10 brilliant but overlooked records turning 40 this year

Albums from 1984
(Image credit: Press)

1984 was a massive year for metal. Thrash had burst onto the scene the previous year in a whirlwind of riffs and sweaty shrieks, but so far as the mainstream was concerned the big story was that heavy metal was now Big Business commercially, glam metal clawing its way to prominence in a haze of hairspray and questionable ethics. 

But while Iron Maiden were stretching their heavy metal anthems into prog territories with Powerslave, Metallica were Riding The Lightning and Scorpions were rocking the world like a hurricane on Love At First Sting, the underground was abuzz with fresh faces and brilliant new sounds that wouldn't get their dues for years - if not decades - to come.

That in mind, we've assembled a list of ten brilliant records that often get overlooked when discussing the best releases of 1984. 

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Anthrax - Fistful Of Metal

How does a release from one of the Big Four ever possibly classify as "overlooked"? Well, when it's a debut from before the band's classic line-up had come together, Neil Turbin providing wild-eyed Halford-esque shrieks in the vocal spot that would later be occupied by Joey Belladonna. 

Fistful Of Metal's biggest claim to fame is that it helped define the emergent thrash metal genre when Kerrang! journalist Malcolm Dome coined the term in relation to Metal Thrashing Mad, but in truth the record itself is worthy of much praise and recognition. Anthrax were already wracking up massive tracks like Deathrider, Death From Above and the aforementioned Metal Thrashing Mad, while the whole record careens around on a hyperactive mix of trad metal and even a little glam, their cover of I'm Eighteen showing off just how much nitro they could inject into a classic framework that left little question on why they became one of the genre's brightest lights. RH

Black Death - Black Death

Black Death might have taken their name from a Richard Pryor joke sketch, but their music wasn't anything to laugh at. Following in the footsteps of Venom, Ohio's Black Death took metal's flirtations with darkness and turned it into a wailing B-movie spectacle, the band's self-titled - and only - record showcasing a sense of theatricality  that could give Mercyful Fate a run for their money whilst embracing everything from Priest-like trad metal to early doom, as on the mournful When Tears Run Red (From Love Lost Yesterday). Raw, hungry and filled with menace, Black Death is a fascinating document of what may very well have been metal's first all-African American metal band. RH

Minutemen - Double Nickels On The Dime

Revered in the 80s underground, Minutemen's third album Double Nickels On The Dime is often regarded as the band's crowning achievement. "How does that qualify as overlooked then?" we hear you ask - and simply, because not enough people were aware of Minutemen's brilliance. Emerging from hardcore punk with a penchant for ambling alt. rock, funk asides and country flavours, Nickels... effectively laid out a route that would later be taken to great success by the likes of Fugazi, while the song Corona earned greater acclaim for its usage as the main theme for Jackass. RH

Warlock - Burning The Witches

Although she wouldn't officially gain her crown until 1986's True As Steel, Doro Pesch was already establishing her cred as the Metal Queen when she made her debut with Warlock on 1984's Burning The Witches. 

Steeped in classic horror and satanic imagery and propelled along speed metal riffs and shredding solos, Burning The Witches is at once a tremendous demonstration of 80s OTT bombast whilst also sounding remarkably fresher than many of its contemporaries, the likes of Sign Of Satan, Homicial Rocker and the title-track fist-pumpers through and through while big power ballad Without You showed Warlock weren't lacking for commercial aspiration, even if Warlock didn't crack international charts on their first go. RH

Metal Church – Metal Church

Appropriately enough, the debut album by Metal Church worshipped at the altar of all things contemporaneously heavy. The band hailed from the hotbed of thrash in San Francisco, yet quickly proved their passion for soundscapes beyond that as well. Metal Church has a speed metal oomph on standouts like Merciless Onslaught, absolutely, but it’s also armour-coated in flamboyant power metal vocals and the gallop of the NWOBHM. If you love vintage metal in all its forms, this is a sermon you must attend. MM

Meat Puppets - II

Like so many other pivotal US underground forces in the 80s, Meat Puppets first arose from a wall of feedback-drenched hardcore, clattering and clanging on their 1982 self-titled debut. Its 1984 follow-up II was a total inversion; the speed and energy was still there on tracks like Split Myself In Two, but Meat Puppets were excercising a much greater command over the feedback symphonies they would command going forward. 

In turn, much like Minutemen, Meat Puppets embraced wider stylistic influences in their songwriting as they brought in country tones on the likes of Lost and Climbing, while songs like Aurora Borealis, We're Here and I'm A Mindless Idiot made use of meandering, shimmering post-rock. The album would merit some re-examination almost a decade later when brothers Curt and Cris Kirkwood would perform Plateau, Lake Of Fire and Oh Me with Nirvana as part of the recording of MTV Unplugged. RH

Trouble – Psalm 9

Black Sabbath may have arguably launched the genre 14 years beforehand, but doom metal never had it as good as it did in 1984. That year, both Trouble and Saint Vitus debuted, bringing the genre’s riff-rammed grandeur to the States and inspiring a slew of wannabes. On Psalm 9’s opener, the apocalyptically huge The Tempter, you can practically hear guitarists Rick Wartell and Bruce Franklin pick up Tony Iommi’s reins, their drop tunings discovering even deeper bowels of sonic hell. MM

Saint Vitus – Saint Vitus

Just as important to doom metal’s induction into America as Trouble were, Saint Vitus leant further into the ominous, horror-film-like qualities the genre can possess. Such behemoths as The Psychopath and Burial At Sea on the Californians’ debut album took their time, luring the listener into chilling places with just a handful of lingering guitar or bass notes. Of course, the band could also feel as heavy as a dropped bollock on the likes of the title track. A hallowed but still-overlooked masterpiece. MM

Lee Aaron - Metal Queen

Doro Pesch might ultimately have taken the title, but she wasn't the only Metal Queen knocking around in 1984. Canadian musiican Lee Aaron made her debut in 1982 with The Lee Aaron Project, but with follow-up Metal Queen Aaron truly found her stride, shifting away from the pop rock inclinations of her debut towards a harder sound she'd partially explored on songs like Night Riders but now brought to full, wailing fruition. 

The result is a striding, classic heavy metal style record that has shades of NWOBHM and even early Def Leppard with punchy guitars, curled lip cries and choruses that by all rights should have conquered the radio. Alas, it was not to be and Metal Queen only broke the top 100 in Aaron's native Canada. RH

Hellhammer – Apocalyptic Raids

Upon release, Hellhammer’s debut EP was received about as well as someone slapping your nan. Contemporary critics looooooooathed these songs’ stripped-back and lo-fi extreme metal sound. In fact, the band’s name was so poisoned by such vitriol that leaders Tom G. Warrior and Martin Eric Ain abandoned it, starting anew as Celtic Frost mere months later. Apocalyptic Raids proved a seminal influence on an array of thrash and black metal bands in the following years, however, giving Hellhammer the last laugh. MM

Rich Hobson

Staff writer for Metal Hammer, Rich has never met a feature he didn't fancy, which is just as well when it comes to covering everything rock, punk and metal for both print and online, be it legendary events like Rock In Rio or Clash Of The Titans or seeking out exciting new bands like Nine Treasures, Jinjer and Sleep Token. 

With contributions from