Criminally Underrated Metal Albums
Being an avid listener of Metal, I have always been fascinated by the thought of writing articles on this immensely diverse and rich genre of music which transcends its musical identity and takes the form of a cult, a way of life! A metalhead feels gratified when he can discuss his favourite music with like-minded people. On the other hand, it is a matter of great achievement for any Metal devotee to introduce someone to this otherwise castigated form of art and be thanked in return for the phenomenal experience. We metalheads don’t mind being the outcast in the eyes of the one who considers himself as the ultimate connoisseur of music. Our loyalty to Metal is invincible and our pride for Metal is insurmountable. And the more severe is the criticism, the more united we feel, all for the love of METAL!
However, “Why Metal is disdained by a huge majority of society?” is not the topic here. What baffles me way more than this question, which has been around probably longer than the Graaaand Canyonnnns (ah! Rob Halford!), are the unappreciated gems, scattered all over the metal arena, while a lot of genuine metalheads turn a blind eye (or a deaf ear) to them! These gems are underrated music artists themselves, like the ace guitarist Akira Takasaki (Loudness fan , anyone?) or least-mentioned but laudable performances like Tarot’s Wings Of Darkness or Set The World Afire by a more well-known band called Megadeth.
In this article, I would be mentioning 15 unappreciated Metal albums which deserve more recognition, more accolades and definitely more recommendation! I am not labeling these 15 albums as the MOST underrated or TOP underrated Metal albums of all time since Metal in and of itself is one fathomless musical genre with a multitude of sub-genres and musical catalogues. This might be one of the reasons why a lot of these albums never got their deserving due, but for a moment or two let’s ponder about the other possible causes, shall we?
It is often said we should do the right thing at the right time. Some albums did not get the attention it deserved just because it came out at the wrong time. But an album which has the ingredients of a timeless classic will stupefy fortunate listeners when stumbled on after a long time and would make them wonder why it never enjoyed the status it was well deserved of!
Then we have those bands with great potential who managed to release a few of their materials and split up before they even hit it big. A lot of such musical output had quality and an independent record label! People never got to know these ill-fated bands and their works.
It often happens, a section of fans lose interest in a band being all disillusioned by a line-up change or band’s decision to experiment or simply make radio-friendly commercially viable music. Then unknown to the once dedicated fans one bright day they actually release a great album only to get unnoticed by the majority.
Without further postmortem let’s check out 15 criminally underrated Metal albums now, in no specific order. Let there be enlightenment …. And Justice For All!
Black Sabbath – Headless Cross (1989)
There was a time when people would joke about Black Sabbath, “So, who is their vocalist this week?”. Frequent lineup changes and a metal scene broadly divided into legions of Glam Metal and Thrash Metal followers never won this stupendous album the acclaim it was worthy of. Well, unfortunate are those who completely dismissed Black Sabbath’s works after the expulsion of the banshee wailer Ozzy and the elfin-titan Ronnie James Dio. The inclusion of Tony Martin after the abrupt withdrawal of Ray Gillen gave the line up a vital life force! Martin not only proved himself as an awe-inspiring vocalist but also contributed brilliantly to songwriting! Headless Cross is arguably the darkest Sabbath album in their entire catalogue. Murky spine-chilling lyrics, thundering drumming of the late great Cozy Powell, rich key works of Geoff Nicholls, a blistering guest solo from the Queen guitarist Brian May, driving bass lines of Laurence Cottle and the diabolic grinding riffs by the riff-meister Tony Iommi have forged this Tony Martin magnum opus into one of the most epic Black Sabbath albums of all time!
Noteworthy tracks: Headless Cross, Night Wing, When Death Calls, Call Of The Wild, Devil And Daughter, Kill In The Spirit World, Black Moon, The Gates Of Hell. (yes, all tracks!)
