Thrash, proto-death metal, glam, NWOBHM and speed metal were all at large in 1985, causing head-banging mayhem far and wide and bringing joy to millions.
Here’s our pick of the 30 greatest metal albums of 1985…..
30. Hirax – Raging Violence
An anorexic production job does little to dent the ferocious nature of Hirax‘s powerful debut released during thrash metal’s infancy. A blistering crossover thrash / speed metal exercise in full-throttle riffing, Hirax may have been a little rough around the edges but their often undervalued contribution to the scene is actually undeniable.
With one of the most distinctive voices in thrash – as an ambassador for the genre as well as a vocalist – frontman Katon W. De Pena is a Thrash icon. His melodic John Cyriis (Agent Steel) meets Eric A.K. (Flotsam And Jetsam) wail was the perfect foil for his bandmate’s hardcore punk infused bouts of maddening metal.
14 tracks in just over 30 minutes signals just how fast these guys actually played and precious few could match them for speed in ’85! Trading finesse for brute force, the likes of “Bombs Of Death” – an all time thrash classic – still managed to drip-feed a little melody into the mix, enabling Hirax’s barely in control barbarity to warrant repeat listening.
29. Saxon – Innocence Is No Excuse
Saxon released a seemingly endless stream of quality albums throughout the 80’s and although Innocence Is No Excuse may not be as well known as Wheels Of Steel and Denim And Leather, it is an underrated classic and more than just a strong addition to their considerable back catalogue.
Settled comfortably amidst the polished hard rock anthems sits the album highlight, “Broken Heroes”. A hard rock ballad that avoids cheesy cliches is almost impossible to find but “Broken Heroes” achieves the impossible via hard-hitting subject matter and disciplined musicianship; Innocence Is No Excuse is great, “Broken Heroes” is extraordinary.
28. Iron Angel – Hellish Crossfire
You’ve got to give these guys credit. Iron Angel were ripping heads clean off way back in 1985 and their distinct brand of Germanic speed/thrash may sound a tad meat n’ potatoes to modern ears but Hellish Crossfire was the shit over 30 years ago; diabolically evil, face-meltingly fast and leading metal into ever more dangerous realms!
Opener, “The Metalian”, kickstarts the tempo and Iron Angel never once drop the pace from then on in, unleashing merry hell in the name of real metal and peeling off riffs like the end of the world was truly nigh. Totally in thrall to Satan, these sinners concocted an absolute blast of mid 80’s thrash that remains ridiculously addictive and holds its position as a speed/thrash classic from the genre’s formative years.
27. Accept – Metal Heart
The last album from Accept‘s golden period, Metal Heart is a classic 80’s metal record; gleaming, powerful and chest-beatingly sure of it’s self.
Smoothing their edges, Accept may be more accessible on Metal Heart than on previous releases but that does not detract from the quality of the songwriting on display.
“Living for Tonight”, the Title-Track and “Dogs On Leads” pack a considerable punch with Udo Dirkschneider lacerating his vocal chords in the name of heavy metal at every opportunity.
Accessible? Yes. Gone soft? Not a chance!
26. Artillery – Fear Of Tomorrow
Denmark’s Artillery have often found themselves criminally ignored and although By Inheritance is their masterpiece, it’s Fear Of Tomorrow that deserves to be revered for its contribution to thrash metal’s ascendancy.
Insanely-fast tremolo picking and machine-gun drums provide the battery while Artillery’s penchant for settling into mid-paced groove counterbalances the speed; no more so than on album highlights “The Almighty” and “King, Thy Name Is Slayer”.
If this gem is collecting dust in your collection it’s time to unearth it’s intricate treasures, thrash this good deserves to be heard!
25. Fates Warning – The Spectre Within
Fates Warning‘s second album was terminally unfashionable and yet it’s duelling guitars – with echoes of Iron Maiden – and layered vocals somehow took a disparate sound and made it work; no more so than on “The Apparition”.
