Sunday, March 5, 2017

Inaugural Post: Top Ten Metal Albums of 1987

     I was born in 1987 which now makes me thirty years old.  For those who haven't made it there yet, it's not so bad.  As Minor Threat once said, "It's not how old I am, it's how old I feel." There is nothing scary about it.  Thirty is what you make of it.

     I dabble in making music, but I am first and foremost a music fan and there is a horde of my favorite records that also turned thirty this year so I've made some top ten lists.  So to kick things off, here is my top ten list of my favorite metal albums of 1987.

Honorable Mentions:

Dio, Dream Evil
Dio could do no wrong in my opinion so obviously his 1987 offering was up for consideration.  However the song writing lacks the aggressiveness that you had come to expect from the three previous albums and the production is way too pop orientated for a Dio record.  It just comes off as "glittery".  My guess is that corporate influences held sway in the creative process, which is more often than not a mistake. Or it could have been that the band was reeling from the firing of guitarist Viv Campbell and felt they needed a change in direction, which new guitarist Craig Goldie happily provided. But no matter how you slice it this record is more than a few riffs short of a classic.  Luckily Dio would rebound from these shortcomings in 1990's Lock Up The Wolves.

Manowar, Fighting the World
Any top ten metal list needs to consider Manowar. Manowar are known lyrically for two things, swords/sorcery and party anthems.  Sprinkle in some songs about motorcycles from time to time and you are good to go.  1987’s Fighting the World continued the band’s shift to a song ratio that favored the fist pumping party anthems over the loin cloths, broadswords, and the felling of foes.  It’s a fun album. I am not denying it. However, and I know there is one guy out there in particular who, if he is reading this, will likely burn me in effigy for writing this; Fighting the World doesn’t make the top ten because I believe it falls short of it’s mission.  On the back of the record there is a bold statement that proclaims, and I’m paraphrasing, Manowar is here to combat modern mediocrity.  But ironically Fighting the World is probably the most commercially tame release the band had produced up to that point.  I personally believe Manowar is at their best when they are singing about great halls, riding into glorious battle and annihilating the enemy horde.  This is some tough love for the kings of steel indeed, but I do it out of love.  I enjoy this band and enjoy the record but it just doesn't make it to the top ten. If you like good metal party music and haven’t heard it, get on it.

Sodom, Persecution Mania
The Teutonic Terror, Sodom’s second album.  This record is balls to the wall and uncompromising as only Sodom can be.  It doesn’t make the top ten mainly because it has a lack of memorable riffs that separate it from the pack.  But regardless, it is a relentless thrash assault and I suggest you take it for a spin.  And sandwiched between Obsessed by Cruelty and Agent Orange, what more do you need in life? I don’t know.

Anthrax, Among The Living
My favorite album from them and arguably the quintessential Anthrax album.  This is regarded by many as a thrash metal classic.  I was never a big fan of this band growing up and in a lot of ways I’m still not however I enjoy their music and I respect them immensely.  I particularly like Caught in a Mosh and N.F.L.

Exodus, Pleasures of the Flesh
First album with Steve Zetro on vocals after Paul Baloff hit the bricks. Stevie Z had big shoes to fill replacing the much beloved Baloff, but the man could hold his own and gives a good performance. This came close to making the list, but I just happen to like other albums a little more. Pleasures of the Flesh wasn't really my favorite Exodus album to begin with. But it is an iconic thrash metal release and I recommend listening to it.

Mayhem, Deathcrush
It is the 30th anniversary of Mayhem’s first release, Deathcrush.  It is the grim and brutal vision of Euronymous that helped put Norwegian black metal on the map.  This was the warning shot of black metal’s infamous second wave and, unlike most music made in the 80’s, it has actually aged well. The few songs that are on it are still staples in the band’s live performances and the production sounds like it was recorded in Hell’s boiler room on the shittiest audio equipment they could afford.  I love it. This is what black metal is supposed to sound like.  I particularly like the signature distortion on Necrobutcher’s bass which I’ve always wondered why metal bassists don’t incorporate it into their sound more often.  Originally I had it ranked on the top ten list but after careful consideration I decided to remove it. The reason being: Let’s face it, it’s not even a full length release. In fact it’s barely even an EP. It’s more like a glorified demo tape if we're being completely honest here.  Three of its eight songs are just the guys fucking around with the recording equipment.  "Witching Hour" is great but it's a cover song and "Chainsaw Gutsfuck" is a plodding snore-fest, which really only leaves three noteworthy original tracks. The lost and final eighth track dubbed "Outro" was cut from later releases and it's just the guys drunkenly screaming a nursery rhyme.  I happened to find "Outro" refreshingly humanizing to hear because the band has always been shrouded with such grave seriousness.  The Norwegian press turned Mayhem into a living and breathing horror show, which Euronymous admittedly encouraged. With that in mind it’s hard to remember sometimes that these guys started out as just a group of friends who loved to drink beer and play heavy music. And there you have it. 1987’s Deathcrush. In summation, it is historically important and the few songs that are on it sound great, but it doesn't make this top ten list.

