Over the next four days, I’ll be posting a series of entries about one of the things closest to my heart: music. Most of my post-puberty life has been spent adoring the plethora of (primarily) rock-based sounds that the world has to offer, and so I thought an interesting study would be to examine and document my favourite full-length records from each year that I have been alive.
These are, of course, my opinions now, not at the time (because I didn’t take note of these things), and obviously I wasn’t listening to G’NR and Metallica, etc. when I was three years old. However, I think it’s an interesting study since it follows not only the trends in my listening habits in the 10-12 years that I’ve been intimately following the rock/metal scene, but also the trends in how genres have developed or evolved over time. The primary measure which I’ve used to measure this is the ability of certain albums to never grow old to me: those records that I could listen to over and over again, without tiring, and which consistently stir emotions and passions inside me in a way that sometimes only music can.
This post covers the first seven years: 1985-1991, which describe a fondness for the rise of thrash metal and kicking ass. I kick off with 1991 because over the next three days I’ll be posting the remaining three parts of this chronology, followed by a quick round-up of those records that didn’t make the cut. And on that bombshell, let’s get going. Enjoy!
1991: Metallica – [self-titled]
(aka The Black Album)
Critics and fans unite may unite in the opinion that 1986’s Master of Puppets is the definitive Metallica album (and I don’t deny that it’s the more technically accomplished and defining), The Black Album remains my personal pick. Beneath it’s black-weathered cover, there’s evidence of the evolution of Metallica’s sound from their thrash era in the ’80s; in particular with the presence of slow-paced songs like ‘The Unforgiven’, and the haunting, ethereal ‘Nothing Else Matters’. Metallica still feels like the uncontrolled, charging beast it once was (nowhere is this more plain than on monsters like ‘Sad but True’), but now a band that has learned to pace itself every so often. It’s also reassuring that Metallica still know how to write a killer opener in ‘Enter Sandman’ (still the most accessible song for the masses, and kicking the record off spectacularly like ‘Blackened’ and ‘Battery’ did on …And Justice for All and Master of Puppets before it) and a snorting, raging closer in ‘The Struggle Within’. 1991 may be best remembered for the explosion of grunge, but for me, Metallica still take the crown.
Song Choice: [Enter Sandman]
1990: Pantera – Cowboys from Hell
Judging from my record collection, 1990 was a bleak year. Out of it all, Cowboys from Hell was pretty much the only release that fits the bill, but that shouldn’t really detract from the quality of the record. Bridging the gap between Pantera’s lesser-known glam-rock phase and the full-on thrash/groove-metal destruction which commenced with Vulgar Display of Power, from the get-go (the iconic ‘Cowboys from Hell’) there’s a sense of the brutality that would come to define Pantera’s later career in ‘Primal Concrete Sledge’ and much of the middle-ground of the record. It also remained a stark reminder of how spectacular Pantera could be in their prime, and how the combination of Phil Anselmo’s harsh vocals, Dimebag Darrell’s superlative guitars, Vinnie Paul’s solid percussion and Rex Brown’s grooving basslines can combine in perfect harmony. Defiantly my favourite Pantera record, it’s a sonic barrage of skilled musicianship summed up by Cowboys‘ closing song: ‘The Art of Shredding’; and what an art it is. Long may it reign.
Song Choice: [Cowboys from Hell]
1989: Faith No More – The Real Thing
On every audible level, The Real Thing is an absolute triumph. Faith No More showed superb promise on their previous album Introduce Yourself, but it’s the addition of Mike Patton (replacing previous vocalist, Chuck Mosley) that is the real turning point in the band’s trajectory: Patton brings both vocal skill and unbridled energy to the combo; rousing genuine excitement from the listener with his unique, avant-garde style and diverse range. Sure, Patton’s arrival brings the band into their own, but it’s nothing without the consistent spine of FNM and solid backing delivered by Mike Bordin et al., streamrolling through the likes ‘From Out of Nowhere’, ‘Epic’ and onwards. Never a band to be pigeonholed, FNM’s grungey-metal is supplemented by a diverse range of funk, jazz, prog rock, hip hop and soul; and finishing with the sublime cover of Black Sabbath’s seminal ‘War Pigs’. with such a range of influences and new things to hear with each subsequent listen, The Real Thing is the gift that keeps on giving.
