Our journey through the golden age of metal continues with another set of ten classics. If you missed the first installment of The Most Essential Albums of the 80s, check it out here.
Goats were promised for this edition, and goats there are (well, one goat and one dude in a goat mask), via two foundational black metal groups. But that isn’t all. This week we also have a big shredding Swede, Jesus-as-a-slingshot, speed metal, NWOBHM, high-concept progressive metal, epic metal from friggin’ Kansas, technical thrash and Lemmy.
Let’s get to it.
EXCITER – HEAVY METAL MANIAC
Many of today’s staunch supporters of heavy metal still stumble when it comes to clarifying the principle differences between thrash and its slightly more subdued cousin, speed metal. Heavy Metal Maniac, the raucous debut from Canadian rippers Exciter stands as a crowning example of the latter. The pedal is unquestionably further toward the floor compared to most of the NWOBHM that was dominating people’s ears, but the focus remained centered on maintaining the essential link between the melodic ear-banging of a band like Raven and the unhinged fury of a pure thrasher such as Kreator. Unquestionably essential, Heavy Metal Maniac threw down just the right amount of fiery exhilaration to keep the Marshall stacks bleeding.
Exciter – Heavy Metal Maniac
Released: 14 June, 1983
Killing cut: “Heavy Metal Maniac”
YNGWIE MALMSTEEN – RISING FORCE
He’s pompous, egomaniacal, and over-fond of frilly shirts. But make no mistake: Yngwie J. Malmsteen is a shred titan, a musical Prometheus who’s gift to man was the sweep arpeggio. Through this technique Malmsteen’s influence can be heard across the metal spectrum from DragonForce to Necrophagist. Yngwie’s solo debut, the mostly instrumental Rising Force, is perhaps the best showcase of not just his blistering speed, but also his impeccable tone, touch and vibrato. Furthermore, multifaceted tracks such as “Black Star” and the epic “Icarus’ Dream Suite Opus 4” evince a compositional depth that renders Malmsteen’s masterful playing all the more impactful.
Yngwie Malmsteen – Rising Force
Released: 5 March, 1984
Killing cut: “Now Your Ships Are Burned”
CORONER – PUNISHMENT FOR DECADENCE
Debut R.I.P. put these Swiss men on the map, but Punishment for Decadence really showed that there was plenty of new hues left on the thrash metal palette as late as 1988. Coroner’s sound was a technical, swarming, ultra aggressive cacophony, and it proved that the European thrash mantle did not just belong to Germany. Relentless and utterly devoid of filler, Punishment’s influence has been especially apparent in the last decade, with everyone from Vektor to Negative Plane borrowing a bit. Coroner themselves weren’t quite so impressed however, as their prodigious talents and constant obsession with evolution meant that Punishment stood unique within their stacked catalog. Never to be duplicated, only built upon.
Coroner – Punishment for Decadence
Released: 1 August, 1988
Killing cut: “Masked Jackal”
BATHORY – UNDER THE SIGN OF THE BLACK MARK
Although the point is apparently still open for debate amongst fools and heretics of all stripes, this particular writer has long maintained that Bathory’s landmark third album, Under the Sign of the Black Mark, is, in fact, the Greatest Black Metal Album Of All Time. But okay, say you’re unconvinced. Give it another listen, and just try not to be seduced by the hellish stomp of “Equimanthorn,” the lustful swoon of “Woman of Dark Desires,” or the clanging triumph of “Enter the Eternal Fire” (which, by the way, basically single-handedly invented the genre of Viking metal that Quorthon would later perfect). But more important than all of that is the fact that, 25+ years since it was released, this album is still mysterious, inscrutable, un-knowable. Something claws at the corners of the sound, and of your sanity. Diabolical perfection.
Bathory – Under the Sign of the Black Mark
Released: 11 May, 1987
Black Mark Production
Killing cut: “Equimanthorn”
Bathory – Blood Fire Death
Released: 8 October, 1988
Under One Flag / Music For Nations
CELTIC FROST – TO MEGA THERION
Celtic Frost’s third release, and first full-length album, To Mega Therion, is, arguably, the sweet spot of the band’s career. It marks the fullest development of Tom G. Warrior’s dark musical vision before shit started getting weird. On this record, Frost incorporated female vocals, keyboards, horns and sound effects to embellish its sound, but at its core To Mega Therion is still a barbaric black/death/doom/thrash album. While Into the Pandemonium is famous for its wild experimentation, To Mega Therion is remembered for the punishing and ominous riffs in classics such as “The Usurper,” “Circle of the Tyrants” and “Necromantical Screams.”
