1980 marked the release of several debut and sophomore efforts from many of the NWOBHM bands to record albums. It was a much better year than 1979, and creating a top 10 was much more of a challenge. Many fine debut albums came out this year that could have been included, but didn't quite make the cut, including Def Leppard, White Spirit and Fist.
By the time many of these albums were released on CD, they were remastered and/or contained bonus tracks. I will rank the albums based on their original release, and no bonus tracks included (that includes the omission of Sanctuary fro Iron Maiden).
10. Witchfynde - Give 'Em Hell
A strange album indeed. Not satanic or black metal as the cover would lead you to believe. Varied styles are included here, from Rush (almost a rip off of Xanadu) to Black Sabbath to their NWOBHM contemporaries. Witchfynde delivers an interesting album, and one of the best to come out of the NWOBHM. Their second album was also released in 1980, and while it is a bit more consistent, the songs are a bit bland and don't have the edge of this one.
9. Tygers of Pan Tang - Wild Cat
For my money, the Tygers were one of the most underrated bands to come out of the NWOBHM. Their first album, Wild Cat, certainly has its flaws, and their best days were still ahead of them. Still, Wild Cat is a solid album, with plenty of hooks and riffs. Here you can see that this band was one of the premier bands of the genre, and were far ahead of forgettable NWOBHM outfits like Bitches Sin and Rage/Nutz.
8. Motörhead - Ace of Spades
Motörhead return with their finest album ever, Ace of Spades. Now, this band is never going to finesse their way into your heart, but Lemmy, Philthy and Fast Eddie Clarke really smoke on this album. So many great songs here, Jailbait, We Are the Road Crew, and the title track all rock like Hades, and the other album tracks are great too. Copied by many, appreciated by too few, Motörhead were the first and will always be the best speed metal band.
7. Saxon - Wheels of Steel
This was the first of two Saxon albums released in 1980, and in my opinion, the lesser of the two. Wheels of Steel suffers from some poor tracks, which hurt the album as a whole. See The Light Shining and 747 (Strangers in the Night) are among Saxon's best in their career and there are some other great numbers on this album. A really good album, and easily one of the year's finest.
6. Ozzy Osbourne - Blizzard of Ozz
Ozzy's first solo album was a great album. This is of course before The Yoko of Heavy Metal re-recorded it because she didn't want to pay the bassist and drummer proper royalties, but I digress. Blizzard of Ozz featured Randy Rhoads on the guitar, and it is he who makes this a brilliant album, and not necessarily the Ozzmeister. The riffs and solos here explode, and considering the date, it was way ahead of its time. Really it is an essential album for any metal collection. The album was actually released in early January of 1981, but since Diary of A Madman came out three months later, I decided to throw Blizzard in with 1980. Also, the record is copyrighted 1980 and printed in 1980 as well.
5. Diamond Head - Lightning to the Nations
One of the saddest stories of the NWOBHM is the gross mismanagement of Diamond Head, who were approached by a major record company insider to manage them, and they turned him down. This album was the best debut album (save Iron Maiden) of any band coming out of the NWOBHM. I can only imagine how great they could have been. Sadly, they are now a mere footnote of an era gone by, and are more known as the band that originally did the famous Metallica cover, Am I Evil?
4. Black Sabbath - Heaven and Hell
The first album of the post Ozzy Sabbath era features Ronnie James Dio on vocals. Dio is obviously a better singer and lyricist than Ozzy ever was and he shows it on Heaven and Hell. A couple of stinkers on here drag it down, but with tracks like Neon Knights and Die Young, this album is a true classic, and easily one of the top albums of 1980.
3. Judas Priest - British Steel
The hot leather dude returns to the top ten with British Steel. This album to me is very unusual because the three singles from this album are the three worst songs here. Breaking the Law, Living After Midnight and United drag this album down like a cinder block tied to an ankle. The other six songs here are all top-notch metal classics, and are examples of why Judas Priest was still at the top of the genre in 1980.
2. Iron Maiden - Iron Maiden
It is no secret that Iron Maiden is probably my favorite band, and pretty much all of their albums will be in the top ten in the year of their release. Their first album is certainly not their best work, and the production leaves a lot to be desired (as do most albums released in 1980). But the song quality here is stellar (even with the omission of Sanctuary) and many of these songs hold up very well 25 years later.
1. Saxon - Strong Arm of the Law
Saxon's finest moment was the release of Strong Arm of the Law. All eight of the tracks here (with the possible exception of Hungry Years) are brilliant. Sixth Form Girls, Dallas 1PM, and the title track are timeless NWOBHM classics and the remaining tracks are also fantastic. The musicianship will not blow you away here, but the songs are all well written and put together and sound great. A true gem, and the best album of 1980 as far as I am concerned.