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Coop’s Top Ten American Metal Albums


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When it comes to thunderous drums, razor blade guitars, and screams hellbent on curdling blood, nowhere has had an impact like our dear old United States of America. In the spirit of July 4th and celebrating another year of American metal dominating the dirtiest corners of music, Gimme Metal asked our newest contributor and self-proclaimed “king of the basement pit,” Coop, to put together his Top Ten American Metal Albums list. Be aware, this is not your father’s Top Ten list: these are some of the gnarliest albums ever produced. With fair warning out of the way, let’s get into Coop’s Top Ten American Metal Albums.

10. Slipknot - SlipknotSlipknot - Slipknot - Gimme Radio


Slipknot’s self-titled debut is among the rawest albums ever made. Combining ruthless percussiveness and relentless riffage, Slipknot is sure to leave even seasoned metal listeners  looking like they just drove Doc’s DeLorean time machine with the top down. Many have combined rap and DJ elements with guitars like beat-boxing jackhammers, but none did so with a modicum of the adrenaline this nine-piece mainlines into your bloodstream. Korn’s Korn arriving five years before should mean Slipknot had no shot at being foundational to the genre, but you will not find a fan claiming it is not an essential part of what makes Nu Metal Nu Metal. 

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9. Cowboys from Hell - PanteraPantera - Cowboys From Hell - 2LP - Gimme Radio


Any band whose weakest link is Rex Brown is definitionally due to be a real doozy, and Pantera’s first venture into their signature sound does not disappoint. Combining familiar heavy elements with an entirely new sound which went on to become Groove Metal, this album changed music irreversibly. Anyone wondering why Dimebag Darrell is among metal’s most legendary guitarists need look no further than Cowboys from Hell. Yet these riffs are infinitely approachable and invite any would-be guitarist to play along. “Primal Concrete Sledge,” for example, is among the tastiest riffs of the 90s and only has two notes. On top of Dimebag, Vinnie Paul’s animalistic ability to make “the pocket” find you merits an article the length of this one, and the ever-virile Phil Anslemo’s virtuosity is near-unmatched in the entirety of metal. Cowboys comfortably makes this list as the blueprint for what a bone to pick and a generous dose of southern twang can do.

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8. Odd Fellows Rest - Crowbar

Those familiar with the depths of Doom Metal will acknowledge this fact: no scene has been more important for the genre than that of New Orleans. Odd Fellows Rest is the crown jewel of NOLA’s contribution to sludgy, repentless, and severely bereaved music. Each dirge-like track of this behemoth is teeming with depravity; each note sinks its teeth ever-further into the void sitting in immensity in the chest of every listener. Tone-chasers beware: Crowbar’s is virtually untouched both in its vastness and its emotional tenacity. Odd Fellows Rest, the most stunning achievement in all of Doom Metal, soundly lays claim to its spot on this list.

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7. Ashes of the Wake - Lamb of GodLamb Of God - Ashes Of The Wake - Gimme Radio

A little over ten years after Pantera laid the groundwork for Groove Metal, Lamb of God perfected it. Ashes of the Wake hits like torrential hellfire. Calling it infectious is a vast understatement. At just about every metal show of the last 20 years, this album’s fingerprints have been abundant. The band’s crushingly punctuational musicianship carved its way into the heart of several generations: no work in all of metalcore, deathcore, or any music like it can avoid taking a swing at mimicking the lethally intense tonalities found here. Ashes of the Wake is one of America’s most significant contributions to 21st century metal.

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6. Holy Diver - DioDio - Holy Diver - Gimme Radio

Ronnie James Dio is hailed by many as the greatest metal vocalist of all time, and Holy Diver is the most significant reason why. Dio’s debut came hot off the tail of the singer’s departure from Black Sabbath, far eclipsing anything the greatest metal band in the world (at the time) had made in almost a decade. For bands with fantastical lyrics, religious criticisms, and anthemic calls to be true to your heart, Holy Diver is certain to be just about the first thing out of their mouths when asked about inspiration. “Stand Up and Shout,” “Holy Diver,” and “Rainbow in the Dark,” are the pinnacle of classic metal. Killswitch Engage, one of the best selling metal acts of this century, never reached such success with their own music as they did by covering the title track of this 1980s titan. Holy Diver is an essential addition to any enthusiast’s collection.

