Top Twenty Hard Rock & Heavy Metal Albums of 1985

Another big ass list!  Below are my twenty favorite heavy metal and hard rock albums from 1985.  Simply put, these are the ones I have listened to and enjoyed the most over the years.

1985 was an odd year for metal/hard rock albums.  Many of the top-tier bands didn’t release anything new in 1985.  Ozzy, Metallica, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden (live album only), Van Halen, and Scorpions (live album only) were just a few of the big names that didn’t put out new material in 1985.  As such, a lot of obscure bands found their way onto my list, which is pretty cool.

21.  Tytan – Rough Justice

Tytan!  What we have here is a NWOBHM leftover, reheated for consumption some two years or so after it was recorded.  Rough Justice was due for release in 1983, on the Kamaflage Records label.  But Kamaflage sh*t the bed and went under.  The album was not released in time.  Metal Masters Records threw the world a bone in 1985 and finally released Rough Justice, a twelve-song album of accessible British hard rock/metal.  By that time Tytan was (sadly) no more, as was the NWOBHM, and Rough Justice was relegated to NWOBHM foot note status.

Rough Justice features a couple of notable contributors; Kevin Riddles (ex-Angel Witch) on bass, and Kal Swan on vocals.  Swan later went on to form the band Lion, which released a couple of overlooked “hair” metal albums in the ’80s, as well as record the super-awesome Transformers (Theme) for 1986′s The Transformers: The Movie.  Kal Swan was a good singer, with a real touch of aristocracy in his voice.

As I mentioned, Rough Justice contains twelve tracks, eight of which I really enjoy.  I think the album could do without Rude Awakening (a lumbering, cliché addled tune that feels out-of-place on this record), the ordinary Ballad Of Edward Case and Far Cry, and finally Sadman, which features vocals from what I can only assume is a castrated elf (is that Kal Swan singing with his nuts in a vise?).  Take out those four songs and Rough Justice does some serious damage.  Faves include the AOR-ish Women On The Frontline (guest vocals from the Rock Goddess chick, sounding like Rush’s Geddy Lee), the balls-out titty smacker Cold Bitch, and the sublime album finale Far Side Of Destiny.  A nice mix of styles, strong performances, and catchy tunage make Rough Justice a desirable addition to the NWOBHM record collection.  Released on CD (Majestic Rock Records) in 2004.  My score: B+

20.  Megadeth – Killing Is My Business… And Business Is Good!

Anyone remember the 1985 movie Vision Quest?  There’s a cool scene in that movie where a shaggy haired Matthew Modine prepares for his big high school wrestling match against Brian Shute.  As he warms up, getting psyched for the match, the great song Lunatic Fringe by Red Rider is playing.  “Lunatic fringe… I know you’re out there.”  (Here’s a link to the scene.)  Why do I mention this?  Because it’s a good movie and you should see it, and also because the term “lunatic fringe” makes me think of Dave Mustaine and the formation of Megadeth.  Mustaine must have been on the lunatic fringe after Metallica left him for dead and moved on without him.  The brooding, seething Mustaine focused his anger and resentment into the formation of his own band, Megadeth.  His intent was to be badder, faster, and better than Metallica.

Killing Is My Business… And Business Is Good! came out in ’85 on Combat Records.  The sound quality of the album pretty much sucks, and Mustaine’s vocals leave plenty to be desired.  However, the album showcases plenty of complex, twisted, and inventive guitar playing.  My favorite riff is the sinewy main riff of the album’s title track.  Megadeth defied convention with their ferociously fast playing and unorthodox compositions.  My favorite song on the album is probably Rattlehead.  Cool lyric; “Your head is pounding with pain!  You shake loose parts of your brain!“  This is an angry album, and a window into the dark mind of Dave Mustaine; a man on the lunatic fringe.

