Top Twenty Hard Rock & Heavy Metal Albums of 1988

Hell yeah!  Another big ass list!  Allow me to present my favorite hard rock and heavy metal albums from 1988…

23. Sword – Sweet Dreams

Sword’s Sweet Dreams is metal in its purest form — gimmick-free and unpretentious.  They don’t make ‘em like this anymore.  Sweet Dreams was a testimony to Sword’s no bullshit style of straightforward metal.  A standout performance by vocalist Rick Hughes provides a testosterone blast to every tune.  Even though a few cuts are only average in terms of songwriting, Hughes’ vocals elevate the songs into fist-pumpers through the force of his metal conviction and the strength of his rusty wail.  The two killer tracks that standout for me are the churning title track, and the ball-smashing Life On The Sharp Edge (my favorite Sword song of all).  My score: A-

22. Cacophony – Go Off!

Cacophony!  Featuring not one, but TWO fierce six-string shredders in Jason Becker and Marty Friedman, Cacophony’s Go Off! album showcases the pair’s ridiculous fret board skills, all the while not forgetting to give you actual songs in the process.  Go Off! was the second (and last) Cacophony album (Shrapnel Records).  The line-up also included journeyman Deen Castronovo on the skins (giving a pretty psycho performance himself) and Frank Marinno (Le Mans) on vocals.  Six of the eight tracks contained vocals.  Two were instrumentals.  The album doled out doses of speed, shred, and neo-classical metal.  Favorites include the mid-paced monster Black Cat, the ultra-catchy Stranger, and the dark sorcery of Floating World.  After Cacophony, Friedman went on to join Megadeth and Becker joined David Lee Roth’s band.  Unfortunately, Becker was diagnosed with ALS soon thereafter.  Against all odds, Becker continues to battle the disease to this very day, despite being paralyzed and unable to speak.  There’s even a documentary about Jason called Jason Becker: Not Dead Yet.  Here’s a link to the trailer.  Pretty inspirational stuff!  My score: A-

21. Danzig – Danzig

Glenn Danzig had previously made his name with the low-brow horror punk band Misfits, and the sloppy whatever-you-call-it Samhain before he signed on to Rick Rubin’s Def American record label.  Soon thereafter, the Danzig band was formed.  Though there was some carryover from Samhain (including that kick-ass skull logo), Danzig took a new musical direction — a stripped down brand of evil blues-metal.

With Rubin as producer, Danzig became an ultra-tight war machine on their 1988 debut.  Rubin’s production on Danzig is one of the driest you may ever hear.  It’s completely devoid of oxygen.  This was in stark contrast to Danzig’s previous bands, Misfits and Samhain — both which sounded loose and unrefined.

As a songwriter, Glenn Danzig kept things simple, with entry-level riffs and lots of hanging power chords.  John Christ took care of the guitar duties on Danzig, and his less-is-more approach suited the songs well.  After all, nobody wanted to get in the way of Glenn’s “Satanic Jim Morrison on steroids” vocals, which was the center-point of Danzig.  It’s hard to tell whether Glenn Danzig was (is) completely serious or not with his whole ego-maniacal, tough guy persona.  If it’s a joke, kudos to Glenn for delivering it with a straight face for years and years.  If he’s for real… well, that’s both scary and hilarious.

Obviously, Mother is the standout here.  Just a stone cold classic in my book!  An absolute masterwork by Danzig, and one that proves simple ideas can have a devastating impact.  Other faves include Am I Demon, End Of Time, and Twist Of Cain.  But the whole album is really quite special.  There’s nothing quite like a Danzig album.  Their second, 1990’s Danzig II: Lucifuge, was even better.  My score: A-

20. QueensrÿcheOperation: Mindcrime

Operation: Mindcrime will forever be Queensrÿche’s defining moment.  Back in the late 80s, it sure looked as if Queensrÿche were going to be the newest legacy band of metal.  The buzz surrounding Queensrÿche at the time had them pegged as the next Judas Priest or Iron Maiden.  Unfortunately, Queensrÿche never really delivered on the promise of the Operation: Mindcrime — and the band saw their following drop precipitously by the end of the millennium.

Queensrÿche made a bold and ambitious move with Operation: Mindcrime.  They delivered one of the few concept albums of the decade in the world of metal — a sociopolitical drama with strong character development and a legitimately interesting plot.  I won’t get into the story, but for those interested, here is a very thorough and thought-provoking analysis by Russell Glasser.

