Time for another top ten list! I have already posted my top ten New Wave Of British Heavy Metal albums for 1980. Now here are my top ten NWOBHM albums of 1981! These are the ones I have listened to and enjoyed the most over the years. Don’t get mad if you think this list sucks! MAKE YOUR OWN DAMN LIST! Let’s roll…
10. Raven – Rock Until You Drop
The wild-child trio of Raven were responsible for some of the most energetic and raucous music of the NWOBHM. Rock Until You Drop was Raven’s debut (Neat Records). With songs that seem to be going off the rails on the crazy train, Rock Until You Drop is a hopped up adrenaline blast to the cockles. The fractured, lunatic vocals and the raging drums ricochet around the room. The coked-up craziness is what makes Rock Until You Drop stand out from almost any other album of the era, but things are so damn super-charged that the songs never really get into a state of groove, and quite frankly the songs are not all that catchy. Just a minor quibble. What Raven has in spades was tons of thrashy riffs that were quite with it for 1981. Indeed, Rock Until You Drop is noteworthy because it is helped set the foundation (along with many other albums) for what would later become thrash metal.
Personal picks include Don’t Need Your Money, For The Future and the cover of The Sweet’s Action (a tune also covered superbly by Black ‘N Blue in 1984). I don’t consider this album to be sing-along-memorable but it gets by on guts and nuts. My score: B-
9. Holocaust – The Nightcomers
The Nightcomers is a one-dimensional heavy metal bludgeoning featuring in-your-face guitars and a booming ass end. Holocaust was one of several NWOBHM to influence Metallica’s sound. If nothing else, one can imagine that Gary Lettice’s vocal delivery served as inspiration for James Hetfield’s style.
What makes The Nightcomers an essential NWOBHM album is the inclusion of two of the premiere heavy metal anthems of the NWOBHM; Smokin’ Valves and Heavy Metal Mania. Both cuts are thick, heavy bangers that give glory to all things loud and electric. Considering the album’s vintage, this thing is as heavy as King Kong’s ball bag. Very little variety. Just tons of distortion and cymbal crashes. The Nightcomers was released by Phoenix Records. My score: B
8. Iron Maiden – Killers
Iron Maiden’s ascent into heavy metal lore continued with Killers, their sophomore release and their last studio album featuring the ruffian vocals of Paul Di’Anno. The age-old question remains, Di’Anno or Dickinson: whose the better Maiden lead man? I give the nod to Dickinson, but Di’Anno was no slouch.
Now, had this list been based on popular opinion or critical consensus, I think it would be a safe bet that Killers would be number one. (Venom’s Welcome To Hell would probably be number two.) Many consider Killers to be Maiden’s best. One can understand that point of view, although I think there are a couple of tracks on Killers that meander a bit.
I think the two best cuts on Killers are Wrathchild and Purgatory. That album cover is one for the ages, too. My score: B+
7. Tygers Of Pan Tang – Crazy Nights
Crazy Nights was Tygers Of Pan Tang’s second release of 1981. It was preceded by Spellbound, which also appears on this list. Truth be told, Spellbound is the better album of the pair, as Crazy Nights was very much a rushed effort. MCA pushed Tygers to record the album in less than one month. But with talented personnel such as Jon Deverill (vocals) and John Sykes (guitar) on board, the Tygers still shat out a decent collection of tunes. So in the end, we are the lucky ones because 1981 was (in my opinion) Tygers Of Pan Tang’s prime. Their “classic” lineup (with Sykes) only lasted for these two albums.