John Arch’s banshee wail may be an acquired taste but there’s no denying the quality of the riffs, leads and the epic nature of this progressive metal prize.
The band would improve immeasurably on their next album, Awaken The Guardian, but The Spectre Within is a strong enough collection to not be dismissed as a mere curio.
24. Manilla Road – Open The Gates
On Open The Gates, cult favourites Manilla Road recorded their heaviest, most focused album to date. Taking their cues predominantly from thrash and the NWOBHM, their epic brand of heavy metal marched on from 1983’s Crystal Logic, into ever more muscular territory.
The fantastical and the epic are embraced with no sign of cliche and it’s this commitment to pure heavy metal that carries Open The Gates along at a breakneck speed.
Highly underrated, Manilla Road and this classic album always deserved to be household names.
23. Sacrilege – Behind The Realms Of Madness
A furious cacophony of pure thrashing noise, Sacrilege‘s seminal debut was a crust punk, D-beat, thrash combo designed to floor apathetic listeners who thought they knew the meaning of ‘heavy’. Ably blurring the lines between more traditional hardcore punk and the darker side of thrash metal, Sacrilege’s blitzkrieg riffing and Lynda ‘Tam’ Simpson’s feral shouts marked them out as true progenitors of crust.
With an antagonistic vigour unrivalled by any other band in the scene, Sacrilege were heavy in every sense of the word with their perfectly rendered noise counterbalanced by political
Behind The Realms Of Madness was/is the kind of album that transcends borders and acts as a defining moment in the 80’s cross-pollination of both punk and metal……its influence cannot be underestimated!
22. Destruction – Infernal Overkill
These Germanic, bullet-belt strewn boys made one hell of an entrance when their full-length debut detonated in 1985.
Blackened thrash was the order of the day and Infernal Overkill came out charred, scorched and searing; the heat generated from this trio of tormentors manifesting itself as fervourous Thrashers “The Ritual”, “Thrash Attack” and “Antichrist”.
Destruction would go on to define the Teutonic thrash scene but it all began here!
21. Dio – Sacred Heart
Dio‘s third album may largely be viewed as a ‘sell-out’, the change towards a more commercial, keyboard-heavy, radio-friendly vibe isn’t exactly subtle, but Sacred Heart should still be appreciated for some fine pop-metal songs.
The title-track, and “Rock N’ Roll Children” are Dio classics, rock and metal’s greatest vocalist utilising his mighty pipes to full effect and Vivian Campbell’s shredding on “Just Another Day” only proves how wasted he is in Def Leppard.
Scared Heart may not be in the same league as Holy Diver but it still has quality etched into every groove.
20. Helloween – Walls Of Jericho
A power metal and speed metal classic, Helloween‘s debut was fast, fresh and had enough raw aggression and flair to rival even the mighty Iron Maiden.
The twin guitars of Kai Hansen and Mike Weikath are a revelation, all jackhammer precision and pace and positively bristling with barely-contained energy and enthusiasm for their brand of European innovation.
The opening and closing tracks showcase the band’s ability to mould mature and multi-faceted compositions, both “Ride The Sky” and “How Many Tears” providing ample inspiration for the burgeoning power metal scene that would emerge after this ground-breaking release.
19. Killing Joke – Night Time
On Night Time, Killing Joke‘s industrial-tinged, urban-warfare tirades were gone and accessible new-wave anthems emerged in their place.
Deftly balancing fury with finesse, “Love Like Blood” and “Eighties” were the equivalent of a heavy metal Duran Duran(!) and highly inspirational.
Many will remember the furore over Nirvana’s ‘borrowing’ of the main riff from “Eighties” for “Come As You Are” and check out the baseline for “Love Like Blood”, Mötley Crüe had the nerve to rip it off wholesale for the main riff on “Dr Feelgood”.
Killing Joke would continue down the road to mainstream mediocrity for the remainder of the 80’s but it is on Night Time where their experimentation truly left its mark.
18. Onslaught – Power From Hell
Power From Hell was the debut of the UK’s greatest thrash metal export and at this point in their career they had barely escaped the confines of hardcore punk and Venom’s black thrash racket.
