Welcome to part six of The Most Essential Albums of the Eighties. Previous volumes are available here.
This week’s edition is another smorgasbord of metal styles, featuring classic doom, ground-breaking death metal, foundational Norwegian black metal, prog metal, speed metal and thrash in four different flavors.
CARNIVORE – RETALIATION
Carnivore‘s Retaliation is the pre-Type O Negative record that Slow Deep and Hard wasn’t. Yeah, it’s a completely different band, but Peter Steele’s colossal personality looms larger than death. Retaliation is packed with his hallmarks: The jokey, skippable opening prank (“Jack Daniel’s and Pizza”); the absurd, token cover (Hendrix’s “Manic Depression”); the bitter humor (fucking everywhere). But the wry self-depreciation of Type O’s latter years hadn’t yet been refined; this is all blunt aggression, brutal disassociation, and biting satire. The very-real “Institutionalized” rant of “Angry Neurotic Catholics” and the rube-baiting goofery of “Jesus Hitler” are merely the icing on the weirdest thrashcore layer cake the 80s managed to conceive.
Carnivore – Retaliation
Released: September, 1987
Killing cut: “Jesus Hitler”
FATES WARNING – AWAKEN THE GUARDIAN
By 1986, a significant portion of heavy metal purveyors were largely focused on intensifying extremes. Game changers such as Master of Puppets, Reign in Blood, Pleasure to Kill and Obsessed by Cruelty all landed and duly whipped the ear-asses of the metal inclined, while Fates Warning coolly dropped every pimply D&Der’s impeccable soundtrack to rolling a natural 20. Awaken the Guardian, album #3 from these Connecticut Yankees, was a masterful representation of knotty heavy metal that averted the thrashing trend in favor of delivering sweeping, melodic epics exploring witches, krakens, slain hydras, giants, forgotten kings, and tombs of the motherfucking unborn chy-eee-ald!
Fates Warning – Awaken the Guardian
Released: 10 November, 1986
Metal Blade Records
Killing cut: “Prelude to Ruin”
SODOM – AGENT ORANGE
Another album from Germany’s Big Three, Agent Orange displays Sodom as a mature thrash metal band far removed from its much more primitive black/death metal roots of the classic debut EP, In The Sign Of Evil. Agent Orange is also noteworthy in showcasing just how much a band can improve over the course of just a couple albums (witness Obsessed By Cruelty, a huge disappointment) . Featuring quality musicianship and excellent songwriting with catchy songs that just roar along, Agent Orange was a huge stride forwards in every possible way.
Sodom – Agent Orange
Released: 1 June, 1989
Killing cut: “Tired and Red”
MAYHEM – DEATHCRUSH
Venom gave black metal its name. Bathory provided the root sound. Deathcrush transplanted it to the land where such coldness is truly native: Norway. At the time of its release, Mayhem’s putrid debut was one of the most shockingly raw, blatantly offensive, make-mom-disappointed-by-leaving-the-LP-on-your-nightstand slabs of grossness to ever be laid to tape. Very few metal releases have ever been as much of an aural shock to the unprepared, but very few metal releases have had such a lasting impact on defining geographic scenes, image, and musical direction. Not just a time capsule of the Norwegian Inner Circle, Deathcrush is also 18 and one half minutes of timeless rotten riffage that Mayhem’s peers couldn’t catch up to until the calendar turned to the 90s.
Mayhem – Deathcrush
Released: 16 August, 1987
Killing cut: “Pure Fucking Armageddon”
RIOT – FIRE DOWN UNDER
Two successful arguments can easily be scored with regard to New York’s long-standing heavy rockers, Riot: 1) they’re the most underrated hard rock/metal band to ever have jumped from the NY scene, and 2) the band really didn’t do themselves any favors by consistently opting to incorporate an oddball race of fluffy seal-headed bipeds on the covers of their early albums. Awkwardly cuddly artwork aside, however, the band consistently released insanely fiery rippers, and Fire Down Under marks a true highlight in their career – if for nothing else, then simply based on the deathless energy behind “Swords and Tequila” and the ridiculously dynamic “Outlaw.”
