We’ve had some great lists to start the 1980s, but 1985 was not one of the decade’s brightest spots as far as heavy metal was concerned. Nevertheless, there were some super albums released that year, primarily in the thrash genre, as well as another landmark release. While this may not have been the best year of the ’80s, overall creativity was still very high, as evidenced by six of these ten albums being debuts. Here they are:
1. Anthrax – Spreading the Disease
Anthrax’s second album, and first with singer Joey Belladonna, was a step up in all facets from Fistful of Metal. Spreading the Disease sees the band begin to establish their personality and style, with cuts like “Madhouse,” “Armed and Dangerous,” and “Aftershock.” Charlie Benante’s rock-solid drumming and Scott Ian’s excellent rhythm and lead guitar work are far superior here compared to the debut. In fact, despite “Armed and Dangerous” and the speedy closer “Gung-Ho” being leftover songs from Anthrax’s debut, they are performed much cleaner and tighter here.
Belladonna’s power metal-like vocal style set Anthrax apart from their contemporaries. That, and the fact that unlike the other Big 4, Anthrax employed an actual vocalist, took Anthrax’s early albums to another level. While many consider Among the Living to be the band’s best work, Spreading the Disease isn’t far behind, and comes in as our top-ranked album of 1985.
2. Exodus – Bonded by Blood
Originally recorded in 1984, business issues held back Bay Area thrash originators Exodus’s debut album Bonded by Blood until 1985. Who knows where it would have ranked if released that year, but here the band lands firmly in the #2 position. Known undeservedly as also-rans in the Bay Area thrash scene – and for being Kirk Hammett’s band prior to departing for Metallica – this album features such all-out thrashers, and concert staples, as “Piranha” and “A Lesson in Violence.”
Raw as one might expect from a young band, with the classic mid-rangy guitar tone and punk-influenced, slap-delayed, manic vocals – the only Exodus album to feature Paul Baloff on vocals – Bonded by Blood is an album that might’ve been as influential to thrash as Kill ‘Em All if it just come out a year or two earlier.
3. Celtic Frost – To Mega Therion
This is the second appearance in a row for Switzerland’s Celtic Frost, following their 1984 debut, Morbid Tales. To Mega Therion is instantly recognizable for its stunning H.R. Geiger cover art (entitled Satan I, if you must know). It is an accurate representation of the music within: dark, evil, and complex, yet still unmistakably alluring.
Tom Warrior and friends created an album that was a step up in quality from Morbid Tales, in performances, songwriting, and production. From blasts of death metal (“Jewel Throne”) to the extreme doom sounds of “Dawn of Megiddo,” along with odd embellishments with horns and other sound effects (notably on “Tears in a Prophet’s Dream”), To Mega Therion is a fantastic early template for black and death metal.
4. Slayer – Hell Awaits
Slayer’s second album, Hell Awaits, finds the band altering their sonic vision considerably but not yet hitting their stride. It’s not on the same level as the successive Reign in Blood would be, but the tracks here are varied and surprisingly complex for a band only on their second album. The lengthy “At Dawn They Sleep” and “Crypts of Eternity” both stretch the band’s talents to their limits.
From the terrifying opening to the title track to all-out thrash attack of “Kill Again,” Slayer blast us with unhinged aggression. At times the songs on Hell Awaits trend away from pure thrash and into more extreme regions. Tom Araya’s barking, shouted delivery, and the truly evil-sounding guitar solos make for one of thrash metal’s more interesting and extreme albums.
5. Megadeth – Killing Is My Business…And Business is Good
Megadeth finally joins the fray of 1980’s metal albums with their 1985 debut, Killing is My Business…And Business is Good. Dave Mustaine’s band spent considerable time honing their skills prior to this debut, so it’s very polished and slick compared to their contemporaries, and while not considered their best, it’s an excellent debut that set the tone for the band’s albums for years to come.
The highlights for most people are “Mechanix,” which is also Metallica’s “The Four Horsemen,” and a reworking of Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots are Made for Walkin’,” something that Megadeth became known for in their formative years (including a cover song on their albums). Overall, Killing is My Business…And Business is Good is an inspired debut full of speed, riffs, solos, and acerbic vocals. Megadeth improved rapidly, but this album should not be ignored.