Guitarist Nige Rockett handled the lions share of the songwriting and his cacophony of abrasive and antagonistic sounds signalled the early stages of death metal, no more so than on the fiery “Death Metal” and “Witch Hunt” .
Coincidentally, on the other side of the Atlantic, Possessed (more on them later) were forging ahead with a similar approach, both bands naming a song on their debut “Death Metal” and both bands forewarning the world of the extremity to come.
Onslaught‘s impact on thrash and death metal should not be underestimated.
17. Blitzkrieg – A Time Of Changes
Blitzkrieg‘s debut album may have arrived on the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal scene a little later than expected, dulling it’s impact as a result, but it’s fist-pumping anthems are heaven for anyone remotely interested in infallible heavy metal.
Unfairly ignored due to thrash’s supremacy, A Time Of Changes was an ironically accurate title. While metal fans turned their attention to the new breed of Metallica, Slayer and Megadeth etc, bands like Blitzkrieg found themselves cruelly cast aside; the innovators becoming old-hat almost over night.
“Inferno”, “Pull The Trigger”, “Armageddon” and the blistering “Blitzkrieg” itself should have been sure-fire hits, check ’em out now if they passed you by the first time around.
16. Kreator – Endless Pain
One listen to Kreator‘s Endless Pain and you’ll know that pain was more than just a prerequisite, it was damned near essential!
Motörhead meets Venom in an endless parade of pile-driving riffs with little deviation from the standard verse-chorus-bridge school of songwriting for dummies. Not that this is a negative; this was the early days of thrash and all-out-assault was the norm, experimentation would come later.
Like a feral animal taking bloody chunks out of it’s prey, tracks such as “Total Death” and “Flag Of Hate” are raw, animalistic and utterly unforgiving.
Endless Pain practically defines thrash in all it’s gory glory; essential doesn’t quite cut it.
15. Agent Steel – Skeptics Apocalypse
One of the greatest speed metal albums of all time needs little, to no, introduction!
The work of alien-obsessed speed-freaks, Agent Steel were light years ahead of the pack on their debut album, Skeptics Apocalypse.
Defined by John Cyriis’ ridiculouly high-pitched vocals, an abundance of beyond catchy songs, hugely melodic riffs and incredibly fast tempos, Skeptics Apocalypse remains an exhilarating experience that epitomises the ‘anything is possible’ mentality found on the majority of Combat Records’ 80’s releases!
Masters of Metal, Agents of Steeeeeeel!!!!
14. Megadeth – Killing Is My Business… and Business Is Good!
Miraculously, a rejected genius with a spiralling drug addiction, and a mouth that refused to stay shut, led to auspicious beginnings. Dave Mustaine’s Megadeth were a recipe for disaster but the result gave us one of the most technically gifted thrash bands on the planet.
Killing Is My Business… is undoubtedly Megadeth at their most unrefined and unrestrained with “Rattlehead” and “Mechanic” particularly endearing the band to slathering thrash fans.
This may be lacking the precision pummelling of later releases but any short comings are balanced by boundless energy and a determination like no other; Metallica’s loss was the world’s gain.
13. Razor – Evil Invaders
Canada’s Razor released 2 albums in 1985 but Evil Invaders just edges Executioner’s Song as the better of the 2, with its sharp riffing and bone-crushing songs.
Thrash metal doesn’t come thrashier, or more metallic for that matter, than this auditory assault on the senses that can literally strip skin from bone (or endo-skeleton, if the cover art is anything to go by).
“Tortured Skull” and “Instant Death” are the highlights but the whole album hits warp speed for the majority of its running time so you may as well just sit back, crack open a beer and consume it all (beer and album)!
12. Savage Grace – Master Of Disguise
Savage Grace are one of those bands that get a bum deal, acknowledged as influential by peers yet left to rot by the record-buying public.
