By the time 1981 came around, the NWOBHM was starting its decline. By the end of the year, pretenders like Praying Mantis and White Spirit will have shot their proverbial load and be out of work, while some good bands like The Tygers of Pan Tang and Gaskin would be struggling for survival.
1981, like 1980 was a year that saw the hard rock/heavy metal genre improve and expand. For the first time, there are some quality albums that did not make the top 10; however, the year was not without disappointment as Judas Priest released their worst album since their debut in 1974 (sorry CRAIG - no hot leather dude this year - wait 'til next year as they say).
10. Demon - Night of the Demon
The album cover would lead you to believe this is the heaviest thing going. Well, it's not. However, what we do have is a melodic NWOBHM release, with cool sound. Part Black Sabbath, part UFO, and part something else. Night of the Demon is quite different from traditional NWOBHM fare, and clearly one of the top albums of 1981.
9. Holocaust - The Nightcomers
Interesting album here. It is easy to say that this is where Metallica ripped off their sound from, and this album (especially the vocals) does sound a hell of a lot like Kill 'em All, but I really don't believe it was a "rip-off". However, it must be said that this album was a major influence on Lar$, Jayme$ & Co. in their early days. In any case, this is yet another standout NWOBHM album. Raw and powerful with high energy, these guys were one of the heavier NWOBHM outfits. It sounds just a tad dated, and lyrically juvenile (not as bad as Anvil or The Rods) but still a really good album, and highly recommended to any NWOBHM fan.
8. Tygers of Pan Tang - Spellbound
After the raw and unpolished sound of their debut, the Tygers made 2 drastic changes to their line-up, and both were tremendous gains. New singer John Deverill was clearly a better vocalist than Jess Cox, but the big change was the addition of a second guitarist. And what a guitarist. John Sykes career with the Tygers was far too brief, but the two albums he did were both great. Spellbound is a collection of great melodic yet heavy, simple yet interesting tracks, but the story was not over yet…
7. Tygers of Pan Tang - Crazy Nights
...was the second and final album of the Sykes era. Unfortunately, it was rushed and poorly produced, so Crazy Nights could have been much better than it is. Still it is my personal favorite Tygers album and while lyrically it is a bit dodgy, the music is what counts, and all nine tracks here sound great. It is more consistent than its predecessor, with it's big guitar sound, top notch vocals, and the rhythm section performing consistently, but not brilliantly. This was kind of the end for the Tygers, Sykes would leave the band, and things would rapidly deteriorate from there.
6. Ozzy Osbourne - Diary of a Madman
Ozzy's first two studio albums were easily his best and Randy Rhoads is the reason. Really, after Randy, the quality of material Ozzy would release would get worse and worse with few highlights. Diary of a Madman represents all that was right with Ozzy's music before the shenanigans of that tour, orchestrated by his new manager and soon to be wife, (The Yoko of heavy metal) led Ozzy irreversibly down the road that led to him being seen as a punch line more that an artist.
5. Saxon - Denim and Leather
Much to CRAIG's chagrin, we have the fourth Saxon album to appear in the top tem lists. The most by any band to date. Well, that is no mistake. Early in their career Saxon were both prolific and good. I realize Denim and Leather is a step down from Strong Arm of the Law, and unfortunately, the production is spotty at best. However, tracks like Princess of the Night, And the Bands Played On, and Midnight Rider make Denim and Leather another Saxon classic, and one of the gems of 1981.
4. Riot - Fire Down Under
New York's Riot were to me the most underrated act of the early 1980's. Fire Down Under was so far ahead of its time that it was ignored. Lead singer Guy Speranza's last album with Riot was probably their best, and he would be missed. Swords & Tequila, Don't Hold Back and several others on here are all songs that hold up very well today. Given the time, the production is also great and the sound really pops. This is a highly recommended album for any fans of 80's metal that may have missed this one.
3. Black Sabbath - Mob Rules
The second Sabbath album featuring Ronnie James Dio, and the best in my personal opinion. It amazes me how the Sabbath community overlooks some of the great tracks here. Sure Voodoo, The Sign of the Southern Cross and the title cut are great, but Turn Up the Night and Falling Off the Edge of the World are among the best cuts Sabbath of ANY era has ever done. It is unfortunate this album is so overlooked because it is really great from start to finish, with only a couple of bumps in the road.
2. Iron Maiden - Killers
When this album first came out, the music press in the UK slammed it. Almost 25 years later it is hard for me to see how given what many NWOBHM bands were churning out at the time. The production alone is infinitely better than the first Iron Maiden album, and the song quality is just as strong. Murders in the Rue Morgue, Drifter and the title song are all fantastic tracks. The Murray, Smith, Harris, Burr line-up smokes here and is running on all cylinders. There are so many great moments on this album its hard to pin them all down, whether it’s the drums in Genghis Khan, the bass lines in Innocent Exile and Drifter, the guitar solos on Murders in the Rue Morgue, Killers or Drifter. Truly, an awesome album, and really only a sign of things to come for Maiden.
1. Rush - Moving Pictures
It is hard to sum up this release in a paragraph. First of all, I think it is fair to say that this is where all the pieces fit together for Rush. Surely they had standout tracks in the past, some of which are better than the songs on this album; however, they never got it right start to finish like they did here. No weak spots, no "filler" (I hate that term by the way), no Madrigal, Rivendell or Entre Nous crap. This album influenced an entire genre. No, this album created an entire genre (Dream Theater, Fates Warning, etc.). As such, this gets the nod as the top album of 1981, hands down.