After 1986, arguably metal’s best year ever, 1987 was going to struggle to live up to that incredible standard. Still, there ended up being several albums released that year that have stood the test of time. Here are our picks for 1987’s best heavy metal and hard rock albums.
With three of the “Big 4” releasing groundbreaking albums in 1986, it worked well for Anthrax that their masterpiece was issued the following year. While Spreading The Disease was a quantum leap from Fistful Of Metal, Among The Living was more of a natural progression that hit on all cylinders.
The album’s signature song is “Caught In A Mosh,” but it’s jam packed with iconic tracks such as “I Am The Law,” “Indians,” “Efilnikufesin (N.F.L.)” and the title track. The thrashtastic guitar work from Dan Spitz and Scott Ian along with Joey Belladonna’s silky pipes make every song memorable. More than 30 years later Among The Living remains an essential thrash metal album.
King Diamond didn’t miss a beat transitioning from Mercyful Fate, with their debut Fatal Portrait landing at number 9 on our 1986 list. The following year would see the release of their best known and what many consider their best album, Abigail.
It’s a concept album set in 1845, an engaging musical and lyrical narrative anchored by King’s piercing vocals and driven by the exceptional playing of guitarists Andy LaRocque and Michael Denner. Beavis and Butthead fans may remember the video for “The Family Ghost,” but Abigail is not an album of singles, it’s a cohesive and engaging release from the opening notes of “Funeral” to the closer “Black Horsemen.”
Helloween’s second album was their first with singer Michael Kiske, and helped propel the genre which became known as power metal. Massive melodies, Kiske’s powerful vocals and soaring guitars from Kai Hansen and Michael Weikath proved to be an unstoppable combination.
The album’s centerpiece is the epic 13 minute track “Halloween,” surrounded by shorter, more accessible songs like “Future World” and “A Little Time.” When it comes to essential power metal albums, this one must be on the list. It was originally supposed to be a double album, but Keeper Of The Seven Keys Part 2 would have to wait until the following year, another power metal classic.
Celtic Frost’s debut album To Mega Therion made it to No. 3 on our best of 1985 list, and its follow-up, Into The Pandemonium, lands in a similar slot. (Spoiler alert: Cold Lake won’t be on 1988’s list).
The band’s sound shifted in a more avant-garde direction, incorporating everything from doom to industrial to classical. Opening with a cover of the new wave cover “Mexican Radio” was a bold choice, but it works. There are ambitious songs like “Mesmerized” and “Rex Irae” alongside more traditional Celtic Frost numbers like “Inner Sanctum.” While polarizing for some, there’s no shortage of variety and creativity on this record.
Those who weren’t around during the late ’80s and know Guns ‘N Roses from classic rock radio won’t understand what they brought to the scene. In an era where hair bands were king, GNR were edgy and dangerous and brought in an entirely new vibe. They had all the decadence of bands like Motley Crue, but a much sharper edge, ushering in a new era of hard rock.
Their debut album Appetite For Destruction was lightning in a bottle, capturing the seedy underbelly of the rock and roll lifestyle with tracks like “Mr. Brownstone.” It was a hugely commercially successful album as well with massive radio hits like “Welcome To The Jungle,” “Paradise City” and “Sweet Child O’ Mine.” It wouldn’t be long before they went off the rails, but Axl Rose, Slash and company served notice with this album that being loaded like a freight train was their track to success.
While thrash was thriving in the mid-’80s, death metal was making a mark in the latter part of the decade, especially in places like Florida. After issuing numerous demos, creating a buzz among tape traders, Death emerged with their debut Scream Bloody Gore, one of the first death metal albums.
It helped establish the genre’s sonic framework of brutality and extremity, a raw sounding album with gory song titles like “Mutilation,” “Regurgitated Guts” and “Baptized In Blood.” It was just Chuck Schuldiner and Chris Reifert on this album, with Schuldiner the only constant throughout many lineup changes to come. Death left an incredible legacy in the genre, and this was their auspicious beginning.
When it comes to influential albums, there’s no doubt Bathory’s self-titled debut (which was on our list of 1984’s best albums) inspired countless bands that followed. But in a discography packed with classics, Under The Sign Of The Black Mark is considered by many to be their pinnacle.
A masterpiece of extremity and atmosphere, Bathory blended razor sharp and focused songs like “Massacre” with more epic tracks like “Enter The Eternal Fire.” Quorthon’s icy riffs and fierce vocals make it not only a classic album on its own merits, but one that would have a huge impact on the Norwegian black metal scene that would shortly emerge. The band’s early output of six outstanding albums in just a seven year period is very impressive, and something that could never happen these days.
They became one of Germany’s “Big 4” of thrash bands, but in Sodom’s early days they were more in the black/speed metal vein. They took a different approach for their sophomore full-length Persecution Mania.
New guitarist Frank “Blackfire” Godznik helped in that transition, as the trio upped their game in all aspects with tracks like the notable opener “Nuclear Winter” along with “Electrocution,” “Christ Passion” and the title track. Sodom also put their spin on the Motorhead classic “Iron Fist.” Their brand of Teutonic thrash had a darker and more diverse approach than Bay Area bands of that era, and this album set Sodom on the path to success.
Candlemass’ seminal debut Epicus Doomicus Metallicus is an unquestioned classic (though they were dropped by their record label after its release) and made an appearance on our best of 1986 list.
There were several lineup changes for Nightfall, including new vocalist Messiah Marcolin, whose impressive pipes gave the band an entirely new dimension. The dirge-like doomy songs were similar to Candlemass’ debut, with a slight progression. Numerous instrumental interludes transition into epic tracks like “Dark Are The Veils Of Death.” While not as groundbreaking as Epicus Doomicus Metallicus, it has also held up very well.
By their third album Killing Technology, the Canadian band Voivod were shifting their thrash based sound in a more progressive direction. While they still had the energy and speed of their earlier albums, the songwriting and arrangements were getting more complex.
What really stands out are the riffs from guitarist Dennis “Piggy” D’Amour on songs like “Overreaction,” “This Is Not An Exercise” and the title track. It’s a unique album that raised Voivod’s profile as they would continue to develop even further on their next couple subsequent releases.
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
1986 Best Heavy Metal and Hard Rock Albums