1986; one of the greatest years in heavy metal history.
The year that thrash slapped the mainstream in the chops, waking the world up to a new metal superpower in the process. The year that saw the NWOBHM just about hanging in there and still delivering some outstanding albums. The year that saw traditional heavy metal bands (not hair metal!) continuously striving for greatness, riffing like they’d never riffed before. The year that saw death metal take small but integral steps towards greatness. The year that….well, you get the picture.
Here’s our pick of the 30 greatest metal albums of 1986…..
30. Angel Dust – Into The Dark Past
Before they fully embraced power metal, Germany’s Angel Dust had a pop at thrash and as debuts go, Into The Dark Past was a fast, frantic, thrill ride! Resolutely obsessed with speed over finesse, these 8 ripping tracks were less Sodom and Kreator and more Iron Angel; a thrilling hybrid of speed and thrash that was equal parts melody and barbarity.
Romme Keymer’s vocals may have received a bit of stick over the years but they fit the music perfectly. Ugly, forceful, yet furnished with glimpses of power metal harmony, Keymer was actually an unorthodox yet perfect match-up.
Fans of Agent Steel, Grave Digger and Helloween should already be aware of Angel Dust’s early output. Those who missed out the first time round should applaud the recent re-release of Into The Dark Past on No Remorse Records as this relatively unsung contribution to early German thrash is ripe for rediscovery.
Grab a copy while you can and journey into Angel Dust’s actually bright past!
29. Post Mortem – Coroner’s Office
A proto death metal cult classic, Post Mortem‘s incendiary collision of pioneering death metal, corrosive anarchic punk and experimental use of jazz led to an album that practically defied genre classification.
Thoroughly pissed of yet laced with pitch black humour, this cult curio is ungraceful, tempered with moments of songwriting genius – check out the thrashy immediacy of “Ready To Die“, the proto-grind of “Run Amok” and the aggro-doom of “It’s Just A Thought” – and brimming with ideas.
We’re still not sure what to think of this most unique album….even 35 years on!
28. Chastain – Ruler of the Wasteland
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 did 34 years ago.
Leather Leone, one of the greatest female vocalists in metal, is flawless throughout – matching the likes of the mighty David Wayne on the Metal Church-esque highlight, “Angel Of Mercy” – and Ruler Of The Wasteland exemplifies straight up, lightning fast metal at its finest; a riveting snapshot of what made pure 80’s metal 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.
27. Elixir – The Son Of Odin
Almost eschewing the influence of the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal entirely, Elixir favoured a more conventionally classic metal sound on The Son Of Odin that raged and pounded with the best of them.
While the ‘Maiden’ effect still loomed large – check out the irresistible gallop of “Treachery (Ride Like The Wind)” – Elixir had their own sound, categorised by a forlorn atmosphere, power-metal dynamics and the robust vocals of Paul Taylor.
Another cult classic that deserves re-evaluation, Elixir’s The Son Of Odin may have been a victim of thrash metal’s dominance (if this had been released just two years earlier Elixir would probably have become a household name) but that’s no excuse for ignoring it now!
26. Destruction – Eternal Devastation
Hot on the tails of the US thrash elite were Germany’s own teutonic terror’s and Destruction‘s Eternal Devastation was a bestial invasion that let the world know that the Germans were coming!
Perhaps not quite hitting the heights of 1985’s Infernal Overkill, Destruction were still conjuring greatness and classic thrashers can be found here. From the all-time great that is “Curse The Gods” to the still surprising folk-thrash opening of “United By Hatred” and the air-raid siren soloing of “Life Without Sense”, Destruction sounded confident, brash and capable of anything on only their second full length release.
Early European thrash consolidated Germany’s importance alongside the Bay Area acts, and Eternal Devastation remains beloved by thrash fans the world over and for bloody good reason; it’s as devastating as ever.
25. Motörhead – Orgasmatron
The first full length Motörhead album to feature Phil Campbell, Würzel and Pete Gill alongside the ubiquitous Lemmy Kilmeister, Orgasmatron saw a welcome return to the more pile-driving rock sound for which the band had made their name.
“Nothing Up My Sleeve” felt like another welcome re-working of “Ace Of Spades”, opener “Deaf Forever” was a hard rockin’ slap around the face and the title track remains one of the most distinctive Motörhead anthems ever recorded. Sonically devastating, the chugging relentless riffing and distorted vocals of “Orgasmatron” was way ahead of it’s time and the fledgling world of extreme metal was certainly listening; Lemmy had just paved the way for an aural onslaught that still echoes throughout the genre.
