs a classic. So why not kill two birds with one stone? Dead of Night starts off slow but gains momentum as it goes along. Climaxing in a truly macabre fashion that must have had 1945 audiences screaming.

2 pm- Slugs
Previews: The Nest, Food of the Gods
Small town encounters nature gone horribly wrong. The formula here works. Juan Piquer Simon made two great films in the horror genre- Pieces and this. Both are replete with enough gore to satisfy any horror fan's bloodlust.

4 pm- Society
Previews: From Beyond, Return of the Living Dead 3

"The rich have always sucked off low class shit like you." Brian Yuzna's Society should be more well known. In a just world, it is as popular as Re-Animator and Evil Dead. The ending of this movie ranks up there with The Thing and The Blob as a high point of practical effects.

6 pm- Lake Mungo
Previews: The Blair Witch Project, Savageland
After the high energy of Slugs and Society, this one slows things down for atmosphere and mood. Joel Anderson made one film and then disappeared. The film he made manages to be a terrifying found footage documentary.

Trailers for the Blair Witch Project and Savageland kick things off proper.

8 pm- Prince of Darkness
Previews: Hellraiser, In the Mouth of Madness
Everyone knows Carpenter for The Thing, They Live and Halloween. Prince of Darkness feels like it's not as appreciated as it should be. The second part in his 'apocalypse trilogy'.

10 pm- Santa Sangre
Previews: Beyond the Black Rainbow, Lost Highway
A number of these picks see horror walk hand in hand with surrealism down the aisle. As the night goes on, the movies should have some sort of dreamlike state to them. Santa Sangre kicks things off with phantasmagoric imagery. It's a little bit on the artsy side. But when it flexes its horror cred it's up there with the best of them.

Previews: Demons 2, The Church
Seeing Demons in a theater couldn't be a more appropriate viewing experience. Let alone in the middle of a horror all nighter. A film that is recognized rightfully as a classic and one that will be an initial pull for the average horror fan.

2 am- Messiah of Evil
Previews: Carnival of Souls, Dead and Buried
Best decribed as a fever dream, Messiah of Evil feels like a movie you are hallucinating. One of the few movies that taps into that feeling and the most succesful since Carnival of Souls.

4 am- Burial Ground: Nights of Terror
Previews: Dr. Butcher M.D., City of the Living Dead
There were so many directions I wanted to take for this next pick, but I settled on a movie I would love seeing with an audience: Nights of Terror. The midnight to 4 am slot is best reserved for the Italians. After the delirium of Messiah of Evil, Burial Ground would be the best follow up. It's not quite reality and not quite dream. The unrelenting frenzy of this movie is what is needed at this time of the night.

6 am- Vampyr
Trailers: Nosferatu the Vampyre
At 73 minutes, this is the shortest movie here. Don't let that fool you. For the hardcore stay up all nighters subsisting on extra coffee, this will not dissapoint. Thick with atmosphere, the imagery no doubt had to have had some inspiration on Eraserhead.

7:30 am- The S From Hell
Rodney Ascher is the lone star in the subgenre of 'documentary horror'. A subgenre he helped invent with Room 237 and The Nightmare. Room 237 dealt with theories of The Shining. The Nightmare explored sleep paralysis. The S From Hell takes on a simple concept: the ominous Screen Gems logo.

8 am- Audition
Previews: Ichi the Killer
Kiri kiri kiri kiri.
This one is all about pacing. The feeling of going into a movie cold couldn't be more suited than for Miike's 1999 effort. Taken out of context for this screening, a cruel prank could be pulled on an unsuspecting party into being told it's a romantic movie. When it couldn't be further from the truth.

10 am- Day of the Dead
Previews: Creepshow
Miguel screaming Hello into the is the ultimate zombie wake up call. And the best way to wrap up this all nighter. Considering the audience have just watched Audition, the ending to this movie is one that will have them stumbling out of the theater.

What would your 24 horror-thon look like?

Write yours out in the comments or even respond on your blog. Let's keep Halloween going.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

My Life As A Metalhead + 50 Favorite Metal Albums

"No one goes "I was really into metal...one summer". I've only met the guy who has SLAYER carved across his chest."
         -Rob Zombie

"Heavy metal rules! All that punk shit sucks. It doesn't belong in this world. It belongs on fuckin' Mars man. Madonna can go to hell as far as I'm concerned. She's a dick."

          -Heavy metal fan from the documentary Heavy Metal Parking Lot

I'm not someone that can casually get into something. My reading obsession quells my music and movie obsession and before I know it, I'm pulled back into my music obsession.Cycles of addiction that hurt my wallet. So when I came across Metallica in junior high, I went full in and never looked back. Raised in a conservative and religous household, it's common for someone to want to 'rebel' or want to go against the grain. I never really saw it as an 'f you' to anyone. The music was something I genuinely loved. The 'rebellion' wasn't just some phase I outgrew. I didn't have anyone in my family listening to this type of music. The hardest stuff was The Who. A band I loved, but like so many things I get into, I wanted the top shelf stuff. Can there be something heavier than Pete Townsend smashing his guitar on stage? Turns out there was.

At the time I was way into all things horror. The first thing that grabbed my attention were the cover designs: Iron Maiden's Killers, Celtic Frost's To Mega Therion, Death's Leprosy, Exodus' Bonded By Blood. These were covers straight out of the horror movies I was consuming at the time. Bands I would come to love would sample some of them. They would even don corpsepaint and write concept albums with horror themed stories like King Diamond.

