The 1980s was arguably the greatest decade for metal, and the era in which modern metal was born. The popularity of NWOBHM had brought a renewed interest in the genre of heavy metal and the leather clad, stud-supporting, long-haired rocker was born.
Bands such as Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Saxon and Def Leppard saw mainstream success, while more extreme sub-genres were stirring in the undergrounds. Thanks the likes of Venom and Slayer, bands were pushing boundaries, creating a not only heavier, more ferocious sound but a heavier and more ferocious image that made the shock rock of the 70s, spearheaded by Kiss and Alice Cooper, look no more frightening than your grandma.
By the end of the decade metal had been pushed to its limit, with the emergence of grindcore, death and black metal all relishing in their ability to shock. Here are 20 albums that summoned the dark lord and created some of the most evil music known to man (at least at the time)...
1. Motley Crue - Shout At The Devil
If any band came to represent the utter excess and debauchery of an age when the moral shackles were off, then it was da Crüe. Sex, drugs, booze… even death. They indulged in it all. Is it any wonder that they’re regarded as the godfathers of everything the church, governments and the school system fear?
Mötley were never better than on this, their major label debut. Not only are the songs so strong they could snap an elephant’s backbone like a twig, but they are subversive, decadent, and spit straight in the eye of authority. From the moment the intro spoken word piece, In The Beginning, draws back the veil, the sleaze never stops. Shout At The Devil, Looks That Kill, Red Hot… these are Mötley classics that define an era and deify the dark side.
Appropriately, the band chose to cover the Beatles’ Helter Skelter, a song inspired by Charles Manson’s activities in the late 1960s. You actually need an acid bath to remove the stench of depravity that colours this track.
Mötley Crüe never aspired to pervert – they were far more perverted. All they did was draw a diagram of the fun to be had once you removed the usual parameters of polite society. What you get is an early reference point to four men whose pursuit of hedonism pushed others off the precipice. It wasn’t evil in the accepted sense of the term, but something far more dangerous: corruption through outright glamour.
2. Mercyful Fate - Nuns Have No Fun
The cover says it all. A nun, stripped nude, hangs on a cross, surrounded by cowled figures. Her fate is clear: this ain’t no emo gig. While others claimed allegiance to Old Nick, Mercyful Fate frontman King Diamond was a genuine Satanic supplicant. He prayed to the Goat Of Mendes – seriously. The Satanic Bible was his creed, and while later in the decade he became a figure of fun, on this Mercyful debut, there is something terrifying about the lyrical philosophy.
It glories in raking the flesh of those who sold their souls to the devil, decimating the concept of Christianity, laughing right in the face of the devout. And the title track remains among the most graphic songs ever. ‘Upon a cross a nun will be hanged/She will be raped by an evil man’… and that’s just the gentle beginning. You’ve been warned.
3. Venom - Black Metal
Who’d heard of black metal as a genre, until this nasty piece stuck its demonic horns out from under the covers? Venom could barely play, but they had attitude, energy and the sort of aggression that could pick a fight in an empty coal hole.
Not only did this spawn generations of young bands dedicated to hellfire and brimstone, but it also easily outstrips most others in the genre. Why? Because it preys on phobia. Buried Alive is so claustrophobic is makes you cry with fear. Bloodlust, Raise The Dead, Leave Me In Hell… these sounded like a band who spent their waking hours gobbling insects and impaling virgins. And the horrific title track was a monstrous hymn to those who prefer their crosses inverted.
What the Newcastle ne’er do wells succeeded in doing was convincing everyone that crypts were cool places to hang out. Necro a-go-go.
4. Ozzy Osborne - Blizzard Of Ozz
‘Ozzy Osbourne is straight from Hell’. That’s what www.jesus-is-savior.com reckon, insisting his music is ‘Satanic’. Who are we to disagree with such holier than thou insights and comments?
Through his years with Black Sabbath, Ozzy was seen as a disciple of perverted practices. And his debut solo album proved the point, through the controversial Suicide Solution. In 1984, 19-year-old American fan John M committed suicide, by shooting himself in the head, while listening to this track.
Two years later, Ozzy was sued by his family. The claim was made that there was a subliminal message here, which incited: “Why try, why try? Get the gun and try it! Shoot, Shoot, Shoot”.
