Sales figures are an elusive creature in the world of music: different trackers, different orders, and different sales amounts. Given enough research it is possible to come to a conclusion by adding the data together. What often adds to the confusion is the classification of musical genre, an element especially criticized by hardcore music fans worldwide. Michael Jackson might be the best selling artist of all time, but how dare his music be classified as pop when it’s actually R&B?
Nowhere is this more predominant than in the world of heavy metal. Metal fans are extremely specific about genre; pretty obvious considering that the overarching term “metal” can be broken into hundreds of subcategories (such as death, hardcore, symphonic, progressive, alternative, black, doom, sludge, etc.). Fans of heavy metal take their classifications very seriously. So it is with timid feet that one wades into the discussion of best selling metal albums.
What classifies a band as heavy metal? If it’s distorted guitars and loud songs, well than tons of bands have hit the top of the charts with metal albums. This is not the common thought, though, as most bands need more than a fuzz box and a raspy singer to meet fan standards. Most of what has raked in the highest sales is actually rock or hard rock. The best selling hard rock album is AC/DC’s Back in Black from 1980, followed by Led Zeppelin IV, Guns N’ Roses’ Appetite for Destruction, Bon Jovi’s Slippery When Wet, Queen’s Greatest Hits, Def Leppard’s Hysteria, and Van Halen’s 1984. Some people would argue that this list includes a few heavy metal bands, notably Bon Jovi and Def Leppard (Black Sabbath clearly steals the title of “metal band” from Led Zeppelin), but the sheer amount of hair spray and pop mentality excludes these bands from metal. Guns N’ Roses, perhaps, might edge the closest towards headbanging territory. But it requires something more to be metal: something heavier, louder, faster.
The best selling metal band of all time is without a doubt Metallica. The only metal band to truly become a household name thanks to their evolving style and fan dedication, Metallica has sold more records than most metal bands combined. 1991’s self-titled album (commonly referred to as The Black Album) is the best selling metal album of all time. They also have a few more records (…And Justice For All, Master of Puppets) with extremely high sales figures for a metal band. Other than Metallica, reigning pioneers Iron Maiden stand as a road-tested, sales figures-approved heavy metal band. The Number of the Beast is one of the best selling albums in the genre, going more than six times platinum. Iron Maiden has chalked up many millions more in album sales over their thirty-plus year career. Fellow English metal band Black Sabbath (widely credited as creating the metal sound for the masses) also rank among the top sellers, their album Paranoid has gone four times platinum. Former lead singer Ozzy Osbourne also ranks at the top with his No More Tears album.
This is just a sampling of some top selling metal bands, sales figures vary by year and by genre (though it’s slightly impossible to find numbers on melodic-Swedish-gore metal). Technically the highest selling album classified as metal is Linkin Park’s Hybrid Theory, but any album with rap (all enthusiasts would agree) has no place in the metal world.