Over time I would find more and more parallels between horror and heavy metal. Both are marginalized by the mainstream. Frowned upon by awards shows. It wasn't until a decade ago, the Grammys started recognizing the genre. Both thrive in the antisocial and embrace the fringe. At horror conventions, Iron Maiden and Slayer shirts are most likely to found. At a metal concert, Captain Spaulding and Exorcist shirts are going to be found. This was the experience with the last concert and convention I went to. The merchandise can't be beaten by any other genre. A Death shirt simply looks a lot cooler than a Breaking Benjamin or Sum 41 shirt.

When you dig deep enough you find out what limits you either have or don't have at all. "Have you seen Cannibal Holocaust?" "Yeah that's cool, but it's got nothing on A Serbian Film" comes from the same two guys who are outdoing each other on how evil their latest black metal discovery is or how brutal the lyrics and album cover to their latest death metal acquisition is. There's this drive to be the most brutal, the most true metalhead out there. It's something you really don't find in any other music genre. Or at least to the extent it is found in the metal community.

The roots of these fringes can be traced back to the environments these bands were formed in. Black Sabbath and Judas Priest started in a steel town in the UK- Birmingham. Ozzy Osbourne would say about his hometown "You gotta remember the time, 1968 was still that flower power. To us that was all bullshit, living in the dreary, dismal, polluted town of Birmingham. We were very angry about it. We thought, let's scare people." It's this industrial landscape that contributed to the product.

The loyalty of metal fans  is something you won't find in many other genres of music. From the metal concerts I've been too, the comeraderie and down to earth attitude I've found in fans is unsurpassed. There's a vibe you get when standing in lines with them. Fans recalling stories of past concerts, showing off band patches on their denim jacket, debating Priest vs. Maiden. I've made great friends because of metal.

Metal fans may have to deal with plenty of stereotypes from people outside their community. They are party animals, they worship satan, they are drug addicts, alchoholics. This is nothing compared to the stuff that different races of people deal with every day. It doesn't hinder you from society. As bad as the "metalhead steretype" is, it could be so much worse. In fact, a number of problems the community has are from itself.

Every art form has its elitists. Go to any snobby cinephile and they will tell you how much Spielberg is a hack. Go to any book snob who considers themselves a 'serious reader' and they will tell you Stephen King is a hack. Art critics? Please. Just try to get them to lavish praise on pop art.

Because metal is such a shunned form of music in mainstream pop culture, it tends to have a bulk of music snobs. This type of elitism that is espoused from veteran metalheads sees them constantly on the defensive anytime something outside of the genre is brought up. Hip hop and country being the two most disdained genres. When it affects your outlook on an individual it's worse. Thinking less of a person who likes a different type of music is elitism in a toxic way.

We live in age where there is so much freedom in exploration of music genres. Limiting oneself to one specific genre is only squandering that freedom. We all have preferences. It is when we explore what we dislike when we become more comfortable about our own preferred types of music.

Luckily, the people I know have no problem jamming to both Opeth and Kendrick Lamar. In fact some of the more interesting stuff in heavy music is happening in genres that are not traditional metal. Lingua Ignota, Daughters, The Body and Full of Hell are taking extreme music and molding it into new and interesting shapes and sounds.

Zappa once said "A mind is like a parachute, it doesn't work if it isn't open." I take this mindset into not just music, but film and books. The world is at your fingertips. Go forth.

Now if you excuse me, I have to get back to Satan worship and smearing goat blood over my body. Here's a list for you to chew on.


In making this list, I discovered several bands. Converge being the biggest. The first draft had multiple albums from multiple bands. Following That Drummer Guy's 350 favorite albums lists lead, I decided to make it interesting. 1 album per band. It pained me to just include one album per band, so under each of the 50 albums, an honorable mention lists other albums I love.

I wanted this list to act as both an introduction for people new to the genre and a personal list of favorites.

Disclaimer: The controversies over Varg Vikernes of Burzum and Mikko Aspa of Deathspell Omega are noted. I try to seperate the art from the artist when listening to my music. I do not endorse any of their views or controversial things they have said.

50. Sleep- Dopesmoker (2003)
Proceeds the weedian Nazareth...

The story of how Dopesmoker was made and received by the band's label is almost as infamous as the song itself.

Originally sent in to their label as Jerusalem, the 52 minute opus is about a bong huffing caravan traveling through the Holy Land. At the time, they were signed to London Records. A label that had no idea what to do with an hour long metal song about weed.

Honorable mention: Holy Mountain (1993), The Sciences (2018)

49. Pig Destroyer- Prowler In the Yard (2001)
A splatter horror movie incarnated as a metal album. J.R. Hayes' darkly poetic lyrics and drummer Brian Harvey's blistering speed wed together to create classic song after song that will leave you winded and repeating "This is beautiful. This is art."

Honorable mention: Terrifyer (2004), Phantom Limb (2007)

48. Baroness- Purple (2015)
When touring for their double album Yellow and Gold in 2012, Baroness had a horrible bus accident so jarring that it caused drummer Allen Blickle and bassist Matt Maggioni to leave and left vocalist John Baizley close to having his arm amputated. Purple would combine their best songwriting of Red and Blue to sharper and concise direction.

