Classic status rarely comes instantly. Usually, albums that are considered all-timers earn that pedigree over several years, and in many cases, the records that have had the biggest impact on metal's sound and culture are ones that weren't uniformly praised upon their release.
From metalcore bands getting mellower to black-metal bands bucking conventions, below are 10 records that spurred deeply polarized fan reactions upon release, but are now almost universally revered as stone-cold classics.
Avenged Sevenfold are still getting shit for City of Evil, their 2005 album when they entirely dropped the metalcore screams and bludgeoning breakdowns of their 2003 breakthrough, Waking the Fallen, and leaned all the way into Eighties Metallica worship and sleazy, GN'R-ish imagery. It was the first of many jarring reinventions the Deathbat crew would undergo in the years to come, and arguably their most crucial.
City of Evil tracks like "Bat Country" and "Beast and the Harlot" were major gateways for hoards of new A7X fans, making this a more definitive entry point than Waking the Fallen — and also just a better record.
We all know how the story goes. After a couple not-so-great records and in the throes of hedonistic substance abuse, Ozzy Osbourne was fired from Black Sabbath in 1979, and the U.K. metal pioneers drafted Ronnie James Dio — a damn yankee! — to fill his spot. Their first record together, Heaven and Hell, arrived in 1980 and still resembled old Sabbath instrumentally, but reupholstered with Dio's fantastical lyrics and his markedly different vocal style compared to Ozzy's.
At first, the reception wasn't great. Dio's wife Wendy remembers her husband getting "spat on and booed" during some of his first shows with the band, and there's still a split within the fan base between those who love Dio's high-flying belt and those who can't stand it. To many others, Heaven and Hell and 1981's follow-up, Mob Rules, were the last truly great Sabbath records.
Bring Me the Horizon had already abandoned deathcore for artsy, electronica-infused metalcore on 2010's There Is a Hell Believe Me I've Seen It. There Is a Heaven Let's Keep it a Secret, but Sempiternal was unlike anything that came before it. Essentially the Kid A of metalcore, this towering, radically digitized opus packed skyscraping anthems together with moody ballads, and instantly made every other "scene" band sound a generation behind.
The haters swarmed around BMTH's overt embrace of melody, and the album instantly carved a line in the sand of the band's discography that some old-school fans still refuse to cross. But 10-plus years on from its release, Sempiternal stands tall as one of metalcore's most influential albums — ever.
Carcass pioneered goregrind on their 1988 debut, Reek of Putrefaction, a hellish bombardment of sub-two-minute grindcore blasts that reveled in visceral prose about rotting flesh, mutilated organs and other corporeal indignities. As death metal came of age, their next two albums were more complex yet similarly vile, but 1993's Heartwork — co-released on major label Columbia Records, amazingly — was a huge pivot toward the nascent melodeath subgenre; slower, catchier, proggier and much less putrid sounding compared to what Carcass were known for.
It's still a divisive turn for extreme-metal fans, but in hindsight, it's viewed by many as the group's definitive masterpiece, sitting right alongside At the Gates' Slaughter of the Soul and In Flames' the Jester Race in the melodeath hall of fame.
The bright pink cover art. The warm, swooning shoegaze instrumentation. The plush, meditative production. Even the band name — a black-metal band who dared put the word "heaven" in their moniker. Sunbather was everything BM purists stood against, only rivaling Attack Attack!'s crabcore runaway "Stick Stickly" for the most contested metal release of the social media age. But 10 years onward, who's really still ragging on this record? And those who are are beating a dead horse.
The way Deafheaven innovated a subgenre that had been sterile and redundant for at least a decade previewed a seismic revolution of genre-smashing, one that's been occurring across all genres of music from the late 2010s till now. The fact of the matter is, if you were born after 1990, then Sunbather is probably just as — if not more — of a foundational a black-metal record than anything Mayhem or Darkthrone ever crafted.