The Top Ten:

10) Kreator, Terrible Certainty
This continues where the band left off in Endless Pain and Pleasure to Kill only not nearly as famous.  This album is Kreator just doing what Kreator does, which is rule the German Thrash scene with an iron fist.  The lyrics are relevant to this day with misanthropic visions of apocalyptic war (As the World Burns) and human caused environmental meltdowns (Toxic Trace). The title track is about facing death from a deadly plague and it is just a fist pumping high energy explosion with that staccato chorus that just adds to the feeling of menace. There is an underlying theme on this album, and perhaps in all of Kreator's music, which is how people justify the infringement on the liberties of others and inhumane acts of cruelty. Kreator delve into that part of the human condition that most people would like to view as outside of themselves.  The media likes to call those who commit atrocities as "mentally unstable". It is comforting to us to consider murderers as the exception to the rule. I'd argue that there are many who are not only mentally stable, but know exactly what they are doing and believe it is right. They are human and you are human too. It's a scary thought isn't it? Deep down inside everyone is that capacity to become the Auschwitz camp guard and just consider it an exciting new career opportunity.  As Kreator states on this album, "Mankind never learns.."

9) Candlemass, Nightfall

The first album in the trilogy consisting of Messiah Marcolin on vocals, Candlemass’ Nightfall is a morose yet powerful experience.  It’s an album about death, the afterlife, witchcraft and cosmic forces of good and evil doing battle behind the veils of reality.  Messiah’s voice soars over a mammoth sized and ominous dirge of sound.  It is textbook grade “A” doom metal.  There are a couple of instrumentals that might be misconstrued as filler on their own, but within the framework of a full play through they fit well as transitional pieces.  This is also the record that spawned the infamous "Bewitched" music video.  I dig the video. I like the dry ice effect as Messiah emerges from his coffin and starts singing. Then he proceeds to bewitch the metalheads to follow him on a death march back to the cemetery. Sure it’s obviously low budget, but they seemed to get the most out of it. It draws some criticism for being so obviously cheap, but most couldn’t do any better if they tried.  My favorite track is probably "Well of Souls".  It sets the tone early and I love the line, “Don’t believe our world is as safe as we pretend.”  Dark are the Veils of Death is up there too.  Lars and Mats channel their inner Toni Iommi on this track and it’s phenomenal.

8) Motorhead, Rock N Roll
Upon hearing this for the first time I found it somewhat unremarkable, but after giving it another whirl I realized how solid this record actually is.  I can listen to it cover to cover without batting an eye. None of the tracks are easily skipped. Let's call a spade a spade. Motorhead doesn’t make bad albums.  The Motorhead records that I like the least are still better than the best records from most other bands and while Rock N Roll isn’t my favorite Motorhead album, it is a skillful execution by the band in full stride. Wizzo and Wurzel created a collection of some of the catchiest Motorhead riffs ever committed to tape and Philthy Animal and Lemmy are great as always.  They came they saw they conquered.. It's the Motorhead mantra really. When you see the Motorhead logo you know what you are getting and what you are getting is a full running time of kick ass. Rock N Roll is often an overlooked chapter in the band’s storied career and perhaps this is because the chosen single happened to be the weakest track on the record, "Eat The Rich".  But if you haven’t heard it I suggest you rectify that immediately.  Preferably get a remastered copy with the bonus track "Just Because You Have the Power" which adds to an already stellar collection of down and dirty rock songs. My favorite track has to be "Stone Deaf in the USA". But "The Wolf", "Traitor", "Blackheart", and "All For You" always creep into my head and take residence.

