THKD’s 10 Favorite American Metal Albums.

In honor of the Fourth of July, I thought it couldn’t hurt to add a little patriotic flare to THKD by celebrating my 10 favorite American metal albums. Remember, “favorite” doesn’t necessarily mean “best”, but I do believe that all of these albums are quintessential slabs of metallic americana. So, light your roman candles, fire up the barbecue, crack open a couple cold ones and enjoy THKD’s list of yankee metal dandies (in no particular order).

Metallica – Ride the Lightning (Elekta, 1984)
Ride the Lightning is easily Metallica’s finest hour. The youthful exuberance of Kill ‘Em All collides with the progressive tendencies that would come into bloom more fully on Master of Puppets and And Justice for All. This makes for an album that’s as savage as it is cerebral, which is also a pretty good way of describing the land of the free.

Death – Scream Blood Gore (Combat, 1987)
Scream Bloody Gore is arguably death metal ground zero, and Chuck Schuldiner was a true American metal genius, even in the early stages of his beloved band. Death would go on to mix DM with cosmic prog on albums such as Human and The Sound of Perseverance, but Scream Bloody Gore set the gory gold standard by which all USDM should be judged.

Ludicra – Fex Urbis Lex Orbis (Alternative Tentacles, 2006)
In 2006, I lived in California for six months, working as a publicity intern at Metal Blade Records in exchange for college credit. Fex Urbis Lex Orbis was the soundtrack to the loneliness and frustration I often felt during that time. The Bay Area band’s gritty, urban take on black metal encapsulates an “alone in the crowd” feeling that is distinctly American.

Today is the Day – Temple of the Morning Star (Relapse, 1997)
Whenever I listen to Steve Austin’s power trio from Hell, my mind is taken to the darkest recesses of American popular culture, where the likes of Jim Jones and Charles Manson reside. Temple of the Morning Star dredges the diseased underbelly of the United States and drags all the scum and sleaze kicking and screaming out into the open for all to see.

Corrosion of Conformity – Wiseblood (Columbia, 1996)
COC’s Wiseblood is all southern-fried stomp and dirt-caked riffage. This is music to be blasted at top volume in souped up ’69 Chevelles burning down the highway. Music for Budweiser and bong hit binges during long, boiling hot summers. Simply put, metal just doesn’t get any more American than this.

Slayer – South of Heaven (Def American, 1988)
Although the metal masses often cite Reign in Blood as Slayer’s finest hour, I’ll put my money on South of Heaven any day of the week. Look no further than “Mandatory Suicide”, “Live Undead” and the title track for undeniable proof that this is a snapshot of King, Hanneman, Araya and Lombardo at their peak. By taking a more varied approach to songwriting and tempo, Slayer established themselves as an American metal institution on their fourth album.

Danzig – II: Lucifuge (Def American, 1990)
With Lucifuge, Glenn Danzig perfected his diabolical master plan to spot-weld delta blues, fifties rock and goth onto a heavy metal framework. The results are often spectacular throughout the album, but “Devil’s Plaything” is without question the track where it all comes together for GD, cementing his status as an American metal icon.

Grand Belial’s Key – Judeobeast Assassination (Moribund, 2011)
An album this filthy, fucked and politically incorrect could have only come from an American band. GBK’s garage-y take on black metal is bolstered by excellent musicianship and a keen ear for songwriting, something you wouldn’t expect from a band that writes pure poetry such as “Christ, faggot, fondler of manhood”. Members of GBK also do time in the equally mighty/dodgy Arghoslent.

Pentagram – Relentless (Peaceville, 1993)
Relentless is a reissue of Pentagram’s self-released debut, marking the first time that the work of national treasure Bobby Liebling was exposed to a larger audience. It has been said that Pentagram should’ve been America’s answer to Black Sabbath, and Relentless proves that Liebling and Co. had the songs, the riffs and the swagger to give the Sabs a run for their money.

Megadeth – Rust in Peace (Capitol, 1990)
Rust in Peace is an exercise in precision and craftsmanship. Quite possibly the perfect thrash album, Dave Mustaine and Marty Friedman proved themselves to be the most devastating guitar tandem to ever come out of the American metal scene on shred-fests like “Holy Wars”, “Hangar 18″ and “Lucretia”. One can’t help but wonder if Metallica’s decision to simplify their approach (on 1991’s Metallica) one year later had anything to do with realizing that they were hopelessly out-gunned by their former lead guitarist.