6. Accept – Metal Heart
It’s odd to think of Accept’s Metal Heart as the most mainstream of entries into this list, when their previous album was entitled Balls to the Wall, but that’s the nature of 1985. And yes, Metal Heart was the band’s most commercial offering. After the raw, primal Restless and Wild, and the heavy, homoerotic Balls to the Wall, Metal Heart saw the band further polish their sound and songwriting.
Big choruses is the name of the game on Metal Heart, with “Midnight Mover” and “Living for Tonite” getting stuck in listeners’ heads for years to come. Accept might have toned down the aggression on most of Metal Heart (“Dogs on Leads” and “Wrong is Right” being exceptions), but the rock-solid rhythm section, big guitar hooks and leads, and Udo’s screaming vocals remain in place, making this an odd but compelling album.
7. Pentagram – Pentagram
Like Megadeth’s album, Pentagram’s self-titled (although later reissued as Relentless) is a debut, but quite different: it took these heavy metal vets nearly fifteen years to release this record. No band on this list owes more to Black Sabbath for their sound than Pentagram, from Bobby Liebling’s vocal style to Victor Griffin’s guitarwork.
Overall, Pentagram is a compelling, genuine example of heavy metal’s early sound. The production is primitive, even for 1985, with the instruments muddy and far back behind Liebling’s vocals in the mix, but the songs and performances are strong enough for fans of metal’s formative years to consider this essential listening.
8. S.O.D. – Speak English or Die
Originally intended to be a one-off lark, Stormtroopers of Death’s debut Speak English or Die ended up being a minor crossover punk/speed metal hit. S.O.D. was a side project of Anthrax’s Scott Ian and Charlie Benante, who team up here with former Anthrax bassist Dan Lilker and bring in roadie Billy Milano to sing.
S.O.D. really pack the songs in here, with 22 songs clocking in at just over half an hour, we get songs ranging from a mere five seconds to “epic-length” tracks in the 2:30 range. The music is a breakneck fusion of hardcore punk and thrash metal – executed brilliantly – and the lyrics are cringeworthy in today’s climate, but back in 1985 they were simply racist and sexist in a goofy, faux-macho way. Nevertheless, Speak English or Die remains essential listening for fans of the genres mentioned.
9. Possessed – Seven Churches
People often cite the band Death as the forefathers of death metal, but this is actually where it all began (in fact, the final song on Seven Churches is “Death Metal”). Seven Churches came out two years before Death’s debut, and while it borrowed from the Bay Area thrash scene, Possessed took the riffs to demonic heights, the playing to manic levels, and the lyrics to evil places. Capped off by Jeff Becerra’s growling, and the fact that he and guitarist Larry LaLonde were still high school students, and you’ve got a fairly unique debut.
The album opens with a brief remake of Mike Oldfield’s music from the movie The Exorcist, before the band cuts it off with a hammering, incredibly sloppy blast of speed metal. “Pentagram” features a satanic voice played backwards, and songs like “Satan’s Curse” and “Fallen Angel” made the band’s intentions clear. While Seven Churches isn’t the best-played or best-sounding album on this list, it’s certainly the most influential, and a must-listen for metal historians.
10. Kreator – Endless Pain
Much like the American “Big Four” of Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth, and Anthrax, Germany had their own major influences on the thrash scene. The “Big Four” of Teutonic thrash are considered to be Destruction, Tankard, Sodom, and Kreator. They all formed around the same time, and three of them released debuts in 1985 – including Kreator’s Endless Pain.
An all-out blitzkrieg of thrash, Kreator’s sound on Endless Pain owed a lot to Metallica’s Ride the Lightning. In fact, the opening track’s riff is almost a perfect copy of “Fight Fire with Fire.” Vocally, Mille Petrozza is much more of a growler here, snarling through ten fiery tracks. Endless Pain is a great introduction to Germany’s thrash beginnings.