Killing Is My Business… And Business Is Good! is a toxic thrash cocktail concocted from equal parts technical wizardry, chemically induced instability, and the spirit of vengeance.  So crank it up, and as the man says “Rattle your god-damn head!“.  My score: B+

19.  Blitzkrieg – A Time Of Changes

A late NWOBHM entry.  Blitzkrieg broke up in the early eighties before ever recording a full-length LP (they did manage to release a single).  Singer Brian Ross went on to a few other bands (most notably: Satan), but then reformed Blitzkrieg post-Satan to record the Blitzkrieg album that never was.  Indeed, had this very collection of tunes been recorded and released in 1981, we may just be talking about a bona fide NWOBHM classic here!  But in 1985 A Time Of Changes was kind of like a frozen burrito chipped loose from the back of the freezer and microwaved back to life.  That is to say, A Time Of Changes would have tasted much better in ’81 (while still comfortably within its expiry date).  By 1985, the NWOBHM was pretty much on life-support.  However, a frozen burrito can still be tasty, even well beyond its use-by date (yes, I am sticking with this burrito analogy despite my better judgment).  So… yeah, I guess what I am saying is A Time Of Changes is an unfrozen, frozen burrito.

A Time Of Changes (Neat Records) features a very strong first half, highlighted by the “classic” tune Blitzkrieg (famously covered by you-know-who, and the A-side of that early single I mentioned above), as well as the almost 38 Special-ish tune, Pull The Trigger.  The absolute highlight of the album, however, has to be Armageddon, a song that fuses the dire sense of impending oblivion conveyed by Blitzkrieg with the sheer catchiness of Pull The Trigger.  Great f*cking song!  All my fondness, I should mention, comes despite of, and not because of, the voice of Brain Ross.  It is one I find to be rather ordinary and plain of character  (Nice high scream, though.)  I think I’m in the minority though.  Seems quite a few people love Ross’ voice.  I thought he was the weak link in Satan, though I will say I like him a little better here.

As for side two, it is not quite as great as side one.  Hell To Pay and Saviour are rather ordinary rockers.  A Time Of Changes is decent.  Vikings is the best thing on side two.  Great atmosphere conveyed on that one.

When all is said and done, A Time Of Changes is a winner.  This record belongs in the collection of any NWOBHM fan, even if it arrived tardy for the party.  My score: B+

18.  Helloween – Helloween

Helloween!  Cool band name.  Cool logo.  Cool imagery.  Just cool all around.  Helloween stormed on to the scene in a blur of orange and black with this five track mini-LP (Noise Records).  The album begins with the Silver Shamrock jingle from the movie Halloween III before blasting off in earnest with the rousing Starlight.  This record is relentless in its speed, but doesn’t fail to counter its aggression with plenty of quick-picked melodic guitar leads and memorable refrains.  Helloween’s unique brand of blazing speed and “Happy Helloween!” melodies had many a listener liken them to a jacked-up, coked-up Iron Maiden.  The unquestionable highlight of the album (IMO) is Victim Of Fate; a smoking track with a powerful chorus.  Helloween’s weakness on this mini-LP (and its follow-up Walls Of Jericho) was Kai Hansen’s vocals, which were less than revelatory.  Sounding like an angry munchkin crossed with an asthmatic weasel, Hansen gave a yeoman’s effort, but just didn’t have the character in his voice to carry the day.  It wasn’t that he was particularly bad (I would say he was average), it’s just that Helloween were a special band that deserved greatness all around.  Once Helloween added Michael Kiske (and his superhuman vocal cords) to their ranks for 1987′s Keeper Of The Seven Keys Part I, they fulfilled their fullest potential and became (for a short period) one of the best bands in heavy metal history.  My score: B+ 