All rubbish of course, but reason enough for this album to be regarded as tainted by the evil that comes from such tragedy. The Prince Of Darkness was a victim of his own image.
5. Killing Joke - Fire Dances
There’s always been something a little unholy about Killing Joke. They seemed to combine punk, shamanism, metal and the occult in a way which convinced you they might have known what they were doing. But were the Joke taking fans on a one-way trip to damnation? Was Jaz Coleman the conduit for an unseen force?
Fire Dances remains among their most enigmatic albums. It dallies with you, rhythmically overpowering, and leaving the listener almost hypnotically craving. It seems to evoke the atmosphere of a 19th century opium den deep in London’s East End, where people would go to lose all sense of reality.
After it’s finished, you really do want to throw up, such has been the intensity of the experience. But even this act won’t make you feel any better. ‘Fire Dances’ is soaked, cloaked with an unclean, unnerving ambience. It possesses you.
6. Iron Maiden - The Number Of The Beast
Never play with forces beyond the physical world. There are so many stories that swirl around the making of this classic you have to wonder whether Maiden just took a step too far. Studio apparitions and beyond-the-grave warnings were claimed to have been rife. Giving the whole project a feeling of being driven, at least in part, by Satan himself.
Did the band truly do a deal with the Deadly One, to gain the extra insight to make the record a success? What invests tracks like The Number Of The Beast, Children Of The Damned and Hallowed Be Thy Name with ungodly power? Could they possibly have tapped into dark forces? Of course, that doesn’t explain the comparatively ill conceived ‘Invaders’, but there’s little doubt that this ‘…Beast’ cuts so deep, it severs the vein. Has evil ever been so cool?
7. Death - Scream Bloody Gore
Zombies, blood, gore. The moment when death metal came into its own as a genre, with rotting flesh hanging off the bones of thrash and speed. So, what makes this album crucial? It is a feast of ripping riffs, ones that gnaw straight through the skin. If ever there was a record steeped in the thirst of snuff movies and underground, extreme gore films, then this is the one. A veritable gore-nucopia of slaughter and savagery.
What the late Chuck Schuldiner did here was inspirational. He managed to capture the essence of that which drove the most damning horror films made during the 1970s. When you listen to ‘Regurgitated Guts’ or ‘Baptized In Blood’, you’re not just hearing the soundtrack to brutality, but actually witnessing the violence itself. No wonder this gave birth to a hellspawn of imitators. An audio Cannibal Holocaust.
8. Slayer - Hell Awaits
Some might feel that the band’s next album, Reign In Blood, deserves a presence here, because of its supposed support for the diabolical Nazi doctor Josef Mengele, in the song Angel Of Death. But the band never expressed admiration for that medical malcontent. Besides, there’s a hideous backwards message here.
It’s always claimed that the album starts with a hidden mantra, urging people to join the unholy terrors lurking within the music. And there are those who still believe vile forces are at work on songs such as Kill Again and At Dawn They Sleep.
Whatever the truth about the hidden invocation – you really want to believe it’s there, right? – the fact remains that this is a primal feast that makes you think of crazed cannibals devouring anything remotely human. It’s a very sick album, making all the more impact for any absence of subtlety.
9. Christian Death - Sex & Drugs & Jesus Christ
While so many black and death metal bands tried to shock with the sort of approach that wouldn’t scare a kindergarten outing, Christian Death caused outrage in their wake. They set out to humiliate, regularly kicking the wheels from under the foundations of what most people regarded as civilised behaviour. Organised religion was a constant target, mocked in a manner that was both blasphemous yet hideously intelligent.
This was never more obvious than on Sex & Drugs & Jesus Christ, the band’s most notorious, and successful, album. The cover itself made some throw up at their deviant audacity. It depicted Jesus himself as a junkie, injecting heroin. It made the fuss over The Da Vinci Code seem like a genteel whisper. Throughout this record, Christian Death threw the entrails of their contempt over the edifice of religious devotion. Evil incarnate.