Though Operation: Mindcrime has its share of bloat and pretentiousness (typical of most concept albums), it still manages to keep a pretty steady pace and never gets overly bogged down.  It is clear that Queensrÿche were a very inspired band at the time of Operation: Mindcrime.  That feeling of “importance” really shines through on the final product.  My score: A-

19. Ratt – Reach For The Sky

Years ago, I just couldn’t fully commit to calling myself a bona fide Ratt fan.  The biggest reason is because Stephen Pearcy is such an asshole.  I mean, in the sea of rock star assholes from the eighties, Pearcy’s butt-star always shone the brownest!

I still say that Pearcy had the emotional range of a cigar store Indian, but hey… slippery tracks like City To City and What I’m After astutely combine infectious hooks with sleazy ‘tude.  You gotta tip your cap to the boyz.  Incidentally, this album marked the beginning of Ratt’s decline in popularity (though Reach For The Sky did go platinum), so maybe some fans out there never gave Reach For The Sky a fair shake.  Time to revisit, I say.  With all the crap passing as music these days, old Ratt is sounding sweeter than ever!  My score: A-

18. 220 Volt – Eye To Eye

220 VoltOne of the very best hard rock/metal bands to come out of Sweden in the eighties was 220 Volt.  But unfortunately, they were iced out of the lucrative American market due to lack of distro.  With their fourth album Eye To Eye, 220 Volt and their label (CBS Records) were hoping to change that.  To do so, 220 Volt tried to follow a template that had worked for a similar Swedish band a few years earlier — Europe.  In 1986, Europe had a commercial breakthrough in the United States with their third album The Final Countdown.  The album found Europe softening their sound a bit, and cheesing out their looks.  To make it in America, it seemed, you needed to dumb it down, gloss up the production, and make the girls swoon.  Europe pulled it off with the multi-platinum The Final Countdown.  220 Volt was hoping to repeat the formula with Eye To Eye.

With super-producer Max Norman on board to help them polish their sound, 220 Volt set their sights on maximum commercial appeal.  While it is true that 220 Volt’s music always had some commercial potential, this time around they were fully invested in delivering radio-friendly hits.  This is particularly evident on some of the overblown choruses, as well as the rather generic lyrics.  In accordance with the common protocol of the day, Norman’s production was scrubbed cleaner than a surgeon’s hands.

Call Eye To Eye a sell-out.  I can’t argue with that.  But I like 220 Volt so much, I’m willing to give them a pass.  Would I have preferred that 220 Volt deliver a proper follow-up to their masterful Mind Over Muscle album (1985)?  One that was a natural progression from their white-hot metal roots?  Of course I would.  But instead we got Eye To Eye.  I hate the phrase “it is what it is”, but in this case I am inclined to say it.  The fact is, 220 Volt were able to make a really convincing AOR/metal-lite record!  A “hair” album, if you will.  They pulled it off in part because of the incredibly talented guitar duo of Mats Karlsson and Peter Olander.  These guys were amazing, tasteful players.  Maybe some of the songs were a little “beneath” their abilities technically speaking, but they still kept things very interesting.  However, the real show-stealer on this album is vocalist Jocke Lundholm.  His performance on Eye To Eye is nothing short of perfection.  It’s not everyday you hear vocals delivered as smooth, as fluid, and as pitch perfect as Lundholm’s vocals on Eye To Eye!

Eye To Eye was originally released in 1988 in Europe with the cover shown above.  The album was released in the States in 1989 with a different cover.  Sadly, Eye To Eye never caught on like The Final Countdown did.  Nope, 220 Volt never made even the smallest dent in the American market.  Maybe they should have.  I think that The Harder They Come deserved to be a radio hit,  It’s one of 220 Volt’s best songs!  A perfect slice of AOR heaven.  Oh well… it is what it is.  My score: A-

