10 greatest 5-album runs in heavy-music history | Revolver

10 greatest 5-album runs in heavy-music history

It's hard enough to make one masterpiece
Tool 2006 travis shinn 1600x900, Travis Shinn
TOOL in 2006
photograph by Travis Shinn

The vast majority of bands could only ever hope to create one classic album. Cranking out three in a row bumps them into an elite echelon of esteemed metal acts. But five fantastic albums in a row? That's an all-star club that only the finest thrash, death, nu and alt-metal bands of all time can consider themselves members of. Below are the 10 greatest five-album runs in heavy-metal history.

Black Sabbath

The run: Black Sabbath, Paranoid, Master of Reality, Vol. 4, Sabbath Bloody Sabbath

Black Sabbath's first series of albums is arguably unrivaled in all of heavy-metal history. Black Sabbath is where the genre literally began, and over their next four releases, they tinkered with the formula to make it heavier (Paranoid), faster (Master of Reality), trippier (Vol. 4) and more sonically limitless (Sabbath Bloody Sabbath). The Drab Four notably fell off when legal woes plagued their sixth album, Sabotage, and their proggy, decidedly un-heavy follow-ups, Technical Ecstasy and Never Say Die!, were even more underwhelming. While they made a couple bangers with Dio in the early Eighties, the tear they were on in the early Seventies is their incontrovertible peak.


The run: Spiritual Healing, Human, Individual Thought Patterns, Symbolic, The Sound of Perseverance

Death have one of the most perfect discographies in heavy music, and are one of the few metal bands worthy of a list of Greatest 7 Album Runs. But this being focused on five-album series, we gotta go with the sequence kicked off with 1990's Spiritual Healing. The preceding two LPs, Scream Bloody Gore and Leprosy, are trailblazing death-metal documents, but Album No. 3 is when Death really became Death, taking the young, cartoonishly gruesome genre and turning it into transcendent art, expanding both the thematic and musical palette in stunning fashion. Extreme music has never been the same since.


The run: Opus Eponymous, Infestissumam, Meliora, Prequelle, Impera

We can see the comments now: Ghost suck. Ghost aren't metal. Scooby-Doo, blah, blah, blah. But truth be told, it's no accident that Papa and the Ghouls have skyrocketed over the course of their five albums from cult, underground doomsayers to arena-packing, Grammy-winning, first-pitch-throwing stars. Those five albums rule. And like the band's own trajectory, those albums have gotten bigger along the way, with Impera taking the Broadway-ready bombast and the ABBA-level earworms to fever pitch. It's almost as if Tobias Forge made a deal with the devil.


The run: From Mars to Sirius, The Way of All Flesh, L'Enfant Sauvage, Magma, Fortitude

France's Gojira had already been active for nine years and two albums by the time they delivered 2005's From Mars to Sirius, but for most metal fans outside of their home country, the band was a complete unknown until that LP burst the Duplantier brothers onto the international stage. Since then, Gojira have been on an unflagging run of great releases, exploring different levels of progginess and directness, melody and brutality, metal heaviness and rock accessibility, all of it top-notch and all of it infused with the group's important environmental message.

Iron Maiden

The run: Iron Maiden, Killers, The Number of the Beast, Piece of Mind, Powerslave

Despite some significant personnel changes early in their career, Iron Maiden still managed to produce a remarkable opening five-some. Their first two albums with vocalist Paul Di'Anno, 1980's Iron Maiden and 1981's Killers, are pioneering classics, and when Bruce Dickinson took over mic duties on The Number of the Beast, they soared to even greater heights. Even the absence of virtuosic drummer Clive Burr didn't hold back Piece of Mind or Powerslave, records that contain some of Maiden's greatest songs ("The Trooper," "Aces High," "2 Minutes to Midnight") and cemented their status as stadium-ruling titans.


The run: Korn, Life is Peachy, Follow the Leader, Issues, Untouchables

Finding a metal band with five impeccable releases in a row is hard enough as is, but finding a nu-metal band with that track record — well, there's only one. Korn's 1994 debut flipped the entire framework of metal on its head with down-tuned guitars, slap bass, hip-hop grooves and soul-bearing angst replacing chest-thumping machismo. Then, they spent four albums tweaking the recipe — the dingier Life is Peachy, the bombastic Follow the Leader, the gothier Issues and the gloriously opulent Untouchables. Korn would eventually rack up their fair share of misses, but during their first decade as a band, all they could do was swoosh.


The run: Kill 'Em All, Ride the Lightning, Master of Puppets, ...And Justice for All, Metallica

Is there even a debate to be had here? Metallica's first four albums are among the best — if not the best — thrash records ever. Then came the radical pivot with 1991's slower, bigger, more emphatically catchy "Black Album," and while it's served as a line in the sand for much of Metallica's fan base since it dropped, the LP was a smash hit — the best-selling metal album ever, even. Say what you will, the "Black Album" objectively rules, and if you don't appreciate the majesty of the group's first four opuses, then do you even really like metal?


The run: Cowboys From Hell, Vulgar Display of Power, Far Beyond Driven, The Great Southern Trendkill, Reinventing the Steel

Pantera self-released four forgettable albums before they made five brilliant ones, all in a row. Once the Texas crew finally locked in a superstar vocalist (Philip Anselmo) and traded hair-metal pomp for power-groove demolition, the quartet came up with Cowboys From Hell and began to dominate the decade ahead. Vulgar Display of Power ushered in "a new level" of heaviness in the genre's upper echelon, and Pantera's music only got gnarlier, angrier and more antagonistic on their next three gems. Far Beyond Driven and The Great Southern Trendkill contain their heaviest material, and the quality of Reinventing the Steel showed that they might've had a sixth straight knockout in the tank.


The run: Show No Mercy, Hell Awaits, Reign in Blood, South of Heaven, Seasons in the Abyss

We think Slayer's divisive 1994 album, Divine Intervention, is eternally underrated, but still, the band's first five are the indisputable champs. From 1983's Show No Mercy through 1990's Seasons in the Abyss, Slayer were the hardest, scariest, unholiest thrash band in the world, and when you compare that run of albums with any other band since, that's still the case. The trajectory that subgenres like death metal, grindcore and black metal took in the Nineties raised the bar for metal heaviness, but even all these years and countless extreme-metal releases later, there's no output that hits quite like Slayer's first five records.


The run: Undertow, Ænima, Lateralus, 10,000 Days, Fear Inoculum

If any metal band has valued quality over quantity, it's TOOL. They've been at it for over 30 years and only have five full-lengths to their name, but each one is a dense, multilayered opus to be pored over and dissected by the group's infamously obsessive die-hards. The runtimes have swelled and the themes have become much more arcane since Undertow's dark, relatively straight-ahead attack, but what hasn't changed is the standard of excellence — a standard that, much to fans' chagrin, can lead to a 13-year gap between releases.