80s Essentials – Volume Five

Welcome to the halfway point, volume five in our list of The Most Essential Albums of the Eighties. Previous volumes can be accessed here.

This week’s edition features a host of menacing characters. To start there are the skulls: a demon skull, a bloody skull, some kind of friggin’ cyborg skull and the irascible Sargent “D”. In addition we have space marines, charging cavalry (or maybe dragoons), four pyromaniacs and, for good measure, another goat.

Venture forth, but tread lightly.



Saint Vitus’s 1986 landmark album Born Too Late marked a dramatic turning point for the band. Original singer Scott Reagers was replaced by the now legendary Scott “Wino” Weinrich. Wino’s voice was much less dynamic than was Reagers’, but his gruff and gritty delivery proved a perfect match to guitarist Dave Chandler’s lyrics. Gone were the tales of zombies, black magic and mystic ladies – in their place were songs that dealt with real-world trials and experiences such as alcoholism (“Dying Inside”), psychedelic drug use (“Clear Window Pane”), and depression (“The lost Feeling”). And, of course, there is the title track, a timeless anthem for anyone who has ever felt out of step with the world.

 [Jeremy Morse]


Saint VitusBorn Too Late
Released: October, 1986
SST Records
Killing cut: “Born Too Late”






Dimension Hatröss, Voivod’s fourth album, is a landmark for being the mature high point of Voivod’s early career. An unusual band at the time, Voivod would perfect its early, abrasive thrash metal fused with baroque sci-fi themes with Dimension Hatröss before shifting gears to become a progressive metal band with the follow up, Nothingface. Sometimes overlooked by its thrashier predecessor, Killing Technology, Dimension Hatröss is a good means of looking at Voivod as it begins to transition.

[Dave Schalek]


VoivodDimension Hatröss
Released: 29 June, 1988
Noise Records
Killing cut: “Chaosmongers”




Also Essential:

Voivod Killing Technology
Released: 3 April, 1987
Noise Records



Two years removed from Bolt Thrower’s debut In Battle There Is No Law, and the Coventry crushers had begun to move away from their crustier origins. Proper opener “Eternal War” still flails and howls with a clattering intensity more of a piece with the crust and grindcore scenes that Bolt Thrower had both spawned from and helped create, but as soon as the lumbering swagger of “Through the Eye of Terror” rolls by, it’s clear that Realm of Chaos marks the true beginning of Bolt Thrower’s flawless reputation as the living embodiment of unswayable bulldozers, implacable tank treads, and the rumbling portent of carpet bombing just past the horizon. One listen to the unimpeachably classic riffing on “World Eater” is enough to not just damn the skeptics, but to nuke them to oblivion. Crucial death metal mastery.

[Dan Obstkrieg]

Bolt ThrowerRealm of Chaos
Released: 28 October, 1989
Earache Records
Killing cut: “World Eater”




Also Essential:

Bolt Thrower In Battle There is No Law
Released: 12 June, 1988
Vinyl Solution



Fresh out of the punk group Samhain, Glenn Danzig’s first album with the band that bears his name abandoned the high-tempo punk stylings of his previous bands for a minimalist blues-rooted early metal approach. Despite coming out in ’88, the album feels earlier. Danzig’s erotic occultism mixed perfectly with the subtly overdriven sounds of John Christ’s guitar, the powerful baritone of Glenn’s voice evoking a darker Elvis. While, like Elvis, Glenn eventually went to seed, on Danzig he provided an alternative to the high-soaring sounds of Halford, Dio, and Dickinson for those who wanted to really sing heavy metal.

[K. Scott Ross]

Released: 30 August, 1988
Def American Records
Killing cut: “Mother”






Part of the great joy of Metal Church’s classic debut album is that it’s still tough, after all these years, to figure out exactly what it is. Is it thrash? Well, no, not really, but also yes, kind of (cf. “(My Favorite) Nightmare”). NWOBHM? Definitely not, but then again, if you squint at it sideways it might pass (cf. “Battalions”). Power metal? Yeah, sometimes a bit, but it also keeps things pretty traditional (cf. the ball-busting “Gods of Wrath”). What it assuredly is, however, is a mostly dark and brooding album, occasionally epic, occasionally fleet, and pretty much nonstop throttling. Call it another early document of crucial American power/thrash if you must, but whatever you do, sit your ears down too close to the speakers, and get blown away – again, or, if you’re lucky, for the very first time – by David Wayne’s sky-reaching sneer, by Duke Erickson’s hyperactive bass, and those solos, and that punchy, no-nonsense drumming, and those soaring vocals, and oh, just, damn it all – the whole thing.

