Welcome to the third installment of The 100 Most Essential Albums of the 80s. If you need to catch up, you can do so here.
As was hinted, this week’s crop of essentials is a cauldron of musical violence: blood, gore, war, madness and death. Just for fun we’ll throw in aliens, a shark, and two kings.
Let the slaughter begin.
POSSESSED – SEVEN CHURCHES
Released a couple of months before Scream Bloody Gore by Death, Seven Churches is probably the first album that could be labeled as death metal and nothing else. Over the top speed and very technical for its time, Seven Churches would later be expanded upon in style by Morbid Angel and a host of others to follow. Unfortunately, Possessed would never really go on to capitalize on such a ground breaking and genre defining album.
Possessed – Seven Churches
Released: 16 October, 1985
Killing cut: “Death Metal”
BROCAS HELM – INTO BATTLE
San Francisco’s Brocas Helm is one of those bands that old underground dogs love to champion whenever conversations turn to 80s epic metal gems that typify the textbook definition of under-appreciated. Into Battle, their debut, is every bit as punchy, raw and lively as an early Di’Anno-era Iron Maiden record, yet the band managed to convey that same level of unbridled energy with just three players in the mix. Sadly, persistent label struggles continually hobbled Brocas Helm‘s production and kept them mostly cloaked from a wider eye. Their relatively sparse body of work is still somewhat difficult to track down, but the extra labor is always worth the effort, particularly with regard to this raw and ripping debut.
Brocas Helm – Into Battle
First Strike Records
Killing cut: “Ravenwreck”
DEATH – SCREAM BLOODY GORE
The genius of Chuck Schuldiner birthed an entire genre, and that genius is on full display here. Chris Reifert, who would go on to his own fame in Autopsy, beats the skins bloody for Chuck to weave his horrific tapestry over. The vocal style alone was like nothing else, but the surging, seething sounds of songs like “Mutilation” and “Baptized In Blood” or the Middle-Eastern tinged “Zombie Ritual” ensured that Death would not be mistaken for any other genre. There’s nothing half-way about this album. Even nearly thirty years later, Scream Bloody Gore sounds like a blueprint, not a prototype.
Death – Scream Bloody Gore
Released: 25 May, 1987
Killing cut: “Mutilation”
Death – Leprosy
Released: 16 November, 1988
KING DIAMOND – ABIGAIL
Abigail marked the critical moment when King Diamond would fully break free from the rawer, harder rocking Mercyful Fate outline in favor of a polished and increasingly melodic blueprint more in line with the times. It also represented the band’s first true foray into a full concept album – something the preceding Fatal Portrait only did for half its total time. Everything about the band became more sensational with Abigail: King’s vocal range upped the ante to better represent a full array of characters; Andy LaRocque and Michael Denner delivered a host of pant-soiling leads; and Mikkey Dee delivered one of the best drum performances of his career. And the gilded cherry on top: To this day, no band has ever topped the epic manner in which “Black Horsemen” drops the closing curtain.
King Diamond – Abigail
Released: 21 October, 1987
Killing cut: “Black Horsemen”
King Diamond – “Them”
Released: 13 September, 1988
SEPULTURA – BENEATH THE REMAINS
I didn’t yet understand the notion of ‘crossover Brazilian thrash’ when I was 14, but I knew I liked Beneath the Remains. Amidst the claustrophobic production – and heightened by the mostly black, yet carefully wrought cover art – Sepultura quite simply wrote their most unfuckwithable album. It’s not my favorite (Chaos A.D. holds that honor for a number of reasons) but it’s a damn close second. Andreas Kisser finally figured out how to weave into the bludgeoning assault; Igor found finesse around the blasts; Paolo filled in every possible crack; Max bloody honed. Beneath the Remains IS Brazilian thrash.
