Creating the perfect live album might be one of the hardest things a band can do in their career. With all sorts of variables including mood, crowd response, the right engineers, venue, technical difficulties and so much more, many bands have tried, but only few have really excelled at getting a monumental performance on tape.
As someone who has been fortunate to experience hundreds of amazing shows, which I often write about, I began thinking of all the truly incredible live albums in metal that overcame these obstacles. Here are 16 live albums in metal that rocked my world, and maybe they'll do the same for you.
Slayer – Decade Of Aggression
No rabbit hole dive into Slayer’s discography is complete without a spin of Decade Of Aggression, the Slayer double live album produced by Rick Rubin, who had his work cut out for him, as he expertly fused together 3 separate shows to sound like one amazing gig. Debuting to the world in 1991, after the release of Seasons In The Abyss, the album was the last we heard of Lombardo in Slayer until his return 15 years later, and naturally something I air drummed to with every listen. With Slayer currently on their farewell tour, it’s such a great album to revisit and see just how far they’ve come as one of metal’s most important bands.
Obituary – DEAD
If you’ve ever made the mistake of missing Obituary live, then you’re doing it all wrong! I first got to see them in the mid-90’s and I’ve been a devout preacher of their brutal precision ever since. If you’ve ever doubted they’re one of the best sounding live bands in death metal history, toss on their live album, Dead, and prepare to stomp along to their evil doom grooves like they’re playing in your living room. The album’s production is nearly flawless, capturing the vicious punch of DT's drums, impeccable crunch of guitars, and the best crowd cheer sampling I’ve ever heard on an album of this kind.
Gojira – Les Enfants Sauvages
Let’s get real, Gojira are one of the best live bands to ever hit our genre. They’re pure magnetism on stage, larger than life, have impeccable live sound thanks to their FOH engineer Johann Meyer , play from their heart every single time, and manage to be inhumanly tight while doing it. So there was never any doubt Les Enfants Sauvages, their 2014 live album and DVD recorded at Brixton Academy in London, would ever be anything less than perfect.
Kiss – Alive II
Some of my earliest memories in life revolve around this handsome piece of vinyl, and you might say that’s a bit bias, but the fact remains it is one of the most impressive live albums the music world has ever seen. Complete with 20 hit songs across a haunting double gatefold packed with exclusive photos, and recorded between select shows in NJ, CA, and Japan, this is Kiss at the height of their career. The album is filled to the brim with the band’s live energy, and rabid screaming fans, as they churn out hit after hit played better than on their recorded albums. Simply put, this is the album that made live albums a damn thing to do!
Metallica – Live Shit Binge & Purge
By the end of 1991, Metallica was the biggest name in heavy metal history. In 1993, they dropped one of the biggest box sets the heavy metal world has ever seen. With a 3 CD / 3 VHS collection that included all kinds of amazing treasures including the box itself, Metallica do what they do best, and made it impossible not to own. Recorded from a handful of shows between 1989 and 1993, you got two distinct times of the band’s career in one package, that both looked and sounded great, during a time they dominated every chart under the sun. Although Metallica would go on to release many great live videos, Live Shit Binge & Purge remains one of the coolest live releases we’ve ever known, a total must have for any ‘tallica fan!
Crowbar – Live +1
Just when I couldn't imagine Crowbar sounding any heavier, they dropped Live+1 in 1994, and blew my teen mind to pieces! I became obsessed with this CD for it's sheer raw power, as both a heavier and more soulful version of the band you couldn't get from their recorded debut. Having watched them countless times since the mid-nineties, I think this live banger perfectly captures the mood and talent of these NOLA kings. Many may not remember the effect it had in 1994, but as far as I'm concerned, it was the Crowbar release that had NYC by the balls at the time.
King Diamond – In Concert 1987: Abigail
I’m always shocked to learn that people don’t know Mikkey Dee of Motorhead played on the first 4 King Diamond albums, but this is the recording that made me a mega fan of his drumming as a kid. Dee’s amazing chops really shine in the live setting in ways I’ve never heard anywhere else, and paired with one of metal’s best guitar players, Andy LaRocque, and the King himself, you’re really out of reasons why you been sleeping on this amazing album! Recorded in 1987, the album’s title always confused me, since they don’t actually play Abigail in it’s entirety, but fill it with a few tracks from Fatal Portrait to round out this amazing live experience. Name confusion aside, this is a monster of an album I’ve played hundreds of times in my life, and you owe it to yourself to get your hands on immediately.
Pantera- Official Live: 101 Proof
“You won’t hear this song anywhere but in your goddamn car, at home or on this fuckin’ stage, and that’s the way it should be.”
If you’ve seen Pantera in the 90’s, you already know they were one of the most explosive forces to cross a stage. The charisma, the precision, the sheer brutality, they were simply a bulldozer of a band you couldn’t run away from. To this day, I’ve never seen a show as violent as a random Tuesday Pantera gig. When they put out Official Live: 101 Proof, we all knew it would reflect all the things we loved about the band, and it still holds up today as we continue to celebrate the legacy of the late Dimebag Darrel. One of the coolest things about this particular live album is it contains all the amalgamations you wouldn’t know about unless you saw them live during this time, like fusing :Domination” into “Hollow”, “Becoming and “Throes of Rejection”, and “I’m Broken” into “By Demons Be Driven”, what an incredible snapshot in time of one of metal’s most important bands. The only question that matters is, "Do you hear the fucking bass!?"
More great live albums on the next page…