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November 26, 2012 Slideshows » Music

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The Top 21 Bay Area Metal Albums 

21. Asunder, Works Will Come Undone
For all its gloom, funereal doom is gorgeous, spacious stuff. Oakland-based Asunder stamped its bloody handprint on the genre with Works Will Come Undone, which also turned out to be its swan song. The album's two concerto-length tracks crawl towards you on guitars at turns crushing and melodic, wisps of cello, and soul-shaking bass vocals from John Gossard and Dino Sommese. "A Famine" ushers you in with layers of chanting and riffage before "A Rite of Finality" pins you fast, an ever-shifting sanctuary of sorrow. -- Beth Winegarner
20. Ludicra, The Tenant
When San Francisco's Ludicra dropped this unrequited love song for the city that had been throwing disdainful art-apathetic residents and high rents in the bandmembers' faces for years, they didn't know it was to be their last record. Two years later, it's not only a triumph of an album a thematically ambitious and deeply melodic hybrid of NWOBHM and black metal it's also a document of a time when artists felt the burn of the recession grow ever hotter, a burn that unfortunately forced many out of their preferred kitchen. At the precise halfway point of anger and beauty lies this record, a virtual manifesto of the ethics of a Bay Area metal musician. -- Alee Karim
19. Y&T, Earthshaker
If you look past the stigma of the cheeseball MTV hits Y&T scored during the hairspray era of the '80s, it isn't hard to see why the band was hailed as a heavyweight Bay Area metal act. Anchored by the blistering guitar and catchy songwriting of leader Dave Meniketti, Y&T hit an apex with its 1981 album Earthshaker. Balancing furious songs like "Hungry For Rock" and "Hurricane" with hook-heavy anthem "Dirty Girl" and "Rescue Me" (a rare power ballad that actually rocks), the effort still stands as the closest Y&T ever came to capturing the ferocity of its live show. -- Dave Pehling
18. C4AM95 (aka The Fucking Champs), III
Perhaps the most positive metal record ever made, The Fucking Champs' III is a love letter to guitars, to bombast, and to the barest impulse that leads one to make heavy metal. Fist-pumping, anthemic, and almost completely instrumental, the album still manages to be an evocative and even fun collection that wins over metal casuals. Dubbed "poser" and "hipster" metal by the usual suspects, The Fucking Champs' detractors miss the point that The Melvins' King Buzzo has been trying to make for years: You can't do this kind of thing for this long if you're "joking." The 'Champs continued to release records that were variations on the same proggy instru-metal thesis, but this hour was their finest. -- Alee Karim
17. Mr. Bungle, Mr. Bungle
Though the profane, schizophonic stew cooked up by singer Mike Patton and company on Mr. Bungle's self-titled Warner Bros. debut cross-pollinates a myriad of musical styles, the monolithic riffs unleashed by guitarist Trey Spruance often serve as the axis at the center of the band's whirling carousel. Spruance provides the crushing foundation at the base of opening bad-acid clown carnival "Quote Unquote" (aka "Travolta," before the band got a cease-and-desist letter,) and manically flashes between funk licks and six-string vehemence throughout "My Ass is On Fire." Vocally, Patton careens wildly from sultry, velvet croon to distorted howl, helping push the metal quotient of his savage ode to masturbation, "Love Is a Fist," into the red. -- Dave Pehling
16. Melvins, Houdini
Tempting as it is to include earlier Melvins classics like Ozma and Bullhead, recorded during the band's late '80s/early '90s sojourn in S.F., there's no ignoring the brilliance of the band's Atlantic Records debut Houdini. Buzz Osbourne would surely bristle at the metal label, but how else would you categorize the album's pulverizing onslaught? From the cannonade of Dale Crover's opening drum fill on "Hooch," through the lumbering metric tonnage of "Night Goat," dead-on Kiss cover "Goin' Blind," "Hag Me," and the frenzied explosion of "Honey Bucket," Houdini offers up some of the band's heaviest gems as well as a compendium of Osbourne's greatest riffs. -- Dave Pehling
15. Montrose, Montrose
Montrose's self-titled debut in 1973 announced leader and guitarist Ronnie Montrose as a virtuoso six-string badass in the same league as Jimmy Page and Richie Blackmore, laid the template for future hard-rock game-changers Van Halen, and -- for better or worse -- introduced the music world to singer Sammy Hagar. The ferocious opening salvo of "Rock the Nation," "Bad Motor Scooter," and "Space Station No. 5" alone would qualify the album for inclusion in the Top 20 of any hard rock/heavy metal album list. The lascivious swagger of "Rock Candy" and deep cuts "I Don't Want It" and "Make It Last" lift the effort to legendary status. -- Dave Pehling
14. Sleep, Dopesmoker
