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Metal for Non-Metalheads

Not a hesher? Here are thirteen heavy albums you need to hear anyway

There are many reasons to hate heavy metal. Maybe you want your music to show some sensitivity. Maybe you like the riffs but can’t deal with the abrasive vocals. Maybe you’re actually a big fan of organized religion. Or maybe you’ve always found the genre’s inherent machismo to be a little circumspect, since those masturbatory guitar solos are obviously just veiled homoerotic displays. But just like any genre that’s been around for decades, heavy metal continues to deepen, hybridize and evolve in dozens of different directions. And because there’s no single element true of all metal, it stands to reason that there’s no way to dismiss it all.

The list below contains a baker’s dozen of albums that just might speak to the many heavy-metal haters among us. Some of these albums are instrumental; some feature proper singing and standard rock ’n’ roll structures; some brandish the all-important quality of irony. Some are so emotionally expansive that they should connect with any music fan who has a heart. This list isn’t meant to convert anyone into a fanatic (though applications are most welcome); it’s more to alert the unconverted that portions of the heavy-metal establishment are far more inclusive and accessible than commonly believed.

Happy reading, praise to Odin.

The Dethalbum
Williams Street [2007]

This soundtrack to the popular Cartoon Network show Metalocalypse debuted at number twenty-one on the Billboard charts, the highest position ever achieved by a death-metal album. What’s driving all the nonmetalheads to Best Buy all of a sudden? Maybe the fact that these songs -- written and performed by comedian Brendon Small -- are hilarious (and pretty acute) lampoons of pretty much every heavy-metal convention you can imagine. The Dethalbum keeps its extreme metal cred by employing legendary drummer Gene Hoglan (Death/Strapping Young Lad), but songs like “Go Forth and Die” and “Better Metal Snake” are catchy enough for the uninitiated and funny enough for the uninterested.

Metalocalypse: http://www.adultswim.com/shows/metal/
Prefix review: http://www.prefixmag.com/reviews/dethklok/the-dethalbum/16334

Dimmu Borgir
Death Cult Armageddon
Nuclear Blast [2003]

The antithesis of the sloppy, atonal basement productions that defined Scandinavian black metal in the early days of the genre, Dimmu Borgir’s Death Cult Armageddon is a grandly ambitious masterwork of truly symphonic scope -- a live orchestra plays behind the Norwegian sextet’s maelstrom of melodic riffs, rasps, and gothic keyboards, sending the band’s already forward-thinking song structures into the stratosphere. These over-the-top arrangements make underground black-metal purists shudder, especially when the giant clean-sung chorus of “Progenies of the Great Apocalypse” detonates. But that penchant for theatrics has made Dimmu Borgir the most popular black-metal band in the world, and it might just convince the nonmetalhead to witness the spectacle.

Band: http://www.dimmu-borgir.com

The Fucking Champs
Drag City [2000]

Metalheads are noticeably absent at the Fucking Champs’ live shows, likely due to the overt sense that the band is making fun of them. With no vocals, cheeky titles like “Thor Is Like Immortal” and “These Glyphs are Dusty” and that uncompromising band name, the Fucking Champs could get by on quirk alone. Luckily they don’t have to, as the Champs fill their confusingly titled second album, IV, with a bottomless supply of melodic metal crunch. Drummer Tim Soete knows his way around a double kick pedal but prefers to stick with a rock ’n’ roll backbeat, and that factor -- combined with the two guitarists’ predilection for Iron Maiden-style guitar harmonies in a major key -- gives these tracks an undeniably fun, early-’80s hard-rock feel. With no bass guitar to be found, IV has a weirdly unfinished vibe, only adding to its winking lack of seriousness. Whether you’re in it for the righteous jams or the irony, the Fucking Champs’ IV delivers.