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5. Dirt - Alice in ChainsAlice in Chains - Dirt - Gimme Radio

It is impossible to talk about American contributions to music without acknowledging one of the most monumental movements of the past forty years: grunge. While grunge is usually referenced in the same breath as the pop-adjacent Nevermind, the genre has a plethora of mean-mug-inducing additions to the heavy metal lexicon. On no album is this more masterfully done than Alice in Chains’ 1992 album Dirt. If you ran the slowest, gnarliest cuts off any Black Sabbath album through the grodiest available skid row sewage, the result would sound about half as nasty as anything you will find here. Yet, despite how unreservedly humongous Jerry Cantrell and Layne Staley are on each of its heavy metal anthems, it is the melancholic, inarticulable intimacy the band brings to the soft cuts on Dirt which makes it an all-timer.

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 4. Undertow - ToolTool - Undertow - Gimme Radio

Tool has become synonymous with progressive, trippy, soul-searching music about the divinity in even the most miniscule details of life. Undertow, as the outfit’s debut album, laid the groundwork for everything that followed. Paul D’Amour’s singular approach to bass is so phenomenal that Justin Chancellor (his replacement) has spent every moment since attempting (with some definitive success) to duplicate it. The reason this album makes the list as opposed to the several others that make Tool of almost mythic significance is simple: there is no fat to be found here. This is the album to start with, for both those inundated with projects that insist on the superiority of strange time signatures and the total newcomer. Every track brings something at-the-time unheard of, and if the four-piece God-seeking monolith of psychedelia had never made another album, Undertow would still earn them a spot on this list. 

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3. Leprosy - DeathDeath - Leprosy - Gimme Radio

No heavy metal top ten, American or otherwise, is complete without Death. Bringing boundary-pushing brutality, iconically technical musicality, and a vocal style synonymous with metal itself, Leprosy shows the band at its downright best; it is everything that makes Death the indisputable peak of soul-grinding mercilessness. This 1988 gargantuan was so ahead of its time that even today it is difficult to come up with titles that compare. If a musician were to say they make death metal and have never attempted to mimic anything off Leprosy, they would most assuredly be wrong about one of those two things. If you want to really knock your socks off, listen to Leprosy and Death’s debut, Scream Bloody Gore, back to back while keeping in mind that the difference between the two is barely a year and a half.

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2. System of a Down - System of a DownSystem Of A Down - System Of A Down - Gimme Radio

Even among the acts on this list, System of a Down is a different breed entirely. The Armenian-American foursome blend decidedly-danceable West Asian folk music with the signature styles, instrumental and vocal, of Nu Metal, adding a decidedly healthy dose of extreme death metal to sew it all together. Throw on top of that radically political and absurdist lyrical elements, and you get music that is untouchable. Toxicity may be their best-known work, but it is System of a Down which most potently displays how anomalous the band truly is. Other titles on this list have been deemed boundary-defying, but none of them sit so far outside the norms that deciphering what boundaries are even being defied is such a challenge. For that feat alone, System of a Down earns its second place spot.

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1. Master of Puppets - Metallica

Was there ever any doubt? There are people who have never experienced air conditioning and know the name Metallica. The group is such a cultural icon that the most Bubblegum Pop of modern musical acts can be seen sporting their t-shirts. Master of Puppets is without a doubt one of the most influential albums of all time and neither Metallica nor any other band accomplished anything like it again. The power of in-your-face thrashing riffs already under their thumb, Master marks Metallica’s trip into what became progressive metal. This album has on full display everything that heavy music enthusiasts of all stripes have gone on to explore; thematically, tonally, and structurally, this is America’s all-time greatest offering on the altar of what is known the world over as heavy metal.

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These ten American Metal albums stand as megalithic pillars of auditory ferocity. Each of the selections here either defined a genre or perfected it, and several did both. Whether you have been entrenched in the depths of musical ruthlessness for the last half-century or are a complete beginner, it is impossible to deny the colossal influence that the U.S. has had, and continues to have, on one of the most prolific genres ever. So lend these albums, or any that owe them a great debt, your ear, and crank up the volume until your soul begins to shudder at the unbridled fury that is heavy metal.


-- Cooper Greenman