Friday, October 28, 2005

1981 - Catch the Fish

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.

Thursday, October 20, 2005


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.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

1979 - The Hot Leather Dude Rules the Roost

Here is the first top ten installment, and let me tell you, it was a tough one. 1979 will certainly not go down as a banner year for hard rock/heavy metal. In fact if you had asked me to name my top 15, it would probably include some real turkeys (thanks PKD) like Kiss' Dynasty (sorry Strutter71) or Rainbow, or even Marsielle.

In any case, there are some selections here that would never find their way into a top ten in any of the subsequent years I will we writing about, but one could interpret that as these bands are innovators in the field of hard rock/heavy metal and as such their place in "history" (at least as seen by T-_Bone) is secure.

10. Accept - Accept

It's hard to believe this album cracked the top 10. I listened to it again yesterday, and it was not quite as bad as I remember it, but I wouldn't say it's a good album. There are a couple of pointless ballads, and silly lyrics and unmemorable riffs mar many of the heavier songs. With that said however, while listening, you can see that there was greatness in there somewhere, it just took a couple of albums for it to be unleashed. Not bad for a "first album".

9. Saxon - Saxon

Another first album, and another mediocre release. It wouldn't take Saxon as long as Accept to reach greatness, but they did not achieve it here. Spotty and inconsistent, the shining moments are few and far between. Overall, the high point(s) "Stallions of the Highway" is better than anything achieved on "Accept" so that is why this album gets the 9 spot by a hair.

8. ZZ Top - Degüello

I am a casual fan of ZZ Top. I saw them live and they were great. This album is actually one of their best, and it has a really nice groove. Certainly not heavy metal, but it is a great rock album nevertheless.

7. Scorpions - Lovedrive

Again, this was an album that I liked more than I expected to when I first heard it. I first heard the Scorpions in 1982 with "Blackout", and their sound got more commercial from there. "Lovedrive" is more raw than the polished sound the Scorps had in the 1980's, and as a whole their albums preceding their break-through are my personal favorites.

6. Van Halen - Van Halen II

Van Halen was so ahead of many of their contemporaries in terms of production and sound quality, not to mention Eddie's technical ability. Maybe it is because they had a major label behind them, but their sound seems so much louder and cleaner than many of the albums of this era. "Van Halen II" picks up where the first album left off. Not as consistent or brilliant as the first album, but still a very solid release.

5. Motörhead - Bomber
4. Motörhead - Overkill

The legendary Motörhead released their second and third albums in 1979, and while they had not quite hit stride, these two albums are really good. Influential beyond what they are recognized for (at least on this side of the pond), there are many high points on these two albums, and they are always a good listen. Not technically brilliant, but well done. Perhaps if I had become a fan of Motörhead earlier on, there would be more of a distinction between these two albums, but being a "recent" fan (15 years) these two go together for me.

3. Riot - Narita

A little bit of a surprise pick here. Riot are (were?) a New York based metal band in the same vain as the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM). Riot were a bit ahead of the pack (their first album coming out in 1977) in terms of the two-guitar attack, which is executed very well here. Ironically, the cover of "Born to be Wild" is a low point for me, where as I would bet that back in 1979, this was the "selling point" of this album. In any case, "Narita" sounds a little dated, but overall is a very good album in a year of relatively sub-par freshman and sophomore efforts.

2. AC/DC - Highway to Hell

The last album of the Bon Scott era, and my personal favorite AC/DC album. Brian Johnson would come in and AC/DC would go on to release Back in Black and its clones a dozen or so times over the next 25 years. The Bon Scott albums all have a distinct feel to them, and this one is the best of the them.

1. Judas Priest - Unleashed in the East

My first rule of the top 10 project was no greatest hits albums, and no live albums. Sort of. A live album would be considered eligible if it met certain criteria, and that would be re-defining the tracks presented. Unleashed in the East does this by leaps and bounds. Maybe it is having a proper drummer, or the cohesion of the band was better then it was when "Sad Wings of Destiny" came out in 1976. Whatever the case, Unleashed in the East is the best album of 1979 by a mile, hell by a parsec it is the best album of 1979. Very few albums are "essential" to a metal collection, maybe 10, but this is one of them. An excellent performance by the hot leather dude and company. I can even forgive Tipton's little mistake in Sinner.