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Metal Legacy: Six Greats in a Row

Most bands suck. It’s a fact.

Very few produce even one great studio album, let alone back-to-back masterpieces.

Some of the greats have done as many as 5 in a row, but how many bands/artists have managed 6 or more consecutive classics?

The Six Straight Society is the most elite of clubs, and – – oh, look at that – – all (most?) of its members belong to Heavy Metal.

To be clear, I’m not talking about 6+ great albums spread out over long careers, interspersed between duds, also-rans, and/or money-grabs. I’m honoring streaks of 6-or-more awesome studio releases in a row. When in doubt, we’ll go with the US release dates.

We’re just talking studio albums of new, primarily original material, not live albums, compilations, singles or EPs. And finally, when determining what qualifies as classic, I’ll try to gauge cultural consensus, and not defer to my own personal biases.

Let’s review.

1. Black Sabbath – 6 albums.

Black Sabbath (1970)

Paranoid (1971)

Master of Reality (1972)

Vol 4 (1972)

Sabbath Bloody Sabbath (1973)

Sabotage (1975)

The Ozzy era is sacred.

Sabbath’s opening streak of 6 – – from the 1970 debut through Sabotage (1975) – – was untouchable. “Technical Ecstasy” (1976) was their 7th original studio album release. It’s fine, and so is its followup, “Never Say Die” (1978), but neither were up to the high standard that Black Sabbath had established from 1970 through 1975. Tony Iommi and friends would release many more incredible albums over the next 40 years, but never 6 in a row again.

FYI: “We Sold Our Soul For Rock n’ Roll” dropped after “Sabotage,” in 1976, but it’s a greatest hits album, so it doesn’t count.*

2. Iron Maiden – 7 albums.

Iron Maiden (1980)

Killers (1981)

The Number of the Beast (1982)

Piece of Mind (1983)

Powerslave (1985)

Somewhere in Time (1986)

Seventh Son of a Seventh Son (1988)

Is this the greatest seven album run of all time, by anyone? Initial reactions to “Somewhere in Time” and “Seventh Son” were uncertain, but their excellence has been confirmed by history. Maiden’s streak would end at 7, though. I ain’t mad at “No Prayer For the Dying,” (1990) their eighth record, but no one can say its of the same calibre as 1 through 7.

3. Rush – 7 albums.**

2112 (1976)

A Farewell to Kings (1977)

Hemispheres (1978)

Permanent Waves (1980)

Moving Pictures (1981)

Signals (1982)

Grace Under Pressure (1984)

Rush used to get play on Heavy Metal formatted shows, and The Metal Voice have run a tournament to determine the greatest Rush songs, we’re going to include them here. This is a pretty impressive run of Hard Rock/Metal/Prog albums. Some might argue to include 2112’s predecessor, “Caress of Steel” (1975) or to tack on “Power Windows” (1985). On the other hand, some might argue to subtract “Signals” or “Grace Under Pressure.” I like all of the above, but I think these 7 comprise the ascendant streak that cemented Rush forever as Rock/Metal/Prog gods.

4. Led Zeppelin – 8 albums.

I (1969)

II (1969)

III (1970)

IV (1971)

Houses of the Holy (1973)

Physical Graffiti (double) (1975)

Presence (1976)

In Through the Out Door (1979)

Is Led Zeppelin even Metal? Come on, we’ve gone over this. . . There are flashes of seminal Hard Rock and Metal across all eight of their original studio albums, and all eight are wall-to-wall bangers. Their final album release, “CODA,” was a greatest-misses type of compilation, so it doesn’t count.

I’m always amazed when the old Rock press argue “Stones vs. Beatles” for the greatest of all time and they leave out Led Zeppelin.** Zep only quit due to the tragic loss of drummer John Bonham. Would they have extended their great album streak to 9? The signs of fatigue were there, near the end, but I bet they had at least one more in them.

