1987 was the year rock and metal went supernova. MTV turned Def Leppard and Guns N’ Roses into two of the biggest bands on the planet. At the other end of metal’s food chain, the underground was bubbling with insane new ideas, from grindcore and death metal to the emergent power metal movement.
In the real world, Ronald Reagan occupied the White House, televangelist Jim Bakker was caught up in a sex scandal, work on the Channel Tunnel connecting the UK and France began and The Simpsons made their first appearance on TV.
This is what it sounded like…
Anthrax – Among The Living
Three of the Big Four delivered defining albums in 1986: Metallica (opens in new tab) with Master Of Puppets (opens in new tab), Slayer (opens in new tab) with Reign In Blood (opens in new tab) and Megadeth (opens in new tab) with Peace Sells… But Who’s Buying? (opens in new tab). In 1987, Anthrax weighed in with what drummer Charlie Benante (opens in new tab) called their “signature album”.
Among The Living was their breakthrough, hitting the UK Top 20, and it stands tall as a thrash classic. The album thrums with a fierce energy, a combination of breakneck speed and heavy grind proving brutally effective in the title track, Caught In A Mosh and the Judge Dredd-inspired I Am The Law (opens in new tab). And in Indians, Anthrax had their Run To The Hills.
Bathory – Under The Sign Of The Black Mark
Bathory (opens in new tab) were the band that took Venom (opens in new tab)’s original black metal (opens in new tab) blueprint and pushed to its logical conclusion, cementing the Scandinavian style of demonic vocals, furious icy riffs and simple, unrelenting percussion in the process. So why so late in the list? Well ’84’s self-titled debut and ’85’s The Return album are certainly more seminal works, but this third album is arguably the musical highpoint, and its hugely influential use of cold, intense and hypnotic repetition remains extremely effective.
Candlemass – Nightfall
Dedicated purveyors of doom metal (opens in new tab) since 1984, Leif Edling’s seminal crew were paying tribute to Black Sabbath (opens in new tab) long before the stoner and doom scenes erupted, and their first two albums – Epicus Doomicus Metallicus (opens in new tab) and this monumental follow-up – are among the most revered records in metal history. While be-robed new singer Messiah Marcolin brought new levels of epic to The Well Of Souls and Mourner’s Lament, the Swedes’ MVP was guitarist Edling: Tony Iommi (opens in new tab) aside, it’s hard to think of anyone that has written as many cast-iron winners. A true 80s doom landmark.
Celtic Frost – Into The Pandemonium
Former Celtic Frost (opens in new tab) mastermind Tom Fischer – aka Tom G Warrior – is one of metal’s great visionaries, and the Swiss band’s second full-length album was his magnum opus. No band has made an album like Into The Pandemonium (opens in new tab) before or since. Taking thrash metal as their jumping off point, Frost dived into uncharted territory for bands: mournful requiems, operatic laments, post-punk covers, primitive hip hop and even pop-friendly backing singers – no musical path was off limits. Not for nothing was it christened ‘avant garde metal’ – this was something entirely new.
Death - Scream Bloody Gore
The album that birthed a new generation of metalheads. Death (opens in new tab)’s debut Gore was to inadvertently provide the embryonic blueprint for what was to become the death metal (opens in new tab) genre.
This gradual epiphany was predominantly due to the appearance of Chuck Schuldiner (opens in new tab)’s guttural approach to vocals, the only aspect that really set Death apart from their ferocious thrash metal contemporaries – a genre from which he took primary inspiration.
The apex of the early formative demos and lineups, Scream Bloody Gore immersed their thrash roots in a fascination with horror and Chuck's grisly artistry.
Def Leppard - Hysteria
Released as the CD format was seriously taking hold, this hi-tech, crystal clear, hour-long epic catapulted Def Leppard (opens in new tab) into the stratosphere. Mutt Lange’s superb production and the Lep’s anthemic choruses were a winning combination. The tongue-in-cheek Pour Some Sugar On Me (opens in new tab) was the first hit, but they followed it up with no less than six other chart singles including Animal, Women, Armageddon It and the blockbusting ballad Love Bites. Hysteria (opens in new tab) continued to by the bucketload long after it was released, and is one of an exclusive group of albums to be awarded Diamond status in the US.
Faith No More – Introduce Yourself
Proto funk-metal (opens in new tab) and sneering sarcasm set to a tribal beat courtesy of five scraggy misfits from San Francisco was an unlikely recipe for success. But Faith No More (opens in new tab)’s journey from the 80s alt-rock shadows to rubber-stamped MTV stardom began in earnest with their second album, and its breakout track We Care A Lot (opens in new tab).
Vocalist Chuck Mosley (opens in new tab), the man behind the mic here, had a voice that could charitably be described as ‘characterful’, but that was the point. FNM were eternal square pegs resisting being forced into any hole whatsoever: droning post-punk (opens in new tab), art-thrash and a general air of not-giving-a-fuckness permeated Faster Disco and Chinese Arithmetic. Even without their later success, Introduce Yourself still stands as a uniquely brilliant record.
Guns N’ Roses – Appetite For Destruction
It’s damn near impossible to adequately explain the impact of Guns N’ Roses (opens in new tab)’ studio debut. It was like nothing we’d heard before – the sound of a street smart LA gang with a tortured genius of a frontman and a brand new guitar hero with a penchant for top hats. From the ominous opening growl of Welcome To The Jungle to the relentless closer Rocket Queen, Appetite (opens in new tab) runs the gamut from heartfelt balladry (Sweet Child O’ Mine) to full-on anthems for a new rock world in Paradise City and Mr Brownstone. We just didn’t know what hit us.
Helloween – Keeper Of The Seven Keys Pt 1
The arrival of new vocalist Michael Kiske enabled Helloween (opens in new tab) to flex their musical muscles far beyond the thudding, speed metal limitations of their debut album Walls Of Jericho. The result was a dazzling follow-up that combined their momentum with the melodic might of Maiden (opens in new tab) and Priest (opens in new tab) and an extra helping of unhinged bombast.
Thanks to Kai Hansen and Michael Weikath’s duelling guitars and Kiske’s helium-guzzling vocals, songs like the insanely catchy Future World, the thunderous Twilight Of The Gods and the sprawling, 13-minute ‘Halloween’ sounded unlike anything else. The seeds for the power metal (opens in new tab) explosion were sewn here – seeds which would blossom a year later with Keeper’s equally brilliant sequel.
King Diamond – Abigail
Having established his redefined sound and aesthetic on 1986’s Fatal Portrait, King Diamond (opens in new tab) floored the creative accelerator for its follow-up. A flawless classic by any sane reckoning, Abigail showcased the fiery chemistry between the King and guitarist Andy LaRocque across a genuinely creepy tale of haunted mansions, stillborn children and, seemingly, posthumous self-cannibalism.
The songs are all fantastic, of course: from immortal opener Arrival and the skull-rattling A Mansion In Darkness to the monumental, murderous finale of Black Horsemen, Abigail is a magnificently twisted horror show with immaculate riffs to burn.