The very definition of "too much of a good thing is just enough," San Jose's Sleep pushed stoner attention spans with a John Cage-worthy study in extremes: a nearly 70-minute album consisting of "one riff" repeated ad nauseum. In reality, it was a precise, meticulously planned exercise in subtle variation closer to composer Morton Feldman, albeit quite a bit louder. It's a quintessential piece of uncompromising art: it lost the bandmembers their label, halted the first act of their careers, and secured their spot as heavy metal legends and trailblazers of the highest order. -- Alee Karim
13. Machine Head, Burn My Eyes
During the lengthy lull between Metallica's self-titled 1991 blockbuster (aka The Black Album) and the shark-jumping disaster of Load in 1996, Oakland-based outfit Machine Head came together to sate the Bay Area's head-banging masses with the skull-cracking tunes of Burn My Eyes. Led by thrash veteran Robb Flynn (Forbidden, Vio-lence), Machine Head married the pugilistic menace of Pantera with the ruthless aggression of Slayer for a unique sound on the band's monstrous 1994 debut. Driven by Flynn's vitriolic riffs and the assaultive drums of Chris Kontos, songs like "Davidian," "Old," and "Blood For Blood" blazed a new, groove-oriented path in metal that would dominate the rest of the decade. -- Dave Pehling
12. High on Fire, Death is This Communion
From the raw rumble of 2000's The Art of Self Defense through this year's conceptual time-travel opus De Vermis Mysteriis, High on Fire has amassed a body of work few modern metal bands can touch. Still, it was the Jack Endino-produced Death is This Communion that marked the addition of ex-Zeke bassist Jeff Matz and the first time Matt Pike's gargantuan Iommi-isms and Dez Kensel's thunderous drums were captured in an analog glory that truly did the band justice. "Fury Whip," "Turk," and the galloping "Rumors of War" show High on Fire executing its violent sledgehammer science with a new level of precision and intensity. -- Dave Pehling
11. Faith No More, Angel Dust
Faith No More may have made an MTV splash with "The Real Thing" -- its first album with Mike Patton -- but Patton began to stretch his legs on Angel Dust, bringing the vocal hijinks he first employed with Mr. Bungle. The result is an altogether stranger, but deeply authentic record. His theatrical delivery, coupled with the band's pitch-perfect music, makes for gripping listening, particularly on the chilling "Caffeine" and on "RV," somehow both soul-leaching and country-carnivalesque. Arguably Faith No More's finest hour. -- Beth Winegarner
10. Blue Cheer, Outsideinside
Blue Cheer's corrosive take on the Eddie Cochran nugget "Summertime Blues" is frequently cited as a pivotal proto-metal moment, but it was the band's 1968 effort Outsideinside that elevated the punishing attack of bassist Dickie Peterson and guitarist Leigh Stevens to a higher, heavier plane. "Come and Get It" delivers the locomotive wallop of a Motrhead tune, even though it was tracked when a pre-Hawkwind Lemmy was still shifting amps for Hendrix. Factor in the flanged drums and fuzz-fueled fury of "Just a Little Bit," the headlong 90-second instrumental assault of "Magnolia Caboose Babyfinger," and the cowbell-banging mayhem of "Babylon," and you have a cornerstone of future heaviness. -- Dave Pehling
9. Death Angel, The Ultra-Violence
Recorded when the members of Death Angel were under the age of 20 (precocious monster drummer Andy Galeon was all of 14), The Ultra-Violence bristles with relentless, youthful energy. Even if the intricate, interlocking guitar parts of "Thrashers," "Evil Priest" and "Kill As One" owe an obvious debt to Metallica's complex riff architecture (Kirk Hammett produced the demo that preceded the 1987 album), the breakneck ferocity heard on Death Angel's punishing debut outweighs any possible criticism over originality. The 10-minute title track can go toe-to-toe with Metallica's "The Four Horsemen" and Exodus's "Deliver Us to Evil" as one of the great thrash epics of the decade. -- Dave Pehling
8. Neurosis, Through Silver in Blood
These Gilman punks had already been more than the sum of their crust-prog-doom parts, but with 1996's Through Silver in Blood, their gravity found new depths.Tucking in the apocalyptic psycho-spirituality of Philip K. Dick and the grandeur of Wagner via the scuzzily demented guitars of Scott Kelly and Steve Von Till, Neurosis stumbled upon a strange strain of science fiction metal that may have been too intense to be repeated. At once creepy, miasmic and prophetic, Through Silver in Blood still sounds like the future and remains without peer. -- Alee Karim
7. Testament, The New Order
On their sophomore album, second-generation Bay Area thrashers Testament managed the tricky task of writing more sophisticated, memorable songs without losing the vicious edge of their earlier work. Guitar heroes Eric Peterson and Alex Skolnick move easily from moody, gothic intros to aural curbstomp riffage on "Trial By Fire" and "Disciples of the Watch," while singer Chuck Billy's emotive roar gives a frenetic urgency to longtime Testament standards "Into the Pit" and the title track. Bonus points for boosting the menacing strut of Aerosmith's "Nobody's Fault" to new heights with a modern, thrash-tinged twist. -- Dave Pehling