17. Meliah Rage – Kill To Survive

Boston’s Meliah Rage were lucky/good enough to debut on a major label (Epic Records).  There are only seven songs on Kill To Survive, one of which is an instrumental.  Of the remaining six cuts, I would consider three of them to be excellent – Beginning Of The End, Bates Motel, and Enter The Darkness.  The other three tracks, though not as intoxicating as the aforementioned gems, certainly do not suck in the least.  Very solid.  All in all, Kill Survive is a really worthwhile power/thrash metal album to have in your collection.  Trust me!  By the way, the production is excellent — with a meaty guitar tone driving home the band’s neck-wrecking message.  Meliah Rage wrote heavy and (relatively) straightforward songs that were surprisingly catchy.  Fans of bands such as Sword or Metal Church will lap this up.  I sure did.  Bates Motel is particularly memorable – sashaying its way to a violent climax that’ll leave you thirsty for more.  My score: A-

16. Killer Dwarfs – Big Deal

Killer DwarfsKiller Dwarfs were a Canadian band with an awful name.  1988’s Big Deal was their third album, and their first album after signing with a major label (Epic).  The name of the album is not only a play on their stupid band name but also a reference to the “big deal” they signed with Epic.

Killer Dwarfs had a benevolence, a sense of humor, and corniness that made them easy to like.  On Big Deal, they wrote these perfect little pop tunes thinly disguised as heavy metal.  I guess they were similar to Poison in that respect (though much different image-wise).  I am really blown away by the ability of these guys to write such hook-laden songs.  It seems that every note that goes into Big Deal is meant to be ear candy.  There are not only big sweeping choruses, but also well-developed pre-choruses and even pre-pre-choruses!  These songs are catchier than a cold!  Vocalist Russ “Dwarf” Graham had a real knack for singing very melodic vocal lines.  He had a great range, first of all, and he just seemed to have this innate ability to pick the the right notes to make every line he sang instantly memorable.

Honestly, this is one of the catchiest hard rock/metal albums I’ve ever heard!  From the guitar solos to the backing vocals, Big Deal is sweeter than pecan pie.  To the real headbangers out there, Big Deal will most likely seem way too corporate and way too radio-friendly to take seriously.  Fair enough.  But if you have a soft spot for that kind of stuff (like I do), you won’t want to miss out on Killer Dwarfs!  Personal faves include Startin’ To Shine, Breakaway, and We Stand Alone.  But really, all ten tracks are pretty damn good.

Now to the matter of why Big Deal was not a big hit.  As mentioned above, the band name didn’t help.  It’s not as bad as Pedifile but it’s still a dumb name.  Then of course there is the matter of that ridiculous cover.  What was Epic thinking?  Who the hell would want to buy an album with an imbecilic cover like that?  In hindsight, maybe Killer Dwarfs should have went the Poison route.  They should have moved to L.A. and changed their name to something like Lip Service (or Lip Cervixx).  They should have got all dolled up with eye-liner and blush.  They should have tried to appeal to the female audience like Poison did.  I bet they would have went platinum — especially with songs like these!  But it was not to be.  Killer Dwarfs were just too quirky.  Too Canadian.  Bless their hearts!  My score: A

15. Dirty Looks – Cool From The Wire

After a handful of indie releases, Dirty Looks finally appeared on a major label when Atlantic Records released Cool From The Wire in 1988.  I consider this album, and Dirty Looks’ 1989 follow-up Turn Of The Screw to be two sorely overlooked sleaze metal triumphs.  The heart and soul of Dirty Looks was Danish born Henrik Ostergaard.  He formed the band in the mid-eighties and continued to record music under the Dirty Looks banner up until his early demise in 2011.  The formula was a simple one; greasy blues-based riffing and palm-muted chugging over palatable, pulse-pounding beats.  Henrik’s raspy voice was tinged with a bit of that Bon Scott magic, and the result was sleaze city.  The incomparable Max Norman (best in the biz) produced Cool From The Wire.  Norman was a genius producer, and this record sounds perfect, as it grooves like a son-of-a-bitch.  Ostergaard’s lyrics of sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll were delivered with a conviction that only a man who lived and breathed the lifestyle could do.  And it seems Henrick was the genuine article, hence his unfortunate death at an early age.  Check out Ostergaard’s spot-on Bon Scott impression during the middle part of Oh Ruby.  Highlights of the album include Cool From The Wire, Tokyo, and (my favorite) It’s A Bitch.  R.I.P. Henrik Ostergaard.  Thanks for the awesome tunes.  My score:

14. Overkill – Under The Influence

Staying the course, Overkill continued to roll like a tank over the rotting corpses of poseurs with their third full-length release, Under The Influence.  The damage begins with Shred, in which a manic Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth shouts; “make no bones about it — I came to SHRED!”  Bobby was just letting you know that Overkill had returned once again to shove a fistful of thrash into your whiny gob.  Never Say Never and Hello From The Gutter follow in a similar vein, both carrying big hooks and Overkill’s trademark “f*ck you” attitude.  Highlights of side two include End Of The Line, and the album’s stirring finale Overkill III (Under The Influence).  My score: A-

13. Virgin Steele – Age Of Consent

A famous cheetah on TV once said “it’s not easy being cheesy”.  He was wearing sunglasses at the time so I know he was legit.  But for Virgin Steele, being cheesy was all too easy.  David DeFeis and Virgin Steele were no strangers to the lactose way of life.  When you press play on a Virgin Steele album you can expect cringe-worthy cheesiness sitting right alongside epic awesomeness.  It’s this odd dichotomy that makes for an entertaining journey whenever you saddle up your steed and ride with the Steele.

Age Of Consent delivers the parmesan straight to your pathetic suck-hole with the creepy Seventeen — an ode to under age girls.  But that moment of ineptitude is more than made up for by two absolutely AMAZING epic power metal numbers in The Burning Of Rome (Cry For Pompeii) and Lion In Winter!  DeFeis’ lyrical imagery and vocal work is sublime on these two gems.  He also keeps his histrionic, high-pitched squealing to a minimum here.  I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, DeFeis could spin a vocal melody with the best of them.  The man knew how to write an EPIC song.  My score: A-

12. Flotsam And Jetsam – No Place For Disgrace 

After the release of their debut album Doomsday For The Deceiver in 1986, Flotsam And Jetsam took a heavy blow when they lost their bassist Jason Newsted to Metallica.  Newsted was not only a great bassist but he was also a founding member of Flotsam And Jetsam as well as their principal lyricist.  But the band came back strong with their sophomore release No Place For Disgrace in 1988.  Appearing on a major label for the first time (Elektra Records — the same label that was home to Metallica in ’88), Flotsam And Jetsam seemed to be on the verge of breaking out to a larger audience with this record.  Unfortunately, they never made the leap to the big time, but No Place For Disgrace is nevertheless considered a minor classic of eighties thrash — and rightly so!

I admire Flotsam And Jetsam because they had a very unique sound that blended thrash, speed metal, and NWOBHM.  They also had one of the best singers in all of the thrash/speed genre in Eric “A.K.” Knutson.  Sure, No Place For Disgrace is, at times, bogged down by the band’s insistence on fussy and overly long compositions, but Flotsam still delivered some absolute gems with the songs No Place For Disgrace, Hard On You, and I Live You Die.  These were three KILLER tunes (two of which were holdovers from their earlier days with Newsted).  All three are ultra-heavy songs with great lyrics, memorable hooks, and amazing musicianship!  My score: A

11. Kings Of The Sun – Kings Of The Sun

Bow to the Kings!  This Australian band was led by two brothers, Jeffrey Hoad (vocals and guitar) and Clifford Hoad (drums).  The sound was fun, energetic, “rootsy” hard rock.  Kings Of The Sun debuted in 1988 with this self-titled album.  It appeared on Mushroom Records in Australia and RCA Records in the United States.

Let me just say that this is a truly great album!  I originally had this on cassette, and it was a mainstay in the tape deck of my ol’ Ford Escort for many years.  Summer time was a particularly perfect time to listen to this little chestnut.  Expert production from Eddie Kramer helped to propel these bright and ultra-catchy rockers through the car stereo speakersNearly every song would have made for a worthwhile single (in a perfect world).  No filler here.  Get on the highway and press play!  Simple song structures and palatable riffs abound.  Clifford Hoad opens a can of kick-ass on the drum kit.  An absolute beast!  As a vocalist, Jeffrey Hoad delivers his quirky lyrics with a bad-ass charm.  Favorites include the swampy Serpentine, as well as tidy rockers Tom Boy and Black Leather.  Let’s not forget the cool ballad Cry 4 Love.  The CD version of Kings Of The Sun added a great bonus track called Wildcat that was not included on my ol’ cassette version.  Ear candy.  My score: A  

10. Guns N’ Roses – G N’ R Lies

Eight songs graced this Guns N’ Roses platter.  G N’ R Lies was released in 1988 while Appetite For Destruction was still selling like hot cakes.