Other 1980s Best Albums Lists
1980 Best Heavy Metal and Hard Rock Albums
1981 Best Heavy Metal and Hard Rock Albums
1982 Best Heavy Metal and Hard Rock Albums
1983 Best Heavy Metal and Hard Rock Albums
1984 Best Heavy Metal and Hard Rock Albums
These lists remind me that there were indeed some very heavy and music re-defining bands out there brewing under the surface of hair metal, AOR and classic rock and the like. Not that the big name bands were all bad – Van Halen, at least up through “Diver Down”, a few more KISS tours, and they were great when I saw them on the “Asylum” tour, AC/DC, ZZTop, and Judas Priest and Iron Maiden were keeping heavy music alive, and the thrash/hardcore/crossover bands keeping rock and roll vicious and dangerous.
A bit of nitpicking, however. First at myself, for my erroneously thinking Exodus’ “Bonded By Blood” was in 1986 as opposed to 1985. But regarding Anthrax: I guess compared to some other fluff out there they were considered thrash, but Scott Ian did not and does not play lead guitar whatsoever, nor does he write any music. The music and guitar work is the brainchild of drummer Charlie Benante. Ian only does passable lyrics, and rudimentary rhythm, but when you see their albums, any kind of posting on the net, whatever, it is obvious he has a massive ego that demands he appear everywhere, ala Robb Flynn or Corey Taylor, although he doesn’t seem to be as mean as Flynn. But he’s egocentric enough to think he deserved his own autobiography. He didn’t.
Just my opinion but when all this attention goes to somebody who frankly hasn’t had a steady enough career of great music, Anthrax being notorious for extremely uneven releases and a revolving door for canning various singers and lead players, or frankly being as good as their peer bands. The one album that truly kicked ass, “Sound Of White Noise” has barely ever been mentioned. Only with “Worship Music” and “For All Kings” have Anthrax matched “Among The Living”. They do not deserve “Big Four” status because they are not heavy enough and are too goofy.
Megadeth don’t belong, either. Equally uneven, with an impossible leader, one time junkie, full time right wing blowhard and back stabber in Dave Mustaine, who reduced his supposedly close friend Dave Ellefson’s status in the band to “sideman” and an ego almost as large as Donald Trump, where on one occasion at a large outdoor festival the Great Mustaine refused to ride on a cart to the staging area because a band on an earlier slot shared the cart with him, Megadeth does not deserve the Big Four status.
Metallica? Yerrrrrrrrrrrrrr OUT! You stole millions from adoring fans in the Ticketmaster scandal, skimming 40
% of the second tier ticket sales on tour. You abandoned metal completely, and began a new career as a AOR band that was safe enough for little kids to listen to at nappy time at the preschool. Or for that first time Grampa to lightly tap his hand on the dashboard thinking he still digs heavy music. I loved this band. Saw them on their first ever U.S. club tour with Raven. Put “Fight Fire WIth Fire” on my stereo and immediately recognized metal was going to have to undergo a very very swift renaissance if it ever hoped to compete, as that track alone made thrash as brutally heavy as it could possibly be, and for my money could be one of the first true death metal songs as well. But you chose your billions, good for you. But I refuse to recognize you in the metal world. So that leaves us with:
Slayer Maybe their last couple albums didn’t quite get it done but they were still brutally fast and heavy. Gary Holt deserves some special Metal Hall of Fame recognition for doing double duty with Slayer and Exodus. We will miss Slayer although it looks like Kerry King is going to continue something, just without Tom. And my nominees for the other three slots:
Overkill They have NEVER let us down, ever. Yes, they have had lots of turnover, but they have always been Overkill with the tag team of Bobby Ellsworth and D.D. Verni.
Exodus Damn near death metal in heaviness, they just get heavier with age. No wonder Slayer asked Gary Holt to help ’em out.
TIES, because they’re all great and underappreciated for that fourth slot: Testament, probably the most obvious of the bunch, who have never pulled a “Black Album” stunt either, and just keep getting heavier, Dark Angel, Death Angel, NYC’s Whiplash, whose album “Ticket To Mayhem” should be a thrash/death monument and well worth trying to find, Kreator (who says it has to be all American?), Annihilator, who have a new crushing album out now, Laaz Rockit, horrifically underrated Bay Area band that has been around as long as the legends, Forbidden, and Voivod, who married thrash with industrial and jazz elements to make albums that will still be ahead of their time 100 years from now.