This blog has been written to upset you. “OMFG! He’s compiled a list of the world’s heaviest albums and not included ‘Necrotic Wolf Enslavement’ by Crepuscular Molestation Cauldron!”, “No ‘Massive Fucking Apocalypse’ by Cataclysmic Death Flange – no credibility!” Don’t worry that the concept of heaviness in any kind of music is utterly subjective, just skip my explanations and go straight into telling me I look like Justin Lee Collins in the handily provided comments feature below.
So we call this mighty genre heavy metal but what exactly is the heaviness that we speak of? “Heavy isn’t about volume, it’s about attitude” said Deep Purple’s Roger Glover. And likewise speed and virtuosity don’t make up the heavy or the spiritual component of the music.
Instead, the bone-crushing weight of this music comes from its atmosphere, the riffs, the oppressiveness of the production and in some cases from the intense personalities (and lyrics) involved. The overpowering density comes at the exact moment during a metal song when your head sinks as if you’ve been punched in the stomach. The sensation is often derived from brutal simplicity; it relies on introspective, monolithic repetition, meaning that as often as not, very technically gifted musicians often fail to achieve ultimate heaviosity by interrupting true weightiness with fancy frills, fills and curlicues. This is why, as good as they are, the list is free from bands such as Strapping Young Lad, Nile and Obituary.
Also massive metal bands can achieve greatness but playing to a mass audience can often be a bar to ultimate sonic density because it usually means rough edges get smoothed down. So a band such as Megadeth may have the best guitarist in the world and a band such as Iron Maiden may have many of the best riffs but compared to Melvins or Harvey Milk, they are lighter than a dandelion seed landing on a bowl of Angel Delight.
As a point of order I’ve kept this list down to one inclusion per band in case it just ended up looking like an Electric Wizard discography. You’ll notice that most of these albums are ‘modern’ – ie, recorded in the last 25-years. Metal bands have to become ever more fiendish in their attempts to achieve heaviociousness as time crawls on. Back through the the velvet loon-panted mists of time, ‘Physical Graffiti’ by Led Zeppelin, ‘Painkiller’ by Judas Priest and ‘Machine Head’ by Deep Purple would have been considered the epitome of heaviness but as the ante has been upped over the years, they’ve become less mind-fuckingly heavy. This said, there are a handful of albums so heavy that age will never lighten them, such as Black Sabbath’s ‘Master Of Reality’ and Slayer’s ‘Reign In Blood’.
Anyway, I hope some of these albums enrich your week – if not your entire life. All of them to a man, are so heavy they deserve to be listened to on one knee, facing north, drinking red wine out of an upturned skull goblet while wearing the most extravagant hat you own and displaying the kind of pained expression that suggests you’ve just trodden on an upturned plug with bare feet.
1: Electric Wizard – ‘Dopethrone’
We might as well get the obvious one out of the way first. Dorset Satanic doom revivalists Electric Wizard set the bar to a new all time low at the turn of the century when they recorded this masterpiece. The Palace Of Heaviness is accessed by the Road Of Excess via the Tradesman’s Entrance Of Bad Vibes and the band’s daily intake of vodka, cannabis, speed and LSD while recording means this album is sick in every sense of the word. If you don’t own this album, stop what you are doing now and purchase it. Put it on your stereo, smoke a lid and then await enlightenment. Or enheavyment as the case may be.
Taster track: ‘Funeralopolis’
Heavier than: Dr Manhattan’s massive blue cock in a giant lead condom.
2: SunnO))) – ‘ØØ Void’
At the end of 2009 the track ‘Hunting & Gathering (Cydonia)’ from SunnO)))’s ‘Monoliths & Dimensions’ was named the Heaviest Song of All-Time by American radio DJ Jason Ellis. This is as may be but you need to go to the beginning of their career to hear the album so heavy that it created its own weather system. Stephen O’Malley and Greg Anderson first came up with the idea of playing extremely slow, drop tuned Melvins and Earth riffs at brain rupturing volumes while dressed as monks in the late 1990s. Some of their earliest gigs made people so angry that they took to playing behind their amplifiers instead of in front of them. Luckily for us, they persevered and their first sign of mass engorged genius was this, their second album in 2000.
