Top 11 Metal Albums of the 1980s
The 1980s were fertile, formative years for metal, defined by lots of genres, classifications and periods, and not to mention controversy. It’s hard to believe that classic-style metal churned out by the likes of Dio and Ozzy Osbourne coexisted with the brutal, technically astounding and surgically precise bluster of thrash, as well as the eyeliner, hairspray and glam of pop metal. The 1980s truly offered something for everyone. If you liked things irreverent, loud, brash, politically charged, poppy, glittery and unforgettable, then the ’80s had to be your favorite period of the genre, as it ballooned and enjoyed a period of unprecedented and rapid growth. We proudly present you with the Top 11 Metal Albums of the 1980s:
‘Holy Diver’ (1983)
The late, great Ronnie James Dio had memorable stints in both Black Sabbath and Rainbow, but his work as a solo artist in ‘Holy Diver’ remains his benchmark and a metal classic of the ’80s. Dio’s soaring voice was backed by a cast of stellar musicians, like guitarist Vivian Campbell. ‘Holy Driver’ is pure, unabashed heavy metal from the man who established the devil horns as a universal symbol for the genre.
The latter half of ’80s was defined by pop metal, and Def Leppard’s ‘Hysteria’ was the most successful album of that sub-set. The production is flawless (thanks, Mutt Lange!) and the band was more interested in hooks than hairspray. With ‘Love Bites’ and ‘Animal’ veering more towards the pop side than anything on 1983’s much rawer ‘Pyromania,’ Def Leppard established a pop metal stronghold with this mega seller.
‘Shout at the Devil’ (1983)
Before the hairspray, eye liner and pop metal took an even bigger vice grip hold of Vince, Tommy, Nikki and Mick, Motley Crue had serious snarl, which the four-piece established with ‘Shout at the Devil.’ The album is rife with nasty songs like ‘Looks That Kill’ and the title track. This album was the band at its most pissed off and least affected by things like fame and strippers. They were on the precipice of hedonism, but this was their last vestige of slightly unfettered rock.
‘Peace Sells … But Whose Buying’ (1986)
Dave Mustaine didn’t disappear with his tail between his legs after his ouster from Metallica. Rather, he distilled that anger into one of the defining masterworks of ’80s thrash. ‘Peace Sells’ is proof of why Megadeth are unequivocally a member of the Big 4 of thrash. Mustaine’s political awareness, punk ethos and brilliant playing, meshed with his gift for clever wordplay, make this a “must own” of the era.
‘British Steel’ (1980)
Sure, ‘British Steel’ is Priest’s sixth album and has a bit of a commercial gloss to it — relatively speaking. But it also yielded some of their most beloved power metal anthems, such as ‘Breaking the Law’ and ‘Living After Midnight.’ WIth power, groove and heavens-hitting vocals, these songs are among the most familiar tunes in the band’s expansive and impressive catalog; you could also sing along to these tracks, which is an overall hallmark of this decade of metal.
‘Number of the Beast’ (1982)
Three of the album’s songs — the title cut, ‘Hallowed Be Thy Name’ and ‘Run to the Hills’ — are still set list staples for the band and the era. Maiden’s catalog is as long as it is deep, but ‘Number of the Beast’ is an exercise in New Wave of British Heavy Metal done perfectly right. It marked the recorded debut of Bruce Dickinson, who wowed with his signature showmanship and that siren-like voice. Scream for ‘Number of the Beast,’ metal fans!
‘Blizzard of Ozz’ (1981)
Ozzy’s first solo sojourn offered some of the genre’s best-loved songs: ‘Crazy Train,’ ‘Suicide Solution’ and ‘Mr. Crowley,’ among others. With Randy Rhoads on the axe, the album almost made headbangers ask “Sabbath who?” And that terrifying album cover of Ozzy brandishing a cross? It still sends chills up the spine. Ozzy has always been a caretaker of the dubious relationship between metal and Satan, and he is as beloved on his own as he is fronting Sabbath.
‘Reign in Blood’ (1986)
Everyone from Disturbed to Tori Amos has covered ‘Raining Blood.’ That’s a testament to the enduring and malleable nature of this album’s epic song. Slayer and their Marshall stacks set out to deafen by offering up the biggest, baddest and most brutal metal of the period. But it wasn’t all meat-headed mosh. The lyrics tackled topical, politically charged subjects, like Nazi experimentation in ‘Angel of Death.’ Slayer struck a perfect balance of fierce and provocative with this platter.
‘Appetite for Destruction’ (1987)
From the opening salvo of ‘Welcome to the Jungle’ to the guitar-driven ballad ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’ to the lyrical terror and funked out grooves of ‘Mr. Brownstone,’ the album ‘Appetite for Destruction’ established GN’R as the Sunset Strip’s take-no-prisoners wrecking crew. The disc is full of uncomfortable sex and drugs metaphors encased in a hard rock ‘n’ roll shell. The result is nothing short of brilliant.
‘Back in Black’ (1980)
With 25 million copies sold, ‘Back in Black’ is a marker of the commercial viability of hard rock music. Brian Johnson stepped behind Bon Scott’s microphone and AC/DC delivered arena-rock anthems that stand the test of time. It was an extremely difficult task to replace a beloved frontman lost so tragically and so young, but these gritty songs go down easy. Rock ‘n’ roll ain’t noise pollution and ‘Back in Black’ ain’t gonna die. Bon Scott would be proud of his former mates.
‘Master of Puppets’ (1986)
We could have chosen ‘Master of Puppets’ or ‘Ride the Lightning,’ since both were indicators of the thrash and burn nature of metal in the ’80s and are Metallica benchmarks. Find us a ‘Tallica fan who doesn’t revere ‘Puppets’ for its, well, masterful playing, and we’ll show you someone who isn’t a Metallica fan. Overall, ‘Puppets’ is concise, effective and efficient with its time. Not one second is wasted; neither is your time. An undeniable classic.