Celtic Frost – To Mega Therion
Released: 27 October, 1985
Killing cut: “Dawn of Megiddo”
Celtic Frost – Morbid Tales
Released : June, 1984
QUEENSRŸCHE – OPERATION: MINDCRIME
A paranoid tale of manipulation, assassination, and revolution, Operation: Mindcrime is a concept album that succeeds on every level – the storyline is dense, but understandable; the songs function both within and without the plot. And really, it’s those songs that matter most – with Queensrÿche’s best blend of prog-metal and the stripped-down, more commercial fare they’d soon shift into entirely, Mindcrime has both arena-level hooks and musical depth. From the soaring “Revolution Calling” to the rollicking “The Needle Lies” and ending with the pop-leaning “Eyes Of A Stranger,” Mindcrime never stumbles, never falters, and Queensrÿche would never be this strong again.
Queensrÿche – Operation Mindcrime
Released: 3 May, 1988
Killing cut: “I Don’t Believe in Love”
MOTÖRHEAD – THE ACE OF SPADES
The British power trio exemplifies just how much simple fun heavy metal can be. With non-stop songs about sex, drugs, and rock’n’roll, Motörhead brought the speed and balls-out attitude to blues-based metal that was only a slight shift away from birthing two of metal’s most enduring subgenres—thrash and black metal. Lemmy’s bass rules the world on Ace of Spades while Fast Eddie Clarke busts out some hero-level solos in classic tone. Philip “Philthy Animal” Taylor brings a controlled swagger to the proceedings with his tight and varied drum work. From the ubiquitous title track to closing ripper “The Hammer,” Spades is a non-stop rock ’n’ roll party.
[K. Scott Ross]
Motörhead – The Ace of Spades
Released: 8 November, 1980
Killing cut: “Love Me Like A Reptile”
Motörhead – Orgasmatron
Released: 9 August, 1986
MANILLA ROAD – CRYSTAL LOGIC
Changes were afoot in 1983 for Wichita’s long-standing Manilla Road. But unlike a number of their peers, the band chose to avoid the quickly burgeoning speed metal movement in favor of exploring much more epic avenues. Crystal Logic blew the roof into the stratosphere in terms of delivering a heavily galloping, melodically majestic heavy metal album perfectly suited as a soundtrack to charge alongside daydreamed iron-clanging skirmishes. Evidence of the the gritty, infectious hard rockin that dominated their first two releases was still noticeable, particularly with bruisers like “The Riddle Master,” “The Ram” and the oddly placed “Feeling Free Again,” but an unmistakable triumphantness was ushered in that dominated the record with tales of warlords, fire swords, Ragnarok, and swirling magick. 30 years later, just seeing the word “Necropolis” is guaranteed to cause piles of old-schoolers to lose a full day to randomly belting out that absurdly infectious chorus.
Manilla Road – Crystal Logic
Released: December, 1983
Killing cut: “Necropolis”
Manilla Road – Open the Gates
Released: 28 April, 1985
Black Dragon Records
VENOM – WELCOME TO HELL
Venom took the bass-forward power trio sound of Motörhead and added a unhealthy dose of Satan, creating the template for what they would go on to name “black metal” only a year later. Although their lyrics would quickly be eclipsed by the bands that followed them, Venom took evil to levels never imagined by Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, or Iron Maiden. Thirty years later, we can see it clearly for what it is—a no-fucks-given party album with Satan to scare away the prudes. From lyrical content to stage names to the lo-fi production, Welcome To Hell shifted heavy metal’s paradigm.
[K. Scott Ross]
Venom – Welcome to Hell
Released: December, 1981
Killing cut: “Angel Dust”
Venom – Black Metal
Released: 1 November, 1982
RAVEN – ALL FOR ONE
For their third straight stunner – already in rarified air compared to their fellow NWOBHM brothers – Raven decided on a theme close to the heart of Dumas. But, the three raised foils signaled something other than whipped fluff. Raven was always a little more nimble than their peers, folding in dashes of prog, winks, and nods to their full-on speediest. These days, the RPMs don’t look so impressive which may account for why you see the name more in history lessons than baby headbanger’s to-be-synced list. Their loss, as the athletic rock anthems such as “Seek and Destroy” never fail to make good on their title.
Raven – All for One
Released: August, 1983
Killing cut: “Hung, Drawn and Quartered”
Twenty albums down. Eighty left.
Next week is going to be a bloodbath. Don’t miss it. See you next Monday.