10. The Scumfucs - Eat My Fuc
When it came to courting outrage and controversy, there were few who could match the controversial antics of GG Allin. On-stage, he regularly took it upon himself to shit himself, cut up his body with bits of glass and throw faeces into the crowd. And that’s when he was in one of his quiet moods! It’s an understatement to say that going to one of his gigs was an experience.
Allin constantly threatened to commit suicide on-stage, eventually succumbing to a more prosaic (ahem) death from a heroin overdose in 1993, aged 36. His albums were always symphonies of sickness and perversion. None more so that this little funcake. Here, he goes for libidinous mania (Cock On The Loose), misogyny (I Wanna Rape You), misanthropy (I Don’t Give A Shit) and even a pop at bestiality (Fuckin’ The Dog).
Allin also included a song that summed up his philosophy: ‘Drink, Fight And Fuck’. And the original sleeve just had a drawing of his erect dick.
A total maniac making maniacal music.
11. Morbid Angel - Altars Of Madness
It wasn’t so much the sheer power or ferocity of their music that made these Florida ferals just a touch uncomfortable to listen to. It was more frontman David Vincent.
His fascination with the S&M and fetish scenes were well known – he was to have a close relationship with the Genitorturers, who revelled in that sort of thing – and there was also a lot of disquiet about his right-wing views. Some suggested, perhaps unfairly, that he was something of a fascist.
Whatever the truth of these rumours, they coloured the music. There’s little doubt about the unease running through Visions From The Darkside and Blasphemy. Vincent’s singing style isn’t gruff and growly. While you can dismiss most vocalist in this area as sounding like Daffy Duck with laryngitis, Vincent does your head in. Eerily effective.
12. W.A.S.P. - W.A.S.P.
Before they became an unwitting parody, incapable of deciding whether to be visionaries or sleazy, W.A.S.P. were the real deal. They assaulted audiences with meat – real slabs (this ain’t GWAR, you know). They tied women to racks, and whipped them. It all caused a stir, one compounded by their infamous debut single, Animal (Fuck Like A Beast), which so offended their label, Capitol, they refused to release it (this came out on Music For Nations).
You can hear all that attitude on their self-titled debut. They flaunted a fascination with life’s taboo obsessions. From underage girls (School Daze) to sadism (On Your Knees). They treated women shamelessly. They had a disdain for convention. They preyed on the unwary, and were prepared to tread on anyone. This wasn’t a pleasant band.
Before they became hooked on the trappings of respectability, W.A.S.P. were the vipers in metal’s nest.
13. Hellhammer - Apocalyptic Raids
They were essentially incapable, and that made them rage. These Swiss guys could hardly strum – but their vision was so excessive, it made them dangerous. For years afterwards, Tom G Warrior [guitarist/vocalist here and, subsequently, with Celtic Frost] refused to acknowledge that Hellhammer were an important band for the metal underground. It was as if he were afraid of this bastard child, which he’d helped to give life and substance.
While he now accepts that Hellhammer did have a huge impact, there is still a sense of fear in Tom’s eyes when memories come flooding back. Listen to the violence and force on Apocalyptic Raids, and you’ll understand. There are psychoses all over the place, saddling up and going for the burn. The band’s very incompetence made them feel like they came from Hell, and would drag you down with them. This is a fearful record.
14. Carcass - Reek Of Putrefaction
Rather like the most precise serial killer you can imagine, Carcass took great care to ensure that their attention to detail was meticulous to the point of autism.
While the music flailed and flayed, the lyrics were capable of making you wretch. Maggot Colony, Pyosified (Rotten To The Gore), Carbonized Eyesockets… these were the work of sick minds, ones whose fascination with viscera, entrails and the innermost workings of the corpse made you fear for their mental health.
Somehow, Carcass seemed to have gotten inside the heads of those who would, given the chance, spend their lives collecting pieces from bodies, preserving these and then, when the time was right, serving them to unwitting neighbours.
Washed down with a nice chianti, naturally. Hannibal Lecter could learn a lot from these psychos. Of course, it was all done tastefully, and with a blackened humour. Yeah, right!
15. Carnivore - Retaliation
Before he started to work through his sexual frustrations and fantasies with Type O Negative, Peter Steele had Carnivore. And if you thought Type O gave some indication of the man’s slightly warped mind, then this lot revealed so much more.