The first four songs were from the 1986 Live ?!*@ Like A Suicide EP, which was a pretty rare release (so most fans hadn’t heard the songs).  These cuts were studio tracks with crowd noise dubbed in to make them sound as if they were “live” recordings.  Reckless Life is the highlight of side one.

The last four songs (side two) are the real reason that G N’ R Lies is an essential album.  Patience is probably the best known (as it was a hit single).  This beauty features one of the best uses of whistling I can remember in a rock song (Scorpions’ Wind Of Change came out two years later to challenge the title).  The acoustic version of You’re Crazy included here trumps the faster, electric version on Appetite For Destruction (IMO).  As for the controversial One In A Million?  What can I say?  Axl had humongous balls of steel, that’s for sure.  There is no way in hell that Geffen would ever release a song with such incendiary lyrics today.  No way.  Times have changed.  We live in a world where everyone is just waiting to be offended.  The G ‘N R Lies album shows that, in 1988, Guns N’ Roses were so insanely popular that they could do whatever the f*ck they wanted.  That’s rock ‘n’ roll!  My score: A

9. Manowar – Kings Of Metal 

In my opinion, Kings Of Metal is the best collection of Manowar tunes since their debut, Battle Hymns.  Manowar used their major-label budget to the fullest; the recording is grandiose and epic.  A full men’s choir is used on a few tracks to great effect.  Additionally, Kings Of Metal was Manowar’s most diverse album to date.  The speed-laced Wheels Of Fire starts off the album with face-melting fury.  The title track follows, swinging a mighty battle-axe at the direction of wimps and poseurs, demanding that they leave the hall.  (Here’s where Manowar made their famous decree; “Other bands play…  Manowar KILLS!”.)  More Manowar “classics” ensue.  Heart Of Steel is a surprisingly superb ballad.  The Crown And The Ring features Eric Adams trading majestic vocal lines with a full men’s choir.  Side two contains a trio of warrior hymns that pour forth from Valhalla’s hall with ferocious, testicle crushing might.  Kingdom Come, Hail And Kill and Blood Of The Kings are essential Manowar!  My score: A

8. Ozzy Osbourne – No Rest For The Wicked

Enter Zakk Wylde.  Before settling on his current persona as some kind of biker/tough guy/steroid monster/booze guzzler/long-lost Allman Brother/foul-mouthed redneck, Wylde was just a young six-string whiz kid plucked from nowhere to replace Jake. E. Lee in Ozzy’s band.  And he absolutely smoked on the No Rest For The Wicked album, helping the addled Osbourne construct another standout record.  Wylde delivered a masterful performance, unleashing searing riffs and blistering licks, all sprinkled with his trademark squealing harmonics.  Osbourne himself was the same crazed madman we all remember fondly.  I’m sure there were plenty of puppeteers helping Ozzy get through the writing/recording process (chief among them, the great Bob Daisley), but the end result was still a glorious metal feast.  Rolling Stone bashed No Rest For The Wicked (giving it one star out of five), which is all the more reason for you to buy it!  Faves include Miracle Man (great lyrics), Fire In The Sky, Tattooed Dancer, and Demon Alcohol.  The original U.S. LP version of No Rest For The Wicked did not include Hero, another killer track.  The Japanese version of No Rest For The Wicked included the bonus track The Liar.  My score: A

7. Tarot – Follow Me Into Madness

Tarot!  This Finnish band is still around today — having retained most of their original members throughout the years.  That’s really quite a testimony to the band’s perseverance, eh?  Well, way back in 1988 Tarot released their second album Follow Me Into Madness (Flamingo Records), and GOD DAMN this album smokes!  Sometimes brooding, other times jacked up on speed, Follow Me Into Madness pretty much embodies everything I could want in an ’80s metal album.  The songs are melodic yet heavy, technically impressive yet ultra-accessible, with incredible vocals and sing along choruses.  Descendents Of Power opens the album with high energy and a fast tempo, a perfect song to whet the appetite for some METAL.  This song is followed by Rose On The Grave, a slow pounder showing off Tarot’s versatility.  After two songs, it seems promising that we are in store for a well-rounded album.  Happily, this is indeed the case.  Check out Follow Me Into Madness, a slow burner that stirs a bubbly cauldron of evil, or the driving hard rock of No Return.  My personal favorite cut is the album’s second-to-last track, the wicked I Spit Venom.  When all has been said and done, I’m having a hard time finding a band to compare with Tarot.  Usually I can throw around a band like Accept, Priest, or Maiden as a point of reference, but I don’t think I can really do that here.  I guess that’s a great compliment!  Oh well, there’s only one thing left to do… PLAY IT LOUD!  My score: A