Taster track: ‘Richard’
Heavier than: A brass elephant.
3: Black Sabbath – ‘Master Of Reality’
While Aston’s Black Sabbath to all intents and purposes invented Heavy Metal on the title track of their self-titled debut album in 1970, they delivered the heaviest of all metal via their third, ‘Master Of Reality’, a year later. Tony Iommi, who’d lost two finger tips in an industrial accident, started down-tuning his guitar while recording this album to make it easier for him to play. Bassist Geezer Butler had to follow suit and sticksman Bill Ward chose to retune his kit and this naturally made the band sound even heavier and sludgier. This effect is audible on tracks such as ‘Children Of The Grave’ and ‘Into The Void’ and even on the weed anthem, ‘Sweet Leaf’ – despite the fact it sounds like it was recorded in a shed.
Taster track: ‘Into The Void’
Heavier than: ‘Volume 4’
4: UFOmammut – ‘Eve’
Once while DJing I played the song ‘Stardog’ by UFOmammut, causing one unfortunate punter to void his bowels on the dance floor. While this revealed that one must always be fully prepared to receive heaviness, it also served as a visceral example of just how sonically beefy this Italian space rock trio are. This album is a one-track, 45-minute sonic elegy to the mother of mankind, that mixes interstellar, deep brain thrombosis space rock with a primitavist vibe that reminds one of a blood-soaked caveman staring at a passing UFO in disbelief.
Taster track: ‘Part I’
Heavier than: Mecha-Godzilla’s big brass balls.
5: Sleep – ‘Dopesmoker’
The story of Californian doom metal stoner rockers Sleep has gone down in legend. Alongside Kyuss, Monster Magnet, Cathedral and Electric Wizard, they were young hopefuls in a new generation of bong-loaded, amplifier worshipping guitar heroes, kneeling at the gore-festooned altar of Black Sabbath. Such was the buzz that surrounded Sleep back in the mid-90s that London Records ended up offering them a six figure deal. After accepting, they turned in their major label debut: a one track, sixty three minute long, mono-riff epic called ‘Dopesmoker’. This created a massive rift between the group and their label, which Sleep attempted to solve by shaving three minutes off the track and renaming it ‘Jerusalem’. This wasn’t the compromise the label had in mind and the band broke up. Luckily, London Records’ loss was to be our gain, as Rise Above eventually released ‘Dopesmoker’ in all its pollen-atomized glory in 2003.
Taster track: ‘Dopesmoker’ (the bit at 16 minutes when the vocals kick in)
Heavier than: Half a ton of red Leb.
6: Overmars – ‘Born Again’
Most post rock and post metal is too prone to noodling or lapsing into ambient passages to achieve the full on heaviness of a transit van falling down a mine shaft but French quintet Overmars stand out in their genre. ‘Born Again’ is a one track meditation on birth as if performed by Bjork and Tricky fronting Neurosis.
Taster track: ‘Born Again’ (the bit at about ten minutes in when she starts screaming “Climb!”)
Heavier than: A hitman’s conscience.
7: Godflesh – ‘Streetcleaner’
After leaving Napalm Death to drum for Head Of David in the late 80s, avant metal wunderkind Justin Broadrick founded the industrial metal outliers Godflesh. Before accidentally going on to lay down the blueprint for nu metal and the career path for most 90s Industrial groups, they recorded ‘Streetcleaner’, a beacon of nihilism and caustic misanthropy. Pummelling machine rhythms halfway between Big Black and early Sisters Of Mercy mixed with death metal vocals and clangorous, strafing guitars, but the heaviness here was all down to Broadrick’s singularly negative view of mankind.
Taster track: ‘Like Rats’
Heavier than: An iron church.