Jimmy Page

5. AC/DC – 10 albums.

TNT (1975)

High Voltage (US) (1976)

Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap (1976)

Let There Be Rock (1977)

Powerage (1978)

Highway to Hell (1979)

Back in Black (1980)

For Those About to Rock We Salute You (1981)

Flick of the Switch (1983)

Fly On the Wall (1985)

The longest streak of excellence. “Fly on the Wall,” their 10th, is sometimes called a misstep, but not in this writer’s house. I think “FlO” was good enough, popular enough, and “AC/DC” enough to qualify as the end of their elite run. The next one, “Blow Up Your Video,” wasn’t even a fail, it was just clearly not on the same level as its predecessors. I recognize that some may call out the primitive, uneven moments in the Bon Scott days, and that “Powerage” (1978) and “Let There Be Rock” (1977) are a little less well-known and cited in pop culture, but it was impossible to dismiss either of them. They’re going to stand up and be counted.

OK Sure. . .  there’s the old saw about AC/DC releasing the same album over and over. . . *eye-roll,* but I find there’s plenty of variety in the songwriting and guitarwork throughout this 10-album run.

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And that’s it for the (initial) Six Album Society: Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, Rush, Led Zeppelin, and AC/DC. Am I missing anyone? Would you include someone else in the club?

Addendum 1:

  1. KISS. Journalist superstars and KISS Army officers Michael Brandvold and Rich Catino both made a case for the first 6 KISS albums: KISS (1974), Hotter Than Hell (1974), Dressed to Kill (1975), Destroyer (1976), Rock and Roll Over (1976), Love Gun (1977). They’re right. So many incredible songs in this run. I had a hard time counting anything with “Christine Sixteen” and “Then She Kissed Me” as iconic (two questionable tunes from Love Gun) – – but this isn’t about my personal taste. Those initial 1970s KISS albums are historic – – and massive. My deep thanks to them both for calling me out.

  2. Opeth. Still Life (1999), Blackwater Park (2001), Deliverance (2002), Damnation (2003), Ghost Reveries (2005), Watershed (2006). I’d initially omitted Opeth because I wasn’t sure about Watershed, but I love it, so I’ve changed my mind. They’re in.

Let’s discuss some of the What Abouts.

Thin Lizzy. Thin Lizzy released 12 decent/great albums from 1971 to 1983 behind Phil Lynott. I’ve got no beef with Dublin’s finest, but Thin Lizzy are even less Metal than Led Zeppelin, and – – everyone’s personal feelings aside – – not all of their albums blew up the zeitgeist. Fan reactions are also somewhat mixed on “Shades of a Blue Orphanage,” their eponymous debut, and “Nightlife.”

Metallica. 5. 1984’s “Kill ‘Em All” kicked off a dynasty that’s running strong today, but there were a few questionable releases along the way. It’s not against the law to like “The Load” albums of the mid-90s, but overall fan reaction was too divisive to count them. Some feel that their Imperial Run of great albums stopped after “1988’s . . . And Justice For All,” (yes, some feel it stopped after “Puppets.” Some feel it stopped after “KEA”) but many in their core fandom revere The Black Album from 1991, as well as the first 4. We can call their streak at 5.

Judas Priest. Their legacy is unimpeachable, with numerous iconic, incredible, universally-beloved records, but they never got 6 in a row. Don’t get mad at me; blame “Point of Entry” and “Turbo.”

Slayer. “Seasons in the Abyss” was their 5th. The stuff that followed sold well, but for the core Slayer fanbase, the sacred relics were “Show No Mercy,” “Hell Awaits,” “Reign in Blood,” “South of Heaven,” and “Seasons in the Abyss.”

Joe Satriani. Joe has 17 incredible studio albums under his belt (“Time Machine” is a greatest-misses type of compilation). He’s never made a bad record, but, aside from “Surfing with the Alien,” “Flying in a Blue Dream,” and a few songs here and there from the rest, his albums have always skirted around the fringes of the mainstream. His guitar playing has touched just about everyone who’s played in a band since the 80s. He’s a Metal Hall of Fame artist, but we can’t count his run of 17 great albums as being as impactful as the ones from Sabbath, Maiden, Rush, Zeppelin, or AC/DC.

