What do “Kill ‘Em All” (Metallica), “Scream Bloody Gore” (Death), and “Facelift” (Alice in Chains) have in common? Stylistically not much, but these are all albums that had a significant impact on music and are still beloved by fans across the globe. Many will argue that these albums are the epitome of debut perfection. Plenty of other bands have released debuts that pack just as much of a punch, but unfortunately do to a variety of reasons (low publicity, production, etc.) they are often dismissed or forgotten over time. Below is a list of three highly underrated debut albums.
Metal Church – “Metal Church” (1984)
If you ask the average, younger metalhead what some of the best albums from the 1980s were you’re bound to get some pretty typical responses; Iron Maiden’s “Number of the Beast”, Slayer’s “Reign in Blood”, and so on. You probably won’t hear many respond with Metal Church’s debut. That’s truly disappointing because “Metal Church” exhibits some damn fine musicianship but is often overshadowed by the more popular acts of the time. This album is the perfect mix between the aggression of hardcore punk and the melodic sensibilities of NWOBHM bands. While I wouldn’t necessarily classify them as thrash metal, they had no problem with showing their contemporaries just how it was done (check “Battalions” and the self-titled track). The music is beautifully constructed and Wayne’s menacing shrieks more than compliment the evil tone brought forth in the guitars. If these songs were the hymns then I would attend this church every week!
Meshuggah – “Contradictions Collapse” (1991)
I really don’t understand why this album gets so much hate. Sure it’s not "groovy", and it’s not likely to influence Vortexes.. or Structural Illusions.. or whatever the next fucking popular djent band will call themselves. In retrospect, that’s part of this album’s charm. Musically, the album has always reminded me of a free-form jazz influenced “…And Justice for All” in a sense that it represents all of the strongest qualities of 1980’s thrash metal while remaining open to the experimentation of prog rock and jazz. Polyrhythms and syncopated beats dominate the album but the raw sound and audible bass give it a classic extreme metal vibe. Meshuggah obviously refined their sound throughout the 1990’s (and even into the 2000’s with masterpieces such as “Nothing”), but “Contradictions Collapse” was the necessary first step in their career. Remember that 8-string guitars are not a prerequisite for creating great music.
Shadows Fall – “Somber Eyes to the Sky” (1997)
Shadows Fall as a band is criminally underrated. But that’s beyond the point; we’re here to discuss underrated debuts, and “Somber Eyes to the Sky” is a monster of one! Though it may not be a highly regarded classic like Killswitch Engage’s debut or Lamb of God’s “New American Gospel”, this was the first true album to be released in the New Wave of American Heavy Metal. By that I mean this was the first album in which a U.S. based band adopted significant European extreme metal sounds into their hardcore/metalcore song structures. Many tracks even utilized the “yin/yang” vocal approach as guitarist Matt Bachand provided clean vocals amidst Phil Labonte’s death growls. Along with that, the guitarwork is executed flawlessly and the overall tone is unbelievably dark compared to subsequent Shadows Fall albums. “Somber Eyes to the Sky” is a must listen for fans of the NWOAHM.