24. Fifth Angel – Fifth Angel
Fifth Angel were the American power/heavy metal band who had it all yet sadly remained virtually unnoticed by the majority of metal fans. Neither hair metal nor thrash metal, Fifth Angel were simply a heavy metal band in the purist terms; having more in common with the likes of Dio than the prevailing trends of the year.
With their self-titled album, their clean and catchy sound should have seen them break into the mainstream and while pop-metal would be a fair description, the hard-hitting anthemic likes of “In The Fallout” and “Call Out The Warning” distanced them from the glam-metal shenanigans of Poison, Cinderella & Warrant etc.
Fans of Ratt, Skid Row and Quiet Riot should invest in Fifth Angel (if you haven’t already) as these guys were a seriously pristine act with a quality album to back up the superlatives!
23. Agnostic Front – Cause For Alarm
A definitive crossover release, Agnostic Front were part of a very select group (Corrosion Of Conformity, Cryptic Slaughter, Crumbsuckers, Excel and D.R.I included) who were blurring the lines between punk and metal.
Seamlessly gelling the precision riffing of heavy metal with punk’s raucous raw nature, Agnostic Front were as adept at speed metal – opener “The Eliminator” could give Agent Steel a run for their money – as they were at retaining their roots; the NYHC classic “Your Mistake” may be ‘metallized’ but it’s still punk rock incarnate.
A daring triumph, Cause For Alarm is as overwhelmingly innovative and powerful now as it was back in ’86; a revolutionary release from a band unafraid of breaking the so-called rules!
22. Sword – Metalized
Another cult metal release, Sword‘s Metalized took the sound of Saxon, Accept and Dio and ran with it, not in a different direction per se but they certainly carved their own niche in an overcrowded genre; even if the world failed to take heed.
Neither thrash, power or speed metal, Metalized was simply a traditional metal album, built on effective riffs, convincing vocals and massive hooks. “Stoned Again” had that melodic Megadeth sound years before Dave Mustaine courted the mainstream and “Runaway” opens like a classic Maiden track Bruce and the boys failed to write! The rest of the album is as equally flamboyant, fun and frantic, riff after riff supplying that thrill only quality 80’s metal albums provide.
100% heavy metal; there’s no better recommendation than that!
21. Bad Brains – I Against I
Bad Brains epitomised diversity and I Against I is a masterpiece, regardless of which decade it surfaced in. One of those albums where the stars just seem to align, Bad Brains arguably peaked with a scathing and exhausting collection of violent, visceral compositions led by the instantly recognisable “House of Suffering“.
Radical and ridiculously focused, the funky innovative rhythms of Dr Know and the vocal gymnastics of H.R. somehow resulted in a warm, yet blisteringly raw, anomaly when it came to 1986 releases.
Bad Brains were operating in their own world and while the influences punk, funk, soul, reggae and metal loomed large they forged their own sound entirely, a feat precious few band ever achieve!
20. Metal Church – The Dark
Combining traditional metal with thrash, Metal Church had a powerhouse frontman in the shape of David Wayne and riffs most bands would skin their own mothers for. Their self titled debut is an undisputed classic and follow-up, The Dark, almost hit those heady heights.
Featuring all-time ‘Church’ classics “Ton Of Bricks”, “Start The Fire”, the intimidating power ballad – and minor hit – that was “Watch The Children Pray” and the creepy title track, The Dark may have been one of the more melodic thrash releases of ’86 but it was also one of the finest and the most accomplished.
Side 2 may have failed to maintain the velocity of the ‘5 for 5’ hit rate of side 1 but there’s no escaping the fact that Metal Church and The Dark were a monumental influence on the burgeoning thrash scene.
19. Heir Apparent – Graceful Inheritence
Heir Apparent’s debut album may have been virtually ignored by their native Americans but Europe lapped it up, drawn in by a majestic sound – not attributable to the mix which is uniformly terrible it has to be said – which recalled the early sounds of Fates Warning, Queensrÿche and the NWOBHM.
Historically, this underground treasure of U.S. power metal has much to offer. Ahead of its time and revered amongst aficionados, its humble beginnings (self funded and without label help) are writ large but the songwriting nous and accomplished musicianship on tracks such as the instrumental “R.I.P (Live)” and the delicately immersive “Keeper Of The Reign” is obvious.