8: Thorr’s Hammer – ‘Dommedagsnatt’
Prior to SunnO))), Stephen O’Malley and Greg Anderson were in another, short lived but catastrophically heavy band called Thorr’s Hammer. They were crepuscular doom revivalists, worshipping Pentagram, Sabbath and Celtic Frost but their secret weapon was in the form of diminutive and elfin singer Runhild Gammelsaeter, a 17-year-old Norwegian exchange student who was only in Seattle for a six week trip at the end of 1994. However in that time they managed to play a couple of shows and record this terrifyingly heavy album which sounds like Regan from The Exorcist fronting Shrinebuilder.
Taster track: ‘Norge’
Heavier than: Whatever lies at the absolute opposite of the spectrum from Los Campensinos!.
9: Part Chimp – ‘I Am Come’
File under ‘If They Had Have Been American, This Band Would Have Become Marginally More Famous’. It saddens me to report that South London’s Part Chimp are calling it a day this year. But in the absence of their terrifyingly loud stoner rock / euphoric doom / sludge metal being played live at least we still have their albums – especially ‘Thriller’ and ‘I Am Come’ – to remember them by.
Taster track: ‘War Machine’
Heavier than: A diplodocus that’s eaten an anvil.
10: Khanate – ‘Things Viral’
Unlike most of the other albums here, ‘Things Viral’ has acres of echoing space on it. Instead of relying on tons of distortion or a wall of blast beats, Khanate’s MO is to turn everything up insanely loud and to attempt to play quietly but intensely. The key being the word ‘attempt’. The heaviness comes from the necrotic and howled vocals of Alan Dubin who constantly sounds like one of the less lucky characters from Hostel.
Taster track: ‘Too Close Enough To Touch’
Heavier than: Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion.
11: Warhorse – ‘As Heaven Turns To Ash’
The first track proper on this immovably weighty album, ‘Doom’s Bride’ was recorded in a practice room on a cassette recorder, but the quality and heft of the song suggest that some kind of Faustian pact guaranteeing heaviness may have taken place prior to the session.
Taster track: ‘Blak Acid Prophecy’
Heavier than: A high speed motorway hearse pile-up.
12: Admiral Angry – ‘Buster’
Imagine taking the drop-tuned, stomach rupturing riffs of the Melvins, the parched larynx vocal horror of Alan Dubin (Khanate, Gnaw) and visceral sense of pain conjured up by Gnaw Their Tongues – this is the sound of Admiral Angry. After releasing an EP called ‘Like 9-11… Only Worse’, they went on to record the phenomenal ‘Buster’. Sadly, the group’s guitarist Daniel Kraus lost the battle against cystic fibrosis at the age of 22 before the album’s release, but it’s a probability that some of the album’s almost unbearable weight and claustrophobia was created by the terrible knowledge the album was recorded under.
Taster track: ‘Sex With A Stranger’
Heavier than: The ornamental ashtray used to beat you to death with.
13: Slayer – ‘Reign In Blood’
The album against which all other metal albums must be measured and the album against which nearly all of them will be judged to be lacking in aggression, innovation, riffology and, yes, heavy-esqueness. Rick Rubin’s peerless production here puts horrific echo on Dave Lombardo’s floor toms and a bone-breaking snap on his snare. While Kerry King and Jeff Hanneman aren’t as technically gifted at soloing as, say, Metallica’s Dave Mustaine, they are instinctual players who make their instruments howl like condemned souls falling into Hell.
Taster track: ‘Raining Blood’
Heavier than: ‘It’s Raining Men’
14: Cobalt – ‘Eater Of Birds’
North America has been the home of some of the most forward looking and intense Black Metal of the last decade, but nearly all of it is out-shadowed by the studio-only project of Phil McSorley and Erik Wunder, Cobalt. The former, an infantryman in the US Army who recently served two tours of duty in Iraq, and the latter, a solitary, nocturnal drinker obsessed with existentialism and the great American novel, make an odd couple but from this relationship came the intense, almost euphoric rush of their second album, ‘Eater Of Birds’.
Taster track: ‘Caphalopod’
Heavier than: Fucking war, dude.