Rough Cutt – Rough Cutt (1984)
An extremely well-crafted album by a line up who embarked on this fantastic project after departure of members like guitarist Jake E. Lee and keyboardist Claude Schnell who joined Ozzy Osbourne and Dio respectively. The very heart (not the one in the album art) of Rough Cutt was certainly Paul Shortino for his impassioned, gutsy vocals! Produced by Tom Allom (Judas Priest), managed by Wendy Dio and greatly supported by the legend Ronnie James Dio himself, this mature debut album is a classic blend of Hard Rock and Heavy Metal featuring solid musicianship of guitarists Amir Derakh and Chris Hager with lot of power chords and trade-off melodic licks. Drummer Dave Alford and bassist Matt Thorr made the lineup and the album a fulfilling sonic experience. Fans of 80’s Hair Metal would find this album superior and considerably heavier than some of the finest Glam Metal releases from mid 80s. Certainly “Cutt” from a different and better cloth!
Noteworthy tracks: Black Widow, Dreaming Again, Never Gonna Die, You Keep Breaking My Heart.
Lääz Rockit – Know Your Enemy (1987)
One of the best thrash metal offerings by a band hardly discussed in the metal circuit. The album cover artwork reminds me of some Konami action game, I must say. Initially, I was wondering if the annihilating Annihilation Principle should be included instead but Know Your Enemy is what pushed the band finally into the zone of Thrash Metal (and they would get more vicious with their follow-up Annihilation Principle). Musically this album is a major turning point in the band’s career itself. Catering the insane vocals of Michael Coons, completely audible bass of Willy Lange, pulse racing riffs of Aaron Aaron Jellum and Phil Kettner this album is a testament of the astounding influence of the thrash metal scene from the late 80s! It is a huge improvement in the quality of delivered material of the band since their debut with City’s Gonna Burn and the follow-up No Stranger To Danger. Catchy hooks with gritty aggression, a thick and dark atmosphere exploding with power surges and terrific thrashers make this album a memorable melodic Thrash metal encounter from the Bay Area.
Noteworthy tracks: Most Dangerous Game, Means To An End, Last Breath, Say Goodbye M.F
Metal Church – Metal Church (1984)
While some might grumble pointing out other albums which are apparently far more underrated than this unforgettable classic eponymous debut of a highly inspiring band, the question is, does this “Merciless Onslaught” have a proper recognition worthy of its’ excellence? Though released somewhat late in 1984, when more aggressive Thrash Metal albums were considered relevant to the genre, the foundation was all laid down much earlier for this brilliant album through demos and they were already making mighty impact on the very evolution of Thrash Metal in the early 80s. David Wayne’s raspy growls, delightfully sinister high-pitched wails and occasional clean, melodic delivery make him the very center of attraction here while cementing his place as one of the behemoths of the genre. Killer riffs of guitar duo Kurdt Vanderhoof and Craig Wells, drummer Kirk Arrington’s furious chaotic pounding, the raw brooding sound of Duke Erickson’s bass, progressive songwriting on assassination to war (and an epic album cover artwork to behold) make this album an essential Thrash masterpiece!
Noteworthy tracks: Beyond The Black, Metal Church, Gods Of Wrath, Hitman, Battalions.
Motörhead – Another Perfect Day (1983)
Everyone knows this badass band and all Motörhead fans have heard of this album. But knowing something does not guarantee a proper appraisal. While “Fast” Eddie Clarke and Phil Campbell both are adulated for their blazing guitar works in Motörhead, people ruthlessly ignore Brian Robertson’s stint in Lemmy & Co. Is it because of the Thin Lizzy guitarist this album gets overlooked? It is understandable Motörhead fans love the raw aggressive gritty albums, but here Motörhead deviated from its usual sound and musically appended a unique record in their catalogue; which is quite admirable for Brian Robertson’s clean melodic lead works. Disappointment of fans for missing their expected dose of Motörhead ferocity has translated into unfair treatment of an actually enjoyable and refreshing album. This was a positive change in the band’s broadly known style, an experiment that was successful in delivering quality musical output. The album certainly offers the signature raspy vocals of Lemmy which contributes a hell lot to the very sound of Motörhead albums on the whole and the overall music is still fast-paced but the star of this gamble is the despised Brian Robertson who adds some bluesy elements and plays some lengthy melodic solos with absolute precision here! The polished production (hated by most of the fans) is apposite for an album like Another Perfect Day and it’s highly appreciable how Phil Taylor adapted his drumming style to fit this different kind of musical project. It’s about time people embrace this album disregarding misleading criticism and relish Robbo’s versatile guitar works executed with sheer élan!