6. Riot – Thundersteel

Riot!  Well… kind of.  It’s not the Riot of Fire Down Under, let’s put it that way.  Only one member of that “classic” lineup remains in this incarnation of Riot — guitarist Mark Reale.  And this Riot sounds nothing like the Riot of old.  So why call it Riot?  I don’t know.  Marketing I guess.

So what usually happens when a band’s classic lineup gets gutted and the band’s name carries on to what is essentially a scab band?  Furthermore, what happens when an established band changes to a whole new sound?  Usually the results are disappointing or even awful, right?  But there are exceptions to every rule, and the exception here is Thundersteel!

Mark Reale joined up with three new guys and formed a band that became a speedy power metal tour de force.  While the Riot of old was a loose, straight forward hard rock/metal outfit, the new Riot was highly technical, tight, and even a bit progressive.

On Thundersteel, the glorious high vocals of new guy Tony Moore soar above the barrage of double-bass pounding and Reale’s quick riffing.  It’s really hard to believe that Reale was able to change his playing style so drastically for Thundersteel.  (He claims to have been influenced by bands such as S.A. Slayer, and was interested in neoclassical metal guitar at the time.)  His guitar work on Thundersteel is unrecognizable compared to his older stuff, although he is still very much a song-oriented guitarist, and not a flashy trickster.

Thundersteel often draws comparison to Judas Priest’s 1990 album, Painkiller.  Both albums are fierce, fast paced, and metal to the core, yet both are also extremely melodic and accessible.  This killer combination is like the holy grail to many a metal aficionado.  More than a few consider Painkiller to be an absolute masterpiece.  What of Thundersteel?  Though Thundersteel is not nearly as well-known as Painkiller, some think it is just as good or an even better album (I do).   Don’t forget that Thundersteel came out two years BEFORE Painkiller.  My score: A

5. Seduce – Too Much, Ain’t Enough

Seduce!  Those searching for the holy grails of American glam/sleaze metal, here’s one for ya!  Seduce was a Motor City trio that never broke through to mainstream success despite kicking some serious ass.  Too Much, Ain’t Enough (I.R.S.) was a gritty, heavy offering that flew in the face of conventional glam metal at the time by forgoing the typical over-polished approach for a raw, loose n’ lethal sound.  Too Much, Ain’t Enough features down-tuned, heavy riffing courtesy of David Black, erratic drumming from Chuck Burns, and excellent vocals by Mark Andrews (also bass).  Side one of this album is damn near perfection!  Seduce painted a picture of a somewhat sad Detroit existence in a world of junkies and fast-fading dreams.  Check out Watchin’, and No Use if you want your tits toasted.  If I had one complaint about Too Much, Ain’t Enough (besides the weak cover art), I would say that Chuck Burns made some really unorthodox choices with his drumming.  At times his drumming can be a bit distracting, and he doesn’t always keep time.  Then again, I much prefer this wild style to the boring and over-produced drum sound found on so many late eighties glam/sleaze banquets.  Side two drops off just a hair from the insane awesomeness of side one.  Accusations is probably the least godly track on the album.  The finale of Too Much, Ain’t Enough is The Slider, a T. Rex cover.  My score: A+

4. Kix – Blow My Fuse

The high point of Kix’s catalog is also (IMO) one of the greatest hair band albums ever made!  Blow My Fuse is loaded with great party metal from start to finish.  Cold Blood has to go down as one of the best songs of the hair-era!  It was a “classic” in our house back in the day, as it was repeatedly broadcast loudly from the stereo in my older brother’s room.  There’s so much to love about Blow My Fuse.  For example, the lyrics on this album are really quite clever.  I particularly like She Dropped Me The Bomb (which compares getting dumped to getting shot down in an aerial dogfight) and Red Lite, Green Lite, TNT (about a street-walker; “she has to water all the flowers in our town”).  Of course, Steve Whiteman’s vocals were sleaze-city awesome, and chief songwriter (and bassist) Donnie Purnell shat out an awesome set of tunes with AC/DC-esque riffs and killer hooks.  Often, the verse sections were just as catchy (if not more so) than the actual choruses (examples include Piece Of The Pie and She Dropped Me The Bomb).  The album’s biggest hit was the superb ballad Don’t Close Your Eyes, a song I love to sing along to, although I can’t hit any of Whiteman’s high notes.  No Ring Around Rosie is another favorite.  My score: A+

3. Zed Yago – Pilgrimage

Zed Yago was a great German metal band with a flair for the epic.  Pilgrimage was their second (and last) album.

