You couldn’t move in the 1980s for brilliant albums. Metallica’s Master Of Puppets, Slayer’s Reign In Blood, Iron Maiden’s Number Of The Beast, Guns N’ Roses’ Appetite For Destruction – it seemed like a freshly-minted masterpiece arrived every other week.
But not everyone was quite so on top of their game. The 80s threw up its fair share of stinkers – albums that deserve to be dumped down the garbage chute of history. Most of those records were made by bands who have rightfully been forgotten, but some were the work of bands who should have known better.
It‘s the latter that we’re interested in here – those albums which have left an indelible stain on the otherwise unblemished back catalogue of some of the decade’s greatest bands. We’re not saying these are bad artists, just that they’re good artists who made bad records during that crazy decade. Got it? Let's go shoot some turkeys.
Celtic Frost – Cold Lake (1988)
“The abortion” is how Celtic Frost’s grunter-in-chief Thomas Gabriel Fischer describes the Swiss mavericks’ third full-length album. Dramatic? Maybe. But after the genre-warping genius of 1986’s To Mega Therion and 1987’s Into The Pandemonium, the Frosties’ sudden glam makeover – squealing guitar solos, lipglossed-up-the-wazoo photoshoots and all – was baffling. Some revisionists insist that Cold Lake isn’t as bad as legend has it, and it does fit in with Fischer’s bow-to-no-man approach to his art: if this was hair metal, then it was like no hair metal anyone else has ever recorded before or since. But it sent Fischer and Frost into a tailspin from which they never truly recovered, and hasn’t been reissued since.
Kiss – Hot In The Shade (1989)
Even Gene Simmons rags on Music From “The Elder” as Kiss’ worst album. Sorry Gene, you’re wrong. That record was a batshit crazy classic whose only crime was that it dared to dream (admittedly it dreamt a load incomprehensible conceptual guff, but you can’t have everything). No, it was Hot In The Shade that really stunk up the drains: a bloodless suckfest that features 11 credited songwriters and still fails to pull a single memorable tune out of its arse. You wanted the best? You got a power ballad co-written by soft rock mullet-farmer Michael Bolton. Yeah, cheers Kiss.
Killing Joke – Outside The Gate (1988)
The gimlet-eyed shaman of the apocalypse who made early 80s post-punk classics Wardance and Requiem had clearly been kidnapped and replaced by a bunch of ringers by the time Killing Joke made their seventh album. How else to explain the godawful period-piece synth-funk that dominated Outside The Gate? Tiahuanaco and May Day were half-decent ideas throttled by a lousy delivery, but The Calling and Stay One Jump Ahead were just plain awful: the aural equivalent of being mugged by a bunch of yuppies in Jaz Coleman masks. The latter song even featured the once-fearsome singer’s cack-handed attempts to rap. Oh, Jaz, what were you thinking?
Discharge – Grave New World (1986)
There’s selling out and there’s selling out. And then there’s Grave New World. Crustcore pioneers Discharge’s woefully misguided second album jettisoned the concrete-mixer-in-your-skull noise of landmark releases Why? and Hear Nothing See Nothing Say Nothing in favour of sub glam-metal guitars and backcombed barnets. Frontman Cal Morris was still singing about impending nuclear armageddon and the dangers of drug abuse, except he was now doing it in a nails-down-blackboard shriek that made Axl Rose sound like Barry White. Legend has it that Cal was reduced to tears after being bottled off by an audience of angry punks unhappy with this unexpected new direction. In fairness, they had a point.
Ministry – With Sympathy (1983)
Al Jourgenson is a walking middle finger who single-handedly kept several Mexican drug cartels in business for decades. You’d barely know it listening to Ministry’s long-disowned debut album With Sympathy. The malevolent industrial-metal barrage of later years is entirely absent here – I Wanted To Tell Her and the Soft Cell-adjacent Say You’re Sorry are featherweight synth-pop workouts complete with factory-processed slap-bass and honking sax, while unintentionally hilarious single Work For Love finds Uncle Al in full-on sexytime mode, even if the result is less fetish dungeon and more early-80s aerobics video. Jesus, somebody get the guy some heroin.
AC/DC – Fly On The Wall (1985)
Even legends have their off decades. After the unstoppable success of Back In Black, the only way was down for AC/DC – and so it proved for pretty much the next 10 years. Their nadir was this howling dud, which featured precisely one decent song (Shake Your Foundations) and a whole lot of self-parodic guff that barely even qualifies as filler. It’s difficult to decide what’s worst: the flaccid riffs, the witless lyrics or the fact that Brian Johnson spends the whole of the album quacking like Daffy Duck in search of his asthma inhaler. Fact: in the old days, Malcolm Young would have chased this out of the studio with a broken bottle for being too shit.
Bad Religion – Into The Unknown (1983)
Bad Religion’s 1982 debut album How Could Hell Be Any Worse? was a key staging post in the development of the entire So-Cal punk scene. How did they follow it up? By recording an album drenched with cheap synthesisers, whooshing sound effects and acoustic guitars. If we’re being charitable, it was the ultimate punk rock move by a band who were already feeling hemmed in by punk rock, but their fans weren’t happy with this lurch prog-wards – frontman Greg Graffin later joked that they sent out 10,000 copies and 11,000 were returned (bassist Jay Bentley clearly agreed with the haters - he quit halfway through recording the first song). The disillusioned band split up soon afterwards, though they did eventually bounce back with 1988’s landmark Suffer album, so all’s well that ends well.
Motorhead – Rock’N’Roll (1987)
Motorhead’s eighth album is the one duffer in their otherwise immaculate back catalogue. Maybe it was down to disillusionment at being serially screwed by the music industry, or maybe it was just sheer exhaustion (Lemmy hadn’t slept since 1968, after all). Either way, the result was a phoned-in trudge of a record from a band who would once have been too embarrassed to fart this stuff out in their sleep. Rock’N’Roll wasn’t terrible, it was just boring – which is arguably the worst crime of all when it comes to Motorhead.
Raven – The Pack Is Back (1986)
NFL-helmeted NWOBHMers Raven are one of the great unsung influences on thrash metal – hell, the British trio even took a rookie Metallica out as openers on their 1983 US tour. But all their good work was undone by their fifth album, a shameless attempt to hop on the MTV bandwagon by slathering their, ahem, ‘athletic rock’ with jarring horns and budget-price keyboards, dropping in a turd-in-the-punchbowl cover of the Spencer Davis Group’s Gimme Some Lovin’ for bad measure. MTV didn’t bite, partly cos Raven were too damn ugly, but mainly because The Pack Is Back was irredeemable garbage.
Wolfsbane – Live Fast, Die Fast (1989)
Let’s be clear: Tamworth terrors Wolfsbane were a tremendous band. They had the killer tunes, the rabid fans (the aptly-named Howling Mad Shitheads) and, in swashbuckling frontman Blaze Bayley, the West Midlands’ own Dave Lee Roth. That their debut was a rank haddock of an album was no fault of their own – blame Def American label boss Rick Rubin, whose dead-handed production throttled the energy, attitude and fun out of weapons-grade party anthems Manhunt and I Like It Hot. They recovered enough to put out a couple of great records, only for Blaze to be poached by Iron Maiden. Even now, it hurts to think what could have been.