Noteworthy tracks: Back At The Funny Farm, I Got Mine, One Track Mind, Shine, Marching Off To War.
Pantera – Power Metal (1988)
Before they commenced something like a second wave of (watered down) Thrash Metal with their ground-breaking album Cowboys From Hell and prior attracting a wide fan base with their monstrous, heavy, sluggish Groove Metal sound; before metal fans got all smitten by the formidable guitar prowess of Dimebag Darrell and before Phil Anselmo’s throaty gruffy vocals would restore faith of metalheads in the genre, Dimebag was still bestowing his transcendent riffs and top-form impressive solos as Diamond Darrell and Phil was elegantly showcasing his vocal range with Halford-like high pitched screams. The album was Power Metal, a record with a deceptive name but also with smashing quality material. Many metalheads are unaware or spiteful of Pantera’s 80’s output, the band members themselves seem to be quite embarrassed about their initial four albums and kind of disowned all these early works even though there were quite a few praiseworthy tracks reflecting their individual superlative skills. While I have seen 80’s Pantera is often mocked as “Glamtera”, this album is heavy metal with shades of Thrash, Speed and well….Glam! This is an album testifying their ability to play different styles with the aid of Rex Brown’s crunchy bass, Vinnie Paul‘s fast and steady pounding, the flexing of vocal muscles by the exuberant newcomer Phil Anselmo and definitely Diamond Darrell’s high caliber shred fest! Instead of brushing it aside, metalheads should give this obligatory album a fair shot!
Noteworthy tracks: Death Trap, We Will Meet Again, Power Metal, Rock The World, Hard Ride, Burnnn!
W.A.S.P. – The Neon God: The Rise & The Demise (2004)
Okay, firstly these are two different albums with two different months of release but they are inseparably interconnected by the tale of Jesse Slane and his predicaments. Secondly it’s an attempt to recreate another monumental The Crimson Idol with a not so monumental, but still gripping concept this time. However, this album (I will perceive it as a monolithic unit, The Neon God) is glowing evidence of W.A.S.P’s consistency (well not all can be towering enough like The Headless Children) and Blackie Lawless’s relentless ability to churn out albums which are enjoyable at their worst and remarkable at their best! Blackie Lawless is a vastly underrated metal artist along with his ripping band who not only served some delicious slice of sleaze in early and mid 80’s but also some serious mature materials full of integrity at a time when other contemporary metal bands were miserably surrendering to the Grunge attack or other epidemic change in people’s musical tastes. One should listen to their other works instead of blindly shrugging them off as a Shock Rock Glam act. It’s hard to believe the recorded year of this album; when you hear it the music is full of 80s vibes! Raw emotion-laden screams of Blackie and his consummate storytelling teamed with some triumphant power riffs of Darrell Roberts, some unshakable prominent bass of Mike Duda and some solid well-grounded drumming of Stet Howland and Frankie Banali lead to an aftermath as grand as this! Metal opera is truly the Wild Child’s forte. The Neon God once again proves it.