This was Steele on a lyrical rampage that bordered on the psychotic. When he mauled the church, and the moral hypocrisies of society in general, you actually believed that, given the opportunity, he would slit throats and cause human carnage.
When he rails about Jesus Hitler, or Angry Neurotic Catholics’ Steele actually sounds so close to the edge that, with a slight push, he’d have locked, loaded and exploded the streets. This was not a cathartic experience, but totally the opposite.
After listening to Retaliation, the band’s second album, you feel close to the man – and you don’t like what he represents: undiluted, self-perpetuating hatred of the world.
16. Celtic Frost - To Mega Therion
Bassist Martin Eric Ain used to have a black room in his flat. Seriously, a black room. It was self-contained, and when you entered, such was the pitch-perfect darkness it was as if you were inside a self-deprivation tank.
The feeling was like being mentally, physically and spiritually suspended. And on this album the Swiss band captured precisely that… lack! While this was stylistically a thrash record, albeit with a unique complexity, there was an underlying emotion that reflected being in that black room. And it wasn’t at all pleasant.
You believed that you’ve withdrawn from the universe, and were reaching out for something… different. In the cold light of day that was unpleasant. To Mega Therion may have paraded itself as a musical tour de force, but was fuelled by a sinister, hidden mentality. Perhaps even the band were unaware of this.
17. Ministry - The Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Taste
Addiction might be, superficially, something to warn the kids about. But, it can give those who suffer at its hands a terrifying charisma. Such is the case with Al Jourgensen. Well documented cravings for the needle heightened his creative powers, allowing them a focus denied to those who preach moderation.
To many, this is the finest of all of Ministry’s albums, fusing guitars, synths and disparate ideals into one of industrial music’s greatest sequence of moments. And the record is a series of peaks that almost reflect the way only an addict can hit staggered heights through pain.
But, such is Jourgensen’s brilliance that he seems to tempt you with the opportunity to enjoy such highs, by going through similar pain. It is an S&M opera. The question you must ask yourself is: can you resist the lure and allure of the dark side?
18. Red Hot Chili Peppers - The Uplift Mofo Party Plan
It may be tough to believe that there was a time when the Chili Peppers were on the cutting edge, but long before they hit mainstream paydirt, they were just that – and spent their time developing their imperfections.
‘The Uplift Mofo Party Plan’ is the sound of a band out of control. While musically, their funk/rap/rock was inconsistent yet fascinating, here it’s more of an indulgence. This is especially true of guitarist Hillel Slovak, who would die the following year from a heroin overdose.
At times, you wonder whether the man knew he didn’t have long left, the knowledge giving him super-human capability. Listen to Love Trilogy or Special Secret Song Inside… the performances of a maniac at the end game.
Knowing what was to come makes this album unnerving. It is the portrait in the attic.
19. Neurosis - Pain Of Mind
The San Francisco collective are renowned for their focused musical visions and hypnotic sounds. But on this, their debut, Neurosis were far removed from the polished band they would become.
As a result, they got right inside every fibre of your body. Pain Of Mind lives up to the title, because here were musicians trying to express deep-rooted agonies, without the experience to soften the blows.
Consequently, what you’re exposed to here is a full-blooded hurt. When Scott Kelly screams – as the vocalist often does – it’s because of an inarticulate desire to get across his emotions. And the ferocity will have you cowering behind the sofa.
These days, Neurosis are a lot more adept at getting their message across. But while they’ve certainly cranked up their game, perhaps nothing matches the raw intensity of what they achieved here. It’ll make you wince.
20. Bathory - The Return……
The brainchild of Quorthon Seth, Bathory hit at a time when the rules for black metal barely existed. Which gave the giant Swede the chance to establish his own niche. This was the band’s second album, and it’s coarse, nasty, with little room for anything subtle or civilised.
As a result, Quorthon’s interest in the black arts cuts deep, like a rusty blade anxiously searching for a suitable home. The wound is deep and septic. When he roars about being Born For Burning, you can imagine flames devouring you, organ by organ. And he revels in the pain of Sadist.
Although it now sounds a little tame compared to much that’s happened in the past two decades, the impact of The Return…… lies not in the music, but with the fact that Quorthon – who died in 2004 – delights in the Satanic experience.
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