If you look at the arc of hardcore history, there's the period before Hatebreed's 1997 debut Satisfaction Is the Death of Desire, and the period after. By the end of the 1990s, Jamey Jasta and Co.'s uproarious debut had spawned a legion of imitators, and by 2002, they ruled the whole genre — the same year they also transcended it.
Released on major label titan Universal, Perseverance was a big-budget hardcore record: sleeker, girthier and more finely chiseled than Hatebreed's prior material, and clearly aspiring to break them into big-room heavy metal, which it ultimately did when they served as direct support to Slayer in 2003.
Hardcore purists had mixed feelings about this decidedly more commercial effort, but looking back today, its production is possibly more influential than Satisfaction's, and songs like "I Will Be Heard" and "A Call for Blood" are some of their most beloved pile-on starters.
Let's be frank: To many metalheads, Metallica's "Black Album" was considered a classic from the day it dropped. The Bay Area band's world-conquering swerve from speedy to stompy came in the right place at the right time, when grunge broke in '91. As such, it enabled Metallica — with stadium-ready blowouts like "Enter Sandman," "The Unforgiven" and "Where I May Roam" — to stroll through the doors and take over radio, MTV and an emerging market hungry for heavy (but still catchy) music all in one fell swoop.
So, of course there were (and still are!) plenty of haters, people who thought Metallica sold out by trading in pedal-to-the-floor speed, classical-music-informed song structures and teeth-knocking aggression for big sing-alongs that were ripe for soundtracking football walk-outs. To this day, the Black Album is a test metalheads give each other to see which side of the fence someone lands on. All the while, it continues to chart annually, reaffirming its classic status year in and year out.
Sepultura had already evolved quite a bit from their scrappy, blackened thrash origins, having gone full death-thrash on 1989's Beneath the Remains and 1991's Arise, and then groove-metal on 1993's collosal Chaos A.D. In that sense, it shouldn't have come as too much of a shock that the Brazilian trailblazers would shift again on Roots, but their 1996 opus took a direction — nu-metal, to be specific — that some fans looked at sideways.
The record featured guest spots from Korn's Jonathan Davis and Limp Bizkit's DJ Lethal, as well as production work from eccentric visionary Ross Robinson, who would become known as the Godfather of Nu-Metal thanks to his work with Korn, Slipknot and, yes, Roots.
Yet, even if you prefer Max Cavalera's previous LPs with the band, you'd have to be deaf to deny the brilliance of incorporating traditional Brazilian instrumentation and tribal grooves into hulking chunks of bouncy, bashing, bombastic metal — nu or not.
Slayer had claimed the throne as metal's fastest, meanest, most satanic demolition crew after 1985's Hell Awaits and 1986's Reign in Blood. But by 1988, the thrashers were "bored" by Lucifer, their songs were getting slower, clean guitar had entered the fold, and Tom Araya had shaped his devilish shriek into a wicked form of actual singing. All of that came into focus on South of Heaven, and naturally, not every speed-freak Slayer fan was totally stoked on the new direction.
Today, you'd be hard-pressed to find a detractor. Thirty-five years on, it's abundantly clear that South of Heaven — with its doomy title track, mid-tempo marches like "Mandatory Suicide and "Behind the Crooked Cross," and more dynamic production — is one of Slayer's finest outings, and a hugely influential record on hardcore, death metal and more.
Turnstile's 2021 smash Glow on rocketed them into the world of Grammy nominations, late-night TV appearances and blink-182 tours, but their popularity didn't start there.
The Baltimore hardcore crew quickly ascended to the forefront of their scene with 2015's effortlessly fun, endlessly catchy Nonstop Feeling, which earned them countless eyebrow raises from old heads who weren't sure about the 311 funk-rock flavor they'd added to their NYHC sound. If you were on hardcore message boards in 2015 then you surely remember how hotly contested this album was at the time.
How things have changed: Now, seen in the light of Turnstile's various swerves since, Nonstop Feeling is widely recognized as the band's most roots-hardcore full-length, and an unfuckwithable pillar of the genre's last two decades.