18. Crumbsuckers – Life of Dreams
Hardcore, thrash, metal, punk…..Crumbsuckers catered for all and their vitriolic debut, Life Of Dreams, remains a crossover classic.
Infused with an endless array of exemplary hardcore meets thrash riffs – Crumbsuckers arguably perfected the art of combining the two styles on Life Of Dreams (follow up Beast On My Back followed a more metal path) – this groundbreaking collection was musically accomplished and stood Crumbsuckers out as the most talented of the crossover pack.
Twisting and turning through riff and tempo changes, this schizophrenic beast of a record remains a hardcore flurry of adrenalised aggression; simply brilliant!
17. Flotsam and Jetsam – Doomsday For The Deceiver
One of the greatest thrash debuts known to man, Flotsam and Jetsam‘s Doomsday For The Deceiver led the world to believe that a new thrash superpower had arrived (not quite, unfortunately) with a collection of tunes both overwhelmingly powerful and expertly performed.
Taking the very best bits of speed metal, power metal and thrash metal and perfecting them amongst a flurry of cranking bass, warp-speed riffs and Erik A.K’s formidable pipes, the likes of the feral “Hammerhead”, the intense “Iron Tears” and the epic ability of the exquisite title track mark out Doomsday For The Deceiver as an undisputed all-time thrash classic.
Many will recall the rarely used 6K mark awarded by Kerrang back in ’86 but that does this legendary release a disservice…this one truly does go up to 11!
16. Nuclear Assault – Game Over
Another thrash milestone – 1986 truly was the greatest year in thrash metal history – Nuclear Assault‘s debut album saw Danny Lilker and his merry men release an unrefined and cataclysmic thrash metal assault on the world!
Still tapped in to the raw emotion and pure power over technical skill mentality of thrash metal’s early releases – that’s not to say these boys couldn’t play but it’s the attitude that shines through – Game Over bordered on a crossover release; revelling in gang vocals, thunderous bass and John Connoly’s unhinged and apocalyptic screeching diatribes.
From the blacker than black humour of “Hang The Pope” to the end of the world announcing “Nuclear War”, “After The Holocaust” and “Radiation Sickness”, Nuclear Assault hit like the proverbial atomic bomb in ’86 and instantly cemented their place amongst the greats of thrash metal.
Game over man, game over.
15. Sacrifice – Torment In Fire
Sacrifice‘s debut was fiendishly evil, brutally effective and pure diabolical mayhem set to music.
Featuring some truly spine-scraping shrieks and riffs that threaten to veer into all out distorted noise, Sacrifice may have been undeniably immature at this stage but there’s no escaping the sheer impact this feral release still posseses.
These Canadian miscreants often sounded more like their unhinged German counterparts than the clinically precise riffing found south of the border. Subsequently, Sacrifice found themselves joining the ranks of the demented Destruction, Kreator, Whiplash and Possessed and while a god-awful production job slightly lessens its impact, Torment In Fire remains an integral stepping stone in thrash metal’s eventual transition to death metal.
14. Iron Maiden – Somewhere In Time
By 1986, Iron Maiden were so entrenched in the very foundations of modern metal that they could have released a bag of shit and fans would have lapped it up!
Fortunately, Maiden released the slightly experimental – they used synthesisers for god’s sake(!) – and utterly brilliant Somewhere In Time and maintained their incredible and meteoric rise to the peaks of metal’s hierarchy.
Home to the Adrian Smith classic “Wasted Years” and the anthemic “Heaven Can Wait”, a whiff of ‘filler’ rears it’s stinky head on the ironically forgettable “Deja Vu” but that aside, Somewhere In Time was another unmitigated success for the UK’s greatest band of the 80’s!
13. Onslaught – The Force
The first band to truly raise hell in the name of British thrash, Onslaught turned heads with the The Force – was there ever a more appropriate album title – and their forceful and vitriolic sound hit like a ten ton hammer; thrashing harder than most and with as much conviction as the likes of Dark Angel and early Slayer.
Still considered a thrash classic, The Force is probably the most convincing thrash album ever recorded by a British band. Capable of ripping your head clean off, Onslaught were a powerhouse who unleashed a multitude of sinister, stabbing riffs without even breaking a sweat.
“Let There Be Death“, “Flame Of The Antichrist” and “Metal Forces”, were all instant classics; brutal, utterly devoid of mercy and terrifyingly demonic. A UK thrash classic and no mistake.