7) Dokken, Back for the Attack
Okay, I'm going to work up a lather here and rant on this one so bear with me... Hair metal or glam metal or whatever you want to call it has committed some unforgivable crimes without a doubt.  By and large it hasn't really aged well either. But it has its moments that I enjoy and love much to the chagrin of my lady.  When I play glam metal around her she just wants to crawl into a hole and fucking die.  It really makes her reconsider the relationship. But I just love Dokken and in particular, 1987's Back for the Attack.  It could be my favorite Dokken album and I’d consider it a glam metal masterpiece.  Don Dokken might be my favorite singer and songwriter from the sub genre in question.  The dude is a hit making machine.  And George Lynch proves on this record that he is a criminally underrated 80’s guitar hero.  This is the man that almost beat Randy Rhodes and Jake E Lee for the Ozzy gig and it leaves me to wonder whether or not it was a mistake by the Ozzy camp not to give him the job.  I’d certainly choose him over the banal biker brute Zakk Wylde.  Perhaps his lack of recognition is due to his documented ego and attitude problems and his cringe-worthy solo output over the last couple decades.  However his work with Dokken in the 80’s stands tall above the barrage of cookie cutter Aqua Net saturated shredders of the day. It’s all in the phrasing.  Lynch knows when to lay back and when to hit hard and his leads often take you to places that you don't expect.  This is something you can't necessarily teach someone.  It’s a feeling.  It's in your gut. It’s a gift. Check out the solo on “Night by Night” if you don’t know what I’m talking about.  Lynch brings seering and innovative solos to all of the classic Dokken albums and I don’t give a flying fuck what the chest thumping “true metal” troglodytes think, Back for the Attack is a guitar enthusiasts wet dream.  The man had style. It’s a shame he’s such an asshole.
Anyways, Back for the Attack is the high water mark for the band and a heavy metal treasure. Are you still the type that deems Dokken as a bunch of posers?  Well, legend has it that when Dokken were filming the music video for Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, actor Robert Englund was getting buddy buddy with the band. In between takes he was giving them cocaine off of his Freddy gloves.  That’s right you bitches..  Dokken snorted coke off of Freddy Krueger’s claws…  I don’t care how “kvlt” you think you and your bedroom NSBM band are, you will never be more metal than that. Eyeliner, spandex and all. Fuck the haters. My favorite track?  “Mr. Scary” is a menacing instrumental that makes you feel like you are playing Mega Man and are about to fight Dr. Wily.   But there are also "Night By Night", "Prisoner", "Dream Warriors", and "Kiss of Death".  There is only a small helping of filler on this album, but the ratio swings hard in favor of so many good songs. This album and Dokken deserve to be recognized.

6) U.D.O., Animal House
Accept is one of my favorite bands.  They created some of the most towering and melodically infectious metal anthems and are still doing it today at a high level. I'll put away my Accept boner for a moment and state that this was the beginning of a low point for them.  Animal House was the Accept album that never was.  After the good but somewhat shaky release Russian Roulette, Accept penned some of the most balls out heavy metal classics of their ever loving career and then decided to shelve the fucking thing.  Due to band infighting and corporate influence, the band decided to split with stand out front man Udo Dirkschneider and move into a new direction. As a parting gift, Peter Baltes and Wolf Hoffman gave Udo the songs. Considering the divisive affair that the official follow up, Eat the Heat, turned out to be, I would consider this one of the most asinine moves in music history.  Peter and Wolf gave away a classic. Animal House is held back by sub par production but make no mistake, it is a tour de force and stands up strong to Accept classics such as Balls to the Wall, Metal Heart and Breaker.  Its memorable hooks will be stuck in your head until the end of days and if you ask me, that’s a good thing.  My favorite track is tough to choose, "Go Back to Hell", "Warrior" and "Lay Down the Law" are probably in a three way tie, but there is nothing about this album that could be considered a let down.