Riot – Fire Down Under
Released: 9 February, 1981
Killing cut: “Outlaw”
SABBAT – DREAMWEAVER
In a different kind of revolt against organized religion from most thrashers, the British quintet Sabbat produced a concept album around ancient Anglo-Saxon spiritual beliefs. The album describes an English priest who is sent to learn what the pagans believe and ends up being converted by them instead. The thrash riffing is beautifully non-linear, as dual guitars, bass, and drums all combine in a perfectly mastered mix to musically evoke the arcane story unfolded in Martin Walkyier’s vocals. Dreamweaver manages to sound both futuristic and experimental while still drawing from the ancient pagan to create a timeless work.
Sabbat – Dreamweaver
Released: May, 1989
Killing cut: “How Have the Mighty Fallen”
RIGOR MORTIS – RIGOR MORTIS
Absolutely a classic to be exhumed, the eponymous debut from Rigor Mortis is an exercise in breakneck DFW thrash. Hybridized before people really started making that a thing, its core was thrash, but lyrically came from more of a death metal standpoint – and further, were one of the few to explicitly dredge horror films. “Re-Animator” and “Wizard of Gore” reference their sources directly, but “Demons” and “Vampire” likewise paint vividly iconic pictures thanks to Bruce Corbitt’s sinister performance… and I’m pretty sure the shocking “Bodily Dismemberment” tightened the assholes of the major label bigwigs at Capitol, who summarily dumped the young band. The demise of guitarist Mike Scaccia sadly put reunion hopes to rest, but some of the spirit lives on in Warbeast.
Rigor Mortis – Rigor Mortis
Released: 17 October, 1988
Killing cut: “Bodily Dismemberment”
CANDLEMASS – EPICUS DOOMICUS METALLICUS
Although doom was obviously kicking around for years prior to the release of Epicus Doomicus Metallicus, the term really seemed to set root once this monumental album dropped in 1986. The epic, dark, and markedly plodding manner in which Candlemass swung their hammer blazed an entirely new path that resulted in four peerless early recordings that continue to rule today. And although the band’s “Messiah years” quickly launched them as one of Sweden’s most exceptional and influential outfits, this towering debut with Johan Lindquist behind the mic bears the golden crown simply due to its benchmark status. Of course the fact that it happens to contain one of doom’s most lethal one-two punches in “Black Stone Wielder” and “Under the Oak” undoubtedly helps.
Candlemass – Epicus Doomicus Metallicus
Released: 10 June, 1986
Black Dragon Records
Killing cut: “Under the Oak”
Candlemass – Nightfall
Released: 9 November, 1987
OBITUARY – SLOWLY WE ROT
Of all the bands that emerged from the florida death metal scene, Obituary was perhaps the purest embodiment of death metal. Slowly We Rot oozes from the speakers like fetid ichor from a week-old corpse. Vocalist John Tardy embraced the “death growl” like few have before or since, largely eschewing real lyrics in favor of howls of anger, anguish, horror and disgust that convey more than words ever could. Just as unique as Tardy’s vocals is the band’s ultra-scooped guitar tone, which has an almost physical presence, even absent down-tuning, which, circa 1989, the band had yet to employ. With such weapons at its disposal, Obituary had no need to get too fancy in order to be devastatingly effective, and so Slowly We Rot’s Celtic Frost-on-steroids tunes definitely fit the bill.
Obituary – Slowly We Rot
Released: 16 May, 1989
Killing cut: “‘Til Death”
RUNNING WILD – DEATH OR GLORY
Heavy metal, speed metal, power metal – Running Wild took elements from each to create their own unique style that came to be known as pirate metal, and Death or Glory is the crown jewel of an extensive (yet largely unheralded) discography. The opening 1-2 punch of “Riding the Storm” and “Renegade” pack more metal than entire albums by some bands, and that’s long before they even get to the fist-pumping “Bad to the Bone” and ridiculously epic “Battle of Waterloo.” Subsequent reissues have diluted the experience a bit with the inclusion of the Wild Animal EP, but the fact remains that the album in its original form is about as good as it gets – and it still sounds fresh today. That is the ultimate sign of a timeless album.
Running Wild – Death or Glory
Released: 8 November, 1989
Killing cut: “Renegade”
That’s sixty down, forty to go. Stop by next week for gore, nuclear war, boobs and more.