Impact’s Music Essentials: 80s/90s Metal

Jake Longhurst

As part of our ‘Impact’s Music Essentials’ series, Jake talks us through his top ten picks from the 80s/90s metal genre.

Metal as a genre is just over 50 years old, judging by the widely accepted starting point of Black Sabbath’s debut album release in 1970. Across five decades, there are some incredibly wide-ranging styles and bands throughout the genre, and each decade has its own personality, with all of them being key it the history of the genre. However, in my eyes, the decades that burned brightest were the 80s and 90s, and in the spirit of Halloween, here is an homage to the scariest of genres.

Hallowed Be Thy Name – Iron Maiden

When Iron Maiden released their seminal album ‘The Number Of The Beast’ in 1982, the genre felt a paradigm shift. A new behemoth of music had arisen, and on an album that is almost perfect, one track shone even brighter than the rest. The closing track, Hallowed Be Thy Name, is often argued to be the finest example of metal in history, with the story of a man in his final hours contemplating life and death interwoven into the brilliant dual guitar work that makes the seven-minute run time feel like mere seconds. Bruce Dickinson is on fine vocal form, with some of the most impressively sustained notes of his whole career that take the song to a new level of brilliance, and with the added bonus of being on the best album by one of metals greatest bands, it is in very good company.

Master Of Puppets – Metallica

‘Master Of Puppets’ is a brilliant album, with its title track being the song that elevated Metallica from merely continent conquerors to world beaters. The eight-and-a-half minute long song starts out with one of the best guitar riffs ever, with a very thrash based sound, before turning into a mournful acoustic piece midway through, and then back around into a thrash song for the finale. The song is a commentary on drug addiction, with lyrics such as “Carve your breakfast on a mirror” expressing the habits of addicts, and the actual title Master Of Puppets being a reference to drugs becoming the master of the user, who becomes a puppet for whatever substance they happen to be using. Metallica have since evolved their sound towards a more popular sound, but the early years as one of the best thrash bands ever will always be their finest work.

Welcome To The Jungle – Guns N’ Roses

As one of the most hair-raising, spine-tingling intros to any album, Welcome To The Jungle deserves plenty of love. It also happens to be the first thing we ever heard of Guns N’ Roses, who at the time had the very well-deserved moniker of ‘the most dangerous band in the world’. Speaking about the time spent on the streets of LA, the lyrics detail the rapid spiral you could fall into if you made the wrong choices out on the street, all with their trademark piss and vinegar stamped all over it. From Axl Rose’s sneering, nasal vocals to Slash’s searing guitar lead, and Duff McKagan’s storming bass lines, the song comes together with an attitude that had never been delivered before. Admittedly, it could be argued to be a hard rock track, but when your very first album cover gets banned for being too graphic, I think you’ve got enough credentials to be labelled as metal.

Tornado Of Souls – Megadeth

Tornado Of Souls is the pinnacle of guitar solos. There are faster solos (Through The Fire And Flames is a majestically over the top piece of music, well worth a listen) and there are more technically impressive (Any Yngwie Malmsteen) but this combines technique with speed, musicality with aggression, and brings everything together to create something that is even bigger than the sum of it’s massive parts. The rest of the song is also electric, with a lightning riff and Dave Mustaine’s classic snarled vocals. The late Nick Menza’s first appearance behind the kit for the band was a stroke of luck that meant this album, ‘Rust In Peace’, is still the absolute top choice for speed metal, and I am in no doubt it will stay that way for many many years to come.

Cowboys From Hell – Pantera

For a band that started life as a glam metal group, their most famous work rely belies their roots. Originally sounding closer to Kiss than to Slayer, the band was a semi successful glam metal band, but when Philip H. Anselmo joined and steered them in a new, heavier direction to create the first true southern groove metal band, the stars aligned. Dimebag Darrell is still revered as a god amongst guitarists, even after sadly being shot dead in 2004, and the entry riff to the title track off the first album to show off their new sound is just one example of his brilliance. Cowboys From Hell is the epitome of southern groove, with a crackling riff, Phil Anselmo’s drawl laid across it, and an impossibly tight rhythm section from Rex Brown’s bass line and Vinnie Paul’s powerful drums.