Honorable mention: Red (2007), Blue (2009)

47. Leviathan- Scar Sighted (2015)
Albums to play during the month of October. The kind you want to scare the trick or treaters. The marriage of black metal and dark ambient have never been more pronounced than on Jef Whitehead's Leviathan albums. Jef is a one man metal band whose albums focus on creating hellish vibes in his music. As evidenced on Tentacles of Whorror and Massive Conspiracy Against All Life. His last album takes the ugly sound and spreads it around doom metal, death metal and noise. With Whitehead's blood curdling screams gliding all over it.

Honorable mention: Tentacles of Whorror (2004), Massive Conspiracy Against All Life (2008)

46. Celtic Frost- Monotheist (2006)
Doom, gothic, black metal. This is what a comeback album should be. Monotheist has a bit of everything. The tone of this album is crushing bleak darkness. I remember being addicted to it when it came out and disappointed that the band would dissolve after it. Tom G. Warrior would form Triptykon and release two fantastic albums that continue the direction Celtic Frost explored on Monotheist.

To Mega Therion's HR Giger commissioned cover stands as one of my favorite cover designs.

Honorable mention: Morbid Tales (1984), To Mega Therion (1985)
Side projects: Triptykon- Melana Chasmata (2014)

45. Atheist- Unquestionable Presence (1991)

Cynic's Focus and Atheist's Unquestionable Presence showed death metal adding a new sound: jazz. The guitar work of Kelly Schaefer and Rand Burkey add jazz influenced harmonies on top of lyrics dealing with the soul, body and mind. Death metal is often pidgeonholed as a 'blood and guts' genre.

While driving home on their Piece of Time tour in 1990, the band suffered a fatal accident that claimed the life of bassist Roger Patterson. They would record this album with Cynic bassist Tony Choy. Not the way any band wants to create a masterpiece. Yet in a bizarre way, tragedy breeds creativity.

Honorable mention: Piece of Time (1990), Elements (1993)

44. Kreator- Pleasure to Kill (1986)
The Metallica of German thrash metal. Millie Petrozza's vocal style was a major influence on several metal bands in Europe. With the exception of Reign In Blood, released in the same year, Pleasure to Kill stands as a beacon of brutality and dares anyone to cross its path without having neck pains. And it was just their 2nd album!

Honorable mention: Extreme Aggression (1989), Phantom Antichrist (2012)

43. Isis- Panopticon (2004)
This band is probably kicking themselves for their chosen band name in light of the past few years.

Oceanic took the post-metal the Neurosis created with their albums in the 90's and allowed the light to shine through the sludge. It's not as raw as early Melvins or Eyehategod. It needn't be. Isis ran the other direction and in the process created some of the more beautiful sounding metal of the 00's.

Honorable mention: Oceanic (2002), Wavering Radiant (2009)

42. Carcass- Heartwork (1993)
Kicked the doors down for melodic death metal. Combining the brutality of death metal and the melodies of New Wave of British Heavy Metal. Carcass started out as a grindcore band. Impenetrable. It wasn't until Heartwork where they distinguished themselves as not just a band comfortable with staying in one sub genre.

Honorable mention: Necrotism- Descanting the Insalubrious (1991), Surgical Steel (2013)

41. Deathspell Omega- Fas- Ite, Maledicti, in Ignem Aeternum (2007)
Deathspell Omega took what bands like Emperor, Mayhem, Darkthrone and Burzum were doing and went more avant garde. Nothing is phoned in on any of the albums. At least everything after Si Momentum.

There are barely any interviews from band members. Albums just drop on a release date. That's it. The music speaks for itself. With Si Monumentum, they began a trilogy that would continue with Fas and conclude with Paracletus. Each album being more chaotic and sinister than the next. Monumentum picked up the baton from Burzum for atmospheric black metal. The amount of variation on each of these albums makes for immense replay value. For their second album in the trilogy, they would stretch the genre further. More experimental. Pracletus would finally take a more streamlined approach.

Don't count their EPs out either. Kenose and Drought pack just a big a punch as their full lengths.

Honorable mention: Si Monumentum, Circumspice (2004), Kenose (2005), Paracletus (2010)

40. White Zombie- Astro Creep 2000 (1995)
His solo stuff is where I first heard him. I was deep into my PlayStation obsession. Twisted Metal in particular. It was the third and fourth installments of this series that I discovered Meet the Creeper and Dragula. This was a man belching lyrics that matched my love of horror. The Living Dead Girl music video had a Cabinet of Dr. Caligari vibe to it. The use of sample from horror films like Night of the Living Dead and Faster Pussycat Kill Kill made this band that missing link between the grindhouse and the groove metal of the 90's.

Honorable mention: La Sexorcisto: Devil Music Vol. 1 (1992)

39. Nile- Annihilation of the Wicked (2005)
Egyptian mythology meets death metal. The eastern tinged sound always interested me and whenever a band was able to incorporate it into their sound it becomes a band I seek out. Metallica's Wherever I May Roam being the earliest example I heard. Nile took that sound and blanketed not just their sound in it, but their lyrics. Egyptian mythology and mummies are things that fascinate me so to have a death metal band zero in on that makes it all the more mesmerizing.

Honorable mention: In Their Darkened Shrines (2002)

38. Cynic- Focus (1993)
Put down any instrument you have in your hand and take up another hobby. Death metal was never a genre that concerned itself with zeroing in on a single idea. Atheist can attest to that. So can Cynic. By adding jazz to their sound, they were able to influence several bands not just in the metal field but in music in general.