17.  Tyran’ Pace – Long Live Metal

Another band spinning in orbit of Judas Priest was Germany’s Tyran’ Pace.  Their second album Long Live Metal shows a clear Priest influence.  Imagine if you will an entire album of songs that sound like Priest’s Riding On The Wind.  That’s kind of what Long Live Metal is to me.  On the down side, the drum sound is a bit condensed and mechanical much like Priest’s Defenders Of The Faith album; lacking the analog warmth that I prefer.  (If you have read many of my reviews you can probably see that I am somewhat obsessed with how the drums sound!)  Vocalist Ralph Scheepers lives comfortably in the high, ball-pinched, register.  Nearly every tune on Long Live Metal is high-energy, and fast paced.  It is that driving momentum that carries this album.  Sure, Tyran’ Pace weren’t necessarily ground breaking or original, but at least they took their influence from the right places.  That is, at least they sound like Judas Priest’s screaming metal side and not their more commercial or plodding side (crap songs like Fever and Love Bites come to mind).  Long Live Metal does contain a few by the number metal numbers and a fair bit of lyrical clichés, but overall the album is a good ride through mid-eighties metal land.  Highlights include the rousing Shockwaves, the catchy-as-hell Night Of The Wolves, and the album finale Killers On The Highway.  Long live metal?  You’re damn right.  My score: B+

16.  Thor – Only The Strong

Thor - Only The StrongOn the great track Let The Blood Run Red, Thor’s Jon Mikl Thor exclaims “How can I tell you (that) I’m better than you?”.  And it seems there were countless ways in which Jon Mikl Thor was indeed better than you.  Besides fronting the heavy metal band Thor, Jon Mikl was also a bodybuilder, sometimes actor, and all around magnificent son of a bitch.  Jon Mikl Thor performed feats of strength on a nightly basis as part of his live act.  Blowing up hot water bottles and bending iron bars with his teeth were two of Jon Mikl Thor’s go-to crowd pleasers.

Yeah, Thor was silly as sh*t.  Jon Mikl Thor dressed the part of a mythological warrior, and delivered his “chest metal” lyrics with tongue firmly in cheek (I hope).  But Thor wasn’t a parody act like fellow Canadians Piledriver (a band with a style similar to Thor).  Nay, Thor played honest to goodness metal — sure to bring a smile to your toothless mug, and send you speeding off to Valhalla in a flaming chariot of fury!

Only The Strong is the best known album of Thor’s long career.  A low-budget affair, but a fine hunk of mid-eighties scrap metal.  Eleven tracks comprise Only The Strong, and only two duds among them (Now Comes The Storm and Hot Flames).  As I mentioned above, the absolute highlight of the album has to be Let The Blood Run Red.  Great lyric: “Let the blood run red, let them all be dead, all those who oppose the METAL AVENGER!”.  Yeah.  It’s that kind of album.  Comic book fantasy meets steroid-induced rage.  Step aside, all ye mortals.  Lest ye be tea-bagged in the name of METAL!  My score: B+

15.  Exodus – Bonded By Blood

Alas, the belated debut from one of the founding fathers of thrash!  Adorned with a ridiculous cover that jut so happens to be one of my favorite album covers of all time, Bonded By Blood belongs in any legitimate metal record collection, if only for the sheer metal-ness of it all.  The tasteless and blasphemous cover art perfectly encapsulates the adolescent, no-holds-barred attitude of these Bay Area legends.  Bonded By Blood is a torrid, bloodthirsty thrash album with a single intent; ANNIHILATION of everyone and everything in its path.  Vocalist Paul Baloff (R.I.P.) made up for a lack of any discernible talent by screaming and yelling his head off; shredding his vocal cords in the name of Satan and in the name of METAL.  One of the most infectious OTT performances in metal history!  You can envision the veins bursting from his neck and his mouth foaming white froth.  Tales of rape, murder, and metal mayhem explode through the speakers with hideous, crude, Satanic ferocity.  The guitar duo of Rick Hunolt and Gary Holt (sporting wispy teenage mustaches) dished out top-notch riffs that may remind the attentive listener of Kill ‘Em All era Metallica.  (Kirk Hammett was once an Exodus member).  With the intense drumming of Tom Hunting backing up the vicious guitar work, Bonded By Blood becomes a lesson in violence you won’t soon forget.  But above all else, Bonded By Blood is catchy!  The first six songs of the album all have memorable yell-along refrains.  When I listen to Bonded By Blood, I usually listen to the first six tracks (Bonded By Blood through to Piranha), and skip the last three songs.  As for tracks seven through nine, these songs are not nearly as catchy, and seem a little less developed than the first six.  Even though there are some great riffs here and there on No Love, Deliver Us To Evil, and Strike Of The Beast, the songs lack structure, and Baloff seems to have contracted full-blown rabies by this point in the album, and his merciless, insane screaming becomes almost too much to take.  My only other complaint about Bonded By Blood is that Baloff’s vocals seem to be drowned in too much reverb.  Other than that, the production is actually pretty good for ’85.  All in all, Bonded By Blood is a must own for any self-respecting metal fan.  Crank it up, and LET THE BODIES HIT THE FLOOR!  My score: A-

