Tuesday, November 22, 2005

1983 - In the Palace of the Virgin Lies the Chalice of the Soul; or Fast Song, Slow Song - Fast Song

1983 was around the time the floodgates opened and metal had started to establish itself into the mainstream. Subgenres were developing, and we saw the early incarnations of power metal and thrash. Pop metal had been born and bands like Quiet Riot and Def Leppard were selling millions in the USA. Also, 1983 saw many decent bands release their first (and some last) album. In fact, there are 6 debuts in the top ten, so we'll see a lot of new faces this year, as old favorites like Accept, Ozzy Osbourne, and Ozzy's former band Black Sabbath were laying proverbial eggs. There were many more debuts that were pretty good, and it’s a shame that these bands died out so quickly (Ashbury and Jaguar for example).

10. Savatage - Sirens

Savatage begins and ends with Criss Oliva. The guy was a real player and a great songwriter too. Sirens is not the best Savatage album, and I can only take so much of Jon Oliva's vocals, but this album is a fine example of early Savatage and the power of their music. This is a very consistent album, with flashes of brilliance and no real clunkers to hold it down.

9. Savage - Loose 'n Lethal

By 1983, any serious NWOBHM players had already released a few albums and had a decent international following. It would be difficult for a new band out of this genre to establish themselves and Savage would not be an exception to the rule. Loose 'n Lethal is a great album and one of the many hidden gems of the genre. Pretty heavy from beginning to end, not too serious lyrically, and not very original (but not cloning anyone either) are all accurate descriptions, but it's one of those albums you can put on and listen to from start to finish and not hear a bad song.

8. Slayer - Show No Mercy

By 1983, thrash metal was in its infancy and Slayer was one of the bands to establish and perfect the genre. For the time, this was blisteringly fast and heavy, and it holds up very well to this day. Show No Mercy is raw and unpolished, but already you can see that these guys got it. They were immediately superior to the UK's Venom, borrowing certain elements from that band's sound and style, yet improving them by light years.

7. Metallica - Kill 'em All

My personal distaste for Metallica cannot be stressed enough, but I will try to be objective here. This album is a good debut and the poor production can be overlooked considering the quality of the material. Essentially, they borrowed their sound from Holocaust and Diamond Head and took it to another level with better song writing. James Hetfield's vocals are great, and go perfectly with the music. The guitar solos leave a lot to be desired, and the drumming is average at best, but the quality of the riffs here are legendary. All in all, this is a really enjoyable album and is quite good.

6. Motörhead - Another Perfect Day

The first Motörhead album of the post Eddie Clarke era is a good one. Former Thin Lizzy guitarist Brian Robertson adds a different sound here and often it works (Dancing on Your Grave, Shine) and on rare occasions it does not (Another Perfect Day). The album is perhaps not as consistent as Ace of Spades or Iron Fist but more daring and interesting. There are melodic moments here (thanks to Robertson) that were very different for the band and it usually worked well. It would be interesting to see how things would have progressed with this line up, but sadly, this is the only album that featured Robertson on guitar.

5. Satan - Court in the Act

As I stated earlier, 1983 was really the tail end of the NWOBHM and British bands without an established following would have a tough go of it. Satan is a perfect example of a great band being in the wrong place at the wrong time. This is probably the most criminally underrated, unheralded and un-talked about album of all time. All instruments cook, riffage galore, cool bass line, I tell you, this album has it all. It was way ahead of its time for sure, as here we see the beginnings of power metal, improving on and advancing from the first Heavy Load album from 1982. I wish I had known about this album when I was growing up, as I would have listened to it non stop for sure. A true unheralded classic and an essential album for power metal fans.

4. Iron Maiden - Piece of Mind

Piece of Mind is a great album. For the most part. Where Eagles Dare starts things off right, but things start to slowly deteriorate as you progress through the album. Even the lead single, Flight of Icarus had a shelf life shorter than Chevy Chase's talk show. I find this to be the most overrated Maiden album, by both the fans and by Mr. Harris. It is the first Maiden album to have a couple of real stinkers, and the epic track is, well, not that epic. So by Maiden's standards it is a bit of a disappointment, but compared to the metal community at large, it is a great album, and falls in at number 4 for 1983.

3. Mercyful Fate - Melissa

When I was a kid I was afraid of this album. I started listening to it about five years after its release and I was instantly impressed. While some of the lyrics are silly, this album in general is awesome. The thing that impresses me here is that the music here stands up so well over 20 years later, and it is a debut album. Anyway, from start to finish we have a heavy album with great riffs and solos. Twin guitar work is great here with Sherman and Denner, and Kings vocals are enjoyable. Satan's Fall is a tremendous epic and the other tracks are all very dark and atmospheric. Unfortunately, Mercyful Fate would never put out another album as great as this one, but it really is a classic and a requisite for any metal collection.

2. Saxon - Power and the Glory

Many people saw this as the beginning of the end for Saxon, but I disagree. Saxon was still in their prime with this album, and it wouldn't be until the follow up that the Wheels (of Steel) started to come off. Saxon was a bit more daring here being a bit more experimental and diverse, with progressive elements in The Eagle Has Landed, and more commercial leanings in Watching the Sky, etc. This really is a brilliant album as far as I am concerned. A personal favorite for sure.