Honorable mention: Traced In Air (2008)

37. Testament- The Legacy (1987)
When thrash comes up, the Big 4 are always talked about: Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer and Anthrax. There's a debate on who the 5th band would be: Testament, Exodus, or Overkill. If based off on their first album, Exodus gets the deserved mention. Overkill's Years of Decay and Horrorscope show them as one of the more underrated thrash bands. Yet neither band has had the consistency of career highs than Testament. What seperates them from the other four is their ability to being thrash to a new level with Alex Skolnick's virtuosity and Chuck Billy's vocal delivery.

For my money, Testament were always the 5th of the 5 most important bands in thrash with albums that can stand toe to toe with any of the ones from the aforementioned big 4.

Honorable mention: The New Order (1988), Low (1994), The Formation of Damnation (2008)

36. Sepultura- Arise (1991)
Their first album Beneath the Remains is a delicious mix of thrash and death metal. By the time the band got into Arise, the band became a full on thrash band. Chaos AD took things to a more modern degree. Max Cavalera's guitarwork. His brother Igor's insane drumming ability. Then Roots happened. Those first three albums should be a part of any metal fan's collection.

Honorable mention: Beneath the Remains (1989), Chaos AD (1993)

35. Arcturus- La Masquerade Infernale (1997)
A heavy metal circus. That is the closest I can get to describing this album. When you take Kristoffer Rygg (Ulver) and Hellhammer (Mayhem) and put them together in a band, you get magic. The hybrid of metal, synthesizer-led electronica, and progressive would carry over into Ulver's Marriage of Heaven and Hell.

Honorable mention: The Sham Mirrors (2002), Arcturian (2015)

34. Voivod- Dimension Hattross (1988)
Dave Grohl recalls going to see them on the Killing Technology tour and seeing kids with Kreator and Motorhead shirts. But there were also punks. And musos who "sat in the their basement all day listening to that Yngwie shit." They weren't interested into conforming to any genre or subgenre.

Honorable mention: Killing Technology (1987), Nothingface (1989), The Wake (2018)

33. Between the Buried and Me- Colors (2007)
Adult Contemporary Progressive Death Metal. At least that's how the band decribes this. After so much progressive metal out there trying to sound like the second coming of Dream Theater or Queensryche or Fates Warning, BTBAM shifted their sound toward a more metalcore meets prog meets death metal variety. There is an almost carnivalesque atmosphere to the way they shift genres.

Just look at a picture of these guys and compare it to a group photo of Cannibal Corpse. These are the guys that get beat up by those guys on their way to Advanced Music 201.

Honorable mention: Alaska (2005), The Great Misdirect (2009), The Parallax II: The Future Sequence (2012)

32. Mercyful Fate- Don't Break the Oath (1984)
Pure evil. The by now classic album and cover conjure up those two words. A band I found through Metallica's Garage Inc. The bands that were influenced by them run the gauntlet from prog, thrash, death, black metal, even punk. Where many metal bands merely hinted at the occult, Mercyful Fate dropped us full into it. It was also my introduction to King Diamond. His falsetto vocal style causes people to either love him or hate him. I never had a problem. His performance on the song The Oath might be my favorite from him.

Honorable mention: Melissa (1983)

31. Converge- Jane Doe (2001)
I was put off by getting into these guys for the genre they belong to: metalcore. In the same way nu metal tainted the metal scene of the 90's, metalcore seemed to have taken over the 00's. The problem being- most of the bands that resulted weren't half as interesting as Converge. Jacob Bannon's screams soaring over the intense drumwork of Ben Koller hits a peak on their album Jane Doe. None of this would have been possible without Matthew Ellard and Kurt Ballou's production. They created a sound that is still unmatched in the metalcore scene to this day.

Honorable mention: Axe to Fall (2009), All We Love We Leave Behind (2012), The Dusk In Us (2017)

30. Entombed- Left Hand Path (1990)
The death metal scene that has sprouted out of Florida had just started learning to walk. Along comes Swedish death metal band Entomed with their impossibly thick guitars, guttural vocals and gore- drenched lyrics.

Honorable mention: Clandestine (1991), Wolverine Blues (1993)

29. Meshuggah- Chaosphere (1998)
Curb stomps you into a bloody pulp and plays foosball with your shattered teeth. What blew me away about this band when I first heard them was their ability to take technical complex songwriting and wrap it in barbed wire brutality. Time signatures are constantly changing. Riffs are so surgically precise they can cut. The album Chaosphere is an album that is dependant on mood. I have to be in a certain mindset to listen to it.

Catch 33 is definitely the runner up. Much more atmosphere and if you can believe it, more sinister.

Honorable mention: Destroy Erase Improve (1995), I (2003), Catch 33 (2005)
Side projects: Frederik Thorndal's Special Defects- Sol Niger Within (1999)

28. Boris- Pink (2005)
Expect the unexpected. That's all you need to know when you listen to an album from this band. Boris is a Japan based outfit that have dabbled in drone, doom, sludge, shoegaze and hardcore punk. They defy classification. If I were to draw a parallel with film, they remind me of Takashi Miike. You never know what you are going to get when you listen to one of their albums. It is this command of creativity that allows an album like Pink to stand out so well. It's a bit of everything. Go for the vinyl version if you can.

Honorable mention: Heavy Rocks (2002), Akuma no Uta (2003), at Last -Feedbacker- (2003), Altar (2006 w/ Sunn O))))

27. Godflesh- Streetcleaner (1989)
Anthony Fantano describes this album as "an apocalyptic aggressive beatdown that will not let up."
Justin Broderick helped create the grindcore genre with Napalm Death's debut Scum. That didn't stop him from moving. After exiting the band he would ignite a whole new genre: industrial metal. The nihilism, programmed drums and howls of pain permeate the record.

