If there’s one instrument that has cemented itself as the cornerstone of modern popular music, it’s the guitar. Beethoven once said “The guitar is a miniature orchestra in itself,” and now, with the discovery of electricity and the invention of numerous diversifying effects, this statement rings truer than ever.
In this list are 25 albums that the feature the guitar in some way that that exemplifies it’s place in a given band or ensemble, whether to create atmosphere and texture, compliment the other musicians, or stand alone as a solo instrument – you’ll find albums on this list that cover a wide range of styles and genres that the guitar calls home. For fans of the guitar and guitar-oriented music, of which there are undoubtedly many, this list may help in discovering some truly remarkable gems that have, perhaps, been elusive and under the radar up until now.
25. Obscure Infinity – Perpetual Descending Into Nothingness
It’s getting more and more difficult to find technical Death Metal albums that don’t tire and burn out before the first few tracks, but Obscure Infinity bring the goods with competent, melodic songwriting, and plenty of diverse, engaging instrumentation and orchestration to keep one from getting bored at any point.
24. Witchfynde – Give ‘Em Hell
In 1979, Witchfynde were offering something truly exciting – occult themes, Satanic imagery, and dynamic guitar playing that showcased the merging of blues-infused hard rock and the hard-driving melodic riffing of New Wave of British Heavy Metal that was just starting to pop up at the time. Catchy, gritty, and very, very fun.
23. – Del Paxton – Worst. Summer. Ever.
Straddling the line between lead and rhythm, the guitar work on Del Paxton’s Emo/Pop Punk opus is miraculous, interjecting melody lines and arpeggiations between huge distorted riffs and setting an incredibly personal tone for this very emotive album.
22. Pessimist – Call to War
When it comes to Thrash Metal, Pessimist take a more mid-paced, groovy approach than some of their contemporaries, executed by thick, chugging riffs and heavy rhythmic sensibilities that are complimented by very clean lead playing and melodic soloing. “Another Day In Mania” is one of the most satisfying Thrash instrumentals to come along in a long time.
21. Acrimonious – Perdition Gospel
As the incredibly prolific Greek Black Metal scene begins to gain more of an audience, it’s disappointing to see Acrimonious still virtually unknown. When it comes to conjuring mood and atmosphere, few in the scene do it better. From barraging tremolo riffs to sparse and spacey chords, Acrimonious never settle on one feeling or one idea long enough to bore the listener.
20. Mensen – Oslo City
All-female punk outfit Mensen offer an album that is at once versatile and energetic, never sacrificing monstrous hooks for the sake of punk image or attitude. The riffs do exactly what they should on an album like this and then some, providing the record with it’s boundless energy and addictive personality, and essentially making this one of the most fun punk rock albums ever made.
19. Fastkill – Nuclear Thrashing Attack
The guitarists on this album must be on some sort of performance-enhancing drug to play as fast as they do, but whatever the reason, there’s certainly little to complain about if you like your Thrash Metal played insanely fast with satisfyingly messy solos that run a million notes per minute and riffs that make your hands ache just hearing them.
18. Dark Heart – Shadows of the Night
Now, here’s an example of a band that really and truly embraced the tenets of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal movement – galloping rhythms, dynamic solos, and super melodic riffs that provide just as much, or more, of the hook as do the vocals. As a metal album, and a guitar album, this one proves to a thoroughly fulfilling experience with every listen.
17. Bill Connors – Return
As a jazz guitarist, Bill Connors proves to be progressive, inventive, spontaneous, and beautifully lyrical in all aspects of his playing – from accompaniment and rhythm work to his perfectly executed solos, which are always subtle when they need to be and aggressively expressive when they don’t
16. Barlow – Fell Asleep
On this album, buried beneath some very lo-fi production, is some of the most incredibly expressive Shoegaze and Emo rock found today, or ever. The riffs alone are enough to bring tears to one’s eyes and make one believe that, even if My Bloody Valentine never makes another record, there’s still hope.
15. Twin Berlin – Sleazebrain
This album never fails to be an absolute blast to listen to. The guitars are dirty, perfectly produced, and deliver hook after catchy hook throughout the whole release, all the while, never losing the boundless energy that makes the album impossibly hard to turn away from.
14. Bloody Hammers – Bloody Hammers
Sonically, Bloody Hammers invoke the spirit of the most ominous, occult Doom Metal from the 70s, and, interestingly enough, merge it with a healthy dose of 90s alternative and Grunge sounds. The result is a dark, brooding masterpiece that is heavy and totally entrancing from start to finish.
13. The Pancakes – Sometimes When We Cry
Out of Hong Kong, The Pancakes showcase adorable pop songs with guitars that shine and glitter sunnily and provide the perfect accompaniment for the smooth, relaxing vocals that can’t help but make one feel all warm and fuzzy inside.
12. Orloff – Apparitions Among the Graveyard Skies
Death/Doom Metal with monstrous, crushing riffs that are so heavy they’re almost terrifying. Minor harmonies only help to contribute further to an atmosphere that is threatening, sinister, and totally enrapturing.
