JAG’s Albums of the Year (30 Years Ago)
1985 wasn’t THAT bad.
1985 was a good year for heavy metal. Not great, but decent nevertheless. It seemed like most of the big-name heavyweights were between releases, and there was some disappointing crap too which made my list harder to compile than last year’s. (Armored Saint’s sophmore release Delirious Nomad sounded like an inconsistent pile of poop compared to their preceding debut and its outstanding 1987 follow-up Raising Fear.)
Furthermore, many of my favorite albums in 1985 were not the strongest efforts by bands I liked and are included anyway because they’re still good. Also: some obvious choices are left out due to the fact that I wasn’t listening to them at that point. I didn’t actually listen to Slayer until Reign In Blood but I appreciate Hell Awaits today about as much as any other metal dork.
So anyway: here I am again with my seasonal tidings of heavy metal past… shit that kept me out of trouble and aided in my escape from a boring life in the upper-midwest.
Yngwie Malmsteen – Marching Out
After a strong solo debut with the previous year’s Yngwie J. Malmsteen’s Rising Force, the guitar virtuoso from Stockholm returned with his finest work to date. Marching Out is a monstrous tour de force of heavy metal badassery and features some of the best songwriting of its time. This album’s front-to-back greatness is equally due to Jeff Scott Soto’s absolutely perfect vocal performance. Every damned song is a masterpiece. Every. Damned. Song. The production sounds a bit dark, but it’s actually somewhat fitting and, after thirty years of constant rotation, I wouldn’t want to hear it any other way.
If you haven’t heard this album yet then stop everything you’re doing and listen right now. This is the greatest heavy metal album of 1985. Fact.
Saint Vitus – Hallow’s Victim
My older brother bought this on cassette, and I think, between the two of us, it eventually just wore out. Though not difficult for Hair Metal JAG to digest, these guys seemed a lot different from what I was used to at the time. Sure there was a Black Sabbath influence, but Saint Vitus really had their own spin on it. They also stuck out like a sore thumb on SST’s roster though (alongside mostly garbage by punk bands who didn’t want to play punk or HC anymore but still barely knew how to sing or play (like the nonstop shit-talking Henry Rollins.)
This is still my favorite Saint Vitus album to this very day, and it was the last to feature OG Scotty Reagers on vox for another ten years. No disrespect to Wino but I fucking love Scotty.
W.A.S.P. – The Last Command
Not sure if any of you regular readers knew this before, but I kinda/sorta like W.A.S.P. a little bit. When I picked up their eponymous debut in ’84 it was the dirtiest and nastiest thing I’d ever heard… and I liked it. The Last Command was a worthy follow-up to that debut with mostly great songs and little filler. I played the ever-living shit out of that tape in 1985, and bus-rides to school would have been intolerable without it in my Walkman at least once a week. If my memory serves me well I believe it was the first cassette I purchased with a prominent warning sticker regarding explicit lyrics. As a yout’ in 1985 I was a pretty big fan of explicit lyrics. All W.A.S.P. is good W.A.S.P.… up to The Crimson Idol anyway.
Dio – Sacred Heart
Sacred Heart continues Dio’s legacy of classic albums from a classic era. Some people cried about the use of synthesizers in heavy metal, but I don’t recall hearing one complaint about Dio’s use of synths… probably because it went as well with songs like “Rock and Roll Children” and “Hungry for Heaven” on here as it did with “Rainbow in the Dark” on Holy Diver. There’s little filler here, but beginning (rather than concluding) an album with a live track seems an odd choice to me even to this day. Long live the magic of Ronnie James Dio.
Tyrant – Legions of the Dead
I know what some of you are thinking right now: “durr, how come this old-ass poser wasn’t listening to any Real Mertuhl in ’85?! By Satan, if I were there then there’s this huge list of brütuhl bands I’d surely have heard on YouTube and Bandcamp!” Answer: thrash metal was very much in its infancy, and I didn’t really embrace it fully until Master of Puppets, but this is what “extreme” looked like to JAG in 1985.
“That’s it guys; get those hands on your belts and try to look like cock-rockers!”
Tyrant’s Legions of the Dead made Venom look like proficient songwriters and musicians. I remember this album sounding really scary when my brother brought home a dubbed cassette… but I think that’s because I was still making my way through puberty. There’s some moments here for sure, but I’m only including this album for the nostalgia. You think “hair metal” is hilarious? Check out the album photos of what looks like a “hair metal” band standing around in a graveyard trying to look all evil. The lyrics are laugh-out-loud entertaining. You know a band really sucks when they’re buried in obscurity even in 2015 (a/k/a The Internet Age of Discovering and Namedropping Bands Nobody Ever Really Liked.)
Dokken – Under Lock & Key
The beautiful thing about Dokken is that their sound was plenty heavy enough to get them tours with the likes of Judas Priest but also polished and refined enough to chart on Billboard. Upon release of their sophomore album Tooth and Nail in 1984 Don Dokken, George Lynch, Jeff Pilson, and Mick Brown had established themselves as formidable songwriters. Lynch’s guitar virtuosity, combined with Dokken’s distinct vocal style and a tight rhythm section, make this band one of the best of the eighties American metal scene.
While not quite as heavy as its predecessor, Under Lock & Key is a killer album with hooks to spare. Not one bad song on here at all… a tradition they’d continue in ’87 with Back for the Attack. Essential listening.
Iron Maiden – Live After Death
This is one of the greatest live albums in the history of heavy metal, and nobody needs me to tell them that. Powerslave was my intro to Maiden in 1984, so when Live After Death came out a year later, I was already happily familiar with much of the setlist. Show of hands: who doesn’t have Live After Death? GTFO.
Mötley Crüe – Theatre of Pain
After the senseless manslaughter of Hanoi Rocks’ drummer, Razzle, the Crüe decided to go full-glam on this outing. Not sure why I so hated Twisted Sister’s over-the-top look but somehow found this era of Crüe acceptable. Guess it was just the times.
Theatre of Pain lacks much of the raw power of 1983’s Shout at the Devil. Instead we find a cover of Brownsville Station’s “Smokin’ in the Boys Room” and a touching power ballad we all can still sing along to in our rocking chairs. Don’t front like “Home Sweet Home” isn’t one of the greatest power ballads ever. You know you cry when you hear it.
This may be the weakest of Crüe’s classic albums, but there’s plenty here to still like. And I do. “Louder Than Hell” was obviously a holdover from the previous album by the way.
Grim Reaper – Fear No Evil
NWOBHM: Still Alive in Eighty-Five!
Closing track, “Final Scream,” sucks some major ass, but otherwise this is a decent album.
Aldo Nova – Twitch
Ok, this album is barely hard rock, but Aldo Nova sure knew how to play guitar solos and write songs. I seriously believe he is one of the most overlooked and underrated guitarists of all time.
On his third album we find Nova actually collaborating in the songwriting-department with other (pop) artists and straying somewhat from his early-eighties formula. There’s a lot of synths on this record, and a first-time listener would have no problem dating this to 1985. Plenty of good stuff even still.
That’s it for “this” year. I really wanted to include Anthrax’s Spreading the Disease and Night Ranger’s Seven Wishes but I don’t think I was really listening to them upon their release. Don’t forget: heavy metal, and good music in general, is not confined to any decade or generation. Great music is timeless, but I’m out of time so please leave my lawn in an orderly fashion.