Honorable mention: Pure (1992), A World Lit By Fire (2013)

26. Mastodon- Crack the Skye (2009)
With their 4th album, Mastodon took their sludge metal influence on Remission and Leviathan and incorporate progressive metal into their sound. What I loved when I started following this band was how each of their first four album represented - sonically and lyrically- one of the elements: Remission (Fire), Leviathan (Water), Blood Mountain (Earth) and Crack the Skye (Air).

Honorable mention: Leviathan (2004), The Hunter (2011)

25. Napalm Death- Scum (1987)
An album where Side A and Side B were recorded by two different lineups of the band yet still coheres. With 28 tracks in 33 minutes, Napalm Death pummel the listener. The album is not just wading into gore filled waters. It's actually reacting to a lot of political ideas. It sounds disgusting and muddied. Which is exactly what I'm looking for when I dive into a grindcore record.

Hardcore punk bands like Discharge, Minor Threat and DRI were the pool that many a thrash band took from to create the thrash sound. What Napalm Death was take the nasty 1 minute punch to the jaw, maintain the punk ethos and help define a whole new genre- grindcore. Look at any death metal band group photo from the early 90s and you will spot a member sporting a Napalm Death shirt.

Honorable mention: From Enslavement to Obliteration (1988), Harmony Corruption (1991), Apex Predator- Easy Meat (2015)

24. Sunn O)))- Monoliths and Dimensions (2009)
Evil is a sound metal bands have been chasing ever since the first chord of Black Sabbath. This band truly embodies that sound. Sunn's music always struck me as stretching metal to it's absolute breaking point. How far can you take it? So many death and black metal bands answer this question with more brutality or more riffs. Sunn flattens the space and relies more on mood and texture.

Honorable mention: White One (2003), White2 (2004), Black One (2005), Altar (2006 w/ Boris), Soused (2016 w/ Scott Walker)

23. The Melvins- Houdini (1993)
The riffs of Buzz Osborne and the pounding drums of Dale Crover are what drive this machine known as The Melvins. A punk energy gliudes over the song but is grounded by the down tuned guitars. Hooch, Honey Bucket and Night Goat are all classics by now and are the standard bearer to which to listen to if you want to know what The Melvins are. The album is known for half of it's songs being produced by Kurt Cobain. Buzz and Cobain go all the way back to high school. Where they were making music before either of them broke out. For what it's worth, this album is my favorite thing Cobain's been involved in.

Honorable mention: Bullhead (1991), Lysol (1992), Stoner Witch (1994)

22. Burzum- Filosofem (1996)
Varg Vikernes used the worst possible equipment to record this album. The intentional raw feel of the production is what makes this album so sacred. A lot of black metal purists swear by this one. While it's sound is not as interesting as what Emperor or early Ulver were doing, it still remains one of the creepier albums released in the genre. 

21. Cryptopsy- None So Vile (1996)
That album cover. THAT album cover.

Cryptopsy is one of the more technical death bands in the genre. Lord Worm's beastly vocals, Jon Levasseur's tremolo picking patterns, Flo Mournier's unfathomably fast drums and Eric Langlois bass all create a stellar performance. Just listen to Slit Your Guts or the opener Crown of Horns. Each of the eight tracks are beautifully chaotic. With production to match it. If you are looking for death metal's answer to Reign In Blood, look no further.

Honorable mention: Once Was Not (2005)

20. King Diamond- Abigail (1987)
Formed after Mercyful Fate, King Diamond's first four albums have a special place in my heart as some of the first concept albums I listened to that were not related to the prog rock scene. Instead of metaphorical walls built up around a character or someone named Rael who goes on an odyssey through the underworld, King Diamond's albums were horror themed. Abigail's story is centered around a couple who move into a mansion. They are visited by the ghost of a deceased relative who shows them the coffin of a stillborn child Abigail. The ghost tells the women she is carrying the spirit of Abigail and that the man must killer her to prevent Abigail's rebirth. Now tell me that isn't one of the most horrifying plots and then add the instrumental wizardry and King's vocals on top of that.

His falsetto is a make or break with most people. I never minded it.

Honorable mention: "Them" (1988), Conspiracy (1989)

19. Ozzy Osbourne- Blizzard of Ozz (1980)
All of Randy Rhoads' playing was recorded before he was 25 years old. Wunderkinds like him always make me feel like I am doing nothing with my life. Randy was a guitarist who came along once ever 30 or so years. What we lost with his death makes what he did give us with these two albums all the more resonant.
Both Diary of A Madman and Blizzard were eggregiously re-recorded with Robert Daisley's bass and Lee Kerslake's drum tracks replaced. So the original tracks of both of these albums are the ones to seek out. Diary of A Madman is my favorite song from Ozzy/Rhodes, but the Blizzard gets the edge as an album.

Honorable mention: Diary of A Madman (1981)

18. Neurosis- Through Silver In Blood (1996)
Sludge metal's best band and the album that stands atop the mountain. It's hard to overstate how pivotal this band is to the subgenre. Imagine combining Black Sabbath with early Swans (think Filth/Cop era) and the hardcore of Black Flag. The veins of Neurosis wormed their way into Mastodon, Kylesa, Baroness, and Torche. Even Tool can be accounted for.

