Many people think 1986 was the best year ever for heavy metal. That’s debatable of course, but there’s no doubt that some of the genre’s seminal albums were released that year. Here are our picks for the best heavy metal albums released in 1986.
1. Metallica – Master Of Puppets
Metallica’s first few albums are masterpieces, with their third effort Master Of Puppets one of thrash’s all-time best. It doesn’t have the radio singles and MTV videos as some of their later releases, but is a musical tour de force.
From the trademark thrash of “Battery” to the instrumental stylings of “Orion” to the iconic title track, Metallica fires on all cylinders. The musicianship is outstanding, with a collection of diverse songs that has stood the test of time.
2. Slayer – Reign In Blood
In any other year Reign In Blood would have been the number one album, and in reality, it and Master Of Puppets are 1A and 1B.
Reign In Blood is speed metal at its finest, with compact songs jam packed with riffs and head banging intensity. The lyrics are also filled with dark and disturbing images. It includes iconic tracks like “Angel Of Death” and “Raining Blood” and is also one of the genre’s all time best albums.
3. Iron Maiden – Somewhere In Time
Iron Maiden dominated the ’80s, releasing seven albums during that decade. They followed up Powerslave, which was number two on our 1984 list, with Somewhere In Time. They used synths to add even more atmosphere to their sound, and it worked.
“Stranger In A Strange Land” and “Wasted Years” were very catchy singles and this was a very commercial sounding album. It’s a record that sometimes gets overlooked among their incredible ’80s catalog, but there’s no denying the impact of the album.
4. Megadeth – Peace Sells…But Who’s Buying?
Thrash was king in 1986, with three of the “Big 4” releasing what many consider their best albums that year. Peace Sells…But Who’s Buying? was Megadeth’s second album, and a big leap forward for the band.
They really hit their stride on this speed metal classic, writing great songs like “Wake Up Dead,” “Devil’s Island” and “Peace Sells.” The band’s songwriting noticeably improved from their debut album. It ended up being the final Megadeth album for drummer Gar Samuelson. Guitarist Chris Poland also exited after this release, returning as a session player for 2004’s The System Has Failed.
5. Fates Warning – Awaken The Guardian
Fates Warning’s third album Awaken The Guardian is their first appearance on one of our yearly lists. It was also the end of a musical era for the band, the last record with original lead singer John Arch. It was also the last of their more metal albums before they went in a much more progressive direction.
There is a definite progressive influence on tracks like “Guardian” and the lengthy closer “Exodus,” but you can still hear the vestiges of a traditional metal band. The songs are complex, and Arch’s performance is excellent. Arch and guitarist Jim Matheos would reunite more than two decades later under the Arch/Matheos moniker.
6. Candlemass – Epicus Doomicus Metalicus
With thrash at the forefront in 1986 playing music at breakneck speed, a band like Candlemass was quite a contrast. Their debut album Epicus Doomicus Metallicus helped pave the way for a generation of doom metal bands.
Though initially it didn’t do well commercially (the band was even dropped from their label), the album’s influence is undeniable. The six tracks of somber doom inspired countless other bands. Vocalist Johan Langqvist would be replaced by Messiah Marcolin after this album, but would return to the group in 2018.
7. Dark Angel – Darkness Descends
Formed in the early ’80s, Darkness Descends was the second album from California thrashers Dark Angel. With so many incredible thrash albums released in ’86, this one sometimes slips under the radar, but it has stood the test of time.
Anchored by the drumming of the legendary Gene Hoglan, the album blazes along at warp speed with outstanding guitar work from Jim Durkin and Eric Meyer. From focused songs like “The Burning Of Sodom” to more epic tracks such as the 8 plus minute “Black Prophecies,” Dark Angel deliver one of the genre’s best. They only released four albums during their heydey, but reunited again in 2013.
8. Flotsam and Jetsam – Doomsday For The Deceiver
They never had the commercial success they deserved, but Arizona thrashers Flotsam and Jetsam are still around nearly forty years after forming. Their debut album Doomsday For The Deceiver was the only one featuring Jason Newsted, who soon joined Metallica.
It is a potent album with great musicianship and excellent vocals from Eric “AK” Knutson. With so many classic thrash albums released in 1986, it doesn’t always get the attention it should. It’s an underrated album from an underrated band.
9. King Diamond – Fatal Portrait
After departing from Mercyful Fate, King Diamond were formed by King Diamond (vocals), Michael Denner (guitar) and Timi Hansen (bass). The lineup was rounded out by guitarist Andy LaRocque and drummer Mikkey Dee. Their masterpiece would come the following year, but the band’s debut Fatal Portrait is impressive as well.
It’s not a complete concept album, but five songs are tied together lyrically. It would also set the bar for the band’s musical style, led by King Diamond’s potent falsetto. There are some classic songs such as “Halloween” and “The Portrait,” and the remastered edition includes the holiday classic “No Presents For Christmas.”
10. Cro-Mags – The Age Of Quarrel
Cro-Mags were a pioneering New York City band who were one of the first to combine thrash metal with hardcore. Their debut album The Age Of Quarrel was an intense barrage of short songs that were aggressive punk and hardcore infused metal.
The music is angry and intense with a punk attitude and metal riffs. It’s packed with memorable songs such as “We Gotta Know” and “World Peace.” Unfortunately after their debut a series of lineup changes would hamper their progress and success, but this one is a must own. The band did reunite in 2019 and released their first new songs in twenty years.
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
1985 Best Heavy Metal and Hard Rock Albums
At least Anthrax wasn’t included. However, didn’t Exodus release “Bonded By Blood” in 1986? That should have been here if it was. But the Big Four, which has ended up being a pariah and was never anything but a reflection of sales, should never have been a “thing” in the first place, because it would put other worthy thrash bands, many of them better than anybody in the Big Four maybe except for Slayer because they were so damn brutal and were an important link to death metal, at a disadvantage as far as name recognition in areas outside the Bay Area and maybe NY.
So Metallica especially gets the adoring ass kissing media love because they sold out so middle aged stockbrokers and men with mid life crisis’ could still pretend they were still very manly and tough because they “thought” they liked “The Black Album” or “Enter Sandman”. It was a lot of testosterone leaking truth be told. Give these people a copy of Suffocation’s first couple albums, Cattle Decapitation’s “Death Atlas” or something really out there like early Emperor, Venom, or Incantation and they’d run crying to their mommies. So don’t be a phony – if metal isn’t your thing, that’s totally okay, but don’t fake it. As anybody who goes to sporting events can tell you, once they resume from this virus pandemic, you’ll hear the intro to “Crazy Train” about 15 times, the chorus from “Search and Destroy” three or four in addition to “Enter Sandman”, or those panty waisted tweeters Def Leppard, who are about as tough as a day care center. People who hang onto the mainstream and these old tunes for dear life just make it that much more difficult for new bands to get a foothold. Like whatever, but be fair about it and check out something that was recorded post – “Appetite For Destruction” or “The Black Album” for a damn change.