The Pilgrimage LP was first released in Germany in 1988 (RCA Records).  The LP and cassette both contained ten tracks.  The CD version contained a bonus cut called Fallen Angel.

The U.S. version of Pilgrimage (also RCA Records) came out in 1989 and was quite different from the original German version.  The LP and cassette did not include Fallen Angel, Rose Of Martyrdom, The Man Who Stole The Holy Fire, or Omega Child.  They did, however, include three tracks from Zed Yago’s first album, From Over Yonder.  The songs were Zed Yago, Rockin’ For The Nation, and The Spell From Over Yonder.  The U.S. CD version contains all the tracks on the LP and cassette PLUS Rose Of Martyrdom, The Man Who Stole The Holy Fire, and another song from From Over Yonder; Stay The Course.  If that is a lot to process, let me make it easy for you, get the U.S. CD version.  It has all the best songs!

Zed Yago was fronted by female vocalist Jutta Weinhold.  She looked like a female version of Blackie Lawless (W.A.S.P.), but luckily she didn’t sound like him.  That is, she didn’t suck!  Jutta gets my vote as the best female metal vocalist of the ’80s, hands down!  Her voice had a real touch of the wicked, but she could blow you away with those soaring, emotional choruses.

Many of Zed Yago’s songs were fantasy based; mostly about adventures at sea.  In fact, “Zed Yago” is a fictional character conjured by Jutta.  She is supposed to be the daughter of the Flying Dutchman captain, and someone caught between heaven and hell.  Something like that.  Lyrically, Zed Yago were quite unique and steered clear of most metal clichés.

This is an incredible album.  From start to finish Pilgrimage rips with elegant power and metal might.  The compositions are carefully crafted with lots of texture.  Dual guitars blaze away as the hard-hitting drummer plays like a caveman beating a rock with a mammoth’s tusk.  Jutta rules the roost with her dramatic lyrical and vocal majesty.  All the tracks pretty much rule, but the cuts The Pale Man, The Fear Of Death, and Black Bone Song reach epic levels of awesome.  Put on your puffy shirt, hoist the mainsails, and ROCK!  My score: A+

2. Metallica – … And Justice For All

MetallicaThey were the reigning kings of metal.  And Metallica got there without the help of MTV or radio.  For once, it was the music that did the talking.  That, and the loyalty of a million acne-faced teens who didn’t give a flying f*ck about trends.  In 1988, Metallica dropped the much-anticipated … And Justice For All, a horse pill of an album featuring songs that were too long, and a bass guitar that was non-existent.  Nonetheless, it was a massive load of AWESOME.  Oddly, Metallica felt as if they had to prove themselves technically — so they got a little more complex, progressive, and long-winded.  But the tunes ruled!  Thrashterpieces like Blackened, … And Justice For All, and One highlight this juggernaut of injustice.  Metallica debuted their first video ever with their disturbing promo for One — a video that, despite some of the band’s hardcore fans crying “sell-out”, was just as cool as we could have hoped.  (The lyrics to One pretty much sums up my worst nightmare!)  At the time, Metallica bowed to nobody.  … And Justice For All was at once sprawling and overindulgent, but except for the boring (and seemingly endless) instrumental track, there isn’t a song to be missed on this weighty slab.  When the dust cleared, Metallica walked away, still kings.  But heavy lies the crown.  It turns out … And Justice For All was Metallica’s final statement on thrash.  As if they had nothing more to say on the subject, Metallica’s next move was to streamline their sound on 1991’s Metallica album — abandoning thrash and taking with them the commercial viability of the entire genre — essentially killing off the hopes and dreams of all the other thrash bands that followed the trail Metallica blazed.  What Metallica once built, they knowingly destroyed (for better or worse).  Metallica giveth, and Metallica taketh away.  After the exhausting  … And Justice For All, Metallica thought it was time to move on.  Justice was DONE.  My score: A+