A situation that is grossly unfair and one listen to Master Of Disguise should explain why. If lightning-fast heavy metal tickles your fancy this will leave you practically giddy and fans of Helloween, Agent Steel and Exciter should consider this a must-own album.
Master Of Disguise is accomplished NWOBHM-inspired-thrash that should have been massive, make amends for your ambivalence and buy it…NOW!
11. S.O.D – Speak English Or Die
The Stormtroopers Of Death were something else; completely devoid of tact, full of humour (very black humour) and capable of thrashing your nuts off!
One of the first bands to throw hardcore punk and thrash into a blender, S.O.D were just some young punks letting off steam (Anthax’s Scott Ian and Charlie Benante reuniting with ex-bassist Dan Lilker and recruiting vocalist Billy Milano) but turned out to be one of the Eighties most influential bands.
S.O.D invented crossover thrash and systematically crushed your head in with heavy-hitters such as “Sargent D and the S.O.D.”, “Milano Mosh” and “Identity”.
Speak English Or Die was no joke, it was a crossover thrash masterpiece!
10. Trouble – The Skull
A doom metal album in 1985, the era of thrash, surely there’s been some mistake?
Mournful and at times sloth-like and lethargic, Trouble‘s brand of crushing doom could still surprise when they quickened the pace; “Fear No Evil” is surprisingly energetic and a thrilling counterpoint to its gloriously gloomy surroundings.
Swimming, slowly it must be said, against the tide, Trouble bought the elephantine riffs of doom back to the masses, a risky venture but one that resulted in a stunning tour-de-force of Black Sabbath inspired heavy fuckin’ metal.
9. Watchtower – Energetic Disassembly
Technical progressive thrash written by a band so far ahead of their time they probably already knew how Avatar 3 is going to end, Watchtower‘s Energetic Disassembly borders on impossible to describe….but we’ll give it a go anyway.
Overflowing with complexity, neck-shredding tempos and banshee solos, Energetic Disassembly is a consistently impressive listen but one let down by a tinny, sub-standard production.
Production woes aside, Watchtower set the bar so high on this release that they probably spilt their drinks and any fan of progressive metal unfamiliar with Energetic Disassembly‘s riches are encouraged to seek it out.
8. Overkill – Feel The Fire
Overkill‘s full length debut was an instantly satisfying fix for those thrash fans looking for an East-Coast band to rival the Bay Area’s dominance.
Feel The Fire is an absolute classic from a band who have spent the best part of 40 years defiantly thrashing their guts out for the metal masses. It’s fair to say that consistency and Overkill literally go hand in hand.
“Rotten To The Core”, “Hammerhead” and “Kill At Command” thrill with wild abandonment and earth-shaking riffs buffered by Bobby ‘Blitz’ Ellsworth’s shrill vocals.
If Overkill had only released this record they still would be revered as thrash pioneers, as it turns out we have a further 18(!) records to relish as well!
7. Pentagram – Relentless
Fact: Pentagram are the lost heroes of 70’s doom metal and should be spoken about with the same reverential tones as Black Sabbath. In reality, they are a cautionary tale and their talent is somewhat glossed over in favour of their failings as opposed to their accomplishments.
Admittedly, part of the problem is that this classic arrived 10 years too late due to frontman Bobby Liebling’s herculean drug habit and the bad business decisions that were made as a result.
Which is a crying shame as songs such as “Death Row” and “All Your Sins” are quintessential doom, murderous, sinister and completely brilliant!
6. Possessed – Seven Churches
On their debut album, Possessed took a cut and paste approach to their music by incorporating the viciousness of Venom, the speed of Motörhead and the thrashing, atonal guitars of early Exodus and Slayer.
The result was an innovative and primitive sound which came to define death metal.
“The Exorcist”, “Burning In Hell” and “Seven Churches” are held together by Jeff Beccara’s unholy roar, simultaneously aping Lemmy from Motörhead yet producing a guttural tone that would go on to be the bread and butter of death metal.
Possessed take the honour of inventing Death Metal on their debut album, this is constantly up for debate but we’re standing by it; no Seven Churches, no Death Metal.
