While we are all socially isolating due I figured this would be a good time to share with one another the albums that inspired and influenced our guitar playing.
Megadeth Rust In Peace (1990)
What can I say about this album that hasn’t been said before. It’s probably the most visible technical album ever released. “Holy Wars… The Punishment Due” and “Hangar 18” are metal classics and “Tornado of Souls” is a contender for greatest guitar solo of all time. “Hangar 18” was the first song I ever heard from this album, as well as the first Megadeth song I ever heard. The dueling solo section with changing tempos and riffs sold me instantly on Megadeth. Marty Friedman’s lead style was a near instant revelation in lead playing the exotic melody and expressive bends and vibrato. It was so different and alien to anything I’d ever heard. This CD stayed in the player of my first car for at least a year along with a few others.
Highlights: Pretty much every lead lick and solo Friedman laid down on this album are classics “Lucretia” and “Tornado of Souls” are my picks for solos as well as all his solos on “Hangar 18”, the nylon string guitar solo on “Holy Wars” made me buy a nylon string guitar. The leads all over “Five Magics” are mesmerizing. Mustaine must receive credit as well “Holy Wars” contains one of his finest solos and the riff in “Poison was the Cure” is the most technical riff ever on a platinum selling album.
Queensrÿche Operation: Mindcrime (1988)
Everyone probably has that band that we avoided listening to for a long time due to a bad first impression. Queensryche was that band for me I avoided them because I’d only ever heard “Silent Lucidity” which I dubbed “watered down hair ballad Comfortably Numb.” Little did I know that by not checking out thier first three albums and EP I was missing out on America’s answer to Iron Maiden. Geoff Tate was simply untouchable as a singer in the mid to late 80s. Operatic level of vocal control. Guitar wise there may be no more criminally underrated duo as Chris DeGarmo and Michael Wilton. DeGarmo wrote very unique riffs with the band. The solos on Operation: Mindcrime aren’t super technical. I’d consider them middle of the road in terms of 80s metal leads. It’s the songwriting that makes this album amazing. The songs flow seamlessly into one another. The solos fit the songs like a glove. This album is pretty much an advertisement for the use of the Roland JC-120 for cleans on a metal album. I love 1970s prog rock but most of the time the guitarist is taking the backseat to the keyboardist. I’m also huge fan of classic dystopian fiction so the album’s theme and story of a youth disillusioned with society getting involved in a revolutionary political movement is very well written and paced. Anytime I am on a car ride that lasts an hour of more there is a good chance Operation: Mindcrime will be played in its entirety. It’s in my humble opinion the greatest melodic metal album ever created.
Highlights: The dual guitar solo on “I Don’t Believe in Love” Is great Wilton starts it off and then DeGarmo comes in and they finish together harmonized. DeGarmo’s solo on “The Mission.” DeGarmo and WIlton’s solos on “Operation: Mindcrime.” DeGarmo’s leads on “Eyes of a Stranger.” Wilton’s solo on “Speak.” The arpeggio riff in “Eyes of a Stranger”, the clean arpeggiated riff that opens “Suite Sister Mary”, the final riff on “The Needle Lies”, the opening riff to “Operation: Mindcrime” (my go to for testing trem equipped guitars).
Judas Priest Painkiller (1990)
It’s no secret that the arms race of lead guitar playing forced a lot of the old guard 1970s metal/hard rock players to up thier technique or be cast aside. Iommi started playing more complex longer solos starting with the Heaven and Hell album. Murray/Smith upped their game over the 80s Maiden albums especailly on Somewhere in Time and Seventh Son of a Seventh Son. But no one comes close to Tipton/Downing. If you want to see growth go listen to “Beyond the Realms of Death” or “Victim of Changes” and then listen to “Painkiller.” My favorite thing about this album is how unapologetic it is. Priest announce their new drummer Scott Travis with one of the most iconic drum intros of all time. Tipton/Downing had flirted with some shred techniques on 1988’s Ram it Down notably on the title track and “Blood Red Skies” but these techniques are on full display on Painkiller. The riffs have machine like tolerances. Credit must go to the late Chris Tsangarides his “vortex” recording technique is key to this sound. The man knew how to perfectly capture this incarnation of Priest’s sound. Ram It Down suffered from far too much 80s cocaine reverb on the vox and a rock drummer that couldn’t do speed metal. The production as a whole was lacking. Painkiller on the other hand is production perfection. The lead tone on this album is slicing with it’s with a chorus like effect the makes pinch harmonics and trem bar wobbles scream from the speakers. A big thing I like is the human imperfection in a lot of the leads the sweeps aren’t perfect a far cry from the midi like quantized monotony fo modern metal. This will always be the album I show to people that want to know what the definition of Heavy Metal is or someone needs killer tracks for their workout playlist. One of metal’s greatest what ifs is what would a follow up to Painkiller would have sounded like. Firepower is the closest Priest has come to recapturing this magic but it’s still leagues from Painkiller and Faulkner can never match Downing’s aggression.
