1988 was a good year in metal. I found it difficult to narrow down the top 10 as I had about 5 other choices that really could have come in as high as number 8, as there really was not too much difference between number 8 and number 15 or so.
10. Death - Leprosy
This album is not well perceived by many fans of Chuck Schuldiner, probably because the backing band is average at best, but I think it is a good album, and far better that the debut. Death would mature over the years, and the music would become more technically proficient, but there is a place for Leprosy among the best albums of 1988. It is shockingly brutal for the time and well executed.
9. Pantera - Power Metal
OK - stop laughing. This is my favorite Pantera album. Really - please stop laughing. This is actually Pantera's fourth album, and the last before the famous Cowboys From Hell. This is the first album to feature vocalist Phil Anselmo. Lyrically, this album is bad, but the music is so damn good that I can overlook the ridiculous lyrics. Darrell Abbot's riffage is top notch and personally, I wish Pantera had kept this sound instead of the pseudo-thrash genre they helped develop.
8. Metallica - …And Justice For All
This was the first step down of a legendary decline that would get worse with each release. Metallica's borderline album is still good, and there are some brilliant moments here. Poor mixing and below average production produce a sound that can be annoying at times, and sometimes you wonder if there is a bassist. But, as a whole the songs are quite good, and the guitar playing is Hammet and Hetfield's finest of their career.
7. Fates Warning - No Exit
A new singer and a new style are the obvious things about this album. No Exit is far more progressive than earlier efforts, but still very heavy. As much as I like John Arch, Ray Adler is the voice for Fates Warning, and he was good from the start. An ambitious album for sure and they hit the mark for the most part. Parts of the opus, The Ivory Gate of Dreams are not executed that well, and I sometimes lose interest in the song, but overall this is a good album.
6. Running Wild - Port Royal
I really like this band, and this is one of my favorite Running Wild albums. It took a while, but the band seems very comfortable and confident in their sound and style here, and the result is a melodic speed/power metal album of the finest quality. The songs are all good, great riffs and melodies, etc. Plus, I love the whole Pirate thing.
5. Helstar - A Distant Thunder
This is Helstar's best album to date; perhaps their best ever. The guitars sound perfect, and the singing is great. This album has all the right sounds, riffs, hooks, solos, melodies, etc. The sound to me could be described as power metal, with a dash of progressive thrown in, and it works. It is a very good album for sure.
4. Iron Maiden - Seventh Son of a Seventh Son
"Bloody Americans, they just don't get us," Steve Harris said of this album, as it did not reach the commercial success of Somewhere in Time. Actually, I think this album did miss the mark a little bit, and is a step down from Maiden's earlier works. The title track is overlong and does not hold my interest like other Maiden epics, plus this album contains Quest For Fire Part II aka The Prophecy. All in all though, this is a very good album, tracks like Infinite Drams and The Evil Than Men Do are great songs and really save the album.
3. King Diamond - "Them"
Another one of King's horror stories, and again he hits the mark. As usual, Andy LaRocque is in fine form, as the guitars sound great. I think this is a step down for King as Abigail was better, but only in that the cheese factor is a bit more prevalent here. Sometimes "Them" borders on silly and over dramatic (i.e. "Grandamaaaaaaaaaaaaa"). Despite that one criticism, "Them" is a very good album, and like all of King's early solo work, a treat to listen to from start to finish.
2. Helloween - Keeper of the Seven Keys Part II
For me, this is the best Helloween album. The riffage is huge; Kiske singing is better than in Part I, and the songs are more interesting as well. There are some classic power metal tracks here like I Want Out and Eagle Fly Free. Dr. Stein is also a great track. The epic title track is not as good as the epic Halloween from part I, but it is still a good track. I think if Hansen had participated a little more in the songwriting, this could have been one of the top 5 metal albums of all time.
1. Queensryche - Operation: Mindcrime
Wow. Brilliant. It is so hard for me to write a paragraph about this album. It is so well done, it is cinematic. Usually, a concept album is far better as a whole and the songs alone don't stand up too well as stand alone tracks. Here, the songs are so good, that they stand up very well by themselves, but when you put them all together it comprises one of the best albums ever recorded. I can't say enough glowing things about this album; it is a masterpiece.