We’ve all seen it when one of our favorite artists gets ignored for what we may consider to be their finest work, only to receive all of the plaudits and adulation for something we may not perceive as being on par with it. From record sales, to album reviews, to award shows (looking at you Grammy Awards), there’s certainly a natural yearning to define a band by just one release and deem it their most noteworthy release ever – dismissing much of that particular group’s discography in the process.
However, sometimes, you’re dismissing them at your peril…
This list features those metal records that tend to get overshadowed by their band’s more acclaimed record. Of course, music taste is subjective so try to see this list more as a conversation starter than a definitive statement.
You probably won’t view some of these records as being as essential as their respective artist’s most prominent work, but I hope you can assess them independently of one another and come to your own conclusions.
The measuring stick for acclaimed is the album sales, critical acclaim, and prestigious awards that have been showered on some of these band’s most famous projects. However, when compared to each other from a musical standpoint, there are plenty of examples of lesser considered records in the back catalog standing toe-to-toe with their more famous counterparts.
10. Slayer – Seasons in the Abyss > Reign in Blood
Coming out of the blocks swinging, Slayer’s stellar 1990 release Seasons in the Abyss begins as it means to go on with the thrash classic “War Ensemble.” But while the band certainly showcases what made them one of the genre’s most popular acts, they also don’t mind taking risks by adopting a much more deliberate and considered approach on this uncompromising masterpiece.
With Rick Rubin once again in the producer’s chair, Slayer rattle through 42 minutes of some of the best metal to come out of the ‘90s. Just when you think Slayer have hit a particularly brutal peak on the devastating death march “Expendable Youth,” they clobber you over the head with the macabre terrorizer “Dead Skin Mask.” They continue this trend throughout, meanwhile switching tempos and time signatures on a dime. Put simply, Seasons in the Abyss is an unpredictable musical journey into the horrors of war, fear, and madness.
Reign in Blood may be what most fans consider the defining moment in the career of this legendary outfit, but Seasons in the Abyss was the album that proved the group could seamlessly meld together their trademark high-speed fretwork with a newfound appreciation for mid-tempo grooves. The results? Arguably their most cohesive record to date.
9. Slipknot – Iowa > Slipknot
If their self-titled debut album was that bloody scab you can’t stop picking at, then Slipknot’s Iowa is the record that festers and contaminates the wound. Never have the group topped this one in terms of sheer unfiltered brutality and nihilism. Proper album opener “People = Shit” should give you a good insight into the depths of this record’s seemingly bottomless pit.
It’s one filled with despair, anguish, and misery, projected in musical form through Slipknot’s trademark style – a style that’s largely made up of unholy growls, askew riffage, and thunderous drumbeats. From the outcast anthem “Left Behind,” to the crickety creeper “Skin Ticket” – Iowa is one hell of a dark ride for a group typically associated with mainstream metal. One listen to this sunlight-starved beast and you’ll soon realize that it was the mainstream that came to them.
While their first LP is considered by many to be a pioneering one in metal (and rightfully so), Iowa is the sound of a band honing their craft while still retaining the same manic and erratic quirks that set them apart from their contemporaries in the first place. There’s a greater appreciation for the art of songwriting here, which is one of the reasons why almost every track hits the mark with pinpoint precision.
8. Mastodon – The Hunter > Leviathan/Blood Mountain
This one is likely to incur the wrath of many a metal fan, but there’s a lot to be said for the fifth studio album from Atlanta, Georgia’s Mastodon. Entitled The Hunter, this multi-faceted tour de force in metal doesn’t quite garner the same kind of adoration as some of the band’s most heralded LPs – but here’s why it’s arguably their best record to date.
For starters, the pacing of The Hunter is one that accentuates a new-found sense of musical exploration when compared with the group’s previous efforts like Leviathan or Blood Mountain. Its accessibility is scoffed at in some circles, but although the instrumentation may not be quite as complex and intense, it does allow room for the songs to breathe and take on their own form. They throw caution to the wind on tracks like the robotic mechanism “Octopus Has No Friends” and the Pink Floyd-esque stargazer “Creature Lives,” but not without bringing the heavy on stellar cuts such as “All the Heavy Lifting” and “Spectrelight.” The word ‘stunning’ definitely comes to mind by the time the LP disappears into the ether on the downright majestic closer “The Sparrow.”