Band: http://www.thefuckingchamps.com

Vendlus [2007]

Plenty of metal bands bring the complex structures of classical music to their music, but few go so far as to include orchestral instruments in any integral way. Grayceon’s electric cello player Jackie Perez-Gratz is a far more important part of her band’s sound than, say, the violinist in Yellowcard. She takes the place of a bassist in the band’s elaborately sculpted, neoclassical progressive metal epics, sometimes playing tandem rhythmic lines with drummer Zack Farwell, other times engaging in tricky counterpoint with guitarist Max Doyle. The few patches of vocals are delivered in understated clean-sung voices, and despite the surplus of energy Grayceon builds during the faster parts, nothing on this album could be considered the least bit extreme. Much of Grayceon is flat-out beautiful, and even during its most metal moments, it retains the melodic elegance of chamber music.

Band: http://www.grayceon.com
Prefix review: http://www.prefixmag.com/reviews/grayceon/grayceon/16028/

Ipecac [2002]

It’s no accident that Isis gained currency in nonmetal circles after the release of its sophomore full-length, Oceanic. The band’s music is undeniably rooted in heavy metal, but its evolving, towering riffs and hoarse growls act as an inevitable catharsis, coming as they do after the tension that swirls around them in pools of watery atmospherics. Even at its most violent, Oceanic retains a rarefied cerebral air, making it ideal for eyes-closed headphone listening as well as speaker-blasting headbang sessions. Music fans looking for transcendence in their listening should be swept away by this album, regardless of preferred genre.

Band: http://www.isistheband.com

Blues for the Red Sun  
Dali [1992]

For five years before he formed Queens of the Stone Age, Josh Homme was the guitarist of seminal stoner-rock band Kyuss. The band’s classic second album, Blues for the Red Sun, is just as indebted to the sweet leaf as it is to the parched landscapes of the Southern California desert where the band lived and practiced. Elemental biker riffs ooze like amplified bong-hits from colossal bass amps and evaporate into watery Hendrix jams; Brant Bjork channels Bonham with his heavy, heavy kick-drum foot; and singer John Garcia sings his stoned ass off. Blues for the Red Sun is far from extreme -- really more “heavy” and less “metal.” Anyone with an appreciation for classic rock grooves and dark, smoky atmosphere will find plenty to dig here.

Band: http://www.stonerrock.com/kyuss

Relapse [2004]

If Isis’s Oceanic pulls us into the sea with slow-lapping waves, Mastodon’s second album, Leviathan, throws us into choppy waters during a nasty thunderstorm. Multipronged riffs froth mightily, heaving melodies and grooves to and fro, propelled by the perpetual churning of über-drummer Brann Dailor. We get that this album depicts a turbulent sea battle, even without Leviathan’s clever Moby Dick conceit. The members of Mastodon care more about what’s right for a song than what’s most extreme, which means that acoustic-guitar intros and clean vocals pop up across Leviathan with regularity. And when the heave-ho growls do spout up, they’re used more as accents than focal points -- long stretches of Leviathan are free of vocals entirely. The band members sound less brutal than really, really excited to be staking new ground on Leviathan, and it’s that palpable, almost joyful sense of discovery that keeps the album accessible to those wary of headbanging.

Band: http://www.mastodonrocks.com

Stoner Witch
Atlantic [1994]

Though the Melvins are considered godfathers of grunge thanks in part to their influence on fellow Washingtonians Nirvana (Kurt Cobain guested on one album) and Mudhoney (bassist Matt Lukin was once a Melvin), they indulged an abiding love of metal that no grunge band expressed as explicitly as the Melvins do on Stoner Witch. And although the album finds joyous metallic release in a variety of ways (check the amped-up biker riffs on “Sweet Willy Rollbar” or the plodding sludge of “At the Stake”), Stoner Witch remains listener-friendly and throws too many stylistic curveballs to be considered a record solely for heshers. Rock fans of all stripes will appreciate the catchy jam at the end of “Revolve” and the peppy instrumental showcase “June Bug,” and experimental listeners have the noise track “Magic Pig Detective” and ambient closer “Lividity” to chew on. Wrapping the album up in a big polka-dot bow is the always-tuneful voice of King Buzzo, who sings with equal parts soul, smirk and menace throughout.