14.  Warrant – The Enforcer

No, not THAT Warrant.  This Warrant was a German metal band on the Noise Records label (also Banzai Records in Canada).  Nothing complicated, just good ol’ fashion heavy metal drenched in the blood and puke of Teutonic awesomeness.  Think Grave Digger, Tyrant, or (one of my faves) Stormwind.  There were tons of bands like Warrant coming out of Germany in the mid-eighties.  And I love ‘em all!  (Thank you Satan for giving us so much kick-ass METAL!)  Old school riffing and nasty solos should bring a smile to your ugly mug.  Warrant’s singer, Jörg Juraschek, had the prototypical German metal voice; shrieky, screechy, and indecipherable.  But I like his rabid ferocity, and he could carry a tune just enough to get by; imparting a little melody on top of these guitar-driven ear assaults.  Like I said, nothing fancy here from Warrant, but I like the cut of their jib.  Faves include Cowards Or Martyrs and Betrayer.  PLAY IT LOUD!  My score: A-

13.  Attack – Return Of The Evil

Ricky van Helden continued on his warrior’s journey through the barren wastelands of heavy metal obscurity on Return Of The Evil, his band’s second album.  Attack’s quirky debut Danger In The Air was an interesting curio to say the least.  But with Return Of The Evil, Ricky forged ahead with a more conventional “power metal” sound.  Here, a clear Iron Maiden influence comes to light (though Ricky’s approach was a little more straightforward).  Ricky van Helden crafted songs that weren’t complicated technically, but were played with high energy, and provided a sturdy framework to back his melodic vocal ideas.  Dirty Mary and Warriors In Pain are my personal faves.  The album creates an atmosphere of epic fantasy, of ancient warriors in some quasi-medieval realm.  (Raise your broadswords, all ye warriors of METAL!)  Return Of The Evil was an even better album than Danger In The Air, but Attack’s best work was still on the horizon.  I’m talking about the long-lost gem called Destinies Of War (1989)!  Cheers to you, Ricky van Helden, you magnificent bastard.  My score: A-

12.  Heavy Pettin – Rock Ain’t Dead

Heavy PettinThat cover… that’s just not good.  These Scottish pretty boys had a really fine debut in 1983 with Lettin Loose.  Their accessible hard rock sound coulda-shoulda-woulda made them rock stars, but, well, you know how it goes.  Rock Ain’t Dead, Heavy Pettin’s follow-up to Lettin Loose, appears to be a tremendous overreaction from a band desperate for radio acceptance after their debut’s commercial underwhelment.  Rock Ain’t Dead was WAY overproduced.  The biggest victim being the pop drum sound.  Many reviewers have pointed to Heavy Pettin’s Def Leppard-like approach on this album.  Indeed, they really went all out on the gang vocal layering (ala Pyromania).  In the end, the hard rock edge of the debut was traded in for studio heavy-handedness and a loss of all things heavy.  Another thing that bears mentioning is that lead singer Steve Hayman’s voice seems to be even more helium enriched than before (an acquired taste for sure).  But despite all the flaws mentioned, one can’t deny that Heavy Pettin knew their way around a hook!  Rock Ain’t Dead is lighter fare for sure, but there’s some really nice songwriting here.  Check out Sole Survivor, Lost In Love and Walkin’ With Angels.  Melodies so sweet, I think I’m getting cavities.  At the end of the day, that’s what keeps me coming back to Rock Ain’t Dead again and again!  My score: A-