Eyeless – Slipknot

Not only are Slipknot the biggest metal band since Metallica, they’re also one of the very best in history. The waves they created with the ’99 release of their debut album are still being felt to this day, and one of the most iconic tracks off it is Eyeless. Possibly the most aggressive track on the album, it is nihilistic, misanthropic, hateful, and angry. Corey Taylor spits venom over the industrial, almost death metal instrumental parts, and the most iconic lyric is also the one no one truly understands. Rumour has it, the infamous line “You can’t see California without Marlon Brando’s eyes!” was yelled at Corey by a homeless person whilst they were out in Hollywood to record. It is a pummelling display of sheer intensity and revulsion, and the rest of the album doesn’t let up on that either.

Blind – Korn

Slipknot are metal’s modern masters, but Korn started the nu-metal genre that Slipknot went on to adapt. The song that started it all, Blind, starts with a small drum groove, then some guitar stabs and a bass line joining in, followed by an imposing seven string riff, and then the all too enjoyable “Are you ready?” mosh call from Johnathan Davis, before moving into a weird song with all sorts of interesting musical flairs, and some great sing-along moments. The rest of the album doesn’t let up on the weirdness or the heaviness either, with plenty more seven string riffs, lots of growls and screams, but also some scatting, a piece with some bagpipes, and Johnathan Davis crying on record.

Freezing Moon – Mayhem

Mayhem are one of the most, if not the most, notorious band in music. The original lead singer committed suicide, the bassist left after the guitarist took photos of the lead singer’s death, the replacement bassist killed the guitarist and was planning on blowing up the cathedral on the front of their album De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas, as well as having burnt down at least eight churches. They were part of the infamous ‘True Norwegian Black Metal’ scene, and they took their role within it very seriously. The song Freezing Moon is their best known song, and is an icy example of the Norwegian scene and the amount of importance they placed on the role of atmosphere in their music. The main riff is a chilling combination of single notes and power chords, and the original singer Per Yngve Ohlin, known as Dead, has an almost unbelievably croaky yet imposing voice, which can be heard on the Live At Leipzig recording. The album vocals were recorded after his suicide, and he was replaced by the singer Attila Csihar, who was in another band called Tormentor. The whole album is as cold and unforgiving as a Norwegian winter, and is the best example of cult metal to date.

Slaughter Of The Soul – At The Gates

At The Gates are credited as being the creators of metalcore, one of the biggest subgenres in metal at the moment, directly inspiring bands such as Bring Me The Horizon, Lamb Of God, Killswitch Engage, Trivium and more. However, two years after the release of the album that created the template for so many bands, ‘Slaughter Of The Soul’, they disbanded, as they were not doing as well as they (I believe) deserved. The album has since taken it’s rightful place amongst the pantheon of metal, and the band are back together with new music. The title track of this 1994 masterpiece is the most special one on there, with one of the best mosh calls ever happening just after the first guitar line, and the all too famous “Go!” has inspired countless people to lose their minds in the pit and go absolutely berserk. The buzzsaw sound of Swedish metal in the background, combining with that perfect mosh call, have immortalised the band in metal history forever.

Angel Of Death – Slayer

The final track on this list is also possibly the most infamous in all of metal. Angel Of Death is a song about Josef Mengele, the ‘Butcher of Auschwitz’. The chilling experiments he undertook were put onto vinyl by Slayer as the first track on their epochal album ‘Reign In Blood’, and this song nearly stopped the album being released, as many record companies wouldn’t take it. However, once released it became an instant classic, and is inarguably the best extreme metal album ever written. Angel Of Death is an unrelenting thrash masterclass, complete with obscene lyrical content courtesy of Tom Araya, blisteringly fast pickwork by Kerry King and Jeff Hanneman, Dave Lombardo’s nuclear approach to drumming, and the ever-present accusations of the band being Nazi’s (they are not, however thought that the Nazi officer presented plenty of lyrical content for a controversial song, and were proved right), which all came together to create one of the most influential metal songs ever.

Listen to these songs, plus many more, in this playlist:

Jake Longhurst

Featured image courtesy of Emilio Vaquer via Flickr. Image license found here. No changes made to this image.

In-article videos courtesy of Iron Maiden, Metallica, Guns N’ Roses, MegaHermansen, Pantera, Slipknot, kornchannel, WhoreToAChainsawTAIM, WhereLifeENDS, and Slayer via youtube.com. No changes made to these videos.

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