5. Anthrax – Spreading The Disease
Spreading The Disease is an undeniable thrash classic, sophisticated and controlled, yet bouncy and energetic enough to get any mosh-pit jumping and it was on this album that Anthrax found their melodic yet crunching sound, catapulting them to the forefront of the then fledgeling thrash metal scene in the process.
Benefitting from Joey Belladonna’s relatively unique-to-thrash singing style, Spreading The Disease is home to some of Anthrax’s greatest tracks with “A.I.R”, “Madhouse”, “Medusa” and “Gung Ho” still registering high on the thrash richter scale.
If 1985 was renowned for anything it was for Anthrax, Slayer and Megadeth making their mark on the thrash scene…Metallica had some serious competition to contend with and The Big 4 were upon us!
4. Iron Maiden – Live After Death
Arguably the greatest live album of all time performed by arguably the greatest metal band of all time.
We have nothing else to say – the material speaks for itself!
3. Slayer – Hell Awaits
Slayer‘s Hell Awaits was conceived to shock and awe…..and it worked, perfectly!
In 1985, Hell Awaits was the sound of pure evil filtered through squealing feedback, archaic chanting and progressively technical dark-thrash odes to Satan and his happy home. The ghastly and terrifying title-track remains one of Slayer’s defining moments while “Necrophiliac” and “Kill Again” foreshadowed Reign In Blood‘s oncoming speed and ferocity.
Slayer were arguably never this progressively minded again and Hell Awaits has stood the test of time as a cornerstone in thrash metal and extreme metal’s development.
2. Celtic Frost – To Mega Therion
An album that can only be described as ‘beyond influential’, Celtic Frost‘s To Mega Therion marked the end of days for metal as we knew it with bombastic power, brute force and fire and brimstone glee, with guitarist and vocalist Tom G Warrior evidently relishing his role as judge, jury and executioner.
“The Usurper”, “Dawn Of Megiddo” and “Circle Of The Tyrants” are a showing of pure strength and any band, in 1985, confident enough to throw timpani, a horn section and operatic female vocals into the mix were certainly not lacking in backbone, brawn and forthright conviction.
A masterpiece from a band way ahead of the curve!
1. Exodus – Bonded By Blood
Exodus should have had it all; the fame, the fortune and their fair share of thrash metal’s spoils. As it turned out, one of thrash metals most legendary albums comes from a band who hovered on the periphery of The Big 4 without ever making that leap into the big league.
A bullsh*t situation, quite frankly.
It’s fairly common knowledge that Bonded By Blood was actually recorded in 1984, but was held back for a ridiculous 9 months due to record label wrangling and that lost time proved to be more than just significant.
Instead of spearheading the scene they helped to create, Exodus found themselves endlessly playing catch up and they simply ran out of puff; forever chasing the pack and never actually gaining ground.
The title-track, “A Lesson In Violence”, “And Then There Were None”, “Piranha”, and “Strike Of The Beast” are all thrash gold, tarnished by bad timing but true treasures in thrash’s lock-up.
Bonded By Blood was the greatest album to be released in 1985 and 35 years later the band are still going strong!
Honourable mentions: Black Hole – Land of Mystery / Carnivore – Carnivore / Chastain – Mystery Of Illusion / C.O.C. – Animosity / Dark Angel – We Have Arrived /Dokken – Under Lock And Key /D.R.I. – Dealing with It / Exciter – Long Live the Loud / Lizzy Borden – Love You To Pieces / Malice – In the Beginning… / Omen – Warning of Danger / Saint Vitus – Hallow’s Victom / Savatage – Power of the Night / Sodom – In The Sign Of Evil / Sinner – Touch Of Sin / Tytan – Rough Justice / UFO – Misdemeanor / Venom – Possessed / Vicious Rumors – Soldiers Of The Night / Waysted – The Good The Bad The Waysted / White Lion – Fight To Survive / Yngwie J. Malmsteen’s Rising Force – Marching Out.