Band: http://www.melvins.com


Elektra [1991]

Metallica’s eponymous fifth LP is perhaps the ultimate metal album for the non-metalhead. At a time when the first wave of death-metal bands was upping the extremity of the underground, Metallica went the opposite route, streamlining and slowing down its songs into chugging, radio-ready rock singles and power ballads. The approach worked, and Metallica sold nearly fifteen million copies in the U.S. alone on the strength of its mammoth five singles -- “Enter Sandman,” “Sad but True,” “The Unforgiven,” “Wherever I May Roam,” and “Nothing Else Matters” -- all of which still pop up on rock-radio playlists. Complaints about the commercialism of Metallica often overshadow the fact that it’s a pretty terrific record by both rock and metal standards, proof that a successful bid for the mainstream doesn’t mean that a band has to compromise quality. Introspective lyrics and simple song structures? Sure. But Metallica is heavy as fuck, too.

Band: http://www.metallica.com

Through Silver in Blood
Relapse [1996]

Yes, there’s a lot of howling and discordance on the fifth album by Bay Area metal granddaddies Neurosis. But the harsh vocals and punishing guitars that run throughout Through Silver in Blood aren’t manifestations of lunkheaded aggression, as they might be with a less thoughtful metal band. Neurosis songs feel like ancient rituals, with tribal rhythms and hulking guitar riffs evolving and repeating until all possible emotion has been confronted and released and a trancelike sense of euphoria sets in. Every tortured scream comes as a spiritual purging, disturbing yet vital. The members of Neurosis take their sweet time on Through Silver in Blood, stretching out four of these nine tracks beyond the ten-minute mark. And every track is stuffed with such a dynamic range of moods that it’s always worth sitting through. Nobody does “epic” quite like Neurosis, and even metalphobes will be awed by the massive emotional scope of Through Silver in Blood.

Band: http://www.neurosis.com

Blackwater Park
Koch [2001]

Handsome rewards await those growl-averse listeners who can make it past the guttural death-metal rasps that open Opeth’s fifth album, Blackwater Park. Surging riffs and shredded larynxes are only part of the Swedish band’s sonic cornucopia, which also includes acoustic folk, soaring melodic vocal lines, darkly pretty piano interludes, and plenty of gothic ambience. Mikael Akerfeldt’s poetic lyrics tend toward themes of sorrow and loss, in contrast to the gore and Satan focus of much traditional death metal. Blackwater Park is a progressive metal record in the best possible way: It reaches beyond the bounds of heavy metal in both sound and concept, achieving a place where beauty and intellect are held in equal regard to visceral aggression. Metal’s two-dimensional machismo dies in the presence of Opeth.

Band: http://www.opeth.com

Hydra Head [2003]

If you fancy distorted, heavy guitar riffing but can’t get past the abrasive vocals of most metal bands, Pelican is for you. One of the few instrumental metal bands to make any inroads beyond the metal underground, Pelican gets by just fine without the growls and shrieks on its first offering, Australasia. The band’s lengthy metallic opuses would get more complicated and textured on subsequent albums, but the members of Pelican were never as dedicated to the pursuit of the ultimate riff as they were here -- the skull-crusher that opens “NightEndDay” must surely measure on the Richter scale, and aftershocks can be heard throughout the rest of the album. Simply colossal.

Band website: http://hydrahead.tortugarecordings.com/pelican

Steelbath Suicide
Century Media [1998]

Soilwork was one of the ripest fruits of the very fertile melodic-death-metal scene that arose in Sweden in the early ’90s, when countrymen like In Flames, At the Gates and Dark Tranquility were busy melding the speed and extremity of death metal with the appealing guitar harmonies of classic metal. Soilwork’s debut, Steelbath Suicide, is as seamless a fusion of ferocity and melody as the Swedish “melodeath” scene produced, and even if the screams of vocalist “Speed” Strid take some getting used to, Soilwork’s thrilling, highly musical guitar work is worth the effort.


Band: http://www.soilwork.org


Mastodon, Neurosis - Mastodon, Neurosis: Photos/Show Review (Brooklyn Masonic Temple, New York) Kevin Drew Kevin Drew: Interview
Prefix Primer

Isis!!! But where's the King Diamond?

/site_media/uploads/images/users/acb/01bigblacktomb.jpg acb

finally, the melvins get some respect on this page!

the slug

Not a bad list at all. But Dimmu Borgir are Finnish, not Norwegian. You guys should have found a metal head to at least edit this. That's not the point though, everyone should own some Opeth.


dug this article Etan. thanks.