Noteworthy tracks: Asylum #9, Raging Storm, Come Back To Black, Clockwork Mary, All My Life, Sister Sadie, The Last Redemption, Tear Down The Walls, Resurrection, Someone To Love Me, X.T.C Riders, What I’ll Never Find
Angel Dust – Bleed (1999)
Angel Dust! No, not the Faith No More album, but the often overlooked German powerhouse of Power Metal and this come-back album, which with its very opening title track had me picking my jaw from the floor! This is the album that introduced me to this remarkable band, on an obviously glorious day of my life; an album packed with raging riffs, classy delicate keyboard works, aggressive solos, soaring vocals and complex yet indelible songwriting! Some sprinkling of Thrash, Heavy Metal and Hard rock can be detected here and there in the sound. Dirk Thurisch shines all through with his unique vitriolic vocals and hypnotic yells, mangling everything and everyone in his way! Fiery guitar contribution of Bern Aufermann, some absolute head bang-inducing drumming of Dirk Assmuth, steady bass work of Frank Banx and pure aesthetic pleasure presented by Steven Banx on keyboards all come together to create an album this exquisite. Backed by an excellent production, this album is a definite must have and once you listen to this, you would be tempted to explore other albums of Angel Dust too. The title track alone is capable of turning a casual listener into a fan, it’s that magnificent.
Noteworthy tracks: Bleed, Black Rain, Never, Addicted To Serenity, Surrender?, Sanity.
Dio – Lock Up The Wolves (1990)
Grunge was the craze of the time with preference of music industry shifted to “what’s most popular” back in early 90s. This is when Ronnie launched this blues-tinged Traditional Metal album with a completely newly formed line-up featuring AC/DC drummer Simon Wright (who does complete justice to his role as replacement of the superb Vinnie Appice), Malmsteen’s Rising Force and later Stratovarius keyboards champion Jen Johansson, bassist Teddy Cook (chosen by Ronnie from some local scene for his dedication) and the 18 years old wonder boy Rowan Robertson with shredding ability of a seasoned champ in the department! Truly this album embodies the very blaze of Rowan’s promising talent as a guitarist who regrettably just could not be traced in the Metal coliseum anymore after this project. While Jen arguably could have been utilized in a better way given his incredible skills, but the reserved keyboard lines help in weaving an atmosphere more ominous. If you are a hardcore Ronnie James Dio fan like me, you would be dazed by his godly vocals in this album as well. If you like old school bluesy Metal albums, you might regret for never listening to this album before, which just seems to get better with every play!
“I’ve fallen off the edge of the world
I’ve fallen from the top of the mountain
Just to rise again
I’ve seen it from heaven and hell
I’ve seen it from the eyes of a stargazer”
We have seen it too Ronnie. Be it Elf, Rainbow, Black Sabbath or Dio, your vocals were always supreme! You were simply magic, always!
Noteworthy tracks: My Eyes, Born On The Sun, Wild One, Evil On Queen Street, Why Are They Watching Me, Night Music.
Judas Priest – Nostradamus (2008)
I was caught between this one and the heaviest Judas Priest album to date called Jugulator (not Painkiller) for the heroics of Tim “Ripper” Owens, for quite some time. In this regard, a special mention of an epic Judas Priest track called “Cathedral Spires” must be made which might be in my list of “10 underrated Metal songs”, someday. But finally, I had to root for the Symphonic Metal attempt of the band in the form of Nostradamus for the following reasons:
- Well chosen concept.
- Top notch production
- Finely composed interludes
- Atmospheric orchestration.
- Splendid songwriting
Seriously, this is Judas Priest breaking the stereotype! This fabulous work of creativity has SO much to offer. Well, it was not necessary to shun the age-old iconic tuning fork of the devil and heavy as metal font which graced so many Judas Priest album covers for decades. But let’s concentrate on the merits like Rob Halford being right about “I can still sing my head off” and “Judas Priest will never be a nostalgia band.” Enriched with competent guitar riffs and solos of the legendary Glenn Tipton–KK Downing duo, perfect use of keyboards by Don Airey, proficient drumming by well-versed skin-pounder Scott Travis and consistent performance of long-term bassist Ian Hill, this rewarding double-CD assignment tells the world a new Judas Is Rising!
Noteworthy tracks: The Future Of Mankind, War, Plague And Pestilence, Nostradamus.