1. Dio - Holy Diver

Dio's first solo album, and his best. Dio put together a great band here and this album is a complete masterpiece. Dio had put out some great albums over the years with Rainbow and Black Sabbath, and Holy Diver continued the trend. Really, all the pieces fit together here; great lyrics, great music, and flawless execution make this the top album of 1983. Rainbow in the Dark, Stand up and Shout, the title track and the six others totally rock. Not a flaw on this album. This Bud's For You Ronnie!

Friday, November 11, 2005

1982 - The Year of the Beast

By the end of 1982, the NWOBHM had just about run out of steam. Still, it seemed that record company executives were like drunken sailors handing out recording contracts to anyone with an MXR distortion box. Some bands with little to no redeeming value were releasing albums at this point, so the metal community had to endure the likes of Acid, Tank, and Bitches Sin.

But by this time, there were well more than 10 good metal albums to choose from, so the process of coming up with a top 10 became more difficult.

10. Manowar - Battle Hymns

Manowar is a punching bag among some of the elitists in the metal community and it's not hard to see why. Their ridiculous appearance as fighters out of a Dungeons and Dragons module is laughable, and their Death to False Metal cry is somewhat juvenile. However, Manowar has recorded some really good albums. Their first, Battle Hymns, is a bit raw and unpolished, and not quite as heavy as some of their later works, but it is a really good metal album.

9. Venom - Black Metal

I am not a Venom fan, but Black Metal is a really good album. More than that though, it is an absolute genre defining album. Some would argue that's what their first album, Welcome to Hell, did, but I think Black Metal is a better release. Also, Black Metal is more polished and professional, it's got better riffs and hooks and is more of an enjoyable listen.

8. Demon - The Unexpected Guest

Demon's second album sounds like a continuation of their first, which is a good thing. "Melodic" is a term often used to describe Demon, but that is a bit deceiving, as they are heavier than Praying Mantis or Gaskin, but not as heavy as their album covers and song titles would lead you to believe. In any case The Unexpected Guest is a solid NWOBHM album with good sound and production for the time.

7. Heavy Load - Death or Glory

I admit, I had not heard this album until I decided to do this top 10 project, but I am glad I did, and regret that this album flew under my radar for 20+ years. This is probably because Heavy Load is a Swede outfit, and had no exposure in the USA at all during the 1980's. Some would argue that this is the first ever Power Metal album, and while primitive compared to today's Power Metal, I agree that this album was very influential in the genre.

6. Motörhead - Iron Fist

I will never understand why this album is not as critically acclaimed as earlier releases. I think it is one of Motörhead's best albums. The last with Fast Eddie Clark, this album is blistering and heavy. I do hear some evolution in their sound with this release, though it is still textbook Motörhead and it rocks.

5. Legend - Death in the Nursery

Legend was probably a victim of bad management and that is why they never got picked up after the release of this album. This is one of the best NWOBHM releases, and I just do not understand how the likes of Tank and Bitches Sin had record deals and this album had to be self-financed and released on an independent label. Far more polished and original than their first effort, Death in the Nursery does not sound at all stale (maybe a little dated) and is a real gem from start to finish.

4. Judas Priest - Screaming For Vengeance

Priest makes a triumphant return with Screaming For Vengeance. With their last effort being sub-par despite some great moments, the hot leather dude and company needed to make a statement here, and they did it. With one of metal's all time great openers (The Hellion/Electric Eye) this album really does scream for vengeance. There are about six absolute classics on this album, and Priest had really proved that they were among metal's elite bands. Unfortunately a couple of real turkeys keep this from being one of the greatest albums of all time.

3. Accept - Restless and Wild

I find Accept to be one of the strangest bands in the history of metal. Until this point, they were pretty average. Their 1979 debut was a decent album, and I give them a lot of credit for being a bit ahead of their time, but the two follow up albums had progressed very little. That all changed with Restless and Wild. A great opening with the German folk/polka music and then ripping into Fast as a Shark (this is where all those thrash drummers got the idea for double bass) this album is a sonic assault of true heavy metal. For 1982, this thing rocked like nothing else and it still holds up very well today.

2. Rush - Signals

Many old timers feel that this was a release that tried to kill metal, and they may have a point. When New World Man (the worst song on the album) came on the radio, metal fans were horror struck. By this time Rush had abandoned any sound that would be called "heavy metal" and while I would say Rush never did a metal album, I can't think of anyone who would call this album metal. Signals is still heavy progressive rock and the sound is explosive for sure. Slick production and brilliant musicianship along with well-written songs make Signals one of Rush's finest moments and a worthy follow up to Moving Pictures. "Glad you enjoyed it."

1. Iron Maiden - The Number of the Beast

Really, what more can be said about this album. Ironically, Steve Harris is the biggest critic of this album, and I never understood why. Granted, a couple of the songs here are not as good as the others, but none of them are throwaways. Bruce Dickinson was the final piece to creating, in my mind, the best metal band ever assembled. Unfortunately, this is the only album ever recoded with this line up and it is one of the true travesties in the metal world. Maiden would go on to release brilliant album after brilliant album, but they never quite got to this level again (neither has anyone else as I see this as the finest album ever recorded).