11. Southtown Lanes – Break Me
Southtown Lanes deliver a brand of Mathy Emo so emotional that it would be exhausting if it wasn’t so perfectly executed. In particular, the guitarist really makes the album a treat to listen to, knowing just when to unleash their frenzied and frenetic Math Rock licks and when to tone it down, holding back with soft chord arpeggios or complimentary rhythms.
10. Gammacide – Victims of Science
In 1989, Thrash bands were a dime-a-dozen, and much of the scene was saturated with faceless Metallica clones, forcing many quality bands of the period to slip under the radar. Gammacide was definitely one of those bands. Providing a brand of Thrash Metal that was savage and uncompromising, Gammacide never let up in their aggressive approach to Thrash, that, despite it’s unrelenting speed, was not party music, but wild, angry metal music littered with violent riffing and feverishly deranged solos. As one of the greatest and most sincere Thrash albums of the 80s, it’s a shame to see it get so little credit or exposure.
9. Calvin Keys – Proceed With Caution
Calvin Keys is a guitarist who, in the 70s, understood both Jazz and Funk perfectly, as is clearly evident in Proceed With Caution, in which Keys proceeds himself in a less than cautionary manner, delivering licks and lines that are slick, laid back, and yet wickedly proficient and fast, as if it all comes effortlessly to him.
8. Galmet – Dawn of the Rebellion
Japan-based, all-female Melodic Death Metal group Galmet have largely gone unnoticed in many parts of the world, and it’s more than a shame, as they’ve released one of the most vital and powerful Melo-Death albums you’re likely to hear for a long, long time. The riffs are tremendous, soaring, and incredibly memorable, not letting up in overall force or catchiness, and the production and performances are incredibly tight. It may look like kitsch or novelty along the lines of Babymetal, but Galmet are undeniably the real deal.
7. Our Blue Lights – Our Blue Lights
Alternative Indie Rock with shimmering, textural guitars that give the music an almost meditative quality in its tone and performance. It’s easy to become entranced in the waves of glistening clean tones and scintillating distortion and find that the album has somehow ended without realizing it.
6. Abaroth – The Mountain Gate
Atmospheric Black Metal often has an entrancing effect, but this album is particularly hypnotic, with waves of distortion that wash over the listener and chilling riffs that ring tinnily in the lo-fi production. If one’s not careful, they could very easily get lost in a recording like this, and given the quality and nature of the material, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
5. Cadaver Inc. – Discipline
A horrifying blend of Industrial Black Metal conjures an atmosphere not quite like any found in either, or any, genre. Cold, mechanical, and relentless, Discipline never stops to give the listener a break from its onslaught of electric riffs and sheets of distortion, pounding in one’s head like industrial machinery. Easily one of the most atmospheric albums I’ve ever heard.
4. Nene Tchakou – Soto
Of all the African Soukous and Rumba guitarists, few seem to be as all-encompassing as Nene Tchakou. Aside from possessing incredible technical skill as a lead and rhythm player, he’s also an incredible songwriter, perfectly showcasing the bright, catchy, and addictive rhythmic qualities that make Soukous music impossible not to enjoy, with guitar melodies that are insanely creative and utterly unforgettable.
3. Polyphia – Muse
Bright, lyrical, and exceptionally clean, Muse proves to be, with every listen, one of the most amazing instrumental metal albums ever made, showcasing some of the most technical playing imaginable, but not at the expense of the songs or the melodies that they wish to portray. It is at once exhilarating, emotional, and nothing short of inspiring. Without the use of a single word, spoken or sung, Polyphia have managed to create one of the most imaginative instrumental albums around, and it is not to be missed.
2. Monnette Sudler – Time for a Change
Sometimes, when one is presented with a real work of art, words seem to do little justice in describing it. Such is the case with Monnette Sudler’s Jazz guitar masterpiece Time for a Change. At times, the work is full and lush, and then at others, empty and skeletal. The texture and tone are ever-changing and the songs are remarkably contemplative, for both the players and the listeners. There are moments of such profound awe and beauty on this album that it’s hard to fathom human hands creating it, and yet here it is, in all its glory, mesmerizing and utterly breathtaking.
1. Kalter – Ubuntu
Kalter play Melodic Progressive Death Metal with heavy influences from Native American musics, particularly from Central and South America, and it’s just as interesting and enthralling as it sounds. Ranging dynamically from aggressive and desperate to lush and awe-inspiring, Ubuntu offers something truly unique to Metal music, and becomes more and more exciting with every listen. The myriad of influences present on the album are combined perfectly, making it among the most memorable metal albums to be released in the past decade at the very least. Perhaps to say so is cliche, but Ubuntu is much more a spiritual experience than just an album to put on and listen to, as, I believe, was intended by the band upon releasing it, and if that’s the case, they certainly hit their mark dead-center.