I had the pleasure of growing up in the 80’s (I was born in 1975). I know everyone raves about their own era but there’s no denying that the 80’s were completely awesome. I mean, we had The Goonies, The Breakfast Club, Terminator, E.T., Gremlins, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off…the list goes on forever!
This decade was also a breakthrough time for heavy metal bands. Since I’m and 80s-kid, and the bands and guitar players I admire are from that era, I’d like to give you my Top 10 Metal Albums from the 80s! I’ll also provide a little background on why I chose these metal albums.
Disclaimer – I realize there are a ton of great metal albums from the 80s, and albums that are much heavier than what I’m listing. These are albums that had the greatest impact on me at that time and over the years (some I did not discover until later). Some of these may also cross over into the hard rock realm as well.
Top 10 80’s Metal Albums
These 80s metal albums are in no particular order (with the exception of the first one). I’m just listing these as they pop in my head. Chances are, you’ve heard reflections of these albums in my own music. Okay, off we go!
#1 – Master of Puppets – Metallica – 1986
I don’t know that any metal album list would be complete without Puppets. It’s heavy, chunky, aggressive, and their refined guitar tones with fast palm-muted down-strokes set a different standard among the metal community. Seriously, it’s just a bad-ass album.
Master of Puppets is listed as #1 for a reason. Why, you ask? It was the first metal album I purchased (along with Justice). I had heard Metallica, distortedly, through the headphones of some metal dude on the bus and had to dig into them. So I bought both albums, which were on these devices called cassettes, or tapes. Remember the Sony Walkman that everyone had to have?
This classic 80s metal album is a tremendous reason why I started playing guitar. Metallica is responsible for the musician I have become over the years, as their music had a huge influence in my early years of developing my own style. Master of Puppets is where it all started for me.
Favorite Track: ‘Damage, Inc.’
#2 – Practice What You Preach – Testament – 1989
1989…this one almost didn’t meet the criteria for my 80s metal albums list! Practice What You Preach hit me pretty hard. Back then, this was one of the heaviest albums I was into.
I was fascinated by Alex Skolnick’s playing. He had this twist to his style. The best way to explain it is you weren’t sure where he was going with the guitar solo and he’d come out of no where and surprise the crap out of you with something extremely off-the-wall and cool. And you’re like ‘Dude, how did you do that?’
The riffs on every track of Practice are heavy and technical. I would almost categorize this album as progressive metal, to some extent. I always thought that Testament should have been part of ‘The Big Four.’
Favorite Track: ‘Practice What You Preach’
#3 – Appetite for Destruction – Guns n’ Roses – 1987
Now, I don’t consider Guns n Roses metal. I deem them as more of a hard rock band. I’m including this particular album because it’s raw and edgy nature. And that’s what heavy metal is all about.
I immediately became a Slash fan when I heard Appetite for Destruction. He has a dominating signature sound and came up with the most creative guitar solos. Like Kirk Hammett, Slash had quite the influence on my early lead playing. And there’s not one skipper on this album.
Favorite Track: ‘Rocket Queen’
#4 – Operation Mindcrime – Queensryche – 1988
Operation Mindcrime is an album I had become obsessed with. I spent a ton of time listening to, and Queensryche in general. I could’ve started my own Operation Mindcrime cult!
I would consider Queensryche as a Gothic rock/metal band. They had created their own sub-genre within the realm of metal. This specific album captivated me in many ways, both musically and lyrically. The guitar riffs were so well-thought out and took you to those unknown places in your head.
On a side note, I wish the band would’ve
Favorite Track: ‘Eyes of a Stranger’
#5 – Peace Sell…but Who’s Buying? – Megadeth – 1986
Remember what I said above about not discovering some bands from the 80s era until later? Megadeth was one of them, as sad as that sounds. I knew of them back then, and I wrote the band’s name on my school folders so I could look cool. But for some reason I never dove head first into them until later in life.
However, I do recall listening to Peace Sells, enough to include it on this list (it would be blasphemy not to have Megadeth on a top metal album list). Now, Megadeth is one of my favorite bands. And I personally think that Dave Mustaine is a musical genius. Mad respect for him, I have.
