Megadeth – Th1rt3en (Roadrunner, 2011)

One the most glaring problems with metal’s nostalgia fetish (which I discussed at length here) is that bands’ latest releases are constantly being judged in terms of their legacies/past glories, rather than the actual content of the new offering being evaluated.  This is especially true of the genre’s titans, most of whom were blessed/cursed with releasing perfect or damn near perfect albums early on in their careers.  Such is the case with Megadeth, who are shouldered with the considerable burden of having released not one but two genre-defining thrash albums in the form of Peace Sells… But Who’s Buying? and Rust in Peace.
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Opeth – Heritage (Roadrunner, 2011)

I’ve never been able to understand why musical evolution is largely frowned upon in extreme metal circles.  It’s as if something went horribly awry back when rock music begat heavy metal and then heavy metal begat death metal, black metal, thrash, etc.  That essential aspect of rock ‘n’ roll’s spirit which calls for constant change was almost completely stamped out in favor of a stunted “different is bad” philosophy that continues to permeate the scene today.  Granted, “different” doesn’t always equal “good” either, but in order for any artistic or cultural movement to survive it must continually progress through trial and error, or risk degenerating into irrelevance and ultimately dying out.  Yet somehow, metal’s more extreme genres have managed to remain in stasis for nearly three decades.  Of course there are many exceptions, but for every one innovator there are literally hundreds of bands that have progressed their sound little (if at all) over the course of numerous albums, lineup changes, etc.  Pillars of the various extreme metal subgenres, such as Transilvanian Hunger, Heartwork, Left Hand Path, Rust in Peace, etc are all around the two decade old mark, and yet bands are still contently copying them, and acting like they’ve achieved something of note on their own in doing so.  When metal went extreme, it forgot that the bands from which it spawned, the Black Sabbaths and Led Zeppelins and Deep Purples of the world, never released two albums alike or even two songs alike.  Production values may improve, bands may become more technically proficient (and in some cases even these two will cause severe backlash), but stepping outside the imaginary, self-imposed boundaries of a chosen metal subgenre is largely verboten.
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THKD’s 10 Favorite American Metal Albums.

In honor of the Fourth of July, I thought it couldn’t hurt to add a little patriotic flare to THKD by celebrating my 10 favorite American metal albums. Remember, “favorite” doesn’t necessarily mean “best”, but I do believe that all of these albums are quintessential slabs of metallic americana. So, light your roman candles, fire up the barbecue, crack open a couple cold ones and enjoy THKD’s list of yankee metal dandies (in no particular order).

Metallica – Ride the Lightning (Elekta, 1984)
Ride the Lightning is easily Metallica’s finest hour. The youthful exuberance of Kill ‘Em All collides with the progressive tendencies that would come into bloom more fully on Master of Puppets and And Justice for All. This makes for an album that’s as savage as it is cerebral, which is also a pretty good way of describing the land of the free.

Death – Scream Blood Gore (Combat, 1987)
Scream Bloody Gore is arguably death metal ground zero, and Chuck Schuldiner was a true American metal genius, even in the early stages of his beloved band. Death would go on to mix DM with cosmic prog on albums such as Human and The Sound of Perseverance, but Scream Bloody Gore set the gory gold standard by which all USDM should be judged.

Ludicra – Fex Urbis Lex Orbis (Alternative Tentacles, 2006)
In 2006, I lived in California for six months, working as a publicity intern at Metal Blade Records in exchange for college credit. Fex Urbis Lex Orbis was the soundtrack to the loneliness and frustration I often felt during that time. The Bay Area band’s gritty, urban take on black metal encapsulates an “alone in the crowd” feeling that is distinctly American.

Today is the Day – Temple of the Morning Star (Relapse, 1997)
Whenever I listen to Steve Austin’s power trio from Hell, my mind is taken to the darkest recesses of American popular culture, where the likes of Jim Jones and Charles Manson reside. Temple of the Morning Star dredges the diseased underbelly of the United States and drags all the scum and sleaze kicking and screaming out into the open for all to see.

Corrosion of Conformity – Wiseblood (Columbia, 1996)
COC’s Wiseblood is all southern-fried stomp and dirt-caked riffage. This is music to be blasted at top volume in souped up ’69 Chevelles burning down the highway. Music for Budweiser and bong hit binges during long, boiling hot summers. Simply put, metal just doesn’t get any more American than this.

Slayer – South of Heaven (Def American, 1988)
Although the metal masses often cite Reign in Blood as Slayer’s finest hour, I’ll put my money on South of Heaven any day of the week. Look no further than “Mandatory Suicide”, “Live Undead” and the title track for undeniable proof that this is a snapshot of King, Hanneman, Araya and Lombardo at their peak. By taking a more varied approach to songwriting and tempo, Slayer established themselves as an American metal institution on their fourth album.

Danzig – II: Lucifuge (Def American, 1990)
With Lucifuge, Glenn Danzig perfected his diabolical master plan to spot-weld delta blues, fifties rock and goth onto a heavy metal framework. The results are often spectacular throughout the album, but “Devil’s Plaything” is without question the track where it all comes together for GD, cementing his status as an American metal icon.

Grand Belial’s Key – Judeobeast Assassination (Moribund, 2011)
An album this filthy, fucked and politically incorrect could have only come from an American band. GBK’s garage-y take on black metal is bolstered by excellent musicianship and a keen ear for songwriting, something you wouldn’t expect from a band that writes pure poetry such as “Christ, faggot, fondler of manhood”. Members of GBK also do time in the equally mighty/dodgy Arghoslent.

Pentagram – Relentless (Peaceville, 1993)
Relentless is a reissue of Pentagram’s self-released debut, marking the first time that the work of national treasure Bobby Liebling was exposed to a larger audience. It has been said that Pentagram should’ve been America’s answer to Black Sabbath, and Relentless proves that Liebling and Co. had the songs, the riffs and the swagger to give the Sabs a run for their money.

Megadeth – Rust in Peace (Capitol, 1990)
Rust in Peace is an exercise in precision and craftsmanship. Quite possibly the perfect thrash album, Dave Mustaine and Marty Friedman proved themselves to be the most devastating guitar tandem to ever come out of the American metal scene on shred-fests like “Holy Wars”, “Hangar 18” and “Lucretia”. One can’t help but wonder if Metallica’s decision to simplify their approach (on 1991’s Metallica) one year later had anything to do with realizing that they were hopelessly out-gunned by their former lead guitarist.

Honorable Mentions
Pantera – Cowboys from Hell
Brown Jenkins – Death Obsession
Slough Feg – Traveller
Manilla Road – Crystal Logic
Anthrax – Sound of White Noise
Cannibal Corpse – The Bleeding
Morbid Angel – Formulas Fatal to the Flesh
Obituary – Cause of Death
High on Fire – Blessed Black Wings
Sleep – Sleep’s Holy Mountain
Eyehategod – Take as Needed for Pain
Agalloch – The Mantle
Suffocation – Pierced From Within
Goatwhore – The Eclipse of Ages Into Black
Black Witchery – Desecration of the Holy Kingdom

I’m sure there are lots more I could list, but in the name of space concerns and short attention spans, I’ll stop here. So, what are your favorite American metal albums?