Leather Nunn – Take The Night (1986)
This debut album full of Leather Nunn’s shit-kicking attitude is a solid Heavy Metal record from the underground Metal scene of 80’s. There is no filler track in here and it means only business waving the banner of “no pretension Metal!” Wade William’s rebellious machismo and crushing vocals along with the menacing, crunchy guitar assaults of John Gouchnour and Jerry Brewer perfectly crafted Take The Night as a no-nonsense underground U.S Metal album. It’s terribly unfortunate how an automobile accident ended the band’s musical journey!
Noteworthy tracks: Leather Nun, Take The Night, You Are The One, Fool’s Way Out, Another Bite.
Spitfire – First Attack (1987)
Hailing from Greece, Spitfire’s debut album First Attack is a nifty heavy metal album occasionally exploring the boundaries of power metal which would please any fan of 80’s traditional metal music!Competent soaring vocals, impressive song-writing and composition, delightful guitar playing of Elias Loginides all come together to form one of the most incredible Greek Metal albums of all time. The fire was surely started at the immediate inception!
Sadly enough the severe injury sustained by vocalist Dinos Kostakis in a car accident caused Spitfire‘s split-up.
Noteworthy tracks: Evil Thoughts Around, Street Fighter, Lead Me On, Lady Of The Night, Whispers
Scorpions – Taken By Force (1977)
The German bad boys have run wild for decades winning love and accolades of countless music lovers around the world. Before rocking us like a hurricane in the 80’s as one of the most accomplished Hard Rock names of the time, the Scorpions had their sublime days of killer metal with one of the biggest names of neo-classical guitar, Uli Jon Roth gracing their line up. The very intro of “The Sails of Charon” (one of the finest and most underrated Metal songs of all time) has inspired many influential guitarists from Kirk Hammett to Yngwie Malmsteen for years. 70’s Scorpions were fearless and raw. The “Appetite For Destruction” was already there in the music of 70’s Scorpions. Rudolf Schenker is one of the greatest composers and rhythm players of HardRock/Metal and Klaus Meine is one of those highly admirable singers known for vocals with a perfect blend of melody and power. Francis Buchholz, as a bassist has always been technically great. In this 1977 album, every member does what they do best, and some ingredients of Speed, Power, Thrash make this record an eclectic work of high-quality instrumentation!
Noteworthy tracks: The Sails Of Charon, The Riot Of Your Time, He’s A Woman -She’s A Man, We Will Burn The Sky, Steamrock Fever, Born To Touch Your Feelings.
Tokyo Blade – Midnight Rendezvous (1984)
This highly satisfying slab of metal by Tokyo Blade (formerly known as Genghis Khan) makes its’ way on the list for all the right reasons. Originally released as a 4-track EP, the U.S. edition came out as a full 8-song LP. Every groovy track here has something to please an 80’s Metal fan. Melodic up-tempo heavy tracks with dazzling guitar works constitute crux of this album. Tokyo Blade is an often overlooked NWOBHM act whose music is enjoyed by a very limited number of metal listeners. If you enjoy this album don’t forget to check out Night Of The Blade as well!
Noteworthy tracks: Midnight Rendezvous, Mean Streak. Highway Passion, Killer City, Sunrise In Tokyo, If Heaven Is Hell, Power Game.
Leatherwolf – Leatherwolf (1985)
And the list comes to an end with the eponymous debut album of Leatherwolf, also known as Endangered Species (U.K version). Michael Olivieri’s gifted vocal range, steady thundering of sticksman Dean “Drum Machine” Roberts and smashing guitar contribution of Carey Howe, Geoff Gayer and bassist Matt Hurich suited the very need of the album just fine. A record which skillfully strikes a balance between melody and aggression is one way to define this excellent metal album from mid-80s. If you love the feel of genuine 80’s metal , the musical performance found in this solid album will certainly earn your sincere adulation.
Noteworthy tracks: Leatherwolf, Spiter, Endangered Species, Kill And Again, Vagrant.