I think Peace Sells is where Megadeth really started to discover themselves as a super power. No one sounded like them, nor did they dare attempt. Both the guitar rhythms and leads are super fast and technical on Peace Sells. That’s any metal guitar player’s dream. Oh, and another cool fact is MTV used Dave Ellefson’s bass riff on Peace Sells as a jingle!
Favorite Track: ‘Peace Sells’
#6 – Best of the Rockers n’ Ballads – Scorpions – 1989
I know, I know. You guys are gonna give me crap for listing a compilation album. But this was my introduction to Scorpions, and Best of the Rockers n’ Ballads was the first Scorpion album that I owned.
The Best of the Rockers n’ Ballads consists of their hits from the 80s, and there are some pretty heavy tracks on there. The opener is Blackout, which is fast and driving. I’ll admit, I’m probably more of a fan of the ballads on this 80s metal album (or at least back then I was).
Favorite Track: ‘Rhythm of Love’
#7 – And Justice for All – Metallica – 1988
I didn’t intend on listing any band more than once. However, this album had such a deep impact on my guitar playing and songwriting that I would be doing you a disservice if I were to exclude it.
As I mentioned earlier, I bought both the Master of Puppets and And Justice for All albums at the same time. And I listened to them both non-stop. In fact, I immediately started learning guitar riffs from these albums.
Justice has a different feel to it than any other Metallica album. It was angry and aggressive. And after the loss of their original bass player, Cliff Burton, I can imagine that shaped this work of art.
In my opinion, And Justice for All was their tightest album and the riffs were amazingly fast. They weren’t messing around. I must also mention that their first two albums, Kill’em All and Ride the Lightening, were part of the 80s era. Although I listened to those a lot, Puppets and Justice were my favorites from Metallica.
Favorite Track: ‘Dyer’s Eve’
#8 – Back for the Attack – Dokken – 1987
My goal was to keep this list as metal as possible and not venture into the hairbands. I did listen to my fair share of hair metal back then. Let’s face it, there were some phenomenal guitar players that came from that genre.
Anyway, Dokken’s music didn’t fit the mold of hairbands; it was only their appearance. So I’m making an exception to place their album Back for the Attack on my list.
This album has so many great tracks, starting out aggressive with Kiss of Death. George Lynch also has the notable Mr. Scary track on this album. And I’ll attribute Lynch’s playing style for making it to my top 10 80s metal albums.
I was a big Freddy Krueger (Nightmare on Elm Street) fan back then, which brings me to my favorite track from Back for the Attack. I used to rewind and listen to this song over and over.
Favorite Track: ‘Dream Warriors’
#9 – Triumphant Return – White Cross – 1989
White Cross was one of the well-known Christian metal bands during the 80s. And Triumphant Return was my favorite album from them. If the vocals were more aggressive, this would have definitely been a heavy metal album, aside from the ballads.
Rex Carroll’s guitar playing was awe-inspiring and the riffs on most songs were pretty heavy. Had Rex been in a mainstream (or what was called ‘secular‘ back then) metal band, I’m certain he would’ve been rated as one of the top guitar players of that decade by the big shot publications and media.
Favorite Track: ‘Down’
#10 – Whitesnake – Whitesnake – 1987
No, that wasn’t a typo. I’m including Whitesnake’s self-titled album Whitesnake. And I know I’m getting close to that line of hair metal again, but if you sit back and listen to this album, it’s actually pretty heavy.
Whitesnake is another band that had a tremendous impact on my guitar playing (specifically, this self-titled album). The rhythm guitars were always moving and the solos were quite captivating. I remember cranking up my stereo and guitar amp, and playing along with that tape.
This album has a U.S., European, Bulgarian, and a 20th anniversary version.
Favorite Track: ‘You’re Gonna Break My Heart Again’
80s Hard Rock and Heavy Metal Albums
I’m sure I’ll re-read this later and think of other bands I could have listed. As odd as it may sound, I had confined myself to a limited number of bands in my early years. I was somewhat obsessive with the music I listened to and would literally listen to some songs back to back. So I kinda missed out on some other bands.
Today I listen to more melodic metal bands that are based outside the U.S. such as Amon Amarth, Nightwish, Arch Enemy, Evergrey, Sabaton, In Flames, Delain, etc. Perhaps I’ll do a list for that style of metal someday. But I do still listen to a fair share of classic metal.
Feel free to share your favorite metal albums of the 80s in the comments!
Keep it Metal,