The Beatles. Not Metal at all, but this is the Beatles! They’ve influenced every band of just about every genre since the 1960s.*** There are 12 official studio albums to their name, but depending on who you talk to, not all of them are necessarily etched into album Mount Rushmore.

The Rolling Stones.*** Not Metal. Plenty of landmark albums, but 6 in row? Nope.

The Police. In no universe do Sting/Copland/Summers qualify as Metal. And besides, their brilliant album streak cut off at 5.

King Diamond/Mercyful Fate. If you combine King Diamond and Mercyful Fate into one entity, then King was part of an incredible run of all-time Metal classics, from MF’s “Melissa” up through KD’s “Conspiracy.” But that’d be cheating. Individually, neither hit 6 straight. Arguably, “The Eye” (1990) continued the level of quality, but – – fair or unfair – – his solo and MF releases after “Conspiracy” made less of a cultural impact.

Ningen Isu. The quirky Japanese three-piece have a reputation for consistency, releasing 24(!) excellent Heavy Metal albums from 1987 right up until the present, but Ningen Isu are not as well-known or influential on the global big stage. Most of you reading this probably said, “Ningen what now?” Do check out “Toshishyun” from 2021’s “Pain and Comfort” record.

Addendum 2:

  1. Vince McDowell makes a strong case for Mastodon‘s first 6 albums. I feel like their pillars are Leviathan, Crack the Skye, and The Hunter. Not that Remission, Blood Mountain, Once More ‘Round the Sun, Emperor of Sand, or Hushed & Grim are weak – – Not. At. All. I’m a Mastodon fan, I just don’t feel like all of their records have shaken the world to the same degree.

  2. Craig Wisnom points out Fates Warning‘s first 6. He isn’t wrong. This band was instrumental in defining the Prog Metal genre; their discography is far richer than many realize. But. It’s hard to calculate their influence on the same scale as some of the bands listed above.

  3. Craig Wisnom ALSO points out Ronnie James Dio’s incredible run of 6 encompassing Rainbow, Black Sabbath, and Dio. Just like including King Diamond’s band and solo albums, this would be stretching the rules, but Rainbow’s Rising (1976), Long Live Rock n’ Roll (1978), Black Sabbath’s Heaven and Hell (1980), The Mob Rules (1981), and Dio’s Holy Diver (1983), and The Last in Line (1984) makes for a nigh-unparalleled streak of brilliant albums.

  4. Liam Ordner says that yes, the Rolling Stones should be counted.

My sincere thanks to everyone for the great feedback. Keep it coming! We’ll do an “Addendum 3.”

 

Jack Mangan is best known in the Metal world as lead author/project runner for the “Am I Evil?” graphic novel, as a journalist with MetalAsylum.net and the official Metal Hall of Fame. and also as co-host of the popular (sporadic these days) Metal Hall of Fame and MetalAsylum.net livestreams with Rich Catino. He’s made a few guest appearances as a panelist on The Metal Voice. In an adjacent life, he was a podcast pioneer, with numerous appearances on Technorama, Dragon Page, Escape Pod/Pseudopod, and many others, including his own productions: Jack Mangan’s Deadpan, and the Podcast novel, “Spherical Tomi.” Friend him on Facebook if you can find him, but be warned: he’s not great about checking Facebook Messenger.

*“We Sold Our Soul For Rock n’ Roll” is a beautiful abomination. It was my first exposure to the brilliance of Black Sabbath. Apparently, their new manager and label released it in 1976 without the band’s knowledge or consent, somehow also blocking the band from getting paid for it.

** Thanks, Jesse Flint! You’re a true New World Man.

***I’m open to discussion/debate about Beatles’ and Stones’ great album runs, just not necessarily at the Metal Hall of Fame.

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