The Greatest Heavy Metal Album Debuts of All Time


Promo image of the band Black Sabbath with a black background

Black Sabbath – Author Anne Erickson, Photo via Vertigo/Republic Records/Universal

Some bands don’t really get on the radar until later in their careers, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But, other bands start out hot. Heavy metal, especially, has some great album debuts from bands that went on to become the greatest in the genre. So, what are the best heavy metal album debuts of all time?

What was the first heavy metal album ever?

Of course, nobody can 100% agree on what was the first heavy metal album. But, many believe it was Black Sabbath with their groundbreaking 1970 debut. Before then, some bands, such as Led Zeppelin, released music that could be considered metal, but “Black Sabbath” has all the musical makings of the first official heavy metal record.

What was the best year for metal music?

This is diverging from the topic a little, but when making this list, I noticed that a whopping four albums out of 10 all came from 1983. That’s 13 years after Black Sabbath’s debut. But, the year 1983 was really a defining moment for the genre. I’d have to say that 1983 was the best year for heavy metal, at least for classic metal and thrash. As a radio host, some of my favorite music to play is this classic heavy metal, because it shows the roots of the genre.

Best Heavy Metal Album Debuts of All Time

10. Mastodon, “Remission”

Mastodon came on the scene later than many of the bands on this list, but they were just as influential in their niche of progressive metal, hardcore and grindcore. The Atlanta, Georgia, group released their debut album, “Remission,” in 2002. “Remission” made a statement, with huge, glorious riffing and dark, murky tones. “March of the Fire Ants” was an instant metal classic off the set.

9. Motorhead, “Motorhead”

Motorhead teeters between hard rock and heavy metal, but we’re going with metal for the sake of this list. Lemmy Kilmister brought together heavy metal with blues like nobody before him, and he spitted it out in the band’s famed 1977 debut. This album is super rough-sounding and lo-fi, but that’s the point. Don’t be afraid to get dirty when you’re making metal music.

8. Anthrax, “Fistful of Metal”

Anthrax released “Fistful of Metal” in 1984, just one year after bands such as Metallica and Slayer dropped their first sets. While most fans call “Among the Living” the defining Anthrax record, that’s no reason to discredit “Fistful of Metal.” You’ve got plenty of speed and excitement on here, with sharp riffing and huge hooks. It set the stage for lots of Anthrax goodness to follow.

7. Megadeth, “Killing Is My Business… And Business Is Good!”

Who says heavy metal doesn’t have drama? After famously parting ways with Metallica, guitarist Dave Mustaine formed his own band to front, Megadeth. In 1985, he released the band’s debut album, “Killing Is My Business… And Business Is Good!” and it’s one of the most lauded heavy metal albums of all time. More than anything, Mustaine shows off his ridiculous guitar chops and technical skills on here, and that would be a theme for the rest of Megadeth’s career, even now.

6. Ozzy Osbourne, “Blizzard of Ozz”

Following Black Sabbath, Ozzy Osbourne went on to do his own, solo thing. He started out strong, with an aggressive, powerful solo debut in 1980’s “Blizzard of Ozz.” This album is choc full of metal classics, from “Crazy Train” to “Mr. Crowley.” What’s more, the B-sides and rarities are fantastic, too.

5. Iron Maiden, “Iron Maiden”

Iron Maiden came on the scene in the 1970s, but they finally unleashed their self-titled debut album in 1980. From day one, it was obvious these guys were special. Iron Maiden glowingly brought together operatic lead vocals with pummeling drumming, mesmerizing guitar harmonies and a punk attitude. If you don’t love this album, then you aren’t really a metalhead. Sorry.

4. Dio, “Holy Diver”

“Holy Diver” arrived in 1983, and it made a statement. Many metal fans believe this is one of the greatest metal albums of all time, and I agree. Ronnie James Dio and company pulled off a heartfelt, powerful, massive collection of songs on “Holy Diver.” It’s packed with metal anthems that bring together Dio’s grandiose vocals with the heavy instrumentals of guitarist Vivian Campbell and bass player Jimmy Bain.

3. Slayer, “Show No Mercy”

Here’s another gem from 1983. Slayer’s debut album put them on the map as one of the biggest and most influential bands in the then-budding thrash subgenre. But, “Show No Mercy” is so much more than that. This album is an experiment in extreme metal that went very right. It’s not hyperbole to say that “Show Now Mercy” changed the metal movement.

2. Metallica, “Kill ‘Em All”

Some metalheads consider this the best Metallica album of all time. I’m partial to “Ride the Lightning,” but it’s hard to argue against 1983’s “Kill ‘Em All” when it comes to the album’s importance in the metal, and especially thrash, genre. What a debut album. This album showed the world what real, powerful thrash metal music could sound like. It’s packed with great songs and longstanding metal anthems. My pick is “Seek and Destroy.”

1. Black Sabbath, “Black Sabbath”

Are you surprised? Because you shouldn’t be even slightly surprised. As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, 1970’s “Black Sabbath” is really considered the definitive, first album of heavy metal music. With it, Black Sabbath took the sounds of Led Zeppelin, Blue Cheer and Deep Purple and made those sounds darker, heavier and murkier. The result is simply the best heavy metal album debut of all time.

On the subject of metal, there’s something special about a fantastic heavy metal riff. Check out our list of the best heavy metal riffs of all time here. Also, find our list of the best metal albums of all time here.

Anne Erickson
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Posted by Anne Erickson | Features, Metal, Music