The band’s effortless musicianship combined with their astounding attention to detail is still on full display, yet it’s displayed within a more traditional framework – something which didn’t sit well with some of their most ardent supporters. Don’t let that put you off though. This is one of those rare records that could easily become a beloved classic in retrospect, but for now, this undervalued monster remains a largely misunderstood masterpiece.
7. Fear Factory – Obsolete > Demanufacture
It should come as no surprise to anyone even remotely interested in heavy metal that Demanufacture by Fear Factory was a groundbreaking release for the genre as a whole. With its dystopian future themes and piercing mechanized sounds, the record became a blueprint for which others have strived to imitate but ultimately failed to duplicate. But what happens when you rework that unforgettable musical journey into something even more bludgeoning? You get the follow-up effort entitled Obsolete. Although it may have been a more popular album sales-wise, Obsolete still gets overshadowed by its first-of-its-kind predecessor.
Refusing to rest on their laurels, the Californian four-piece rattle through a bone-shattering 10-song set that matches Demanufacture in intensity, as well as in some other key areas. From the booming opener “Shock” to the malfunctioning title-track, Dino and the boys somehow take their unique brand of thunderous metal to a whole new level. To top it off, the band also makes sure to hit melodic moments of inspiration with the emotive blast of “Descent” and the unwavering defiance of “Resurrection.”
That’s without even discussing the interesting conceptual story ark that surrounds this towering titan of a record – one which tells the story of man’s expendability in the face of growing technological advancements. This theme wasn’t as widely acknowledged back in 1998 as it is in 2021, but it pretty much sums up much of Fear Factory’s early material: revolutionary.
6. Death – Symbolic > Human
With 1991’s stellar release Human, death metal icons Death were considered forefathers of the movement, utilizing low-end guitar work, deep vocal growls, and metronomic drumming sensibilities. This was expanded upon even further on the group’s jaw-dropping 1995 effort Symbolic – a record which is as influential as it is scintillating.
There’s an undeniable mastery and prowess seeping through every crevice of this death metal masterclass. The technical ability on show is remarkable on highlights such as the self-titled album opener and the ever-shifting technical showpiece “Empty Words.” Perhaps though their moment of particular merit comes in the form of the galloping death metal classic “Crystal Mountain” – a track which sounds like it could derail at any moment during its thrilling five-minute running time.
Rarely does an album sound as devastating yet beautiful as Symbolic does. While Human is the group’s most successful album to date, Symbolic successfully evolved the group’s sound and deserves praise for its astonishing consistency from start to finish. Driving force behind the group, Chuck Schuldiner, sadly passed away in 2001, leaving behind a legacy that will forever permeate the annals of metal history.
5. Machine Head – The More Things Change… > Burn My Eyes/The Blackening
Burn My Eyes and The Blackening are widely considered to be the two greatest records ever spawned by Oakland, California four-piece Machine Head – and with good reason. They remain the most critically acclaimed and best-selling works in the group’s discography, but unfortunately, less gets said about the pulverizing second LP The More Things Change…
You know that when the thunderous lead single “Ten Ton Hammer” is just a taster of what’s to come, you’re in for one hell of a bumpy ride. The album’s raw, it’s vicious, and it’s unrelenting in its pursuit to decimate everything in its wake. From the eardrum-shattering speeder “Struck A Chord” to the bass-heavy banger “Spine,” the sheer intensity of the record is undeniable. They don’t put a foot wrong throughout the entire album, hitting particular peaks on tracks like the doomsday closer “Blood of the Zodiac” and the bruising face-melter “Down To None” – a song which features one of the most unholy opening metal riffs of the ‘90s, period.
It may not be as expertly composed as The Blackening or as career-defining as Burn My Eyes, however, The More Things Change… is the gnarliest and most to-the-point record the band has ever produced. Make no mistake about it, this 10-song wrecking ball deserves to be ranked amongst the group’s finest efforts to date.
4. Deftones – Around The Fur > White Pony
It’s easy to see why so many hold White Pony up as the crowning jewel in the Deftones’ expansive discography, however, there’s a lot to be said for their 1997 sophomore release by the name of Around the Fur. Whether it’s the hazy stunner “Mascara” or the melodic beauty “Be Quiet and Drive (Far Away)” – this highly ambitious powerhouse knocks it out of the park at every unpredictable turn.