5) King Diamond, Abigail
The second album from the Frankie Valli of metal, King Diamond. 1987’s Abigail turns thirty this year.  Arguably it is King Diamond’s best solo work.  Other Mercyful Fate alumni Mike and Timi are in the trenches for this one as well as Andy LaRocque, who would later appear on Death’s Individual Thought Patterns, and the master percussionist Mikkey Dee who would later replace Phil Taylor in Motorhead. A super group of sorts, they join forces in this grisly tale about demonic possession, evil omens and murder.  Concept albums are hard to pull off.  They have the tendency to be susceptible to filler and can ramble on.  They can even get a sort of show tunesy feel to them.  Sometimes there is more opera than rock in a rock opera (see Tommy). Even Pink Floyd’s The Wall falls victim to this down the stretch. The track "The Trial" at the end of the The Wall is basically a Broadway song and I usually always skip it. But this doesn't happen to King Diamond, he tells his story exquisitely.  It’s a good story, has good music, and there is no fat to trim.  It is on point from start to finish and knowing how hard that is to do I applaud this album with the utmost sincerity. This could have so easily devolved into a self masturbatory wankfest, but King Diamond somehow manages to pull it off and that’s one of the reasons it makes the list. My favorite track is a toss up between "The Family Ghost" or the title track "Abigail".  This was seriously considered for the number one spot, but it was narrowly beaten by a fantastic and formidable top four.

4) Sarcofago, INRI
Sacrofago’s INRI is every bit as intense as it is blasphemous.  Deathcrush may have been the war cry from the north, but down in Brazil these guys were already determining what black metal was going to be for the next generation.  No one else was doing it quite like this. It is truly a black metal milestone.  With bestial black metal ever popular in the underground today, I’d even go so far to say that fans have these guys to thank. Drummer DD Crazy’s frantic blast beats go at breakneck speed, Wagner Antichrist's guttural vocals, the merciless guitar shredding, the unapologetic Satanic lyrics... It is misanthropic and filthy in every way and this was three years before Blasphemy’s Fallen Angel of Doom (that's right, fuck you Canada). The Brazilian Beast took a page from the gospel of Bathory and Sodom and just took it to the next level.  Even their image is undeniably influential.  The leather, studs, corpse paint and bullet belts are still a statement in black metal's presentation and style. How many black metal bands today ape this shit like crazy?  All of them?  Absolutely. Even seminal bands like Darkthrone and Beherit both cite Sarcofago’s INRI as an important inspiration in their music. Sarcofago even made a fanboy out of Mayhem's Euronymous, who sent fan mail to vocalist Wagner Antichrist.  Later in an interview Wagner would call Euronymous a “nutcase” and would criticize much of the Scandinavian scene. Regardless, Scandinavian black metal is a cultural force to be reckoned with and like it or not, it's hard to imagine what that scene would even be if this record never happened.  My favorite track is "Nightmare", I love that opening riff and the stop on a dime blast beat changes. "Sathanas" and "Satanic Lust" are also among the highlights.  This collection of songs was not meant to make you happy.  This is an aural assault.

3) Bathory, Under The Sign of the Black Mark
Bathory’s third album Under the Sign of the Black Mark is a seminal and much beloved release and has some of the band's most well known songs.  When I first heard this album I couldn’t get it off the stereo.  I was obsessed.  It has higher production quality by Bathory standards but it still sounds like it was recorded in a friend's garage.  Quorthon would state in an interview I found on that he hated this record.  He considered it to be commercial dog shit and one of the worst things he’s ever made.  I can fully understand being critical of your own work, but god damn it man…  This is Under the Sign of the Black Mark!  Perhaps it is a little more commercially accessible than the self titled debut and The Return of Darkness and Evil but that only makes it about as marketable to the masses as a subscription to Church Burners Weekly with a complimentary set of rosary anal beads. The mid paced headbangers, tremolo guitar picking, screeching vocals, occult lyrics and unearthly and mysterious tone have many fans in agreement that without Under the Sign of the Black Mark, everything we know and love about black metal would not be the same or wouldn’t exist at all.  The highlights for me are "Call from the Grave" and "Enter the Eternal Fire".  If you are a metal fan don’t own or have even heard this, you need to seriously question your life decisions.