Honorable Mentions
Pantera – Cowboys from Hell
Brown Jenkins – Death Obsession
Slough Feg – Traveller
Manilla Road – Crystal Logic
Anthrax – Sound of White Noise
Cannibal Corpse – The Bleeding
Morbid Angel – Formulas Fatal to the Flesh
Obituary – Cause of Death
High on Fire – Blessed Black Wings
Sleep – Sleep’s Holy Mountain
Eyehategod – Take as Needed for Pain
Agalloch – The Mantle
Suffocation – Pierced From Within
Goatwhore – The Eclipse of Ages Into Black
Black Witchery – Desecration of the Holy Kingdom

I’m sure there are lots more I could list, but in the name of space concerns and short attention spans, I’ll stop here. So, what are your favorite American metal albums?

Slayer – World Painted Blood

It’s no secret that I didn’t particularly care for Slayer’s last album, Christ Illusion.  I think I might have listened to the fucking thing twice before letting it languish in my collection for all eternity.  Of course, bear in mind that it came out during the summer of 2006 while I was interning for Metal Blade and being bombarded with cool new music on an almost daily basis (they put out new albums from Goatwhore, Amon Amarth, Gaza and God Dethroned while I was there, just to name a few), but the songs on Christ Illusion just didn’t seem to have any sort of staying power or memorability.

Of course, the fact that the album cover had what appeared to be a homeless Mexican pirate with no arms on it didn’t help matters.  I mean, I’ve seen some ugly-ass album covers in my day, but that thing takes the fucking cake.  I’m not sure how the members of Slayer (or anyone else in their right mind, for that matter) could think that pile of crap actually looked cool.

But I digress.  At some point I should probably dust off Christ Illusion and give it a fair assessment, but we’re not here to talk about that album now.  Slayer have a brand new album out in the form of World Painted Blood, and damn if it isn’t a pretty good one.  I’ll spare you the obligatory “blah blah blah it’s not as good as Reign in Blood…” bullshit that you can get from the 5 million reviews that are already floating around out there.  Quite frankly, I don’t even really think Reign in Blood is Slayer’s best work.  I personally prefer Seasons in the Abyss and South of Heaven.  Boo-fucking-hoo.  Reign in Blood is a classic sure, but that was then, this is now and Slayer has put out quite a few strong releases since then and World Painted Blood (henceforth abbreviated as WPB) is one of them.

The first thing I noticed about WPB is the production, raw (by major label standards) and dry as a bone, it comes dangerously close to sounding like the band were actually playing in a room together simultaneously and doesn’t suffer from the mixing/mastering flaws that hindered Metallica’s Death Magnetic (although I still enjoyed that album thoroughly). As for the songs themselves, they seem to draw on aspects of all the various eras of Slayer, the speed, the heaviness and groove, King and Hanneman’s blitzkrieg leads, all within a tightly wrapped 11 song, 40 minute package.

Just about everyone of these songs has some sort of vocal hook that sticks in my head, particularly “Hate Worldwide” “Not of this God” and the title track.  In fact, Tom Arraya’s vocal performance throughout the album is immense, it’s amazing he’s still capable of sounding that pissed off in his old age.  Dave Lombardo’s drumming is great as always and it’s great to hear him fully settled back into the Slayer drum throne, recording-wise.

The album’s only real flaw lies at the feet of King and Hanneman.  The guitar-work is still pretty solid in my opinion, but the riffs still don’t seem as memorable or interesting as they were on prior releases, such as the criminally underrated God Hates Us All.  I would liked to have heard something as musically catchy as maybe “Bloodline” or “God Send Death”, but I’m just not getting that from this album as yet.  The interesting thing is that the leads actually sound a bit more thoughtful than they have in the past, not quite the typical King/Hanneman mindless whammy-bar abuse that most of us are used to.  They haven’t morphed into Mustaine and Friedman overnight or anything, but leads on WPB are definitely a little more musical and a little less schizophrenic than they have in the past.

Of course, at the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter what I or anyone else has to say about World Painted Blood. All the mainstream critics will hail the album as a return to form, the crybaby self-styled metal snobs and elitists will dismiss it as crap since it didn’t come out in 1990, and the majority will fall somewhere in between.  For what it’s worth though, I’m enjoying the hell out of it.