11.  Anthrax – Spreading The Disease

With their “classic” lineup now in place, Anthrax unleashed Spreading The Disease in 1985.  Though it took me a while to warm up to, I now consider Spreading The Disease to be a great metal album.  The first thing one may notice about Spreading The Disease is that, on average, it is not a particularly fast album.  Compared to Anthrax’s debut Fistful Of Metal, as well as many thrash albums of the day, this album is a little more methodical in its approach.  This allows the listener to really soak in the riffs and absorb the songs.  The drumming of Charlie Benante (pretty much the quintessential thrash drummer) and the spirited vocals of Joey Belladonna highlight the album.  Belladonna added a very unique element to Anthrax.  He was an actual singer, one of the old school heavy metal style.  He was given quite a task, to try to sing over thrash music, but he did a fine job.  Without Belladonna, songs like Stand Or Fall and Medusa may not have reached their full potential.  At times, he brings an almost power metal feel to Anthrax.  Mixed in with their obvious thrash, speed, punk, and NWOBHM leanings, this gave Anthrax a sound that was all their own.  Faves include the aforementioned pair; Stand Or Fall and Medusa, as well as Armed And Dangerous and the album’s lone OTT speed machine, Gung-Ho.  Complaints?  Well, I’m not in love with the drum sound they came up with in the studio, and the lead riff of album opener A.I.R. is kind of a stinker.  Minor stuff, though.  Spreading The Disease is a winner.  My score: A-

10.  Virgin Steele – Noble Savage

I have a real affinity for things that don’t suck.  Case in point: Noble Savage by Virgin Steele!

This here is Virgin Steele’s third full-length LP, and first without guitarist and founding member Jack Starr (replaced by Edward Pursino).  That means that vocalist David DeFeis no longer had to share band leadership with Starr.  So it was DeFeis’ show from here on out.  And DeFeis was an interesting character to say the least.  His lyrics revealed a man of two sides.  One obsessed with epic fantasy and the heart of a warrior.  The other, a pubescent teenage pervert.  It’s like he adorned himself with animal pelts, but underneath he was secretly wearing nipple clamps.  I guess that’s how we have a record like Noble Savage, with wang danglers like Rock Me sitting there alongside lion-hearted hymns like Thy Kingdom Come.  But I will say this, the man had an innate ability to write extremely catchy vocal melodies.  I really like Virgin Steele because of DeFeis’ style (even if some of his high-pitched squeals were a bit “embarrassing”).

So here we have a record in Noble Savage that’s a real mixed bag of metal styles.  There are lesser tracks like the aforementioned cheese wheel Rock Me, as well as Evil In Her Eyes (with its Judas Priest circa Point Of Entry main riff).  But we also have the triumphant album opener We Rule The Night, and of course the brilliant title track Noble Savage!  If anyone ever needed a reason to give Virgin Steele a try, the song Noble Savage should be all the reason they need.  At seven and a half minutes, it’s a “true metal” masterpiece of soaring melody and epic atmosphere.  Worthy of worship.  Other highlights include the seven minute album finale The Angel Of Light, and the guilty pleasure ballad Don’t Close Your Eyes.  If you’re not scared of a little cheese sprinkled atop your warrior’s feast, here’s one that won’t disappoint!  My score: A-