Crazy Nights spawned two singles. There was Do It Good; a simplistic tune that Deverill carries on his back with his spirited vocals. The other single was Love Don’t Stay, the album’s absolute highlight; a radio-ready melodic rocker with a nasty lead riff. My score: B+
6. Samson – Shock Tactics
Shock Tactics features a blistering over-the-top performance by vocalist “Bruce Bruce” (Bruce Dickinson) coupled with the very enjoyable guitar playing of Paul Samson. The drummer, the rapist-mask wearing “Thunderstick”, was no slouch either. (Gladly, Thunderstick did not overplay nearly to the extent that he did on Samson’s previous release, 1980′s Head On.) Sadly, this would be Bruce Bruce’s last appearance spewing venom for Samson, as he would move on to a little-known band called Iron Maiden, a band that disappeared into obscurity. Great tracks include Earth Mother, Blood Lust, and Bright Lights. Actually, they are all really good except maybe for the silly Grime Crime. The most famous song on the album is Riding With The Angels, a cover of the song written by Russ Ballard. Shock Tactics was released by RCA Records in the U.K. (LP 5031). My score: B+
5. Dark Star – Dark Star
Though this list deals with full-length albums from the NWOBHM, it should be noted that the NWOBHM scene’s foundation was built on singles. There were tons of singles released during the NWOBHM. (Most bands could only afford to finance singles.) Full-length albums were the exception, not the rule. I mention this because Dark Star delivered one of the more highly regarded singles of the NWOBHM with Lady Of Mars (1980). This song was also one of the highlights of the Metal For Muthas Volume II compilation (1980, Sanctuary Records). Lady of Mars appeared on Dark Star’s self-titled debut (Avatar Records). And believe me, the Dark Star album shows that Dark Star were not “one-hit-wonders”. Lady Of Mars is just one of the standout tracks of this very solid album. Dark Star is a well-rounded offering. Check out the Thin Lizzy swagger of Lady Love, the somber beauty of Green Peace, the almost Cat Stevens-esque The Musician, and, of course, the exceptional rocker Lady Of Mars. Actually, all eight tacks on Dark Star are worthwhile. No stinkers here! My score: B+
4. Tygers Of Pan Tang – Spellbound
Prior to Tygers Of Pan Tang’s second album, Spellbound, vocalist Jess Cox was replaced by Jon Deverill, and a second guitarist, John Sykes, was added to the lineup. Cox’s teenage vocals on the Tyger’s 1980 debut Wild Cat was a point of contention for me; an acquired taste I was unable to acquire. Happily, Deverill brings a more melodic, hard rock voice to the Tygers, making Spellbound much easier to digest than Wild Cat. Spellbound is my favorite Tygers Of Pan Tang album. Heavy metal tracks such as Take It, Hellbound and Silver And Gold are fine examples of the Tygers showing their carnivorous fangs, while the more poppy The Story So Far and Don’t Stop By show that the Tygers could also write radio-friendly tunes. Spellbound was released by MCA Records. My score: A-
3. Demon – Night Of The Demon
Do not be fooled by the band’s name or the album’s cover art. Demon’s Night Of The Demon is a simple, straightforward hard rock record steeped in ’70s conventions that achieves it’s listen-ability from well-crafted melodies and the earnest voice of Dave Hill. Night Of The Demon is not a Satanic or scary in the least. In fact one wonders if Demon did themselves a disservice by attaching themselves to the occult imagery of the NWOBHM. Indeed Night Of The Demon borders closer to AOR than to metal, and closer to Thin Lizzy than to Venom.
In the end, it is the undeniable catchiness of songs such as Night Of The Demon, Into The Nightmare and the down right jubilant Decisions that bring me back to Night Of The Demon time and time again. Let is not forget the mellow gem Fool To Play The Hard Way. Night Of The Demon was originally released by the French label Carrere Records, the same label that brought us the equally blue-collar rough rock of Saxon. My score: A
2. Def Leppard – High ‘N’ Dry
This is a great Lep album from their early years… ya know, back when their drummer had two arms. Mutt Lange produced High ‘N’ Dry and squeezed out some great performances from the guys. The gnarly opening riff of Let It Go starts the album off with a righteous crunch. Instantly, it is clear that the wide-eyed and youthful exuberance of Def Leppard’s 1980 debut On Through The Night has been left behind for a lean and mean AC/DC power surge. Standouts include High ‘N’ Dry (Saturday Night), You Got Me Runnin’, and Mirror Mirror (Look Into My Eyes). High ‘N’ Dry is probably best known for launching one of Def Leppard’s most enduring tracks, Bringin’ On The Heartbreak.
On Through The Night was released by Vertigo Records in the U.K. and Mercury Records in the United States. It has reached double platinum in the States. My score: A
1. Saxon – Denim And Leather
The band that once called themselves Son Of A Bitch gave us this proud and honest heavy metal album in ’81. This is my favorite Saxon album by far. Denim And Leather is stacked with awesome tunage. No greater NWOBHM anthem exists than the song Denim And Leather. The lyrics to Denim And Leather make reference to the excitement of the burgeoning NWOBHM. Saxon’s singer Biff Byford knew how to spin a simple but meaningful lyric. His lyrics had a way of connecting with the listener through kinship and loyalty. Superb cuts include Princess Of The Night (about a steam train), And The Bands Played On (about a concert), and Midnight Rider (about Saxon’s first U.S. tour). Let us not forget Play It Loud, the song which directly inspired the name of this site! But look at that cheap-ass cover… looks like some old clip art I would have used for a book report cover in 1991. Nice font! My score: A
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