Neurosis started out as a hardcore band and have been evolving ever since. The beauty of the band's fifth album lay in its effort to take the sludge sound they mastered on albums like Souls At Zero and Enemy of the Sun and explode it into new musical ventures. The tribal percussion of the opening track, the various ambient soundscapes, even bagpipes allow the band to explore its expansive musical playground. From this album on out, each Neurosis album is an immersive experience.

A strong contender for 2nd place is the Steve Albini produced Times of Grace.

Honorable mention: Souls At Zero (1992), Enemy of the Sun (1993), Times of Grace (1999), A Sun That Never Sets (2001), Given to the Rising (2007)

17. Dream Theater- Awake (1994)
Guy meets girl. Guy falls in love. Girl keeps having the same 12 minute conversation with no variation.

There was a time where if you told me to make a top ten list of my favorite albums, Scenes From A Memory would be in the top 3. I got into Dream Theater at the ripe time when I discovered Rush. A band that became the first to explore an idea entirely new to me: what if you take the hard rock of Zeppelin and The Who and combine it with the progressive rock of Genesis and Yes. All bands I was high on. I would never think combining Metallica and Rush to take it even further. That was of course until I heard of Dream Theater.

The musicianship was on a whole other level. I immediately was drawn to the drumming of Mike Portnoy. I'd buy all of the band's albums and even invested in the band member's side projects like Liquid Tension Experiment. My falling out of love with the band was for the best as far as how I would approach new music from then on. The number of riffs, drum fills, how long a song is shouldn't dictate how progressive a band is. It should be the way they approach a composition. But that's a whole other topic for another time. I still have a strong connection with their 90's and early 00's output.

Honorable mention: Images and Words (1992), Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes From A Memory (1999), Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence (2002)

16. Morbid Angel- Altars of Madness (1989)
How do you make something fast and brutal sound clean? Morrisound Studios and producer Scott Burns solved that problem. The studio was the home of Death, Obituary and this band. Morbid Angel mastermind Trey Azagthoth took death metal to a new, technical level with this debut. Incorporating material culled from The Necronomicon by HP Lovecraft.

Honorable mention: Blessed Are the Sick (1991), Covenant (1993)

15. Anthrax- Among the Living (1987)
Belladonna or Bush? A coin flip that will offer at least two great albums on each side.

Out of the big 4 in thrash, no band quite captures the energy of the scene like Anthrax. You go to Metallica for their songwriting, Megadeth for their musicianship, Slayer for their unrelenting brutality. Anthrax seemed like they were having the most fun out of them all. That kineticism is captured especially on their first three albums. Their third album, Among the Living, contained songs about John Belushi, Indians and Judge Dredd. Stephen King was known to play them out the window to scare the neighbors.

Honorable mention: Persistence of Time (1990), Sound of White Noise (1993), Worship Music (2011)

14. Pantera- Vulgar Display of Power (1992)
Many people from the generation before me remember where they were Dec. 8 1980 when Lennon was shot. I remember where I was when I heard Dimebag Darrell Abbott was shot on stage. It was a Tech class in high school.

The music of Pantera immediately conjures up images of whiskey, steel, Dime's riffs, Phil Anselmo's concrete sludge sounding vocals, and Vinnie Paul's groove. They came around at a time when metal was frowned upon. Nirvana, Soundgarden and Pearl Jam exploded. These were guys that took what the thrash metal scene was doing and added more groove to it.

Honorable mention: Cowboys From Hell (1990), Far Beyond Driven (1994), The Great Southern Trendkill (1996)

13. Megadeth- Rust In Peace (1990)
Rust In Peace saw Megadeth's expand their scope in terms of arrangements. Marty Friedman joined the lineup on guitar and Nick Menza on drums. A band that already has Dave Elefson on bass. It was a record born out pure passion of playing together and it shows. Every breakdown, every bass or drum fill is on point and contributes to the whole. Before I heard Rust In Peace, I had an internal debate. Who is better: Hetfield or Mustaine. After I heard RIP, the answer was simple: Mustaine.

"The warheads will all rust in peace."

Honorable mention: Peace Sells...But Who's Buying? (1986), So Far So Good So What (1988), Countdown to Extinction (1992)

12. Agalloch- The Mantle (2002)
Agalloch dissolved in May 2016 leaving behind some of the best albums in any genre. But if I had to pick one, The Mantle is their opus. Imagine a black metal band combining folk and post rock and you get an idea of the dexterity of their range.

Building off of their debut Pale Folklore, Agalloch expanded their music toolbox. More Melancholy. More Atmosphere. Wind, snow and trees are sounds you associate with the album just as much as the music itself.

It's an album made for being snowbound.

Honorable mention: Ashes Against the Grain (2006), The White (2008), Marrow of the Spirit (2010)

11. Electric Wizard- Dopethrone (2000)
"Most of us were stuck in some drug addiction or alcoholism at the time, and it was just pure hate. It was us against the world, and we just wanted to make the most disgusting, foul, putrid record that anyone has ever recorded. We camped out at the studio, so it was literally just wake up, consume as much fucking drugs as possible, and then just start jamming."  -Jus Osborn, vocalist for Electric Wizard

If metal embodies a type of attitude, this album and band leaves most others in the weed choked dust. Dopethrone is the album I would point anyone toward who wants to know what Stoner Metal is.