9.  Fates Warning – The Spectre Within

On their second album (Metal Blade Records), Connecticut’s Fates Warning stretched their legs and spread their wings.  Fates Warning lengthened their songs, staking an early claim on their progressive metal statehood.  Just seven songs comprise The Spectre Within, with only one clocking in under five minutes.  These tales of nightmares and dreamscapes are propelled by the one of a kind vocals of John Arch.  Love him or hate him… at least respect him.  I fall on the side of “love him”, but you’re going to need to decide for yourself.  His vocal melodies dance frantically above the doom-soaked riffage and twisted, contorted compositions.  Repeated listens will be required, as there is something captivating yet off-putting about Fates Warning… I’m never quite able to wrap my head around these songs.  That is, I can’t quite secure them to memory.  Arch’s runaway vocals are to blame (or thank?).  As a result, I’m always coming back for more.  The Spectre Within never gets stale, which is just about all anyone can ask for in a metal record.  Hell, all three Fates Warning albums from the Arch years are essential.  My score: A-

8.  Saigon – One Must Die

Wrapped in a delightfully ghastly painting by the late great metal aficionado Garry Sharpe-Young, One Must Die was the one and only album by Sweden’s Saigon.  One Must Die was released on Criminal Response Records, a short-lived sub-label of Ebony Records.  This was just another kick-ass metal banquet from the frozen tundras of Scandinavia.  Saigon dropped heavy hardware on your piteous skull with chunky riffs and a brazenly loud bass that rumbled like shifting tectonic plates underfoot.  ‘Tis a shame this band was just a one album wonder, and an obscure one at that, because Saigon knew how to deliver mid-paced, pounding metal.  Faves include Under Attack and the glorious The Hunted One (a song that will make Hammerfall fans drool).  One Must Die never received an official CD release that I know of, however a quality bootleg exists that teams this album with Wizz’s Crazy Games on a 2-on-1 CD, (Crazy Games was an excellent Swedish metal album from 1984).  If ever you wanted to spring for a bootleg, this would be the one to get!  My score: A

7.  Loudness – Thunder In The East

Who is your god?  My god’s name is Akira Takasaki!  (Okay, he’s just one of my many guitar “gods”, but I am trying to be dramatic here!)  Anyway, take your George Lynch, take your Warren DeMartini, and THROW THEM AWAY!  Takasaki was the real deal!  With a preposterously AWESOME tone, plenty of flash, and most importantly, impeccable taste, Takasaki owns your ass on Thunder In The East!

Japan’s Loudness had already released a handful of albums by 1985, but Thunder In The East was supposed to be their grand introduction to the all-important American market.  (Yes, there was actually a day and age when metal THRIVED in the United States!)  Thunder In The East was the first Loudness LP to see wide release in the United States.  The great Max Norman was tapped to produce the album, and it was yet another fine knob job by one of metal’s best engineers.  Try not to be swayed by the eyeliner worn by the band on the LP’s back cover photo, this is some great metal, and Loudness were top-notch musicians (to say the least).  I will say this; it took me a few spins to get used to Minoru Niihara’s vocals, which come with a heavy accent.  But props to him for delivering in a second-language, something we should admire and respect (not dismiss as novelty).  I have a whole diatribe about how unfair it was that America failed to embrace Japanese metal in the eighties, despite, on the flip side of the coin,  Japan’s complete immersion into America’s heavy metal culture.  I’ll save that for another day.  Fact is, look around and you will see high quality Japanese products everywhere in your home and garage.  So why should metal be any different?  It ain’t.  Loudness rules.  Irresistible faves on this album include Crazy Nights and Never Change Your Mind.  My score: A

6.  220 Volt – Mind Over Muscle

Again, Swedish hands at work, bringing you the best in Euro-metal awesomeness.  This third album from 220 Volt proved to be their best yet; the band improving with each record.  Album opener The Tower crashes through the gates with turbo-charged vigor.  The Tower is the album’s fastest number, showcasing the lethal right hands of guitarists Mats Karlsson and Peter Olander.  Try not to grin like an idiot when this tune is blasting through your waxy ear holes!  Mind Over Muscle packs twelve tunes for your listening pleasure, ten of which hit their mark due to white-hot riffage, tasty and well-composed solos, and the spirited vox of one Joakim Lundholm.  Oh, and that guy on bass does a hell of a job, too.  220 Volt mixed up the tempos real nice on this well-rounded record, sometimes sizzling with metal glory, other times simmering with hard rock acumen.  Only Secret Dance (Xymania) and Pavement Song fail to reach Valhalla-esque heights.  At times (dare I say it), the rhythm guitars sound almost Randy Rhoads-like in tone and style.  (Yes, I went there.)  Check out the verse riff on Touch Of Fire and the pre-chorus riff on Halloween for two prime examples.  Mind Over Muscle is one of my favorite albums of 1985.  An instantly likeable record from a highly likeable band!  My score: A