15: Eyehategod – ‘Dope Sick’
If you ask someone who knows about sludge metal (this will undoubtedly be a blind drunk man with a massive beard and tattoos on his hands) what the most satisfying example of this genre is, there’s a good chance he will refer you to this 1995 album. The New Orleans outfit were in such a state of disarray when they recorded this hymn to the ‘pleasures’ of heroin withdrawal that the studio owners tried to evict them, claiming they were “insane”. While trying to record the sound of broken glass for the opening track ‘My Name Is God (I Hate You)’, band member Mike Williams slashed his hands open. His band mates then daubed “Hell” and “Death To Pigs” on the walls in his claret.
Taster track: ‘Anxiety Hangover’
Heavier than: A positive test result.
16: Anaal Nathrakh – ‘The Codex Necro’
After spending the entire 1990s in the shadow of the Norwegians, the UK re-established itself at the leading extremities of the Black Metal genre when Anaal Nathrakh – a duo who go by the names of V.I.T.R.I.O.L. and Irrumator (or Dave and Mick when visiting their families) – released this benchmark extreme metal LP. Normally genre fusions fail to satisfy those hungry for anchor heavy music. For example most nu metal fails to deliver in equal amounts to both hardcore hip hop fans and hardcore metal fans alike. In this case however, Anaal Nathrakh, through sheer sonic bastardry produced an album that indulges in multiple styles in an anything-goes-as-long-as-it’s-really-fucking-heavy manner, which can only really be described as “deeply unpleasant”. Never has a combination of caustic death metal, nihilistic black metal, power violence and grindcore been so bloodily effective.
Taster track: ‘Paradigm Shift’
Heavier than: A bong filled with poppers.
17: Earth – ‘Earth 2’
While there’s a lot to be said for the present incarnation of Dylan Carlson’s alt-metal-goes-alt-country outfit, Earth, you really have to go back to 1993 to see why they are held up as such an influential band. ‘Earth 2’ – often referred to as the Special Low Frequency Edition – pretty much defined the Drone Doom genre and created the blueprint for followers such as SunnO))). If you attend a rock gig what is the most exciting thing to happen? It is when the guitarist strikes the first chord. Earth realised this and extended this moment into blissful infinity.
Taster track: ‘Teeth Of Lions Rule The Divine’
Heavier than: A 747 full of cybermen.
18: Swans – ‘Cop’
Like a symphony of feedback marshalled in an abattoir, ‘Cop’, is one of the most disagreeable albums ever recorded. Despite being recorded at painful volumes, being atonal to the point of punishment, it is the lyrical content that amps up the heaviness here. “No one rapes you like a cop in prison”, howls Michael Gira, unreasonably and untruthfully at one point.
Taster track: ‘Why Hide’
Heavier than: A skip full of anvils.
19: Mayhem – ‘De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas’
You probably already know the story. It was at the dawn of what would become known as True Norwegian Black Metal in the early 1990s in Oslo and normal scenesterish one-upmanship was rapidly spiralling out of control. The Nihilist killed himself. The Stalinist made jewellery out of bits of his skull. The Fascist burned down some churches and then stabbed the Stalinist to death, leaving the Arty one to sing songs about loneliness while dressed as the Pope giving birth to a sturgeon. But somehow in amongst all the violent, abhorrent and bizarre behaviour, Mayhem (a band who certainly lived up to their name), importantly, still found time to record some really good records, not the least of which is this lasting testament to the fact that bad people can make good art. Or very heavy art, in this case.
Taster track: ‘Freezing Moon’
Heavier than: A throne made out of human thigh bones.
20: Meshuggah – ‘Chaosphere’
As I’ve said above, complexity is often the enemy of true heaviness. After all, how do you build up a sickening edifice constructed out of layer after layer of density if you’re constantly breaking off to do something stupid in 17/18 time? One of the (admittedly many) exceptions to this rule are the defiantly unfunky Meshuggah. This bunch of Swedish death/jazz metallers combine a feverish technicality with riffs that strip the skin from your face. Their secret is to remove every last ounce of melody and warmth out of the riffs until they are pure, malevolent rhythm.
Taster track: ‘Corridor Of Chameleons’
Heavier than: The death of the family pet.
Agree? Disagree? Let us know your heaviest records now.