THE 1980s. Where bands ran riot, releasing a slew of classic albums and fighting against censorship.
It was a time of excess and instant classics as metal came of age, defied moral censorship and ended the decade as one of rock music’s single biggest forces
priest and maiden bestrode the planet like gods
IF THE 70S were heavy metal’s formative years, the 80s were its wide-eyed and bolshy adolescence. Thanks largely to Black Sabbath’s pioneering vision and the artful refining and stylising of those primitive elements by Judas Priest, our beloved genre entered its second full decade of existence with its sonic and aesthetic identity firmly established, and a global army of rabid acolytes ready to devour whatever happened next.
It certainly started well. A quick glance at the albums released in 1980 provides one explanation as to why metal took off with such force and fury in the early days of the decade: Black Sabbath’s Heaven And Hell, Ozzy Osbourne’s Blizzard Of Ozz, AC/DC’S Back In Black, Motörhead’s Ace Of Spades, Judas Priest’s British Steel, Saxon’s Wheels Of Steel and Strong Arm Of The Law, Def Leppard’s On Through
The Night and, perhaps most importantly, Iron Maiden’s self-titled debut.
Read that list again. It’s fucking ridiculous. With classics appearing almost weekly, it was no surprise that the next generation of metal musicians turned out to be so ferociously inspired. Just as the The New Wave Of British Heavy
Metal brought the 70s to a close and ushered in a new and noticeably more intense era for heavy rock, so the emergence of faster, harder and undeniably punk-influenced bands like Venom, Metallica, Overkill and Slayer gave the 80s a jolting kickstart and the reverberations are still being
felt today. Meanwhile, punk rock had morphed into hardcore, as bands like Bad Brains, Black Flag and Corrosion Of Conformity gleefully blurred the lines between snotty rage and Sabbathian heft. Again, the heavy music world of 2018 would look entirely different without the efforts of these visionaries.
Of course, no summary of the decade should ignore the enormous impact of the hair/sleaze/glam metal scene that erupted in California and, thanks to the likes of Mötley Crüe and Poison (and with a little help from MTV), conquered the entire world. Def Leppard and Guns N’ Roses both redefined what it meant to be insanely massive and Priest and Maiden bestrode the planet like the gods they still are, closely followed by a young and hungry Metallica. Their 1986 masterpiece Master Of Puppets propelled them into the big leagues and is widely regarded as the greatest heavy metal album of all time. With their Big 4 brothers in Slayer, Anthrax and Megadeth all enjoying comparable levels of international acclaim and attention, the thrash generation absolutely set the pace for all heavy music.
The 80s were not all plain sailing, of course. Thanks to metal’s greater presence globally, it began to attract the attention of powerful moral arbiters, most notably in the
US. Ozzy Osbourne and Judas Priest were both dragged into high-profile court cases relating to the supposedly metalinspired deaths of young fans, and censorious political reactionaries the PMRC (Parents Music Resource Center) did their best to demonise heavy music (and pretty much any non-mainstream culture) as some malevolent force, leading impressionable minds astray. Utter bollocks, obviously, and metal’s evolution continued unabated as the years flew by at full throttle.
Some would argue that both the traditional and thrash metal scenes were running out of steam by the end of the 80s, but in truth they had simply been elbowed aside by younger, hungrier subgenres. Alternative rock, grunge, death and black metal, metallic hardcore, stoner rock, grindcore and many shades of doom all have indisputable roots in those wild and exploratory years between 1980 and 1989. Even nu metal, that definitive benchmark of 90s cross-pollination, really began in response to the efforts of hip hop crossover champs Run DMC, Beastie Boys and Public Enemy. Frankly, it was all happening in the 80s. Metal’s coming of age was an absolute riot.
Judas Priest helped to define metal as a genre of subtlety