2) Helloween, Keeper of the Seven Keys, Pt 1
A perfect album.  This is a testament to Kai Hansens genius.  Keeper of the Seven Keys, Pt 1 sets the bar for power metal and specifically the European sound.  Hammerfall, Blind Guardian and Stradivarius pretty much take notes from this record. It is melodically rich, uplifting, and delivered with furiosity. Guitarist Michael Weikath was left off the album due to an injury he sustained, which left the de facto band leader Kai Hansen to dominate the mix and brew up some of the best twin lead guitars ever put on a disc.  Those twin guitar harmonies are some of the best I’ve ever heard.  I’d even go as far to say they are on a Smith/Murray level or a Tipton/Downing level.  Michael Kiske is still my favorite Helloween singer and is in rare form on this one. This album gets kind of personal for me, which is one of the reasons I’ve ranked it so high other than its just a fantastic recording to listen to.  It came into my life at a hopeless time and it would get me pumped up.  It would inspire me to get up, face down the bullshit and fight tooth and fucking nail every day. All in all, isn’t that what power metal is supposed to do?  Evoke that inner perseverance and strength? This album certainly does that.  For me at least.  Hansen would later split from Helloween and start the power metal band Gamma Ray, which I encourage people to check out if Euro power metal is in your wheel house. To celebrate this album's thirtieth anniversary, Kai Hansen and Micheal Kiske are rejoining the band for a world tour and you can bet that I'll be there when they come to Los Angeles. My favorite track is "Twilight of the Gods" because that solo at the mid point is just sublime, but "Futureworld" has the tendency to become embedded in my brain every time I hear it. Honestly there isn’t anywhere on this record I’d consider a low point.  If you’re wandering through the Misty Mountains on your way to Mordor, pick this one up along the way.  

1) Death, Scream Bloody Gore
The always relevant and game changing first album from Death. It's on my iPod and I still listen to it. It is inspired and truly an all killer no filler affair. It goes without saying that this is not only among the best of 1987, but one of the best metal albums of all time. This is the first complete death metal album. This metal dreadnought plowed through a sea of thrash metal banality and we are still swimming in its wake to this day. There are many that would give the honor to Possessed's Seven Churches, but I'd argue that while Seven Churches certainly has many death metal elements, Scream Bloody Gore is the culmination of all of the proper death metal ingredients. When the opening riff of "Infernal Death" starts and Chuck Schuldiner's guttural cries blast through the speakers there is no question that what you are listening to is death metal. The low tuned guitars fly through chromatic progressions and are backed with powerful blast beats and abrupt time changes. Lyrically you can tell songwriter Chuck Schuldiner was inspired by gory exploitation films and horror movies in a way that the Misfits were, but Schuldiner takes Danzig's signature lightheartedness completely out. The violence is taken to graphic extremity, which is really picking up where Slayer's "Angel of Death" left off. There is nothing about the lyrics that is left up to interpretation. This is brutality laid bare for all to see and it is very disturbing. This record is about sadism, cannibalism, rot, decay, torture, necrophilia and voodoo. This is death metal.
There are bands that spend their entire careers trying to make a record like this and Death did it in their first try. Done. Scratched off the bucket list. What's next?.. Death metal is popular worldwide and is still a considerable commercially lucrative expression. There is a reason every record store may not have a "metal" section but just happens to have twenty copies of the same Cannibal Corpse album. It's because death metal still sells. You can thank Death for that. They invented the shit. Not to take anything away from Cannibal Corpse of course. Chuck Schuldiner wrote all the songs and played all the instruments except for the drums which were played by Chris Reifert. Reifert would later start another seminal death metal band, Autopsy. So in that respect, Death wasn't even really a band at the time. It was a personal mission statement. Chuck Schuldiner was a talented instrumentalist and visionary who changed heavy metal forever single handedly with this recording. My favorite track? Pick one. Seriously. Not joking. It's a god damn hit parade. It's a metal magnum opus and without a doubt the best metal album of 1987.

  If you agree or disagree with the list leave a comment or share your own list. I'd love to know what you are listening to. I have also prepared a list of my top ten hip hop/rap albums of 1987 so if you had a good time reading, I've got more to share.


  1. I'd replace that udo album with Manila Road's mystification tho but other then that spot on. I'd also put the goatlord demo '87 as GOAT of 87 but that is just me :^). also Sepultura Schizophrenia > Pleasure of the Flesh IMHO. And Razor's Custom Killing was maybe sicker subjectivity to me than the anthrax album as they were never one of my favs. I understand leaving off Into The Pandemonium by Celtic frost although I love that album and would have included it. Gotta give it up for that first Tormentor demo too. I think you made a mistake on Fighting the World though, should be number 1.

    1. manilla road was on the list at one point, shoulda mentioned it and I def considered custom killing, but 1988 gave us Violent Restitution which is far superior. maybe that was unfair. and i totally forgot about Sepultura, my bad.

  2. Violent restitution is probably my favorite thrash album!!!!