Honorable mention: Come My Fanatics (1997), Witchcult Today (2007)

10. Ulver- Bergtatt (1995)
Anytime a modern band calls themselves progressive, I immediately use this band and King Crimson as the measuring stick. Ulver is a band that started strong right out of the gate with Bergtatt, a black metal album that emphasized atmosphere and mood. After their third album, they would shift gears into electronic territory with The Marriage of Heaven and Hell and Perdition City, go more experimental with Blood Inside, turn more ambient with Shadows of the Sun and play around with classical, chamber music, 60's psychadelic rock covers and many other genres. The wolves continue to evolve.

Honorable mention (metal): Nattens madrigal (1997)
Non metal albums: The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (1998), Perdition City (2000), Blood Inside (2005), Shadows of the Sun (2007), ATGCLVLSSCAP (2016), The Assassination of Julius Caesar (2017)

9. Tool- Lateralus (2001)

Tool first grabbed my attention with Aenima. An album where Tool kicked off the formula it would more or less use from everything onward. The time changes, weird subject matter, interludes that range from German speak for "Balls of Satan" to a tape of a disgruntled man wishing cancer upon someone's family to aural fuckery. Tool helped introduce progressive rock to the mainstream with Lateralus and 10,000 Days. 10- 15 minute epics and multipart suites laced with the DNA of King Crimson.

It would be Lateralus where Tool would perfect that equation. It took everything they proved on Aenima but pushed it even further. There's not an ounce of filler on here. Even the small interludes act more as periods of rest that help the coherence of the album rather than hinder it.

Honorable mention: Aenima (1996)

8. Iron Maiden- Powerslave (1984)
The liner notes for Metallica's Garage Inc. would be the map for my foray into the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. Saxon, Diamond Head, Judas Priest. And Iron Maiden. What made Iron Maiden stand out from the rest of the pack was their mascot Eddie. Adorned on their album covers either with a bloody hatchet, dressed as a patient in an asylum, or even an Egyptian phraoah.

Honorable mention: Killers (1981), The Number of the Beast (1982), Piece of Mind (1983), Somewhere In Time (1986), Seventh Son of Seventh Son (1988)

7. Emperor- Anthems to the Welkin At Dusk (1997)
Black metal will forever have the stigma of burning churches and Satanic worship attached to it. The first time I ever was aware of the genre was through a VH1 doc about the most extreme moments in metal. Mayhem and the suicide of band member Dead was brought up.

Emperor and the song Loss and Curse of Reverence exposed me to new sonic terrirory. The lyrical misanthropy, frosty guitar effect, blast beat drumming. From Alsvatr (The Oath) onward, Emperor prove they have advanced on their second full length. Conjuring up nightmarish riffs and motifs. Written by guitarist Samoth as he traded ideas and riffs with Ishsahn while in jail, the band had Eirik "Pytten" Hundvin produce it. The result was an album equally as ambitious as their debut and just as complex.

Honorable mention: In the Nightside Eclipse (1994)
Side projects: Ihsahn- After (2010)

6. Dissection- Storm of the Light's Bane (1995)
What if you mixed black metal with death metal?
Dissection proves the rule that this subgenre of music belongs to the winter season. Even the album cover suggests it does.

Honorable mention: The Somberlain (1993)

5. Opeth- Blackwater Park (2001)
or me, genre exploration is a set of barriers you are always breaking through. Opeth was one of the first bands I found that used the 'growl'. At the time they had just dropped Ghost Reveries, an album that combines the beauty of Damnation and brutality of Deliverance and throws in a mellotron for good measure. The band would become more and more ensconced in progressive rock.

Honorable mention: Morningrise (1996), Still Life (1999), Ghost Reveries (2005), Watershed (2008)

4. Slayer- Reign In Blood (1986)

In the 80's, hair metal was the thing. Motley Crue, Poison, WASP, Whitesnake. The most extreme stuff out there was Mercyful Fate, Venom and Motorhead.

After their Metal Blade years that produced Show No Mercy and Hell Awaits, Def Jam would sign them in 1985. The same label of Johnny Cash, Danzig and the Beastie Boys. The challenge producer Rick Rubin gave Slayer was them not being focused enough on their prior record. The challenge was to capture the raw essence of what they represented and condense it. Reign In Blood was the result.

They never got faster than this record. Thrash never got faster than this record. Two album released the same year came close: Kreator's Pleasure to Kill and Dark Angel's Darkness Descends.

Anytime I throw on Reign In Blood I have to listen to it in full. It's not even 30 minutes. South of Heaven, Hell Awaits and Seasons are the ones for the car stereo or just throwing on a song. Reign In Blood is, like the best albums, an experience.

Honorable mention: Hell Awaits (1985), South of Heaven (1988), Seasons In the Abyss (1990)

3. Black Sabbath- Master of Reality (1971)

The albums that kick started this whole genre. In the 70s, there were artists who had streaks of great albums: Elton John, David Bowie, Led Zeppelin, Genesis. Sabbath's run from 1970 to 1975 can go up against any of them.

Henry Rollins describes his first time listening to Sabbath as him finally finding the soundtrack to his life. It's outsider music.

Picking a favorite Sabbath album is incredibly difficult. When pressed, it's a toss up between Vol. 4 and Master of Reality. The former having my favorite Sabbath song on it- Changes. Master of Reality gets it by a narrow margin.