6. Metallica, Kill 'Em All
Metallica would go on to make much better albums than Kill 'Em All. But the quality of its opening 1983 salvo can be seen in just how many songs from this uneven effort remain in the band's setlist today. And not just for the Met Club diehards, either: "The Four Horsemen" is still seven thrilling minutes, and "Seek And Destroy" continues to close out pretty much every Metallica show ever. You can hear hints of the stunning complexity that would come on later albums, as well as its scrappy punk influence, all of which add up to make Kill 'Em All a Bay Area metal classic. -- Ian S. Port
5. Exodus, Bonded By Blood
A certifiable classic, the neck-snapping 1985 debut of East Bay heathens Exodus remains one of the most brutal albums produced during the Bay Area's golden era of thrash. Propelled by mainstay Gary Holt's inventive riffs and dueling tandem solos with guitar foil Rick Hunolt, mosh-pit anthems "A Lesson in Violence" and "Strike of the Beast" never failed to leave feral hordes of teen heshers (this writer included) bloodied and bruised at the band's ferocious live shows. Small wonder Exodus has revisited the album twice -- 1998's live Another Lesson in Violence with original singer Paul Baloff (R.I.P.), and a 2008 studio re-recording with current vocalist Rob Dukes. --Dave Pehling
4. Metallica, Ride the Lightning
With all the energy of Kill 'Em All but a more confident sense of songwriting and musicality, Ride The Lightning was huge step forward for Metallica. Unlike the band's debut, every song on here feels developed and original, and most of them work devastatingly well. It could've easily played off the horror tropes other metal bands used, but "For Whom The Bell Tolls" is genuinely unnerving -- even to this day. The mournful "Fade to Black" was a first glimpse at the sheer, epic beauty of which Metallica was capable, and how thoroughly these four could marry that grace to bone-crushing heaviness. As for "Creeping Death," its musical assault more than lives up to what the title promises. Released in 1984, Ride the Lightning set a new bar for thrash metal -- both in the Bay Area and elsewhere. -- Ian S. Port
3. Metallica, ...And Justice For All
Wherein Metallica pushed its epic ambition to transcendent -- and sometimes exhausting --lengths. Derided by fans at first for its harsh, gravelly production-- and the virtually inaudible bass from new bassist Jason Newsted, who replaced Cliff Burton after his tragic death -- ... And Justice For All can be a long, difficult listen when taken at once, but it easily contains some of Metallica's best songs. The title track is a nine-minute suite, one of the most progressive pieces of music Metallica ever assembled. "One" would become Metallica's first music video, a war story that introduced MTV audiences to the band's taste for exquisite misery. "Dyers Eve" saw James Hetfield grapple with his difficult childhood in one of this band's darkest and most brutal songs ever. Big, bleak, and imposing, ... And Justice For All was the finale of Metallica's epic thrash period -- and what a fantastic end it was. --Ian S. Port
2. Metallica, Metallica
Purists might dismiss this one as thrash metal lite, but there can be no minimizing the fact that Metallica's 1991 self-titled blockbuster brought almost all of the band's brutality to a huge new audience -- albeit in shorter, more digestible songs. "Enter Sandman," "Sad But True," and "Wherever I May Roam" might have sacrificed length -- but they gave up nothing in heaviness or speed. And even if "The Unforgiven" and/or "Nothing Else Matters" aren't your thing, they saw Metallica taking more chances than ever before, ensuring that this blowout success was also one of the band's most satisfying long players. -- Ian S. Port
1. Metallica, Master of Puppets
The best Metallica album, the best Bay Area metal album, and very possibly the best metal album, period, Master of Puppets is eight perfect songs in perfect sequence, extending the speedy onslaught of Nor-Cal thrash into huge, multi-part compositions. It saw the peaks of both sides of Metallica's early sound: Pure, speedy mayhem ("Damage, Inc."), and extended, instrumental grace ("Orion"). No one in the Bay Area (and probably anywhere) has done metal better, before or since. -- Ian S. Port
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20. Ludicra, The Tenant
When San Francisco's Ludicra dropped this unrequited love song for the city that had been throwing disdainful art-apathetic residents and high rents in the bandmembers' faces for years, they didn't know it was to be their last record. Two years later, it's not only a triumph of an album a thematically ambitious and deeply melodic hybrid of NWOBHM and black metal it's also a document of a time when artists felt the burn of the recession grow ever hotter, a burn that unfortunately forced many out of their preferred kitchen. At the precise halfway point of anger and beauty lies this record, a virtual manifesto of the ethics of a Bay Area metal musician. -- Alee Karim

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