White Pony was a watershed moment for the multi-faceted group, exemplifying their experimental side to a much greater degree – something which they have continued to explore to this day. What’s so riveting about Around the Fur, though, is the effortless balance of old and new at play on the record.
This terrific LP marked the point at which the group were transitioning from their raw debut album Adrenaline to the much more sonically mature White Pony. It contains the same unadulterated aggression of the former, while still managing to venture out into the musical unknown like the latter. In short, there’s certainly a debate to be had regarding which one of the two deserves the plaudits for the best Deftones album.
3. Entombed – Wolverine Blues > Left Hand Path
Generally considered a misstep in the discography of death metal titans Entombed, 1993’s Wolverine Blues often gets criticized for its extreme deviation from the group’s previous work. While the extent of the change can’t be overlooked, it certainly doesn’t mean that the album is without merit. In fact, in some respects, it improves upon some aspects of their earlier recordings.
Wolverine Blues should serve as a fantastic entry point for those not typically accustomed to the hard edges of death metal, not just because of the album’s accessibility, but also because of how well-written it is. What the band lost in technicality they certainly made up for in groove, delivering insatiable slices of what would soon become known as death ‘n’ roll. Left Hand Path was incredibly revolutionary for the metal genre as a whole, but musically, Wolverine Blues competes with it, albeit from an entirely different musical standpoint.
Entombed made this stylistic transition look seamless as evidenced by the rip-roaring title track or the downright sinister “Demon,” or let’s face it, practically any other track on this blood-curdling LP. It exhibited a side of the Swedish dark weavers that we’d never seen before – a side that doesn’t get nearly enough recognition from the metal community on the whole.
2. Blue Oyster Cult – Secret Treaties > Agents of Fortune
Thanks largely due to their game-changing 1976 single “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper,” influential cosmic explorers Blue Oyster Cult’s most successful album to date remains Agents of Fortune. The record reached No. 29 in the Billboard charts upon release, ultimately achieving platinum status in the proceeding years. Just two years earlier, however, the group released what is arguably an even stronger collection of songs in the form of the virtually flawless Secret Treaties.
Flashes of utter brilliance pepper this landmark release, whether it’s the menacing riffs of “Dominance and Submission” or the freewheeling thump of “Cagey Cretins.” Vocalist Eric Bloom delivers the total rockstar experience here, spitting with attitude at times while singing his heart out at others. This kind of versatility can be heard (and felt) in every one of these shards of musical excellence. Spectacularly ending with the space-bound, two-hit combo of “Flaming Telepaths” and “Astronomy,” Secret Treaties goes out on a high that very few metal albums have ever come close to matching.
With Secret Treaties, Blue Oyster Cult highlighted what can be achieved when a band decides to blaze their own trail in music. Call it proto-metal. Call it an amalgamation of many different musical styles. However you choose to label it, one thing remains certain about this record – it’s essential listening.
1. Black Sabbath – Master of Reality > Paranoid
The early output of heavy metal gods Black Sabbath is the stuff of legend. The creative juices were flowing during this historic period in music, with the group having released their self-titled debut album, the genre-defining Paranoid, and Master of Reality within a 16-month period. It’s a feat that can only be admired more and more as time goes by – particularly as the significant influence of the latter record continues to play such a prominent role in much of the genre’s output.
Sabbath leave no stone unturned on this smoked-out journey into the unknown. Every instrument is given time to shine. Every note feels meaningful. Everything about Master of Reality just shimmers with unapologetic swagger and self-assurance. Whether it’s the heavy body blows served up in “Lord of This World” or the cranium-crushing chugger that is “Into the Void,” the band’s newfound downtuned approach gave birth to a much darker and heavier sound sonically.
Despite this musical shift, The group still makes room for some breathtakingly tranquil compositions such as “Orchid” and “Solitude” – further cementing their dynamism within a musical style not commonly known for its serenity. Needless to say, as incredible as Paranoid is, there’s a strong case to be made for this giant slab of molten metal being the band’s crowning achievement.
What metal albums do you consider to be better than their respective band’s most popular release? Let us know down in the comments!