Highlights: Tipton’s solo in “Painkiller” is up there with “Tornado of Souls” from the opening sweeps to the trem affected screaming bends. It’s a perfect solo. KK holds his own on the outro solo which is pure aggression with utter assaulting pinch harmonics. The dual intro solos on “Metal Meltdown” are an assault on the senses KK’s trem picking and Tipton’s sweeps. The main riff and tapping in “Between the Hammer & The Anvil.” The main riff in “One Shot at Glory” WHICH PRIEST HAVE SOMEHOW NEVER PLAYED LIVE. Halford’s scream in the bridge of “A Touch of Evil.” And every single lead lick not mentioned specifically as well as every single pinch harmonic.
Black Sabbath Master of Reality (1970)
The album where Iommi began tuning down because the pain of even .009 guage strings on his mutilated digits was too much to bear. Every single riff is a classic and there are probably at least 100 doom, stoner, and sludge bands that have been aping this album since. Sabbath can arguably be said to have invented or inspired many metal subgneres on this album. “Sweet Leaf” inspired countless marijuana aesthetic stoner doom bands. “Children of the Grave” is the first gallop metal song a technique found in much of power metal and Iron Maiden’s entire discography. “After Forever” is the first overt Christian metal song, which Geezer Butler supposedly wrote tired of the band being dogged by ignorant music press as “Satanists.” “Into the Void” pioneered the sliding low tuned approach that sludge bands would codify in the late 80s. The acoustic instrumental interlude format for a metal album started here which is a formula that many metal bands would follow from Dissection’s The Somberlain to Corrosion of Conformity’s Deliverance. It’s hard to judge Iommi’s leads in the context of now as metal guitar technique is night and day from what it was in 1970 and most blues influence has been eschewed from metal but it’s obvious that albums like Danzig’s Danzig would not exist without the blueprint set by Sabbath here. The riffs are extremely catchy and prove that simplicity is often the best formula. This would be the last album where Ozzy era Sabbath operated on all cylinders before drug usage started to make their successive studio albums lack some of the punch of the first three. This was the first album that I devoted myself to learning top to bottom. Armed with my Epiphone Iommi sig it was a very enjoyable endeavor when my technical chops weren’t to the level of playing some of the other albums on this list.
Highlights: I’d argue most of Iommi’s best leads are found on other albums. The solo in “Children of the Grave” is memorable. This album is about the riffs and heaviness. The riffs in every song are classics. The intro riff in “Into the Void”, “Lord of this World”, and “Sweet Leaf” are the real winners though.
Wintersun Wintersun (2004)
I’m a big proponent for the argument that the reason we have less classic albums these days is bands don’t rehearse their material enough on the road or in demos before rushing into the studio and thereby narrowing the track selection to only the absolute best. Some of the songs on this album date as far back as 1996 and it’s immediately noticeable that these tracks were carefully selected for inclusion. Wintersun has always been Jari Mäenpää’s baby and his perfectionism regarding the project has become something of a modern metal meme. The leads on this album are pure shred. Post-Gilbert unadulterated shred. The album sounds like the cover looks, an epic wintery assault. What makes this great in my opinion is it borrows distinctive elements of the great metal subgenres. The overall sound is reminiscent of melodic death metal. The keyboards and epic scope of the arrangements courtesy of power metal. Icy trem picked riffs a la black metal, and ead playing borrowing lots of neoclassical elements. A top recommendation for anyone looking to get into extreme metal and proof that shredding doesn’t mean lack of songwriting.
Highlights: The sweep solo in the intro to “Beyond the Dark Sun.” The solo in “Winter Madness” is an absolute technical tour de force while sacrificing nothing in the melodic realm. “Death and the Healing” is an epic song with a very memorable lead guitar melody and awe inspiring lead playing complete with very strange pitch bends. The tremolo picked riff in “Sleeping Stars” is like Emperor on steroids.
Smashing Pumpkins Siamese Dream (1993)
I previously mentioned how I kept a few CDs in my car constantly. This was one of them. Second in rotation only to Rust In Peace. One of the most notoriously perfectionist records ever created. Billy Corgan gained infamy for overdubbing James Iha’s guitar parts and D’arcy Wretzky’s bass parts in order to meet his high standards. Corgan also reportedly worked drummer Jimmy Chamberlin til his hands were bloody. The results of this process speak for themselves. Added in is Butch Vig’s production style which makes the transitions from clean guitar to heavy saturated distortion curtesy of the late 1970s op-amp based Electro-Harmonix Big Muff pedal and countless layers of rhythm tracks. According to Corgan “Soma” has around 40 guitar tracks. The leads have so much gain that the places in between notes are often drenched in oceans of saturated feedback replete with chorus and phaser. I maintain this is the best produced rock album of all time. The drum performances are astounding. This album led to me spending a lot of money on pedals. It’s my ideal for dynamics of crystalline cleans to the heaviest of saturated gain.
