It’s never too late to get in on a genre of music, even if it’s well past its heyday. Where heavy metal is concerned, some would argue that’s not even the situation. These bands may not be regularly selling out stadium venues anymore, but they’re still active, they play to their own culture of sorts, and there are always metal tours and new albums being put out. If you like rock, you enjoy losing yourself in the music, and you still appreciate a good old-fashioned instrument-based band in an era full of electronic sounds and altered vocals, it might just be worth your while to give metal a shot.
On a day-to-day basis, that means finding modern metal groups to follow, and hopefully see in concert (because nothing quite beats a legitimate metal group at a live venue). Khemmis, Ghost, and Mastodon are some names to look out for. But if you really want to start from the beginning and embrace metal, it can’t hurt to go back to the classics either.
There’s nothing scientific behind this selection, but these would be some of my picks for a quick, thorough, and high-octane introduction and education in the metal genre.
As far as a lot of fans and students of the genre are concerned, Led Zeppelin invented heavy metal, with some help from contemporaries like Black Sabbath and Deep Purple (both of which are also groups worth a listen if you want to dive in a little deeper). So, while Zeppelin doesn’t typically get quite as hard as some other groups since, it’s still a band that is essentially required listening for any legitimate fan of the genre. The group started in the late ‘60s and was actually only active for a little over a decade. However, while its reign was short, Led Zeppelin left an incredible legacy, with multiple hit albums and influence spread over groups ranging from Aerosmith, to Pearl Jam, to Kesha. Just about everyone who loves music at least appreciates Led Zeppelin, and most love them. And, while they’re well past their day in the spotlight, the band is still active in its own way; Led Zeppelin has released remastered and mixed material in the last two years.
Judas Priest is from the same era as Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath, but didn’t hit quite as quickly. For this reason there’s a perceived influence when really, Judas Priest may have been the biggest metal band in the world if only it had been discovered a little sooner. Nevertheless, by the early 1980s there weren’t many bigger musical groups in the world. “British Steel” (1980), “Screaming For Vengeance” (1982), and “Defenders Of The Faith” (1984) comprise one of the best three-album runs in metal history, and arguably helped set the tone for an even harder brand of rock. Judas Priest is also fascinating simply because it’s still fully active. The album “Firepower” was released in March of this very year, with a tour to go with it, and the group will also be hitting the road with Ozzy Osbourne for his final tour in 2019. “Firepower” earned strong reviews among critics.
Megadeth has been around since 1983, but didn’t really catch its big break until the early-‘90s, when after a few years of studio attention a few albums finally hit in a major way. More thrash than hard rock music, for those who worry about the distinction, Megadeth offers a particularly hard, high-energy version of the genre that has always kept up an interesting following over the years. Now, in fact, Megadeth is sometimes lumped in with groups like Guns N’ Roses and Metallica for its careful work staying active and seeking new fans. Cutting-edge games from software developers at online casino sites have provided some assistance for these groups, with all three in fact having licensed material to game developers. Believe it or not this can reach millions, such that Megadeth almost suddenly became strangely accessible to a modern audience. And now, the band is touring, recording, and teasing the release of a 16th album in 2019.
The 1982 Iron Maiden album “The Number Of The Beast” has as good an argument as any other for being the true, defining metal album of history. Perhaps it’s because of this relatively early burst of perfection that Iron Maiden seems to inspire an incredible amount of passion among its followers. While a few other metal and heavy rock groups can seem more popular by number and name recognition, there might not be another band in the genre as powerfully adored as Iron Maiden. The self-titled album from two years prior should be required listening for anyone with an interest as well. And, like a surprising number of others from the classic metal era, Iron Maiden is still active today, even turning, like Megadeth, to gaming in order to rope in new fans. The band produced a mobile game in 2016 (Iron Maiden: Legacy Of The Beast), and then effectively launched a tour off of the back of the game.
Metallica probably has the most universal appeal of any of these groups. It’s even possible that the song “Enter Sandman” is the most beloved of any single tune by any heavy metal or hard rock group. At the same time, you’ll find plenty of metal purists who scoff or roll their eyes at the band, seeing them as somehow artificial, or not hard enough. These arguments are typically somewhat baseless, and the bottom line is that Metallica has had the longest run of sustained success of any of these groups, and is one of the most important groups the genre has ever known. “Master Of Puppets” (1986) and “Ride The Lightning” (1984) are must-listen albums, and for that matter 2016’s “Hardwired… to Self-Destruct” is quite good for modern work from a metal group, and the band is still thrilling live audiences. Give Metallica a little bit of your time and attention. It’s a good bet you’ll feel very rewarded.