As the 1980s came screaming towards a close, metal was unrecognisable from the entity it was 10 years earlier. Things had got heavier, faster and weirder. Thrash had reached critical mass, before mutating into something even more extreme in the shape of death metal, a wave of alternative rock bands were gene-splicing their own sound with metal’s extremity, while grunge was starting to stir in Seattle, about to serve notice on hair metal that the party would soon be over. Metal's big guns were still alive and kicking, but 1989 stands as a changing of the guard just in time for the new decade – and here are 10 albums that prove it.
- On a budget? Here are the best budget turntables
- Best headphones for music: supercharge your listening
- Spotify vs Apple Music vs Tidal: which streaming service is best for rock and metal?
- Own your idols with the best Funko Pop! Rocks vinyl figures
Carcass - Symphonies Of Sickness
Carcass reached a creative high/low (depending on your point of view) with their second album. Housed in a collage of gruesome body parts, cadavers and bodies in various states of disrepair, the music was equally brutal, although this time the band were already beginning to stretch themselves with slightly longer material and more complex arrangements. It’s still earthy grindcore of course, and with song titles like Cadaveric Incubator Of Endo Parasites or Swarming Vulgar Mass Of Infected Virulency their humour shone through, their shock value unabated. And on Exhume To Consume they went way beyond the bounds of taste.
Faith No More – The Real Thing
Faith No More’s third album was platinum weirdness for the masses. It wasn’t just that this was the world’s introduction to Mike Patton that made this album special. The San Franciscans had been steadily building towards something over their seven-year existence, and The Real Thing was it. Here, they remodelled their sound into super-colourful heart-stopping pop metal. Almost any track from this album could have been a hit, and Epic was simply colossal. And then there was, of course, Patton, who from now on loaded FNM’s music with a lethal dose of sarcasm and surrealism.
Godflesh - Streetcleaner
The debut LP by the UK’s most miserable band. Former Napalm Death man Justin Broadrick’s thick, monotone bellows are very much from detention sessions with Swans’ Michael Gira, while the whole thing sounds a bit like Killing Joke playing Black Sabbath in a cement mixer. The harsh, cold drum machine adds to the album’s bleak tone and proves industrial pipe-bangers don’t need to go as fast as Ministry to be this heavy.
Ministry - The Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Taste
Ministry’s fourth album mashed industrial with thrash in a way never done before. Heavily inspired by SOD’s Speak English Or Die and Texan thrashers Rigor Mortis, this record is a relentless, riotous nightmare with several curveballs; Cannibal Song has Al Jourgenson channelling The Police’s more experimental moments; Test hears rapper K. Lite proclaiming “This is a test!” over one riff. But, as much as the experimentation adds to the record, The Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Taste benefits most from that pure, dunderheaded thrash element that’s smashed straight into the industrial. This timeless record, alongside the ensuing tour – which featured twenty-foot-high fences between band and fans – cemented Ministry as legends of industrial.
Morbid Angel – Altars Of Madness
Rightly hailed as a landmark for the emerging death metal scene Morbid Angel’s 1989 debut, Altars Of Madness, set the bar so high for the entire genre that people are still trying to match its brutal splendour more than 30 years later.
Back in 1989, nobody had ever heard anything like Altars Of Madness before. The Floridans made Slayer sound like Weezer: this was a twisted, pitch-black and incredible sophisticated upgrade for Chuck Schuldiner’s deathly blueprint. Trey Azagthoth’s churning, otherworldly riffs, David Vincent’s peerless growls and the band’s idiosyncratic approach and progressive mindset set them apart from their peers – songs like Chapel Of Ghouls and Immortal Rites have never been topped for otherworldly menace and riffs that tear your soul apart. Still untouchable after all these years.
- The Top 10 best metal albums of 1990
- The Top 10 best metal albums of 1991
- The Top 10 best metal albums of 1992
- The Top 10 best metal albums of 1993
- The Top 10 best metal albums of 1994
Nine Inch Nails – Pretty Hate Machine
Nine Inch Nails’ debut is a synth-pop album that’s not really synth-pop. Sure, the arse-shaking perversion of Sin and Sanctified’s naughtiness are reminiscent of Depeche Mode and the darker, more twisted edge of the genre. But Head Like A Hole? That’s heavy fucking metal, that chorus is. Pretty Hate Machine’s tinny production and bygone influences have obviously dated, but the songs themselves are still as affecting.
Obituary - Slowly We Rot
If Death were The Beatles of death metal, Obituary were its Rolling Stones: a dirtier, grimier, more streetwise proposition. But what their momentous debut album lacked in subtlety it made up for in noise and attitude. This was the ultimate horror movie soundtrack without a film: songs such as ’Til Death and the immortal title track were explosions of viscera, instantly becoming rubber-stamped death metal landmarks.
Sepultura - Beneath The Remains
Brazil’s Sepultura were more of a death metal outfit on their initial releases. But by the time Beneath The Remains came around the band had refined their sound, replacing studied morbidity with superhuman intensity.
Their second full length album is a tremendous record, up there with the best of Slayer. It’s a triumph of lacerating technicality, with high-speed grinding riffs and a sludgy industrial undercurrent.
You know exactly what you’re getting on Lobotomy with its chant of ‘Brain killing brain!’ while Inner Self (‘Walking these dirty streets/With hate in my mind’) is a chilling tale of life in a third-world country. The last great thrash album of the 80s. Stronger Than Hate, indeed.
Testament - Practice What You Preach
By their time of their momentous third album, Bay Area behemoths Testament were knocking on the door of the Big Four, asking for entry. Rounding off a scintillating three-album salvo, there’s very little to separate Practice What You Preach from its predecessors The Legacy and The New Order in terms of sheer quality. Greenhouse Effect and Sins Of Omission crackle with propulsive vitality while Time Is Coming and misleadingly titled The Ballad sound absolutely massive, benefiting from a beefed up production. The leap to superstardom never quite happened, but this proved that Testament where in it for the long haul no matter what.
Terrorizer – World Downfall
Morbid Angel men David Vincent and Pete Sandoval teamed up with vocalist Oscar Garcia and guitarist Jesse Pintado (later of Napalm Death) for this monstrous explosion of deathly grindcore fury. Songs like Dead Shall Rise and Fear Of Napalm are established classics: more fervently metallic than primitive punk, they pack a precise punch that influenced an entire generation. Pintado sadly passed away in 2006 but for this alone he deserves legendary status.