12. Possessed – Beyond The Gates
Perfectly melding early-doors death metal with thrash, Beyond The Gates had the unenviable task of following the extreme metal masterpiece that was Seven Churches and while production woes robbed it of impact, the talent and progression of Possessed was still immediately apparent.
Often criticised for embracing a more commercial style – although Beyond The Gates can hardly be considered mainstream by any means – Possessed did fine-tune their sound resulting in some hit and miss tracks but the ‘hits’ were massive!
The 80s horror intro which bleeds into the maddening thrash heaven of “The Heretic” kicked things off in considerable style while the mid-tempo savagery of “Phantasm” and the bass heavy “Seance” maintained the quality. No matter what the naysayers think, Beyond The Gates should be remembered as an outstanding follow up to a groundbreaking debut!
11. Saint Vitus – Born Too Late
To be frank, doom metal announced its arrival in the metal world at the worst possible time….and Saint Vitus knew it!
Wino and the boys did not fit in, their music certainly wasn’t ‘popular’ and their image was beyond archaic and yet despite these obstacles Saint Vitus persevered and an American classic – and a bona fide Doom Metal masterpiece – was born.
Home to sludgy Black Sabbath worshipping riffs, that completely ignored the decade’s penchant for excess, spandex and an overuse of annoying keyboards, Saint Vitus were there to re-address the balance.
Born just in time we say!
10. Cro-Mags – The Age Of Quarrel
A legendary debut, The Age Of Quarrel saw the Cro-Mags define the hardcore movement in 15 easy lessons!
A sickle-sharp, metallic sound that was rooted to a blue-collar sensibility, the concise delivery of the hard-hitting “World Peace”, “We Gotta Know”, “Street Justice” and “Hard Times” brawled their way into your head, insistent, impossible to ignore and delivered with brass-knuckles on.
Few albums can capture pure rage and emotion as perfectly as this, the reality of street life rampaging through the very heart of each track and through each vocal frustration delivered by the incomparable John Joseph.
Consider The Age Of Quarrel the crossover equivalent of Slayer’s Reign In Blood, it’s that influential and that genre-defining!
9. Voivod – Rrröööaaarrr
A huge step up from their relatively primitive debut, Voivod‘s Rrröööaaarrr was still a thrash album but the seeds were already being sown for the progressive metal majesty that was to come.
“Thrashing Rage”, “Ripping Headaches” (the two go hand in hand, right?) and “Korgull The Exterminator” have rightfully gone down as Voivod classics, unashamedly raw, sonically abrasive and totally unique in construct; futuristic thrash personified while the genre was still finding its feet.
Rrröööaaarrr – the first sign that Voivod were to become a truly progressive global force – may be an abrasive experience but its merciless, mechanised and monstrous sound remains an enthralling and engrossing listen.
8. King Diamond – Fatal Portrait
A quasi-concept album from the concept king, Fatal Portrait was the first King Diamond album following the disbandment of Mercyful Fate and while King Diamond would go on to perfect his theatrical sound on future releases, this was a pretty spectacular place to start.
Ever experimenting with an endless array of vocal styles, King Diamond’s recruitment of Andy LaRocque and ex-Mercyful Fate bandmate Michael Denner was inspired, the duos intricate riffing and atmospheric phrasing providing the perfect backdrop for Diamond’s macabre storytelling.
From the more streamlined “Lurking In The Dark” to the terrifying opening triumvirate of “The Candle”, “The Jonah” and “The Portrait”, the essence of what makes King Diamond’s solo material so indispensable is clear to hear.
7. Crimson Glory – Crimson Glory
Few bands could rival the metal perfection engineered by Crimson Glory on this, their debut album, and its follow up Transcendence. Bombastic, heavily charismatic and enlivened by the outstanding vocals of frontman Midnight, Crimson Glory had it all.
Masterful musicianship and a theatricality that left even Queensrÿche flailing, the likes of “Azrael” remain mind blowing; a true classic of 80’s metal overflowing with enough ideas and perfect riffs to fill an entire album.
A band that should have experienced the success of the Maiden’s and Priest’s of this world, their footnote standing in the annals of metal history is a disgrace. While Crimson Glory may sound quintessentially 80’s, this incredible album has lost none of its power over the last 30+ years, leaving this band perennially under-appreciated but beloved by those in the know!
