History records that 1988 was a huge battleground, with the massed armies of thrash and glam metal lining up behind Metallica and Guns N’ Roses respectively. That’s not quite how it played out - while those two scenes dominated the year, there was still room for established bands such as Iron Maiden and Queensryche, while emerging genres of death metal, grindcore and industrial pointed the way forwards. This is how that momentous year shaped up.
Carcass - Reek Of Putrefaction
Bold and unfettered grindcore, not a million miles away from Napalm Death’s early work yet still sounding vastly different, the youthful Carcass weren’t always easy on the ear, but then that’s just how the fans liked it. Housed in a sleeve that equalled the lyrical content for shock value, their debut album’s combination of brutal assault and a measured maturity set in stone the Carcass sound of the next few years at least. Even in the three-way guttural vocal attack there was something that helped set the band apart.
Death - Leprosy
With debut album Scream Bloody Gore having set a new standard in extremity, 1988’s follow-up Leprosy would end up being the final nail in Death’s thrash-tinged coffin. This new subgenre dubbed death metal was gaining traction, and with renowned songs such as Pull The Plug and Open Casket expanding on the fatal sensibilities for which they'd become known, Leprosy would eventually stand out as the pinnacle of their early era – savage riffs and thrash-beaten decomposition.
Danzig - Danzig
While thrash and glam metal duked it out for dominance in the late 80s, former Misfits singer Glenn Danzig slipped around the side to deliver a gothic-blues masterpiece in the shape of his eponymous band’s debut album. Pared-to-the-bone songs such as Twist Of Cain and Mother dispensed with metal’s cartoon histrionics in favour of dark, sensual malevolence, Danzig himself howling like Jim Morrison reincarnated in the body of a bench-pressing homunculus. It’s testament to his vision that nothing has come close to capturing its pitch-black charisma.
Helloween - Keeper Of The Seven Keys Pt 2
Inadvertently inventing the modern notion of what power metal is all about, Helloween were righteously huge in the late ‘80s and it was this, their legendary third album, that sealed the deal. From immortal anthems like Eagle Fly Free, Dr. Stein and I Want Out to the epic journey of the title track, Keeper Part 2 has been highly influential and still towers above most comparable records, nearly 30 years later.
Iron Maiden - Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son
Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son, Iron Maiden’s seventh album, has eight tracks. Oh well. Confusing numerology aside, this is a metal masterpiece rated by many as the band’s best. An expansive concept piece with consistently high-quality songs, it spawned no fewer than four Top 10 hits and was a UK No.1. However, many of the band’s old school fans consider it to be Maiden’s last great album, partly due to the fact that it was their last before guitarist Adrian Smith left.
Metallica – …And Justice For All
Metallica’s fourth album was both a rebirth following the death of bassist Cliff Burton, and the closing chapter of their development to this point. The album is shot through with sadness and anger, but the scale of its technical ambition makes it exceptional: complex structures, unsettling tempo changes, and wave after wave of churning asymmetric riffs that set new records for rapid metal.
Ministry - The Land Of Rape And Honey
What do Fear Factory, Linkin Park, Slipknot and Nine Inch Nails all have in common? They all cite The Land Of Rape And Honey as essentially Year Zero when it comes their bands. Ministry’s third album blended the bludgeoning beating you get from metal with the disturbing nature of industrial and the danceability of modern electronic music. Mainman Al Jourgenson spent six months cutting and pasting samples together, meticulously matching parts amidst a haze of alcohol, drugs and things that smelt like piss. The result is a masterclass in innovation and, above all, it defined the genre of industrial metal.
Napalm Death - From Enslavement To Obliteration
Napalm Death erupted out of the British metal underground with their 1987 debut album Scum… and were promptly ridiculed by all but the most open-minded metal fan for their road-drill drums and screeched/growled vocals. And what did they do in response? They doubled down on the extremity and dared people to hold their gaze. From Enslavement To Obliteration remains breathtaking in its desire to push back the boundaries, from road-drill drums to the shrieked/growled vocals. The grindcore genie was out of the bottle, and it was ugly.
Queensryche – Operation Mindcrime
This first-rate concept album tells the story of a genius, a junkie and a street girl and their alienation from 80s society. Layered guitars, operatic vocals and Michael Kamen’s orchestrations lend the whole thing a grand, epic feel, but this is a rare beast: an 80s metal album that puts the song – or, more specifically, the story – first and lets everything else take a back seat.
Slayer - South Of Heaven
Deciding (probably wisely) not to try to top the extremities of their 1986 thrash classic Reign In Blood, Slayer instead reined back the beats-per-minute rate (but not a lot). The highlight of the results is the title track. It’s not all pipe-and-slippers though; Silent Scream and Ghosts Of War are Slayer as fast and ferocious as ever.