Sepultura – Beneath the Remains
Released: 5 September, 1989
Killing cut: “Mass Hypnosis”
CIRITH UNGOL – KING OF THE DEAD
Cirith Ungol’s second album King of the Dead is one of the most peculiar-sounding albums from this era of heavy metal – the bass is huge and round, the guitars – especially when soloing – sound like laser beams on the verge of dissipating, and the vocals… Oh yeah, those vocals. Tim Baker’s caterwauling performance will be a make-or-break proposition for any listener. His voice leaps and dives and slides between notes, like an actor who keeps almost misreading his lines because he is SO GODDAMN COMMITTED to the role. These are dark, serpentine songs, sometimes throbbing with a Sabbath pulse, and sometimes lurching forward into a perversion of a regal gallop. But give yourself over to this album, and you’ll find it has a seductive pull that cannot be refused. You may find yourself waking up in the middle of a night, drenched in a sweaty chill, and shrieking “Crown! Upon his head! King! Of all the deeeeeeeeeeeeead!” Don’t worry; that just means it’s working.
Cirith Ungol – King of the Dead
Released: 2 July, 1984
Killing cut: “Black Machine”
KREATOR – PLEASURE TO KILL
Kreator took the word “fast” to an ungodly level with its sophomore release, Pleasure to Kill. Considered too fast even for some people today, Fioretti, Petrozza and Reil didn’t hesitate to break down more boundaries than ever before. The result? Not only one of the most unique and innovative thrash releases of the 80’s, but also one of the ugliest. In retrospect, Pleasure to Kill meant as much to thrash metal then as it does to black metal today. (Much like Teutonic thrash warlords Sodom and Destruction.) Another thing that sets the album apart is that its best qualities have less to do with musicianship and songwriting and more to do with overall atmosphere and raw-as-fuck production values. Pleasure to Kill might not come into many discussions revolving around the “best” thrash albums of the 80’s, but only for the right reasons. This one is not for the faint of heart, and unlike other thrash albums such as “pick any of the first three releases from all the thrash legends,” this one actually paved the way for three entire decades of continued success and great songwriting. The same cannot be said for most bands of this time period.
Kreator – Pleasure to Kill
Released: November, 1986
Killing cut: “Death is Your Savior”
Kreator – Terrible Certainty
Released: October, 1987
MORBID ANGEL – ALTARS OF MADNESS
With unrelenting speed, finger-boggling riff complexity, and blunt lyrical blasphemies, Morbid Angel crawled from the swamps of Florida with a release that demands recognition as one of the greatest death metal albums of any age. Trey Azagthoth’s signature tremolo picking technique and madcap solos were beyond anything that even Slayer had attempted, and Pete Sandoval pushed drumming beyond its known limits, while David Vincent’s guttural spewings ensured that parents everywhere would recoil in horror. With all-time classics like “Maze of Torment” and “Chapel of Ghouls,” Altars will remain an unbreakable legacy, no matter what atrocities the band produces in the future.
Morbid Angel – Altars of Madness
Released: 12 May, 1989
Killing cut: “Chapel of Ghouls”
ACCEPT – RESTLESS AND WILD
“Heidi heido heida, heidi heido heida…” Opening with a brief crackling version of the German tune “Ein Heller und ein Batzen,” Restless & Wild kicks in with the blistering “Fast As A Shark,” one of the 80s’ finest metal moments and, at the time, a new level in speed. If Restless & Wild only contained that one song, it would still come recommended, but it follows with the AC/DC-leaning title track, the ripping “Demon’s Night,” and the epic “Princess Of The Dawn.” Restless & Wild is the finest moment from one of metal’s greatest bands – it’s an undisputed trad-metal classic.
Accept – Restless & Wild
Released: 4 October, 1982
Killing cut: “Fast As A Shark”
AGENT STEEL – UNSTOPPABLE FORCE
One of speed metal’s greatest moments, Unstoppable Force is the perfect combination of powerful vocals, catchy riffs, shred-heavy soloing, and some absolutely first-rate tunes. The Brazilian-born John Cyriis’ voice is easily among the best in the style, and his UFO-themed lyrical focus was both intriguing and unique. But even with Cyriis’ soaring and searing scream, the force ultimately comes from the guitar tandem of Juan Garcia and Bernie Versailles, who tear through these nine songs with such gleeful metallic abandon that it would be damn near impossible for anyone listening not to smile while they’re getting their skull smacked in.
Agent Steel – Unstoppable Force
Released: March, 1987
Killing cut: “Indestructive”
That makes thirty. Swing by next Monday for ten more.
‘Til then: Are we making the right calls? Should we have put our Balls to the Wall or subjected ourselves to Endless Pain?