6. Kreator – Pleasure To Kill
This precociously vicious shitstorm instantly struck a chord with thrashers worldwide and in 1986 Kreator found themselves leading the way in the teutonic scene.
Unhinged to the point of incarceration, Pleasure To Kill‘s track-list borders on a greatest hits selection with the wall of noise maelstrom of “Ripping Corpse”, the unforgettable “Pleasure To Kill”, the death metal influencing “Riot Of Violence” and the epic and surprisingly complex “The Pestilence” all meriting classic status.
Kreator altered the German thrash landscape with Pleasure To Kill and frankly, mayhem of this calibre never again sounded so good!
5. Candlemass – Epicus Doomicus Metallicus
While all else were speeding up, Candemass were slowing things down, channeling Sabbath and adding their own love of tortured melancholy to create a doom metal masterpiece and an 80’s classic.
One of those precious albums where each and every track demands to be savoured, Epicus Doomicus Metallicus practically defined the doom metal genre in just 6 tracks. Mournful, overwhelmingly bleak and utterly immersive, the pure pain of human existence seeps from every vocal utterance and lumbering riff.
Universally heavy without sacrificing melody, the darkened heart musings of “Solitude” and the achingly beautiful “Crystal Ball” suffocate the soul; masterpieces of unparalleled emotional power.
Epic doom metal indeed!
4. Megadeth – Peace Sells…But Who’s Buying?
In terms of musicianship and compositional skill, Peace Sells…But Who’s Buying?, represented a monumental leap forward from the previous years Killing Is My Business… album. This time around, Dave Mustaine assembled a posse of musicians who could match his knack for melody and dead-shot metal marksmanship and the results were uniformly stunning.
The first four tracks on this album remain untouchable (tracks 5-8 ain’t bad either). “Wake up Dead” kicked off proceedings with enough riffs and tempo changes to pad out an entire album, while “The Conjuring” was a devilishly diabolical ode to the power of black magic. However, it was on track 3 where Megadeth stamped down their mark on the thrash scene. ”Peace Sells” was the colossal hit that slapped the mainstream round the face with its badass bass line, heavy yet accessible approach and sneering, snarling lyrics spat out by Mustaine using his inimitable delivery. In stark contrast, “Devil’s Island” was a state of the art thrash showcase of predatory power and scintillating speed.
35 years on and Peace Sells…But Who’s Buying? remains a thrash metal milestone and a highpoint in Megadeth‘s incredible career!
3. Dark Angel – Darkness Descends
You can consider this landmark album interchangeable in its placing in this list, as many thrash fans will argue Dark Angel‘s Darkness Descends betters the albums ranked at numbers 1 & 2 with its unbridled ferocity, technical supremacy and relentless aural battery.
Album highlights include the rampaging “Merciless Death” and the progressively minded “Black Prophecies“, the first indication of the 100+ riffs per song and epic song length mentality the band would explore on later releases.
Moments of respite on this colossal album are few and far between, the eerie yet elegant bass intro to the aforementioned “Merciless Death” being one of them but for the most part Darkness Descends simply thrashes harder, faster and with more gritted teeth malevolence than any other album on the planet.
An immortal entry in the history of thrash metal!
2. Slayer – Reign In Blood
Trying to write a ‘fresh’ review of this metal masterpiece would be virtually impossible as everything has already been said – and argued over – time and time again. Suffice to say, 1986 is remembered as the greatest year in thrash because of Reign In Blood and the album nestled at number 1 (have you guessed what it is yet?).
So, what we will say is this…..
29 frantic minutes, 10 blistering tracks; this peak of thrash perfection was created by a band who epitomised the scene like no other. Dave Lombardo’s aggressive and revolutionary drumming, Kerry King and Jeff Hanneman’s piercing, puncturing riffs and Tom Araya’s growling bass and vocals somehow merging to create an extreme metal benchmark which transcended genre and solidified Slayer‘s position among the thrash elite.
Nothing new there then!
1. Metallica – Master Of Puppets
A definitive release.
A game-changing collection of songs.
A band arguably at their peak, revelling in inexhaustible inspiration.
A passionate, progressive moment in thrash history that proved once and for all that thrash was going to change the face of metal as we knew it.
Metallica‘s Master Of Puppets is simply one of the finest metal albums in existence, regardless of sub-genre…..but then you already knew that!
Did we forget your favourite(s) from ’86? Pop ’em in the comments section below and we’ll discuss them at length!