Highlights: Some of the finest lead playing you will find on a 90s rock album exists here. Corgan’s solo on “Soma” is a pure emotional firestorm. “Geek USA” shows a bit of Corgan’s chops that he built as a fan of 70s and 80s hard rock/metal complete with Chamberlin’s snare rolls that punctuate the solo. The riff in “Quiet” shows Corgan’s metal influence. The droning riff in “Rocket.” The clean leads in the intro of “Mayonaise.” The transition from clean to gain in “Cherub Rock.” The spacy screaming solos in “Cherub Rock” and “Quiet”. Corgan’s signature octave drone riffing in “Hummer.”
Megadeth Peace Sells… But Who’s Buying? (1986)
Normally I have a one album per band policy for lists like this but there was no choosing between Rust In Peace and this. The first Megadeth album to receive proper production and second to feature the duo of lead guitarist Chris Poland and drummer Gar Samuelson. Both being jazz influenced players. Peace Sells is a much more aggressive record than Rust In Peace. This is a very aggressive album. The leads scream, the riffs are complex and there are licks abound.
Highlights: Poland’s solos and licks on “Good Mourning/Black Friday”, “Bad Omen”, “Peace Sells” and especially “I Ain’t Superstitious” are filled with his trademark synthesizer pitch wheel inspired fluid legato style. Mustaine’s solo in “Devil’s Island,” is a tapping tour de force." Mustaine’s solo in My Last Words will leave you speechless, his outro solo in “Wake Up Dead” is groovy, and his legato filled lead in “The Conjuring” is a mechanized assault. As for riffs the outro slower riff in “Wake Up Dead” the winding riffs in “My Last Words” and finally “Good Mourning/Black Friday” the whole song. Gar’s drumming and those proto-tech death riffs that Mustaine cooks up in the later verse are stunning.
Carcass Surgical Steel (2013)
The greatest comeback album of all time. I was just getting into extreme metal when this album came out and was instantly impressed by the riff writing and Bill Steer’s lead playing and harmonies. Heartwork is a great album but production has come a long way since 1993. Jeff Walker’s bass is more prominent in the mix on Surgical Steel. The album has incredibly memorable riffs and guitar harmonies. The B standard tuning is crushing. Bill Steer is extremely underrated, very melodic lead player. A modern classic.
Highlights: Any guitar harmony on here from the opening notes of “1985” to close of “Mount of Execution”. The solos in “Unfit For Human Consumption”, “316L Grade Surgical Steel”, “Captive Bolt Pistol.” As for riffs the intro to “316L Grade Surgical Steel,” “Thrasher’s Abbatoir”, “Unfit for Human Consumption”, “Captive Bolt Pistol”, and the myriad of riffs in “Mount of Execution.”
Rush 2112 (1977)
Alex Lifeson is criminally underrated in my opinion. His approach to chording is entirely unique preferring fuller barre chords to the more common power chords. And his lead style is very memorable using lots of pinch harmonics and legato and some odd scale choices occasionally. “2112” is a masterpiece concept song packed with memorable riffs and melodies. Side two of the record is underrated in my opinion. “Something For Nothing” is very heavy. This slot could have gone to Farewell to Kings, Hemispheres, or Moving Pictures.
Highlights: The solos in “2112” sections “Overture,” “Presentation,” “Soliloquy,” songs “A Passage to Bangkok,” and “The Twilight Zone”. Every riff in “2112”, the main riff in “The Twilight Zone” and the main riff in “Something for Nothing.”
Yngwie Malmsteen Trilogy (1986)
Yngwie is hard to pick from an album basis. Rising Force has fantastic instrumentals but Jeff Scott Soto ruins it for me because he sounds like Kermit suffering from helium poisoning. Odyssey is a little too polished in my opinion. That leaves Trilogy. In my opinion “Trilogy Suite Op: 5” is Malmsteen’s finest instrumental. Mark Boals was the best singer aside from Graham Bonnet that Yngwie ever played with. The songs are very hooky. Alcatrazz’s No Parole From Rock "N’ Roll was the closest contender for this spot but Trilogy is Yngwie in his prime and the interplay with Jens Johansson nudges this one over for me. And that album cover. The greatest guitar based album cover of all time. The album to show the “all Yngwie can do is play fast he has no melody” crowd.
Highlights: “You Don’t Remember, I’ll Never Forget” is my favorite Malmsteen vocal cut. The solo is spectacular, great phrasing and melody. “Queen in Love” and “Dark Ages” as well. “Trilogy Suite” is fantastic.