Honorable mention: Black Sabbath (1970), Paranoid (1971), Vol. 4 (1972), Sabbath Bloody Sabbath (1973), Sabotage (1975), Heaven and Hell (1980)

2. Metallica- Master of Puppets (1986)
The band that started it all for me. A gateway drug for me and countless other people. I was in middle school when I first heard about the band. Living in a conservative Christian house, metal wasn't really coming to me. I had to run towards it. Oddly enough a burned CD from someone at youth group became my first exposure. The album was Master of Puppets. I had to consume everything the band put out and I slowly worked my way through their catalog and do just that.

The Black Album is when Bob Rock entered the picture. It's a marked shift in their direction from thrash band to out and out metal/ hard rock band. The songwriting chops are still there. My Friend of Misery and The God That Failed being particular standouts. Load and ReLoad followed. This is when the experimented with blues, country. It's laid back for sure. You could easily make a whole album out of the strongest material on both and still have it not be as comparably good to their older stuff. Garage Inc. was something I fell in love with for having so many good tunes from these bands I never even heard of: Budgie, Killing Joke, The Misfits, Nick Cave, Diamond Head.

S and M saw them perform with an orchestra and the documentary Some Kind of Monster exposed the demons that James Hetfield and company have wrestled with.

A number of moments from my high school days have been soundtracked to Metallica.

Honorable mention: Kill 'Em All (1983), Ride the Lightning (1984), And Justice For All (1988), The Black Album (1991)

1. Death- Symbolic (1995)

Before this band, death metal to me was the scene in Pet Detective when Jim Carrey guesy vocals with Cannibal Corpse. I'm sure that movie exposed multiple people to the subgenre. I just couldn't take it seriously. The gutteral growls were too much. I didn't have any exposure to anything beyond that scene.

Shortly after getting into Dream Theater, I would become a member of the Mike Portnoy forum. A place where I have found countless bands from both prog rock and metal. The band that kept popping up was Death. So I decided to listen to Symbolic and The Sound of Perseverance.

The intricate guitar parts, the lyrics that didn't solely rely on butchering people and eating their intestines. I was wrong. Even the gutteral vocals became a thing I would be accustomed to.

Like any band I fall in love with, I go through the phase of listening to all their other stuff, finding out what albums I like. What albums I don't like. I worked my way backwards with Death. Individual Thought Patterns and Human were next. Followed by Spiritual Healing, Leprosy (my favorite of their earlier work) and Screamy Bloody Gore. What struck me was that all of these albums were at least really good. Many of them great. There are bands with deeper legacies than Death that have put out consistently great output but have eventually faltered at some point. Black Sabbath post Sabotage. Metallica post Black Album. A reason for this could or could not be attributed to the untimely passing of creative mastermind Chuck Schuldiner due to cancer.

We'll never know what could have come next after The Sound of Perseverance. The two albums Chuck did through Control Denied signal some sort of blueprint. But to know that we will never have another Death is to know how much good music we are missing out on. 

Honorable mention: Scream Bloody Gore (1987), Leprosy (1988), Spiritual Healing (1990), Human (1991), Individual Thought Patterns (1993), The Sound of Perseverance (1998) (yes. every. single. album.)

Honorable mention:
Rainbow- Rising (1976)
Judas Priest- Stained Class (1978)
Motorhead- Overkill (1979)
Angel Witch- Angel Witch (1980)
Venom- Welcome to Hell (1981)
Trouble- Psalm 9 (1984)
Exodus- Bonded By Blood (1985)
Pentagram- Relentless (1985)
Possessed- Seven Churches (1985)
S.O.D.- Speak English Or Die! (1985)
Dark Angel- Darkness Descends (1986)
Carnivore- Retaliation (1987)
Bathory- Blood Fire Death (1988)
Queensryche- Operation: Mindcrime (1988)
Overkill- The Years of Decay (1989)
Pestilence- Consuming Impulse (1989)
Watchtower- Control and Resistance (1989)
Obituary- Cause of Death (1990)
Paradise Lost- Gothic (1990)
Autopsy- Mental Funeral (1991)
Corrosion of Conformity- Blind (1991)
Dismember- Like An Ever Flowing Stream (1991)
My Dying Bride- Turn Loose the Swans (1993)
Acid Bath- When the Kite String Pops (1994)
Cannibal Corpse- The Bleeding (1994)
Mayhem- De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas (1994)
At the Gates- Slaughter of the Soul (1995)
Down- NOLA (1995)
Edge of Sanity- Crimson (1995)
Vader- De Profundis (1995)
Ved Buens Ende- Written In Waters (1995)
Eyehategod- Dopesick (1996)
Satyricon- Nemesis Divina (1996)
Type O Negative- October Rust (1996)
Gorguts- Obscura (1997)
Strapping Yound Lad- City (1997)
Dillinger Escape Plan- Calculating Infinity (1999)
Sigh- Imaginary Sonicscape (2001)
System of A Down- Toxicity (2001)
Reverend Bizarre- In the Rectory of the Bizarre Reverend (2002)
Bloodbath- Nightmares Made Flesh (2004)
Jesu- Jesu (2004)
Lamb of God- Ashes of the Wake (2004)
Gojira- From Mars to Sirius (2005)
Machine Head- The Blackening (2007)
Enslaved- Vertabrae (2008)
Torche- Meanderthal (2008)
Nails- Unsilent Death (2010)
Shining- Blackjazz (2010)
Behemoth- The Satanist (2014)
Panopticon- Roads to the North (2014)
Ghost- Meliora (2015)
The Body and Full of Hell- One Day You Will Ache Like I Ache (2016)
Vektor- Terminal Redux (2016)