Welcome to volume seven of the Most Essential Albums of the Eighties. Previous volumes are available here.
This week’s edition is short on big names, highlighting the fact that second-tier and lesser-known bands are still capable of making first-rate material that stands the test of time.
DIAMOND HEAD – LIGHTNING TO THE NATIONS
An original pressing of 1,000 copies self-released in a generic white LP sleeve during the initial surge of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal… Doesn’t sound like the kind of thing that would go on to become one of the most genre-defining (and in some ways, defying) albums of the movement. Yet, with a little bit of luck, that is exactly what happened with what came to be known as Lightning to the Nations. The innocuous release ended up in the hands of a prominent British journalist who championed the colossal riffs and hooks of “Am I Evil”, “The Prince”, and “Helpless”, the latter two also representing some of the earliest examples of what would come to be known as thrash metal. Though Diamond Head never achieved great success, their debut still stands tall amongst the best works of their contemporaries – and their disciples.
Diamond Head – Lightning to the Nations
Released: 3 October, 1980
Happy Face Records
Killing cut: “Am I Evil?”
SANCTUARY – REFUGE DENIED
American power metal has traditionally been harder-edged than most of its European “happy metal” counterparts, and bands like Sanctuary embody that aesthetic. Equal parts guitar-driven speed metal fire, Warrel Dane’s Halford-esque piercing screams, and darker goth-tinted melodrama, Refuge Denied points the way to the moody prog-power-thrash of more-heralded Sanctuary progeny Nevermore. From the snarling “Battle Angels” (“Fall. On. Your. Knees. AND HAIL TO THE DAWN!”) to the surprisingly good cover of Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit,” Warrel and company took the template set by Judas Priest and pushed it towards thrash aggression three years before those metal gods rebounded with Painkiller.
Sanctuary – Refuge Denied
Released: November, 1987
Killing cut: “Battle Angels”
SARCOFAGO – I.N.R.I.
Ignore the massively influential artwork of the band posing in a cemetery with full-on corpse paint and bullet-belts. Ignore the fact that Sarcofago’s first drummer D.D. Crazy was among the very first to pioneer the blast-beat. Hell, even ignore the undeniable chain of influence that Sarcofago’s crude, vicious early recordings has had on the ever-increasingly fertile ground of bestial black/death metal (or “war metal,” or whatever the shit you’d like to call it) from South America to Canada, and from the United States to Finland to Southeast Asia and beyond. Get past all that, and I.N.R.I. still holds up as a rippingly good time – lewd, sloppy, snarling, thrashing black metal from the time when black metal was hardly anything other than any other kind of metal played faster and nastier. Like tossing Slayer and Bathory in a glass jug and hurling it at brick wall at the speed of light. Gruesome fun.
Sarcofago – I.N.R.I.
Released: August, 1987
Killing cut: “Christ’s Death”
NUCLEAR ASSAULT – GAME OVER
The debut full-length album from Nuclear Assault comes after Dan Lilker’s expulsion from Anthrax and also, notably, after the release of Speak English Or Die from S.O.D. Given Lilker’s background, high expectations were placed upon this release, expectations that Nuclear Assault were only able to partially live up to. Best viewed as a crossover album more than anything else, Game Over especially shines with a couple of bona fide crossover classics, including the near grindcore assault of “Hang The Pope”. Unfortunately, suspect musicianship and thin production prevented Nuclear Assault from vaulting into the same company as the thrash metal giants of the day. But, Game Over has some great riffs to go along with a feeling of manic energy.
Nuclear Assault – Game Over
Released: 7 October, 1986
Killing cut: “Cold Steel”
WITCHFINDER GENERAL – DEATH PENALTY
While most of its NWOBHM brethren took influence from the higher-speed metal of Judas Priest and Motörhead, Witchfinder General opted to follow in the footsteps of Black Sabbath. Guitarist Phil Cope does a masterful job of re-creating Tony Iommi’s massive tone and proves to be a keen riff-meister in his own right. Although the Sabbath influence is undeniable, Witchfinder General’s music has a sleazy swagger to it, which makes Death Penalty (despite what its ominous title would suggest) more of a heavy-rocking good time, as opposed to the usual opressive doom outing. Emblematic of the band’s style is “Invisible Hate,” which exalts the virtues of sex, drugs, rock and beer.