[Dan Obstkrieg]

Metal ChurchMetal Church
Released: 1984
Ground Zero Records
Killing cut: “Gods of Wrath”






The Nightcomers is a Friday pregame ritual of before-bar carnage, lines of coke, and some smokes bottled up in nine songs. Proving the power of a performance is sometimes all in the delivery and not the proficiency of the players, these Scots wobbled through their too-drunk-to-overdub, angel-dusted Judas Priest distillations and somehow bowled every ball for a strike. Part of their success was the canny ability to skate around the rink as an enforcer for power pop, lightning up your pearly whites with fists scarred by smokin’ amp valves if you dared questioning a rote chord progression or lice-ridden hook. But, even that makes Holocaust seem like they focused on something beyond getting hammered and getting anyone within earshot greased up for a party. Rest assured, their mission will still be accomplished as there may be no other album from the decade better at influencing the instinctual need to buddy up with Bacchus and make really dumb mistakes.

[Ian Chainey]

HolocaustThe Nightcomers
Released: April, 1981
Phoenix Record & Filmworks
Killing cut: “Heavy Metal Mania”






There’s just something about Bay-area thrash debuts, isn’t there? Regardless of Testament‘s later efforts, the band was never able to touch the brilliance of The Legacy which, for some strange reason, still feels a bit more underrated than it should be. Be that as it may, if The Legacy ever found itself in a dark alleyway with all of the other debuts from the “Big 4” and it was every album for itself, Testament’s first effort would either be the last man standing, or it would team up with Show No Mercy until the other three albums were quickly disposed of. Its only curse? Perhaps sounding a bit too much like early Metallica. But that’s what everyone wants more of… so who’s complaining? This album is absolutely essential 80’s listening for the sole fact that it just plain shreds.

[Konrad Kantor]

TestamentThe Legacy
Released: 21 April, 1987
Atlantic Records
Killing cut: “First Strike Is Deadly”






In thirty years of thrashing, the New Jersey-based Overkill has maintained a solidity lost by many of their peers – they’ve soldiered ever onwards, stumbling rarely and never falling. And it all began with Feel The Fire, an absolutely glorious slab of East Coast thrash metal, rife with future classics like the title track, “Rotten To The Core,” “Hammerhead,” and a cover of the Dead Boys’ great “Sonic Reducer.” Blitz’s inimitable screech is toned down from later days, though it’s still very much evident, and the rotten core of Verni, Gustafson, and Skates thrashes like mad. Higher, higher, feel the fire…

[Andrew Edmunds]

OverkillFeel the Fire
Released: 15 April, 1985
Megaforce Records
Killing cut: “Hammerhead”






By the time Pentagram finally  cranked out a proper full-length album in 1985, the group bore little resemblance to the bunch of hard-rocking hippies it was in the seventies. Bobbly Liebling’s theatrical vocals and occult-themed lyrics remained, but the heavy hitting rhythm section of Joe Hasselvander and Marin Swaney, combined Victor Griffin’s muscular guitar tone gave the group a decidedly metallic make-over. Tracks such as “Sign of the Wolf”, and “Run My Course” retain some catchy, hard rock swagger, but cuts like “The Ghoul”, “Sinister” and especially the punishing “All Your Sins” are pure, classic doom with a capital “D”.

[Jeremy Morse]

Released: February, 1985
Pentagram Records
Killing cut: “All Your Sins”




Also Essential:

PentagramDay of Reckoning
Released: June, 1987
Napalm Records



A side project from Scott Ian and Charlie Benante of Anthrax around the time of the recording of Spreading The Disease, S.O.D. brought former Anthrax member Dan Lilker back into the fold along with one of Anthrax’s roadies, the skinhead Billy Milano. Basically a fast thrash metal album with shouted vocals, Speak English or Die features political incorrectness of the highest order that still comes off, even with today’s sensibilities, as funny as Hell, and contains probably the best riffs that Ian has ever written. You could also argue that the song “Milk” features the first ever blastbeat.

[Dave Schalek]


S.O.D.Speak English or Die
Released: 30 August, 1985
Megaforce Records
Killing cut: “Kill Yourself”





We’re halfway through the list, but let’s consider this chalice of blood half-full, because there is still a shit-load great metal albums to come. See you next week for ten more.

Posted by Last Rites


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