5.  Silver Mountain – Universe

It’s Swedish, so you know it’s good.  On metal’s more cerebral side, there was Silver Mountain, a band propelled by Jonas Hansson’s articulate and crafty guitar playing, some non-cheesy keyboards, and Christer Mentzer’s more-than-serviceable vocals.  Universe‘s crystal clear production really helped shine a spotlight on Silver Mountain’s intelligent, neo-classical compositions.  Jonas Hansson’s note-dense licks uncoiled with fervor.  It’s clear that Silver Mountain paid meticulous attention to detail while crafting this album.  Universe comes across as gothic and classy, maybe even elegant.  Shades of Malmsteen and Blackmore for your wine sipping pleasure.  European through and through.  Faves include Universe and Why.  My score: A

4.  Overkill – Feel The Fire

Hello from the gutter!  It’s Overkill and their first full-length LP, Feel The Fire.  Do you feel that?  That’s the flames of fire scorching the hairs on your furry coin purse with the intensity of a thousand suns!  This Megaforce Records release still obliterates after all these years.  Overkill was not the most technical thrash band around, and they weren’t trying to be.  What they did was play heavy and fast, and with plenty of nasty ‘tude!  Some call Feel The Fire Overkill’s best album.  I’m certainly in no position to argue with that point!  (Although Overkill released a poop load of great albums, so its hard to pick a fave.)  Certainly, the first four tracks on Feel The Fire are damn near perfect.  Raise The Dead, Rotten To The Core, There’s No Tomorrow, and Second Son hit hard with head banging fury, devastating everything along their path, leaving wrecked necks in their wake.  Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth, a rabid junkyard dog on vocals, spewed toxic waste from his rancid motor mouth.  Side two contains another fave o’ mine, the evil bliss of Feel The Fire, another Overkill “classic”.  I also love that Overkill, unlike most thrash bands of the day, gave equal treatment to the bass guitar in the mix.  That’s probably because bassist D.D. Verni was such an important figure in the band’s songwriting.  Part thrash and part punk, Feel The Fire was one of the great metal albums of 1985.  Essential!  My score: A

3.  White Lion – Fight To Survive

First of all, let me confess that I am a pretty big White Lion fan.  I love Vito Bratta’s flashy but tasteful guitar style.  I love his solos.  And I think that Fight To Survive was White Lion’s best album (though not necessarily Bratta’s best performance).  Now let’s be clear, Mike Tramp was not a great vocalist.  His voice had its limitations.  But his strength was in the “nice guy” vibe he conveyed.  Tramp had a lot of sincerity in his voice, and also in his simple, genuine lyrics.  With Tramp, White Lion was well suited for mid-paced, not-so-heavy, melodic tunes.  White Lion was not a hard-edged band, but they played to their strengths extremely well.

Fight To Survive contains a handful of exceptional White Lion cuts.  The great Broken Heart starts things off; a song perfectly suited for Tramp’s “nice guy” style, and topped off by an exquisite Bratta solo.  Track number two on Fight To Survive is Cherokee, my favorite cut on the album.  I like the buildup of drama in this song.  Two full verses go by before the memorable chorus finally arrives at the 2:08 mark.  Nice lyrics by Mike Tramp on this one, too (recalling the doomed plight of the Cherokee tribe).  Tramp was not a particularly creative writer, but as I said, there was a sincere quality to his simple, somewhat teen-aged lyrics.