Witchfinder General – Death Penalty
Released: October, 1982
Heavy Metal Records
Killing cut: “Invisible Hate”
CORROSION OF CONFORMITY – ANIMOSITY
Something happened around 1985. Members of Slayer, in particular, were prone to wearing shirts from punk bands such as D.R.I. and Corrosion Of Conformity in promo photos, and metalheads noticed. Crossover was born. Decidedly more metallic and heavier than most hardcore at the time, C.O.C., D.R.I., and a few other bands all released albums around this time. Animosity is one that has stood the test of time. Initially a challenging listen with analog, messy production and nasally inflected vocals from Mike Dean, Animosity is a crossover classic.
Corrosion of Conformity – Animosity
Released: 25 October, 1985
Metal Blade Records
Killing cut: “Consumed”
VIO-LENCE – ETERNAL NIGHTMARE
There were lots of refugees in the 1980s Bay Area thrash scene. Because so many rode in with the tide, when the wave finally rolled back, there were few who charged forward, more that floundered on the shore, and dozens washed back into a sea of anonymity. Vio-Lence tend toward the middle category, with dot-connector types enjoying the guitarist cross-pollination with early Forbidden [Evil], and especially later Machine Head. But vocalist Sean Killian may be the band’s most distinguishing feature… though also its greatest detractor, depending on who you ask. His rapid punk sneer kept pace with the twisted Demmel–Flynn riffage, but Killian sounds like a flattened Bobby Blitz, which possibly kept Vio-Lence relegated squarely to the third-tier, its strengths notwithstanding. Eternal Nightmare is their first and best, relentless at nearly every turn, with a sense of vitriolic abandon that is usually either forced or lacking. Killian genuinely sounds crazier and angrier than a shithouse rat, plus you gotta commend both drummer Perry Strickland and bassist Dean Dell for laying a solid anchoring foundation in a relative sea of chaos; here, Vio-Lence helped lead the projected second wave of thrash.
Vio-Lence – Eternal Nightmare
Killing cut: “Bodies On Bodies”
FORBIDDEN – FORBIDDEN EVIL
In 1988, the Bay Area thrash movement was in full swing – Metallica, Exodus, Death Angel, and Testament had already released albums that would go on to become classics in the genre. But there was still plenty of life in that scene, as Forbidden unleashed a future classic of their own, Forbidden Evil (their original moniker.) Russ Anderson’s slowly escalating wail on “Chalice of Blood” reached Halfordian proportions and promptly separated them from their local brethren with his unique (to thrash) vocal style. Then of course there’s the music. Forbidden Evil is loaded with riffs – complex, technical riffs that have proven virtually inimitable, whether it’s “March Into Fire” or “Feel No Pain”. In particular, “Through Eyes of Glass” deserves a spot on anybody’s top 10 thrash songs of all time. As intricate as it is, it’s amazing that all the notes stuck to whatever recording medium they were set to.
Forbidden – Forbidden Evil
Released: 30 September, 1988
Killing cut: “Through Eyes of Glass”
CARCASS – SYMPHONIES OF SICKNESS
There was lots of nascent talent in the Carcass of 1988, but it had yet to be fully captured in the studio. The superb production by a young Colin Richardson helped this progress, as the band more than doubled its average track length while introducing styles, ideas, and dynamics still nicked to this day. Song length and compositional depth both increased, as the trio challenged themselves to expand not only the musical prowess each brought to Carcass, but also the unique vocals from each—making Symphonies of Sickness forever a reference point for disgustingly adventurous three-part harmonies.
Carcass – Symphonies of Sickness
Released: 4 November, 1989
Killing cut: “Ruptured in Purulence”
PAGAN ALTAR – JUDGEMENT OF THE DEAD
Okay, so maybe we’re cheating a bit here. Although Judgement of the Dead wasn’t officially released until 1998 (under the title Vol 1), it was recorded way back in 1982, and with the songs all having been written between 1978 and 1981, it represents a crucial enough document of the outside-the-mainstream development of that collision between the doomy sounds of Sabbath and Pentagram and more hard-driving, NWOBHM-leaning traditional heavy metal. You might look to Witchfinder General for a loose parallel, but to be honest, Pagan Altar has always existed in a universe almost entirely of its own creation, where earthy blues licks flow seamlessly into epic doom elegies that remain unmatched in their ability to summon a dusty, mournful atmosphere. Judgement of the Dead, finally rereleased with proper title and cover art by Shadow Kingdom Records thirty years after it was recorded, evokes the feeling of reading the history of a long-dead and forgotten civilization, written in its own words on the eve of its destruction. Except here, the past is alive, and breathes its vitality into every listener willing to sit, and bow, and listen.
Pagan Altar – Judgement of the Dead
Killing cut: “Night Rider”
With 70% of our list complete, you’ve likely noticed the absence of some of the decade’s biggest names, but fear not; as we head into the final three weeks, in the words of Robert Plant, “All will be revealed.”