/site_media/uploads/images/users/daba/me-bermudajpg.jpg Daba

Tim, where's yer proof that Dimmu Borgir are from Finland? Their Wikipedia page, MySpace page and official website all say that they're Norwegian. Maybe you're thinking of Children of Bodom?

/site_media/uploads/images/users/narfish/HeadbangSquare.jpg narfish

Narfish is right: DB is from Norway. Great list, btw.

Steve L

the Champs' debut was actually "III", and IMO it's way stronger than anything they've done since. and they had a couple cassette demos before that one too. just sayin'.


This is the worst article I've read in a time. Ultimate proof democracy stinks and that there is no god.
Anybody who liked this "guide" is a retard and beyond.


Actually Dimmu Borgir IS Norwegian but that doesn't change the fact that this was written by a total rookie. Next time let a metalhead write about metal. This list is embarrassingly predictable. And Soilwork....! hahahahaha.


i wish there were more music links.

/site_media/uploads/images/users/joydivided/charly.jpg joydivided

I don't follow metal in the slightest... but I love the Melvins!

/site_media/uploads/images/users/prefix/no-user-pic.gif noise redux

I'm curious what Crap and Dave would have suggested fo rinclusion on the list...

/site_media/uploads/images/users/narfish/HeadbangSquare.jpg narfish

dig this man. good article. Would've liked to have seen maybe a little Sleep on here, though.

/site_media/uploads/images/users/Jboh213/n38409054_33275787_4276.jpg jboh

Speaking of Pelican's Australasia - they just pressed up 2500 limited edition screenprinted copies on wax. It looks beautiful, and it comes on silver and gold marble wax.

/site_media/uploads/images/users/Jboh213/n38409054_33275787_4276.jpg jboh


Blood and Ashes

I DID get them confused with Bodom! My apologies. Minus 2 metal points for me today. Oh well, still got plenty to spare.


Wow, you know so much about metal! You should write a book, because you know just that much!

Fred Phelps

Sleep would have been good, though I think the Kyuss album serves that segment of metaldom okay, and it's more accessible than, say, Dopesmoker.

It was real tough choosing what to include. It was tempting to make this a "Metal 101" feature but I don't think that a straight historical approach would have served the Prefix readership well. I tried to keep the "entry-level metal fan" in mind when I was writing.

/site_media/uploads/images/users/narfish/HeadbangSquare.jpg narfish


Kindly go back to being a non-metalhead who DOESN'T review metal. Thanks in advance !


Fred Phelps seems like a nice guy.

/site_media/uploads/images/users/Jboh213/n38409054_33275787_4276.jpg jboh

all these albums suck.every single one of them. all the bands suck with the exception of Kyuss and Metallica. Some of them arnt even metal albums or bands. I'm suprised i didnt see any Pantera or Cannibal corpse on the list.


Omg, where is Evanescence? They are the best metal band, almost as good as Darkthrone.


Chris Crocker

This post may be on its way to topping Chris Cornell

/site_media/uploads/images/users/Jboh213/n38409054_33275787_4276.jpg jboh

i think lil wayne has the most posts.

/site_media/uploads/images/users/daba/me-bermudajpg.jpg Daba

In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo


I don't think people realize that this is a list for "non-metalheads" and not a form of pretentious music-taste masturbation.

If there's one thing I've learned from this comments page, it's that self-proclaimed metalheads win for "most elitist" and "most reactionary" music fans. Props.

/site_media/uploads/images/users/ehalpern/n22701428_30374667_7242.jpg ehalpern


/site_media/uploads/images/users/acb/01bigblacktomb.jpg acb

How Pelican made this list, the world will never know.

Absolute garbage that shouldn't be lumped in with good metal.


What the hell is "banjo?" I don't think that's the first time acb's written that.