Song Choice: [Epic]
1988: Iron Maiden – Seventh Son of a Seventh Son
This was a tough year to call; one of the first in this chronology that had no clear victor. In the end, Maiden’s conceptual opus just sneaked past the post over Metallica’s (undoubtedly great) …And Justice for All. Introducing more of the prog-rock and keyboard elements which had developed on Somewhere in Time two years prior, Seventh Son… represents a full-blown Maiden concept album, full of nods to mystical powers, the paranormal and subject matter which matches the musical ambiance. There’s certainly no lack of Maiden’s usual galloping flavour of NWOBHM but this time comes bundled with a more introspective and story-driven tack, most prevalent on the album’s singles ‘The Evil that Men Do’, ‘The Clairvoyant’ and the seminal ‘Can I Play with Madness’. Sadly, the album also represents an end to Maiden’s killer run of records, since the formula couldn’t be recreated on the subsequent No Prayer for the Dying, but if ever there was need to remind oneself of how persuasive and poetic Maiden can be when they’re in the zone, this is it.
Song Choice: [Can I Play with Madness?]
1987: Guns ‘N Roses – Appetite for Destruction
‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’ may be the seminal song from the album, but Appetite for Destruction is major accurately summed up by opener ‘Welcome to the Jungle’: unhinged, bombastic and rock ‘n’ roll as hell, G ‘n R leap out of the box with a pocket full of arrogance and a sneer at the establishment, but possess skills enough to back up their anarchy. There’s a staggering number of classics on here: in addition to the two previously mentioned, it’s difficult to name a song that isn’t a surefire hit: ‘Paradise City’, ‘Mr. Brownstone’, ‘My Michelle’ are but a few. It’s a cohesive effort: an example of how, when working together, Axl, Slash, Duff, Izzy and Adler could produce something truly special and where ego doesn’t dominate. G ‘n R may have lost the plot going into the Nineties, but they’re far better when ignoring the nine-minute epics and the haunting strings and remain focussed on playing straight-up rock and roll. An undoubted classic, it’s also a benchmark for every rock band that has come since, and with good reason. A triumph.
Song Choice: [Welcome to the Jungle]
1986: Metallica – Master of Puppets
What can be said about Master of Puppets that hasn’t been said already? The ultimate metal album, almost flawless in every regard, this is the sort of occasion when the stars align and eight songs are crafted with such beauty and brutality that the like of which will likely never happen again. There’s not a dud song on here; in fact, quite the opposite. ‘Battery’ still has (probably) the most killer intro of any metal song ever; ‘Master of Puppets’ still the rampaging, furious steamroller it ever was. The album’s crowning glory, however, is ‘Orion’: an eight-and-a-half minute instrumental epic that ebbs and flows and rages and quietens in an almost dream-like fashion. It’s a huge shame that this would be Metallica’s final album with bassist Cliff Burton, as one can only imagine where the Bay Area titans would have gone had his untimely death not occurred, but instead we got Jason Newsted and …And Justice For All a mere two years later; a clear reaction to Cliff’s passing. Puppets remains Metallica’s masterwork, though, and inspiration for every metal band existing today. An absolute powerhouse.
Song Choice: [Battery]
1985: Iron Maiden – Live After Death
I debated for a long time about whether I wanted to include a live album on this list. A long time. But heck, I figure that if you’re going to bend the rules, you may as well bend them for (arguably) the greatest live album of all time. Live After Death is a double-album of Maiden hits culled from the ‘World Slavery’ tour in support of Powerslave and featuring live versions of Maiden classics across ‘2 Minutes to Midnight’ through ‘The Number of the Beast’ across to the classic show-closer, ‘Running Free’ – as such, it effectively summarises the band’s first five years of recorded history; a live ‘best of’ compilation of some of Maiden’s best work; delivered at the height of their mid-80’s power. A finer live metal band you will never find, and Bruce Dickinson’s glorious crowd-pleasing and teasing still inspire goosbumps nearly thirty years on.
Song Choice: [2 Minutes to Midnight]