Welcome to Volume Eight of The Most Essential Albums of the Eighties. Previous volumes are available here.
What’s in store this week? Just another ten examples of the wild diversity of 80s metal: straight-up heavy metal from three different countries, two German power/speed metal classics, grindcore, proto-progressive death metal and, as usual, a healthy dose of thrash.
Let’s get to it.
HELLOWEEN – KEEPER OF THE SEVEN KEYS: PT 1
Helloween‘s debut album, 1985’s Walls Of Jericho, would prove to be a speed metal classic, but the band wasn’t content to repeat itself for the next installment. Adding the golden throat of Michael Kiske (relieving guitarist Kai Hansen of vocal duties), Helloween almost single-handedly laid the groundwork for European power metal with this first half of their two-part masterpiece. From the brief instrumental intro (furthering the band’s fascination with the melody of the folk song “London Bridge”), this first Keeper rips through melodic speed-metal classics like “I’m Alive,” “Future World,” and the epic Peanuts-quoting “Halloween.” True power mastery, and a Keeper, indeed.
Helloween – Keeper of the Seven Keys: Part I
Released: 23 May, 1987
Killing cut: “I’m Alive”
DESTRUCTION – INFERNAL OVERKILL
The first full-length album from one of Germany’s Big Three, Infernal Overkill is primitive by today’s standards, but features some of the best riffs in thrash metal. Guitarist Mike Sifringer would make a statement with this album, a statement that he would go on to become one the best riff writers in thrash metal. My friends and I obsessed over this album, even discovering that the album was also playable at 45 rpm.
Destruction – Infernal Overkill
Released: 24 May, 1985
Killing cut: “Bestial Invasion”
ANNIHILATOR – ALICE IN HELL
Canadian shred-thrashers Annihilator came out of the gate at full speed with this one, flying high on Jeff Waters’ fleet-fingered guitar work and ex-DOA bassist Randy Rampage’s… um… idiosyncratic vocals. (Sing it with us now: “AAAHH-lison Hell…”) Despite some lyrical goofiness (keep in mind that this is the band that would soon write a song about macaroni and cheese, after all), Alice In Hell succeeds in being both Annihilator’s finest hour and one of tech-thrash’s early high-points, due almost wholly to the quality of Waters’ performance, his complex and riff-heavy songwriting, and those guitar-wizard solos that burn like buzzsaw blades.
Annihilator – Alice In Hell
Released: 17 April, 1989
Killing cut: “Alison Hell”
REPULSION – HORRIFIED
Normally, you handle historical metal artifacts with gloves, respecting the delicacy of ancient extremity with a gentle, empathetic touch. Horrified, however, is one of those monstrous burners that will never go out. It’s Centralia, Pennsylvania; a blaze that will keep on blazing as long as there’s fuel in the form of new thrashers and grinders. Repulsion melded the punk snarl of hardcore and with the speed of thrash like plenty of plank-pushing crossover acts back in ’86. However, those kids weren’t being eaten alive by a parasitic twin that turned out to be death metal. “Maggots in Your Coffin” is the pebble in a puddle, still sending out ripples, still informing every quick-picked grindcore destroyer.
Repulsion – Horrified
Released: 29 May, 1989
Killing cut: “Maggots In Your Coffin”
WITCH CROSS – FIT FOR FIGHT
Total buried classic that’s only really gotten its proper due in the last few years due to Hell’s Headbangers’s noble reissue campaign, right? Well, yeah, basically, but damn, back in ’84, there’s reason it ought to have gone that way. This Danish crew should have had nearly every chance to break it big like their countrymen in Mercyful Fate – hell, Fit for Fight was engineered by the same guy who did Melissa and Don’t Break the Oath, and came out on the same damn label and in the same year as Don’t Break the Oath. It’s possible that could have contributed to its being overshadowed, but really, while Witch Cross share more than a few similarities with Mercyful Fate, they were very much their own entity – much sprightlier, more given to deploying their twin guitars to light-touch pyrotechnics than deep, classic twin riffs, and, obviously, not steeped in occult matters. Whatever injustices Witch Cross’s debut (and until very recently, only) album has suffered, you can make it right. Yes you, right there. Drink these songs in and then run to the hills to spread their acclaim. Do it for us; do it for yourself; do it for Witch Cross and justice and the greater good of heavy metal.