/site_media/uploads/images/users/ehalpern/n22701428_30374667_7242.jpg ehalpern

Elitism is the recognition and rejection of mediocrity and stupidity for the favor of greatness. Reality is not always kind or forgiving, so we should live honorably and make the best of it, not merely satisfy ourselves with fast food and porn.
If I see vomit on the floor, I'll say its vomit on the floor. You can call that reactionary, I'll call it realistic.
As for accessible metal music, why not Borknagar instead of Opeth, early Slayer or Helstar instead of that Metallica album. There's lots of 'accessible' material that is also artistically relevant and profound instead of just 'music masturbation,' which is what the albums in the article lean towards more often. The good people at Dark Legions Archives and corrupt.org came up with better lists.
see here: http://www.corrupt.org/news/1001.html

Blood and Ashes

i love to laugh at metalheads. such a laughable scene.


Underground Metal for Non Metal People:


i think its great to see a discussion of metal on this site. there are so many music sites out there that ignore everything that isnt 'indie' or underground hip hop...it's nice that we can at least include 'other' genres that are neglected in the magazines that claim to be about all sorts of music.


I took a look at the Corrupt.org feature...and while I dig a lot of stuff on that mix, do you really think that the unitiated will be able to appreciate Incantation, Deicide, Morbid Angel and Demilich? Sense of groove aside, they're all pretty impenetrable impenetrable as metal gets.

I think that feature is trying to indicate to non-metalheads "here is what this period of underground metal sounded like" than "here are some bands that you might like if you're not into metal."

Good mix to be sure, but it's a very different slant than what this Prefix article was talking about...

/site_media/uploads/images/users/narfish/HeadbangSquare.jpg narfish

Elitism is not simply an issue of vocally recognizing objects of taste, etc. Elitism is a complex in which the elitist believes in his moral and general superiority over those who do not share his criteria of "good art" or whatever.

Just listen to the way these purported metalheads are responding. Instead of simply arguing for a certain music, many of them are taking criticism way outside of the realm of art and writing. Insofar they're talking with bitter sarcasm, hyperbole, and assumptions about character, they are elitists in the direst sense:

"Anybody who liked this 'guide' is a retard and beyond."

/site_media/uploads/images/users/ehalpern/n22701428_30374667_7242.jpg ehalpern

i love people.

/site_media/uploads/images/users/Jboh213/n38409054_33275787_4276.jpg jboh

Wow. It seems that most of you completely missed the point. This article is perfect for someone like myself... I'm a classically trained pianist and can appreciate excellent musicianship, but I've never really listened to metal and wouldn't even know where to begin. I'll check these albums out. I don't know if I'll ever get into metal, but at least now I have a jumping-off point. Thanks!

Amy O

Nice list, Etan.

You know, if you'd somehow worked in a clever jab at the Neverending White Lights, this comment wall would be twice as long.

/site_media/uploads/images/users/type_slowly/travispic.jpg type_slowly

a wise man once said "if they hate then hate just let..."

/site_media/uploads/images/users/yung_daba/yung-daba.jpg yung_daba

Ha, this is like a Rap For White People article.

Isis is bad people.

the clap

i like how nobody reads the title.

/site_media/uploads/images/users/mk78/avocado.gif mk78

Bollocks through and through.


Way to piss some people off with this one, Prefix! Hahaha...awesome.


I like that someone quoted T.S. Eliot

/site_media/uploads/images/users/prefix/no-user-pic.gif noise redux

the Beck scientology comments were better.

/site_media/uploads/images/users/daba/me-bermudajpg.jpg Daba

worst article since the 10 Worst Wu Affiliates List. YOU SUCK ETAN. YOU TOO DABA.


/site_media/uploads/images/users/GM_Omnis/CURLS.jpg OMNIS


/site_media/uploads/images/users/yung_daba/yung-daba.jpg yung_daba

This is almost as good as that SOL review I wrote, where the guy that made the album commented that he wished me a slow and painful death.

/site_media/uploads/images/users/narfish/HeadbangSquare.jpg narfish

I don't think this is such a bad article. But perhaps some of the comments come from folks who think only their particular fav genre of metal is real metal. Obviously this list includes some of the more prog elements of metal and that upsets some folks into the darker stuff. Such is life. You cannot please everyone. I wonder what they'd have said if the list included Earth, SunnO))) or Boris. They'd probably say it's too slow to be metal or some other such crap.

I think including Jesu would have made their heads explode. I mean you can't question Broadrick's metal lineage, but now he's clearly into the more shoegaze side of metal. So, in their minds, Jesu is no longer real metal.

