The 1980s were undoubtedly the golden years for shred and shredders in general, with heavy metal guitar techniques developing at lightning speed – ultimately culminating in a late 1980’s peak.
This ‘golden age’ of shred / neo-classical metal predominantly revolved around the impressive roster of sweep-picked arpeggio aficionados, harmonic minor scale masters, finger-tapping geniuses and jaw-dropping whammy bar abusers who recorded mostly instrumental albums for Mike Varney’s Shrapnel Records label.
Here are Worship Metal’s 6 greatest 80’s Shred Albums released via Shrapnel Records…..
Racer X – Street Lethal (1986)
Racer X‘s scintillating 1986 debut showcased the enormous talent of Paul Gilbert, a still in his teens shredder of frightening ability.
With aptly named opening instrumental, “Frenzy,” instantly setting the scene, Street Lethal‘s intentions were laid bare as Gilbert went about his business in the most mind-blowing way imaginable.
Paul Gilbert described Racer X as “heavy metal with scary guitars,” and who are we to argue with that statement. This band was basically Judas Priest on steroids with one of the greatest shredders of all time at the helm. The results, understandably, were electrifying.
Listen to Street Lethal and keep repeating to yourself, “Paul Gilbert was only nineteen years of age when he played this shit. NINETEEN!”
Chastain – Ruler Of The Wasteland (1986)
Unfairly ignored for the most part, Chastain were highly atmospheric, chillingly melodic and had a taste for the epic; resulting in a sophomore album that should have turned far more heads than it actually over 35 years ago.
Leather Leone, one of the greatest female vocalists in metal, was flawless throughout – matching the likes of the mighty David Wayne on the Metal Church-esque highlight, “Angel Of Mercy” – and with David T. Chastain, a neo-classical guitarist par excellence at the helm, Ruler Of The Wasteland exemplified lightning fast metal at its finest; a riveting snapshot of what made pure 80’s metal and shred so consistently thrilling!
With the band still going strong – 2015’s We Bleed Metal was a riff lovers dream – there’s no better time to retrace the footsteps left by Chastain; starting with the outstanding Ruler Of The Wasteland.
Cacophony – Speed Metal Symphony (1987)
Cacophony‘s Speed Metal Symphony found Shrapnel Records harnessing the talents of not one but two superhuman guitar heroes on the one album!
Marty Friedman (Megadeth, Hawaii) and Jason Becker (David Lee Roth) forged a partnership which took state-of-the-art, neo-classical metal to new levels of power and precision and the gruff vocals of Peter Marrino do little to overshadow the skills of this dynamic duo.
The most ‘metal’ album on this list, Speed Metal Symphony lived up to the promise of its name with Friedman and Becker delivering an almost thrashy shred release, one where both shredders were free to over-indulge their most decadent desires.
A true cacophony of intelligent, indulgent, warp-speed riffs!
Jason Becker – Perpetual Burn (1988)
The name Jason Becker has become synonymous with his ongoing battle with Lou Gehrig’s Disease, a condition that was first diagnosed at the tender age of just 20.
However, this shining beacon of unfathomable potential had already made his mark on the scene with Cacophony‘s Speed Metal Symphony and this was cemented with the release of 1988’s Perpetual Burn, an album that stands tall as one of the finest albums of the era.
Featuring 8 tracks of blistering speed and unbridled dexterity, this all-instrumental solo album ably showcased Becker’s considerable talents. With his ability to organically construct satisfyingly succinct compositions – as opposed to engaging in shameless bouts of disparate fretboard exhibitionism – Becker expertly balanced a suitably metallic edge (“Temple Of The Absurd”) with the more traditional neoclassical style of “Air”; resulting in an album that has everything you could ever want from a shred release.
Jason Becker‘s career may have been curtailed by a cruel twist of fate but Perpetual Burn‘s ability to amaze remains undiminished.
Marty Friedman – Dragon’s Kiss (1988)
If you’ve ever wondered why Dave Mustaine recruited Marty Friedman for Megadeth, just one listen to the sheer bravado of Dragon’s Kiss will provide you with your answer!
Harnessing his flair for pure heavy metal histrionics with added layers of gloss, imagination and flamboyance, Dragon’s Kiss proved that the metal world had an exotically distinctive soloist and shred extraordinaire on their hands!
With Jason Becker contributing his considerable talents to both opener “Saturation Point” and “Jewel”, it’s immediately apparent why the two teamed up – to thrilling effect – in Cacophony.
However, while great together, individually these two were capable of producing even better results….and no more so than on Dragon’s Kiss, Marty Friedman‘s jaw-dropping, all-instrumental debut.
Vinnie Moore – Mind’s Eye (1986)
With his debut album, The Mind’s Eye, Vinnie Moore (UFO) announced his arrival on the shred scene with an album that was clean and considered and yet still shredded like a muthafucker!
Recruiting a veritable supergroup of musicians to bolster his playing, Moore rounded up keyboardist Tony MacAlpine (M.A.R.S and a veritable shred legend in his own right), drummer Tommy Aldrige (Whitesnake, Ozzy Osbourne) and Andy West (Dixie Dregs) to bring cohesion to his sound.
While initially dismissed as a mere Yngwie Malmsteen clone, it was clear that Vinnie Moore was a guitarist who could match the very best in both speed and technical proficiency. The result was an album that is arguably the most enjoyable shred album to listen to, with Moore’s compositions remaining interesting and inclusive throughout.
Honourable mentions: Cacophony – Go Off! (1988) / Greg Howe – Greg Howe (1988) / Joey Tafolla – Out Of The Sun (1987) / Richie Kotzen – Richie Kotzen (1989) / Steeler – Steeler (1983) / Tony MacAlpine – Edge Of Insanity (1986)