Witch Cross – Fit for Fight
Killing cut: “Nightflight To Tokyo”
ARMORED SAINT – DELIRIOUS NOMAD
For their sophomore smoker, South Pasadena, CA’s princes Armored Saint blessed another pure heavy metal set with a razor-sharp tone, seek n’ destroying stun gun passages, and enough righteous rock melody to quell the backseat complaints of even the staunchest steel slanderer. See, before the Sunset Strip smelled of Aqua Net, this was Saint’s stretch to strut. John Bush could make his lungs sound like they were leering like no one’s business, though he was never sleazy, never taking it easy. And, the rest of the band was similarly ready to bruise you blue with hooky wallops. Still feels so good.
Armored Saint – Delirious Nomad
Released: 30 October, 1985
Killing cut: “Over the Edge”
MEGADETH – PEACE SELLS…BUT WHO’S BUYING?
These days Dave Mustaine is a conservative Christian and a devoted family man. In the eighties, though, Dave was a drug addict with an interest in black magic and a political outlook best described as contemptuous. As striking as the difference is in the man, between then and now, the difference in his music is even more striking. There is no playing it safe and no commercial pandering on Peace Sells…But Who’s Buying; the album walks a tightrope of perfection across an abyss of self-destruction. Seldom if ever has technical brilliance been matched with such reckless abandon and unbridled aggression. There might be better thrash albums, but you can count them on one hand.
Megadeth – Peace Sells… But Who’s Buying?
Released: 20 July, 1986
Killing cut: “The Conjuring”
OZ – FIRE IN THE BRAIN
Hailing from Finland, OZ was one of Scandinavia’s earliest heavy metal sensations. Coming from the studio and producer that would later bring us acts like Bathory, Fire In the Brain is a glimpse at pre-black metal Scandinavia, from the Van Halen-esque “Megalomaniac” to the occultism of “Black Candles” to the Motörhead swagger of “Free Me, Leave Me,” all mixed together with the twin-guitar attack that only a five-piece band can bring. Clocking in at a mere 27 minutes, Fire In the Brain is best enjoyed on repeat. The modern black-and-roll scene and bands like Midnight owe an incomparable debt to OZ.
OZ – Fire in the Brain
Killing cut: “Search Lights”
ATHEIST – PIECE OF TIME
I love it when a plan comes together. Atheist didn’t get much on the jazz this early on, but there was something particularly depraved about Kelly Shaefer’s vocals that distinguished them in the Floridian death metal horde. Cynic synthesized with robotic precision; Death defined and redefined the genre; Atheist channeled pure existential angst. Deeply disillusioned with the world, Piece of Time railed against warmongering and political hypocrisy, invited discussion about the purpose of life, and challenged the listener to own their very existence. Boldly self-empowered and daring in execution, Atheist was essential (elemental?) for progressing death metal as a genre, although their giant step was still two years away.
Atheist – Piece of Time
Released: 30 August, 1989
Killing cut: “On The Slay”
BLIND GUARDIAN – FOLLOW THE BLIND
Not that I’m particularly interested in getting into some virginal nerd argument about what separates speed metal from power metal, but if it ever came up, I suppose I could always just pull out a copy of Blind Guardian’s sophomore album Follow the Blind and yell, “Hey you jerks THIS is speeeeeeeeeeeed metal!” All of which is to say that if you only got on board with the sightless protector well into the Silmarillion-repping Nightfall in Middle-Earth or “none more choirs” A Night at the Opera, Follow the Blind might be a bit of a shock, as it finds the German bard-and-corset crew in pure speed demon Helloween mode. The title track hints at the band’s more grandiose future, but Follow the Blind lives and dies by its absolutely raging bangers: “Hall of the King,” “Beyond the Ice,” “Banish from Sanctuary,” and so on. Put down the tabletop figurines for a few minutes and bang your elfin head, you wasters.
Blind Guardian – Follow the Blind
Released: 25 October, 1989
No Remorse Records
Killing cut: “Hall Of The King”
That’s eighty albums down. Only twenty remain.
Next weeks edition, features the most “Also Essential” nods granted to any single band on the list. We’ll give you one guess which band that is; check back next Monday to see if you were right.