The overarching theme of the Fight To Survive album was one of fighting for hope, not giving in, and praising the battle slain.  For example, Broken Heart is about fighting to overcome heartbreak, and El Salvador is about fighting for freedom.  The excellent Fight To Survive and mournful The Road To Valhalla also fit into the central theme of the album.

There are only two songs on Fight To Survive that I often skip; Where Do We Run and In The City.  Save for these two not-so-great tracks, the Fight To Survive album is damn near perfect in my book.  Hair metal of the highest quality; loaded with sing along refrains, tasty solos, and meaningful lyrics.  And besides, whenever Vito Bratta wields his six-string axe, I listen.  My score: A

2.  Waysted – The Good The Bad The Waysted

Pete Way’s Waysted offered up a third round of raunchy rock n’ roll with The Good The Bad The Waysted LP.  As if the glam metal explosion wasn’t even happening, Waysted kept it gritty, sweaty, and steeped in ’70s-style alcoholica.  Of course, few seemed to notice that this band improved with each release, reaching their pinnacle of quality with The Good The Bad The Waysted.  Too bad, because Waysted kicked some serious ass.  With Way on bass, his ex-UFO mate Paul Chapman on guitar, and the worn and torn pipes of “Fin” on vocals, Waysted delivered a filthy set of tunes for your booze drinking pleasure, including personal faves Hang ‘Em High, Manuel, and Land That’s Lost The Love.  But one track in particular really stands out above all else.  The amazing Heaven Tonight! It should be a classic, but this world ain’t always a just place.  Sadly, Waysted never got the recognition they deserved.  I’m trying to do my part to change that.  My score: A

1.  Hawaii – The Natives Are Restless

Hawaii!  I love this album!  The Natives Are Restless is such a fun metal album to crank to ear-destroying volumes.  Hawaii delivered the goods with palpable enthusiasm.  Hawaii weren’t the most creative band around, but they played loud, they played fast (mostly), and they just plain rock my nuts with The Natives Are Restless!  The riffs were simple but mighty, the bass was audible (what more can you ask for in an eighties album?), and the drums… well, the drums actually sounded like trash cans (but I love ‘em anyway).  The recording was lively and spirited, with nice fidelity on all the instruments.  Hawaii’s lyrics weren’t exactly cerebral, mostly just tales of dirty broads and rockin’ out.  Yet, the blockheaded lyrics seem genuine and not at all pandering.  It’s as if this was all the young men of Hawaii knew of life.  Normally I might roll my eyes at cliché song titles like Turn It Louder or Proud To Be Loud, but with Hawaii it’s a different story; they really pulled it off.  Hawaii also had an ace in the hole, a young Marty Friedman (yes, the same Marty Friedman who was a member of Megadeth during the pinnacle of their success with the albums Rust In Peace and Countdown To Extinction).  His leads were well-composed shred explosions.  I think what made Friedman’s tasty solos stand out so much on The Natives Are Restless was how well they contrasted with the straightforward rhythm guitar playing.  Faves?  I have a few.  I love Call Of The Wild (although the “surprise” intro to this song totally rips off Accept’s Fast As A Shark).  This song itself shows a definitive Judas Priest influence.  Turn It Louder, Beg For Mercy, and Lies also get me fired up.  Also, I really enjoy the fine performance given by vocalist Eddie Day, who delivered his vocals with plenty of piss n’ vinegar.  Not too over-the-top.  Not trying to steal the spotlight.  Just bringing it.  This album was released by three different labels, all with different covers.  Above is the cover to the French version (Axe Killer Records).  Here are pics of the American version (Shockwaves Records) as well as the German version (SPV Records).  My score: A

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Continue to the Top Twenty Albums of 1986

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4 thoughts on “Top Twenty Hard Rock & Heavy Metal Albums of 1985

  1. I agree with most of those you put there and some of the ones are those I never listened to. Please explain however, why wasn’t Speak English or Die by the Stormtroopers of Death included here?

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