This edition of the ‘Essential Albums’ series will focus on records that served as building blocks to the metal genre. The main timeframe we’re looking at for the scope of this list will be primarily the middle to late-60’s. We aren’t talking about Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, or Black Sabbath here, seeing as they are often referred to as the essential three of the early days of metal. We are talking proto-metal, the stuff that came before metal. However, seeing how contentious of a subject what is and is not considered metal around this time truly is, feel free to make up your own mind.
With that said, here are ten essential records that helped build metal.
- ‘Vincebus Eruptum’- Blue Cheer
Sometimes referred to as the first metal band, Blue Cheer brought volume to an extreme level that hadn’t been heard up to that point on this 1968 release. Like Cream, these guys took the psychedelic/blues rock format and pushed it to new levels of heaviness. Although, it should be noted that Blue Cheer were even heavier than Cream.
- ‘Are You Experienced’- The Jimi Hendrix Experience
The early days of metal, or proto-metal, were dominated by the power trio (Blue Cheer, Cream) and Hendrix and his crew knew how to bring the volume. Hendrix, in particular, may be the single most important figure in this early scene in terms of influencing metal. No one before or since has done more to expand the vocabulary of the electric guitar.
- ‘In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida’- Iron Butterfly
Perhaps the most excessive record of the psychedelic era, this 1968 landmark is also one of the heaviest. The distorted guitar riff to the epic title track is something that, unquestionably, would go one to be an influence in the early days of metal. This record is one of the champions of the psychedelic and proto-metal era.
- ‘Fresh Cream’- Cream
If either Led Zeppelin’s ’69 debut or Black Sabbath’s ’70 debut is the birth of metal itself, this 1966 record from Cream could be pointed to as the birth of proto-metal. Up to this point, no other record had utilized the wah-wah pedal in quite the way that Cream managed to do here.
- ‘The Crazy World of Arthur Brown’- The Crazy World of Arthur Brown
This 1968 masterpiece is also one of the most underappreciated records of its era. Arthur Brown is unbelievably important to the development of metal and, serving as most of the reason why, his transgressive tendencies were some of the most daring and explicit of the musical climate of their time. The first and one one of the best of its kind.
- ‘Steppenwolf’- Steppenwolf
The record which bears “Born to Be Wild”, sometimes referred to as the first metal song. Whether the band meant to or not, the term ‘heavy metal’, used in the lyrics of the song, would forever go on to be something that this band would be classified alongside. Accidental or not, these guys’ place as proto-metal pioneers is undeniable.
- ‘Kinks’- The Kinks
There is one primary reason why this 1964 record should be considered among the building blocks of metal: Dave Davies. Davies’ riffing on this record, particularly on “You Really Got Me”, would go on to define what the hard rock/metal riff was and what it was supposed to sound like.
- ‘Disraeli Gears’- Cream
For exactly the same reason as ‘Fresh Cream’, released the previous year, this record is equally deserving, if not more so, to be included among the essential proto-metal records that were coming out of that era. This record is a bit more psychedelic than its predecessor and, one could argue, perhaps a bit better constructed, but the conditions remain the same.
- ‘A Quick One’- The Who
The Who are definitely pioneers of what would become known as metal. On this record, in particular, this is noticeable. “Boris the Spider” is perhaps the first rock song to make use of guttural vocals. Pete Townshend, like Dave Davies, was also cultivating what the riff would become defined by on this 1966 record.
- ‘Electric Ladyland’- The Jimi Hendrix Experience
This is the record where Jimi Hendrix would push the boundaries of electric guitar playing beyond any barriers which the musical climate had thought existed at that point in time. It’s precisely this, Hendrix’s unwillingness to accept the boundaries that were placed in front of him, that makes him a prominent proto-metal figure.