But this really isn't limited to metal. All scenes have their internicine battles. Look at all the different christian religions. All differ over one f*cking book.



/site_media/uploads/images/users/mk78/avocado.gif mk78

Justin I think the problem is less the diversity of the genres, and more the fact that a lot of these albums will seem way too obvious to metal fans. Metallica and Dimmu Borgir aren't exactly hurting for attention...where Mastodon, Isis and Pelican are considered "crossover" bands and have received a decent amount of exposure in the non-metal press. With the exception of the Grayceon album all these band are pretty old hat.

But here's the thing, these albums weren't chosen on the basis of obscurity, historical importance or credibility in the metalhead camp. The audience was clearly not all the people that wrote negative comments. These albums were chosen as a crop of solid releases that each had different qualities that could reach over the metal aisle and appeal to people that weren't as well-versed in metal...I tried my hand at isolating a few factors that I thought might contribute to mainstream appeal, and selected an album or two that would match each of those.

/site_media/uploads/images/users/narfish/HeadbangSquare.jpg narfish

Not a bad gateway list at all. +100 metal points for including Neurosis - Through Silver In Blood, probably the heaviest album ever written by any band ever. A lot of folks look like they can type, but can't read so well. The thing that seems lost on the metal fans is that THIS LIST ISN'T FOR YOU! Go back to your Phantom Limb and STFU!

Grr Blisterpenis Frenzy

Please never write about music again. Thanks.

The Ghost of Dale Hawkins

Demon Burger, Soilwork, Metallica's Black album, and a bunch of hipster metal albums ? these are awful examples, thank you in advance for scaring people away from metal


Thanks for this list, Etan. Would just like to point out that I've been exploring these genres in the last year or so and several of these albums have come up for me as exhibits of the genre. Props to you! I'm taking notes on the bands/albums I have not yet checked out. My only wish would be to hear about the newer releases. I had to double-check the date of the article. I suspect that there is a "test of time" in play here. I can say that the albums I have from this list have earned many replays and continue to offer up new insights for me. By-the-way, I picked up "Blood Mountain" from Mastodon at Best Buy before getting "Leviathan" :-P Leviathan has been a little more difficult for me to get into.

Crystal Gale Fan

Such shallow negative comments,Feel the dark side inside and let live,narrow minded fools,there is more to life than hamburgers and fries



Jeg spyr bæsj

This article is crap of the highest order.




replace the black album with ride the lightning and soilwork with say...follow the reaper by children of bodom and you've got yourself a solid list. although, i think the reason for the comment backlash is more that the list leans a bit heavier on the "hipster" side of metal rather than on the "troo" metal side, but if you're like me and love it all then its not a big deal.

90% of the people who responded to this need to get over themselves though.


I agree with dthrasher. Take out the Black album and replace it with a REAL Metallica album. It's not like Master of Puppets is all that inaccessible. Frankly, I've always felt that the Black album makes metal look as stupid and cartoonish as stereotypers make it out to be.

I really dig Mastodon, and I'm certainly not a hipster, so it's a shame the band is always lumped in with the "hipster metal" moniker.

By the way, I'm not elitist, and neither are many (if not most) diehard metal fans. The main concern is that hipsters are either listening to metal ironically (however the heck you do that), or they're listening to it to be hip and cool. Real metal isn't flavor-of-the-week music. If hipsters genuinely appreciate the songwriting and performing skill of bands like Slayer and Iron Maiden, then that's fantastic.


Great list, metal bands with as much talent as testosterone. I'd of course remove the Metallica album as pretty much everyone has it, and add:

Tool - Lateralus
High on Fire - Surrounded By Thieves
Electric Wizard - Dopethrone
Black Sabbath - Heaven and Hell
Clutch - Blast Tyrant
Intronaut - Void
Monster Magnet - Dopes to Infinity
Strapping Young Lad - Alien


Critics of critics/reviewers are usually those who don't take the time themselves to do the research and analysis of both genre and audience. Clearly this writer has done that and now is impaled by the many who are self-absorbed in the audacity of their boring lives.

Ripped Flesh Marsala

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