1.  Helloween – Keeper Of The Seven Keys Part II

The magic that made Keeper Of The Seven Keys Part I a triumph of epic proportions (IMO) was still very much in the air come time for Keeper Of The Seven Keys Part II.  What was originally intended to be a double album had to be split in two at the record company’s request, so Keeper Of The Seven Keys Part II was recorded later and came out in 1988 (Part I came out in ’87).  Gladly, Part II was a much longer album than Part I, clocking in with an extra fifteen minutes of music.  The same “classic” Helloween lineup was back for the second (and sadly, last time) for Part II.  The principal songwriters were Kai Hansen (guitar, contributed three songs), Michael Weikath (guitar, contributed four songs plus the intro), and Michael Kiske (vocals, contributed two songs).  After this album, Kai Hansen left Helloween, and the chemistry that made the Keepers albums so amazing was no more.

Straight up.  Keeper Of The Seven Keys Part II owns my ass!  It borders on flawless.  Only the less-than-ideal production (which seems to hurt Eagle Fly Free more than any other song), and some questionable lyrics (like when Lucifer calls our protagonist a “silly bum” in the title track) can be listed as minor complaints.  With all due credit to pumpkin-heads Hansen and Weikath, Keepers Of The Seven Keys Part II would not be the “classic” that it is today without the superhuman performance of the golden-tressed and golden-voiced Michael Kiske.  The man brought these songs to majestic heights with his incredible vocal prowess.  Dickinson and Halford be damned.  This guy was the king of melodic heavy metal as far as I’m concerned.  For his performance of We Got The Right alone, this guy deserves a gold medal.

It’s hard to pick a favorite track on Keepers Of The Seven Keys Part II.  That would feel like a mother picking a favorite child to me.  Eagle Fly Free soars mightily (even if the poor mix tries to dampen its spirit), March Of Time is power metal perfection, Kiske kills all competition with his vocals on We Got The Right (incredible range), and I Want Out is an accessible, anthemic, barnstormer.  Melodic heavy metal does not get any better than this!  My score: A+

Go back to the Top Twenty Albums of 1987

Continue to the Top Twenty Albums of 1989

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7 thoughts on “Top Twenty Hard Rock & Heavy Metal Albums of 1988

  1. Wonderful list – definite bonus points from me for including Dirty Looks, with its Godawful cover – I could have done better!

    Re: Lucifuge, always wandered if it was really an event at the Winter Olympics.

  2. Many would ask why Iron Maiden’ “Seventh Son of a Seventh Son” wasn’t on the list but I won’t. Now you got me thinking, was Slayer’s “South of Heaven” 1987 or 88? I can’t remember. My favourite album from that year would be “Big Deal” by the Killer Dwarfs so am slightly disappointed not to see that one here. Otherwise, a very good list of albums.

  3. Reblogged this on http://www.seanmunger.com and commented:
    I’ve never reblogged Play It Loud before, but this article caught my eye this morning and I had to share it. This blog specializes in heavy metal album reviews from the greatest decade of metal, the 1980s. And as 1988 was arguably the peak of that decade, this list of the top 20 albums from that year has a lot of classics. Take a very loud trip back in time and rediscover these gems all over again!

  4. What a year! So much greatness. I’m chuffed you stuck No Rest for the Wicked up so high. That one gets overlooked too much. And Virgin Steele are a band I keep meaning to check out. Maybe now is the time? Great list!

  5. Many of the albums on this list were constantly played in my tape-deck back when they were new releases….and they’re still played by me, on my MP3 player, to this day! Classics!

  6. I never owned any Seduce or Zed Yago… now I’m gonna hunt ’em down. I love your #1 pick! KIX, Manowar and Virgin Steele are excellent choices among many here. Keep the METAL flames burning! \m/\m/

  7. what about, Rigor Mortis, Coroner, Fates Warning, Bathory, Death, Yngwie Malmsteen, Megadeth, Scorpions, Vio-Lence, Morbid Saint , Jason Becker , King Diamond, Iron Maiden, Slayer and more bands …. those bands released great albums in 1988 better then Zed Yago, Tarot, Dirty Looks, ratt, Kings Of The Sun, Sword and ozzy.

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